Saturday, September 28, 2019

The Holy Archangels

It was the end of July in 2014, and a cold front had blown in, making the morning delightfully crisp. I had been reading a book that a priest loaned to me on the sacraments, and I found myself with fewer and fewer arguments against our family going over to Rome. I decided that morning to mull over my thoughts and pray while taking the baby for a walk.

Not long after we moved to Boise in 2012, I bought The Catholic Home by Meredith Gould, a PhD who converted to Catholicism from Judaism. My hopes had been to adapt ideas from the book to make our Anglican home more liturgical, but my plan backfired, albeit in a slow, steady burn.

The kids and I had been praying in front of Planned Parenthood with our Catholic friends, which is where we learned to pray the rosary. Our peaceful pro-life group also prayed the Prayer of St. Michael. I used Gould's book to help me pray the rosary at home on my own, but I had trouble justifying praying to St. Michael by myself.

This is not because I didn't think St. Michael was important! One of my favorite feast days was Michaelmas (September 29, which also celebrates all three Archangels); I celebrated it with the kids from the time they were toddlers. It just seemed strange to me to ask an angel to defend me when Jesus could defend me Himself. But the more I thought of the saints and angels as friends, the easier it was to ask for their help, as I would any friend on earth.

Although the book from the priest was on the sacraments, it encouraged me in my love of the communion of saints . . . and the angels. So that morning, I brought The Catholic Home with me on my walk, deciding that I would go to a park bench and pray.

As I walked to our neighborhood park, which is acres of rolling hills and soccer fields, I told the Lord that if He didn't want me to pray to St. Michael, to please stop me or show me how I was wrong. My baby fell asleep on the way, and I settled on a bench atop a hill under a shade tree.

I prayed the Prayer of St. Michael, and no lightning bolts descended to show God's displeasure. I then prayed the rosary. Then I sat in blissful peace, until my baby woke up.

As we walked down the hill to the path through the park, I felt such a joy looking out across the empty fields. Then I spotted what looked like a small deer coming over a distant hill. My excitement over the deer turned to fear, because as it came closer it was obviously some sort of large dog. It was still far away, but it was aiming for us! Then I realized it was a coyote.

Coyotes had been found in our neighborhood a few weeks before, but I was told they would leave people alone. I kept thinking that this coyote would change course as I walked forward on the path, but he kept coming toward us. I prayed so hard, as I tried not to panic and keep a steady pace on the path. I looked around for help, but still, no one was in sight.

The coyote kept charging after us, and I began to wonder if it was time to stop and throw myself over my baby to protect her. I asked St. Michael to protect us, in a last desperate prayer, and the coyote suddenly jerked to an angle away from us. I wanted to break down in tears from relief, but I kept walking, not knowing if the coyote would try and come back for us. As we were leaving, groundskeepers finally came over the hill.

So with that, my friendship with St. Michael deepened. I began praying not only the St. Michael Prayer, but also the prayers to St. Gabriel and St. Raphael, each night over my family. One day, I decided to pray the prayers over my brother and his wife. The next day, when I told my brother, he asked me to keep doing that because they had had the most amazing day! Then I started praying the prayers nightly over others who were laid on my heart. Now, I pray the prayers over groups of family, friends, our bishop, priests, deacons, seminarians, and my co-workers.

I loved the angels when I was a child; so praying to them as an adult has been like finding old friends after a long time of being apart.

I ask St. Gabriel to help me when I need some extra strength for all kinds of things, from opening jars to lifting heavy boxes. I ask St. Raphael for healing and when extra comfort or direction is needed. I ask St. Michael's help for protection and also for healing--which is what his intercessions were known for in the ancient Church.

My copy of The Catholic Home became well-worn and eventually fell apart. These are the prayers as I pray them for memory. I'm sure you can look them up somewhere to get a more official translation of the Latin. When I pray them over a person or group of people, I substitute "us" for their names, and switch out the pronouns accordingly:

Prayer to St. Michael

St. Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle,
be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the devil,
may God rebuke him, we humbly pray.
And do thou, O prince of the heavenly host,
by the power of God,
cast into Hell Satan,
and all the evil spirits,
who prowl throughout the world seeking the ruin of souls.

Prayer to St. Gabriel

Blessed St. Gabriel the Archangel
we ask that you intercede for us
at the throne of Divine Mercy.
As you announced the mystery of the Incarnation to Mary,
so through your prayers,
may we receive faith and courage, find favor with God,
and redemption through Christ our Lord.
May we sing the praises of God, our Savior,
with all angels and saints in heaven
forever and ever.

Prayer to St. Raphael

Blessed St. Raphael the Archangel
we ask that you help us
in all our needs and through life's trials.
As you through the power of God,
restored sight and gave guidance to Tobit,
we humbly seek your help and intercessions for us,
that our souls may be healed,
our bodies protected from all sickness,
and that through divine grace,
we may become fit to dwell
in the eternal glory of God in Heaven.

©2019 Emily Woodham

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

What I Learned In Ten Years of Blogging

Ready for tea, courtesy one of my daughters.

On January 16, 2009, I started my first blog, Rivendellchick. The sketchy details of which I put on my About Moi page.

I was never a strong blogger with tons of link-ups and give-aways. I tried to get into those circles once, but I found it too time consuming to keep up.

So did I learn anything in 10 years of blogging? I most certainly did:

Writing takes moxie. With each post, I am aware that anyone at any time could read my writing. Anyone. And not everyone likes my style or my ideas. Despite the potential for criticism, I write anyway, and I write what I want. I often feel like the storm trooper above who went to my daughter's tea party: a little ridiculous yet bold and ready for anything.

Don't forget your family. If you wouldn't want your family to read your post, don't write it. If you're writing to punish your spouse or kids because it's been a rotten day, don't post it. This may dampen the realism of your writing, but be creative and figure out a workaround for what you want to say. Apologizing for a spoken word is a lot easier than apologizing for a written one. Saying something in private is completely different from telling the internet.

Don't be afraid of feedback. My husband used to read everything I wrote before I posted, making suggestions for edits and giving me general feedback. His input was a tremendous help! He rarely has time to do this now, but my oldest two kids will sometimes help me out with their proofreading. Although my confidence has grown as a writer, I find that I haven't outgrown my need for advice.

Life experience is golden. Although oversharing is off the table, the best writing comes from the heart. You don't need to write directly about your experience to use it. My experiences have helped me beyond the blog in researching certain topics for articles, and they have provided insights into interviews. Writing is healing. Allow the wounds of your life to enrich your writing.

Take care of yourself. Writers, like other artists, usually don't live by conventions. We tend to be night owls on a schedule determined by deadlines. So "taking care of yourself" is something you have to define as the individual you are. But whatever you need to do, do it. My worst writing happens when I let my tank run empty. I need to pray; I need to read; I need family and friends. Through it all, I need tea.

She took the Nutella from the pantry while I was writing.

Keep perspective. My views have changed over the last ten years. My core beliefs and my top priorities have remained the same, but there are things that used to bother me (like all the sugar in Nutella) when I was younger that I now consider inane. There are also things that I thought were unimportant that I now see as crucial (Nutella sandwiches to the rescue!). These changes used to hold me back from expressing my opinion, fearing that I might change my mind again. Older friends and family, though, have shown me that it's okay to change. It's healthy to take stock, to reassess. Now my goal is to write with a little more humility than when I started out, leaving room for differences of opinion, remembering that we're all human and we all need one another.

Just  . . . write. Do it. Write and don't look at your stats. Let your imagination give you as big or as little an audience you need to keep going. Write about the spider web outside your window or the dying rose bush you had to prune to a nub. Write about a magical world you created. Write about the political changes you want to see in the world. Write about the things your soul tells you to write. And then write some more. In writing, especially blogging, the only way to fail is to quit.

©2019 Emily Woodham

Friday, June 28, 2019

His Friend

Since February, but especially over the last two months, a friend has had me thinking a lot about what it means to be Jesus' friend (John 15:15). Our conversations began on the Feast Day of St. Claude de la Colombiere, the spiritual director of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque. (We can thank both saints for the beautiful devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.)

Being Jesus' friend is something I have thought of before, and it makes me think of the old hymn that I still love, "What A Friend We Have in Jesus." But my friend's thoughts have gone beyond the superficial niceties of friendship. Our conversations have often challenged me and led me to pray, "Lord, show me how to be your friend!"

During these months while turning over in my mind the aspects of friendship with Jesus, the Sacred Heart kept popping up in things I read. As a Protestant, the idea of the Sacred Heart was difficult to embrace. Until one day while driving around, I heard someone on Catholic radio explain that Catholic devotions help bring to light the different facets of the Incarnation: They are not necessary for salvation, and they are meant to deepen, not detract from, our relationship with God.

The devotion of the Sacred Heart of Jesus came at a time when France was reeling under the legalistic, oppressive religion of the Jansenists in the 17th century. Jansenists were scrupulous and viewed helping the sick and the poor as being beneath them. They denied the sacraments, including Confession and the Anointing of the Sick, except to the few Catholics they viewed as being worthy. People rarely heard about the love and mercy of Christ and became disheartened. Believing that there was no hope for them to be holy enough for a relationship with God and condemned to sin, many people abandoned the faith for lives of debauchery. The fiery love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus helped turn the tide.

A part of the devotion of the Sacred Heart is to console the heart of Jesus with our love. This is a strange idea to Protestants because they see Jesus as not needing our love, especially our comfort. But the Sacred Heart relates Christ's humanity to us humans, allowing us to give to Christ concrete gifts of love, just as we give to our family and friends.

Someone once warned me that if we focus too much on friendship with God, then we risk forgetting that Christ is King and is our Master. My friend, however, pointed out that because we are His friends, unlike merely dutiful servants, we know Him. This knowledge of Him changes our attitudes about obedience.

Obeying Him flows from loving Him which flows from knowing Him, much like the old St. Joseph Catechism states.

When I mentioned friendship with Christ to my seventeen year old son, he said it made him think of Aragorn in the Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship may have started out following Aragorn's leadership because he was the rightful King of Gondor, but they followed him to the gates of Mordor, the gates of Hell, because he was their friend.

Focusing on my friendship with Jesus hasn't made life easy peasy, but it has made it easier to trust Him when life resembles scenes out of Mordor.

Friends choose to love one another, and there is a great comfort in meditating on Christ's choice to love us, rather than loving us out of some kind of spiritual contract or obligation. Unlike the rest of us though, His unconditional love is perfectly faithful and true. This is the perfect love that casts out fear.

So there is no fear that He will change His mind and choose not to love us for any reason. He called the disciples His friends, even though they screwed up and weren't perfect. He calls us friends, even though we also fall short. This friendship invites honesty, intimacy, and depth. This friendship gives peace, joy, and courage.

This is the perfect love, the perfect friendship, of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

And how do we return this love? By being His friend.

©2019 Emily Woodham

Thursday, June 6, 2019


"It's so stupid," my mother said. "It's just so stupid how people think they can make their lives perfect. They think they're in control of everything. They think they can kill a baby because it's not a good fit for what they want in life. They think they're calling all the shots, but they aren't."

Mom had listened to another person insist that abortion was justified because a baby would cause too many problems. She found it arrogant and wrongheaded that people valued ease and personal comfort over a human being.

 "All it takes is an accident for everything to change. In one moment, a perfect baby born at the perfect time is handicapped and dependent on their parents for the rest of their lives. And then what will they do? Will they kill their child because he's inconvenient?"

She said that over 25 years ago, and it never left me. It applied not only to the birth of "inconvenient" babies, but to any time that people, myself included, assumed that with the right decisions and timing, everything could be perfect.

No one makes a choice thinking it will turn out poorly. Even impulsive, thoughtless choices are made with the expectation that nothing bad could really happen. I think it's safe to say, that whether or not we're doing our best, most of us mean no harm. No sane person intends disaster or heartache for themselves or the ones they love.

Because I write saint stories for the Idaho Catholic Register, people come up to me and ask me which saints they should pray to for a particular intention. They also ask me to pray for them. This window into the needs of strangers never fails to make me feel honored. Many times God has used these sweet people with their sufferings to yank me out of my own ruminations of things troubling me. Answering their questions and praying for them never fails to bring me joy.

This privileged insight into the lives of others has made it clear: Suffering does not discriminate.

Marriages, children, jobs. Hopes and dreams. So much becomes unraveled because of an accident, an unlikely chance, a moment. Things that were supposed to work out, fail. Trials that no one saw coming, arrive like a runaway train. Carefully considered choices unravel into heartbreaks and misery.

Everyone wants life to be complete, to be whole. Everyone deals with fragments.

For most people it seems that in dealing with the crisis itself, there is an extra grace to cope. It's the aftermath, when people have to gather up the shards of their lives, that the anguished heart has trouble seeing the next steps of moving on. This is when questions slam the weary brain of whether or not it's worth trying again. This is when many people isolate themselves in shame, believing that tragedy is a curse that has marked them as unfit for love.

Amy Carmichael (an English Protestant missionary to India who saved girls, as young as three, from temple prostitution) once pointed out that after feeding thousands, Jesus told the apostles to gather the leftovers, the fragments. The broken pieces of bread and fish were too important to be ignored.

If the fragments of food could mean so much to Him, how much more does He care for the fragments of our lives!

In a homily, my priest mentioned how easy it is for us to stay away from people in pain. There is something about their suffering that repels us, as if the suffering were a virus we could catch.

Jesus, however, drew near to people in their suffering, always pressing in to bring His healing.

His closeness is most present to us in the Eucharist. Through communion, we enter into an intimacy with Christ that permeates our circumstances and pain. If we ever doubt Christ's love for us, all we need to do is consider the wonder of this Sacrament, the outpouring of His love through time and space for each of us in our present moment.

There is nothing so broken that it is beyond His love. There is nothing so small that he considers it worthless.

But our hope doesn't end with His infinite and unconditional love for us in our brokenness, though that would be more than enough. Our hope in Him reaches beyond ourselves and to each other.

Our fragmented lives are not only redeemed; they are meant to fit together. As He keeps close to us, we are meant to stay near one another.

Being the Body of Christ is far more than the function of an institution. We are a community, and fitting together the edges of our brokenness creates a beauty, which transcends anything we could be on our own.

Satan works to bring division, to isolate us from one another. He tempts those in sorrow to run away. He tempts others to judge and criticize, to stay away from those in pain.

But Christ calls us to be one in Him.

We cannot be condescending or condemning of each other, not only because we are all imperfect, but also because we need one another.

The exhortations of Jesus and the apostles to love one another as He loves us are far more than nice sayings to make us feel good: They are the grit of our faith. To love as He loves, calls for perseverance that can only come from grace and a lot of humility. Perseverance is hard work. We strain to run this race; we don't stroll.

Perseverance requires a courage that can only come from keeping our eyes on Him and letting His love carry us through.

 Life is unpredictable. Inconveniences don't wait for invitations. The truly valuable things in life require sacrifice and effort.

We grow weary; we faint; we fail. We sin. But the love of our Saviour is steadfast and His mercies are new every morning.

With His light, the fragments of our lives create a beauty that overcomes agony and sorrow. There is an undeniable and unique brilliance in each individual. However, when we join our fragments to those of others, when we stay in communion with Him and one another, our lives become a majestic display of resplendent glory.

©2019 Emily Woodham

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Kristin Lavransdatter (AKA, The Book That Won't Leave Me Alone)

An old meme by some unknown person, because to read Kristin Lavransdatter, one needs tea and preferably a Carson, too.

At the behest of a trusted friend, I started reading Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset two years ago. It took me nearly a year to read, what with the research and other reading I do for my job. I was also pregnant when I began the three volume tome, which given the emotional turmoil in the book should earn me brownie points somewhere, if not actual brownies.

I have read many reviews, mostly by Catholic women, which rave about the book, and I found that on the internet, my feelings about the book/s are in the minority. However, the majority of my friends shared my feelings hat the book was mostly painful and arduous with scattered rays of hard-won truth and beauty.

Over a year has passed since I finished the book, and I find that I can't forget it. It comes to me unbidden while I'm on a walk and musing about life. It interrupts me when I talk to friends about perseverance or redemption. I hear about a difficult marriage or someone going through a season of loss, and its characters step into my thoughts to declare, "See! It really is a classic!"

And so it is a classic. It's different from Dostoevsky or Dickens or Austen. It sometimes rambles and repeats itself. But in the end those rays of truth and beauty come together to illuminate a story of the triumph of God's love over our messy, sinful lives.

I tried to convey my mixed feelings in the Catholic Book Review on the Morning Light Show for Salt and Light Radio. There are spoilers! But given that the books came out nearly a century ago, I think revealing spoilers to talk about the themes is fair game. The link is below.

And now for some tea.

©2019 Emily Woodham

Saturday, April 6, 2019

The Screwtape Letters

C. S. Lewis is one of my heroes. I first read Mere Christianity in high school, and I was completely enamored. Then I read The Great Divorce, and my love of his writing was sealed.

I talked about The Screwtape Letters on Salt & Light Radio for their Catholic Book Club on Friday, April 5.

Below is the link to the Facebook Live video. I start around 15:15. My editor, Deacon Gene Fadness, Director of Communications for the Diocese of Boise and the editor for the Idaho Catholic Register, talks about the current issue in the segment after mine.