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Feast of St. Blaise: Do-it-yourself throat blessings

These days — especially in the time of COVID — throat blessings are hard to come by. No, make that near impossible. It’s just not that common anymore, even in the best of times. Years ago, I took it upon myself to do the blessings. And, yes, that’s allowed. The first time I blessed throats for my class of fourth-grade faith formation students, they looked at me in fear and asked if I was going to light those candles before holding them up to their throats. Ah, how sad that these kids don’t know some of the more interesting traditions of our faith. But once I told them about St. Blaise, a bishop and martyr who is said to have healed a boy who was choking on a fish bone, they were all in, and eagerly so.

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Happy anniversary to me and my blog

It was nine years ago today that I launched this blog. Although it looked very different when it started out and I posted much more frequently, the overall style and substance of Not Strictly Spiritual have remained the same. I have shared my struggles, my stories, my opinions, and quite a few recipes, covering everything from the ridiculous to the sublime. Thank you to all of you who have visited this site over the years, especially those of you who come back time and again. Even if we have never met in person, you are special to me, and I am grateful. Read more

I’ve got white candles and I’m not afraid to use them

In these parts, throat blessings are hard to come by. No, make that near impossible. It’s just not done. At least not at our parish. So years ago I took it upon myself to do the blessings. And, yes, that’s allowed. The first time I blessed throats for my class of fourth-grade faith formation students, they looked at me in fear and asked if I was going to light those candles before holding them up to their throats. Ah, how sad that these kids don’t know some of the more interesting traditions of our faith. But once I told them about St. Blaise, a bishop and martyr who is said to have healed a boy who was choking on a fish bone, they were all in, and eagerly so. Read more

Some advice never gets old

Whenever I give my retreat talk titled “Broken, Beautiful, and Beloved: Learning to See Ourselves through God’s Eyes” (last weekend, for example), I quote St. Francis de Sales twice. Actually, I quote St. Francis de Sales a lot in my life — in posts, in books, in columns, in workshops, but in this particular talk I quote him twice. This 17th century bishop had so much to say that remains incredibly relevant to our 21st century lives. Read more

My two favorite Chiaras

To celebrate the Feast of St. Clare, I’m doing a Flashback Monday post (I know, it doesn’t quite have the same ring, does it?) to something I wrote three years ago today. (Ages have been updated so it makes sense today.)

When I became pregnant with my youngest, I immediately honed in on the name “Chiara.” At the time, I will admit, it had nothing to do with the most famous Chiara, St. Clare of Assisi, or, as they say in Italy, Santa Chiara di Assisi, whose feast day is today.

No, my fascination with this beautiful name started in college, when I was on a trip to China and spent three weeks traveling with a young woman named Chiara, who was part of our university group. The name struck me as the most beautiful name I’d ever heard, but that may have had something to do with my being named Mary. As they sing in the old-time classic, “there is something there that sounds so square.” Chiara (the name, not the person) was about as opposite of “square” as I could imagine. Read more

A saint for all seasons

In honor of the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, I thought I’d re-run a column I wrote about one of my favorite saints a while back. I hope to be back here later with a reflection on the pope’s homily while in Assisi on this feast day.

Out in my perennial garden, nestled among the stonecrop and candytuft, stands a well-worn clay statue of St. Francis of Assisi made by an artisan in Mexico. The unusual characteristics of the statue make it a conversation piece as well as a spiritual touchstone that helps keep me centered as I dig and weed and plant. Read more

N.Y. Times plays politics with Dorothy Day

I was happy to see a front page New Times story on Dorothy Day this morning when I came down for coffee. Of course, I began reading with trepidation, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Didn’t take long. By the first line of the second paragraph, I was annoyed by the lack of understanding of all things Catholic: Read more

Countdown to Rome: The Churches


Six days until Rome…Today I’m talking about the churches that have made my “must-see” list. (This list does NOT include St. Peter’s Basilica or the Sistine Chapel because they will be part of “The Vatican” post later in the week.) The church names scribbled in my travel notebook are those places that have intrigued me or inspired me for one reason or another — the saints for whom they are named, the art that resides there, the people who are buried there, the architecture, the location, etc.

Santa Maria Sopra Minerva (in Centro Storico) is at the top of my list for a variety of reasons, the first of which, believe it or not, has to do with the fact that to get there I can walk down Via Santa Chiara (my youngest is Chiara and so this little factoid means something to me). But even more than the road I’ll travel is the destination. St. Catherine of Siena died here (or near here) and is buried under the altar (sans her head, which is in Siena). A full length sculpture of the saint is encased in glass on view. Aside from being a Doctor of the Church, a mystic and in general a very cool woman of faith, I consider her one of my patron saints since my middle name is Kathleen. Is it a stretch? Perhaps. But my godmother came up with that assignment, so I’m sticking with it.

Santa Maria Sopra Minerva also includes the tomb of Renaissance artist Fra Angelico and the tombs of two Medici popes — Leo X and Clement VII. Add to that the fact that it’s the only Gothic church in Rome, is chock full of great art, and is right behind the Pantheon and a very short walk from my hotel and it’s clear why this one is at the top of my list. Plus there’s that great Bernini elephant sculpture right outside in the Piazza della Minerva.

Santa Cecelia (in Trastevere) is home to the amazing sculpture pictured above, a replica of how St. Cecelia’s body was found when it was exhumed in 1599. Not your typical sculpture of a saint, and so I love it. She has three fingers extended on one hand and one finger extended on the other, which, according to legend, was her final testament to her belief in the Trinity — three in one — when she finally succumbed to multiple attempts to martyr her. Apparently she sang through the ordeal. Hence, her designation as the patron saint of music. This church scores big points in my sightseeing book just for being in the Trastevere neighborhood, where I have two other churches on my list: Santa Maria in Trastevere and San Francesco a Ripa, where St. Francis of Assisi actually once stayed. (Gee, here in NY the best we can do is George Washington).

Santa Maria della Concezione, home to the Capuchin crypt, which, I have to admit, I find extremely fascinating albeit morbid. This crypt is home to the exposed bones of 4,000 monks. The bones are set into the walls in a kind of macabre mosaic. Several full skeletons dressed in Capuchin robes hang from the ceiling. (It’s from these friars that we get the name for Cappuccino.) The sign in the crypt says: “What you are now we used to be; what we are now you will be…” How cool and creepy is that? I promise photos if I can get them.

Closer to my hotel and in the Piazza Navona area is the Chiesa del Gesu, the Jesuit church where St. Ignatius of Loyola is buried under the altar. St. Francis Xavier is there too — well, part of his right arm is there, but he used that arm to baptize more than 300,000 people so that’s nothing to sneeze at.

Santa Maria della Vittoria in the Quirinale section, if only to see Bernini’s carving of the Ecstasy of St. Teresa of Avila.

Rounding out my list are Sant’Agostino, Chiesa Nuova, Santa Maria della Pace, and Sant’Agnese in Agone in the Centro Storico; San Bartolomeo on Isola Tiberina; San Giovanni in Laterano and San Pietro in Vincoli (St. Peter in Chains), which is home to Michelangelo’s Moses sculpture, in the Monti quarter.

I don’t know if I’ll get to all of these. Or, perhaps, I’ll go to others instead. I want to try to avoid visiting too many churches on any given day because I don’t want them to blend together, so some of these may have to be dropped as I go. Whatever happens, I know I won’t be disappointed or at a loss for amazing churches to visit.

If you missed my previous posts on Rome, check the links below:
Countdown to Rome: The Food
With Rome in My Sights

Remembering the North American Martyrs


From my post on OSV Daily Take today:

My 12-year-old son had to choose a saint to study for a school project in anticipation of All Saints Day. When I first heard about the assignment, I immediately wanted to suggest St. Isaac Jogues, but I held back and waited to see what Noah came up with on his own. When he came home from school, I asked him which saint he had selected: St. Isaac Jogues. Now, that syncronicity might be remarkable in many circumstances, but Noah has spent two camping retreat weekends on the grounds where St. Isaac Jogues was martyred, so the choice made perfect sense to him, and to me.

When you are a Catholic in upstate New York, only 45 minutes as we are from the National Shrine of the North American Martyrs, Jesuit missionaries St. Isaac Jogues and St. Rene Goupil are part of the landscape. We hear their stories, we walk the ground they walked, we marvel at their courage. Today we celebrate the Feast of the North American Martyrs, remembering those missionaries who died brutal deaths because of their commitment to the Good News.

When you go to the national shrine in Auriesville, which is also the birthplace of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, you can walk the ravine and read St. Isaac Jogues’ own words explaining the prolonged torture and terrifying death St. Rene Goupil suffered at the hands of the Iroquois. It was a hatchet blow to the head while Rene Goupil was teaching the Sign of the Cross to children that finally sealed his fate in 1642. Isaac Jogues didn’t fare any better, having survived years of torture and enslavement and having his fingers chewed or burned off. He was killed and decapitated in 1646.

The other Jesuits martyred in North America are Antony Daniel, Charles Garnier, Noel Chabanel, John Lalande, John de Brebeuf, and Gabriel Lalemant.

If you walk the grounds of Auriesville (which I posted about HERE), you can feel a holy presence, a sense that something awful but awesome happened in that place. It is sacred, to be sure. And beautiful.

What’s all the fuss about St. Paul

We have just begun the Jubilee Year to the Apostle Paul, which, I have to be honest, really didn’t mean that much to me at the outset, but now, with every priest I know talking about it, I figure maybe I should educate myself and see what it’s all about.

This past weekend was the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, and my pastor began his thoughtful homily with 10 words that have stuck with me:

“Believe as Peter. Preach as Paul. Love as the Master.”

It was an inscription someone wrote to him when he was ordained a deacon in Rome. I really like it though — so succinct and yet so full of clarity and challenge. In fact, I jotted it down in a journal so I wouldn’t forget it, seeing as these days I’m so forgetful that yesterday I almost returned my own books to the public library by mistake. Yes, it’s been that kind of week, and it’s only Tuesday. Read more