A Day of YESes in the Holy Land

 Cana Bitzer Holy Land 4Scott and I began the day waking up and thinking, “We slept on the Mount of Beatitudes! So hard to believe! How can the day get any better?” Then our pilgrimage took us to the town of Cana. You know it; it’s the place where Jesus performed his first miracle changing water into wine at a wedding feast (John 2:1-11). This is one of the places that I was excited to come to and told many people about because I knew that it was here that we would have the opportunity to renew our wedding vows after 30 years of marriage!

It was what I thought it would be and more. By the time we got to this moment in our pilgrimage, our new friendships brought many of us to tears seeing the others celebrate their renewal of two becoming one that day. (Genesis 2:18-24) – I will make a suitable partner for him. It was a day of YESes! In this town Jesus so long ago said Yes to his mother, even though it was not yet his time. The YES of 6 couples renewing their yes to their spouse with such love and joy on their faces was wonderful.

Two more stops later that day to the Basilica of the Annunciation and St. Joseph’s church and I thought to myself, “two more yeses”. The place where Mary said YES to God through the Angel Gabriel (Luke 1: 26-38); without which we would not be in this Holy Land and together on pilgrimage. And Joseph’s YES; deciding to stay with Mary after an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream (Matthew 1:18-25).

Commitments, we all make them, we all say yes almost every week. But the big Yes of marriage is much more than the average yes. For us, it’s a love lasting more than 30 years, growing stronger each year. It’s not without hardship or fear or compromise, just like Mary and Joseph’s yes so many years ago.

 Lord God, we ask you to continue to be in the midst of two becoming one in every marriage. It is You who carries us through our journey. Keep us strong, committed and in Love for eternity even when it’s not easy to say Yes!   Amen

Scott and Kathy Bitzer were married October 11, 1986 at St. John Fisher Church in Newtown, Ohio and renewed their vows on May 26, 2016 in the little village of Cana, Israel. Kathy is responsible for PREP program at St. Andrew and Scott is an Usher and both are Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion. They have been members of St. Andrew for 30 years.

You Are My Inheritance, O Lord

In July 2015, a nodule was found in my lung and I was told that I would need to be tested for cancer.  As a 27 year old who had never smoked, I was in a state of shock and found myself experiencing overwhelming anxiety.  The night before the cancer test was a Wednesday. Typically, I look forward to Wednesday evenings as this is when the St. Andrew choir practices (a group I had joined just months earlier). Even though I felt depressed and not in a very joyful mood that particular Wednesday night, I felt like I needed to be at choir practice. So, hesitatingly I went. While at practice the reality hit me that my time with the choir may be cut short if I had lung cancer.  It was a devastating realization.

Use the music.  God gave you this gift to sing.

Even though I had been feeling incredibly scared – of cancer, of quitting the choir, of losing my ability to sing, I began to experience a sense of peace while at choir practice. For the first time since I had received the news about my lung, I finally felt myself being able to take a full breath without wanting to burst into tears. I thought perhaps this was a sign from God that I was in the right place. I tried to give special meaning to every word we sang that night and kept thinking of the notes and the lyrics as an offering to God to help me get through whatever journey may lie ahead.  The song we rehearsed that night was “You are Always Present.” The words became my prayer:

Holy Spirit, breath of the love of Christ, You are always present.

The remainder of choir practice felt different that night.  It seemed deeper and more purposeful than it ever had before.  I wanted God to know I truly believed that He would be by my side.  It was a freeing feeling and when I left practice that night I was blessed with a sense of calm – something that had been allusive for weeks.  Two days later when the test revealed I was cancer free, the first thing I did was thank God for being with me.  The second thing I did was promise Him that I would keep singing in the choir.  It hit me in that moment that God needed me to sing, it wasn’t just a fun thing I enjoyed doing (though that certainly was/is a bonus). I could feel to the core of my soul that He wanted me to use the gift He gave me.

God wants you to use the gifts He gave you too.  Keep your mind open and your heart ready, you never know when He will send you an invitation. You may hear His request while you’re experiencing a medical crisis, or it could be while you’re listening to a favorite song. Maybe you will hear Him during a quick trip to Home Depot. Who knows! But your invitation is there, it’s waiting – after all, He is always present.

Keep me, O God, for in you I take refuge; I say to the Lord, “My Lord are you.”  O Lord my allotted portion and my cup, you it is who hold fast to my lot. Ps. 16:1-2

Mandy Geyman attended St. Andrew-St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School from 1st through 8th grade and graduated from Mt. Notre Dame High School in 2006.  She completed her degree in communication at Wilmington College.  She is currently employed at NKU as an Events & Communications Coordinator.  Mandy sings in the choir, is a cantor and serves on the Worship Commission.  She and her husband, Matt, have been members of St. Andrew Parish since 2013.  FullSizeRender (2)

Reach Out Into Deeper Waters, Bigger Fish Are Waiting There

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At the end of Mass the priest says, “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” I never gave this much thought other than attending Sunday Mass.  But, devoting one hour a week to my relationship with God seemed ridiculous.  Imagine a marriage where you spent one hour a week with your spouse.  I needed more, but what?

It began when my pastor asked me if I was interested in a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.  I responded with a resounding yes, much to his surprise.  It was not because I had always wanted to go there but I love to travel and because of family responsibilities had found it impossible to do for quite awhile. One day as I was sitting in a fishing boat with several other pilgrims rocking gently on the Sea of Galilee, I thought about St. Andrew’s call to discipleship. Was he looking for something more?  It might just be life-changing for me, as is was for him!

Not only did I go to the Holy Land but shortly after I attended a Christ Renews His Parish Weekend for which I had made numerous excuses for not attending over the years.  I was an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion and volunteered to be the Coordinator when there was an opening.  I also began attending weekday Masses on Saturday morning and Monday Evening since I worked full-time.  The more I became involved, the more I wanted to do.  My mood changed; I was more fulfilled, made good friends and had a much stronger relationship with my God.  Although, if it wasn’t for people inviting me to participate, I doubt I would have volunteered.

While I had attended Catholic schools, I had forgotten much, so when I retired decided to  increase my knowledge about my faith and my church.  I enrolled in the Lay Pastoral Ministry Program at the Athenaeum of Ohio.  As part of my graduation requirements I need to manage a parish project where I had identified a need. This project has brought me directly to you, as you read this blog.  It is designed for parishioners to write of their experiences in ministry and how God has blessed them as a result.  I hope you enjoy getting to know people in the parish and the kinds of ministries they are involved in within our parish.  I pray that you will find a ministry that suits your talents, schedule and interests and perhaps you will hear Jesus, through a parishioner, inviting you.

Dear Lord, lead those who are looking for more of a relationship with you to answer your appeal to them to ‘reach out into deeper waters’ just as you did for Andrew. 

Cathy O’Toole has been a parishioner at St. Andrew, the Apostle Church for over 20 years.  She is currently Chairperson of the Worship Commission, RCIA Instructor, Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion, volunteers at Hope Emergency Project in Brown County and has made 4 pilgrimages to the Holy Land.D29BF91F-326B-4778-8E20-A127888D1370.medium