Icarus & Waterford Crystal

From a young age, I was captivated by the story of Icarus. As an adult, on this Good Friday, I am revisiting the timeless lesson.

In case you don’t recall the Greek myth, Icarus’ dad, Daedalus, was an amazing craftsman/inventor and he had ingeniously fashioned wings fastened together by wax. This enabled the father-son duo to do something humanly impossible, to take a spin up in the clouds. As the ancient tale goes, Icarus was so delighted he took to the skies like a soaring bird. He kept climbing higher and higher. So drawn to the heights, he quickly disregarded, or could not hear, the shouts of warning from his concerned father to steer clear of the sun. The wise Daedalus understood the dangers of the heat to wax.

Icarus, however, had a singular focus, as he became transfixed by his steady ascent. But the sun’s heat proved too powerful for the wax. As the feathers began melting off, Icarus eventually met his fate, plunging to his death in the ocean below. 

My own Icarus moment didn’t end so tragically, but in retrospect, I realize it could have. I was 16-years-old (probably around the age of Icarus) and had just scored a “plum” part-time job at a fancy department store in the china/ crystal department. All of my fellow employees were full-time adult career sales clerks who had been with the company for years and in some cases, decades. I must have impressed the store manager in my interview, (or so I thought) because rather than put me in Juniors’ clothing, where most of my contemporaries ended up, he thought I would be better suited to the area that specialized in Royal Doulton and Waterford. My own family mainly used plastic utensils and paper plates, so I’m not sure what it was that made him think, “Yep, china/ crystal department for her,” but it felt like a kind of distinction. His hunch was good because very quickly I learned to chat up our customers in an engaging way. Most were impressed with my knowledge and customer service skills. A few older patrons even mentioned to my manager that they were highly impressed. One evening, while basking in all the positive praise, my boss left me with instructions to dust a couple of fixtures should I encounter any lulls. She pointed out the rickety stepping stool in the backroom and cautioned me to “be extremely careful!” I made up my mind, I would not only dust the fixtures she pointed out, but all of them. You see, I was thoroughly enjoying the acclaim in my little corner of the store and I craved more. I was eager to become the best employee they’d ever had. 

At the very first opportunity, I pulled out that 3-step ladder and made my way to the Waterford crystal display. Waterford was the most expensive stuff we had—gorgeous, intricately chiseled Irish crystal vases, candy dishes, candlesticks, and figurines that sparkled in the light. To me the cost for these pieces was so outlandish, it was like Monopoly money prices. With dust rag in hand and a resolute mindset, I climbed the stool.

At the time, late 1980’s, mermaid skirts were the peak of fashion—at least in suburban Cleveland & environs. They are aptly called mermaid skirts because they taper below the knees and then gradually flare out at the ankle. My skirt was limiting, to say the least, but I like to think I effortlessly shimmied my way around all that beautiful china and crystal with the utmost elegance. Climbing a stool, however, wasn’t so pretty.

I mounted the ladder for the first time and began with the second-highest shelf and ever-so-carefully picked up each tchotchke, marveling at their immense weight as I carefully removed the offending film of dust. Once that hurdle was cleared, I was empowered to move on to the top rung… Not sure what exactly caused my initial imbalance, maybe my gravity-defying big Van Halen hair, but as I reached for a giant, glittering vase, the ladder seemed to wobble underneath me. My other hand shot out for something stabilizing, which happened to be the metal arm of the fixture. I grabbed hold as I began to fall backward.

I can still remember the series of sounds that followed—a loooong ripping of fabric, as my outstretched leg tested the narrow confines of my skirt, a blip of silence, followed by a disastrous string of startling crashes. 

I lay on my back staring up at the ultra-bright display lights and listening to the piped-in jazzy muzak when another clerk from the domestics department (bedding & linen) rushed in and found me. She had heard the commotion. She quickly surveyed the scene—me on the floor, all of the valuable items from the top shelf shattered around me, and asked me if I was ok. I struggled to my feet and it was then that I noticed the giant rip in my skirt’s backside. Other than that embarrassing 8-inch tear, exposing my slip to the world, I was fine. But it had been a harsh and epic fall from grace.

At some point, all of us long to climb insurmountable heights. We all desire to ascend to the clouds and dream about what it might look like from atop the world. That longing is within each of us. We are all Icarus. 

But on Good Friday, Christ challenges us to mount a hill with Him. It’s not to grow closer to the dazzling sun or to seek praise, fame, distinction, and self-gratification—it is to die. Death is ahead of us no matter what path we choose. Over the course of our lifetime, we have the free will to decide which steep mountains we will climb and die on. It can be for career, pleasure, success, comfort, money, sex, fitness, youth, fame, and every other possible combination. But when we ascend the hill with Christ, we die to those things. We die to ourselves. And that is what ultimately saves us. Today, I meditate on what hills I am willing to die on. What is my focus as I set my sights on the heavens? When I climb, what is it I am striving for? Do I have the courage to mount a hill to die to myself? If so, God promises so much more than a tragic death, or an embarrassing, expensive fall. We are designed to ascend for a reason. We are meant to rise. May it always be through Him, with Him, and in Him that we reach the heights we are destined for.

A blessed Triduum to you!

1st Photo by Roan Lavery on Unsplash

2nd Photo by Kellie Shepherd Moeller on Unsplash

The Perfect Prescription for Every Christian

Post-COVID, we all know way more about the threat of disease and possible cures than we ever care to know. However, when I was a little girl, things seemed more… cloudy. When illness struck, my siblings and I visited our working-class neighborhood family physician. To this day we laugh about the unorthodox medical treatment we received. He must have been the only M.D. for miles by the looks of the jam-packed waiting room. If you made it through that narrow hallway of horrors, seats filled with slumped figures hacking and puking, good ol’ Doctor “M” would greet you in the exam room—a lit cigar securely propped on his bottom lip. The well-tanned, grizzled doc would give you a quick once-over while puffing smoke in your face. I remember struggling to hold in my coughs while frantically mulling over the only two possibilities ever to come from that “thorough” examination: drop your drawers for a penicillin shot, or if you were lucky enough to clear that frightening hurdle, then—the preferred magic pink pills. Oh, how I longed for those pills over that painful jab in my rump. More than half the time, to my great relief, he would dash off a prescription and hand it to my mom or dad. No matter what ailment we suffered, we went home with those same fuchsia tablets in a tiny paper envelope. To this day, I have no idea what the prescription actually was. But it must have been darn good if it treated so many problems! Like a magic bullet, a dose of those pink pills promised complete healing, which must have happened pretty quickly based on the evidence of leftover pills that accumulated in our medicine cabinet over the years.


If only we had a prescription miracle remedy to fix our fallen natures. I can almost picture the infomercial now, “Suffering from this soul-crushing sickness? Have we got the cure for you! Take our Vita-Glow Halo capsules and you’ll be amazed by the incredible instant results. In just days, you’ll be made absolutely new!” The sacraments are undoubtedly a kind of powerful medicine for our ailing souls. A good confession followed by reception of the Eucharist has to be the best one-two punch cure out there. Those graces send us happily on our way… until we engage with yet another nasty virus or bacteria that is sin. And as we all know, we will interface with more. So, how can we strive for spiritual health in our day-to-day lives as we journey through Lent?

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Rocks and a Hard Place

In 15 years of living in the same Denver neighborhood, I can count on one hand the number of neighbors my husband and I have actually gotten to know. And by “gotten to know,” I mean exchanged cursory hellos, and shared a few passing conversations about the weather or concern over suspicious cars. Growing up a midwestern gal where I considered many of my neighbors good family friends, it was quite an adjustment to experience family life in such… isolation. Shortly after planting roots, we realized we had chosen a neighborhood populated by a lot of seniors and childless, middle-aged couples, and oh yeah.. a whole lot of dogs! We took walks, waved, often with no response, and watched the parade of dog owners and their cute pooches passing our home, all the while seeking a glimmer of connection. I used to joke to my husband that I was on some neighborhood watch list—that crazy lady with the little kids in tow who over-enthusiastically waves and smiles… and creeps everyone out. Watch out for her! Eventually, though, we became resigned to the silo culture. We just drove to find our community. Gratefully, our parish and Catholic school filled a void. But, I still felt jealous of friends who lived in those suburban “cul de sac” neighborhoods where everyone’s kids played together and the moms delivered meals if someone was sick or had a baby… 

Recently, everything changed. No block parties, or steaming casserole dishes, but a profound shift, a real thawing of the ice. Our family is suddenly on the neighborhood map—not literally, but in a way that indelibly connects us to those we live near. In some ways, this new connection has been even more personal & fortifying than the ice cream social event I longed for years ago. The key to unlocking that change is rather surprising and hidden. In fact, it has been lodged in the dirt all along. 

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One Deacon’s Personal Story is Every Christian’s Hope

The God of all grace who called you to his eternal glory through Christ will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you after you have suffered a little. To him be dominion forever. Amen.

1Peter 5, 10-11

I met Deacon Darell and Mary Nepil a few years ago when they were assigned to my parish. But it wasn’t until one extremely memorable Mass about a year and a half later, in which Deacon Darell assisted, that I knew I needed to share his incredible journey back to the altar. I am convinced his and Mary’s story of overcoming incredible odds belongs to all of us. It belongs to the countless people who prayed for him to survive a massive stroke, to his tenacious doctors and fellow patients at Craig Hospital, to his faithful wife and three adult children, and to our Redeemer Himself!

Simply click on the download button below to hear the podcast.

We’re Talking the “V” Word

Sorry, I couldn’t resist the title. No need to avert your eyes, I’m talking about the other V-word, VIRTUE. While it’s not nearly as provocative as the first word that readily comes to mind, maybe it should be. When I was growing up way back in the… rhymes with shmeventies and shmeighties, I heard absolutely nothing about virtue or virtuous living. It was as if the word had fallen out of favor among prevailing Catholic thought, and yet our own doctor of the church, St. Thomas Aquinas, has owned the discussion since the time of the Greek philosophers. Maybe it was too closely associated with those scary images of nuns whacking kids with rulers. Who knows? But I was blissfully unaware.

When my own kids started being introduced to virtuous living in their Catholic schooling and from the “Book of Virtues” by William Bennett, some ten years ago, one of them asked me directly what virtue meant. I couldn’t answer clearly. All I could muster was, “er… uh… I’m pretty sure honesty is a virtue.” I remember looking up the v-word and thinking, “How do I not know this?”Since then, I can’t get enough of the topic!

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Catholic Cancel Culture? 3 Hard-Hitting Questions for the Faithful

Are you part of the Catholic Cancel Culture?

“Bad times, hard times, this is what people keep saying; but let us live well, and times shall be good. We are the times: Such as we are, such are the times.”

St. Augustine

We hear a lot about “cancel culture” from the left, but does it exist in all of its profound ugliness in Christian communities that classify themselves as orthodox or devout? First off, for those of you not familiar with the term “cancel culture,” good for you! You do not let media and technology rule your life, although you may be interested to know Amazon is not just a South American river and rainforest anymore. They carry toilet paper too. Cancel culture is not canceling your streaming service over illicit content. It’s the canceling of human beings, shutting people down because they take a differing opinion than the majority of others, or at least take an opposite stand from the most vocal of the bunch. Often it is not even a stand, but the proffering of a mere question. We see a lot of this from the BLM movement and Hollywood. If some celebrity in their past made a mistake or said something that went against approved ideology—canceled. This is happening to Ellen Degeneres. It seems very strange that the moment she defended being friends with George W. Bush, suddenly she’s a mean capitalist racist—buh-bye! Liberals are heartless, ruthless, and cold. We on the other side of the political divide, we faithful Christians just don’t do that. We hear people out, and look at each human being with the eyes of Christ, with compassion and a desire for relationship, right? FALSE. Before you go on an anti-Late For Church-social media campaign, hear me out.

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Holding on For Dear Life

“She is a tree of life to those who grasp her, and those who hold her fast are happy.”

Proverbs 3: 18

Occasionally, in a quiet lull, while I’m washing dishes, or driving… my mind sifts through fading memories of being a little girl. I was my mom’s “velcro kid.” I picture a time when I’m maybe three or four years old, shielding myself behind her knee. It was usually when we went somewhere unfamiliar with a lot of people—a big family party, or when my mom stopped to chat with someone unrecognizable at the grocery store. I’d wriggle myself into the spot I felt safest. From behind her legs, no one else could spy me. Like a vine, my hands, arms, head, and legs happily entwined around that life-giving trunk. I usually went unnoticed if I remained very still and didn’t speak. My skin was firmly pressed against hers creating one fleshy amalgamation. But if the person with whom she was speaking addressed me directly, my mom would swivel her torso and reach around to find me. And sometimes to my great horror, she would grab my arms and carefully peel me away. If this action had been accompanied by a sound effect, I imagine it would mimic a long, thick strip of velcro being ripped apart. 

I was attached to my mother, both physically and emotionally. Even as a gangly teenager, and a young college student I sought physical closeness with her, sometimes laughably to her utter annoyance. Never too big or mature to insist that she “scootch” over on the recliner where she comfortably planted. After seizing enough room for myself, (I was practically on top of her) she would stroke my arm or scratch my back as we took in a tv show or football game on a chair meant for one. I clung to her stability, protection, and warmth until the day she died, a little over a month after my 22nd birthday. When she was ripped away that last time, it wasn’t the sound or feeling of velcro being parted, more like a piece of aged, worn duct tape suddenly and harshly yanked from a smooth painted surface. The damage was unmistakable.

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“You Haven’t Written in a While…”

Dear Mary Jo,

I’ve noticed you haven’t written in a while. I hope all is well for you and your family. The events of the last several months have been tough on all of us. You don’t know me, but you’ve been in my thoughts and prayers. Thanks for sharing your perspective on family life and faith and I hope you continue to write. Maybe you’ve just switched formats and I’m not aware. Either way, God bless you and your family.

Blessings,

Donna

As this thoughtful reader’s email aptly points out, I haven’t written in a while. Many of you are thinking, yeah, and so?… Well, at least Donna misses me!  First off, thank you for your sweet letter. To answer your welcome question, our skeletal staff of five here at “Late For Church,” (AKA the family) are faring remarkably well despite the roller coaster of events playing out across our country and world. Other than a nasty flu-like virus (COVID? possibly, but not definite)  which hit my son, daughter, and me at the beginning of March, we are all fine. I can readily speak to their physical health, however not so knowledgeably on their emotional, mental health. How is it that I cannot nail down my kids’ and husband’s moods when we’ve been spending inordinate amounts of time together, living on top of each other for months? I can barely grasp my own thoughts and feelings, let alone the rest of my family.

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Hanging By a Thread… of Beads

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Amidst the strange events that are unfolding worldwide, I have been so grateful for my Rosary. The Holy Rosary is my tangible link to the Blessed Mother who continually leads me more deeply into relationship with the Trinity. A month or so ago, I gave a talk to a moms’ Bible study group in which I shared my personal story of how I came to rely on the Rosary. A mere string of beads has been a source of strength and comfort when I had nowhere else to turn—and thanks be to the Almighty, those beads are fortifying me once again when so much uncertainty and fear abound. What a profound sense of peace to pray the Luminous Mysteries with the Pope and the rest of the world this week. I hope we all continue to pick up this powerful devotion daily and marvel at the results.

You don’t have to enjoy saying the Rosary. Truth be told, I often don’t. But, now more than ever, give it a chance. I hope the talk I’ve linked below helps you understand why.

Here’s the intro they read before I began.

Our speaker today is Mary Jo Gerd. She has been married for more than 15 years to a wonderful husband she believes God handpicked for her.

However, she is currently employed by three overbearing, domineering bosses…ages 13, 11, and 9. They just happen to call her mom which is the best and hardest job she’s ever had.

Before taking on that important role, she worked as a promotions writer and producer for a movie channel, doing trailers, celebrity interviews, and red carpets. She traded in her “glamorous” media job for the more rewarding, albeit lower-paying vocation of full-time wife and mother. She hasn’t looked back since. Well, maybe once or twice.

She and her family are active members of their Denver parish. She enjoys writing about family life and her reversion to the Catholic faith on her personal blog, Late For Church.blog. You can often find her essays featured on New Advent. She’s been regularly interviewed on Relevant Radio’s, “Morning Air” discussing all sorts of Catholic topics. And she is a brand new board member of the non-profit organization, Families of Character.

Please welcome Mary Jo Gerd.

“Adulting” Through Lent

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Somehow, it is both shocking and no big surprise that the term “adulting” has worked its way into our cultural lexicon. We collectively commend someone when he dutifully takes on the responsibility assigned to his stage in life. “Yay for you, Gary! You’re paying off your college loans on time.” Yet, as creatures accustomed to so much comfort and ease we will often do whatever it takes to avoid facing difficult but necessary challenges of growth. “But I don’t want to have kids until I’ve lived a full life and visited every major league ballpark in the U.S.”

I recently watched a documentary, “American Factory” which details a Chinese company’s take-over of a shuttered Ohio factory. The Chinese employees who are sent to oversee the transition cannot even conceive how to manage the entitled Americans. In a meeting to discuss the major problem of motivating their reluctant employees, they learn that from a young age Americans are coddled. They are rewarded and propped up even when it is undeserving. The aghast Chinese managers are warned to never criticize American employees. 

This sobering account of American society got me thinking about how our Christian faith offers the perfect antidote to this cultural sickness. And it’s completely contrary to the relentless Communist Chinese work ethic which diminishes and risks individual lives for the supposed sake of the whole. Rather, Jesus Christ by his incarnation teaches of us what it truly means to be fully human. To be a real adult. Throughout his life on Earth and especially on the cross, he exemplified the pouring out of his self as an act of sacrifice for others, for me. If Christ offers us the grace and example to be fully human, then Lent offers us an opportunity to grow as fully Catholic. This is a time to enter into our humanity while delving deeper into the mysteries of our faith. It’s a time to discern our motivations. Are we driven to do good because of pride, or fear, or because we know it’s right? Do we attend Mass out of duty or a sincere sense of piety? Are we able to eschew comfort for the sake of spiritual maturity and to help a neighbor? In becoming more fully Christian, we naturally become more adult. Living as a spiritual adult is a noble goal, but how does one practically get there? I’m sharing some simple personal Lenten guidelines to help me “adult” through this Lent.

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