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The Difference Between Hospitality and Entertaining

It’s that time of year again for our family; the season when we use this home God has given us to welcome in new and old friends. We enfold them into the mantle of our family life and invite them to walk alongside us in whatever stage they find us. Fall seems to bring about open doors, and open hearts in this family when it comes to our home. Over the years, I have learned the important distinction between hospitality and entertaining. Entertaining seeks only to impress whereas hospitality seeks to welcome. We welcome in others and treat them as family, inviting them to join the chopping of the veggies for the meal or the matching of socks with you while you sit in conversation on the couch. 

Hospitality translates from the Greek, philoxenia, as love for the stranger. In early Christian times, hospitality referred to the act of assisting one or more travelers for a short period of time. Deemed a fundamental moral practice and radically equal in its attempt to serve both rich and poor, early Christian hospitality sought to imitate Christ in its outreach to all. No one is above the other — not the giver or the receiver. This humility and gratitude for the blessings bestowed upon both is a virtue honed through service to the other. The Catholic Christian needs to know that opening their home should be like opening a window of their heart. We need to strive for vulnerability instead of recognition and from that all virtue and charity can flow. 

I think people long for community. We were created for family and community. Being vulnerable enough to welcome someone as family immediately breaks down walls of comparison or unease and sets a tone of fellowship and ease. There is also something incarnate in us all that relaxes at the opportunity to break bread together. I try to always brew a pot of tea and take some muffins or cookies from our freezer to share when someone comes over. An extra plate is always available for “Elijah” at our table. As someone enters, the message is “Here, let me serve you and give your soul rest”. I am often left smiling and shaking my head in wonder when our guests tell us how relaxed they feel in our home of eight children three dogs, including a new puppy, two cats and a partridge in a pear tree. There is something here in the aspect of serving one another that is reminiscent of our roots as a people of community. 

I have some very fond memories of living this style of life. We frequently host seminarians from the Pontifical Josephinum, which is near our home. One such night, our parish priest joined us for dinner with about twelve seminarians. These men arrived and because I have eight children and we live a very full life, dinner was not quite ready. These young men helped chop peppers, play with younger kids, and set the table. They made themselves at home, grabbed a drink, and made a fire for the living room. As they worked alongside members of my family, relationships grew. We shared a wonderful meal together and ate dessert gathered by the fire. As bedtime approached, my husband and I excused ourselves and began our bedtime routine. I heard our parish priest suggest to the men that they do the dishes for us. As they did the dishes, my children overheard them praying evening prayer and the Salve Regina being sung. This glimpse of sacred mixed with the ordinary was a beautiful witness to my children; making the notion of work and play an everyday occurrence. 

In this period where we have lost a sense of connecting with the other, I am reminded of the call by Saint John Paul II to “Open wide the doors for Christ”. As we approach a season of gathering as friends and family more formally, may we remember our roots of hospitality and welcome in all who seek, crave and truly need that which we can so easily share.  

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Stop setting the table

Published in the Catholic Times, March 1st, 2020

Through prayer, I have been convicted to pray hard and let that be my doing.

With Mary as our example, pray and then trust in the Lord.

The prayer of a mother runs like a constant flow between her heart and the Lord. Like blood streaming through the ventricles of the heart, so does a mother’s prayer connect her to the heart of Jesus. It’s a deep and profound prayer – one of surrender and supplication. We ask not for ourselves but for His will in the lives of those we love. Because we are in a constant relationship with the Lord and we feel the freedom that brings, we so desperately want others to know the Lord, especially our family. And yet sometimes they don’t.

Sometimes they run from Him. If they’ve been raised in His light, they might have eyes to see or ears to hear, but a heart that is closed, frightened or wounded by the temptations and worries of this world. They might know that a “Yes” to the Lord requires a change. Has any “Yes” to Him ever kept things unchanged? With Abraham, Peter and Paul as examples, I might not even have the same name by the time Jesus is done with me!

I often ponder how deep Mary’s prayer life must have been. As gruesome as the crucifixion was, there must have been the temptation for deep worry. The late-night mothering of an older child brings me to this reflection often. Throughout the entirety of Jesus’ life, Mary was there beside him. She ushered him into ministry and was with him to the last. Yet she pondered so much in her heart.

We read the word “ponder” frequently in Scrip- ture. The thesaurus shows “meditate” and “reflect” as its most frequently used synonyms. Ponder, meditate and reflect. This is the breath of a mother’s prayer life, even in the fast pace of everyday life. There are times when , like the major negotiator, communicator, organizer and relationship builder that I try to be, I try to control a situation. I believe I am doing God’s will by moving pieces in a fashion that I think will make for the best outcome for what God desires. I try to set the stage for him to work! I imagine the Lord sitting next to me with his head to the side, one eyebrow raised, silently asking me if I am done yet.

Seeing that I am clearly unable to turn off this mission of mine, he waits patiently for moments, days, sometimes years, until I finally surrender and say “I can’t do this. I can’t solve this. Will you please help me?” He swiftly answers, “Of course; I’ve been waiting for this moment.”

It is in that surrender as a mother where we lay out our heart’s desire for those we love; where we pray boldly and trust greatly, that we regain the true freedom of being in a relationship with the Lord. Through prayer, I have been convicted to pray hard and let that be my doing. This is so hard for us mothers. And yet we have been given such an example!

My family is in the middle of so many possibilities and choices for our older children right now, and I am challenging myself to pray fervently to the Lord for Him to light, to guide, whisper, shout and make clear the next steps for them. With a thankful heart, I am praising Him for the gift of being a mother and the treasures of these children. I am asking for the fortitude to stay constant in prayer and let that fulfill my tendency to do.

This is not a test for the Lord to see if things will go my way, but rather it is a test for me to learn to grow in prayer and trust. I am laying down my way. Padre Pio is known for his simple breath of a prayer, “Pray, and don’t worry.” May we all learn to trust in this way.

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This kind of school is new to us all

It is an odd time in our history as a country when all of our children are being led back to the home to educate. Families are experiencing mixed emotions as they enter into new territory in the middle of a school year. For many, schedules have been shuffled, anxiety and panic are escalating and the joy of learning for the pursuit of knowledge and formation of character goes out the window amid the desire to just get it all done. As a teacher and homeschool mom, I have watched these past couple weeks as social media has become flooded with complaints and comparisons. With a gentle heart, I’d like to step in and offer an alternative viewpoint and some strategies for helping navigate this unknown time.

First, recognize the time we are in. Our children, no matter the age, sense the sudden change. The fear of the unknown can be a heavier burden than the reality, even if the reality is grave. Taking time to sit down as a family and talk about why school has changed and why it is important to take these health precautions can help alleviate some of the worries and also provide a sense of family unity towards this common goal. We are all in this together. Everyone is being asked to make sacrifices. As a firm believer in holding kids to high standards, even the youngest child can rise and join the family in the new normal.

Make a family plan. Set expectations for school. Treating this moment as an opportunity rather than an inconvenience can help build character within us and our children. For instance, if you have a teenager who has been distracted in school, meeting with them and taking the time to build up their skills and helping them set up goals for learning builds up your relationship with each other as well as allowing them the independence to demonstrate accountability and build trust. In our home, it is said often that trust is built over time. Schooling at home can help build that.

Appreciate this time with your younger children.  There is so much going on in the mind of a young child; the desire to create and wonder, to explore and discuss. While curriculum is important and can be a tool to help guide this, remember that the time spent learning together is just as important as the knowledge being acquired. Keeping a journal, taking pictures of your learning together, reading books together, sharing what has been learned at the family table are great ways for your younger ones to feel involved. 

Be careful with the words we use.  The dignity of a human, no matter the age, will always grow stronger with affirmation. Choose words that present the schooling at home situation as an opportunity rather than a “catholic mom chain” around one’s neck. Do not demean yourself or your children with jokes that belittle them or your ability.  See this time at home as a gift to grow relationships within the family. Our lives run at such a hectic pace that the opportunity of time can cause panic. What do we do? Rest, laugh, go outside, read, play games, talk, listen, share time and space with each other and smile. It is amazing what an offering of a smile can be in many situations!

Trust yourself. It is being said that we are all in this situation together and indeed we are but no one situation is the same. As a homeschooling mom, our schedule has been drastically changed as outside classes, sports, music lessons, activities, and work schedules have all been altered. There is much to adjust to for us all yet seeing the opportunities within the current situation can help keep our perspective positive. This type of schooling, whether a veteran homeschool parent or one who is new to schooling at home, is not an optimal version for any of us. This is a historic time where virtue can rise and families grow stronger. Mother Teresa is quoted as saying “If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.” What an opportunity! what fresh beginnings we are being gifted with!

On a side note, so many resources are being offered right now to help support parents and children who are educating at home. From illustrators offering daily art classes to online support for geometry and physics, one cannot scroll social media feed and not be overwhelmed. While all these resources are helpful and can support the learning in the home, they are not necessary. It is so easy to be overwhelmed and compare how we are “doing school” to other families. It has been said that “Comparison is the thief of joy” and that is so true in these times. One does not look at one’s neighbor and say “Oh, that is how we should be setting our table. Or that is how we should dress or mow or plant our garden or raise our children. Rather through prayerful discernment, we structure our family in a fashion that supports our family values. Trusting your ability to help facilitate learning in the home will help decrease the stress level immensely.

Love of learning comes by having an environment where we are being supported, challenged, and where a love of knowledge is being modeled. So, pick up a book, take up a new skill from that bucket list and show that learning is a lifelong skill. You might be surprised by the comradery that develops with your new students while you learn at home.

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How to Prepare for the Virtual Mass as a Family

As Catholics around the world move to celebrate mass virtually during this unusual health crisis,  many families are seeking ways to bring the sacred into the home. As a mom of many, the challenge of gathering everyone in one room on their best behavior to participate in mass is real. Kids don’t sense the need to “be ready” for mass as the living room has been such a sense of comfort and relaxation. It is where we gather to decompress from the day of hard work but in these times it must serve two purposes. As a parent, I find myself continually setting the stage for my family to be successful. In times like these, we must also set the stage for our family to stay nourished in faith. We have been privileged to have a mass said in our home a few times when we had visiting priests so preparing for virtual mass was similar. When it comes to celebrating mass at home or virtually here are some of our family’s traditions along with some recommended by Father Dave Sizemore from St. Francis de Sales Parish in Newark, Ohio.

  1. Clear any clutter out of the room so it feels ready. For us, that means all our school books, clothing, toys, remote controls, etc. The table is wiped down and a tablecloth is placed upon it.
  2. Create a family altar. Ask every family member to gather their favorite prayer cards, holy medals, statues, and candles. I love when we have this opportunity because objects from my older kid’s youth: a little Franciscan cross, a favorite prayer card, a first communion statue and other holy objects to remind us of the church are placed upon our family altar. My youngest daughter received white roses from her father on her first Reconciliation which she dried and also places on our family altar.
  3. Have holy water in a bowl so family members can bless themselves as they enter. It reminds us of the sacredness of the moment in which we are going to be sharing.
  4. Put a crucifix in the room if there is not one.
  5. Have your bibles marked with the readings for the day or print up the readings for the mass so everyone can follow along. If your parish posts the music online, then have it available. Giving everyone the tools to participate is essential in making mass accessible whether in person or virtually.
  6. Encourage family members to change out of their pajamas.  In an attempt to remind everyone of the sacredness of the mass, we ask that pajamas not be worn and day clothes be put on.
  7. Offer your mass for someone. In our parish, we begin mass by turning to our neighbor and asking them for their prayer intention. When celebrating mass virtually we are able to ask our family members for their intentions as well as thinking of those intentions we hold in our hearts and offer our mass for them.
  8. Make a spiritual communion. One of the hardest things when celebrating mass is the longing for Jesus in the Eucharist. The longing is a beautiful thing and draws our hearts closer to Jesus. As Catholic Christians, we can make a spiritual communion during the time the priest is receiving Jesus by saying this prayer. “My Jesus, I believe that You are in the Blessed Sacrament. I love You above all things, and I long for You in my soul. Since I cannot now receive You sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. As though You have already come, I embrace You and unite myself entirely to You; never permit me to be separated from You. Amen.”
  9. Have donuts, coffee and juice ready for after mass. The social aspect of gathering together after mass is a way for us to check in with friends after mass. When celebrating mass virtually, we place the donuts, drinks, and plates on the table in the other room. There is even a mad dash by our younger kids for donuts after the last verse of the song is sung.

 As a final note, and as a mother of eight children, I think it is really important to take time to breathe in the fact that your family is gathering within the walls of your home to worship the Lord. How many Christians before us have had to do this in secret on fear of persecution and death? See the seeds of faith you are planting and take the time that has been given to us in this period of social distancing and staying at home to water and nourish them. There is no greater gift we can give our family than the gift of family rooted in Christ.

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Lenten Family Traditions in the Home

Living liturgically gives a rhythm to the daily life of a catholic family. It is no mistake that mother nature corresponds her seasons to that of the church. I love the peaceful anticipation of Advent and the white calming snow that accompanies it. Just as necessary is the rain and grey skies of Lent while looking forward to green grass and blooming flowers of an Eastertide. As a mom of many, tying traditions to these liturgical seasons helps my family enter into the season with a prayerful spirit and also helps draw us closer together as a domestic church.  Here is a list of some we have practiced over the years.

  1. Burying the Hallelujah: The word Hallelujah is not used once during the season of Lent. It is not even used on Sundays. Hallelujah comes from a Hebrew expression which means praise the Lord. It is a term of joy and celebration. Burying or hiding the Hallelujah is a type of fasting of celebration and builds the anticipation for that first Easter shout!
  2. Crown of Thorns: We take a circular grapevine wreath and fill it with toothpicks. Every time a member of the family does a good deed or a sacrifice, they get to remove one of the toothpicks with the goal of all the thorns being removed by Easter.
  3. Family Rosary or Divine Mercy Chaplet: An increased focus on family prayer.
  4.  Cleaning out the pantry: Our week of Mardi Gras is usually when we use up all the snacks and treats to prepare for a dryer period of food in the house during Lent.
  5. Stations of the Cross at our table: A dear friend of ours made us a long thin board that we place upon our dining room table. Upon it we place 15 small candles. We have a book we have used for 18 years called The Story of the Cross by Mary Joslin. The book used to be read by Dad but is now passed around the table as we now have a table of readers. We turn off the lights and read a station, light a candle and sing the Stabat Mater. As the kids have gotten older, we have added in the Latin. This tradition is my favorite.
  6. Amon’s Adventure by Arnold Ytreeide is another story that we have read throughout our Lent. We use it as an Advent calendar except the treat is the quality family time.
  7. The decorations in our home for Easter do not go up till Easter. It is always joyful to decorate on Easter Sunday with flowers and linens and decorations that remind us of the triumph of the cross and that Easter is celebrated longer than just a day.
  8. The Passion of the Christ directed by Mel Gibson: As our kids have gotten older, this has become a rite of passage. This movie we usually wait till confirmation, as the content is not new, but the imagery adds depth to the strong themes of this movie.

Family traditions plant seeds of faith within the hearts of our children. From Mardi gras to meatless Fridays there is much we can do within the walls of our homes to enter into the Lenten season.  I once had a vision of my son as a young adult hearing about stations of the cross and being mentally drawn back to our dining room table where he attended stations every Friday during Lent as a child. His hand lit held the flame to light the candle and he remembered. I hope and pray that none of my children fall away from the church as they grow into adulthood but the gift of knowing that each tradition we establish within the walls of our home forms a positive memory of Christ’s love and presence makes it worth every bit of effort.

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Want a grateful family? Take time to look for Jesus

Image credit: Flickr.com (2012), CC BY 2.0

Last night, I sat by the fire with a friend and marveled at God’s provision. This necessary pause infused my soul with breath and joy. I’m finding it necessary to take this pause and remind myself of the presence of God in everything. I sat back and reflected on how the year unfolded for us and prayed for the vision of seeing God in it all. From a new position with increased travel, outsourcing some school classes, mom’s new opportunities, a graduation, walking through our last-ever surgery, finding a new trail to walk as a family, growing new friendships, a renewed focus on marriage, taking more self-care opportunities, and the opportunity to teach again, there is a recognition that God was with us through it all. Wherever we were, God was and is now. That is so powerful for me. To know that the Lord of hosts, the King of Kings, humbles himself to sit beside me in all my minutes is incredulous and marvelous in the fullness of the meaning of those words. For he is mighty. He is wisdom incarnate. He is hope. He is love. He is mercy … and he sits with me in the joy and in the dark and in the tears and in the peace. He is the ever-faithful counselor of our soul.

Now if you know me, you know that I always take these moments and apply them to those around me; my family, friends, and even the cashier at the local Kroger. For who can contain that moment when you realize how loved you are? What a true friend we have in Jesus! There are moments when the re-realization of this causes us to come aflame for and with Him.

So I sat with my smalls (our affectionate nickname for the younger block of kids in our family) and asked them to list out what they remembered about this past year: a new friend, a lost friend, a scored goal, a huge ice-cream sundae, running with the dog, playing a piano piece, three drama performances in one day, swimming in the pool, bonfires. We took time to quietly look for Jesus in all those moments. Friends, it was so powerful and I could just feel the heart of Jesus gladdened by this recognition. For with this recognition hearts and eyes were opened again to His presence. I could see the love and peace settle upon their souls. It was incredibly beautiful.

Similarly, my older kids feel the presence of God in forming more solid friendships, feeling a calling that won’t go away, relationships ended and relationships grown, trust built, goals achieved, late-night runs to Taco Bell and Chipotle, lunches squeezed into an orthodontist visit because we squeeze every minute out of our time together. Encouraging them to take the time to see how the Lord has always been present is a reminder of the bonds of this everlasting friendship.

It’s a simple thing to do. Quiet time with the family. An easel or notepads and just writing down memories. Where do you see Jesus in those moments? The discussion that comes forth is worth it. It changes and forms us all. My husband and I try to ask each other where we saw Jesus in our day every night before we put our heads down on our pillows. A reminder of His presence and the joy that comes from knowing He is with us.

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Advice to my Son: Go to Nineveh!

Image credit: By Lukas Rykvalsky (2016), Pexels.com, CC0/PD

I’m often heard saying that I am a professional at the younger years of parenting. Give me a baby to rock, a diaper to change, a toddler to play puzzles with, a book to read. These I can do with my eyes shut. The older years, though: Phew! They are not for the faint of heart! I am so grateful to be home, walking alongside them during these formative years before they step out as adults. A recent late-night conversation with one left me with words on my heart. I felt the need to share them and he approved.

Dear Son,

I see the fear in your eyes. You have been called, sent, and the destination seems to offer no relief. You wonder at the Lord’s request. Has he not seen where you have been? Does he not know the sin and suffering you’ve brought upon yourself; the weight of the world’s temptations you’ve let settle on your soul? How can he be asking you? And yet you feel the truth. The reality of the emptiness you feel is glaring back at you and the call becomes more persistent. Go to Nineveh.

I know you know the story of Jonah, where God asks him to go and preach to the Assyrians in Nineveh. Jonah goes the complete opposite direction to Tarshish, and on the way, a storm hits his ship and all craziness breaks out. Jonah figures it out that it is because he is running from the Lord and saves the rest of the passengers on his boat by jumping off the ship. The storm stops and Jonah gets swallowed up by a whale. He sits in the belly of the whale for a wee bit and figures things out. Whale spits him out. He heads to Nineveh. God takes care of him the whole way there.

I’ve always wondered if it really wasn’t about Nineveh at all, but rather what it represented to Jonah. Nineveh was an abandonment to Gods will over Jonah’s, to faith over fear.

As we spoke tonight, I was humbled by your honesty and blown away by your maturity. To walk through darkness and pursue the light requires courage, strength and a quest for truth. You, son, are seeking truth and He is leading you. You are right to be wary, for the path will not be smooth. You will have to slay many demons along the way. You will have to let go of that which seems so safe and familiar. But the call in your heart will lead you and He who calls will always be with you. Remember that! There is no place you can go where the Lord will not be with you. There is no place you have been, no situation, no moment at all, that you have ever been without Him. Once you recognize that momentous gift, your next step should be one of gratitude and trust for you are not alone.

But as you travel, remember what happened in Nineveh when Jonah got there: revival! God brought a complete revival to Nineveh. A whole city, probably about hundreds of thousands of people were converted from paganism to worshiping God and all it took was Jonah’s yes. Think about that! Jonah’s yes had magnitudes of impact.

There’s one more aspect to this story that you need to know. While Nineveh was an actual place the Lord called Jonah too, it also has a further meaning for us today. Nineveh of old had all its power and beauty but also greed and brutality. We too are surrounded by this. We live in Nineveh. We work in Nineveh. We cannot escape Nineveh. But you hear God’s calling deep in your heart and you are afraid. Maybe you are afraid because you see yourself in the people of Nineveh. Maybe you are afraid because you see yourself not worthy nor ready to be called to this task. None of us are ever ready, son. But I am sure this is not the first time you have heard me say “ If God calls you to it, He’s going to see you through it.” Look back on your life and see the truth of that.

You are going to move mountains, son.

Your yes will soften the heart of many a hard sinner.

Each day with every step and every yes, the you that longs to break free of the chains of this world will grow stronger and one day you will look up to the heavens and praise the Lord and those chains will just fall to the ground. Imagine that freedom!

Let that fear that sits in the pit of your stomach make you hungry for change; for new life. Don’t dismiss it. Take this chance and give it everything you’ve got and go, son. Go to Nineveh! Whom you find there may surprise you.

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A Mother’s Prayer

Image credit: Pexels.com (2016), CC0/PD

The prayer of a mother runs like a constant flow between her heart and the Lord. It is like blood streaming through the ventricles of the heart, so does a mother’s prayer connect her to the heart of Jesus. It’s a deep and profound prayer; one of surrender and supplication. We ask not for ourselves but for His will in the lives of those we love. Because we are in a constant relationship with the Lord, and we feel the freedom that brings, we so desperately want others to know the Lord; especially our family. And yet sometimes, they don’t.

Sometimes they run from Him. If they’ve been raised in His light, they might have eyes to see or ears to hear, but a heart that is closed, frightened or wounded by the temptations and worries of this world. They might know that a yes to the Lord requires a change. Has any yes to Him ever not? With Abraham, Peter and Paul as examples, I might not even have the same name by the time Jesus is done with me!

I often ponder how deep Mary’s prayer life must have been. As gruesome as the crucifixion was, there must have been the temptation for such deep worry. The late-night mothering of an older child brings me to this reflection often. Throughout the entirety of Jesus’s life, Mary was there beside him. She ushered him into ministry and was with him to the last. Yet she pondered so very much in her heart.

We hear the word ponder quite frequently in Scripture. The thesaurus shows meditate and reflect as the most frequently used synonyms alongside it. Ponder, meditate and reflect. This is the breath of a mother’s prayer life even in the fast pace of everyday life. There are times however for me, that, like the major negotiator, communicator, organizer, and relationship builder that I try to be, I try to control a situation. I believe I am doing God’s will by moving pieces in a fashion that I think will make for the best outcome for what God desires. I try to set the stage for him to work!

I imagine the Lord sitting next to me, with His head to the side, one eyebrow raised, silently asking me if I am done yet. Seeing that I am clearly unable to turn off this mission of mine, He waits patiently, moments, days, sometimes years, until I finally surrender and say I can’t do this. I can’t solve this. Will you please help me?

He swiftly answers of course, I’ve been waiting for this moment.

It is in that surrender as a mother, when we lay out our heart’s desire for those we love. We pray boldly and trust greatly that we regain the true freedom of being in a relationship with the Lord. Through prayer, I have been convicted to pray hard and let that be my doing. This is so hard for us mothers.

And yet we have been given such an example! My family is in the middle of so many possibilities and choices for our older children right now, and I am challenging myself to pray fervently to the Lord for Him to light, to guide, whisper, shout, and make clear the next steps for my them. With a thankful heart, I am praising Him for the gift of being a mother and the treasures of these children. I am asking for the fortitude to stay constant in prayer and let that fulfill my tendency to do. This is not a test for the Lord to see if things will go my way, but rather it is a test for me to learn to grow in prayer and trust.

I am laying my way down. Padre Pio is known for his simple breath of a prayer, “Pray and don’t worry.” May we all learn to trust in this way.