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Everyday Grace: 3 Ways to Love the World

Valentine’s Day brings with it images of hearts and flowers, of romance and closeness to others. And there’s nothing wrong with any of that… love and companionship are among God’s greatest gifts to us. But it also could be a time to extend love beyond one’s spouse, and reach out in Gospel love to others.

  • Get to know people in your building or neighborhood who live alone. You could knock on the door and see if they need anything the next time you are going shopping. Sometimes it’s as simple as just letting them know you’re there if they need anything.
  • Spend some time at a nursing home. Valentine’s Day will bring back memories of deceased loved ones, and the day can be bleak for many. Spending time with the elderly is a beautiful gift of love you can give.
  • Make Jesus your model. He loved everyone, noticed everyone, cared for everyone. It’s worth asking yourself who you’re neglecting… who Jesus wouldn’t. Can you help with a program at your parish for the poor? Donate to Catholic Charities? Volunteer your time and talent?

Loving the world means more than the hearts and flowers of Valentine’s Day: it’s loving people near and far every day. But you can make this Valentine’s Day the start of a new, deeper appreciation of God and God’s people, the start of being in love with the world.

“If you want to enjoy the water, you first learn how to swim; if you want to enjoy the snow, you must first learn how to ski; if you want to enjoy people, you must first learn how to do things for them.” (Allan Fromme)

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Everyday Grace: Finding Solace in Silence

For those of us in the northern hemisphere, winter is the coldest season; it feels like everything has frozen over and all we can do is wait impatiently for spring. But winter is also a time of rest, peace, inner focus, stillness, and reflection. The flow of life naturally slows down and turns inward, and we can tap into this peace with a skill we rarely use: keeping silent, and meditating on what God is doing in this cold season.

  • You may have planted bulbs this past fall. Even if you didn’t, think about the life happening under your feet. It may be quiet where you are, but down below the roots are getting stronger. Take a walk in a park or a garden, and reflect on the life just waiting to burst free.
  • It seems that the world is screaming at us right now. Our smartphone ding with interruptions, the television and the internet all tell tales of violence and anger and hopelessness. Turn it all off for a day. Find a day when you can take yourself off the grid. Don’t read Facebook. Don’t watch TV. Give yourself a mini-retreat and spend the day in silence, reading, thinking, praying, meditating.
  • Find a half-hour every day when you can practice silence. It might mean getting up earlier than usual, or going to be later. It may mean taking that lunch break, not to socialize, but to be alone. However you do it, find a half-hour when you can be in silence: sitting, walking, whatever works best for you. If you practice this daily you’ll feel more positive and more energized.

We live at a noisy time in a noisy world. But we have some control over it. Turing our thoughts, our minds and hearts, to God instead of to the maelstrom around us will keep us on the right path.

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Everyday Grace: Keeping Afloat Through the Storms

We all feel buffeted, these days. What seemed to be “the ways things are” one day don’t necessarily continue into the next. The difficulties of navigating a world that feels increasingly stormy sometimes feel overwhelming.

When we’re afraid, bad things happen to our bodies and minds. Fear activates the brain’s amygdala, a sensor that gives us three response options: fight, flight, or freeze. To ensure we have everything we need to carry out this instinctual response, the amygdala limits activity in the prefrontal cortex, where logical thought, clear decisions, and rational choices are generated. So fear keeps us from being our best selves.

What can we do?

  1. Pray. St. Augustine said, “Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you.” When faced with fear, pray for courage, and trust that all things work for the good for those who love the Lord. You’ll find it easier to plan your next steps when you start with prayer.
  2. Take action. Help someone else, volunteer some time, donate some money, share a meal or a coffee with a friend to talk, cool down when you feel angry by breathing deeply or taking a walk. Do your best to turn toward solutions rather than amplifying problems.
  3. Choose joy. In these difficult times, joy is an act of resistance against the darkness. There are moments of beauty and peace all around us: try to see them. If you can see the light, you can become a light for others.

Remember that there has always been something to fear. We’re not alone; history proves that there have been times worse than the one in which we live. If we can see the world as it is, rather than as we are, our perspective changes. God made this world and loves this world. If we can reflect that love, the world will become more lovable.

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Everyday Grace 3 Lessons from Martin Luther King, Jr.

We don’t have to be Baptists to learn important lessons from this Baptist preacher, any more than others need to be Catholic to learn important lessons from Saint Teresa of Calcutta. Some people’s faith and wisdom simply belong to the world as a whole. How can his principles of nonviolence inspire Catholics today? 

  • Our mission as Catholics seeks to defeat injustice—not people. Those who oppress are themselves oppressed. Today, pray for those who do evil, that their hearts might be open to the Good News of Christ and their lives transformed by his love. 
  • As trite as it may seem, choosing love instead of hate is essential. Jesus told us to love our enemies and do good to those who injure us. In these partisan times, it’s easy to hate “the other side.” Jesus never said we have to agree with them: he just said we have to love them. 
  • We need to work toward redemption and reconciliation. Our purpose is to seek the kingdom of God, and that means enlarging our community to include everyone in friendship and understanding.  

Is there someone you can reach out to—today? Someone who thinks differently from you, who might believe in something to which you are passionately opposed? Your nonjudgmental gesture might just prove their tipping-point. As Christians, we’re supposed to look and act differently from the culture around us. Martin Luther King Jr. knew that, and lived it. Can we? 

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Everyday Grace: 3 Tricks for Finding Patience

And, yes, we do have to find patience. Writer Albert Mohler has observed, “Patience is not optional for the Christian.” St. Paul repeatedly writes to the people in his scattered communities about being patient with each other—so often, in fact, that it’s clear they had as much trouble with patience as we do! But God may be at work in those with whom we are experiencing disagreement and conflict. How can we incorporate that knowledge in our daily lives? 

  • Look inside. When you find yourself experiencing impatience, stop and ask yourself, “why is this bothering me so much?” Chances are good that you’re upset disproportionally to the situation itself (does it really matter so much that someone cut in front of you in line?); understanding why it’s making you crazy can make you… less crazy. 
  • Count to 10. No, really. This simple and obvious trick absolutely works. When you’re done counting, most of your initial impulse (to yell, say something you’ll later regret, etc.) will go away. Impatience is an impulse, not a thought, and by delaying the impulse you allow for thought to step in. 
  • Just love. God loves this person; you can do the same. Your child just broke a family heirloom? Your coworker is too slow? Somebody at the movie theater keeps sniffling? Jesus died for them, too. God loves them in that moment. Take a deep breath and you’ll find that you can love them in spite of it all. 

I’m constantly reminded of St. Francis of Assisi and his quote, “you may be the only Gospel your neighbor ever reads.” When the person ahead of me at the grocery store does something I don’t like, is the Gospel reflected in my reaction? As Catholics, we are role models for others, and the impulse of impatience, though clearly very human, is not sending the right message. The good news? Patience can be learned: we just have to try. 

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A Plan of Life for 2019

“Come to me, all of you,” Jesus said to then-sixteen-year-old James Alberione. It was December 31, 1900, the famous “Night Between the Centuries” when James was praying in the Cathedral of Alba. “Come to me, all of you.” James, I want you to bring me all the people of this new century. I want them all, and I want you to bring them to me using the “new means” of communication. But first I want you to bring me yourself, James: “Come to me, all of you!” I want all that you are; I want your mind, will, and heart. I want everything, James! 

Jesus says these same words to each one of us as we begin this New Year of 2019. “Come to me all of you, Sr. Laura.” “Come to me all of you, _______.” Jesus wants all of us: that’s you and that’s me! This task of bringing all of ourselves to Christ can be daunting and overwhelming but it is possible, “for all things are possible with God.” (cf. Lk. 1: 37). And a plan to help with this task is what can make it happen—a plan for our spiritual life. 

Think of it. Whenever we want to succeed at something important, we have a plan: a business plan, a financial plan, a game plan, a marketing plan. You name it, we have a plan! But what goal, what endeavor in life is more important than our growth in Christ, our transformation into him, our “Christification” as Blessed Alberione would say? 

Last spring, Pauline Books & Media released a great book that can help us with this task of “becoming Christ,” i.e., saints! It’s called Plan of Life: Habits to Help You Grow Closer to God by Fr. Roger Landry. This is a marvelous, practical, straightforward book that makes the often-overwhelming task of becoming a saint possible; it brings it within our reach. St. Paul encourages us when he says, “all things are possible for those who love the Lord.” But it is still important to have a Plan of Life. And this is what Fr. Landry does. He shows how the Christian life comes alive and deepens when certain habits are practiced regularly. 

What are some of the habits essential to our Plan? Morning offering, Sunday Mass, general examen, frequent confession, daily prayer, and sacred scripture. Are you surprised by this list? Probably not; you might even say, “this is nothing new!” You are right—it isn’t new, but it is true. If we want to really grow in the Christian life and see ourselves gradually change into the “best-version-of-ourselves” as well-known writer and speaker Matthew Kelly says, then these elements need to be present in our lives on a regular basis…. 

  • The morning offering is a simple prayer we say at the start of the day. We offer God all that we have, all that we are and will experience, the “prayers, actions, joys, and sufferings” of our day. We offer it all to him who has given it to us in the first place. 
  • Sunday Mass is a given, but this is certainly not clear for many Catholics. Whatever happened to “remember to keep holy the Lord’s Day”? And many who do attend Sunday Mass regularly see it only as an obligation, something that they are required to do. The Second Vatican Council describes the Mass as, “the source and summit of the Christian life.” And this means that the Mass is what nourishes and feeds us; it gives us strength for the week. And don’t we all need that? 
  • General examen is usually done at the end of the day reviewing all that has happened to us. (Alberione also encourages us to include it in our Hour of Adoration before the Blessed Sacrament.) With the examen, we ask Jesus to show us where he has been present in our day and how we have responded to that presence. Socrates once said that an unexamined life is not worth living; we don’t want to fall into that category. 
  • Frequent confession flows right from the examen. When we seriously take stock of our lives each day we see we are sinners.  Each of us falls short, sins, and needs God’s mercy. And the best place to find that mercy is in confession! 
  • Daily prayer is as necessary as air to breathe and food to eat. It keeps us in communion with God. It gives us strength and guidance for what we will encounter during the day. 
  • Sacred scripture, God’s word is also necessary if we want to grow in our relationship with him. God speaks to us in and through his word. He enlightens us through his word… 

Mother Thecla, the co-foundress of the Daughters of St. Paul, writes to each of us, “Let us live in intimacy with the Divine Master: mind, will, heart, and activities; our senses, hands, feet, eyes, ears- everything in him, for him, and with him. Let us strive for always greater union with him…” 

And a Plan of Life will help put this within our reach. A blessed and happy 2019! 

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Everyday Grace: Finding Optimism

Most people will agree that 2018 was a difficult year, filled with drama, tragedy, loss, and anger. For many of us, it’s hard to look ahead to 2019 and see a lot of hope for change. But as Christians, we are called to return to hope, time and time again. What are three ways we can find some optimism about the new year? 

  • Trust that God really is in control. “Trust in the Lord forever!” we read in Isaiah 26:4, “for the Lord is an eternal Rock.” The word “trust” here in the Septuagint is the Greek word for “hope”—so they’re closely related! 
  • Remember that the holiness of the Church is not (and never has been) due to the holiness of its members, but to the presence of the Spirit as its soul, working to save those often deeply unworthy members. 
  • Look to the saints. They weren’t people who never fell—they just didn’t give in to their falls. They felt the same longing we do for an excuse to go on falling. Read the life of any saint and you’ll find an example you can follow. 

Catholics have an advantage other people don’t: we live in the light of the resurrection. We are a people of hope. Scripture is filled with stories of perseverance in spite of all the same troubles we have today. What that means is that we’re not in this alone—and that knowledge, right there, can give us some optimism! 

Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: 3 ways to rest your spirit this January

Christmas trees and parties and gifts and candy and dinners are over. Though the Christmas Season lasts liturgically until the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord on January 13, the fun and exciting aspects of the holidays are quickly fading. Perhaps you even feel some relief. The holidays are a lot of work: they can bring on family stress as people gather who haven’t seen each other in months, and gift-giving can mean a lot of expense. Taking down those decorations means life is back to normal. The stores are off to Valentine’s Day excitement, but really we all just need a break from the stress. Here are three things you can do to rest your spirit this month:

  • Breathe and relax. When you’re suffering stress, bringing your attention to your breath can help ground you in the concrete. Breathe deeply. Look around you. Observe your surroundings as if you were in a bubble, a little removed from powerful emotions. Tense and relax different muscle groups. Take some time to simply be present.
  • Disconnect from news and social media for a period of time. Constant access to other people’s worries and expectations, to commercials and blog posts about the next exciting thing, and to the 24-hour news cycle keeps our nervous system vigilant. We never really relax and know what it is to be at peace with who we are on our own. A regularly scheduled news and social media retreat can help us be less anxious.
  • Know that freedom from stress and anxiety doesn’t mean you won’t be stressed and anxious. No one can escape stress and worry in their life, but the truly free are those who can work skillfully with their feelings and fears so that the discomfort that is a part of life doesn’t overwhelm them. Cultivate gratitude and compassion for yourself and others in the presence of stress and anxiety.

 

What are your plans to de-stress and rest your spirit this January? Share with us below.

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Everyday Grace: The Post-Christmas Blues

There’s a lot of work, thought, anticipation, and activity leading up to Christmas, and for many people the following weeks feel like something of a letdown. The jolly Santa Claus images are looking a little tired; the big event we’ve been waiting for has come… and gone. How do you cope with the post-Christmas blues?

  • Keep the light going. The Christmas season is all about light: leave your nativity set out (and pray to the Infant Jesus), keep the decorations blinking and the candles lit: this is the season that gets us through the dark nights of winter and all the way to the Baptism of Our Lord and on to Candlemas.
  • Exercise! First of all, there’s a good probability that you gained some weight with all those holiday parties. Second of all, exercise releases endorphins, and that will make you feel great.
  • Reach out. Did you know there’s a spike in calls to crisis centers right after Christmas? Loneliness and depression can move in, for many different reasons. This is an excellent time to volunteer with an organization that reaches out to those who are alone, homeless, ill, elderly, or shut-in. And getting you outside of yourself will improve your mood, too!

The manger was just the first step of our journey of faith, the journey that will take us though to the cross and the resurrection. Keeping that in perspective, and doing what we can to help ourselves and help others, is what will surely beat the post-Christmas blues!

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Jesus, Our Teacher

To carry the Gospel with us is a sign of our love for the teaching of Jesus Christ and merits for us special heavenly wisdom (SP, October 1954).

Jesus is the Teacher of the most necessary science; he is the sure guide to eternal life; and he has grace, which is absolutely necessary for the spiritual life (UPS, IV, 191).

Blessed James Alberione