On the Feast of Saint Augustine

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This is a prayer I pray every day. I composed it several years ago. Maybe it's one you want to pray, too? Feel free to cut and paste and personalize with a name where I've written "him."

Dear Jesus,

Please chase after him. Bring him close to you. Breathe your spirit into him. Grant him the grace of knowing your wisdom, knowing your truth, knowing your life-changing love. Please Lord, reach him and become his best friend. Strengthen him and show him how to turn from sin and towards all the good you will for him. I beg your mercy for him: give him health in mind and body. Let him shine in your image, Lord, and please, God, let him learn from your unconditional love. Let him see the miracle that is you. Grant him the grace and strength to hear and answer your call.

Saint Augustine, pray for us!


What Have You Paid to Follow Him?


I drove away from Charlottesville a few hours before the tiki torch atrocity. I wasn’t running. The trip there had been planned for months, and I’d actually stayed a day longer than the original schedule dictated. I’d spent the week caring for my father and visiting with my son and his girlfriend. People I love live in Charlottesville, and I’ve long considered it home. Charlottesville is where I go when the world wears me thin; it’s the place on earth where I breathe the deepest.

I admit I cried through much of that weekend. There was dissonance in hearing the name of my beloved city followed by such horrifying details. People texted and asked about my son Patrick. “No,” I replied. “He’s not there. He’s safe in Chicago.” How ironic. My pastoral retreat city was the center of ugly hate. He was safe somewhere other than home. The dissonance clanged in my brain.

And then, I grew increasingly aware of another divide. Please read the rest here. 

Faith Over Fear


It’s mid-August and the back corner of Target smells like Office Depot. The aroma of notebook paper mingles with that of waxy crayons, with just a hint of ink smell making things interesting. But mostly, it’s the paper I smell. Brightly colored lunchboxes are stacked too high, teetering toward the rainbow of vinyl binders. It’s back-to-school shopping time.

Here in the back corner, children jostle and beg, hoping to capture the goodies they are sure will make the year a happy one. Wonder Woman lunchbox? Sure, if that’s what it takes to get you to eat a packed lunch. Several aisles over, in the bedding department, there is a different milieu altogether. Mothers bite their lower lips while checking through the “dorm essentials” list and avoiding the eyes of their daughters lest they both cry.

It’s August and there are so many new beginnings slated for later this month. In our family, where grown children are no longer bound to school calendars and younger children have been homeschooling year-round, August is still (and always has been) that start of something new.

My eldest child has moved his young family from the West Coast to the East, is about to buy his first house, and just learned he and his wife are expecting twins. My second child is off to the big city to begin a brand-new grown-up adventure. The next one in line just called to let me know he no longer needs to be on our cell phone plan. He’s got a new job, a new apartment and a new phone. It’s August. Time for all things new. 

It’s August and we’re all a little terrified if we’re honest. I meet the eyes of my friend who is sending her firstborn to college and fear pools in the depth of her usually sparking blue eyes. I take a friend’s baby on my hip while she tells me about her 5-year-old’s kindergarten teacher. Her hand shakes just a little as she pushes her bangs out of her eyes. How can we possibly send them off into the unknown? For their part, the ones who are leaving ask, “Can I do this? Can I really, really do this? Or will I mess it up? Disappoint? Fail?” New beginnings are never easy. Fear smells as strongly as a bouquet of freshly sharpened pencils. 


Faith speaks words of truth to fear. Wherever you’re going this August, God goes with you. Tell your fear there is no where He can’t and won’t reach. When we’re sure we cannot do the task that lies before us, when we’re afraid our hearts will break or we will fail or we will disappoint, we have to cling to the truth. God knows we’re not enough and He will fill in the gaps. When we step out in faith, we do it knowing that we are not enough. That’s where the faith comes in. If we were everything we needed and wanted, what use would we have for God? 

Fear is insidious, paralyzing us if we let it. It doesn’t prevent bad things from happening. It doesn’t make anything more secure. All fear really does is keep us from living the life that God intends for us. That life — the one for which we were created — requires that we do the thing we couldn’t possibly do if not for knowing that Jesus is there, ready and waiting to give us grace and strength sufficient for both the good moments and the ones that feel like utter failures. 

If everything always stayed as fresh and pretty as a brand-new notebook, where’s the living? The notebook has value when we take up the pen and bravely write our hearts in its pages. It has worth when the corners begin to separate and the cover gets scuffed. If we tuck it safely away and never make our mark on it, there’s no purpose and no real beauty. Life has purpose when we stop protecting the pretty veneer and use all 64 crayons to play with color on its pages. Life is beautiful — even on the hard days — when we let faith triumph over fear.


Painful Grace

We close the covers of the beautiful book, and sit and look at each other. She sighs contentedly, the deep and satisfied sigh of a 10-year-old who has just heard the story of Beauty and the Beast translated from its original French. She sighs the fairytale sigh, the one that says, “They were good, but flawed. They hoped. They experienced hardship and suffering. Evil was defeated. Beautiful lessons were learned. They lived happily ever after.”


I close my eyes. Fairytales annoy me. When I was her age, I believed the plot lines. I wasn’t at all enamored of the magic, but I held steadfastly to the belief that the good girl heroine would triumph over trials and tribulations and, sometime in her late teens or early 20s, a prince on a white horse would whisk her to ever-after. And my life went according to script. After a not-all-that-happy childhood, I married my prince when I was 21. My father gave me a fine porcelain statue of Cinderella as a wedding gift. 

The following year, we welcomed a fair-haired, blue-eyed firstborn son. But of course. It’s in the script.

The year after that, I was diagnosed with cancer.

Did not see that sequel coming. Not at all. 

This time, I needed more than a fairytale horse to navigate the turbulence. I needed a lifeboat. I climbed aboard a giant one with “Religion” emblazoned on her bow. She carried me well through various storms of the cancer years and then the storms of the recovery years, the ones during which I was bearing children. I thought her a sturdy and dependable ship. 

The ship crashed headlong right around the time our ninth child was born. Like a young girl who learns that magic isn’t really a thing and that the horse will grow old and lame, I learned that even if the church is God’s perfect vehicle of grace, the people who comprise it are not. I can only compare this chapter in the story to the one where the heroine wanders in the woods at night and every familiar, comforting figure in the shadows shows itself to be something else entirely and hisses or bares fangs, or both. No one was to be trusted. 

The ship no longer seaworthy, the heroine is shipwrecked, and one after another, bottles wash up bearing bad news from home. And this time, the heroine is neither young, nor fair. She is neither idealistic, nor romantic. She is tired. She wonders if this is a trilogy.

Probably not. It’s unlikely that a tidy ending is in the script of the third installment. Instead it is an intermission marked with an asterisk, most certainly a point of reflection. This time, there is no white horse, no sturdy boat. This time, there is only faith in the grace of God. 

For so long, grace was a gentle word, the one that captured the nuanced breath of a nearly fairytale God. Now, I see that grace can be severe. I believed that the goal was to be transported from the suffering. Grace, I thought, was the intercession of a benevolent God who swept the heroine away from heartbreak. The whole point of the plot, I thought, was to get beyond the pain to the promised happiness. I learned that by the time one gets to the third episode, one is weary from the effort of pushing through to the happy ending.

Now, I see that grace is in the struggle itself. And I have been resisting grace in favor of fairytales. In the words of Flannery O’Connor, “All human nature vigorously resists grace because grace changes us and the change is painful.”

Vigorously resisting grace. Fighting against the suffering instead of leaning into it. Cursing the circumstances instead of confidently resting in the faith that God will use them to change me. Resisting grace. 

Even still, grace found me. It was there all along. In the fairytale moments, to be sure. But also in the dark woods moments. I see it now, in hindsight, because I recognize the moments of change.


Bible Catholics

“Mom,” my eight-year-old says as she come in the door, “Andrea says we’re not Bible Christians because we’re Catholic.”

I look up from my computer and smile at the irony. For the last nine months, I’ve been writing Scripture studies nearly fulltime. At least this matter will be easier to explain than when my little boy came in from the backyard and wanted to know why our neighbor child was insisting that there are seven gods and none of them was named Jesus.

I told Sarah that Catholics are Christians who definitely believe in the Bible. Her friend believes that the Bible is the only authority for a Christian. We differ there. I asked her to think about Jesus’ friends after He died, to imagine Saint Paul as he wrote his letters from prison. Way back before people identified themselves by the names of many different denominations. Were those people of the early Church Christians?

She agreed that of course they were. “But they didn’t even have a Bible,” I reminded her. “Those letters Saint Paul was writing became a part of the Bible.” Her eyes grew wide with understanding and then they twinkled a little mischievously. “I can tell Andrea that.” I nodded.

“Also, in the Bible it doesn’t say that we have to only believe in the Bible. Jesus gave us the Church, too. So, you could tell her that Christians didn’t always have a Bible, but still they were Christian, and you can tell her that we have the Bible and read the Bible and pray with the Bible at every Mass. You can tell her that you love the Bible and you are Christian and you belong to a Church teaches the truth of the Bible.”

Off she went to set the record straight.

The reality is that her friend’s perception of Catholics is not so different from many Catholics’ perception of Catholics. My cousin Ellie writes about her own childhood growing up in a big Italian family, “A bible the size of Utah sat upon a marble table in our living room but no one was allowed to touch it...There was an awareness of the existence of God—but not the experience of God. Religion came up from time to time—ours was right and everyone else’s was wrong.”  It is not unusual to find a Catholic who doesn’t read the Bible personally on a regular basis.

That never seemed quite right to me. I’ve always deeply believed that having a relationship with God that only exists in the physical—just showing up at Mass and consuming the Eucharist—is like being married and skipping conversation. Jesus wants to have words with us. He wants to engage in dialogue. He gave us this richness of conversation and if we never open the Book, it’s like ignoring our spouses when they try to talk to us. 

Catholic liturgy is steeped in scripture, but a lot of Catholics don’t really listen carefully to it when they hear it. 

And many Catholic women don’t know how to get started, and they don’t know where to find resources to keep them going. We need to change that scenario. We need for our children to be so familiar with the Bibles open in their homes that when someone tells them they aren’t Bible Christians they know that can’t possibly be right. We need to take to heart the story of St. Augustine, who was indisputably Catholic. In Confessions, he describes how powerfully he was impacted by the Word of God. He was sitting in the yard one day, totally at the end of himself, in utter despair. He flung himself to the ground and wept —he describes sobs in big, gushing wails— and he asked God how long he’d be alienated by His anger.

Suddenly, Augustine heard voices chanting “take up and read’ over and over again. So, he went to the Bible and read the first passage it fell open to. It was Romans 13:13—all about turning away from a life of sin. And His whole life changed in that moment.

Ours can, too. Today is a really good day for Catholics to take up and read.

Please join us at Take Up and Read to begin a beautiful new community for the purpose of reading the Bible.