Varied_Graces_Title

The Press Club of Southeast Texas awarded second place in the “Faith-based/Inspirational” category to director of Stewardship and Communications Ministry, Letty Lanza for her column, “Varied Graces: Times and Always,” and awarded third place in the “General Column” category to the assistant director of community development Richard Rosario for his column, “One Steward’s Response: Blessed Memories.” The ETC is rerunning those columns

Varied Graces: Times and Always

I listen to the morning news and hear that Disney is upping security at its theme parks and forbidding the sale of toy guns on its property. A sign of the times.

I make travel plans to see my daughter in California and book the trip through LAX because the flight is less expensive than at nearby smaller airports. I hang up the phone and worry that I may have made a bad decision. Perhaps the risk of traveling with a terrorist would be less if I were flying into Ontario or Burbank. A sign of the times.

A presidential candidate posits that we should forbid all members of a certain religious group from entering the country because some of them could be up to no good. A poll tells me that more than 30 percent of my fellow, freedom-loving Americans agree with him. A sign of the times.
I pull out of my driveway and notice my neighbor removing leaves from a street drain to let recent rainwater run into it. I roll down the car window to introduce myself. I have lived in the neighborhood 25 years, she has lived here 10. I tell her that perhaps we would have met sooner had her little ones been playing out in the front yard. She tells me that for safety reasons they’re only out in the front yard when she is with them. A sign of the times.

I’m traveling home late at night through what some call a “bad neighborhood” when the driver of the car behind me speeds up to travel in the lane next to mine. He blows his horn and tries to keep pace with my vehicle. My heart races until I see his face and realize he’s an older gentleman. I lower my window and he lowers his to tell me my brake lights are out. He smiles and I am embarrassed for assuming his motivation. A sign of the times.

I yearn for other times. Past times. Simpler times. Times burnt in my memory. Times when children played outside and neighbors sat on front porches. Times when airlines offered dinners instead of security checks. Times when toy guns looked like toys and no one thought playing with them would create mass murderers. Times when those “yearning to breathe free’’ did not have to be vetted. And times when a good Samaritan’s motives weren’t questioned.

Those times! Those times? The same times when citizens were rounded up simply because their skin color and eyes were the same as those bombing balmy islands. The same times when four little girls were dynamited to death in a church in Birmingham. The same times when four young Americans laid dead on campus grounds in Ohio. The same times when they are gunned down by other young Americans who shoot 67 rounds in 13 seconds.

Those times? When good folks act out of fear. Fear that behind those different looking eyes conspiracy was being planned. Fear that black children praying in a Youth Day service might someday find their way to an all-white school. Fear that a young woman strolling across a campus green between classes could do harm to an armed group of National Guardsmen. Fear that rose in the throats of young men ill prepared to meet and then surrounded by young college protesters.

Those times? Those times! The same times when young American soldiers discovered and emptied the concentration camps at Buchenwald. The same times when a Corps established to bring about peace captured the imagination and hearts of college students across the U.S. The same times when a southern president signed legislation that integrated public schools and outlawed discrimination.

Stewardship Challenge: As you consider the events of the past decades, look for the times when God sent His gifts of courage and wisdom to overcome fear and ignorance. Can you recognize the signs? Can you see that God sends those gifts to those who are open to wisdom and willing to act in courage?

Stewardship Reflection: Meditate this Christmas on the word Emmanuel remembering that no matter the times, God is with us.

To our readers: Blessed Feast of Emmanuel and may God be with you in the coming times!

Varied Graces: Move along people

“Nothing here to see, keep movin’, lady.”

I am waiting for the opportunity to play my game.

I play it most Sundays during the readings at Mass. Harmless. No one knows I’m doing it and it’s not a distraction. I’m focused.

In fact, my game is sort of reflection on what’s being read. Yeah, that’s it. I am really reflecting and contemplating.

So right now – this Sunday – my husband is proclaiming the first reading. We’ve already been sprinkled with holy water, and I’m watching this bird balance itself on a branch outside the chapel window.

My husband starts the reading by addressing some guy called Theophilus. I don’t remember anyone named Theophilus, so I worry that perhaps my sweetie is reading the wrong reading for “Ascension” which is now on Sunday instead of Thursday but only in Texas and a couple of other places.

For a few seconds, I consider that arbitrary liturgical change while the bird outside the chapel window changes branches.

Why do Texans get a pass on this Holy Day? Do my Pennsylvania relatives get a break on a different one – maybe the Immaculate Conception? Link that one to Sunday. That would be nice. They get a lot of snow in December. Makes travel tough.

But back to my honey and the Scripture reading. It’s apparently the right one despite my memory lapse about Theophilus since I now hear Luke talking about the Holy Spirit’s upcoming appearance. I realize that’s next weekend – Pentecost. No liturgical faux pas for hubby. He didn’t flip to the wrong page.

But who the heck is that Theophilus guy? I have got to start reading Scripture footnotes.

My husband’s light beige jacket is showing holy water droplets. It’ll dry. Meanwhile, outside the chapel window, my little friend flutters his wings. A late morning shower is accumulating on the glass. I assume he’s trying to get rid of his sprinkles.

Could he be a Carolina wren? Do they live in the Piney Woods? Google that later along with Theophilus.

“And as they were looking on, He was lifted up and a cloud took Him from their sight.”

My husband looks out at the room as he slowly enunciates, “While they were looking intently at the sky suddenly two men in white garments stood beside them.”

And now here it comes. One of my favorite lines from Scripture.

The little wren (I’ve decided he’s a wren) perches himself on the window ledge. He cocks his head and stares through the glass.

We both wait for my husband’s next line of Scripture.

“Why are you standing here looking at the sky?”

And while my husband proclaims, I play my little game. My little game of update and paraphrase. Show’s over, guys. Nothing left to see. Move along. Back to work.

Love the line! Every time I hear this reading I realize again how brilliant this Jesus is. Could have just quietly left, slipped back to heaven without much fanfare.

But he knew how to work a crowd. How to hold its attention. So instead of a quiet goodbye again we get a slow lift upward, a huge white cloud and talk of the ends of the earth.

But his guys are frozen in place, mesmerized. Holding on to the spectacular moment.

Holding on until… “Why are you standing there looking at the sky?”

Right, nothin’ left to see here. Keep movin’, lady. Keep movin’ to the ends of the earth.

I check the window. The Carolina wren is gone. Only seven more days to Pentecost.

Stewardship Reflection:

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth” – Acts 1:8

Stewardship Challenge:

Are you still standing in place simply watching and listening to Jesus or are you moving out and carrying His message to the ends of the earth. Move along people!

Varied Graces Stewarding now and tomorrow

“He’s the best looking 13-year-old in the entire country.” That’s what I tell anyone who will listen.

He now towers over me at 5”8’ with more growth to come. Dimples and dark eyes that twinkle with eagerness.

We explore together the long front yard of his Kerrville, Texas, home. He’s building a fort out of branches and rocks underneath one of its trees. We sit on the rocky, dry earth of the Hill Country. I ask about snakes and deer.

He tells me there are plenty of deer. They come very close to the house. Mostly in the evening. He has yet to see a snake. His plan is to “sleep out here” under the Texas sky whenever parents allow.

I yearn for long conversations with him where I could impart my wisdom. Our time together is always too brief. And he’d rather talk about action heroes than the meaning of life.

So we meet where our interests are similar – at animated movies and for soft drinks at Sonic. And always during the weekend visits – Mass. I sit in the pew. He serves at the altar.

I think he genuinely likes me and I adore him. The first time he called me “Grandma” my heart skipped a beat.

Opportunities for visits are infrequent. The drive to the Hill Country can be close to seven hours. School and work schedules are a challenge.

So I lay back against the rocky Hill Country earth to help ground me to this moment. This is now and he is here within arms’ reach. We laugh and make plans. The moment passes. Then another.

And then the moments are finished. And I am driving back home with a piece of my heart again left in the Hill Country.

I am well aware of the passing of time. I look at my hands on the steering wheel. I’m startled by how they look like my grandmother’s. I wonder when the skin became so thin. And suddenly I am filled with angst and worry about how quickly my 13-year-old will become 22 and then 40.

I do some simple math. How many years until 22. How many until 40.

I know that there will come a time when I will not be an arm’s length away from him or a seven-hour drive east. A time will come when I will be a distant memory. I quietly pray his future will be easy.

I smile wondering if that was my grandmother’s prayer for me. Often when we parted she would make a small cross on my forehead.

My grandparents were builders of churches. One set coming from Slovakia, the other from Poland to a country where Catholics were few and prejudice was rampant. These four, like so many others, left their mark with steeples and crucifixes and shrines and schools.

They built the churches with dime and quarter collections. And they built the Church with prayer and example.

They walked grandchildren to Mass. And they sat in pews for confirmations and First Communions.

Because of their own paths, they intuited the future would hold challenges. So they invested themselves into that “down the road” time with dimes and quarters and small crosses on a little girl’s forehead.

The landscape outside my car window changes from rolling hills to rice fields. As it does, I pray for my 13-year-old and wonder what he will remember of me.

Stewardship Challenge:

We are called to be good stewards of the present time but we are also called to grow God’s kingdom into the next generations. Take a few moments between now and Pentecost to ask yourself what you are doing to secure that the Church will be just as vibrant for your grandchildren as it has been for you. When you are gone from this world, what legacy will you have left?

Stewardship Reflection:

“… I will pour out a portion of my Spirit upon all flesh … your young men shall see visions, your old men will dream dreams.” Acts 2:17

Victoria diocesan priest nominated for canonization

In this season of rebirths and Resurrection, death has become palpable for me. The loss of three beautiful souls, three vibrant young men wore heavy on my Easter.

Amid the new beginnings and starts and first times of this spring comes these endings. Comes this “never again will I see them” time. While bougainvillea bloom and while my daughter’s new home is unpacked, while family visits for the first time, sons and brothers are ended and lost forever. At least lost forever to the visions of this world.

And so these mothers and sisters and brothers grieve. And I grieve, but in a way so different than all the past grieving. Perhaps it is because those who left us were still young, in the prime of their manhood. Perhaps because these three loved this world so much and were so much a part of it. Living life to the fullest. Risk takers. Doers. Lovers of creation. Lovers of abundance.

But perhaps, it is just because I am older this time. And perhaps their deaths remind me of my own and the passage of time.

And, perhaps this time, I am questioning more than ever before. So the questions appear in my heart but before they reach the mind their specificity vanishes. And, I am left only with longing.

But longing for what? To be again with dear friends and loved ones? To be again in those times that are past? For answers to their leaving? For the answers to my own mortality?

And for Whom are the questions? Perhaps I am questioning the One for Whom I long.

In some way each of my young men seemed to have chosen the moment of their death. All three had suffered for a very long time. They were ready to let this world go. I think there is great faith in that – to look into the abyss and know that the arms of Wisdom and Mercy will welcome you.

In the days since their passing the quote that keeps reverberating for me is not from Scripture but from a Don McClean’s song – “this world was never meant for someone as beautiful as you.” Perhaps this world was never meant for any soul created in and longing for God’s image.

Stewardship Challenge:

In the days between now and Pentecost, spend an hour each night reflecting on the mystery of your own life and your longing for the arms of Wisdom and Mercy. And if there are places where you are grieving a loss, steward that loss into its own resurrection by anticipating the comfort of the Holy Spirit.

Stewardship Reflection:

“Life to me, of course, is Christ, but then death would be a positive gain…I am caught in this dilemma I want to be gone and to be with Christ, and this is by far the stronger desire – and yet for your sake to stay alive in the body is an urgent need.” – Philippians 1:21-24

Encountering a Conversion

“Beautiful family! Would you like to have a picture taken? They’re free. Would the kids like a Frisbee?”

Simple questions. Ice breakers. And there it begins.

And slowly with comments about beads and parades, the t-shirt they’re wearing, the observation that they lack a Southeast Texas drawl, you learn stuff. You learn where they went to high school, that they’re Saints fans, or that they moved down here from Connecticut.

You take pictures of the little ones and give them Frisbees that carry the Encounter Catholic logo.

Then you take a little breath and ask if they’d like a rosary followed quickly by the disclaimer that that they don’t have to be Catholic.

And they tell you more stuff – like they’re Baptist or Presbyterian or Pentecostal.

You tell them, “That’s okay. Rosaries are nice to hold on to, even if you don’t pray them.” You tell them they’re great for plane landings and take offs especially if the weather is rocky.

They all laugh. They tell you, “Sure.” One adds that she is not that Pentecostal.

And somewhere in those moments after the offer and acceptance of the rosary, the encounter becomes relational.

It’s been eight years of having these kinds of encounters. Eight years since we began reclaiming Mardi Gras and strongly linking it to the end of the holiday party season and the beginning of Lent. Eight years since we’ve set up a booth at Mardi Gras and subtly evangelized. Eight years of encounters becoming relational.

Relational because they tell you stuff. They ask – because they are not Catholic – if they could put the rosary on their baby’s grave. And you find out that a late in life and much wanted pregnancy ended in a child’s early death. You decide you should be grateful for all you have.

Relational because you listen. As a husband walks away, a wife asks you to explain how to pray the rosary. She wants to pray for him. You hear the marriage is not going well. You tell her about marriage retreats and Catholic Charities counseling. You tell her you’ll pray too. You realize you need to pray more.

Relational because they reveal resentments – the kind you might only tell a long-time friend. The resentments are not so much against the teachings of the Church but rather against the actions of its members – a Catholic neighbor, a Catholic ex-husband, a Catholic priest. You start to understand that the Catholic branding causes one to be held to a higher standard. You make a mental note not to be self-righteous.

You pack up to go home. The rosaries stored in little boxes. The printers in big ones. Soon the banner will come down.

You know you’ve been successful again. There is already at least one conversion – you. And as you look around at the smiling faces of your fellow co-workers and volunteers, you’re pretty sure there will be four or five more – them.

Stewardship Challenge:

This Lent instead of giving up some small joyful pleasure – candy, wine, social media, movies – try subtly sharing the joy of the Gospel by closely listening to family, friends even the person next to you in the supermarket check-out line. Can you see that offering the gift of your listening presence does far more to evangelize than any proselytizing? Then notice how this type of evangelizing changes someone – You.

Stewardship Reflection:

“Give and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap.” – Luke 6:38

Times and Always

By Letty Lanza

I listen to the morning news and hear that Disney is upping security at its theme parks and forbidding the sale of toy guns on its property. A sign of the times.

I make travel plans to see my daughter in California and book the trip through LAX because the flight is less expensive than at nearby smaller airports. I hang up the phone and worry that I may have made a bad decision. Perhaps the risk of traveling with a terrorist would be less if I were flying into Ontario or Burbank. A sign of the times.

A presidential candidate posits that we should forbid all members of a certain religious group from entering the country because some of them could be up to no good. A poll tells me that more than 30 percent of my fellow, freedom-loving Americans agree with him. A sign of the times.

I pull out of my driveway and notice my neighbor removing leaves from a street drain to let recent rainwater run into it. I roll down the car window to introduce myself. I have lived in the neighborhood 25 years, she has lived here 10. I tell her that perhaps we would have met sooner had her little ones been playing out in the front yard. She tells me that for safety reasons they’re only out in the front yard when she is with them. A sign of the times.

I’m traveling home late at night through what some call a “bad neighborhood” when the driver of the car behind me speeds up to travel in the lane next to mine. He blows his horn and tries to keep pace with my vehicle. My heart races until I see his face and realize he’s an older gentleman. I lower my window and he lowers his to tell me my brake lights are out. He smiles and I am embarrassed for assuming his motivation. A sign of the times.

I yearn for other times. Past times. Simpler times. Times burnt in my memory. Times when children played outside and neighbors sat on front porches. Times when airlines offered dinners instead of security checks. Times when toy guns looked like toys and no one thought playing with them would create mass murderers. Times when those “yearning to breathe free’’ did not have to be vetted. And times when a good Samaritan’s motives weren’t questioned.

Those times! Those times? The same times when citizens were rounded up simply because their skin color and eyes were the same as those bombing balmy islands. The same times when four little girls were dynamited to death in a church in Birmingham. The same times when four young Americans laid dead on campus grounds in Ohio. The same times when they are gunned down by other young Americans who shoot 67 rounds in 13 seconds.

Those times? When good folks act out of fear. Fear that behind those different looking eyes conspiracy was being planned. Fear that black children praying in a Youth Day service might someday find their way to an all-white school. Fear that a young woman strolling across a campus green between classes could do harm to an armed group of National Guardsmen. Fear that rose in the throats of young men ill prepared to meet and then surrounded by young college protesters.

Those times? Those times! The same times when young American soldiers discovered and emptied the concentration camps at Buchenwald. The same times when a Corps established to bring about peace captured the imagination and hearts of college students across the U.S. The same times when a southern president signed legislation that integrated public schools and outlawed discrimination.

Stewardship Challenge:

As you consider the events of the past decades, look for the times when God sent His gifts of courage and wisdom to overcome fear and ignorance. Can you recognize the signs? Can you see that God sends those gifts to those who are open to wisdom and willing to act in courage?

Stewardship Reflection:

Meditate this Christmas on the word Emmanuel remembering that no matter the times, God is with us.

To our readers: Blessed Feast of Emmanuel and may God be with you in the coming times!