The Confirmation Retreat

My almost perfect students

“Revealed” was the title of the retreat for the catechists in 2024.

Preparing

For the past two years I’ve had the pleasure of teaching teens ranging from ages 15 through 18, preparing them for their sacred Sacrament of Confirmation. This particular class represents students from six Orange County high schools. Half of the students attend private Catholic high schools; the other half attend three different public schools.

Charlie’s Angels

I was blessed to have well-behaved students, but many of them were not responding to questions I presented on the subject we were reviewing. My worst experience as a teacher is to ask questions and for half of the class to stare at you blankly. I wanted them all to engage and understand what was being taught to them, so I came up with a plan.

the lineup:shortest to the tallest

The Plan

Throughout my missionary trips I have accumulated a variety of souvenirs, from rosaries to praying cards, so I decided to give some of my treasures to the students who participated in class by simply answering a few questions. At first this was a great idea, but they soon lost interest. Several of the students eagerly raised their hands and sometimes shouted out the answers, but the dormant students remained quiet. I knew that they could respond, but they did not want to participate.

I prayed about it and came up with an idea that would motivate the entire class. Purchasing raffle tickets and a few gift cards to Chick-fil-A  and In-N-Out did the trick. The students would receive one ticket for showing up for class, and any time that they participated with the class discussions they received another ticket.  With every response to a question came another ticket. By the time the class was over some students could have as many as five tickets, increasing their chances to win. I’m happy to report that even the most reserved students started to open up  because of this little plan.

The Diversity

As I mentioned earlier I have an equally diverse group of students representing different cultures. This is one beautiful aspect that California has to offer: we love and accept our West Coast melting pot. It was the same for the students; they respected one another with the love of Christ. I understand that once this class is over many of these students will go their separate ways, some, however, made new friendships with common interests in music and sports. I pray they keep in touch.

The Retreat

Me, Robin and Yvette
The rest of the team

The retreat was held at Irvine Retreat Center, which is a stone’s throw away from my home. Since Mother Nature took a sabbatical, our normally sunny California has been colder than usual. This bad- spirited weather followed us, giving us cold weather during the first part of our retreat. It was cold.

This retreat was a no-phone zone, so many of the students were complaining as soon as their parents dropped them off. For them, the time moved at a snail’s pace. After the first night the complaining did not get any better.  I was concerned because this was my first overnight retreat with the students, and I wanted them to feel the presence of God. After breakfast on the second day one student asked me for the time. It was 10:30 a.m.! He walked away saying, “We have 90 more hours of this!”

Kneeling before the blessed Sacrament

Finally the sun peaked through in time for the outdoor adventures, which included a scavenger hunt, making  words with their bodies, and other games to release any pent-up energy. During this segment one of my students asked me, “What is the purpose for these games? Why are we doing this?” I answered., “This is fun and plus we’re bonding.”  It was evident that many of the kids were spiritually absent. But God would soon change that.

Adoration

To Catholics, Eucharistic Adoration is being in the presence of God. We guard this sacred time as oneness with our Creator. Saturday night was set aside for Adoration and confessions. One of the requirements to be confirmed is that you must go to confession before the Confirmation. We had three priests hearing confessions, including our parish priest Fr. Eliardo.

This  night was similar to the Upper Room, when the fire of the Holy Spirit came down. Every doubt, including my own, was lifted. The anointed music helped usher in the Spirit of God,  and the aroma from the incense filled the room. It took hours of preparation to get these busy minds to a calm state of mind. The title of the retreat was “Revealed,” and truly the Holy Spirit was revealed to all of us.

The affirming letters

As I prayed with many of the students, I could feel the Spirit of God present in their yielded bodies. Many were brought to tears.

 

Mass

The Letters

After Adoration each student received a letter from their parents. Some students received several letters, including from siblings. These letters of affirmation supported and affirmed their spiritual journey. And I played a small part in directing their path to sainthood.

The Mass

On Sunday we celebrated Mass, but this time it was different for the students because they had experienced a deeper understanding of who they are in Christ. During the homliy Fr. Eliardo shared his personal, relatable story about how he questioned his Confirmation.

Behind the Scenes 

Abraham, our youth director, and his assistant, Patty, must have worked endless hours to  prepare this retreat. All this hard work upset the Enemy, so poor Abraham was in the ER with kidney stones the week before the start of the retreat. He pressed  through (with the help of meds) and made it through the entire retreat. Thank you, Abraham, for the special accommodations for us older ladies who needed to be well rested to fulfill our roles as catechists. All of the speakers were gracious in sharing heartfelt stories about lifves. It is difficult to speak to a group of teens, let alone keep their attention. Abraham, Patty, Becca and our MC, Tanner, put on a jacket of humility to reach these kids.

My Prayer

Dear Lord, I pray for all the catechists who participated in this retreat. May the Spirit of God follow them for the rest of their lives. You “Revealed” Yourself to each of them in a special way. Grant them special graces to continue their walk. Amen

 

 

 

 

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A Pilgrimage Of Miracles

 

In the south of France in the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains lies the village of Lourdes, made famous by the apparitions of the Blessed Mother to 14-year-old Bernadette Soubirous.

Annually over six-million pilgrims make their way to Lourdes to experience the healing waters. Mike and I visited Lourdes for the first time about 15 years ago. Mike was on a personal mission to discover his roots in Ciriza, Spain. I wanted to visit Lourdes as well.

Ciriza, Spain

We arrived early in Pamplona and, as soon as we checked into the hotel, we inquired about hiring a private tour guide. It is never by coincidence how God arranges these encounters so this is how we first met our tour guide Maria (Tota). Tota lives in Pamplona, but she and her family own a home in the village of Ciriza, where Mike’s family originated!

Ciriza’s one main street leads directly to San Miguel Catholic Church.  On our way to visit the church we noticed stone tiles adorned with cherries (cerezas in Spanish) as part of the cobble stone street. I could not help but wonder if perhaps his last name was originally Cereza, and in times past morphed into Ciriza.

San Miguel Catholic Church
The Baptismal Font

With Tota’s connections, we were privileged to have the sanctuary opened for us by her good friend.  The key to the San Miguel Church was ornately large; it had to be to match the humongous keyhole to open the medieval doors. As we passed through the oversized wooden doors, we were in awe of the simple, unscathed beauty of this tiny church.  We walked to the second level, breathed in the holiness. and prayed for our loved ones.  Visually scanning all my sight could take in, I imagined Mike’s grandfather being baptized in the  old stone baptismal font. Yes, Mike’s beautiful Catholic roots were being unveiled right before our eyes.

In the  village’s recreational room, casually hanging on the wall, is the Ciriza Coat of Arms, Mike took several photos with his camera,  but he accidentally deleted them. Cell phones were not yet equipped with cameras, so we used  hand-held cameras.

Pamplona

Once a year Pamplona host the San Fermin Festival, which features the Running of the Bulls. On the path of the Running of the Bulls is an icon of San Fermin permanently set in the old city walls. Mike’s father Miguel was an honest to goodness bullfighter.

San Fernin

Traditionally before the running starts,  participants ask the saint’s protection by touching his statue. San Fermin, who was the first bishop of Pamplona, is the patron saint of Pamplona and Navarre, Spain.

Mike’s father. Miguel, was a bullfighter who wanted his son to experience the sport.  As a young boy Mike would travel with his father to Spain to watch the popular bullfighting matches.

We ate wonderful paella and for several days strolled through Pamplona, where Ernest Hemingway wrote  his 1926 novel  “The Sun Also Rises.”

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Mike's father Miguel Jorge Ciriza
Mike’s father Miguel Jorge Ciriza

Lourdes, France

We took a World War II train to France. This train, which was wider than the more modern ones creaked at every turn. We passed through the Pyrenees Mountains, countless rivers, and the Bordeaux countryside, making whistle stops in Toulouse and other quaint villages. I was agitated with Mike because he purchased a straw hat in Madrid and insisted on wearing it the entire time. Mike is a baseball cap type of guy and this new fashion was driving me crazy. He finally took the hat off and placed it on the overhang of the train for safekeeping. He was sad to discover that he left his hat on the train, but I quietly thanked the Lord for His intervention. From the train we caught a taxi to our hotel in Lourdes.

Our  hotel was in the center of town. We were greeted by a friendly English woman who told us where to eat and where to purchase candles. Mike was looking around and seemed distracted. I asked, “What’s the matter with you?” With a forlorn look he answered, “This is where my mother wanted to come when she got sick.” So this trip was turning out to be a healing for Mike.

The Nightly Procession

As instructed by the English woman, we ate at Alexandra’s. The French meal did not disappoint; it was delicious. We hurried back to the hotel to purchase the candles. I was uncertain as to why we needed candles in the first place, so I asked the English lady, “What are we to do with these candles?” She threw her head back and with a sweet chuckle said, “Follow the crowd.”

It was about 9:oo p.m. when the crowd of people came from all areas of the village, walking down the hilly streets and into the main town square. To our amazement we came upon the most beautiful sight:  the Basilica, Our Lady of the Rosary. This Romanesque-style cathedral is one of the largest in the world; nothing compares to its beauty.

We were awkward tourists waiting for a signal when the French Police started yelling and pushing the crowd to start moving toward the town square. People in gurneys and wheelchairs joined the rest of the group. Almost as if  from heaven, everyone’s candles were lit in a few seconds. The procession started with the singing of Ave Maria. When the sound of the Blessed Mother’s name was heard, the candles were held up high simultaneously. It was a chilly October night that will always remain in my heart.

 

 

The Grotto

Mike, who  had put off surgery to repair a torn meniscus until we returned from the trip, was walking with a sturdy brace to support his injury. The following day was our visit to the Grotto. As we passed a city bench Mike instructed me to wait there for him if I got out first or vice versa. It took about an hour to finally reach the end of the Grotto line, but only a few minutes to get dunked in the holy waters of Lourdes. With volunteers helping you get undressed, every stitch of clothing is removed and you’re wrapped in a sheet. Two women are assigned to assist you into the sacred pool of water. In broken English you’re asked to say your prayers. I was a nervous wreck, but remembered my intentions were for my Mother, my sister Myra and brother George; all were experiencingserious health issues.

The water was ice cold, but something very unusual happened once I got out. With the aid of other volunteers we quickly dressed.  I was completely dry in just a few seconds, including my hair. The waters of Lourdes gave me a sense of spiritual cleansing with a feeling of total peace.

I passed the bench where Mike expected me to meet him and decided to go shopping for rosaries. By the time Mike finished I was filling an empty 32-ounce bottle with holy waters. He immediately announced, “You don’t expect to carry the water in my suitcase, do you?” “Nope! No problem, I’ll carry it!”

Mike’s Secret Miracle

We had been home three weeks when I accidentally discovered that Mike had experienced a miracle in Lourdes. He came home from golfing and asked for some of “that water.” I responded,”What water?” Mike said he wanted the water from Lourdes. I sharply said, “No! you did not help me carry it, and what do you need it for anyway?” He said he wanted to share it with his friend who had a bad knee. My godly response was, “I’m not wasting the water on your friends.” Then Mike shared with me that he had been completely healed of  the torn meniscus. This was how I found out! I reminded Mike that he had to give glory to God for his healing, then  handed him the water for his friend.

My Prayer

Lord, thank You for Mike’s healing. I pray for all who need a miracle, especially those who do not know how to pray. Lord teach them Your simple prayer: “Jesus I trust in You!” Amen.

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Keeping Easter Traditions Alive

The Lord has given me the grace to remain neutral when it comes to political views on my Blog.  If you truly follow God and believe in His word, your heart will lead you to a more conservative point of view. But when President Biden proclaimed Easter (the highest of The High Holy days of all Judeo-Christianity) as Transgender Visibility Day, was a clear message from the pit of hell. Please remember this proclamation when it’s time to cast your vote.

He Is Risen

Despite the fact that the Enemy would attempt to rob us of our Easter celebration by these atrocious, offensive words spoken by our president,  this will never change the fact that Our Lord gloriously rose from the dead!  Jesus is sitting at the right hand of God, watching all the sinful behavior of the president and his ill-advised cabinet members while they make these disgraceful proclamations. So as much as I do not want to pray for our current president, I will pray for God’s will to be done in his life. Lord have mercy! I will say no more on this disgusting matter.

 

St. Norbert Parish

Mass

I attended Holy Saturday Mass and stayed to pray the second day of the Divine Mercy Novena (more on that later). As I was about to make  the great escape, Helen, the Divine Mercy leader, asked me to stay and help set up the flowers for Easter Sunday. It has been 40 days since flowers have adorned our sanctuary; the scent of the flowers filled that altar. We did our best to organize the white Easter lilies, pink hydrangeas and pink Kalanchoe lican flowers symmetrically. Despite our humble effort, someone with a better eye for floral design will most likely change them around.  We did our best.

The Miracle Of The Red Egg

As I research about religious holidays, in most cases it will always lead me to a  historical action of a saint. In this case it is Mary Magdalene. She was the  first person to see our Resurrected Christ. When she ran to tell the disciples about her encounter, they did not believe her. This did not hinder her faith because she had her own ministry of reaching out to others. She was, after all, a woman of wealth and that opened many doors for her, including a trip to meet Emperor Tiberius in Rome.

St. Mary Magdalen had much to share with the Emperor.  She denounced Pilot’s treatment of Jesus during His trial. More importantly she wanted to proclaim Our Lord’s Resurrection.

 

Mary Magdalene and the red egg
Mary Magdalene presenting the egg to Emperor Tiberius

The Red Egg

According to tradition Mary Magdalene held out an egg and said to the Emperor, “Christ is Risen!” With this announcement the Emperor mocked her claim and, like the disciples of Jesus, he did not believe her. Right before his eyes the egg turned red!

St. Mary Magdalene showed  boldness before powerful men, and she understood her role as a woman in the times of Jesus. She spoke truth, and that is one of the most important roles we have when people of power do not believe. It is no surprise that she is called “Apostle of the Apostles.”

Why The Egg?

Another tradition is that Mary Magdalene brought a basket of boiled eggs with her to the tomb of Jesus on Easter morning. This may have been a meal for herself and her companions. While at the tomb she noticed that the eggs changed  to bright colors. some red. This may be the reason she presented the egg to the Emperor, expecting that Jesus would perform the same miracle.

 

Getting ready for the money Easter egg hunt
Keeping the tradition alive
Our grandsons, missing Maddie who is away at college

The Easter Egg

Whether you choose to believe these traditions or not, the symbol of the Easter egg originated  from the Christians in Apostolic times. The Easter egg symbolizes “Christ’s Resurrection” and the rebirth of all mankind. It offers us hope in these troubled times.

Divine Mercy Novena

Since visiting the shrine of Divine Mercy in Krakow, Poland, I’ve had a special devotion to St. Faustina. To add to this wonderful experience, Mike and I were in Rome and witnessed her canonization. Believe me when I say I had no idea that she would be canonized that day, but for the providence of God, we were there!

This novena is different from any others because Jesus dictated this prayer to St. Faustina. These are Our Lord’s words! I will be praying this novena for nine days, ending on Divine Mercy Sunday, which is the first Sunday after Easter.  Of course anyone can find this novena on the internet, but allow me to review the prayers.

Day One

On the first day of the novena we are to pray for all mankind, especially all sinners. I added several people who fit this description and prayed for them throughout the day.

Day Two

We are to pray for the souls of priests and religious. Those who have dedicated their lives in service to God are always in the line of fire from the Evil One. They need to be  constantly saturated in prayer .

Day Three

On this day we are to pray for all devout and faithful souls. I fall into this category but I also fall from the grace of God. Yes, we need prayer to stay on the right path and to win others by our example. Pray for me!

Day Four

On this day we are to pray for pagans and those who do not know God. We associate with these precious individuals who have not yet found their way. During this novena I will shed light for them to follow in the footsteps of Our Lord.

Day Five

On this day we are to pray for heretics and schismatics. A heretic is someone who does not want to conform or rejects the doctrines presented by the church. A schismatic is someone who causes division within the church. We are experiencing this within our Catholic church right now.

Day Six

On this day we are to pray for the meek and humble souls and the souls of little children.

Day Seven

We are to pray for the souls who especially venerate and glorify My mercy. We know who these special saints in the making are, they spend hours in a day in prayer. They are immersed in God and their gift is perpetual prayer.

Day Eight

On this day we are to pray for those who are in the prison of Purgatory. We pray for the repose of their souls. We do this because when you die,  you must be cleansed of all your transgressions before you enter the Pearly Gates.

Day Nine

On this day we pray for those who have become lukewarm.

15 “I know your works; I know that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot. 16 So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. 17 For you say, ‘I am rich and affluent and have no need of anything,’ and yet do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. 18 I advise you to buy from me gold refined by fire so that you may be rich, and white garments to put on so that your shameful nakedness may not be exposed, and buy ointment to smear on your eyes so that you may see.
My Prayer 
I pray that you join me in praying this glorious novena. I also  pray that you remain in the spirit of Easter. He is Risen!
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