What’s in a name?

April 22nd, 2014posted by Sean Ater

My husband and I chose not to know the sex of our unborn baby before birth and kept our name selections a mystery to friends and family.  So when labor lasted a day and a half, our midwives and nurses in the hospital appeared quite anxious for the child’s identity to be revealed.


We held our baby girl during her first few minutes freshly out of the womb.  During the hustle and bustle of post-delivery, there was so much to take in that we temporarily forgot about names.  A nurse finally asked, “Well, what’s her name?”  There had been so much suspense for so many hours about who this little baby was going to be, and it seemed like an important moment when I turned to my husband, who answered after a pause, “Gianna Emmanuela.”


“That’s a beautiful name,” the nurses and midwives img_sainthoodresponded.  “Where did you get the name Gianna?”  Within the first few minutes of our daughter’s life, we were granted the opportunity to share briefly that St. Gianna Beretta Molla (the last saint canonized by Bl. John Paul II) was an Italian wife, mother and doctor in 20th century Italy.  When she was pregnant with her fourth child, a uterine tumor was discovered.  The only way to save St. Gianna’s life would result in the death of her unborn child – either directly through an abortion or “indirectly” (morally speaking) through a hysterectomy.  St. Gianna refused any treatment that would endanger her child’s life, electing to have the tumor removed without harming her baby.


Even before delivery she said, “If you must decide between me and the child, do not hesitate: choose the child – I insist on it. Save the baby.”  On Good Friday in 1962, St. Gianna went to the hospital to give birth.  Her daughter, also named Gianna, was born on Holy Saturday.  On the following Saturday, April 28, St. Gianna died from complications following the birth.


St. Gianna was not canonized only because of her generous sacrifice for life.  Bl. John Paul II said at her beatification, “A woman of exceptional love, an outstanding wife and mother, she gave witness in her daily life to the demanding values of the Gospel. By holding up this woman as an exemplar of Christian perfection, we would like to extol all those high-spirited mothers of families who give themselves completely to their family, who suffer in giving birth, who are prepared for every labor and every kind of sacrifice, so that the best they have can be given to others.”


St. Gianna is a wonderful witness of living marriage as a Sacrament and as a vocation.  Reading about her daily life reveals that she saw her state in life as her call to holiness.


So when we first said the name of our daughter – Gianna Emmanuela – and were invited to share St. Gianna’s story, it was a wonderful opportunity to plant seeds of a culture of life in our hospital room.  A couple of hours later, a nurse on the postpartum wing asked why we chose the name Gianna.  Family wanted to know the origin of the name.  Friends of family had questions too.


We soon learned that people were using Google to learn who this mysterious St. Gianna was.  And our newborn daughter, who could not yet speak or “do” anything became a little evangelist.  Just by the fact that she existed, Gianna was building a culture of life and a civilization of love.


St. Gianna sacrificed her life because she saw and loved the profound dignity of the human person.  Now 52 years after her death, a little girl named in her honor highlighted how profound that dignity really is – that what is freely given to us out of love is more meaningful than what we can accumulate or achieve for ourselves. 


Gianna was given her existence, her body and soul, her family, her name.  We are each given these things, and yet it is so easy to think that evangelization rests on our own efforts and achievements.  How well do we use social media?  How much do we speak?  How effectively do we use our talents?  But what we often forget is that before anything we might do, evangelization can occur because of God.  He exists, and because He gives us our existence, we can evangelize.  Perhaps this occurs through our name, our smile, our words, or our sacrifices.


Either way, little Gianna’s ability to inspire friends and strangers to learn more about our call to holiness reminds us that evangelization is not a checklist we have to complete.  By joyfully receiving and living the gifts God has given to us, we point people to Him more fruitfully and surprisingly than the very best strategizing sessions would ever allow us to do.


April 18th, 2014posted by Sean Ater

To say goodbye is the hardest thing… but in order to heal, we have to let go of grief and move on. We have to come out of the shadows and embrace the Light.


When my father passed photo (5).JPGaway in 2006, I got stuck at the foot of the Cross – crushed by the pain of losing my Dad, strangely finding comfort in Christ’s sacrifice.

I had been performing “I Thirst” concerts – a powerful musical portrayal of the Crucifixion story – and with each note, each line, I’d get deeper and deeper into the pain and suffering. But instead of healing, I was falling deeper and deeper into my own dark places of depression, unworthiness and even fears.

At least, I allowed myself to cry.

I cried buckets and buckets of tears: alone, on friends’ shoulders, before strangers and in front of entire audiences.

But I couldn’t pull myself away.


When the pain was unbearable, I went to talk to Fr. Tom – a Franciscan monk whose wisdom, acceptance and smile had brought me comfort and a sense of peace many times before.

85462_2339.jpg“Where is your Dad now?” he asked, when I said I couldn’t get rid of the sadness.

“In heaven, I believe.”  I replied.

“Where is heaven?” he asked.

“With God.”  I felt like a six-year-old, who hadn’t yet learned the answers, but was looking for them in her heart.

“And where is God?” the priest smiled and asked gently.

“Right here with us, all around us and within us” I said through tears, again feeling unsure with my answer.

I looked at the old man’s face and saw his approving smile as he asked: “Then where is your Dad?”

There was only silence after his last question, for my heart was immediately filled with comfort, peace, warmth, and love – and not just from the memory of my Dad, but from an awareness of the presence of Life, Love and Light around and within me.


Since then, I’ve renewed my focus on the physical (and living) evidence of God’s presence in my life: the gift of my children’s lives, my husband’s love, the flowers that are sprouting from the earth and the buds that appear on the trees.

I am done dwelling in sadness and suffering. Instead, as I mediate this Holy Week on the sacrifice of Christ, I allow myself to feel His love dwelling in my heart and His Light filling my soul.

Nothing heals the wounds of the heart like time and gentle encounters with God’s presence like the one I had with Fr. Tom.

LET GO OF GRIEFci_llo.png

Give yourself some time to heal – whether it’s from saying goodbye to someone you loved

and lost, or if it’s allowing yourself to let go of past hurts and pain.

Allow yourself to cry.

Stand in silence before the man who allowed Himself to be crucified out of love for us, showing us the way to ultimate Life and Light.

Pray, meditate and reflect.

But then leave.

Step away from the grief, embrace the joy and believe that Love Lives On.



Hear “Love Lives On” here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SeRlERPW4JE

“I Thirst” playlist: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c6tg-kfBiEc&list=PL0406785D74216EDE

Dry, Barren, and … Hopeful?

April 17th, 2014posted by Sean Ater


A few weeks ago, I happened to have two different conversations with two very different people in two very different places about the exact same thing: Spiritual dryness.  Both people talked about not feeling God’s presence, about wanting so desperately to have something concrete to hold on to – some proof that He was there, but finding nothing.  Both people talked about a feeling of desolation, and wondered if there was something wrong with them.

Sometimes even though we believe in God and we try our best to live out our faith, we all go through times like this – times when God seems far away. And it’s so frustrating because we often have the impression that if we do all the right things and live like God wants us to live, we’re supposed to have lives of joy. How can it be that we go to Mass every week, spend time with God each day in prayer, and still He seems so distant and life seems like a dry, barren, desert?  It just doesn’t seem fair.

 I wish there were easy answers for this spiritual suffering, but the truth is, there are none.  Some of the greatest saints struggled with this particular pain in their lives.  St. John of the Cross called it the “dark night of the soul”.  Teresa of Avila once prayed, “Jesus, if this is how you treat your friends, it’s no wonder you have so few of them.”  Blessed Mother Theresa of Calcutta’s journals, published after her death, revealed that she spent the last 50 years of her life in this spiritual desert.  In 1948, she’d heard God’s voice clearly and felt his presence strongly as he called her to minister to the poorest of the poor.  She thought that if she gave her life over to God, it would always be like that, but she never heard his voice again.

I go through long periods of this dryness myself.  I’m very much a “head” guy as opposed to a “feelings” guy, and my faith has always been an intellectual matter.  I came to believe in Jesus Christ and in his Church because it made more sense than anything else I examined.  And very often, even though I really want an emotional connection with Christ, that knowledge is all I have to lean on.  

One consolation I have is that Christ himself experienced this same separation from God.  As he hangs on the cross, Jesus cries out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”  Think about that for a second.  Jesus is God in the flesh.  He has existed since before time and the entire Universe is a result of the love he shares with God the Father. And even he felt abandoned.  Jesus knows our pain.

The other thing is this: just because we don’t feel God, doesn’t mean he’s not there.  He was with the Israelites in their desert and he will be with us in ours. He was with Daniel in the lion’s den and he will help us face the things that want to devour us as well; he walked through the fiery furnace with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and he will walk with us when we feel like we’re getting burned.  Psalm 23 reminds us that when we pass through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, Christ will walk with us.  He was with the apostles as their boat was rocked by the waves, and he will help calm the storms in our lives. 

The Jews had to spend 40 years in the desert to get to the Promised Land.  Daniel had to face the lions and the 3 Hebrew children were cast into the fiery furnace. Jesus had to endure Good Friday to get to Easter. Don’t forget that the Valley of the Shadow of Death is something we walk through.  Keep the faith.  Rely on God.  And though you may not feel him right now, know that he is there and that all shall be well in the end.

Bell Tower

April 16th, 2014posted by propertymanagement

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Mary and Joseph Go to a Fish Fry

April 16th, 2014posted by Sean Ater


It’s a Friday in Lent and two Catholics go to a local Fish Fry. We’ll call one Mary and the other Joseph. At first glance, the two don’t seem very different. Both were baptized as infants; both attended 12 years of Catholic schooling.

The difference is that Mary attends Mass each weekend; Joseph attends infrequently.

A recent study (see Sherry Weddell, Forming Intentional Disciples, especially pp. 43-44) indicates that the most significant predictor of whether a Catholic attends Mass each weekend or not depends on how the person answers this one question:

Do you believe it is possible to have a personal relationship with God?

It’s not necessary for a person to feel close to God, but to acknowledge the possibility of a God who wants a relationship with us – who cares for each of us and who is knowable and relatable.

If someone believes that a personal relationship with God is possible, he or she is far more likely to seek out that relationship through Mass and the sacraments.

Yet, for those who believe in an impersonal God – which is what upwards of 1/3 of Catholics said characterized their belief– there is little reason to worship on Sunday since they believe that a personal and life-giving relationship with God may not even be possible.

The Gospels offers us an invitation to see God as He is and to believe in a loving savior who deeply desires a relationship with each one of us.

In the Gospels, Jesus ministers directly and personally to people – to lepers, the possessed, the blind, the sin-sick – not only healing their physical maladies, but helping bring them to faith.

We might ask ourselves, what is my fundamental understanding of God? Do I see God as “out there” somewhere, not involved in my life? Or do I acknowledge Him as someone who wants a relationship with me?

And if I do believe that this kind of relationship is possible, do I seek to foster that relationship in response to His love?

Purification and Enlightenment

April 15th, 2014posted by Sean Ater


One of the most challenging, most exciting and most meaningful of the “jobs” I did as a Director of Religious Education for the thirty years that I was in that profession was working with the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA). It was a process for those who were exploring entrance into the Catholic Church that lasted as least nine months and for some longer.

During that time those in this process listened to presentations on Catholic doctrine/teaching, asked questions and discussed the answers with sponsors, catechists and among themselves, and slowly discerned whether the Catholic faith was for them. Some began as searchers wanting to find answers to both practical and deep questions about Church, God, Jesus and life itself. Others began wanting to be part of the faith of a spouse, or wanting to be a parishioner to be part of the parish school or a thousand other reasons.

But most began to move to meeting the mysteries that the Catholic faith both confronts and presents:

  •          Who is this God who is both here and beyond?
  •          Who is Jesus the Christ?
  •          Where is the Spirit leading me/us?
  •          How does the Church fit into this picture?
  •          What does each of these speak to my/our life?

This journey is one that not only those in RCIA is called to join, but one which all Catholics are (or should be) part of. The RCIA process itself calls the people of the parish to join the inquirers in reflecting on and re-experiencing the Faith.

Lent evolved out of the RCIA process of the early Church as it prepared those intrigued by the Church to be baptized at Easter. It was a time to purify their intentions and way of life and meet (be enlightened by) this God/Jesus/Spirit/community they had found so attractive. Each of us now is called to be part of the 21st century Lenten scrutinies and presentations of Creed and the Lord’s Prayer that are elements of this faith-exploring process, so we to can make our faith deeper and more real. Thus those outside our Church can experience a community that cares, challenges, grows and lives those values that are essential to living truly human/divine lives

When the level of pain caused by
the present situation becomes greater than the fear
of making a change, we are willing to act.

We all get stuck sometimes.

Some of us find ourselves in unpleasant situations, like losing a job or not being able to find one, being in an abusive relationship, or dealing with unhealthy habits and addictions. We are unable to break away until the pain grows to a point where it becomes our greatest motivator to make a shift in our hearts, minds and souls. And get unstuck.

Some of us, on the other hand, get stuck in a comfortable situation, which we don’t even want to change, or see no reason WHY we would want to change it. But deep inside, we have this nagging feeling that we are living only half-awake – coasting, really – rather than actively living.  We know we aren’t happy, despite the perfect image we give out to the world, and post on social media. (Related: blog post about keeping up the ‘perfect picture’)


Earlier this year I attended Mary Morrisey’s webinar, in which she gave a really great visual for times in our lives when we feel ‘stuck’ and we know we desire a change but we don’t know what to do. She pointed out how applying the same patterns and expecting a different picture will not work.

It’s really the same thought as Einstein’s famous definition of insanity: “Doing the same

thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Being ‘stuck’ means we are not getting anywhere. We aren’t growing, only working hard to keep our ‘hamster wheel’ spinning.

We aren’t getting anywhere, which means we aren’t growing personally, emotionally, spiritually or intellectually. We stay in the same place, doing the same thing, and wondering why we feel unbalanced and ‘off’, even unhappy.

Life flows like a river. When we are ‘stuck’ in the same place, we aren’t able to be present to its constant changes and movements.

Luck or fate that takes the form of.pngThe life’s river takes us; we float, but because we are half-asleep, we can’t really enjoy the ride and take in all its precious moments. We are not aware of the boulders in our way, or the white waters that leave us feeling exhausted and hurt.

We wake up one day really unhappy and miserable, far from where we started, feeling numb and lost.


I believe that the Creator of all Life is the one who keeps the river of life flowing in the first place, and I am big on ‘surrendering’ to the bigger purpose and the open paths He guides my feet onto. But I also know that I have to be an active and engaged player. I have to keep my mind and my heart open to recognize the signs and make the best choices on my journey.  (Related blog: Magic Wand? Or Combo of Hard Work and Faith)

I don’t play much (and that’s one area of my life that needs a change), but in my occasional moments of unwinding, I like to play Candy Crush.

Since I promised myself I would not solicit FB requests, or ever spend a penny on the game, I get ‘stuck’ a lot on different levels. Level 184 was giving me an extra hard time, until one night, after losing all of my lives, I decided to Google “solutions for beating level 184″. Right away, I found a few useful tips – like learning the difference between “vertical” and “horizontal” striped candies – which I hadn’t bothered to identify before.

Then I followed a link to an interview with Simon Leung, an award-winning Internet entrepreneur and Internet keynote speaker whose words I copied into my journal: “The challenge of passing each level represented the everyday challenges we go through in life. Sometimes, you will fail because you’ve made a bad choice or move. In the end, if you are persistent and don’t give up, even some of the most difficult stages in life can be overcome.”

When I went back to my level 184, I beat it in two tries and moved on to the next level. Just like that!

It felt so good to get ‘unstuck’!

In the morning, I collected the information I had gathered from my ‘research’ and wrote into my journal: “Lessons From Candy Crush”

1. Admit you are stuck at a particular level and seek counsel. There are people out there who have the answers.

2. Know your objective and how many moves you have – because the number is limited.

3. Know your distractions (the blinking candies) and obstructions (annoying chocolate factories) and how they affect your moves – in life this is especially important.

4. Know your assets – make sure you realize their full potential.

5. Don’t waste any moves – your resources may be limited.

6. You could play mindlessly and sometimes you will luck out. The randomness of the game will eventually make all the pieces ‘fall into the right place’ and you will finish the level.

Or you can develop strategies, finish the Candy Crush game and do something better with your spare time.


There are amazing tools available to us: books, prayers, stories of saints, music and art.  We only need to be open to look for them even in unexpected, unusual places. When we do, the patterns of our lives will shift just enough to produce a different picture. And we will find ourselves no longer stuck.

And yes, God has a sense of humor and He can use even a Candy Crush game to get through to our stubborn minds (and hearts)!



I Feel (Kissing Air) by Tajci

The Encounter of Two “Yeses”

April 4th, 2014posted by Sean Ater


Typically, when I ponder the event of the Annunciation, I spend much time considering Mary’s act of faith in light of my own struggles with trust. I presume I am not alone in this way of thinking about the events recounted in Luke 1.

However, today I would like to expand this reflection:

1. The “yes” that came first. Before Mary uttered her “fiat,” God was at work. This Fact is worth serious consideration and should surprise us. The struggle with sin following the fall of Adam and Eve in the garden, the constant turning to idolatry, the hardness of heart, the breaking of the family-bond (i.e. covenant), infects the chosen people like terminal illness. Israel takes on the role of the harlot. Yet God continues, covenant renewal after covenant renewal, prophet after persecuted prophet, sign and wonder after sign and wonder, to pursue His beloved. He risks love. He utters the first “yes.” He initiates. He says, “Yes, it is my will, for the sake of your salvation, that I give you my Beloved Son, conceived in human flesh, as little as an embryo, that you would receive my personal love.”

2. Mary’s “yes” perfectly mirrors that of her Son’s. In light of our first point, the second becomes clear. The Immaculate Conception, Mary, born without the stain of sin, receives God’s gift. A gift is not a gift if it is not received. A gift implies a Giver and a receiver. A dual “yes.” “Mary’s ‘yes’ perfectly mirrors that of Christ himself when he entered the world, as the Letter to the Hebrews says, interpreting Ps. 40: ‘As it is written of me in the book, I have come to do your will, O God’ (Heb. 10:7). The Son’s obedience was reflected in that of the Mother and thus, through the encounter of these two ‘yeses,’ God was able to take on a human face” (Pope Benedict XVI).

It is interesting to juxtapose the annunciation account with the fall of Eve in Gen. 3. There, Eve, questions God, believes the lies of the enemy, sees the goodness of the fruit and tastes it. She fails to trust in the Father’s plan, and she takes. Adam does as well. The wedge of sin results: between man and creation, man and himself, male and female, and man and God. Mary, in Luke 1, is united through betrothal to Joseph, though alone in her home in Nazareth. A mysterious presence approaches with a strange greeting. Mary is frightened (as Eve surely would have been by the snake/serpent) and questions. Yet Mary, through the grace offered to her by Christ’s “yes,” and her free response to it, is able to receive God’s gift even though she could not see it, taste it, touch it or smell it. God’s word, which she hears in the silence of her heart, is enough to warrant her complete faith.

This “yes” allows God to take on a human face, which was what he longed for all along, and what we were created for (Cf. Gen. 1:27). In Mary, the Word becomes flesh. In her active receptivity, God’s life springs forth into history in unprecedented fashion.

The energy of the gift, patiently poured out at the heart of Jerusalem, ends here in a fountain whose entire vital energy takes the form of acceptance. Mary has carried the Word long before conceiving him and has learned the self-giving of him whose whole being is consent to the Father. She has been fashioned by the Spirit and sees without realizing it that the most fruitful activity of the human person is to be able to “receive” God. (Jean Corbon. The Wellspring of Worship.)

The vital energy of our lives comes about, not through conjuring up feelings, impassioned humanitarian efforts, moralistic endeavors of the will, or Ulyssian striving for knowledge  about the ends of the earth. Vital energy, that which allows God to take on a human face, or that which generates the fullness of our humanity, comes through the active and ongoing reception of God’s “yes.” It comes for us by receiving a Person through the action of the Holy Spirit.

3. Mary’s “yes” was unseen by human eyes. At a time when nearly everything is sensationalized, tabloidized, emotionalized, publicized, institutionalized, globalized, etc., Mary’s “yes” stands out as a sign of contradiction. God comes in silence (though not in a vacuum) and Mary utters a thoroughly contemplative “yes.” There is no report of thundering voices, trumpets, pyrotechnics, loud music, falling over, and so forth. She simply knew with her whole being God’s presence and His will, and she responded fully and freely to that gift. This is an apt reminder for a generation dominated by materialism and driven by passion and phenomena. She simply said “yes” (and not for the first time), to the Lord in the quiet of her home. Indeed, “The Annunciation, recounted at the beginning of St. Luke’s Gospel, is a humble event – no one saw it, no one except Mary knew of it, but at the same time it was crucial to the history of humanity” (Pope Benedict XVI).

Originally posted in The Christian Event, used with permission.

Soul Satisfaction

April 3rd, 2014posted by Sean Ater


Luke 9:24-25

For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. What profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet lose or forfeit himself?


What are you living your life for? What is the purpose? If it is to satisfy your ego…it is to satisfy your “false self.” As I have said in the past, “ego” stands for: “Edge God Out.” The false self will never be satisfied. It subsists on a program for “happiness” set up in childhood in which every whim and self-centered desire needs to be satisfied. Lent is a good time to practice letting that system for happiness dry up. It is a false system leading nowhere. Walk into the desert with Jesus. Follow in the ways of Jesus. Live to love and live to serve and you will find soul satisfaction…and your “true self.”


Children Love A Good Story

April 2nd, 2014posted by Sean Ater

 Just the other day, I was sitting down for dinner with my wife and two children.  After prayer, my son, Michael immediately jumped in with, “Daddy, I want you talk about day.”  This is his four-year-old expression for asking me how my day went.danis

It’s just a little ritual that has developed naturally over the last year.  We each take turns going around the table describing all the big events of our day and how they affected us.  The kiddos mostly talk about toys and tv shows.  Mommy and Daddy mostly talk about errands and meetings.  We try to speak in a way that will make sense to our children, but that will also challenge them to think more broadly about how their world works.

 Anyway, after Daddy and Mommy had each shared at Michael’s request, Michael began to describe his own high points of experience.  Suddenly, from the far end of the table came an ear splitting whine of resistance.

“But Daaaddddyyyy!”  Lillie croaked.  “Michael can’t go next because if Michael goes next than that means I have to go last, and I hate going last!” 

“Lillie, it’s okay to go last.  It doesn’t mean we will care any less about what you have to say…”

“No Daddy, Please don’t let me go last!”  my six-year-old daughter whined again.

I paused for a moment, wishing I could just get out of the situation.  Part of me wanted to console her that it really did not matter.  Part of me wanted to scold her for insisting to pout about something so mundane!  Instead, I took a deep breath, and I asked God how I could turn this around into a teaching moment for my children.  Immediately, the answer rushed back to me.

“You knowwwww,” I said grinning slyly at Lillie.  “This kind of reminds me of a story I once heard about Jesus.”  Both children’s eyes locked onto me and they grinned back.  Thank God children love a good story.

“One day Jesus was visiting with his friends and having a big dinner just like the one we are having.  Everyone was arguing about who would get to sit at the place of honor” I pointed to my wife’s seat for effect.  “But Jesus didn’t worry about things like that,” I continued.  He told people that they should sit as far away from the seat of honor as they could, and then maybe the host of the dinner would invite them to come forward to a better seat!  This means that with God, the last shall be first and the first shall be last.”

danis1“So Lillie?” I questioned with playful sweetness.  “If you want to be first with God, what do you think that means you have to do?”

 “Go last,” she offered.

“Very good!” I affirmed.  “You understood the story, and I am very proud of you.  So, can Michael finish telling us about his day?”

“Yes!” she answered, grinning from ear to ear.

Now my little girl may not yet understand the larger theme of the power of humility, but she has captured the general concept that Christ invites her to be okay with being last.  It just might be better for her in the long run.  Best of all, a little bible story was all it took to turn our family dinner back into an occasion of joy and peace.  Children love a good story!