Living in Lent

9 Feb

valentineThis year the first Sunday of Lent falls on Valentine’s Day. While prayer, fasting, and almsgiving don’t seem particularly romantic, there is actually a significant tie-in.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is tempted by Satan to put temporal things such as money and power before His relationship with the Father. Isn’t that what gets in the way of our feeling “in love” in our marriages? Long hours at work crowd out time together. Stress about bills tends to make us snap at each other. A desire to be right drives a wedge between us.

We don’t mean it, but sometimes these things get in the way of the fundamental truth that we are a man and woman in love.

If this is our situation, what if we decided to rethink Lent this year? What if we skipped giving up chocolate and instead tried to do something we know would make our spouse feel more loved? Here are some ideas:

  • Skip lunch out at work and buy flowers with the money.
  • Fast from criticism.
  • Suggest a date night (out or in) that includes your spouse’s favorite activity.
  • Make an effort to correct a habit that irritates your spouse.
  • Be home by 6 for dinner.
  • Set a specific time to pray for or with your spouse.

For marriage enrichment opportunities, check out www.archkck.org/family. Let us take advantage of the graces of Lent to help improve our most significant relationship!

The foregoing is this week’s installment of the “Marriage Minute,” produced by the Marriage and Family Life Office of the Archdiocese, which attempts to view the Sunday readings through the lens of the Sacrament of Marriage.

Jesus on Board

2 Feb

Jesus on boatDo you ever wonder if Jesus even notices you and your family when it seems like every other need in the world is more important than yours? We can sometimes think, “With all the problems in the world, from terrorism and hunger to pollution and poverty, how can Jesus have time for my desires and needs?”

In this week’s Gospel, Peter has worked all night and caught no fish. His mind was probably filled with the thought we’ve all had at one time or another, “How will we pay the bills?” When Jesus appeared on the scene, Peter could have sent Him away to deal with more important matters like Roman occupation and leprosy. But instead, he lets Jesus on his boat. And he miraculously receives more than he could have imagined.

This week, Jesus is waiting to be invited in to that big presentation at work, the pile of dishes in the sink, your son’s math test, and your hurt feelings from that spat you had with your spouse last night. Yes, there are worse problems out there, but these are your problems and they matter to Him. Why not invite Him in and see what miracles are in store for you?

This Sunday also kicks off National Marriage Week. We invite you to come celebrate with Archbishop Naumann at Holy Mass at Holy Trinity in Lenexa at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, February 11th. Following Mass, national speaker and author Jon Leonetti will present on the topic, “The Mission of the Family.” This evening would be an excellent way to invite Jesus onto your boat.

The foregoing is this week’s installment of the “Marriage Minute,” produced by the Marriage and Family Life Office of the Archdiocese, which attempts to view the Sunday readings through the lens of the Sacrament of Marriage.

Love Will Find a Way

29 Jan

nazareth-welcomeIs someone you love away from the faith? It may be your spouse, your son or daughter, or it may be an extended family member. Some couples are even rejected by their own families for being “too religious.”

If this is you, take heart in this Sunday’s readings. Jesus returns to his hometown, shares the good news of salvation, and is almost run off a cliff. This must have broken His heart! He certainly understands your pain, for nobody knows rejection like Jesus.

He also gives us an important insight: “No prophet is recognized in his native place.” If our faith is evident to our fallen-away family, it often does no good to continue to “preach” to them, which so often is perceived as “nagging.” Instead, we can take our cue from the second reading, where St. Paul prescribes the remedy to win souls for Christ through patience, kindness, and rejoicing in the truth.

This can be an examination of conscience for us in our relationships. When our loved ones come back to the faith, will they have seen our actions as resembling this kind of love? If not, what kind of practical changes can we make?

Finally, a word of encouragement in this year of mercy: “[Love] bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:7-8). Have confidence that every act of patience, every act of kindness, every act of service, and every prayer for our family bears fruit in God’s Kingdom!

The foregoing is this week’s installment of the “Marriage Minute,” produced by the Marriage and Family Life Office of the Archdiocese, which attempts to view the Sunday readings through the lens of the Sacrament of Marriage.

God’s Will

12 Jan
Will

William (“Will”) Kurczak

This beautiful story was submitted by Christie Kurczak of Fort Leavenworth.

We had not planned on any new pregnancies after our fourth daughter was born because of complications that I had during her delivery, but God had other plans for us.

In December 2013, just after my husband left for a deployment (we’re a military family), I discovered that I was pregnant with our fifth child. It was a very scary pregnancy from the beginning, with my husband Steve being in the Middle East, and I was having some complications. I continually prayed to God for His Will.

This surely wasn’t my plan. Things didn’t feel “right” from the start. I was struggling to keep up with the four girls by myself. I didn’t know what else to do, but place my trust in Him. I didn’t know where to begin in my prayer . . . For the baby’s health? For my health? For both? It somehow seemed easier to just pray “thy will be done” and “please take care of my girls and husband along the way.”

In March 2014, I was 19 weeks along in the pregnancy when my water broke. I rushed to the hospital and learned that I could expect to lose the baby within a week. The baby was too young to survive outside the womb. There was nothing they could do. I was told that within the next few days one of two things would happen: Either I would go into labor and the baby would deliver, or because of the lack of the amniotic sack I would acquire an infection that would take the lives of both the baby and me. If the second possibility occurred, they would be forced to deliver the baby right away to save me, and the baby would be too young to survive.

My husband returned to the States on emergency leave, and I was sent home from the hospital with strict instructions to return at any sign of labor or infection. And we waited.

At this time I was introduced to St. Gianna Molla. I learned about this modern-day saint’s courage, her faith, and the miracle that confirmed the cause for her canonization.

The miracle involved a mother whose water had broken, and whose doctors were encouraging an abortion. This too was an option that was presented to me when my water broke. We lived in Washington State then, and abortions are legal there up to 24 weeks gestation. (Of course the doctors learned very quickly from me that in no way was that an option.) We began to pray to St. Gianna for her intercession, for God’s will to unfold, and for peace in our hearts with whatever was to come. We had no idea just what was in store.

I was on bedrest at our home for two weeks before I began to have some light bleeding and went to the hospital. I was admitted right away and told that I would remain “in house” as we waited for the baby to come. I was 21 weeks along now, and still being told that the baby wouldn’t have a chance at survival. If we happened to make it to 24 weeks, then NICU would become involved in our care, and they would do what they could. But I was told many times, “You’ll never make it that far.”

Upon admission to the hospital, and further examination, our road became more complicated. The doctors discovered that not only was there no longer sufficient amniotic fluid for the baby to develop necessary lung strength, but the placenta supporting the pregnancy was growing out of control. It had attached itself not only into the lining of the uterus, but had embedded into the uterine wall and muscle, and they suspected that it had grown through the uterine wall and into my abdominal cavity.

Now not only was our baby at risk, but my life was in danger as well. As the placenta grows, it is looking for a blood source to support the baby, and it will attach to whatever it finds. Usually the placenta is delivered shortly after the birth of the baby. But if it has attached to other internal organs, it will not release and will just continue to bleed. In a matter of minutes the mother can hemorrhage and lose her life. This became our predicament. The longer I could manage to hold onto the pregnancy, the better our baby’s chance of survival. But the further the pregnancy went, the greater the chance that my “rogue” placenta was taking over my abdominal cavity and I could bleed out during delivery before the doctors could do anything about it.

So we sat. We waited. We prayed. I continued to pray for God’s Will for our family and for our sweet baby. We had been told we were having another girl, and we had named the child Mary Louise Gianna for our Holy Mother, for St. Louise de Marillac (I loved the name Louise and her feast day of March 15 also happened to be the day my water broke), and of course for St. Gianna, who had quickly become so special to us. Time marched on.

I sat in that hospital room for eight more weeks. It was a miracle, really. There was no medical explanation as to why one of those initial two scenarios had not played out. Everyone was baffled and on edge. Steve began to refer to me as the little IED (improvised explosive device) in room 305 ready to “explode.” The medical staff suspected that when the time finally came to deliver, I might massively hemorrhage before they could get me safely to an operating room.

The goal was trying to wait as long as possible, to give “Mary Louise” the best chance, while at the same time balancing a decision to schedule delivery so that a C-section could be performed in as controlled an environment as possible–that is what would give me the best chance at survival.  After 10 weeks of waiting, and watching, and praying, and missing so many things that were happening in my daughters’ lives outside those hospital walls, at 29 weeks gestation, the time came.

My body went into labor once earlier that week and we were able to slow it. But on May 21st, it became obvious that the time had come to deliver. A scheduled C-section was planned for the next morning in a nice controlled environment (as the docs had wished). But yet again, God’s plans were different. At around 5:00 p.m., labor became almost unbearable, and as the doctors decided to examine me one final time before going home to get a good night’s rest for the surgery the next morning, they found that the cord had prolapsed, and the baby was getting ready to deliver right there. Game on, as they say, and I was rushed to the OR.

I woke up about six hours later in ICU to my husband and my mom telling me how well I had done, and that I was going to be okay. I had received a massive blood transfusion (6 units of red blood cells and 8 units of plasma), but the doctors were able to stabilize me. Unfortunately, the only way to remove the placenta and stop the bleeding was to perform a complete hysterectomy. We knew this was a possibility, but I’d hoped that once they got in there, maybe things wouldn’t be as bad as they had feared.  As it turned out, the placenta had grown through the uterus and was touching the bladder, but had not done any other damage to my internal organs, praise God.

My only concern at this point was the baby, of course. I kept asking how she was, and at first Steve would say nothing about her, so I began to fear that the worst had happened. Though we had held onto hope through all of this that the baby would survive, without amniotic fluid for so long, the chances where very high that her lungs would be severely underdeveloped, and that she wouldn’t have a fighting chance. I knew this, but how I had wanted to be able to see her before she was gone.

Finally Steve blurted out, “The baby is fighting. The baby is really sick, but is fighting.” Then he hesitated a bit and said, “But . . . it’s a boy!” A BOY!!!

I could hardly believe it. God is full of surprises, isn’t He?! Steve shared that he’d had an emergency Baptism performed because things were not looking good . . . especially in those first hours. While I was sad to have not been able to witness my son’s Baptism, I was relieved at the same time. Steve knew how important that would be to me if something had happened and he hadn’t made it through that first night.

Steve named our son William James Robert after my dad, his own middle name, and his grandfather. We’d never discussed boys’ names with any seriousness because we never thought we’d have a son. We called him Will, as often as we called him William. Steve couldn’t have chosen a better name for him. He had a will like no other. His will to live had proven doctors wrong since that moment at19 weeks gestation when my water broke, and the fight he showed from the moment he was born was incredibly inspiring.

We had good moments of hope and improvement with Will, and moments of despair as he would take a turn for the worse. We sat vigil at his bedside for the better part of just over two weeks. There were laughter and tears. All of Will’s sisters got to come and visit and meet him. They read books and sang songs to him. They told him about God and about their friends. He knew only love.

On one particularly difficult afternoon, as I sat next to his isolette in the NICU, I continued to pray that same prayer I had spoken countless times since first learning of my pregnancy. “I don’t understand your ways, Lord. And I don’t know where we are going from here. But I trust in you. I’m praying for Your Will, Lord . . .” And in that moment it hit me like a ton of bricks and took my breath away. All that time I had been praying for God’s Will. God’s WILL!

As I had prayed for God’s plans to unfold in our lives, in the same way I had been praying for my son by name. His mercies never end!  Our son was God’s Will long before he was ours, but I have been forever blessed and changed that I am able to be his momma, though I had him but a short time here on this Earth.

For 18 days our son fought for his life before his body became so tired and worn that he could fight no more. In the early hours of the morning on June 8th, Pentecost Sunday, Will went to be with our Lord.  (That also happens to be the feast day of St. William of York.)  William’s life in this world was brief, but he touched more lives, and accomplished more for the Kingdom of God in that time than many adults could ever dream of. His story brought awareness to the sanctity of life at all stages to people, and in a place where it is sadly undervalued. He inspired people to return to the Lord, or to a new, deeper faith through the miracles that God worked throughout his short life. Will’s story continues to spread a message of hope and faith and trust in the Lord that is far-reaching, as those who were closest to us and forever changed by him have gone on to touch and bless others.

We had to leave Washington only six short weeks after Will’s funeral because of a planned military move. It was extremely difficult to leave that place where we have all of our memories with him, and to leave all of the people who supported, cared for, and loved us throughout that time in our lives–not to mention to come to a place where only one or two people knew anything about him or the trauma we had all been through.

It has only been 18 months since Will left this world, and it is still very fresh and raw at times. I try my best to trust the Holy Spirit as He moves and to share little tidbits when He prompts, to show restraint with sharing sometimes when He’s asking me to, and to be completely open and vulnerable when the Spirit moves me to as well, though sometimes it is harder than others.

Right now I am filled with gratitude at being given a chance to share my son and his story again.  I find peace in knowing that Will fulfilled God’s purpose for him in this world. And I believe with my whole heart that the ripple of love and trust that flows from his story will roll on forever. When I make it to heaven someday (God willing), I can’t wait to put my arms around my sweet William once again. And when I meet the Lord face to face, my question to him will not be “Why did that have to happen?” but rather I will say, “Please show me. Show me all of the good and wonderful things that came from our William’s short life.” I know that it will be far-reaching, and I can’t wait for this heavenly reunion. Until then, I hang on to that trust in our awesome, merciful God.

IMG_8555 (2)This is a photo of Christie Kurczak’s daughters taken at a garden dedication this past summer. With the help of the Knights of Columbus, the family planted a garden bed at the chapel on post dedicated to “Unborn babies with a Will to Live, and the Little Ones Already in Heaven.” It is their hope and prayer that it will be a place of healing for others who have lost children to miscarriage, stillbirth, or early infant loss, as well as a place to pray for those children at risk of abortion.  

The “Becket” List

29 Dec

St. Thomas BecketI’m sure many readers have heard of The Bucket List. It’s the movie in which characters played by Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman have terminal cancer. They decide to make the most of their remaining time by composing a “bucket list” of things they wanted to do before they die.

And then the adventures began!

A few years ago I started a similar tradition. During the last week of the year—when I can’t put it off any longer–I compose a “Becket list.” This list in named in honor of St. Thomas Becket, the 12th-century archbishop and martyr whose feast the Church celebrates each year on December 29th. The Becket list, part serious and part whimsical, contains things I would like to do before the end of the year.

Without further ado (after all, I gotta get busy!), here’s my end-of-2015 list:

(1) Recall all the blessings of 2015.

(2) Do all the things I put off till the Christmas holiday, when presumably I would “have more time.”

(3) Remember those who left us this year. This not only includes beloved celebrities like Cardinal Francis George, Leonard Nimoy, and Yogi Berra, but also friends and family members who passed away in 2015. I especially remember my sister Dottie. May they all rest in peace, as we put our trust in the Lord’s abundant mercy this year and always.

(4) Set goals and make resolutions for 2016. It’s good that we use the calendar as a motive to challenge ourselves to grow. High on the list is truly taking to heart the Archbishop’s invitation to participate more deeply in the corporal and spiritual works of mercy this coming year.

(5) Finally figure out how to operate the Wii and Xbox 360 before we’re forced to upgrade to Wii U and Xbox 1. I’ll probably always be an upgrade or two behind, to the chagrin of my sons.

(6) Lose ten pounds (five “old” pounds and the five put on over Christmas). I hope the treadmill still works.

(7) Perform intentional acts of kindness. After all, performing “random” acts of kindness leaves too much to chance.

(8) Clean my office! Both of them! If you’ve seen either one, no further explanation is needed.

(9) Tax stuff. Sure, the IRS gives us extra time for some things, but I like to have my “ducks” lined up. And surely this includes end-of-the-year donations to Catholic apostolates and charities!

(10) Playoffs? Playoffs! Of course I have to make plans to watch the playoff run of the Kansas City Chiefs! If I had gotten another puppy for Christmas, I would have named him Tamba, or possibly Dontari or Colquitt. Maybe next year.

What’s on your Becket list?

This article appeared in the December 25, 2015 edition of The Leaven.

What About the Tree?

26 Dec

Christmas treeFor many people, Christmas ends on Christmas day, so over the ensuing few days, amidst the various after-Christmas sales, the trees are unceremoniously taken down and dragged out to the curb.

But for those of us who do have a sense of Christmas extending beyond December 25th, the question still remains: When does Christmas season actually end? When should we take down not only our tree, but also other seasonal items such as nativity sets?

Traditionally, Christmas season is twelve days (like the song), which would take us to January 6th, the traditional date for celebrating the Epiphany, when the wise men brought gifts to the child Jesus. Now Epiphany is only approximately 12 days after Christmas, as in the United States it is celebrated on the second Sunday after Christmas. This year, for example, the second Sunday after Christmas falls on January 3rd.

But while Epiphany is an important feast within the context of the Christmas season, it doesn’t bring about the end of the Christmas season. The Christmas season ends on the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, at which point “Ordinary Time” begins. The Sunday after the Baptism of the Lord is thus the second Sunday of Ordinary Time.

The Baptism of the Lord usually falls on the Sunday after Epiphany, which this year will be January 10th.

Lastly, prior to the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), the Christmas season extended all the way to February 2nd, the feast of the Presentation of the Lord (aka Purification of Our Lady or Candlemas), based on Luke 2:22-38. While that is no longer the case, there is still something of a Christmas “flavor” to the early weeks of Ordinary Time leading up to the Presentation of the Lord.

But what does all that have to do with taking down my tree? And besides, if I wait too long to take it down, the garbage trucks won’t take it!

Well, rest assured there are no “rules” on all this. My recommendation, based on the liturgical season, is to keep Christmas decorations up till the Baptism of the Lord (January 11th). If that seems a little extreme for your household, I’d counsel at least waiting till after Epiphany (January 4th). That’s especially true for Nativity sets that include the three wise men.

And after all, why cut short “the most wonderful time of the year”?

Christmas Proclamation

24 Dec

nativityThe Twenty-fifth Day of December,

when ages beyond number had run their course from the creation of the world,

when God in the beginning created heaven and earth, and formed man in his own likeness;

when century upon century had passed since the Almighty set his bow in the clouds after the Great Flood, as a sign of covenant and peace;

in the twenty-first century since Abraham, our father in faith, came out of Ur of the Chaldees;

in the thirteenth century since the People of Israel were led by Moses in the Exodus from Egypt;

around the thousandth year since David was anointed King;

in the sixty-fifth week of the prophecy of Daniel;

in the one hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad;

in the year seven hundred and fifty-two since the foundation of the City of Rome;

in the forty-second year of the reign of Caesar Octavian Augustus, the whole world being at peace,

JESUS CHRIST, eternal God and Son of the eternal Father, desiring to consecrate the world by his most loving presence, was conceived by the Holy Spirit, and when nine months had passed since his conception, was born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem of Judah, and was made man:

The Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh.

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