Thursday, December 27, 2012

Sorry, No Steeple

“Sorry, No Steeple…but we do have a drive-thru” is what the clever, cool, hip billboard sign proclaims.

I wasn’t exactly sure what it meant so I didn’t pay it much never-mind. 

Then another one popped up with something that was, to me, similarly vague: We don’t accept perfect people. 

Still, not paying attention. 

Then a topic of conversation was begun in my small Catholic study group. The essence of the conversation, which has taken more than a few twists and turns along the way, was this: Should we allow—or even encourage—our Catholic teens to attend non-denominational churches? In particular, this local one with the clever, cool, hip billboards? In a way, though, the conversation was almost a non-issue since it appeared that our Catholic teens (and even many of our adults) were already attending on their own without our small group’s permission—or seemingly without much guilt, either. 

At first we decided this was a good thing. Maybe because our hand was forced: everyone was doing this without our wisdom, guidance, or input. 

So, in our minds, we were able to argue that it was better to have our kids attend a non-denominational service every week and fall in love with Christ than attend Mass a handful of times a year and fall asleep. We all agreed that Mass couldn’t possibly compete with whatever the non-denominational service offered. Although, since none of us had ever attended such a service, we weren’t actually quite sure what it was that was drawing our kids (and those adults) to these services and away from the richness of their Catholic faith. 

But we knew it must be awesome! 

After all, these people were walking away from the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

And they were walking away from the Sacraments of the Catholic faith. 

Basically throwing out two thousand years of history for…what exactly? 

We weren’t sure; but we all agreed that it really had to be amazing.

Then God provided a turning point for me: a publisher sent me a book in which the popular female author opined about the “boring” homily she was forced to sit through. 
My heart just sank. 

Boring? You want to indict the priest for his homily versus your own heart during Mass? 

All of a sudden this non-denominational option for our Catholic teens (and those adults who also left the Catholic Church) seemed far less appealing.

With that, God also brought to my mind two separate instances in the past couple of years in which adults who had left the Catholic Church for non-denominational affiliations had, in fact, received communion at different funeral services that they had since attended. 
Wait a minute! 

Do you get to do that? 

Add to this image, the words in this book about the “boring” homily and now I’m ready to defend my faith; I’m no longer willing to see how it might be a good thing for Catholics of any age to leave Mother Church.

The author’s words kept reverberating in my mind. I kept thinking: if this is what adults are taking away from Mass, can we expect anything more from our kids? 

The indictment ought to rest on our shoulders since it is not up to the priest to entertain us. Rather, our attitude ought to be “Speak Lord, Your servant is listening.” If He is using a less-than-perfect instrument, does that take away from what God may be trying to say? 

The same attitude should be taught to our children: Mass isn’t about “entertainment;” nor will it ever be able to compete with the world we and our children live in. 

Walking into Mass is a time to put our lives aside and connect with God. It is a time to open our hearts and minds to that which will draw us into a deep and personal relationship with our Savior. Mass is not meant to keep pace with our world. The opposite is true: it should remind us that we are in the world but not of it! To make demands upon our faith to keep up with where we are in our everyday lives is to rob us of what our Savior came to do: to seek and save, not condemn. 

And isn’t our world ripe for condemning? 

Why would we want our Church mirroring our fast-paced lives that are ripe for condemning? 

We must not clamor to change our Mass into a place that looks like our world; we ought to rejoice in the knowledge that Christ and Holy Mother Church had the foresight to have carved out a sacred place that saves us from the world. 
Is it better for our Catholic teens (and those adults) to attend a non-denominational service every week instead of attending Mass a few times a year?


It is better for each of us to more fully understand what our Mass is and what it offers and trust in the Holy Spirit to answer our prayers for our family’s faith. It is better for each of us to witness to the beauty and majesty that is our Catholic faith and trust in the Holy Spirit to move the hearts and minds of those around us. 

If you’ve not yet read Dr. Curran’s book The Mass: Four Encounters with Jesus That Will Change Your Life (published by My Catholic Faith Press), you’ll want to do that asap. 

Cheryl Dickow

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Letting God Find You....

Before my feet touched the floor on January 1st, 2012, I offered a simple prayer: Please Lord, before the year is over, find me where you want me to be.

Up to that point, I had been suffering from a decades-long chronic condition and although imagined health in my future, that morning I offered every cell in my body to the Lord. I just wanted to serve Him and His kingdom. If He wanted me to be healthy, so be it. If He had other plans, so be it.

From that point on, all hell broke loose.

The first Friday in January, I was on-air when I had an “episode” and was forced to hang up quite abruptly and was immediately taken to the emergency room by my husband. I’ve got to admit, there is nothing quite as humbling as having to hang up during an interview on a national radio show because the room is spinning and the floor seems to be at a 45 degree angle and you are crawling for help.

I suffered more physical problems over the next few months than I had in the previous years; I was subjected to countless medical tests and procedures. It wasn’t exactly what I envisioned 2012 would bring when I offered myself completely to God; but a few close friends helped me survive the year. They were the ones God put in my life to lower me, on my mat, through the roof so that I could get to Christ (see Mark 2:4).

The year is now coming to a close and I remember well that simple prayer I spoke on January 1st.

Am I where God wants to find me?

I believe I am.

I’ve learned a lot this past year and have tremendous gratitude (and maybe am a bit intimidated) that God would take my prayer so seriously—and allow me to be molded so intimately this year to His will so that He would find me exactly where He wanted me to be.

Last week I spoke to a group of Catechetical leaders and the topic was “Becoming a Saint One Day at a Time.” I was able to illustrate 7 different ways that God molds us in our everyday lives. Spending time with these leaders was very anointed and their gracious feedback gave me confirmation that I am, indeed, where God wants me to be.

Along the way this year, my company has published a number of books that I also recognize as gifts from God.

When I started Bezalel Books in 2007, I wanted to serve God through great Catholic fiction. I was a parochial middle school teacher (English and religion) and wanted to see a time where Catholic fiction books flooded the classrooms. It was dream to offer the sort of books that feed the soul while also entertaining and enlightening to kids and parents. I also wanted to give a platform to authors who may not have one otherwise and on January 1st of 2012, it was my sole desire to make sure that the works of Bezalel Books would continue to exist only if it was God’s holy will and purpose for my life.

To that end, I’m so honored to serve God through our 2012 titles. Most recently, and just in time for Christmas, is one of the most blessed books I feel we’ve ever published: He Shall Be Peace. Written by Jennifer Franks, this fiction book is based upon the visions of the venerable Catherine Anne Emmerich and is the sort of book that lifts the spirit of the reader to new heights.

God certainly has been good in answering my prayer to put me where He wants to find me this year—even if the route He has taken wasn’t quite the one I would have mapped out.


I’m not sure what I’ll offer before my feet touch the floor; but I am sure that whatever it is, God will be listening.

May your Advent be a blessed and holy one!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Whoopi Goldberg...Big Whoop

I don’t watch The View.

I tried a few times, many moons ago; but found that even with the presence of conservative Elisabeth Hasslebeck, I couldn’t stomach the show.

I’m also a huge fan of Ann Romney. Huge.

But even her guest spot on The View couldn’t entice me to tune in. Appearing the same week as the presidential debates wherein Candy Crowley made it know, once and for all, that the media bias was real and palpable—as if anyone still needed that confirmation—by derailing Romney with an intentional, unacceptable interruption meant to save Obama with a preposterous spin on Benghazi, I just wasn’t up to one second of Whoopi Goldberg.

I’m no psychic but even I could have foretold what was going to happen.

And I believe Ann Romney knew as well; and that is why I continue to admire this woman of courage and conviction.

As I write this little opinion piece, I desperately want to avoid using the phrase “war on women.” However, having read about Goldberg’s incredibly biased questions thrown at Ann Romney (versus the laughable way the cast of The View treated the Obamas who appeared right after our embassy was attacked and 4 Americans were left dead), I’m not sure if it is possible to avoid identifying that the real war on women comes from the likes of women such as Joy Behar and Whoopi Goldberg.

Add to the list Sandra Fluke (identified as an “American woman’s rights activist”—really?) and Kathleen Seblious yet another wayward Catholic in an Obama administration.

Where is the outrage from these “activists” when the numbers of unemployment for women is made known and we hear that 800,000 more women are in poverty than when Obama took office?

Where is the outrage from these “activists” when we hear that poverty for Hispanic women is growing at a rate faster than any other group?

And the liberal Twitter universe goes ballistic when Romney—who has a proven record of hiring women—talks about the binder in which the resumes of countless women were made available to him so that he could fill his cabinet posts?


I’ve taken away two things from this week’s nauseating bias towards the Romneys:

  1. I will throw out my copy Call Me Claus—the Whoopi Goldberg Christmas movie I own.
  2. I have updated my resume and want to know how to get it into the binders of anyone looking for a Catholic writer and speaker.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

What Biden Said Versus the Truth of the HHS Mandate

You may feel very confused if you happened to watch the vice-presidential debates and heard Joe Biden say:"With regard to the assault on the Catholic Church, let me make it absolutely clear. No religious institution—Catholic or otherwise, including Catholic social services, Georgetown hospital, Mercy hospital, any hospital—none has to either refer contraception, none has to pay for contraception, none has to be a vehicle to get contraception in any insurance policy they provide. That is a fact. That is a fact."

You may be saying to yourself, "Well, if those are the facts, then what is the problem?!"

But those aren't the facts and it is important for all Catholics to know the facts.

In response to the Vice President's "facts," The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) issued this statement that is worth reading. In part it says:

Last night, the following statement was made during the Vice Presidential debate regarding the decision of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to force virtually all employers to include sterilization and contraception, including drugs that may cause abortion, in the health insurance coverage they provide their employees:

"With regard to the assault on the Catholic Church, let me make it absolutely clear. No religious institution—Catholic or otherwise, including Catholic social services, Georgetown hospital, Mercy hospital, any hospital—none has to either refer contraception, none has to pay for contraception, none has to be a vehicle to get contraception in any insurance policy they provide. That is a fact. That is a fact."

This is not a fact. The HHS mandate contains a narrow, four-part exemption for certain "religious employers." That exemption was made final in February and does not extend to "Catholic social services, Georgetown hospital, Mercy hospital, any hospital," or any other religious charity that offers its services to all, regardless of the faith of those served.

HHS has proposed an additional "accommodation" for religious organizations like these, which HHS itself describes as "non-exempt." That proposal does not even potentially relieve these organizations from the obligation "to pay for contraception" and "to be a vehicle to get contraception." They will have to serve as a vehicle, because they will still be forced to provide their employees with health coverage, and that coverage will still have to include sterilization, contraception, and abortifacients. They will have to pay for these things, because the premiums that the organizations (and their employees) are required to pay will still be applied, along with other funds, to cover the cost of these drugs and surgeries.

For the full statement, go here:

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Where Do You Write Your Hurts?

Two friends were walking through the desert. During some point of the journey, they had an argument and one friend slapped the other one in the face. The one who had been slapped was hurt but without saying anything, wrote in the sand: Today my best friend slapped me in the face.

They kept on walking until they found an oasis where they decided to take a bath. The one who had been slapped got stuck in the mire and started drowning. The friend saved her. After she recovered from the near drowning, she wrote on a stone: Today my best friend saved my life.

The friend who had slapped and saved her best friend asked: After I hurt you, you wrote in the sand and now you write on stone. Why?

The other friend replied: When someone hurts us we should write it down in sand where winds of forgiveness and waters of love can easily wash it away. When someone does something good for us we should engrave it in stone where it can remain for years to come.

From this wonderful tale of two friends we learn how important it is to write our hurts in sand and to carve our benefits in stone.

This is particularly important for women who, by their very nature, tend to be wounded more easily than men. This isn’t to say that men do not get hurt but that the inherent differences between men and women mean that each has a more specific response to experiences than does the other. It is the understanding that what makes women unique also makes women vulnerable. Women are made to be channels of love, selflessly given through acts of charity and as givers of life, which inevitably translates into a vulnerability of sorts.

It is never in a woman’s best interest to close herself up or “protect” herself with walls as this diminishes or even takes away her God-given “womanly” traits: her ability to “know” the things of God and man—what John Paul II called her “feminine genius.”

Rather, a woman serves God and herself best when she learns to experience the fullness of life as God intended and learns to write her sorrow in sand and her joy in stone.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Making a Mystic a Doctor of the Church

With the upcoming October 7th announcement that Pope Benedict XVI will pronounce that 12th century German mystic St. Hildegard of Bingen is a doctor of the church—as well as announcing that same honor being bestowed upon St. John of Avila—there is a renewed interest in the understanding of “mysticism” with our church.

The church’s history with mystics actually goes back to the Jewish roots of the faith. 

Mysticism itself can best be explained as man’s need to connect with God in ways that transcend his mere day-to-day experiences. Man wants to know God intimately, deeply, privately—to fill that place within his heart which God created for His own indwelling. St. Augustine perfectly captured this earthly feeling when he said, “Our hearts are restless until they rest with Thee.” Augustine’s life (354-386), as told in his Confessions, reflects the ways in which man experiences earthly restlessness and pursues Divine intimacy. 

Jewish mysticism, which dates back thousands of years, has always been a response to that personal quest. It flourished in many countries during Hildegard’s lifetime, including her own Germany. She was a fascinating figure who built a monastery for her nuns and wrote hundreds of letters filled with warnings and prophecies. Some criticized her while others welcomed her words and wisdom. 

Another country that saw the growth of mysticism during the twelfth century was northern Spain where, it is interesting to note, St. Teresa of Avila would eventually experience her own inner mystical conversion in the 1500s and ultimately become, in 1970, the first female doctor of the Church. Now St. John of Avila joins her ranks. 

While we have these mystics in our Church’s history, not all are called to such a state nor encouraged. Looking to the Jewish roots of mysticism, we learn that its study and practice is considered uniquely powerful and was originally forbidden unless a Jewish male was at least 40 years old. This was considered an age where he would have had enough years of Torah study upon which to be firmly grounded in faith since mysticism has a both the potential for the development of good as well as the unleashing of evil. 

The Catholic Church affirms this dual possibility of mysticism and approaches the subject of mysticism with caution. She warns against pseudo-mystics as well as the formation of doctrines, such as pantheism, in which false teachings are perpetuated under the guise of mysticism. 

This paradox of exposing oneself to good or evil in spiritual practices is easy to understand. There is always the potential for ego, if not put fully aside, to become empowered in selfish and delusional ways. In St. Teresa’s writings on her mystical experiences, her humble attitude towards self is ever-apparent. Early Jewish mystics clearly warned that human ego has a way of polluting the heart. In the Jewish “standing prayer” which is called the Amidah, first and foremost the supplicant calls to mind and declares his or her own unworthiness to approach God. The petitioner stands before God in true and complete humility—all remnants of ego and self cast aside. St. Teresa of Avila called humility “truth,” recognizing it as the required approach for such a transforming spiritual experience. Think Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is now no longer I that live, but Christ lives in me.”

Sadly, mysticism today is often misunderstood and has most recently been maligned because of new-agers as well as through the disclosure that Madonna (the pop icon and not the Blessed Mother) practices teachings from the Kabbalah, one of the earlier known works on Jewish mysticism. 

Kabbalah (which literally means “tradition” but connotes a “handing down of tradition”), is a school of thought in regards to contemplative prayer and union with God. Studying Elijah was a central point of early Jewish mystics. Reference to the “Chamber” experience appears in Jewish mysticism long before St. Teresa of Avila’s own experience, as shared in Interior Castles. 

The day-to-day practice of contemplative prayer creates a peaceful existence for one’s soul. It is the constant giving of self, and the giving over of one’s will to the will of God, that will bear spiritual fruit. Contemplative prayer, of which the Catechism of the Catholic Church says is an “intense” time of prayer (#2714), the “simplest expression of the mystery of prayer” (#2713) and a “gaze of faith, fixed on Jesus” (#2715) is the form of prayer used by mystics—modern day and those in our Church’s history. 

Catholics have always understood that the earthy passage “matters” and that salvation, given through the grace and mercy of God through His Son, can be lost (Romans 2:2-8, Ephesians 2:8-10, James 2:14-26). Just so, the development of the soul does not occur on its own but does so with a daily commitment to prayer and the pursuit of intimacy with the Creator. The conscience cannot rightly form on its own. Maintaining, or keeping, the gift of salvation—as well as development of the soul and conscience—require an “effort” on our part. The Catechism states that while we may not always be able to spend time in meditation, we are always able to enter into the inner prayer of contemplation (#2710). 

Throughout Church history—from Pope Gregory I to Blessed Henry Suso and beyond—Catholic mystics have given examples of ways in which our soul’s longing to connect with God can be fulfilled. Contemplative prayer, and the ways of the mystics before us, are just a few of the tools we are able to use in answering our call to know, love and serve God in this life and be happy with Him in the next (Baltimore Catechism).

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Catholic Woman Voter

"The hour is coming, in fact has come, when the vocation of women is being acknowledged in its fullness, the hour in which women acquire in the world an influence, an effect and a power never hitherto achieved. That is why, at this moment when the human race is undergoing so deep a transformation, women imbued with a spirit of the Gospel can do so much to aid humanity in not falling".

Blessed John Paul II used those prolific words in 1988 in the opening paragraph of his encyclical Mulieris Dignitatem—speaking on the dignity and vocation of women. He knew the power a Catholic woman held when she was “imbued” with a spirit of the Gospel. Over and over again Blessed John Paul II wrote about the gifts, talents, and nature of the “feminine genius.” Whenever I read his words, I am struck by his excitement. His belief in what Catholic women can accomplish feels palpable.

And we live in a time where we have certainly seen the great and far-reaching power of Catholic women. We have witnessed Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’ powerful attack on life through the HHS mandate. We have heard Nancy Pelosi in her role as Speaker of the House proclaim the grandeur of the most pro-abort president ever to step foot in the Oval Office. Other famous Catholic women fill out the current administration’s ranks as well, including Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. (To understand the Obama anti-life agenda please research his vote as an Illinois senator against the Born Alive act).

But are these powerful Catholic women “imbued” with the spirit of the Gospel that JPII referred to in that opening paragraph of Mulieris Dignitatem? Are they powerful in a way that they will aid humanity in not falling—or are they contributing to the fall?

Are you and I also contributing to the fall—or are we aiding humanity in not falling?

I think to better answer these questions we have to return to our Gospel roots; we have to understand its spirit and its teachings because this is what it all hinges upon, according to Bl. JPII. It can’t be a coincidence that in a few short weeks, Catholic woman voters will be able to wield a tremendous amount of power; a power to aid humanity in not falling.

I went on an interview recently for a position in a Catholic company. One of the questions asked was about “social justice.” For some reason the question felt like a trap but I responded the best way I knew how: I said that I am faithful to the Magisterium and to Church teaching.

I didn’t get the job—but I did get a new insight into what may be the problem we face as Catholic women voters. As women it is in our nature to care for the needy, our hearts ache for justice and equity among all. We often feel and sense things in a way much deeper—or different—than our male counterparts.

Social justice and social teaching are on our radars—and rightly so. Either term reaches out to women because we care deeply about the needs of others. The only caveat? We cannot—and should not—put them above the teaching of Mother Church on abortion—that it is intrinsically evil. 

Yet, we do have Church teachings on our responsibilities to society—and they are very clear. It is part of our call to feed the hungry, house the homeless, visit the sick.

So what is the “spirit of the Gospel” to which Bl. John Paul II refers, then, for those of us interested in helping mankind not fall?

Is it social justice?

Is it human dignity and the right to life?

This is where we must turn to Church teaching for a clear answer—and is where we will find one, whether we like it or not. Whether we agree or not.

No matter how we parse it, we cannot use any term or phrase in a way that it supersedes our first obligation to honor life from conception to death. In fact, I believe the reality is such that if we honor life in this way (from conception to natural death), social justice will be a normal extension of that commitment to life. And I believe the opposite is true as well: if we do not honor life from conception to death, it won’t be long before we no longer value “social justice” in any way, shape or form.

As Catholic Christians we understand a “hierarchy” of sins. We know the difference between venial and mortal sins. So when the Church invokes such language as “intrinsic evil” when referring to abortion, we are supposed to sit up and take note. It can’t be thrown in the same pile as a lack of social justice or the ways we may be failing some of our brothers and sisters.

There is a lot at stake in this election and the words Bl. John Paul II used to begin his encyclical on the dignity and vocation of women should strike a chord with any woman who reads them. It was his personal invitation and call to holiness to Catholic women everywhere. His faith was such that he most certainly believed that we would understand the stakes and then when faced with them we would choose to aid humanity in not falling.

Nothing more, nothing less: aid humanity in not falling.

It is a tremendous responsibility to be a Catholic woman voter this year. It seems to be the time Bl. John Paul wrote of with certainty and insight, guided by the Holy Spirit, so that we would rise confidently and compassionately to the challenge that was before us and, imbued with the Gospel, do our part to aiding humanity in not falling.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Girls Just Want to Have Fun!

A gorgeous jacket caught my eye as I was flipping through an issue of a fashion magazine, trying to find the “perfect” haircut—you know, just cute enough to say I am still “fashionable” yet not too cute as to say “I’m 54 years-old trying to look 30.” The jacket was what I would call “car length.” It was covered in an animal print.

I loved it!

At that point, having lost my focus on trying to find a picture of a perfect haircut to take to my stylist, I intently surveyed the different animal print products—from handbags to pants to shoes—each seeming a bit wild and yet quite appealing. Of course at my age I couldn’t fathom donning a full-on animal print ensemble—or maybe I was never at the correct age to wear such an outfit—but there was still something attractive about an animal print accessory, and most especially that coat!

It just seemed “fun.”

Sometimes, as Christian women, we forget that we are called to have fun. In our day-to-day living in which we embrace our roles as wives and mothers and sisters and care-givers, we forget that there ought to be joy in our journey. Often that joy is a quiet one, maybe it settles upon our spirit during Eucharistic Adoration or it may be found in caring for a sick family member or even in serving food to the homeless; but other times joy is that sheer pleasure of being alive. It is that recognition that God made us uniquely female and that we have an ability to experience our world in a very feminine, fun way.

Time spent with our friends tends to reflect who we are: those who have been created different but equal to men. In the space of a lunch together we can laugh, cry, pray and laugh some more. We have the capacity to contemplate the things of the world while being able to loving tend to a scraped knee.

Some of us can bake and sew—this gal has not been given those particular talents—while others may be able to organize school plays or board meetings.

Through it all, with everything that rests upon our shoulders, it is good to remember that we are called to have fun.

When my third son was a youngster I remember that he used to skip everywhere he went. I got such a kick out of watching him skipping to his bike, skipping down the hall to his bedroom and skipping through the grocery aisles. For me, seeing him skip around reflected his innate ability to have fun—his great joy at being alive and very much in the moment.

Ah, youth!

Looking at that animal print jacket in the magazine, I was reminded of my son’s skipping; I was reminded that my journey, too, is meant to be fun. As Christian women we have to be cautious to not get too bogged down in our duties at matriarchs wherein the fun of being alive sort of slowly vanishes.

Fun isn’t just for the young but, as they say, for the young at heart.

None of my friends can understand why I am so anxious for cooler temperatures to arrive. But it will all become clear when they see the fun coat I have to wear!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Five Friends A Woman Needs

Recently God brought into my life a woman who I now call “friend.” I spent some time with her recently where we enjoyed a cup of tea and chatting. As I left I was buoyed by our visit. It got me to thinking how perfectly she fit into my life and reflect on the question: What sort of friends does a woman “need” in her life?

I know lots of women: the mothers of all the friends of my sons; women with whom I’ve worked and those with whom I’ve worshipped. There are women neighbors and there are women relatives. I’ve been blessed by meeting women at speaking engagements who have touched my heart.

But friends?

I have but a few.

I remember once being told that at the end of your life, if you can count on one hand your true friends, you will have been very lucky.

I guess that was the secular way of saying you have been very blessed.

At 54 years old, I see that I have been very blessed.

If we’ve got one hand to work off of, I believe these are the five friends each woman needs:

1. A woman needs a friend with whom she can pray. Not just words over a meal but the sort of prayers that erupt from the depths of the heart and soul.

2. A woman needs a friend with whom she can laugh. Not just a chuckle but a belly laugh—or better yet, the giggle of a little girl released and loved.

3. A woman needs a friend with whom she can cry. Not just tears that rim the eyes but the painful cry that seems to have no end but is met with kindness and compassion.

4. A woman needs a friend to whom she can expose her weakest self and still be loved. Not just the superficial “I’m not perfect” stuff but the real, true self who has been to the edge and back.

5. A woman needs a friend for whom no judgment exists. Not just in offering non-judgmental words to a dilemma but someone who simply could not see her friend through any eyes other than the eyes of Christ.

The thing about these five friends is that God gives them to us when we need them, if only we ask. Like my new friend. We may not be on the phone everyday but somehow I know she is just a phone call away.

There are seasons in which friends come and go.

And that’s okay.

I had a friend from my teen years that I’ve tried to connect with here and there even though we have nothing in common—other than having gone to middle school together. I liked the idea of saying we had been friends for 40 some years; but I’ve since realized that friendships aren’t marked by the length of time but by time they are in our lives.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Celebrating Catholic Speakers...Dr. Edward Sri

Dr. Edward Sri

Recently I took an “inventory” of my “gifts” as I worked through the Sherry Wedell “Called and Gifted” program. It was part of my journey of discernment and spiritual direction. “Gifts” are those abilities we’ve been given for use to build up the kingdom. They are very different from talents. Identifying and understanding your gifts really allow you to better know God’s will for your life. 

Anyhow, one of my gifts was “knowledge.” It was a fairly high score. I was a bit relieved to find this out because sometimes I drive myself crazy with all the books I read and what often feels like an overwhelming quest to “understand” things. I’m like the dog with the proverbial bone and sometimes just want to be able to let go—and yet I can’t. Not until I really “get it.”

That is where Dr. Sri comes in. His work helps me understand the things of my faith in a new and deeper way. His work lends itself to revealing insights that give the sort of “Aha!” moments I look for in my reading material. Queen Mother: A Biblical Theology of Mary’s Queenship was a profound book for me.

Dr. Edward Sri (his last name is pronounced without adding an “h” sound) has an impressive background earning a doctorate in Rome and serving as Provost and Theology Professor at the Augustine Institute in Denver. Along with Curtis Martin, Dr. Sri founded FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students). Sri is a best-selling author and a dynamic speaker with an easy manner.

As Brandon Vogt invites us to celebrate Catholic speakers this month—and to help Catholics know about this vibrant and energetic group of men and women—it was an honor to be able to write about Dr. Sri. I’m not sure if Dr. Sri has ever formally taken the “inventory” of gifts but it is clear to me that his gifts are writing, knowledge, and teaching.

You see, a gift is a time where it isn’t the person performing the task, but the Holy Spirit. So a when a person with the gift of writing or teaching is using those gifts, the receiver (in this case the reader or the listener) gains something as if it were the Holy Spirit doing the writing or the teaching.

Of course I’m simplifying this but you get the idea.

Another important part of a person discerning their gifts is by the feedback they are given. As Catholics we don’t always go around giving people accolades for their gifts—especially those of us in the pews—and so we don’t always know what our gifts are because we don’t know that we are affecting others. Maybe you have a co-worker that is particularly good at organizing projects or events that allow people to feel productive and experience their own dignity in the project—well, that may be a gift because it speaks to the dignity of the person. And so how nice if you would let that person know!

All Catholics have gifts given to us to build up the Kingdom. Dr. Sri’s gifts are evident in his work and it is a privilege to acknowledge them here today.

To invite Dr. Sri to speak at an event, you can call the Augustine Institute in Denver at 303-937-4420.

If you’d like to see a clip of Dr. Sri in an episode of Bookmark, please click the link below:

If you’d like to listen to a small audio of Dr. Sri, please click the link below:

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Starting a Woman's Study is Easier Than You Think!


A woman asked me how to start a study for her friends in her parish. After that a young college girl inquired about starting a bible study in her sorority. That was followed by a mother wanting to begin one, in her home, with her friends. It got me thinking...How many women would like to start a study but feel it might be more than they could handle? 

The good news is, starting a woman’s study is easier than you think!

Here are a few guidelines; and, I would be more than willing to answer any questions as well. I can be contacted at or by calling 248-917-3865.

Getting the group together:

If you already have a group of interested women, your best bet is to look at your own schedule and offer a couple of options for getting together. I would suggest an hour and a half to two hours, once a week. So, for example if Tuesdays from 9:00 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. or Wednesdays from 6:30-8:00 p.m. work best for you, send out emails, or make phone calls, to everyone sharing these options and ultimately go with the most popular choice. Too many options will muddy the waters; just a couple is fine.

If you do not have a group of interested women, ask your church paper to put in a small article stating that you are starting a study while also send out inquiry emails to your own friends and family. Ask them to send the email on, as well, to their friends and family. I’m not a math person but I know that there is some general idea that to get, say, 5 women, you may need to contact 50 (the 10% rule or some such thing). Anyhow, if you are advertising in your church paper or through email, give a “reply by” date and an idea of how many women will be your minimum and maximum.

Once you have your group, you will give a start date that gives you enough time to buy the supplies. This is whatever book will be your resource and, of course, you’ll make sure that everyone brings a bible. I wouldn’t discourage different Catholic bible versions because your group can have beneficial discussions on different words used in a variety of translations. It is usually best when the “leader” orders the resource books and I always suggest that the leader order an extra copy or two for people who are bound to join the group after they hear how wonderful the study is! My last parenting workshop started with eight people and ended with fourteen! Buying an extra book or two allows new people to start right away versus waiting another week or so to get a book, but it is certainly not necessary.

Your books and resources:

Once the group size is known, the leader orders books and resources and then typically collects the money on the first night of the study. All this is, of course, just a guideline. If you have four people signed up, you might feel comfortable buying the books and resource materials up front and then collecting the money. But if you have a fifteen people signed up, you’ll probably want to collect the money first.

Wrapped Up: God’s Ten Gifts for Women is structured so that it can facilitate the group in any number of ways. There is an audio version of the book with both myself and Teresa each reading her section of each chapter. That may be the perfect way for the leader to begin each section—with the participants listening to the chapter together. It is a perfect supplement to the book which can be read through the week at each person’s leisure. The companion journal is where the ten gifts identified in the book are explored in depth. Scripture verses and Catechism excerpts are used in both the book and the companion journal—which has room for personal reflections.

For your first meeting you might provide a light snack and beverages and have a sign up sheet for the following three of four get-togethers. If you try to sign up too far into the future, people tend to forget. And it is always good to recognize that a reminder email is helpful as we all get caught up in our schedules and sometimes forget these things that nourish our souls! Something that goes out to everyone a day or two before the meeting and is a simple message like; Blessings…I just wanted to remind everyone of Tuesday’s bible study and that we are looking forward to Sue’s snacks…

For the Wrapped Up: God’s Ten Gifts for Women study, the companion journal has instructions for conducting the study as well as prayers for each of the ten gatherings. There are reflections and questions that are meant to engage the heart and mind of each participant. All in all, studies make for great times! They immerse you in the Word of God and allow you to help others on their journeys with Christ.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Bi-Locating and Other Necessary Motherhood Skills

I glanced at the clock when I heard my husband say to my oldest son, “Call me when you get home.”

“Where is he?” I asked.

When my husband replied, “He’s on his way home from work,” my stomach began churning. Not the hunger-type churn but the worried-mother-type churn. Our son had purchased a home just months before and was still getting a handle on things but between work and other demands, it wasn’t easy. My husband and I—and his brothers—had all helped out with painting, cutting the lawn, some electrical and lighting things and so on.

It took all our willpower (my husband’s and mine) not to completely take over, but to just be available to help if and as needed. We wanted to take care of our son, get him set up in his new house. Mostly, I wanted—needed, really—to know that he was “okay” and that he wouldn’t be overwhelmed by the demands of new home ownership.

The point of the call was to set up a date and a time that my husband would be able to come and help with another task. To hear that my son wasn’t yet home from work for the day brought me to full attention. My brain went into mother-calculation mode. It is the only time my brain can do any math. Okay, he started his day with the sunrise and will end it with the sunset. Given he needs to now cook himself dinner…that means he’s operating on five hours of sleep. By now my stomach is in full blown acrobatic action. I’m talking Flying Wallendas. I’m worried about what he will make himself for dinner and want to drive the 25 minutes away to greet him with warm food.

Every cell in my body is aching to go take care of him. The show on the television in front of me no longer has meaning. I can hear the words but don’t understand them as my mind creates a plan to get dinner to my son. My body sits on the couch but it is imagining the scenario in which I will feed my son. I want to bi-locate like never before.

Of course I know that this won’t happen—neither the bi-locating nor the actual delivery of food. I know that I have to let my son be and let him learn and grow. I know what my job is now—even as I ache to tuck him in just one last time.

I am so proud of him that sometimes I find myself crying. They are tears that remember that little boy who loved to sit and watch Mr. Rogers and eat dry Cheerios. They are tears that recall the day he received his college acceptance letter. Tears rim my eyes when I think about my son going off on his first job interview. My tears are those of gratitude that God has allowed me to know this incredible young man—an amazing son, a giving brother, a loving grandson—and has allowed me to be part of his journey.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

My Name Is Cheryl...And I Am A Weakling

My name is Cheryl.

And I am a weakling.

That’s the kind of group I want to be in: the kind of group where we each take the stand and own up to who we are—who we really are. Not the avatars we put out in the world through our blogs and our tweets; but who we are at the core.

After all, that’s where we will all ultimately connect, where we will all see one another as Christ sees us: as humanity steeped in the dignity of our creation but as a weak humanity in need of strength found in him who has offered us salvation.

I love being weak.

It means I’m “needy” which seems, to many people I am sure, to be an unpleasant state of being. And I’ve been trampled on more than a few times in my weakened state. I don’t always fight back when society would say that I should. I’ve been hurt and I’ve been wounded.

For years I tried to fight being weak. A bit ironic, right?

I wanted to be able to pick myself up by my bootstraps. I wanted to be able to say with confidence and pride that I was able to overcome life’s obstacles. However, at 54 years old, it occurs to me that being weak can be worn as a badge of honor (humbly, of course). In my weakness I have put aside my agenda and my goals—not in a defeated way but in the understanding that they can easily overcome me, they can quickly replace discernment of spirit, they can negate my need to find strength through Christ.

In admitting my weakness, I have become strong.

God has given me incredible strength through women who have become friends in the deepest sense of the word. They have surrounded me with love and have moved me forward, past pain and into God’s arms and his grace.

They’ve lowered me, in my weakened state, on the mat through the roof to Christ; and to them I owe everything. They have given me life and hope. Christ did not abandon me in my weakness but strengthened me through these women, these friends.

My name is Cheryl.

And I am a weakling.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

A Level Playing Field, A Woman I Admire

Besides the money thing, Ann Romney and I have a lot in common.

Well, maybe not a lot, but we have enough in common that I consider her a woman who I admire.

And I don’t admire a lot of women—at least not a lot of ones currently living. Is that bad? I’m not sure. I have my reasons for loving women from Scripture: we see how things “turned out.” We know they finished the race set before them. In some cases we know their struggles and the way they faced those struggles. We learn so much from them. That’s why I stand at attention when a woman of my own generation makes me notice qualities that resonate with me, qualities that I admire.

Now does this mean that Ann Romney is perfect? I’m guessing not.

But since no one is, I’m confident proclaiming that perfection doesn’t have to be a gold standard.

The gold standard, for me, is how a woman engages in her life’s circumstances in a way that reflects commitment and acceptance. The gold standard, for me, is to see a woman make a choice to, let’s say, be a lawyer or a full-time mother or a school bus driver, and then does it with gusto and even a bit of joy now and again. The gold standard, for me, is a woman who finds herself in sink-or-swim circumstances and swims.

Ann Romney passes my gold standard test.

Ann Romney’s life circumstances include the chronic illness Multiple Sclerosis. I don’t know much about MS, but I do know about a couple of other autoimmune diseases. I don’t know the everyday experience of living with MS, but I do know the everyday experience of living with a chronic condition. I have come to learn through my own experiences how stress affects your condition, how important it is to know how to balance your life with your life’s circumstances.

So I stand up and cheer for Ann Romney for allowing us a glimpse of what it is like to live with an often-debilitating condition and still smile. When I watch her on television, my own experiences with chronic illness makes me quietly wonder “How is she doing today?” I know she may be having a difficult day—or week or month—but that she continues to persevere. I don’t see her as a woman who has a lot more “things” than I do, I see her as a woman with whom I have a common bond. Not until you experience living with a chronic condition can you say the following: it doesn’t matter how much money you have in the bank, a chronic illness levels the playing field.

Yep, me and Ann, we’re on the same field. I’m guessing neither of us would have chosen this particular field, but here we are. I’m grateful to her for her candor in talking about MS and for the way she gives others hope who may not have had hope before—or who are at the beginning of their journey with a diagnosis that has them spinning. Discovering this woman who is willing to share her life and her illness has been a blessing to me. Each time I read something about Ann Romney I am taken by her poise and her sincerity. I come away with the realization that this is a woman who has lived her life in a magnanimous way: she’s raised five boys (I’ve raised three so we’re sort of alike in that regard, too!) and has not let her circumstances be her undoing.

There aren’t a lot of women I would cherish meeting; but Ann Romney is definitely one of them.

Bravo, Ann! Bravo!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Should I Pray for Healing...Or Should I Carry My Cross?

It is ironic that, as a Catholic, the most difficult part of having a chronic health issue isn’t the health issue itself but is the big question: Should I pray for healing…or should I carry my cross?

And it is that question that often keeps us spiraling through a journey that is already burdensome and often overwhelming.

In my own journey, which has lasted for the better part of two decades, I know that I’ve gone through many different phases. There were times that I tried to take on St. Paul’s attitude of embracing the “thorn” of an illness while at other times I was on my knees praying—between sobs of anguish—for healing. I’ve attended Healing Masses where I’ve been prayed over by a team of healers and have hands laid upon me; I’ve had private healing prayers said over me.

I’ve done novenas and have sought alternative medical care—all at my own expense--when the established medical system failed me. I’ve been in bed unable to move from the dizziness that has enveloped me and have quietly asked God to use it as He saw fit. I’ve asked Mary to join my suffering to her Son’s and heal another person’s suffering. If a book has been written about healing, I’ve read it and believed in the miracles that Christ performed—and waited for mine.

What I’ve come to see, though, is that while the case can be made that Christ always healed, there is also an important back story that we don’t often think about: how long did that person suffer before Christ healed him or her? In one case we know it was 12 years. The woman with the hemorrhage suffered for 12 years. I remember well the 12th year of my own illness. I remember thinking “This is it! It is my time for healing! Sure 12 years seems like a long time but now I’ll be healed!”

Didn’t happen.

Twelve years came and went and still no healing; but that is because it wasn’t my time. Not easy to admit; but the back story is very important. And that is what I’ve really learned during these past two decades: the back story is the real story. It is always about our personal journey towards Christ and towards wholeness and holiness.

My back story is unique for me; it is the yoke Christ has fashioned that joins me to Him but has my own growth and salvation in mind. It wasn’t easy for me to begin sharing my story with others but I learned in these past few years that the story wasn’t mine to begin with—no story ever really is—it belongs to God to use for His kingdom. 

What is the back story Christ is trying to tell with you?

I hope that in sharing my gift of suffering in Wrapped Up: God’s Ten Gifts for Women, your own journey will be lightened. I’ve prayed for every woman who reads this book and trust that God will honor those prayers for you—and that your own back story will be blessed.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Chronic Illness: A Gift from God?

For years the only person who knew I suffered from a chronic illness was my husband. Over time, and out of necessity, a few more people were allowed into my world of health issues—and yet no one really knew the severity of what I went through, except my husband.

What I’ve come to realize is that I prefer my world be divided into two clear parts: the private, reclusive Cheryl and the author, writer, teacher, social Cheryl. Mostly, though, at the heart of who I am is the private, reclusive Cheryl.

My quiet, alone time is important to me—even more so since I began spiritual direction a few years ago and sought to understand the movements of God in my life and live accordingly. I need to be with God in a very real way and have learned how to respond to the ache for Him through my prayer life and “down time.”

As the years progressed and I understood that my physical suffering had value, I began sharing bits and pieces of what I was going through: severe joint problems, nights of dizziness and vomiting that rivaled scenes from The Exorcist, and constant feelings of imbalance (just to name a few). I’m not sure where I saw my “sharing” going but believed that God was using it for some reason beyond the way it was drawing me deeper in my relationship with Him. I was willing to let Him use it as He saw fit. That was all I knew at the time.

So it was that when I signed the contract with Servant Books to write Wrapped Up: God’s Ten Gifts for Women I knew it was time for it to be shared in a very public way in the chapter “The Gift of Suffering.” Still, it isn’t easy opening yourself up to the world and letting people know about your life experiences. It isn’t easy to shine a light on what you are going through and suggest that someone else can draw insight or inspiration from it.

Quite frankly, I would rather have been healthy my whole life; and I share that sentiment and frustration as well in the book.

Nonetheless, I’m allowing God to continue to mold me (I keep thinking “Potter-Clay”) and although I’m still on the journey towards wholeness and health, I pray that the knowledge that suffering from a chronic condition can be a gift from God will shine through in my words which have been prayed through and offered up for every woman who reads Wrapped Up: God’s Ten Gifts for Women.

Friday, August 10, 2012

John Paul II on the Dignity of Work

Teresa Tomeo and Cheryl Dickow

“From the beginning therefore he [man] is called to work. Work is one of the characteristics that distinguish man from the rest of creatures, whose activity for sustaining their lives cannot be called work. Only man is capable of work, and only man works, at the same time by work occupying his existence on earth. Thus work bears a particular mark of man and of humanity, the mark of a person operating within a community of persons. And this mark decides its interior characteristics; in a sense it constitutes its very nature.”

Blessed John Paul wrote these words in his encyclical Laborem Exercens in 1981.

I’ve referred to this encyclical many times in my own writings and in attempting to get at the very nature of who I am as a Catholic woman, wife, mother, author, and teacher. I have found in his words a timeless truth—no surprise there!—and a certain sense of peace as well. Whether I have worked outside of the home out of necessity or out of a desire, balancing work with family always holds it challenges; but also holds its rewards.

Nothing offers a fuller sense of satisfaction than a task well-performed. It doesn’t matter if that task is washing the kitchen floor, finding the best bargains at the grocery store, or guiding a classroom of middle school students towards a lesson’s objective. Inherent in who we are as humans, as Blessed John Paul points out, is the need for a person to contribute to his or her family or neighborhood or culture in a discernable way. This is what separates us from the animals but also is what gives us dignity.

This is a different dignity—or maybe it is best to say it is another level of dignity—than we all have as created beings; that inherent dignity exists whether we “work” a day in our life or not. The presupposition here is our understanding of the dignity of the human being from conception to natural death.

In Laborem Exercens, Blessed John Paul moves past that assumption and explores the value and need for every man to “work” as a way to participate in God’s plan for man on earth and to elevate each day’s work in such a way that it actually becomes divine.

That is an incredible understanding of work—and quite a goal we ought to have as a society.

When we create a culture wherein safety nets become traps, we are denying dignity to each and every person caught in the trap. We are withholding an opportunity for each and every person to participate in God’s plan.

Think about how you felt the last time you finished a project or completed an assignment. I know that when I write a column I may read and re-read it half a dozen times. It feels good. I’ve accomplished something.

When I stand next to my three grown sons and listen to them converse with each other there is a sense of accomplishment that I have as their mother. God gave me a job and I performed it to the best of my abilities.

When my husband finishes a project at work he has a bit of a spring in his step. Dignity exists within that accomplishment. When my college-aged son passes a particularly difficult test he is more animated and more talkative. It has affected him in a good way.

Blessed John Paul goes on to write:

“Even by their secular activity they must assist one another to live holier lives. In this way the world will be permeated by the spirit of Christ and more effectively achieve its purpose in justice, charity and peace... Therefore, by their competence in secular fields and by their personal activity, elevated from within by the grace of Christ, let them work vigorously so that by human labour, technical skill, and civil culture created goods may be perfected according to the design of the Creator and the light of his Word.”

Notice that through work the world will more readily be filled with justice, charity and peace! That makes sense, doesn’t it? If we really step back and think about it, there is an interior sense of dignity that rises up within us when we are productive. Why would we deny that from others? When we all share that vision of work and look for ways to bring that to all, we are creating heaven on earth: we are providing an opportunity for each and every person to feel alive in a way that only work can produce.

When Blessed John Paul includes a long list of work that is established in Scripture you can’t deny God’s call upon each of us regardless of what we do:

“The books of the Old Testament contain many references to human work and to the individual professions exercised by man: for example, the doctor, the pharmacist, the craftsman or artist, the blacksmith—we could apply these words to today's foundry-workers-the potter, the farmer, the scholar, the sailor, the builder, the musician, the shepherd, and the fisherman. The words of praise for the work of women are well known. In his parables on the Kingdom of God Jesus Christ constantly refers to human work: that of the shepherd, the farmer, the doctor, the sower, the householder, the servant, the steward, the fisherman, the merchant, the labourer. He also speaks of the various form of women's work. He compares the apostolate to the manual work of harvesters or fishermen. He refers to the work of scholars too.”

Does this mean that work is all fun and games? No, as further we find in Laborem Exercens, work is always associated with toil. That is part and parcel of the journey we are on. So on the one hand there is a sense of dignity inherent in each of our accomplished tasks, while on the other hand those tasks aren’t accomplished without toil on our part.

I agree.

During the long days of raising three boys who are four years apart in age I wasn’t always sure I was going to make; and for darn sure I wasn’t convinced that I wasn’t failing at it, either.

Studying for his test, my son doesn’t smile and proclaim the joy he is experiencing. No, he perseveres in spite of the obstacles and frustrations.

When my husband is in the midst of a project his hours are long, his nights are sleepless, and his mind is elsewhere.

This isn’t to say we are entitled to a job filled with joy and reward wherein everyday is an excursion to Happyland. Rather, it is to recognize that we are designed by our Creator for work that may be demanding and difficult, it may be boring or strenuous; but whatever it is, it is also an opportunity to unite with God and give glory and honor to His kingdom.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Loving the Body You Are In

A dear sister-in-the-Lord recently shared her enthusiasm with me in regards to 6 pounds she had shed. I smiled and congratulated her and gave her a big hug. Six pounds – an awesome accomplishment, indeed! Of course she looked the exact same to me as she did before she lost the 6 pounds but I kept that little realization to myself. In other words, I thought she was perfect. Her physical beauty and her spiritual beauty were so interconnected, from my perspective, that had she gained weight I would not have noticed either. But those few pounds made a difference in how she viewed herself and how she believed the world viewed her.

My own self-perception is just as fragile. I have never been known to purchase clothes that actually fit. I view myself as needing clothes that are always at least one size larger than the “real” me. My own body image still suffers as a result of many comments made to me while I was a young teenager.

Body image is something that affects almost all women – even Catholic women. Never mind that we understand that we’ve been created in His image and that we are perfect just the way we are – assuming we haven’t been told by a medical professional of a need to change a diet due to diabetes, heart disease etc. – we still find ourselves questioning our shape, our weight, our appearance.

Maybe the summer has taken a toll on your body image as you’ve maneuvered your way through the swimwear department and have barely survived. Or maybe this was the year you gave up short sleeve shirts altogether and suffered through a heat wave as if you were a southern belle quite used to fanning yourself for hours on end. Summer is a great time to examine your own body image because it is difficult to hide your uneasiness as you attempt to find clothes to cover your “flaws” that won’t make you pass out in the heat.

In the end, summer is a time to love who you are as a daughter of the King. Embrace your imperfections and your image battles. Consider the ways they can make you a better daughter, sister and friend.

Summer is a great time for all of us to make a concerted effort to see ourselves as Christ sees us rather than how we may have been conditioned to see ourselves.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Friendships from God

Sitting with Bishop Hebda at Dave and Claire's home on Old Mission
Deacon explaining the wine making process at breathtaking Chateau Chantel
Bishop Bernard Hebda from Diocese of Gaylord, MI is kind enough to stop by and say hello and visit a bit with us, the pilgrims.
Me and Teresa on the balcony of Chateau Chantel  overlooking the beautiful vineyard and Lake Michigan.
From front left around table to front right) Dinner: John, me, Dave, Claire, Julie, Time, Father Libby, Teresa, Dom, Laura, and Dave
John and I standing in front of the iron work which proclaims and reminds; I am the Vine and you are the branches.

Being Blessed by Friends Given by God

My husband and I joined some of the other pilgrims from last year's trip to Italy in Traverse City this past weekend. The most profound statement was when Tim from California said, "We've always been together."

Praise God for these wonderful people and the friendships God has give through them.