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Defy definitions, trust your own story

Everyone has his or her own story. Our history, family, faith, environment—all of it combines to create a background story that runs through our entire life, for better or worse. Through the ups and downs, the surprise plot twists, the losses and accomplishments, we write a new chapter day by day.

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Finding God in the land of the ‘Nones’

I traveled to Seattle a few weeks ago to give a parish retreat at St. Monica’s Church on Mercer Island. Long before I boarded the plane for my first visit to the Pacific Northwest, friends on both coasts warned me that I was headed to the land of the “Nones,” where people are spiritual but not religious, and maybe not even all that spiritual. What could I possibly offer out there in a city where God seems to be dead, or, at the very least, in hibernation?

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Don’t wait. Say yes.

I first got to know Sister Johanne McCarthy, C.S.J., about 18 months ago when she wrote to complain that our Albany diocesan newspaper wasn’t giving religious sisters the same treatment priests and deacons received on the obituary pages. I had to agree with her. It certainly seemed that the sisters were getting short-changed. So I joined her in advocating for equality in the obits, and that was the beginning of a beautiful-but-too-brief friendship.

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The way to ease is not easy

September always feels like the start of a new year to me, much more so than Jan. 1 ever does. It must be the perennial student in me. I can’t even resist the piles of discounted school supplies that fill every store at the end of summer. I buy at least a few neon-colored, spiral-bound notebooks and one box of perfectly pointed Crayola crayons every fall. Something about it settles my soul and makes me feel like I’ve got a blank slate and the possibility of a rainbow within reach.

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Give marriage the place of importance it deserves

On any given day, you’ll find me and Dennis running the gauntlet of modern family life. If you live it, you know it—or at least your own version of it. Early to rise, lunches to make, school forms to sign, commutes to drive, work to do, more work to do, gymnastic meets to attend, and what’s for dinner again? Read more

Seeking light in winter’s darkness

One of my favorite things about this season of seemingly ever-present physical darkness is the occasional pocket or flash of light. Not just the leftover twinkling Christmas decorations, although that helps, but the “mundane” glimmers that, to put it in artistic terms, create everyday versions of the on-canvas beauty created by artists like Caravaggio through the use of “chiaroscuro”—a technique that contrasts deep darkness and brilliant-but-concentrated light in dramatic fashion. Read more

Fail again, fail better

A willingness to be vulnerable in front of other people is probably one of my best qualities. I know that sounds like a self-deprecating put-down, and for the longest time—most of my life—I would have agreed with you. In a world where the get-ahead motto tends to be, “Never let them see you sweat,” I have always been someone who is inclined to let people in on my weak spots. I tend to share more than self-preservation might recommend, to take personal or professional risks that might seem risky and to let others know, when they are broken or discouraged or doubting, that I’ve been there or worse, sharing the story of some fiasco that is sure to make them feel better about themselves and maybe even give them a laugh. Read more

And after this, our exile…

Although I have had a lifelong struggle with the Rosary—I’ve always considered myself Rosary-challenged—I started praying this prayer more frequently of late, thanks to the encouragement of Pope Francis. A driving motivation for me in finishing five decades of the Rosary is the chance to end with the Salve, Regina, also known as the Hail, Holy Queen.

I first fell in love with this prayer when I was on retreat at the Abbey of the Genesee near Rochester and listened in awe as the Trappist monks chanted Salve, Regina in the darkened chapel as they faced an icon of Mary with the Christ Child, illuminated by a single candle. Haunting and beautiful, powerful and poetic, this is a prayer I will add onto the end of a silent meditation session, or say whenever I need a random dose of Mary and her intercession. Read more

There’s beauty even in the fading…

I stood in the parking lot of a Holiday Inn Express in Syracuse one recent Saturday morning before dawn, fumbling with my car keys and coffee cup and thinking about the long drive and long day ahead. I wasn’t headed home but instead to a Eucharistic Congress hosted by the Diocese of Albany at the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs in Auriesville, where more than 4,000 pilgrims would converge on the sacred ground of St. Kateri Tekakwitha and the North American martyrs. Read more