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.

Easter

Celebrating Easter in a World Turned Upside-Down

“Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb” (John 20:1).

Our experience of Lent this year has been intensified by the distress and restrictions caused by the worldwide pandemic, resulting in a situation many of us would not have imagined six months ago. At the same time, since mid- Lent we have been distanced from Mass and the immersive liturgies for Holy Week. How do we celebrate Easter when our world has turned upside down and we know that the global dark days are not over?

Sharing in the sufferings of the world certainly makes this Easter unique for me, but this is not the first Easter where joyful celebrations felt out of place or even impossible. Several years ago, my Easter was a time of grief and loss: a close friend had just died of a devastating illness and two family members became seriously ill. Something inspired me to take Saint Mary Magdalene as my guide that Easter, and she has accompanied me through my Lents and Easters ever since. Initially, I chose her because of her immense grief at Jesus’ Crucifixion, but the more I prayed with her, the more I was moved by her relationship with Christ.

Saint Mary Magdalene is the perfect guide through Holy Week and Easter because, even before she met Jesus, she knew darkness and grief on a level that most of us can only imagine: Jesus healed her from seven demons. The Gospels don’t provide any details so we don’t know much about it, but it must have been a terrible experience of darkness.

When Jesus healed her, her desperate soul must have seen the first glimmer of hope—a hope that blossomed as she became Jesus’ follower. We don’t know how long Mary accompanied Jesus during his public life—a month? a year? Maybe long enough for that new, fragile hope to begin to take root in her heart. Nonetheless, her overwhelming sorrow at Jesus’ Crucifixion hints that her Lord’s suffering and death crushed her tender, newfound hope. She comes to visit Jesus’ tomb not because she has hope, but because she carries immense grief.

Mary’s anguish at witnessing her beloved Master’s tortuous execution left such a profound mark on her that she is the first to come to visit Jesus’ tomb—“while it was still dark.” Interiorly, her soul, too, must have been in the dark. Matthew’s Gospel tells us plainly that Mary Magdalene came to see the tomb. She came to grieve, to mourn, perhaps to try to begin to come to terms with such a great loss.

Mary is focused on his tomb: a place of death, darkness, loss. Her eyes and her heart are so darkened that initially, she doesn’t care about the extraordinary message of the angels, and she will not even recognize Jesus when she sees him.

This Easter is for us. Easter is not a time for cute bunnies and jelly beans, sunny days and new bonnets. Easter is especially for those of us who, like Mary Magdalene, are burdened by disillusionment, grief, anxiety, suffering, and despair.

In visiting Jesus’ tomb, Mary Magdalene discovers that even in death, the Lord has not abandoned her. Though she cannot see him yet, Jesus is there in the dark with her, and he brings the dawn with him. Let us, too, approach the darkness in our lives, the “tombs” where hope has died, where joy has been shattered, where faith is so shaky we don’t think we can lean on it anymore. That first Easter morning, it took time for Mary Magdalene to recognize her Beloved Master in the garden; it may take time for us to recognize how Jesus is present today, in our lives and in our world.

This Easter is for us. In Mary’s visit to Jesus’ tomb, she clings to the Source of her hope in the only way she knows. His tomb may be the only place where she feels she can treasure her memories and feel some closeness to the Lord she thinks she has lost. In coming to the tomb, Mary is still clinging to the Lord as best she can. And it is as this loving, persevering seeker of the Lord that Mary Magdalene can inspire us. Her love for Jesus wins out, even over her hopelessness. Her showing up at the tomb enables her to receive the very first hints of the great mystery of Jesus’ Resurrection: the stone has been rolled away, his precious Body is missing.

This Easter is for us. That first Easter morning, without knowing it, Mary Magdalene engages with mystery—discovering the empty tomb and running to impart the news to Peter and the beloved disciple, even though she doesn’t know what that news means. A few verses later in John’s Gospel (Monday’s reading), Mary is back outside Jesus’ tomb, still weeping for her missing Lord. And it is at that moment that Jesus appears to her, and his tomb is transformed from a place of death into a garden brimming over with Life. Upon finally recognizing Jesus, Mary discovers that Jesus’ love—a love he died to prove to us—conquers all sadness, all grief, all sorrow, even death itself.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church calls Jesus’ Resurrection “the crowning truth of our faith in Christ” (#638). Christ’s Resurrection is God’s dramatic promise of God’s faithful love, that this world is not the final fulfillment of God’s saving plan for us. Eternal joy awaits us, and that conviction transforms our earthly experiences, not just giving us hope, but also giving us the courage to continue to act lovingly,  even amid great sacrifice and suffering.

In 2020, Easter is the celebration we most need. It is an important reminder to us to become today’s Magdalenes:

  • to seek the Lord, to look for him both at our tombs and in our newly blossoming gardens;
  • to recognize the presence of the Risen Lord, who has not abandoned us, and to allow him to transform us so that we can bring Jesus with us wherever we are;
  • and to cling to the love of the Lord, allowing the joyful promise of his eternal loving embrace to become always more the anchor of each day, enabling us to live even dark days with serenity and hope.

 

Sr. Marie Paul Curley, FSP, has been a Daughter of Saint Paul for over 30 years, serving as a Catholic TV producer, author, vocation director, and film commentator. She currently serves as an acquisitions editor for Pauline Books & Media, the publishing apostolate of the Daughters of Saint Paul. Her books include See Yourself Through God’s Eyes: 52 Meditations To Grow in Self-Esteem and Soul of Christ: Meditations on a Timeless Prayer.

Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: 3 Scriptures for a Pandemic

We’re all in a period of not-knowing right now. In times like these, it’s easy to fall into a state of anxiety and allow worry to rule your thoughts. When that happens, we’re unable to live presently—because our thoughts are being hijacked by tomorrow’s concerns. We’re not the first ones, or the only ones, to feel that kind of fear and anxiety, and God’s word addresses our concerns:

  • Remember God’s love: “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6-7)
  • Breathe deeply and let go of anxiety: “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4: 6-7).
  • Trust that God is in control: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55: 8-9).

The word of God is a consistent force of sustenance in our lives in the midst of disorder and confusion. Sometimes reading Scripture might feel like the only thing that gets you through—but it will always get you through.

Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: 3 Saints to Give You Confidence in God

Like everyone else these days, you’re probably inundated with emails telling you what to do, how to protect yourself, a true cacophony of voices that it’s hard to sort through. But there are three voices we’d like you to listen to, today, three voices that can perhaps help lessen your anxiety and give you confidence that God is with you. Here’s just a few words from each of them; go and explore more if you feel they’re speaking to you.

  1. Meet Jean-Pierre de Caussade. Priest, spiritual director, and a voice of reassurance. “When I have done all in my power or which I felt before God I ought to do, I leave the rest to him, abandoning everything entirely and with my whole heart to Divine Providence, blessing him beforehand for all things and wishing in all and above all that his holy will be done. I am convinced by faith and by numerous personal experiences that all comes from God, and that he is so powerful and such a good Father that he will cause everything to prosper for the advantage of his dear children. Has he not proved that he loves us more than life itself…?”
  2. Meet John of the Cross. Carmelite mystic, and a Doctor of the Church. “People, then, should live with great patience and constancy in all the tribulations and trials God places on them, whether they be exterior or interior, spiritual or bodily, great or small, and they should accept them all as from God’s hand as a good remedy and not flee from them, for they bring health. The combat of trials, distress, and temptations deadens the evil and imperfect habits of the soul and purifies and strengthens it. People should hold in esteem the interior and exterior trials God sends them, realizing that there are few who merit to be brought to perfection through suffering and to undergo trials for the sake of so high a state.”
  3. Meet Teresa of Avila. Another Carmelite mystic. Perhaps their time has come! “It wouldn’t be bad when at times you wake up with those impulses of love of God to sit up in bed for a while; always being careful though that you get the sleep your head needs (for unawares you could end up incapable of prayer). And be careful and try not to suffer much cold, for the cold is not good for the pains in your side. I don’t know why you want those terrors and fears, for God is leading you by love. They were necessary back then. Don’t think it is always the devil who impedes prayer, for God in his mercy sometimes takes it away.”

We don’t ever have to go through trials or difficulties alone, though these days with churches shuttered and social distancing in practice, it may feel that way. We have a host of people who have been through trials as well and have triumphed. It is time to turn to them

Lent

With Your Rod and Your Staff You Comfort Me

My car recently had a flat tire, and, as it was a nice day, I decided to change it myself. Or at least attempt to; I’m not exactly known for my practical skill set. I emptied out my car’s trunk and assembled what I thought I would need to change the tire. I struggled for a while (what is that thing supposed to do?) before deciding I didn’t really want to spend the entire day changing a tire, and I called AAA. The gentleman who responded had my tire changed in under five minutes. He had experience, and he had the right tools.

Having the right tools, it seems to me, is the answer to many of life’s problems and challenges.

In While Shepherds Watch Their Flocks, a chapter is devoted to a tool I’d heard of but never thought much about: the staff. Everyone knows the Psalmist’s words, “your rod and your staff comfort me,” but perhaps, like me, you never wondered precisely what this rod and this staff are that provide such a comfort to a frightened soul.

The rod, it turns out, is defensive. For centuries, shepherds encouraged the flock with their rods; they threw the rods at predators approaching their flocks. Most importantly, perhaps, the sheep were made to “pass under the rod” when they were counted and inspected every night, as the shepherd checked each one for any wounds or the presence of parasites.

The other wooden implement used by the shepherd is the staff. Tall enough to lean on, frequently curved at the top, it’s a tool with many uses: it’s used to keep sheep apart from each other during lambing, for rescue operations, and to guide sheep through a pass. A very useful tool indeed.

For a more vivid description of the staff in action, we turn to the biography of Dr. Alexander Duff, a Christian missionary to India who lived in the 19th century:

In 1849 Dr. Duff was traveling near Simla under the shadow of the great Himalaya mountains. One day his way led to a narrow bridle path cut out on the face of a steep ridge; along this narrow path that ran so near the great precipice he saw a shepherd leading on his flock following him, but now and then the shepherd stopped and looked back. If he saw a sheep creeping up too far on the one hand, or going too near the edge of the dangerous precipice on the other, he would at once turn back and go to it, gently pulling it back.

He had a long rod as tall as himself, round the lower half of which was twisted a band of iron. The thick band was really a staff, and was ready for use whenever he saw a hyena or wolf or some other troublesome animal coming near the sheep, for especially at night these creatures prowled about the flock. With the iron part of the rod he would give a good blow when an attack was threatened.

I’m reading that passage and there’s part of me that’s saying, lucky sheep! What a feeling of security!

It’s a feeling not a lot of us are experiencing right now. The world around us, we have learned, is unsafe. In fact, we’re understanding that even the people around us have become, in these days of the coronavirus, a threat to our wellbeing. No one feels any sense of security: losing jobs and income, worrying about our families’ health, not knowing what might happen next. Lucky sheep, indeed!

Jesus is called the Great Shepherd. He defends his sheep with his rod, but he also brings back the wandering or straying sheep with his shepherd’s crook. The staff has a curved end that fits the neck of the sheep perfectly, taking care of little lambs as well as the grown sheep. He can defend the flock from the wolves by his rod, and correct us by his rod when we need it; he keeps his sheep close to him by his staff. This is how Micah referred to the staff, writing “Shepherd your people with your staff, the flock of your heritage that lives apart in a woodland, in the midst of an orchard.” (Micah 7:14).

God loves us so much not to leave us to ourselves. He is the shepherd whose life is closely intertwined with ours. If he didn’t love us, he’d let us wander off like sheep over a cliff. His rod protects us from the enemy and he uses his staff to keep us close to the Shepherd. Jesus is the Great Shepherd who uses both the rod when we need it—and the staff when we need it, too.

Let’s take a look at what the staff means to a shepherd out in the field with his sheep. Being a shepherd is a difficult job. It’s not the stained-glass window picture of someone standing there looking rather beatific. Not at all. Shepherds work hard, and they get dirty. If you’re a shepherd, there are three reasons you need the staff:

  • First, you need it because you’re leading the sheep out in the country. You’re on rocky ground, so you need a staff to help keep you stable. In that sense, it’s like a hiking stick. It catches you when you fall.
  • The second reason you as a shepherd need a staff is that it’s an offensive weapon. If somebody’s coming against the sheep, you use the staff to fight them, to keep them away. Your job, after all, is to protect the sheep.
  • Then there’s a third reason: sometimes sheep have minds of their own. They aren’t always very smart, and they need correction. They might wander off. When that happens, you can use the staff to pull them back into the flock, to keep your sheep in line.

Of course, these are the very things that Jesus the Shepherd is doing in your life. He wants to help keep you steady, particularly when you’re walking in a difficult season, as we all are now. He wants to fight on your behalf against the enemies that come against you. And if you’ve made a commitment to say, “I will follow you,” he takes you very seriously.

So if he says, “Go this way,” and you’re going another way, he’ll use his staff to correct you, to bring you back in line. Not because he’s mean, but because he loves you, and because if you go that way, you could encounter a pack of wolves. Your Shepherd wants to keep you safe.

All three of these are ways Jesus demonstrates his love:

  • By steadying us when life is hard.
  • By fighting on our behalf when we need somebody to do so (and we all do from time to time).
  • By correcting us when we’re going the wrong way.

But this staff represents not just Jesus’ ministry, it also represents the Church. God has given the Church a community responsibility: we are called to be the shepherd’s staff in the community where God has placed them.

Steadying

Who in the community needs people to come and stand beside them and steady them because life is hard? That’s the Church’s ministry to the community. There’s a reason Jesus emphasizes the same things over and over again: Care for the weak. Care for the sick. Care for the poor. A Church that claims to be under the authority of the Good Shepherd has to demonstrate that kind of care to those in need.

We’ve all been the recipients. We’ve received forgiveness when we didn’t deserve it. We’ve received mercy when we didn’t deserve it. He gave his life for us, he saved us, even though we didn’t deserve it. He has steadied us in our walk. And if Jesus is steadying us in our walk, being part of a community means we need to take up this staff and care for others. Because that’s what Jesus is doing for us. We are here to steady those in need. This coronavirus crisis is a particularly good time to show we all belong together… even when we cannot actually come together.

Protecting

Who are the people in your community who need someone to come and fight on their behalf? The system isn’t helping them; their neighbors aren’t helping them; even often their own family members aren’t helping them. Who are the people who need somebody to come and stand beside them and say, “What can we do to help?” It could be legal assistance. It could be education. It could be someone helping them find counseling and care. It could be prayer, because more often than not, fighting the battle in prayer is often the thing that breaks loose what needs to happen in somebody’s life. There isn’t one of us here who doesn’t need that. I hope none of us feels they can get through this crisis without saying, “I need somebody to pray for me right now.” Because we all do. And God has built that kind of interdependence between us.

Correcting

We used to rely on families or bosses to help raise people up into positions of responsibility, to love them enough to correct them when they needed correcting. But part of what we’re wrestling with is that people in responsible leadership positions no longer take time or care to mentor, to correct, and to reach out. And so there are many people who haven’t learned important lessons, who don’t understand the need they might have for correction, because they think they should be free to do whatever they want. But that’s not true freedom. Our freedom is the freedom to serve the common good, to reach out to others, to care for people, to give sacrificially. All of us need this staff of correction in our lives.

That’s what it means for the Church to take on the ministry of the shepherd in the communities it serves. That’s what it means for the Church to be God’s steadying, protecting, and correcting staff.

And remember that if the shepherd starts off with one hundred sheep, he will surely bring home one hundred sheep, so we can say, with the psalmist, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff comfort me” (Psalm 23:4).

So now let’s imagine again. Imagine yourself to be one of the woolly sheep in a large flock. You don’t think much. You pretty much follow whatever the sheep in front of you is doing. You make a lot of noise when you’re hungry, or unhappy about something. You might not think; but what you do is sense. You can sense danger. You can sense fear. And right now you’re feeling both of those things.

You don’t know why you’re afraid, but you know in your heart there’s something to be afraid of. You huddle even closer to your neighbors. Maybe they can keep the Bad Thing away from you. Maybe you can hide in the midst of them. But you realize that they, too, are shivering; they, too have picked up on the danger. Everyone is at risk. Oh, no! What are you all to do?

And then you hear his voice, the man who takes care of you. He is shouting, but not at the sheep, not at you. He is shouting and running after something, his rod in the air. When he comes back, you feel it right away: the fear has lifted. The danger is gone. You didn’t even know how close you came to disaster—but he did, and he kept it away from you.

There’s no reason to belabor this point. Carry the image with you as we move through this terrible time of a global pandemic. Carry it as we get closer to the end of our Lenten journey, to the final cruel week. Jesus is our shepherd, but he is also the Lamb of God, ready to die so his flock might live on.

 

by Jeannette de Beauvoir