Life is a journey and mine began on May 30th, 1965. I was born a few hours after my mother returned home from daily Mass (Remembrance Day). I was blessed with the name “Mary” as I was born in May (I would have been Lucy two days later, after my great grandmother).
I grew up on the family farm within walking distance of our country church, St. Mary’s-Big River in River Falls, Wisconsin (Venerable Solanus Casey Country). I remember riding my bike to the church and going inside to quietly gaze at the beautiful stained glass windows. My First Communion and First Reconciliation were grace-filled moments that have accompanied me on my journey through my teenage and young adult years as my Catholic faith was tested. My father died of a heart attack when I was 18 and my sister died of cancer when I was 26. Still, I continued to Sunday Mass…I would say Jesus was still in my car, but when I got there, He was locked in the trunk and lost in several detours.
I was blessed to marry my husband John. My first impressions weren’t great, but then I saw him leading Mass the next morning. We were blessed with three beautiful children and were active in our Catholic church and school. Jesus was now in the back seat of the car.
Then my life imploded on April 17, 2011 (Palm Sunday) when there was a knock on the door at 8:30 am and my brother-in-law informed me that my John had died of a heart attack at the cabin that morning. I collapsed… it was like a “sword pierced my heart”. Sound familiar? This was Simeon’s prophecy to our virgin mother Mary during Jesus’ presentation in the temple. So I knew that she (Mary) knew my pain. I turned to Mary and asked her to hold me the way she was holding her son (remembering my little Pieta statue I had as a child).
A few weeks after John’s death, I was still not sleeping at night. A friend lent me her iPod and said, “Here Mary, borrow this, listen to the recording of the rosary. It’ll help you sleep.” Okay, while I was a “good Catholic” and said evening prayers and attended mass every weekend, I wasn’t a fan of the rosary. I grew up praying the rosary Friday night as a family…blah blah blah blah blah blah. But I listened to this friend and started hearing the rosary. It was a lifesaver! I couldn’t say the rosary without listening to it. The trauma was so great that I had a hard time concentrating, so listening was much easier. And as I listened to the meditations, I began to understand even more how Mary understood my pain and how she wanted to help me through it.
But the first year I struggled. I had so much to deal with, being a single parent and helping my kids deal with their grief, getting back to work, keeping my husband’s company afloat. The community and my friends have been amazing. But it still hurts me so much. Boy did I cry at mass at night. I’ve tried to keep myself more busy or distracted with books, movies, having a glass of wine/dinner with friends, volunteering. But that hole in my heart was still there.
In time, Mary’s “magic” (which I now recognize as grace) began to work in listening to the daily rosary. I realized that the hole in my heart could only be filled by God. I delved with renewed energy to understand my beautiful Catholic faith. Finally, I gave the helm to Jesus.
What I love most about our Catholic faith is the huge toolbox (thanks to my new husband Michael for this analogy) that Christ gave us to use to get closer to and keep our car’s engine fine-tuned. I’ve dug into every drawer of this toolbox: the sacraments, the Bible, the saints, Catholic books and podcasts, small faith groups, retreats, pilgrimages, relevant radio, and the graces poured out. I understood the state of my soul and compared it to a honeycomb where sin had left me with so many holes, but then I understood how the graces received, especially during communion and reconciliation, filled these holes with Jesus’ sweet honey of mercy and love filled. The greatest gift of our Catholic faith are the moments after Communion when we fully receive our Lord and allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by His bestowal of self. I used to come home from communion and quickly turned to the hymnbook to sing along. Now I close my eyes and quietly immerse myself in the grace of this moment.
Worship time led me to write and record The Widow’s Rosary on Relevant Radio, which was reviewed by several priests and Bishop (Andrew) Cozzens. It contains meditations on each mystery unique to a widow’s grief journey. It’s available as four separate songs or podcasts on Apple’s iTunes (podcasts free, songs minimal fee) and I encourage everyone to share this with a widow you know to help her through her grief journey.
My other favorite tools? Father Jacques Philippe’s book Finding and Keeping Peace is one of my essential spiritual guides who has helped me to understand/crave purity of heart and what I call the supernatural possibilities of our faith that arise when we give God priority over the world. Relevant Radio and Laudate are my daily go-to apps for listening to audio prayers (rosary, mercy rosary), daily readings, and an ongoing understanding of our beautiful faith. I will never forget a few years ago at one of my small Faith Book Clubs, a young mother exclaimed, “I’ve never heard of this, why don’t we talk about it more?”
That’s a good question. Unfortunately, it’s because the old hairy legs (Patrick Madrid’s title for Satan) like to keep us too busy to spend time understanding our faith. One blessing of COVID-19 has been that I spent the first year (it’s a tough read, four volumes but hugely rewarding) reading “Mystical City of God” by Venerable Mary of Agreda, giving me a new one Appreciation for both came from the depth of Mary’s humility and holiness and the continued willful and relentless efforts of old hairy legs to separate us all from God and rob us of our peace.
A farewell story to share as I have twice the 500 words this reflection should have. Back to the Pieta picture on the anniversary of my husband’s death, which is also the CD cover for the widow’s rosary. In 2015 I joined the WINE group on a pilgrimage to Italy (FYI Kelly Wahlquist has another planned for October 2023) with my daughter Maddie. On the day we visited St. Patrick’s Cathedral, our tour guide, Liz Lev, spoke to us through headphones. The room was filled with thousands of pilgrims and I heard Lev say, “That’s amazing” just as the crowd opened a path and our small group went straight to the Pieta. I could stand in front of the statue and pray, truly overwhelmed with love and gratitude. Thank you, Mother Mary! Thank you Jesus! Thank you for this beautiful Universal Catholic Church and its powerful community of saints!
And that, my dear friends, is why I am Catholic.
Fox Schaefer, 57, a member with her husband Michael, of St. Joseph in West St. Paul, works in the financial services industry. They have three children and a small grandchild. Before moving to Mendota Heights in 2018, she is a baptismal and confirmation catechist, trustee and Women at the Well leader at St Elizabethan Ann Seton in Hastings. She enjoys bicycling, downhill and cross-country skiing, and takes biannual trips to the Boundary Waters.
category: Featured Why I’m Catholic