Tag Archives: spirituality

Thinking about Josephine: All Souls edition

This morning, news of the bombing of a Syriac Catholic church in Baghdad hit my feed reader via the Archdiocese of Toronto blog.  I directed me to the BBC report of the incident, where I read with horror of this targetted attack on the Eve of the Feast of All Saints.

My first reaction was to call my mother-in-law Josephine to see if she knew anyone in that parish.  She had contacts world-wide in the Syrian-Catholic community and elsewhere.  And then I remembered her passing almost three months ago.  It’s funny…Zouheir says that he keeps going to pick up the phone to call her and then remembers that he can’t.  Josephine made friends wherever she went, and even in the months before she died, she kept in contact with friends and family by phone.  She was also introduced to Skype in her final year and enjoyed seeing her grandchildren that way, even if she couldn’t see them in person.  And she was a prayer warrior, keeping us all close to her heart and the heart of Jesus.

Today, she would have been praying for the church in Baghdad, and I ask for her intercession for the repose of the souls of the dead, and peace to the injured and bereaved.


This Sunday evening, the Solemnity of the Assumption, I will be singing with Voices of St Francis at The Basilian Marian Shrine of Gratitude.

We will be performing sacred music by Palestrina, Byrd, Victoria and others, and will be closing with Biebel’s Ave Maria. There will also be a rosary procession and eucharistic adoration. I dedicate my personal efforts to the memory of my mother-in-law, Josephine, who passed away last Friday.

Here is a gorgeous version of the Biebel sung by Chanticleer. Say a prayer for the repose of her soul as you enjoy this.

For where your treasure is, your heart will be also.

As these words were read from the Gospel of Luke this morning at mass, I could not help but meditate on my mother-in-law Josephine's treasures:  her faith, and her family. With her death only two days past, it was difficult to focus on some of the celebration, but these words rang out.

Her faith permeated her entire life.  She enjoyed beautiful things, but It was very difficult to give her gifts.  There was always someone else who needed things more than she did, and so she would send monetary gifts to the St Joseph orphanage in Lebanon for which she raised money, or would buy gifts for those she perceived to be in more need than she. The things she cherished most were religious articles:  rosaries, holy cards, statues, candles, relics.  She would obtain these when she visited holy places, and then give many of them away to people who needed the comfort. When she came to Toronto last Christmas, she brought a gorgeous statue of Padre Pio which she gave to us.  She was a big fan of his.  I also have rosaries and holy cards that she gave me, that I will always treasure. 

But these items were not her faith.  They were like photographs of dear family members, reminders of saints and prayers and devotions.  She prayed every morning with a candle, saying rosaries for the intentions of her loved ones as well as her own.  She rose very early, starting her day with prayers and then watched the mass on her satellite television feed from Lebanon. When she was here last year, I took her to mass on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, a day that was very important to her.  It was perhaps the second and definitely last time we went to mass together, just the two of us. It was a horrid night, weather-wise, with high winds and heavy snow.  She wanted to get there early so that she could pray before the celebration began.  Although the mass was in English and she didn't understand most of it, the last hymn was Salve Regina which she had sung in procession at Lourdes, and I could tell that she was very happy. Her faith brought her through very difficult times in her life. She was an example to me of a holy, devoted life.

Her family was her other treasure.  She had six children who lived, all of whom have become successful (in the worldly sense, at least), in great part because of her sacrifice of time and what little money they had.  The children went to private Catholic schools in Beirut, and she scrimped and saved the money each Fall for tuition.  She, with a grade six education (forced to leave school by edict of her uncle), supervised homework and made sure that the children were well-fed and dressed on the very small salary of her husband, a clerk at a bank.  She welcomed all comers to their apartment, serving meals and offering a place to sleep to traveler and especially to priests who found themselves without family on feast (or other) days.  A year after the war broke out, against the counsel of her husband, she arranged for passports and travel to take the family to Europe and away from the risks of living on the Green Line.  They started over in Paris, on furniture donated by a Catholic relief society.  She was the first up in the morning, and the last to sleep. Her family was truly her vocation, and she slaved for their benefit.  The result?  Two medical doctors, two doctorates, and two successful business people. I remember being exasperated with my two small boys and then realizing that she was able to manage with four boys, two girls, and very little in the way of financial resources. 

She died on the Feast of the Transfiguration.  Rt. Rev. Msgr. Rudolph G. Bandas writes: 

In the Transfiguration Christ enjoyed for a short while that glorified state which was to be permanently His after His Resurrection on Easter Sunday. The splendor of His inward Divinity and of the Beatific Vision of His soul overflowed on His body, and permeated His garments so that Christ stood before Peter, James, and John in a snow-white brightness. The purpose of the Transfiguration was to encourage and strengthen the Apostles who were depressed by their Master's prediction of His own Passion and Death. The Apostles were made to understand that His redeeming work has two phases: The Cross, and glory—that we shall be glorified with Him only if we first suffer with Him. (quoted at catholicculture.org)

By her death on this feast day, we are reminded that her suffering is over and she is heading to her glorification with Our Lord, His Mother, and the saints that she relied on for intercession.   

(Art:  Transfiguration by Raphael (1520)

The Communion of Saints.

My mother-in-law Josephine passed away yesterday morning.  While we knew that she didn’t have a long time to live, having been diagnosed with cancer of the pancreas, it still came as a shock, a sudden loss, the realization that she is no longer with us physically.  

The telephone woke us up.  She had been staying with her daughter Gemma in Paris while undergoing chemotherapy.  Zou’s brother Tony called…he had been with her when she died.  Despite the exchange in Arabic, I could tell what the call was.  Zouheir sitting on the side of the bed, speaking in low tones, unusual for phone calls with his family.  He lay back down and we talked for a while.

It’s been a crazy summer.  When we learned of his mother’s diagnosis, we went to Paris to spend some time with her as soon as both boys were out of school.  Just before we left, Zou found out that he had kidney stones and so an appointment for an ultrasound was booked when he got back, two weeks later.  He had stones when he was a child, and has a large scar on his flank from the surgery back in Beirut.  As it turns out, the stones are very large and must be removed by surgery, which is booked in September.  Zou has been expending a lot of mental and emotional energy flipping between his mother’s failing health and his own discomfort and upcoming intervention.

Yesterday morning was his first meeting with the surgeon, and so, still struggling with the news and all that he had to do to get to Paris, he headed off for his early morning appointment.  He sent notes to various people at the office, reassigning work for the next week and cancelling the travel to the US that he had on his calendar.  While he was gone, I was very emotional and spent most of my time thinking about her and praying.

We spent the day booking travel, making calls, sending emails, laundry, packing, just sitting.  He got on a flight last night and arrived this morning to see his mom before her body was prepared for travel to Stockholm, where the funeral will be held.  I had a brief email from him saying that he had spent some time with her, that she was surrounded by candles, a rosary, and a photo of Fr. Stephan Nehme, a Maronite Lebanese monk who was recently beatified.

This morning I took Wilson for his early walk, something that Zou usually does.  As we rounded the second corner, the sun, just rising and still low in the sky, hit me full force, shining almost parallel to the ground. I couldn’t really see anything in front of me, such was the intensity of the light in my eyes. I turned off my audiobook and Wilson pulled me to stop.  It was a cool morning, unusual for recent weeks, and the sun warmed me.  I had this strong sense of the presence of Josephine and of being told (her telling me?) that she is fine and that she loves me very much.  I had a sense of peace, and of the power of the communion of saints, the mystical union of the Church Militant (on earth), the Church Penitent (undergoing purification), and the Church Triumphant (in heaven).  No longer an advisor and helper here on earth, she takes on a new role in the Church Triumphant, where I know she will continue to intercede for her children and all those she loves.

John Nava
The Communion of Saints (Tapestry), John Nava

Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, Los Angeles, California 

Copyright 2009 Magnolia Editions


How to be happy….the flowchart.


I’ve just started listening to podcasts of National Public Media’s Speaking of Faith program with Krista Tippet. It’s a very though-provoking show, covering aspects of what it means to be human with a focus on spirituality and ethics.

I’ve listened to a show on what autism teaches us about human-ness, a show about Goethe, science, and contemplative practice, one about teaching children about spirituality, and I have another dozen or so on my ipod waiting for me.

I linked to the show on Facebook and this flowchart from the Speaking of Faith blog was on their wall. I loved it, but there’s a more complex one that’s great too. Go to the link above and scroll down.

Teehan writes on composing for the church.

Church? Like, CHURCH church?

Friends of mine are sometimes surprised to learn that in addition to my tuba player/composer career, I am also a choral singer and have been singing professionally in churches for some years.  I don’t keep this a secret, but I tend not to talk too much about it since it usually takes a backseat to my other activities.  The fact is, though, that choral singing has kept food on my table while I’ve gotten my “real” career off the ground, and continues to do so.

When the topic does come up, I’m sometimes asked, “so are you like, religious?”  or the simpler, “church? like, CHURCH church?”  I guess people are surprised because traditional church services are not very congruous with the lifestyle of the average jazz/rock musician.  And it’s pretty ironic, actually, that I’m working in a church now since I was raised without any religion. In fact, in my teens I was a pretty militant atheist: I thought the whole enterprise was ridiculous and didn’t miss an opportunity to say so.

Rob Teehan, Juno-nominated composer and tuba player, writes thoughtfully on his relationship with the church and how it’s changed since he started singing at, and composing for, church services.

Continue reading here.

During these 40 days….

….I will abstain from watching television or movies

….I will attend a weekday mass at least once per week

….I will follow the Lenten Daily Retreat at The Spiritual Exercises Blog hosted by a group of US Jesuits.

It’s not that I think watching TV is bad or even particularly wasteful of my time. I don’t watch that much, and it’s only in the evenings with my family.  But I need some peace and quiet to enter fully into this season.  Some space to read and reflect.  It’s also for this reason that I will get to an additional mass each week.   The daily Lenten retreat will give my mornings some focus and start my day in meditation and prayer.

Review: Jesus Lives by Sarah Young


This book of devotions is designed as a gift book, with glossy pages, a padded cover, ribbon book mark, and a presentation page following the flyleaf.  Each of the 180 devotions corresponds to an emotion, virtue or concern.  For example, there are meditations on “Joy”, “Fear”, “Emptiness”, and “Right Living” among many others.  There is no discernible order for the devotions, but there is an alphabetical index at the front that directs you to all devotions on a particular topic.  Each devotion covers a two-page spread, with the left page containing the meditation, which is written as if in the voice of Jesus, with scripture passages presented on the right page.

The tone of the meditations is very soothing and pleasant, although I found it difficult to engage with the voice of Jesus in this book.  This is Ms Young’s style, and it may be very helpful to some, but I found it distracting.  Catholics will find some of the theology off, but other passages will have alternative uses to those that the author intended.  The meditations on being in the Presence of Jesus could work very well at Eucharistic Adoration, not at all what the author intended, but beautiful nonetheless.  For example, one of the meditations on the topic “His Presence” begins:  “I want you to spend time with Me for the pure pleasure of being in My company. When you take delight in My Presence, you experience a foretaste of the eternal pleasures I have prepared for you…”.

A lovely little book, although probably not suitable for an orthodox Catholic.

This book was provided for review free-of-charge through the Thomas Nelson Book Sneeze program.

Seven Quick Takes Friday



For the past week, I have been trying the so-called “no-poo” method of hair management.  This involves ditching shampoo and using a baking soda paste to “wash” and some apple cider (or other) vinegar as a rinse/conditioner.  I have to say, it’s working remarkably well!  I don’t have before and after pics, but my hair is much smoother and less frizzy than normal.  I can also go an extra day (or two) between washes, which is a good thing with my coarse mop.  The second time I did it, I forgot to get some vinegar so I just skipped that step and it was still fine!  I’m using my regular styling products plus a new tool….


Ever since I’ve started growing my hair out, I have bemoaned the fact that I can’t get it to lie flat like my stylist can, with just a hair dryer and a round brush.  I can’t seem to put the hair tight enough to dry it flat, and let’s just forget about the back side of my head.  I had been contemplating getting a flat iron for some time, and I picked one up at Winners earlier this week.  Can I just say that I lurve it.  Seriously.  I am not a hair freak in any way, nor do I pay very much attention to my appearance in general, but this little (zebra-striped) baby is fabulous!  I’m probably frying my hair or something, but it gets it nice and straight and kind of soft.  I’m a convert.

While we’re on the subject of hair, I am considering letting my grey grow out.  I estimate that I’m over 50% grey, at least at the front.  After perusing Going Gray Looking Great and requesting the book at the library, I’m going to talk to my stylist and see if she can do some magic with a combination of low-lights and highlights to let my grey come in without looking like a skunk.

Okay, enough about my hair.  (And I said that I didn’t really care about it….)  The Declutter Club started on Monday with an online chat for an hour, which was great.  There were over a dozen of us online, plus some who couldn’t make it.  I’ve been working hard on getting my living room bookshelves into shape, purging books, listing some to sell, giving some away, and generally sorting through all kinds of papers and junk that I had stuffed in various places.  Next week, I will start working on a large former TV cabinet that I’m now using for linen and candle storage.  I want to get this unit out of my house, so I’ve got to find a home for all the stuff inside it.


The print editions of the National Post and The Star reported that Target is considering coming to Canada in the next 3-5 years.  Target, along with Trader Joes, were the big losses when we left the US 2-1/2 years ago.    Oh, and real barbeque.  Heavenly days!

Alex is coming home from Queen’s for the weekend.  Apparently, a lot of people are going skiing this weekend and he’ll find it hard to study.  Yes, you read that right.  We’ll see how much studying gets done at home.  And I need to remind him to turn off his file-sharing software on his computer….luckily for us Bell caps internet overusage at $30 per month.  We could have been hit by an extra $300 last month for whatever it is that he does.

I requested and received reservations for two papal masses when we’re in Rome over Easter.  We’ll be able to attend the Holy Thursday mass at St. John Lateran (cool VR tour) and the Easter Sunday Mass in St. Peter’s.  Those letters are my favorite faxes of all time!  Now I need to book a tour of the Vatican Museum.