Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: How to Not Lose Hope

We’re living in difficult times. Every day we wake up to news that seems to get worse and worse as the days progress. It’s easy to feel discouraged! We know that as Christians we are people of hope. But how do we stay hopeful in the midst of everything?

  • Stay positive in your messaging. It’s easy to take to social media with complaints and accusations; it’s easy to feed the negativity around us. But if you consciously decide to not participate in it, if you keep your messaging positive no matter what, you’ll find that there are things to be hopeful about. Pope Francis said in 2017:  “never to yield to the negativity that tears things and people down, but keep building, try to make this world conform ever more fully to God’s plan.”
  • Read about a saint who found hope in the midst of trials. The saints weren’t those who never fell, but those who never gave in to their falls. There have been times as difficult as ours, and in every age people have risen to the challenges presented to them. This is a good time to develop a devotion to one such saint.
  • Pray. Prayer grounds us in the realization that, first of all, we are not alone. Even when seemingly no one else hears us in our pleas, God always hears us. It reminds us that the truly important things in life are bigger than us and we must set aside our pride to focus on what is truly important in life.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, in his encyclical Spe Salvi (Saved by Hope) stressed how the virtue of hope is critical for anyone who encounters suffering: “[T]he present, even if it is arduous, can be lived and accepted if it leads towards a goal, if we can be sure of this goal, and if this goal is great enough to justify the effort of the journey” (Spe Salvi 1).

Inspiration

As the economy opens up, let’s not forget each other

In this watershed moment for humanity—a global pandemic—we need more than a vaccine. We’ve all realized by now that things won’t return to normal, at least not any time soon, and maybe they shouldn’t.

I’ve been much more careful of what I consume, more caring of others, more concerned for the rest of the world whom I see in a new way as my family. We live together on this common earth we call home.

In a moment of fear I place my hopes on a vaccine that will keep me safe. In my better moments I remember that the problem is much more than a drug to keep away a virus. The situation is complex and the crux of the problem lies at the intersection of the failure of each of us. In little ways and on a larger scale, we harm others, the earth that supports us, and ourselves when we choose the “impulses that come from the flesh” over those that come from the Spirit. When we choose egoism over generosity. Domination over disinterested service. Discord, dissension and prejudice over living in a truly human and Christian way, in love.

Last week, Catholics around the world celebrated Laudato Si’ Week, marking the fifth anniversary of Pope Francis’ landmark encyclical on the environment. The week focused on interconnectedness during a time when we are experiencing it more than ever on a worldwide scale in light of COVID-19.

We’ve seen how a virus that began with one person has spread globally, and how that has affected our collective health, economy, and environment. And yet in the midst of this, miracles have happened. Because of how we have all slowed down, we see pictures of clear water, clear skies, the return of wildlife where before there was smog, litter, and cloudy water ways.

We’ve also started to see how reliant we are on our healthcare workers, our grocery-store workers, and our community leaders. We see how much responsibility we bear for the most vulnerable among us, and how they are often the ones who feel the effects of our actions first.

This connectedness has always existed, and will hopefully be more a part of our thought and conscience after the virus has passed. Globalization means that the products I consume impact the conditions in which people live and work on the other side of the world. The challenge will be taking the lessons we learn in this time and using them to make those connections more prayerful, more deliberate, and more just. We have to remember how our actions impact each other, even after life gets busier and it’s easy to once more forget our interconnectedness once our economies “open up” again.

The urgent challenge to protect our common home includes a concern to bring the whole human family together to seek a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change. The Creator does not abandon us; he never forsakes his loving plan or repents of having created us. Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home (Pope Francis, Laudato si’, 13).

The Church is just now beginning a special Laudato Si’ Anniversary Year. Pope Francis sees this anniversary year—and the decade that will follow it—as a time of grace, a true Kairos experience and “jubilee” time for the Earth, for humanity, and for all God’s creatures. Perhaps during these days, when so many have stepped back from the normal rhythm of life, we’ve had more time to pause and examine the big picture. Hopefully, we can launch ourselves into this anniversary year reflecting on some lessons that are common to both this coronavirus pandemic and the climate crisis.

As we saw during the Laudato Si’ week, there are direct links between the current pandemic and our lack of environmental response. The present crisis is an opportunity to start over again, and to make sure the world that arises after this crisis is sustainable and just.

The encyclical can indeed provide the moral and spiritual compass for the journey ahead, so we can create a more caring, fraternal, peaceful, and sustainable world. We have a unique opportunity to transform the present groaning and travail of creation into the birth pangs of a new way of living together, bonded together in love, compassion and solidarity, and a more harmonious relationship with the natural world, our common home. The pandemic has made clear how deeply we are all interconnected and interdependent. As we begin to envision a post-COVID world, we need above all an integral approach as “everything is closely interrelated and today’s problems call for a vision capable of taking into account every aspect of the global crisis” (LS, 137).

Let’s start with this prayer from the USCCB, based on Laudato Si’:

Father of all,
Creator and ruler of the universe,
You entrusted your world to us as a gift.
Help us to care for it and all people,
that we may live in right relationship–
with You,
with ourselves,
with one another,
and with creation.

Christ our Lord,
both divine and human,
You lived among us and died for our sins.
Help us to imitate your love for the human family
by recognizing that we are all connected—
to our brothers and sisters around the world,
to those in poverty impacted by environmental devastation,
and to future generations.

Holy Spirit,
giver of wisdom and love,
You breathe life in us and guide us.
Help us to live according to your vision,
stirring to action the hearts of all—
individuals and families,
communities of faith,
and civil and political leaders.

Triune God, help us to hear the cry of those in poverty, and the cry of the earth, so that we may together care for our common home.

Amen.

by Sr. Kathryn James Hermes, FSP

Image: Jakob Owens for Unsplash

Everyday Grace

3 Tips for (Soul) Spring Cleaning

It may have felt that spring was somewhat delayed this year, but it’s really here and it’s high time to start thinking about spring cleaning! And while getting your home aired out and scrubbed is satisfying, it’s also useful to think about clearing out some of the bad habits you might have picked up over the long winter and through the long pandemic. Here are a few tips to get you started:

  • While building a habit is good, doing the same thing over and over again eventually feels rote. So clear out your prayer life with something new. There are a number of beautiful prayer books (Queen of Apostles Prayer Book, Sacred Heart Prayer Book, Holy Spirit Prayer Book) that can give you fresh words and ideas to enhance your prayer time.
  • Notice how “stuff” gets accumulated over the winter? We’re just not as careful about cleaning then. Even if you cannot go to confession, you can clean out your interior life by making an Act of Contrition. It clears the decks of all the times you’ve tripped and fallen, and you’ll be all set for the springtime of your soul!
  • What can you get rid of? Are there things that you’re clinging to that are standing between you and God? Maybe it’s resenting someone else, or wishing that you had as much as someone else, or holding onto a perceived insult. Let them all go!

Spring cleaning for your soul can be just as liberating as spring cleaning for your home. It will give you a whole fresh outlook on life!

 

image: The Creative Exchange for Unsplash

Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: Be Brave!

We’re living through a time that asks us to do things we’ve never had to do before. We’re choosing to do what is right for our communities and our families, even though it is sometimes costly for us. And now, as it seems that our environment is changing yet again, we’re called upon to be brave. To continue to do what is right for all of us. Christian courage is the willingness to say and do the right thing regardless of the cost. Jesus promised that nothing on earth was going to be easy, and he was right! What can you do to find courage in everyday life?

  • Make specific plans. If you know you’re going into a situation that is going to demand you to take a stand, think about it ahead of time. Practice what your response will be. The more prepared you are, the less scary things will be.
  • Find role models. You’re not the first person who has had to be courageous. The Bible is filled with stories of people who were scared but moved forward anyway; so are the lives of the saints. Fill your heart and mind with them.
  • Pray without ceasing. You’re not in this alone: the Holy Spirit is with you every step of the way, in every conversation and every awkward situation and every danger. Do not hesitate to call for help: that’s what the Spirit is there for!

Life can be scary, and times can be challenging, but when you’re called to be courageous, you have tools you can use to help you. You have this!

Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: 3 Ways to Tame Your Anxiety

We’re all experiencing anxiety these days. We don’t know what the future holds; we’re isolated from supportive environments and people; we can even feel abandoned by God. And our bodies make it worse, because they’re treating the discomfort of anxiety as danger to our organisms.

What do we do when we’re in danger? Our bodies have only three responses: fight, flight, and freeze. None of those responses is helpful in our current situation. But there are some things we can do that will help alleviate some of the distress and discomfort of anxiety:

  • Remind yourself: you’re okay and you’re not alone. Everybody is experiencing anxiety right now. Try writing down your worries, getting as granular and close to the root cause as possible. As you write, what may have seemed like an overwhelming, murky constellation of problems will suddenly come into focus and be narrowed down to a set of realistic concerns.
  • Be easy on yourself. Some days will be worse than others. It’s important to cut yourself some slack on the days you’re feeling bad—days, even, when things do seem unmanageable. We’re living through a global health crisis, after all; times are tough, they’re stressful, and struggling with dark thoughts or overwhelming feelings is to be expected.
  • Use your tools. We’re so blessed to have our faith to help us keep perspective through this terrible time. There are many online opportunities—to join a prayer circle, to stream Mass, to read spiritual classics—as well as your own devotions. Why not say a Hail Mary during your handwashing time? Why not add an Examen at the end of the day? These practices will all help you keep your anxiety at a social distance!

We’re all so used to being in control, so see this time as an opportunity to know that God’s in control, and to just give him more control: let go, and let God.

Uncategorized

What the Good Shepherd taught me during this pandemic

At first, the thought of closing our book and media center didn’t seem to be daunting. Perhaps we could get some cleaning and painting done. There was always something waiting for us to have the time to do. After the first week we had completed inventory. Everything in our bookcenter was counted and entered into the computer. Task done!

After this I thought we would all move on to the next task we had all talked about getting to. Then things changed. I found myself unable to sleep after reading too much about Covid19. I worried about my family members. The tasks we were determined to carry out began to feel secondary to everyone as we adjusted to news reports. We began missing the visits of friends and the possibility of visiting family. I found myself calling family and friends more often. This brought on some feelings of guilt. Wasn’t I supposed to be getting on with those tasks? What is our mission now that we’re not able to open the front door to people seeking gospel inspiration? How is prayer going to be now that we are streaming Mass? Yes, we kept a schedule and yet even that was unfamiliar. Since our community would be taking turns making annual retreat in the convent, I asked to begin first.

I made this request because I knew I needed some one-on-one with Jesus Good Shepherd! As I knelt and sat in his presence, day after day for eight days, my attitude began to change. The invitation to “be still and know that I am God,” reminded me that the shepherd was a door to his sheep. They could go out of the sheepfold to romp in the fields and the shepherd would silently watch, call their name if they strayed, and go out looking for anyone straying too far. At night this good shepherd lay across the entrance to the sheepfold to defend it from wolves. During the day the good shepherd again led the flock to refreshing water and dewy fields of grass. Knowing the names of each lamb, ewe, and ram, the shepherd also knew their individual needs.

Surrendering my fears to Jesus Good Shepherd meant to trust him with everyone I felt concerned about. It meant I could sit near Jesus and watch how he loves each person I love. Turning myself over his care was a reminder that doing tasks was not what needed to be primary. Learning to love was primary. And that felt strange in a new way. How to love during a pandemic? After a while I tried new ways to reach out to my sisters and others. First I let myself be loved by the Shepherd, and then I followed his lead.

I could always go safely in and out of the fold listening for his voice. I knew this Good Shepherd already laid down his life for his sheep.

 

by Sr Margaret Kerry, fsp

 

 

 

Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: Finding Courage in Everyday Life

Christian courage is the willingness to say and do the right thing regardless of the cost. Jesus promised that nothing on earth was going to be easy, and some times seem more difficult than others; we live in one such time. What can you do to find courage in everyday life?

  • Make specific plans. If you know you’re going into a situation that’s going to demand that you stand up for your beliefs, think about it ahead of time. Practice what your response will be. The more prepared you are, the less scary things will be.
  • Find role models. You’re not the first person who has had to be courageous. The Bible is filled with stories of people who were scared but moved forward anyway; so are the lives of the saints. Fill your heart and mind with them.
  • Pray without ceasing. You’re not in this alone: the Holy Spirit is with you every step of the way, in every conversation and every awkward situation and every danger. Do not hesitate to call for help: that’s what the Spirit is there for!

Life can be scary, and times can be challenging, but when you’re called to be courageous, you have tools you can use to help you. You have this!

Uncategorized

Can’t we just go back to the way it used to be?

The underlying theme of these Coronavirus days seems to be stress. Of course, there are many variations on this theme depending on the factors of our lives. Life isn’t what it once was or what it should be. We feel stressed and basically life’s a mess.

Can’t we just go backwards, back to how things used to be?

Let’s try it with something simple, like the word “stressed.”

If we spell it backwards it becomes “desserts.” Isn’t that nice? Doesn’t that make you feel better already? Maybe yes, maybe not exactly. Living under stress can actually make us daydream about desserts. It becomes harder to focus on the good, the better, and the best about life.

This even happens when we pick up the Gospel.

How many times have we waltzed through the account of the Beatitudes without a second thought. Some see them as kind of charming, a bit poetic, sort of like a spiritual dessert. Nice for posters or bookmarkers, but not necessarily life-changing words.

However, the Beatitudes are the heart of the Gospel. They are what it is all about. They are a description of what life should look like.

As I say in my book, Blessed Are the Stressed, The beatitudes are attitudes refined over a lifetime, culminating in an eternal enjoyment of perfect happiness.

These are the attitudes that in the here and now bless our lives, our day-in-and day-out lives, our hunkered down in place days and our back to normal days.

Take some time today and read through Matthew 5: 1-12 and savor these wonderful promises of Christ. We can’t avoid being stressed, but the Beatitudes say to us: blessed are the stressed. 

Sr Mary Lea Hill, FSP
Author of Blessed Are the Stressed

 

 

Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: 3 Ways to Cope with Pandemic Fears

When we’re afraid, bad things happen to our bodies, minds, and souls. 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. 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.
  1. Take action. Help someone else, volunteer some time, donate some money, share a meal or a coffee (via Zoom!) with a friend, cool down when you feel angry by breathing deeply or taking a walk. Do your best to turn toward solutions rather than amplifying problems.
  1. 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.

Easter, Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: 3 things you can do in the next hour to find joy

It’s been a scary year so far, and most of the strategies people adopt to get through are fairly long-term. What can you do in the next hour to feel better right now?

  • It’s Eastertide! The Lord is risen! This is a time for prayer, but make it joyful! One option: Father, help us to seek the values that will bring us lasting joy in this changing world. In our desire for what you promise make us one in mind and heart. Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
  • Plan to prepare a special festive meal. We shouldn’t just think of Easter day as a time for festivities, but this entire first octave of Easter fairly bursts with hope and joy. Because in our current time we cannot invite family and friends to join us, we tend to skip the events we usually share. But this is a time of rejoicing, so sit down now and plan a menu for a special meal, and decorate your table with flowers, even if it’s a meal for one or two people. This is sure to lift your spirits!
  • Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said, “There is no experience of God unless one goes out from the business of everyday living.” The Easter season is an opportunity for us to look upon the world around us with new eyes. Make a list of all the things you have learned through this time “out from the business of everyday living,” and that you’re grateful for. The list could include appreciation of being able to go to church; a fresh look at acts of goodness and kindness; a sense of solidarity with others suffering in the world.

Easter is the greatest Christian feast, so great, in fact, that it cannot be celebrated adequately on a single day! All eight days from Easter Sunday to the Second Sunday of Easter are considered solemnities, the Church’s highest-ranking feast, and each day is celebrated with festivity and joy. If we can keep that in the forefront of our minds, then even a virus will not be able to dim our joy at the resurrection.