Transform young hearts into places of prayer


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I couldn’t help but smile when I stumbled across Pete the Cat sitting by himself in a corner of my 2-year-old daughter’s bedroom.

My little one had placed her pink corded rosary on the stuffed animal’s lap, not far from where plush giraffes, dogs and her beloved Bear-Bear were having a tea party. With his head bowed, the whiskered critter in sneakers seemed to be quite a faithful feline.

“Pete Cat praying, Dada!” my little one explained with a beaming smile.

It filled me with joy to see my child already thinking about faith and sharing it with others, even in just an elementary way.

A few weeks earlier, my wife and I prayed the rosary with our daughter and her little sister during a prayer gathering with some friends and family. While our 7-month-old was content to examine the soft rosary beads during the prayer, the 2-year-old was soon distracted by books and toys. Both, however, seemed intrigued by the unified voices that surrounded them. They were observing and learning.

Praying with young children doesn’t have to be intimidating. There are fleeting moments throughout the day that can be turned into opportunities to teach little ones about God.

Right next to their dolls, puzzles and other toys, our children play with plastic nativity scenes, a Noah and the Ark set and little stuffed dolls of their patron saints.

At dinner, we make the sign of the cross and say grace together. Reading time sometimes incorporates Bible stories, tales of the saints and simple prayers.

Right before we tuck our girls into bed, I swoop the 2-year-old into my arms while my wife holds the baby.

“Goodnight, Jesus!” we say, waving to a painting of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and a crucifix on the wall.

We say a prayer to our guardian angels and ask God to bless our girls. Finally, we ask Georgie, their older brother in heaven, to pray for us.

Nothing complicated. Nothing deep. Just simple words and actions that we hope will help our children recognize God in their lives.

Last year, Pope Francis said it was “beautiful” for mothers to teach their little ones to blow a kiss to images of Jesus or Mary or when passing a church.

“There’s so much tenderness in that,” the pope said. “And, at that moment, the heart of the child is transformed into a place of prayer. And it is a gift of the Holy Spirit.”

If a person learns as a child to turn to God with the same spontaneity as he or she learns to say “Daddy” and “Mommy,” the pope said, the lesson would last a lifetime.

More than four decades ago, Blessed Pope Paul VI insisted that the family, like the church, ought to be a place where the Gospel is transmitted and from which the Gospel radiates. The future of evangelization, he wrote in “Evangelii Nuntiandi,” depends in great part on the church of the home.

“In a family which is conscious of this mission,” the pope said, “all the members evangelize and are evangelized. The parents not only communicate the Gospel to their children, but from their children they can themselves receive the same Gospel as deeply lived by them.”

At a time when Archbishop William E. Lori is asking us all to become “missionary disciples,” how better to start than by becoming missionary disciples to one another in our own homes?

This column first appeared in the December 2016 issue of the Catholic Review. Read the original post here



Daddy-daughter time


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I’ve never had an alarm clock I’ve loved more than my current one. It goes off about 6:30 every morning, initiating the best part of my day.

“Dada!” the toddling timepiece yells from her bedroom crib. “Dada! Up! Up!”

While my 15-month-old gets to spend the whole day with Mommy when I’m at work, it’s these early morning hours that serve as our special daddy-daughter time.

Sitting on my lap at the break of day, my little one plows through 20 books at a time – always pointing out the cat hiding in the tree on a beautifully illustrated page of “The Owl and the Pussycat” or giggling at the smooch Dada plants on her cheek at the end of “The Pout-Pout Fish.”

When I’m holding her, I can’t resist requesting a dance or two.

“Can you get into dance position?” I ask, straightening my posture and extending my left arm.

My blue-eyed ballerina inevitably obliges, raising her arm to meet mine while grinning widely. We whirl around the living room performing polkas, waltzes and the lindy hop. The dance party often ends with a tango that includes a dip in front of a hushed audience of stuffed animals.

Sometimes we look out the bay window for passing “doggies.”

“Woof-woof!” my little one shouts triumphantly whenever she spots a canine.

I wish I could freeze time and live in these moments forever.

Since I can’t, my prayer is that my daughter will live these moments anew in every stage of her life.

I hope she’ll always be able to seek joy both in the everyday and unexpected places of life.

I hope she’ll discover more amazing journeys through the pages of books with the expert help of her librarian mother.

I hope she’ll have the confidence to dance the way she likes – no matter what others might think.

Above all, when she’s scared or unsure, I want my baby girl to remember the security of her daddy’s arms and know she can always come to her parents for anything.

One of the books my daughter loves to read each morning is a picture book of children’s prayers. She likes it for the cuddly lambs (“baa-baas”) that grace almost every page. I like it because it gives me a chance to pray with my child to begin the day.

“For each new morning and its light,” one prayer says, “for rest and shelter of the night, for every gift your goodness sends, we thank you, loving God.”

Just as my wife and I watch over our daughter, I’m reminded that God is watching over our shoulders. He smiles when we rejoice. He laughs when we laugh and is with us in our sorrows. He is our dance partner through life. As our children rely on us, so too should we rely on God and be thankful for every goodness he sends.

Keep dancing, little girl. Keep looking for the “woof-woofs” and wake me up any time you want.

George Matysek is the assistant managing editor of the Catholic Review.

The above story originally appeared in the March 2016 issue of the Catholic Review. Read the original post here
Photo:  George and his daughter look for “woof-woofs.” (Treasa Matysek)

Georgie’s story: Choosing life when the prognosis is death


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GeorgeTreasaGeorgie hands on belly

The ultrasound technician who gently swept a probe across my wife’s gel-covered belly spoke hardly a word as she collected flickering images of our wriggling 20-week-old unborn baby.

“The baby definitely doesn’t like fireworks,” I offered, recounting how just a few weeks earlier our little one had demonstrated his disdain for pyrotechnics by giving some forceful kicks during a Fourth of July show.

The technician remained quietly focused on the monitor, analyzing tiny hands and feet, measuring limbs and listening to the beating heart.

A few minutes went by.

Then another two or three.

Then maybe five more.

The silence was excruciating.

“Have you had genetic testing?” the woman finally asked, not looking away from the screen.

“No,” I said, my heart sinking.

The technician excused herself and was replaced by a fetal medicine doctor who stood at the foot of Treasa’s bed.

Our baby’s heart was not properly formed, the doctor said, and there were other anomalies. Trisomy 18, a genetic condition that occurs in one of every 2,500 pregnancies in the United States, was the suspected culprit. If the baby made it full term, the doctor said, he would likely live only a day or two after birth.

The weight of the pronouncement was crushing. I wept as I embraced Treasa, looked into her eyes, and repeated again and again a phrase I felt more intensely than ever: “I love you.”

My tears flowed not only for our baby, but in anticipation of the pain I knew would be Treasa’s constant companion in the months to come.

In a reference to abortion, the doctor told us we had to make a decision.

No further discussion was needed. Treasa and I knew that life is a gift from God – and that it begins at conception. We would go forward with the second half of the pregnancy despite the many challenges we would likely encounter. We were determined to give our son every opportunity at life and not extinguish it because others may have deemed it less-than-worthy.

In choosing life, we chose sorrow.

But we also chose joy.

Power of faith

GeorgeandTreasa2A few days after receiving the diagnosis, Treasa and I met with Monsignor Arthur Valenzano, rector of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Baltimore.

We knew that Monsignor Valenzano, a concelebrant at our 2012 wedding at the basilica, had faced difficult battles with cancer. We wanted to emulate his positive attitude and his trust in divine providence.

Monsignor Valenzano prayed with us and read the passage from Jeremiah, 1:4-8, that reminded us that God knew us before he knitted us in the womb. Never forget, Monsignor Valenzano said, that God chose us to be parents of this particular baby. Out of all the people in the world, he chose us.

The priest’s words were uplifting, and over the course of the next few months, we found strength in our faith.

Several priests offered prayers and encouragement, with Father T. Austin Murphy Jr., pastor of Our Lady of Hope in Dundalk and St. Luke in Edgemere, giving Treasa the sacrament of the anointing of the sick. Many others prayed for us, too, showering us with love.

Each night, Treasa tenderly placed on her belly treasured relics of St. Francis Xavier, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, St. Martin de Porres and St. Padre Pio, praying for the intercession of the saints.

Then, like a bolt from above, we received unexpected news. A blood test showed that our son did not have Trisomy 18. He still had significant cardiac issues and other anomalies, but he might at least have a fighting chance.

We transferred our care to The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, whose world-renowned medical experts were best equipped to treat our son. They explained that our baby’s biggest issues were a rare heart condition called Double Outlet Right Ventricle (DORV) and a backflow of blood through the tricuspid valve.

It wouldn’t be easy, but if our son could make it to birth, the cardiac doctors at Hopkins were confident they could surgically repair his weakened heart.

Author of life

As we approached our son’s December due date, we became regulars at the hospital, visiting weekly and often twice a week. Doctors became increasingly concerned about what they saw during fetal monitoring in those latter days, keeping us overnight on one occasion as a precaution.

Dr. Irina Burd, a skilled Hopkins doctor who became our most trusted confidant, was with us throughout the many ups and downs.

Despite our high hopes and our son’s fighting spirit, his heart couldn’t hold out. On Oct. 31, 2013, six weeks before his due date, our baby’s heart beat one final time in his mother’s womb. He was gone.

Treasa gave birth to George Paul Matysek III on Nov. 2, 2013, eight days before our first wedding anniversary. The images of the first moments of the arrival of the little boy who shared my name and the name of his grandfather will forever be seared in my memory.

His little jaw fell open, but there was no cry.

His feet and fingers were long like mine, but they did not wiggle.

His eyes were closed, and they would never open.

Treasa, the woman whose courage and unwavering devotion to our son inspired me every day, was the first to hold our handsome baby; then she gave him to me. We did not cry, but together marveled at the 18-inch long miracle that was the product of our love.

FOOTPRINTSWhat a gift it was to be able to see our son and feel the weight of his three pounds and two ounces in our arms. I later had the honor of carrying Georgie the final time on this earth when I lifted him in his tiny white casket to his burial spot at the cemetery.

“The gift of little Georgie’s life is something that will be part of you and everyone else for the rest of our lives because it didn’t go away,” Monsignor Valenzano said at Georgie’s memorial Mass at the basilica. “It just changed.”

The priest, who had blessed Georgie both in the womb and at the hospital after his birth, assured us that Georgie is our advocate in heaven. We have no doubt about that, knowing that he watches out for us and especially his beautiful baby sister who was born in October.

Though his life on earth was brief, Georgie’s legacy goes on.He drew Treasa and me more closely together than ever. He inspired his young cousins who never met him but who visit him frequently at the cemetery, speaking with him just like any other member of the family. He helped show the world that the value of life doesn’t derive from its utility or longevity, but from its very being.

The Author of Life blessed us with a child who would change our lives forever. How grateful we are to have been given that blessing.


Where to go for help

The above story was written for the Catholic Review. Treasa and I hope it will be of help to others facing similar circumstances. To see the original story, published Jan. 22, 2015, visit the Catholic Review.

Photos (from top): Treasa and George Matysek rest their hands on their son, Georgie, while he was still in the womb; Treasa and George found joy in their son’s brief life; Georgie’s footprints are stamped on a hospital certificate on Nov. 2, 2013, the day he was delivered; One of Georgie’s cousins waters roses during a summer visit to the grave site.


What not to tell your wife in the middle of the night


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It had been a long but fun-filled Easter weekend, and George and I were completely wiped out. I think I was out cold as soon as my head hit the pillow. So when George woke me up about an hour and a half later, I was bleary, groggy, and still mostly asleep.

That didn’t last too long.

After all, when your husband wakes you up to inform you that he just saw a huge bug crawling up your wall, you wake up. Or at least I do.

And when he further informs you that he lost track of this bug and doesn’t know where it went, you suddenly become quite alert.

I don’t like bugs. Especially if they’re on my wall or ceiling or some other location from which they could potentially get to me. And especially if they are large enough that I can’t comfortably squash them with my bare hand. Or a Kleenex. Or a shoe. Or a flyswatter.


I generally like to think of myself as a gentle person. But there is something about creepy, crawly things that brings out my bloodthirsty side.

In fact, I have such an aversion to bugs that, in my parents’ house (where I lived until our wedding), when I walked into a room, I often looked up and did a quick scan of the ceiling, just to make sure all was safe. A lesson learned through experience.

It drove my mother crazy.

But I hadn’t been doing that as much in my new home.

Until now.

I don’t remember what George’s exact words were that evening. But what I remember from my mostly-asleep state is that he described the bug as “the size of a starfish.”

I have no idea how large a starfish George was talking about, but even a small one is bigger than any bug I would want crawling up the wall near my bed.

Starfish 1

I told him that he’d better turn on the light. After some insisting on my part and some struggling to plug the lamp in on George’s part, light flooded the room.

Neither of us saw anything crawling up the wall.

Eventually we both managed to go back to sleep, but my dreams that night featured a very large bug.

The next day, as we discussed the event, George had no recollection of comparing the bug to a starfish. So we suspect that he dreamed the whole thing and woke me up while he was still partially asleep himself. He probably had bugs on his mind after having squashed a two-inch centipede that made a brief appearance in our bathroom earlier that morning.

Nevertheless, I told George that the next time he sees a starfish-sized bug crawling up our wall while I’m asleep, not to wake me up to tell me he lost track of it.

He can tell me about it once the bug has been slaughtered.

In the meantime, I’m getting to know our ceilings pretty well.

Waiting for God


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Ever since our beloved Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI announced his resignation, the Catholic Church has been waiting. Waiting and praying and wondering: How would this unexpected transition transpire? Who would be the new pope? What would this all mean for our Church? When will smoke come out of that chimney?


Nobody likes it.

But we have all experienced it.

On Tuesday, the first day of the conclave, I waited excitedly to see the smoke come out of the chimney of the Sistine Chapel. Nobody really expected it to be white, but I was eager to see the smoke anyway. So I kept a tiny live streaming video of the smokestack open in a corner of my computer screen as I did my work.

The smoke still hadn’t appeared (although it seemed long past when it should have) when I was called away to assist my manager. As I helped answer his question, my mind, half occupied by the chimney I could no longer see, turned suddenly and unexpectedly to the years, months, and days before George and I were married.

Photo from

Photo from

I had waited what seemed a long time before finding George (but he waited even longer to find me, so I can’t complain). If waiting meant I got to marry George, it was definitely worth it – and, looking back, the wait was quite necessary. George and I found each other at the perfect time.

We didn’t have to wait all that long to get married, but a day can seem like a year to two people who are ready to begin their new life together. Some days the wedding seemed an eternity away.

In the months before the wedding, I had often told myself just to be patient – the wedding would arrive eventually. And it did.

In the blink of an eye, months had passed, and I was walking down the aisle with my father toward the man I will spend my life with.

Photo by AppleTree Studios

Photo by AppleTree Studios

The wait was necessary, as we prepared ourselves for the step we were about to take. But in that moment, the wait was forgotten.

As I yearned to be back at my computer watching the smokestack, wishing smoke would come out already, and as I wished a pope had been chosen so that we would be done with the suspense that comes with not knowing who the new Vicar of Christ would be, I thought of our wedding and all the waiting that led up to it.

Waiting isn’t fun.

But I know that things happen in God’s time (although I have to remind myself of that a lot). And I knew that eventually we would have a new pope, whether that would be in a few minutes or a few days; I just had to be patient and wait.

And I knew that once our new pope was announced, the wait would be forgotten – all we would feel would be joy.

And I was right.

Last night as I drove home from work, all I could think of was the joyousness of the day and the love I felt already for our Holy Father.

The wait is over.

A few months ago, I felt like shouting to the world, “Habeo maritum Georgium!”

But yesterday it was all about Pope Francis.

Habemus Papam!

Pope Francis1

Photo from

Resistance is Futile


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When I agreed almost a year ago to marry George, I had no idea what I was getting into.

He seemed like such a nice, normal guy. He liked to dance. He went to Mass every Sunday. He had won a house. What wasn’t to like?

Little did I know what lay beneath the surface.

It wasn’t until after the wedding that the truth came out:

I am married to a Trekkie.

USS Enterprise(Photo from Wikipedia)

USS Enterprise
(Photo from Wikipedia)

Before the wedding, he probably mentioned that he liked Star Trek. But I just added it to my mental list of his likes and dislikes. When he said he liked Star Trek, it never occurred to me that he really liked Star Trek.

But when I saw his excitement over the upcoming Star Trek movie, I began to realize that this was more than a passing fancy.

So I tried to play along, tried to be supportive (or at least tolerant) of something my husband enjoys.

Shortly before Christmas, when I spotted a Star Trek Pez dispenser collection at a nearby store, I snapped it up. What better way to combine two of our hobbies? I figured we’d put the Pez on display somewhere and that would be the end of it.


How wrong I was.

George seemed startled that I didn’t know the names of the Pez characters. To his dismay, my understanding of Star Trek didn’t go much beyond “Beam me up, Scotty,” which until a few months ago I would have imagined being spoken by a Patrick Stewart with pointy ears.

Now I know better.

Now I know that Jean-Luc Picard and Scotty are from completely different generations and that Spock is the one with the pointy ears.

My Star Trek knowledge still leaves much to be desired (at least according to George). And so somehow I have agreed to watch the shows, starting with Season 1 of the original series. The DVD has arrived at the library for me; we just have to go pick it up.

I feel as though I am facing the Borg.

I am going to be assimilated.

A Wedding Novena


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“Maybe it’s time to start a novena or something,” my matron of honor emailed me last week. We had been discussing some of the last-minute stress related to the wedding.

Her suggestion struck me.

Say a novena in the nine days leading up to the wedding? What a wonderful idea!

So I did some searching online for an appropriate novena. I found that there had been a few other brides and grooms out there who had had the same idea. But there didn’t seem to be any novena written specifically to say in the nine days leading up to a wedding.

No big deal. One of the many wonderful things about novenas is that you get to mention your own intention, so whatever novena I chose would therefore become a novena for our marriage.

One bride had posted on an online forum that she had used a novena to St. Joseph. I checked it out and loved it. St. Joseph is the patron of married people and one of the saints I prayed to for years to help me find a good Catholic husband. He seemed like a good choice.

I suggested to George that we invite our families and the Catholic members of our wedding party to join us in the novena. It didn’t seem too demanding to ask them to spend a few minutes in prayer throughout the nine days before the wedding, starting on November 1 and ending November 9.

George readily agreed, of course.

But maybe we have some other friends out there who would like to join us in this prayer, too? We know that we already have quite a few people praying for us, and that means so much to us. Knowing that we are surrounded by the prayers of our family and friends as we begin our new life together makes us feel incredibly loved and supported.

If anyone would like to join us in our novena to St. Joseph, we would be so grateful.

The house that George won


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It was a couple hours since George had gotten down on one knee and asked me to marry him. After wandering DC looking for some food, we had finally taken the Metro to Chinatown and, completely famished, had gotten a table at the first restaurant we saw.

As we waited for our food, we happily discussed our future life together.

But then George said, “At some point we should discuss where we’re going to live after we get married.”

I stared blankly at him.

“George, you own a house,” I finally managed to get out.

“Yes,” he said. “But I don’t want you to feel that you have to live there if you don’t want to. We can start in a new house if you’d like. We can talk about it.”

There were two facts I knew about George long before I met him: 1) he is an amazing swing dancer,

and 2) he won a house. Yes, you read that right. He won a house. He bought a $10 raffle ticket one day at the grocery store – a raffle that benefited a charity in support of the homeless – and won a house more than a decade ago. Sure he had to pay taxes on it and all that. But he still won a house.

The idea that we would live anywhere else had never crossed my mind.

“Ok, let’s just have this discussion now,” I replied. “This is an easy discussion. You own a house. You have no mortgage. Are you crazy? We’re living there.”

And so the decision was made.

And along with that decision, in an attempt to make sure I will feel perfectly at home, George gave me free rein to do whatever I want with the house.

On November 10th, George’s house will become my home, too.

I won’t be able to say I won it the way George can.

But I won the owner of the house, which, in my opinion, is even better.

A mile to go



I have heard it said that love makes people do crazy things.

I am living proof of that.

I haven’t jumped off a building or dived into shark-infested water. No. Nothing like that.

I’ve started going running.

And once I even ran a whole mile all the way through. Without stopping.

Anyone who has known me since high school can tell you that this is a sign that I must have gone crazy.

In high school, we were required to run a timed mile each year. Or, I guess I should say that we were required to get ourselves the distance of a mile in whatever way we could by the power of our legs, be that running, walking, skipping, or hopping on one foot. I would start out running, which probably lasted for the first 1/8 of the mile. And then I walked. Maybe I ran a little bit more here and there, and I always ran to the finish line. But there was definitely a lot of walking in that mile.

I have never run for fun. Because it wasn’t fun.

But then I started dating George. Shortly after we started doing things together, George ran the 5K in the Baltimore Running Festival. A week or so after that, he ran in another race sponsored by a Catholic church in Baltimore. I quickly realized that I was dating someone who found running fun.

George running in the 2012 Baltimore Running Festival 5K.

I found this fascinating. How could anyone enjoy running? I decided I must be missing something.

So sometime last spring, when he was starting to prepare for another upcoming race, I asked if I could go running with him.

And then I asked again not long after that. And again.

I still have a long way to go to be able to run in a 5K with George, but I’ve made a lot of progress.

My goal is to run in a race with George sometime in 2013. And to be able to keep up with him. (I hear there are some mile-long races out there, which sounds quite doable. I can’t believe I just said that.)

I still don’t know that I would call running itself “fun,” but running with George is pretty enjoyable.

He would never force me to go running or to run more than I feel able to. But he pushes and encourages me just enough. And I push myself the rest of the way.

When my father heard that we were going running one evening, he looked shocked. “Wow,” he said. “I guess this really must be love.”

I think he just might be right.

Picture time


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On a sunny, cloudless Sunday afternoon in September, Treasa and I participated in an engagement photo shoot at the Inner Harbor – one of our favorite spots in Baltimore. Shane Cleminson of Apple Tree Studios was excited to use a new camera during the session, and he posed us at various sites ranging from the Power Plant to foot bridges.

At the end of the shoot, Shane asked if there was anything special we’d like to do.  For us, that was an open invitation to lindy hop. Needless to say, it was pretty fun.

Here are just a few of our favorite shots. Thank you, Shane, for doing a great job!