Inspiration

How to Pray When You Don’t Feel Like Praying

There are times—when we’re lucky—when praying feels easy, and natural, and even wonderful. The truth is that while those times are uplifting, they’re also not the norm. For many of us, prayer can often be difficult, either to get started or to keep on. But what can you do about it?

Read the psalms. You’ll be surprised at how much of these songs and prayers and verses will sound familiar to you. They have served as an inspiration to Christians for centuries, and they’ll work for you, too. Just read them and let your soul drift into prayer. “I call on you, my God, and you will answer me.”

Go for a “prayer walk.” Don’t just walk; walk intentionally. If you take yourself out of your everyday surroundings, you’ll have fewer distractions and you’ll be able to better focus.

Pray with someone else. For many of us, this is difficult; we’re not used to praying with other people except at Mass. But if you don’t feel like praying, you can bet someone else feels that way, too, and there’s strength in numbers! Invite a friend over, or pray with your children or spouse.

Even the saints often struggled with prayer, but the truth is, we’re called to “pray always,” whether we feel like it or not. Prayer as a discipline flows into prayer as joy, but you can’t have one without the other!

 

 

Inspiration

Praying in Different Seasons of Life

With so much tragedy and anxiety in the world, it’s more important than ever to remember that God is with us through everything. We’re not alone. But sometimes the same routine prayers don’t seem to make a difference. Perhaps this is a good time for you to try a different form of prayer, for a different season of life.

Vocal prayer is what we’re all most used to. We say words to God, either from an established prayer (Our Father, Hail Mary, etc.) or simply speaking to God directly from our hearts.

Meditation is thinking about God. It helps us recognize his presence in every moment of our lives. We can meditate as we read scripture or any religious text that inspires us.

Contemplation is resting quietly in God’s presence. (Compare it to sitting in front of a beautiful sunset. We don’t think about the sunset, we absorb its beauty. That’s the way we contemplate God.)

Now, more than ever, we need to turn to God and know that we rest safely in his heart, no matter what events are happening in the world. The stormy sea of our lives can only be navigated when we’re sure of our course and how to get there. Prayer helps!

Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: 3 Ways to Evangelize

Too many people see that word—evangelize—and think it’s the exclusive domain of priests and nuns. But Christ calls us all to evangelize, to spread the Good News of his love and his kingdom. Easier said than done, though, for the rest of us. Here are three ideas that might help!

  • Pray for people you don’t know. We’re all pretty good at praying for our family, our friends, our parishes. But there are millions of people out there who don’t have the benefit of baptism, the Eucharist, or the experience of Jesus. God hears you when you pray. Set aside a time to pray for all those who do not yet know him.
  • Be conspicuously kind. St. Francis of Assisi said you may be the only Gospel your neighbor ever reads. The first step toward people noticing you as “different” from them is in exhibiting generosity of spirit and kindness.
  • Invite others into your world. You may have a friend or coworker who has expressed some malaise to you. Invite them, gently, to a parish function or even to attend Mass with you. You don’t need to push anybody through the door, but you do need to open it to them.

There’s a lot of material around telling laypeople they need to take the lead in evangelization, but very little in explaining how. If you have ideas about how to bring others to Christ, we’d be delighted for you to share them!

Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: 3 Ways to Keep God in Your Back-to-School Activities… Every Day

September came around quickly this year, didn’t it? It feels like the summer was stretching out in front of us, long and lazy and beautiful and then—we’re already buying lunchboxes and notebooks and squeezing in that last run to the pool. And somehow it’s really easy to lose our connection to God when we are, like Martha, busy about so many things. How about finding some ways to keep that connection alive?

  • Start your day right. However you start your day influences how you’ll feel for the rest of it. Start it with prayer—and include praying with your child!
  • Keep God in your budget. Even if it’s just setting aside a couple of dollars with your child to light a candle of thanks on the Sunday after classes start, make sure that you spend some back-to-school money where it counts.
  • Name 5 things you’re grateful for this year. Remembering to say thank-you is important in all families—our own, and God’s.

Back-to-school can be a wonderful time of discovery, adventure, and hope. Stay close to God throughout the hectic times and it can be fulfilling as well.

Inspiration, Listening to the Heart

Think with your heart, not with your fear

We live in times that are difficult to process. Events occur that are beyond our capacity to understand and fit into our worldview as people, much less as Catholics. In a sense, we’re living in a constant state of spiritual cognitive dissonance, and it’s anything but comfortable.

I’ve been feeling that the most around two current situations: the burning of the Amazon rainforest, and the worldwide migrant crisis. The enormity of the issues is exhausting—what can one person do? How can I even begin to think about what is happening, and all the implications of what is happening, much less do anything about it? And where am I hearing the voice of Jesus in the world as it is today?

For me, honestly? The times feel nothing short of apocalyptic. Surely this is how the world will end, in flames of fire and accompanied by the cries of lost children?

Those are a lot of questions. And as always when I’m in a panic, I move and think too quickly, too superficially, I’m too ready to give up. Take a deep breath. There’s a nagging feeling that I am asking questions, but they might not be the right ones.

The very first Christian communities, the people St. Paul addresses in his letters, the early Church, they all had something in common with my current fear: they too believed they were living in apocalyptic times. Guided by St. Paul, Ignatius of Antioch, and Justin Martyr, they believed Jesus would return soon, within their lifetimes, and thus the world would end shortly. So as I struggle with my eschatological panic, there has to be something I can learn from them.

And there is. In the Epistle to Diognetes, a second-century writer describes those first Christians:

They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all others; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They are evil spoken of and yet are justified; they are reviled and bless; they are insulted and repay the insult with honor; they do good yet are punished as evildoers. To sum it all up in one word—what the soul is to the body, that are Christians in the world.

This passage reminds me of two things. First, it reminds me this world is not the perfect world to which I aspire; “they pass their days on earth,” says the writer, “but they are citizens of heaven.” As a citizen of heaven, then, how can I view the state of the world in which I am living? And that very question changes my perspective. Instead of anger and hopelessness, I can look on the world with pity and compassion. With sadness, too; but sadness without despair. Surely that is the way God looks upon his beautiful creation and his beautiful children.

The second thing this letter teaches me is that, even expecting the end to be imminent, even living in the very shadow of the final days, the early Christians went about their lives, getting married, breaking bread together, following the laws of the land. Even as they knew they were about to leave, they continued in their callings and in their lives. My panic, my crazed thoughts about how I can effectuate change? This may not be the best use of my time and gifts. Going about my life might be a better way.

The early Church listened to the voice of Jesus, relayed to them through the apostles and early Church Fathers, and lived a way of life that conformed to what it heard that voice saying.

So where is the voice of Jesus in my world? How can I hear Jesus speaking, here and now?

When I ask, “what can I do?” the truth is I already know the answer. It is inherent in who I am. I have remarkably few skills. I’m not much of an activist, I can’t build anything with my hands, I don’t have a head for figures. What I can do is write. Jesus already spoke to me: in giving me this talent and allowing me years in which to hone it, he is saying, “this is your role.”

I think if we all slow down and think with our hearts rather than our fears, we can find many ways in which Jesus is calling us to act. What skills and talents were you given? Do you listen well? Can you teach? Do you have time to volunteer somewhere? Do you have enough money to donate some to help others? We are not all called to drop water on flaming forests or rescue children from detention centers, though some of us are, and they are heroes for sure. What we are all called to do, rather, is discern how our own individual vocations, our callings, can help us respond.

I was recently reading the forthcoming Jesus Speaking, a daily devotional taken from Gabrielle Bossis’ spiritual classic He and I, and I remind myself that many of Gabrielle’s conversations with Jesus took place in a world that had felt hopeless, too. Nazi Germany occupied her country, and all around her people were living under suspicion, privation, even terror. In some ways, that time may well also have felt apocalyptic. Yet like the second-century Christians, she stayed steady in her course, writing out her conversations, tending her garden.

When issues feel too big for us to get our arms around them, it’s time to bring our thinking down to our own level. To ask how we can live out our own individual Christian vocations, and what those particular vocations can bring to the table in this moment.

Jesus is speaking. We’ll hear him when we can think with our hearts and not with our fear.

by Jeannette de Beauvoir

 

 

Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: Navigating Tough Times

We’re all in bad-news overload these days, it seems. Fires in the Amazon, political frays, grief and sadness… it’s a constant assault on our minds and hearts, and with so much bad news coming at us, it’s easy to feel small, insignificant, and ineffectual.

But we’re assured that God loves us, that he has carved us into the palm of his hand. We are important in God’s eyes, and remembering that can empower us to take action.

  • Pray about it. Prayer changes things. Prayer changes us. God has arranged his world so we can make choices, and we can often discern his will when we open ourselves to it. Remember the words of Padre Pio: “Pray, hope, and don’t worry. Worry changes nothing. God is merciful and will hear your prayer.”
  • Do something locally. The world is a vast place, and changing it is a tall order. But you can make a difference locally. Support a local political candidate of your choice. Volunteer at a local shelter. Encourage your community to reuse and recycle. Support your local parish. This is the level at which you can effectuate change.
  • Educate yourself. If you accept everything you hear, then there’s reason to be discouraged. But choose something that bothers you, or excites you, and learn all about it. Explore it from different viewpoints. Expand your horizons. The world still might not make sense, but you’ll have gotten a little control over at least your understanding of it.

We live in difficult and confusing times. So did Christ; so did many of the saints of the Church. For some reason, God has called you to live in these times. Meet that challenge thoughtfully and prayerfully, and you can make a difference.

 

 

 

Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: Losing That Resentment

It happens to everyone sometime. Someone wrongs us and we feel bitterness and resentment about what they’ve done. Eventually that can develop into a resentment of the person themselves, not just the action or situation that started the whole thing.

But how can you get rid of it?

  • Approach the person, not as someone who has wronged you, but as a child of God. Remember before you speak that God loves this person just as much as he loves you. That can help your sense of perspective.
  • If you cannot approach this person as beloved by God, you may want to take the time to pray for them. Prayer is sanctifying. God can burn off the dross of bitterness and help us love others.
  • Accept that nothing in the past can be changed, not for the other person and not for you. God allows us to start every day afresh. Can you do it, too?

Ultimately, the only person who’s getting hurt when you carry resentment around with you is… you. You don’t need to do that to yourself. Forgiveness isn’t something we do for others; we do it for ourselves, so we can heal and move on.

 

 

Inspiration

You have questions. God has answers.

What we know about Jesus is this: he lived on earth as we do, made a living the way we do, had friends and went to family celebrations and felt joy and sadness just as we do. It’s important to remember that he experienced fully an earthly life, because it means one thing: he knows. He understands.

That’s also one of the tenets running through the book He and I, the journals of French laywoman and mystic Gabrielle Bossis: Jesus spoke to her in her heart and she recorded it all, years of conversations, and what unifies those years of conversations is the deep sense of understanding. Jesus knows Gabrielle, just as he knows every one of us.

Reading He and I is like reaching into your own heart. Gabrielle asks all the questions you or I might be asking. Is God listening to me when I pray? What is God’s purpose for my life? Why do bad things happen to good people? Where will this all end? How do I move forward when there’s so much holding me back?

Let’s look at six instances where Gabrielle asked some of the questions we want to ask, and how Jesus responded.

How do I stop living with the ghosts of my past?

You know what this is: the things we’ve done that we’re not proud of, the uncertainty about God really having forgiven us, the regrets we carry in our hearts for things that now cannot be undone, those nagging fears we keep pushing out of sight.

Jesus’ answer to Gabrielle: “Don’t ever give way to the distress that keeps you aloof from Me. Be sure that My goodness is infinitely greater than the sinfulness of My children. If you didn’t count on Me for help, to whom would you turn? Hope and trust to the utmost in Me, and you will honor Me.”

Is God listening to me?

Sometimes it seems we feel we have to get “prayer” right. Maybe we feel we haven’t. That we’re not good enough or don’t know enough. That others pray much better than we. We hope God at least notices us and, as one friend said, takes note of the good things we do.

Jesus’ answer to Gabrielle: “Don’t aim at saying an exact number of wordy prayers. Just love Me simply. A look of your heart. The tender smile of a friend. (…) If you have the intention of loving Me when you pray, I’ll accept your prayer even when you are distracted.”

Why does God let bad things happen?

One of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is the gift of fortitude, and if ever there were a time we need to claim and exercise this gift, it’s in the face of the unanswerable questions, in the face of the existential despair we all feel and that to some extent permeates our world.

Jesus’ answer to Gabrielle: “No, it’s not an illusion. You’re not in error, only in the shadowland. Just feeling your way by faith. I planned it this way. So throw yourself into My arms. Say that you believe, that you hope, that you love and commit your entire being to Me. Act just as though you could see Me. It’s such good practice for your faith. And faith brings hope and love.”

Is God still here if I can’t feel him?

Sometimes I don’t feel it’s there, this relationship. Sometimes I can’t pray. Sometimes I even find it hard to believe. But that’s when I start to realize the value of faith: faith that believes, that knows it is in fact there, even when I can’t see it. Especially, perhaps, when I can’t see it. Knowing it’s real, no matter what. Looking for it everywhere.

Jesus’ answer to Gabrielle: “Do you remember when you were little how you used to hunt for Me? You would go and hide yourself in the dark room behind your grandmother’s kitchen. There, in the corner, was a large doormat rolled up. You would scramble into it, and when anyone called out, ‘Where’s Gabrielle?’ you would say to yourself, ‘I’m with the good God.’”

Does God really have a plan for me?

In the small hours in the dark, I ask the scary questions, both of myself and of God. Does my life make a difference? Why was I born? What’s my purpose here—and am I even close to fulfilling it? Many nights when I lie awake, I just can’t see through the fog of my own aspirations. What part of my ambitions is the fulfillment of my mission on earth, and what part of them is the feeding of my own ego? And if God has a plan for me, as scripture tells me is true, then why can’t I see it clearly? Where’s the blueprint?

Jesus’ answer to Gabrielle: “Lend Me your hand to write. Lend Me your voice to teach the little ones the living truth. Lend Me your gestures to love them. And to cheer your pastor in his duties, lend Me your kindness. In this way, through you, I shall be among them, among yours. Your influence will be increased and you will think less of yourself. ‘This is not the fruit of my own effort,’ you will say. ‘Jesus was there with me.’ Say it to yourself over and over again; it will keep you humble. And humility is truth.”

How can I grow in holiness?

Many years ago I would resolve that I needed to pray extra, or adopt a certain practice, or do special things in order to grow in holiness. What I really needed to do, and eventually learned, is that it’s the voice of the Lord that initiates any movement along the way. Many times that movement is mysterious. Sometimes it feels like we aren’t moving at all, or are moving backwards.

Jesus’ answer to Gabrielle: “You can’t compute holiness like a column of figures. A single act of love with absolute abandonment and trust can make a saint even at the moment of death. And how this honors Me! I am like Samson; I lose My power as judge when someone tells Me of his faithful love. Not because the love is so great either, but because it is the greatest he has to offer Me. It touches Me to the quick and I am ready to bend to his will and make it My own.”

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We delve more deeply into these questions in our special six-day series on Gabrielle Bossis and her conversations with Jesus. If you haven’t done so yet, click here to receive the series for free.

Uncategorized

Everyday Grace: Dealing with Differences

It’s a wide world out there, filled with people who are very different from us. There are a couple of ways of dealing with our differences, ranging from friendship on one end to war on the other. But what does Jesus call us to do? He tells us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. And St. Paul in his letter to the Church in Rome wrote, “If your enemy is hungry, give him something to eat; if thirsty, something to drink. By this, you will be heaping red-hot coals on his head. Do not be mastered by evil, but master evil with good.”

But how does that work out in everyday life, especially in a world that seems more and more partisan and bifurcated?

  • When you cannot agree with someone, acknowledge that they may have life-circumstances that brought them to their opinion or action. We don’t know how anyone’s past experiences have scarred them. React to them with gentleness, not anger.
  • Don’t behave badly, even if others are. Listen to St. Paul, and offer them food and drink. Give them your kindness; it’s what they expect the least.
  • Pray, pray, pray. We know that prayer is the foundation of the Church and of our life in it and in the world. Prayer changes things. We may never see what happens because of our prayers, what soul is brought to God, what terrible accident is averted; but we have faith that it makes a difference.

We can all make the world a better place to live while we wait for God’s Kingdom. Why not start today?

Inspiration

A Book Can Change Your Life

A book can change your life.

It doesn’t have to be a “serious” book or a popular one or a religious one. Just as God touches us through the people we meet, the air we breathe, the art and beauty we encounter, the music we hear, so too does he touch us through what we read. It can be a brief moment of insight through a single sentence, or it can be the sum of the book itself.

It’s in the latter way that He and I changed my life.

I’d read it once many years ago in its original French when I was still living in France, and to be honest, fireworks didn’t go off. It went on the shelf in my mind where I store some of the better-known spiritual classics, ones that are lovely or helpful or just vaguely positive. It certainly didn’t join the ones I knew to be directly speaking to me, the ones in which I underlined whole paragraphs and turned to again and again in distress: Teresa of Avila’s The Interior Castle; Julian of Norwich’s Showings; the entire work of C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton; Blaise Pascal’s Thoughts; the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins.

No; He and I just wasn’t one of those.

I came back to He and I, not through the book itself, but through its author. I happened to be doing research on the spirituality of the area in which I grew up—Angers, a city in the Loire valley—and came across Gabrielle Bossis, who lived for most of her life outside of Nantes and found herself, for various reasons, often in Angers; the two cities are not far from each other.

The more I read about her, the more entranced I became. Her c.v., if you will, reads like a novel: an enchanted childhood; the drama of becoming a front-line nurse during World War I; becoming an accomplished playwright, actor, and producer; and then finally holding conversations with Jesus as she lived out the last twenty years of her life through the occupation of another world war, active as always, traveling or simply talking to Jesus as she pulls weeds in her garden. The few photographs we have of her show an attractive woman, a slight smile on her face as though contemplating the folly of photography.

I was fascinated. I went to lectures given by people who had known her. I read everything about her I could get my hands on. And then it finally occurred to me: this woman couldn’t have written anything that would leave me feeling lukewarm about it. The fault wasn’t with He and I, it was with me.

So I picked the book up again. And read it straight through during one cold snowy gray New England day, pausing only for food and coffee. This time, I did find passages to underline, passages to meditate on, passages that seemed to be speaking directly to me and my situation. What a difference an attitude makes!

It helped, of course, that I was able to contextualize so much of the book. The dates, the places, were all familiar to me. I know from my family what the Occupation was like, the privations, the rationing, the constant fear; and as I read the pages from those dark years I knew what Gabrielle was living even as Jesus was consoling her. And I was sitting beside her on the train from Nantes to Angers, a train I’ve traveled on many times myself, as Jesus continued to assure her of his love. Perhaps it took that contextualization for it to get through to me; I suspect it’s far more accessible to someone less stubborn!

It didn’t change my life in sweeping dramatic obvious ways, of course. I didn’t enter a convent or start a new career or move to a hermitage in the mountains. But it changed my life in subtle ways, in listening to my thoughts more closely, in trying to discern if Jesus might speak to me in ways similar to how he’d spoken to that other French laywoman. Through my heart.

He and I is a substantial book, and there’s no reason you should need to read through it in one fell swoop as I did. In fact, the new daily devotional Jesus Speaking is the best possible introduction to this spiritual classic: it structures the reading, adds a meditation, and generally helps you get through to the very passages that will prove meaningful to you.

Welcome to the world of Gabrielle Bossis, to her conversations with Jesus, and to whatever marvelous things he has in store for you as you read and pray with Jesus Speaking!

by Jeannette de Beauvoir

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