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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

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Everyday Grace: 3 Ways to Put Jesus First Approaching Christmas

Once we pass Gaudate Sunday, it seems, time seems to accelerate toward Christmas. What can you do this year to keep the focus where it belongs? We have three ideas:

  • Give God a Christmas present! Make your gift one that no one knows about, and make it a sacrifice. Perhaps you can forgive someone you’ve needed to forgive. Perhaps you can give away something dear to you that someone else in your life needs. Whatever it is, it will be dear to God.
  • Write a Christmas letter to someone who needs it. Choose someone you don’t know—a missionary stationed far from home, a soldier serving in the military, a volunteer at a soup kitchen or a refugee camp. Assure them of your prayers. It will mean the world to them this Christmas.
  • Really listen to a Christmas song. This is possibly the easiest form of meditation! We sing Christmas carols without actually hearing them because they’re so familiar. Choose one, print out the words, and give yourself ten minutes to read it and truly think about it. Then when you hear it again, you’ll be putting Jesus first instead of fuzzy feelings that might otherwise surround the song.

Putting Jesus first can be a challenge as Christmas approaches, but there are simple ways that you can bring your attention, thoughts, and heart back to the source.

Why not share how you’re putting Jesus first this Advent and Christmas?

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Everyday Grace: Three Ways to Find Christmas Treasure

As we begin to look toward Christmas, it’s easy to think of treasure in terms of things: presents we can give and unwrap, shopping deals we can get, stuff to send somewhere. It’s easy to forget the treasures we already have. Here are three ways to keep them in mind:

  • If you’re spending Christmas with your family—or with close friends—then that’s your greatest treasure. The one thing most studies on happiness agree on is that relationships are the surest way to happiness. Is there anyone you need to reach out to, someone you’ve lost touch with? Make this the season you do it!
  • If you have work that you love—whether it’s a career, parenting, caring for others, etc.—that’s treasure, too. We are happiest when engaged in activities that make us forget ourselves and lose track of time. If you don’t love what you do, this is a good time to step back and think about changes.
  • Those who cannot forgive become angry and depressed over time, and suffer poorer health due to the physical reactions to these negative emotions. Forgiveness is a tremendous treasure! This season, let go of these toxic feelings, and increase your happiness.

As Catholics, it’s important we keep Jesus’ birth at the center of our Advent and Christmas pilgrimage. These are three ways to recognize what God is doing in your life today.

Advent, Seasonal

An Ancient Custom Revived for Advent

Advent seems to most of us to be a time of joyful anticipation. Christmas presents are being purchased and wrapped, wreaths hung, trees decorated. It’s definitely a time of getting ready: getting ready for travel, for receiving friends and family, for parties and potlucks and oh, yes, for the miracle of Christmas. We’re all aware of how the “reason for the season” can get lost in all the other activities, concerns, and stresses that accompany it. I’d like to suggest one activity that, this Advent, might help to keep you more focused.

I’d like to suggest fasting.

Despite its liturgical color, Advent is not considered a penitential season by the Catholic Church, so there is no requirement for fasting enjoined upon the faithful. This wasn’t always the case. In the medieval Church, Advent was every bit as strict as Lent. St. Martin’s feast day was a day of carnival (the word comes from carnis and vale, which means “farewell to meat”). In those days, the rose vestments of Gaudete (Rejoice Sunday, the third Sunday in Advent) were really something to rejoice about, since the fast was relaxed for a day. We’ve left those customs behind: the worst penances of Advent, these days, seem to be standing in line at the shopping mall.

Perhaps it is precisely in the way the secular world “does” Advent that makes this season such an appropriate one for fasting.

Fasting, more than any other discipline, does not let you forget for one moment what it is you’re doing. You’re hungry. You feel deprived. Your body is reminding you something is different, uncomfortable. That discomfort gives you focus: What better way is there to balance the excessive consumerism through which the world around you celebrates the season than with a constant reminder of what it is that we as Catholics are about now: the anticipation of the coming of the Lord?

What is fasting?

In a sense, fasting isn’t about food itself as much as it’s about abstinence; you could, theoretically, fast from something other than food. And in fact the discipline of fasting doesn’t say consuming the food of our choice is bad—quite the contrary. Abstinence is the act of voluntarily giving up something that is good.

It’s enabling the spirit to focus.

So why choose food? Well, have you noticed how you feel after a large meal? Sleepy, possibly uncomfortable, lethargic, distracted. Notice that these are all feelings that go against the spirit of Advent. Advent is a time of anticipation and watching, of preparing yourself spiritually, of holding your breath with the longing of centuries, waiting for the Messiah to arrive. You cannot wait and watch if you’re replete from a large meal.

Fasting doesn’t need to mean abstaining from all food; though Jesus fasted in the wilderness for forty days and forty nights, most of us would die with nothing. God wants us to survive! Fasting does mean, however, abstaining from enough to allow you to keep coming back to the discomfort, and—through it—to the reason for the discomfort. It keeps you coming back to God.

Have you heard the expression “give until it hurts”? Fasting is very much like that: give up until it hurts. Literally. Feel the hunger. Feel the discomfort. And feel the spiritual longing for the Son of God singing in your body and in your heart and in your soul.

How to fast

There are many different ways to fast, and a good place to begin is by asking God for discernment: what kind of fast are you being called to this Advent? The Bible gives examples of one-day, three-day, seven-day and forty-day fasts. But you’re not required to follow any of those: you can fast on Fridays, on Wednesdays and Fridays, or (in a modified way) every day.

Some people abstain from food altogether for short periods of time. Others give up one or two meals a day. Some prefer to give up something they love (chocolate, for example, or alcohol, or even television) while still having regular meals.

So what do you do instead of eating?

Use the energy of fasting. That may sound counterintuitive: it’s food that gives our bodies energy, so how can we be energized by fasting? Yet time and time again, in various religious traditions, people report fasting brings them clarity of mind. An experiment at the University of Chicago showed an increase in mental alertness and better schoolwork performance when participants were fasting. So take advantage of that clarity and focus to open yourself up to new ways of being with God.

You spend time preparing and consuming the meals you’re giving up. Use the gift of time the discipline has given you in spiritually constructive ways. You might want to spend that time in Eucharistic Adoration or other prayer; in reading Scripture; in organizing an Advent discussion group.

You also spent money on the food you’re not consuming anymore. That money could well be spent this Advent on those people less fortunate than you: donating it to a local food bank or soup kitchen will help you address the needs of those for whom fasting is not optional, for whom the feeling of hunger is all too familiar.

Fasting and Advent

You are not just abstaining from food in preparation for the coming of the Messiah; you are also echoing and remembering the centuries of longing as God’s people waited for his coming. At some point during the season you’ll be singing the haunting O Come O Come Emmanuel: “…and ransom captive Israel/that mourns in lonely exile here.” We were indeed wandering a barren wilderness before the Good News of Christ was revealed to us.

How do you feel that mourning? That sense of exile?

Fasting and Advent both remind us of that journey, the journey from darkness into light, from wandering into finding our home, from law into love. The longing of our bodies for food echoes the longing of our souls for the coming of the Savior. What more fitting way to live it out in our lives during this Advent season than through a fast?

by Jeannette de Beauvoir