A Rat Heart

One moment stands out in my unremarkable youth as a subpar high school science student. I recall the day we were tasked with dissecting a dead rat in biology. While convincing my obliging lab partner to perform the ickiest job—making the actual cuts, this squeamish teenager, standing a safe 3 feet away, made an obvious, yet disarming observation. Well, two observations. First, I would never work in the medical field in any capacity—ever. Second, as we (I mean she) peeled back the last layer of tough, unyielding rodent skin, my imagination glimpsed what once had been. Taking in the big reveal of that little gray lifeless heart, I comprehended that a physical and mystical transformation had taken place, from life to death. Not that I had a notion of this specimen being anything but dead as a doornail, but a sharp reality suddenly pierced my brain’s thick perimeter to reveal that this was once a living breathing thing. A theory was made concrete and it stopped me in my tracks. My mind was rattled with the thoughts that this bloodless organ was once pumping to sustain life. Never again.

“Lift up your hearts. We lift them up to the Lord.” This Sunday at Mass, as the priest beckoned us to offer our hearts and join in Christ’s perfect sacrifice to the Father, my heart felt dead and lifeless. I pictured my heart on a plate on the altar, shriveled, gray, and still as that rat’s. Everyone else’s beating and robustly pink—mine was pitiable, the cautionary “after” picture that warns the effects of chain smoking. I’m not a smoker and never have been. But, it has been a tough few weeks filled with lots of coughing. My husband had Covid last month and a few weeks later, my son got hit with a different virus that led to multiple trips to the doctor and various diagnoses, one of which was pneumonia. 

Sickness is my Achilles heel as a mother.

I’ve never really feared sickness for myself. I used to scoff at those former work colleagues who would wince and step back when someone sneezed or coughed. This was a decade before the pandemic. But when my children started getting sick, contracting flu, spiking high fevers, or coughing so hard I worried they weren’t getting oxygen, seeing them suffer and not being able to alleviate the pain and discomfort…Oh, how I’ve died a little each time. This most recent bout affected me deeply. It hit a vital organ you might say. 

Just four years after that biology class, a doctor was tasked with removing my mom’s bad lung—it contained a lemon-sized cancerous tumor—but during the operation, the surgeon accidentally nicked her good lung. My mom survived only a few days after a surgery that we had been told would be life-saving. Her non-smoker’s heart gave out at the age of 51. I was a senior in college. My classmates and friends were contemplating their future careers and love lives. I became consumed with death. I’m not sure I’ve ever completely gotten past that fixation, though it has faded. At some point, God took hold and jolted my heart. 

Stand back! Clear! 

He miraculously brought it back to life. Over time, I learned to laugh again and to feel genuine happiness. I felt my heart beat again… on the first date with my husband, our wedding, at the birth of each of my children. My life has kept beat with that rhythmic pounding. But when my kids get sick, or I hear about other children’s pain and illnesses, I find myself back there. A dead rat heart. It’s apropos that this “suffering” has been during the penitent season of Lent. Many of us are walking around with hearts that have seen better days. But I know that’s not the end of the story. Our life doesn’t end with suffering. God desires to breathe new life into our deadened emotions, our tired souls. He is the only One who can truly resuscitate—over and over.

I put my lifeless heart on the altar. It’s all I have. But it’s good enough. God heals it in His blood. 

Lent will end. Suffering will end. The Resurrection promises a new heart, a new life in Him. Sickness and death are not the last words. Never again. 

Let’s keep praying for each other. 

*Photo by Kenny Eliason on Unsplash


My blog title is a reference to a great baseball flick series from 2001—61*. It’s about New York Yankee, Roger Maras on his quest to beat Babe Ruth’s home run record. Maras, played by Barry Pepper, (who incidentally I would cast as my husband if he ever gets a biopic) confronts criticism and outright hostility as he slowly, and almost reluctantly edges out fan favorite, Micky Mantle. The all-important asterisk is a reference to the fact that Maras did not beat Babe Ruth in the same number of games. By 1961, the baseball season had become longer, so Maras’ achievement is qualified because he had more games than Ruth to smash the record. So instead of an unquestionable distinction in baseball history, Maras gets a disclaimer.

Alas, my 51* has nothing to do with home run records or rivalry in the dugout. Today I’m 51 years old. This one is big. I don’t usually make a big deal about birthdays. Most people fixate on 50 and I certainly did some of that. This year, however, comes with a whole lot more baggage, hence the asterisk. It’s an age that while seemingly surreal and out of touch for me—there’s no way I’m that old—also feels as if it’s been with me all along, eerily present and the number I’ve been chasing for decades now. 

My mom was 51 when she died. I was 22. I’ve finally reached the age when her brilliant light went out.

Take That, St. Thérèse!

St. Thérèse of Lisieux’s feast day is just days away. On 10/1 there will undoubtedly be much celebration on Earth and in Heaven—appropriately so.

I wish I could say I’ve written a whole tribute to the enduring wisdom of her “Little Way,” but I haven’t. I did, however, recently give a talk about striving for day-to-day holiness in family life in which I ended with a profound quote from the much loved saint and doctor of the church. In the talk, I may or may not have slightly tweaked her profound words for the purposes of my theme. Bold, right?! But I’m gonna go out on a limb here in asserting that I think Little Flower would have approved. You decide. Regardless, an early happy feast day to all of you, recognizing one of the church’s most influential saints—a twenty year-old girl from France. Quelle sympathique!

A quick shout out to the wonderful ladies from the Magnificat Moms at Spirit of Christ in Arvada, Colorado! Thank you for the invite to speak. It helped spur me out of a recent writing lull.

Hit play below to listen to my most recent talk on striving to live day-to-day holiness in family life. Bonus points if you listen while doing the dishes.

9/22/2021 Talk by Mary Jo Gerd at Spirit of Christ Magnificat Moms Group

*Photo by Nick Castelli on Unsplash

Happy Mother’s Day Mom, From This Side of the Veil

Dear Mom,

It’s been 28 years. Wow. Is that possible? There are moments though, when I am mysteriously transported to that hospital room again. I remember it—thick with fear and fluorescent lighting, and the bustling activity around us as the world simultaneously seemed to stop. Back then, we didn’t say goodbye. Since then, I’ve said it a lot. Can you hear my goodbyes? There are also those stretches when I feel the heavy weight of time and distance.

I am nearly the same age you were when you breathed your last—just 51.

I have forgotten what your laughter sounds like. I think I hear it in my own children’s voices. You would have loved them. They don’t know you. The stories I share cannot do you justice. But I bring you up often, even if they tire of  hearing it. I love you for them and I will love them for you. Occasionally, I get flashes of you when I see my oldest son. He looks and behaves more like you than I do. He is blessed. And I am grateful. How can I thank you enough for all that you handed me? I had a front row seat to heroic, selfless motherhood. 

With innate grace, you loved me unconditionally, especially through my teenage years. I never got the chance to apologize for wising you wouldn’t sing so loudly in church. I’m sorry. You would belt out Immaculate Mary so beautifully that those in the pews around us would remark, “What an amazing singing voice!” Instead of being filled with pride, I boiled with embarrassment and shot you dirty looks. But, you could not hold back that singing anymore than God can hold back His love for us. If only I could take back those icy stares… I sang the very same song with exuberance this morning. Full of gusto or not, I got dad’s signing voice. I smiled behind my mask thinking of you hitting the high notes with perfect vibrato.

You were an amazing writer who left me your journals full of wisdom, humor, and heartache. Never any despair though. Such a treasure. I turn to them for silky, comforting words and phrases. You offer hope in the trials and the mundaneness of your life. It has informed my life as wife and mother. Each year your reflections take on new meaning for me. When I open the pages and peruse your perfect teacher’s handwriting, I know these were meant as love letters to your children. This is mine to you, Mom. But I am not half the writer you were. I agonize over just the right combination of words. Your writing came effortlessly. But not many people even knew that about you. I like having an inside track.  

Would you believe I have fully embraced the Christian faith that you so lovingly taught me? It is a link as real as the cord that once connected us, nurturing me with your lifeblood. This connection, however, can never be cut. You planted seeds in my life that you never had the opportunity to witness come to full bloom, but that never stopped you from planting, again and again. I hope you know what an amazing gardener you were. I am who I am because of your love. As long as I breathe, I will strive to carry on that invaluable legacy.

I’ve heard it explained that the barrier between the living and the dead is no more than a thin veil. That seems right to me. Today, I have my hand held out against that veil where I know you will find it. 

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.

Your loving daughter,

Mary Jo

And for all of you who are grieving the loss of a mother today, I am sorry. Even the veil will eventually pass.

*Photo by Helen Ngoc N. on Unsplash

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.

Continue reading “Icarus & Waterford Crystal”

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?

Continue reading “The Perfect Prescription for Every Christian”

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. 

Continue reading “Rocks and a Hard Place”

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!

Continue reading “We’re Talking the “V” Word”

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.

Continue reading “Catholic Cancel Culture? 3 Hard-Hitting Questions for the Faithful”
%d bloggers like this: