Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: 3 Questions for a More Fulfilling Lent

Sure enough, it’s upon us: tomorrow is “fat Tuesday,” a last gasp before Ash Wednesday and the rigors of Lent begin. Most of us are only beginning to think about what we’ll “give up” in order to make this a spiritually fulfilling season. Here are three questions to challenge you to think differently about your Lenten journey.

  • Change your language. Instead of making “resolutions” or “giving up” something, think in terms of a Lenten practice. The way we articulate things matters, and a practice is more in keeping with what will work over 40 days than any farewell to chocolate. What will be your Lenten practice this year?
  • Be prayerful in selecting your fast. We tend to abstain from the same things every year, but is that always what God calls us to? The point of a fast is to become uncomfortable so that our thoughts can focus on God. What would make you uncomfortable this Lent?
  • We forget what the Good Samaritan did after rescuing the man by the roadside. He gave money to the innkeeper to look after the victim; freely and wholeheartedly, as though giving that money were the most natural thing. For Catholics, it is! Almsgiving flows from prayer and fasting and is central to Lent. Who is your “innkeeper” this Lent? To whom will you give your money freely to help someone else?

We’ll never have all the answers, but God doesn’t expect us to. What he does expect is for us to be discerning: to ask the difficult questions of ourselves, our Church, and our world. And Lent is the best time for that process to begin.

Lent

Are You Hungry for God?

Why should you fast?

Oddly enough, that’s a fairly unusual question for Catholics to ask. If you Google “fasting and Catholic tradition,” most of the hits in the first few pages have to do with specific regulations. When do we have to do it? What exactly is it? Can I have bread? Do I have to fast all day? What happens if I eat something?

In other words, we focus on what we might call the minutiae of fasting, putting the cart well before the horse. Before you learn how to do something, you need to understand why you’re doing it.

One good reason is that the Scriptures call us to fast. Jesus clearly expected it of his disciples: “When you fast,” he said, “do not look gloomy like the hypocrites” (Matthew 6:16). He said “when” you fast—not “if.” The Old Testament is filled with examples of God’s people fasting, and the first thing Saint Paul did upon his conversion was—you guessed it!—fast.

And yet fasting has slipped between the cracks, as it were, of our present-day traditions.

I’d like to suggest we rethink our approach. Fasting, more than any other discipline, doesn’t 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, and that discomfort enables your spirit to focus.

In a sense, fasting isn’t about food itself as much as it’s about abstinence; you could, theoretically, fast from anything you love consuming or doing; Pope Francis even has some alternate suggestions here. So why choose food? Well, have you noticed how you feel after a large meal? Sleepy, possibly uncomfortable, lethargic, distracted. Notice these are all feelings that go against the spirit of Lent, which is a spirit of penitence and prayer.

Fasting is what enables prayer: it’s an incessant reminder of our need for help… and the need for action. “When a man begins to fast,” writes St. Isaac the Syrian, “he straightway yearns in his mind to enter into converse with God.” Fasting is what sets the process in motion; it gives intentionality to our prayer. Growth and change never come from a place of comfort, and fasting keeps us uncomfortable, forcing us to think about consumption and privilege.

Fasting is an aid to open our eyes to the situation in which so many of our brothers and sisters live. In his First Letter, St. John admonishes: “If anyone has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him—how does the love of God abide in him?” Voluntary fasting enables us to grow in the spirit of the Good Samaritan, who bends low and goes to the help of his suffering brother. By freely embracing an act of self-denial for the sake of another, we make a statement that our brother or sister in need is not a stranger. (Pope Benedict)

We live in a culture of fast food, instant gratification, and self-centeredness. Fasting forces us to think intentionally about the foods we eat, the goods we consume, and the ways in which we are privileged. Fasting forces us to consider what it is like to go without.

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 Lent? 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.

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 that 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 spent time preparing and consuming the meals you’re giving up. Use the gift of time that 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 a Lenten discussion group.
  • You also spent money on the food you’re not consuming anymore. That money could well be spent this Lent on 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.

And, honestly, what better way to understand those who are hungry than by… going hungry?

 
text by Jeannette de Beauvoir, whose greatest joy is working in the Media Department of Pauline Books & Media
image by Jonathan Pielmay for Unspash

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Everyday Grace, Uncategorized

Don’t Feel Like Praying? 3 Ways to Re-Engage!

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 up. But what can you do about it? Here are some ideas:

  • Read the psalms. You’ll be surprised at how many of these songs and prayers and verses will sound familiar to you. They’ve served as an inspiration to Christians for centuries, and they can 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!

Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: 3 Saints to Help With Your Winter Blues

Mid-February, and who doesn’t have the winter blues? It’s an odd in-between sort of time: even Candlemas is past, and Ash Wednesday won’t usher in Lent for another couple of weeks. And the grey days seem to go on forever! It’s not unusual to suffer from a mild depression in February, but here are three saints who might lend a hand:

  • Elizabeth Ann Seton: Did you know she struggled with thoughts of suicide during her bouts of depression in adolescence? Despite her difficult life, this saint never gave up, and she can help you persevere through tough times if you ask.
  • Benedict Joseph Labre: He tried and failed (10 times!) to enter religious communities, and once accepted into one he suffered from depression and scrupulosity. This is someone who lived a rough life and can help you with yours.
  • Jane Frances de Chantal: She was deeply depressed at her husband’s death but rallied and formed a religious congregation. She can certainly help you through your seasonal sadness—and more!

If you are experiencing clinical depression—as opposed to the winter “blues”—don’t just pray about it: seek psychological help as well. But if you’re just plain ready for spring, then invite these saints into your life and see if they don’t lighten the burden of winter!

 

Inspiration, Listening to the Heart

I Feel Broken Inside… How Can I Heal?

Finding serenity in the midst of brokenness is a mighty task—and at some times it feels mightier than at others. Inner brokenness can come from a lot of sources—a painful past experience, a present response to current problems, a fear of an uncertain future—but no matter the source, the pain is always very real and very immediate. How can we find serenity in the face of that brokenness?

There are a lot of people who will say serenity’s unattainable. That working through our problems and traumas is an ongoing and never-ending process. But as Catholics, we know that healing isn’t just possible—it’s offered to us for free.

True healing such as this can only take place when we look first to the One who was wounded for our transgressions. Jesus carries the greatest brokenness of all, and he does it willingly for our sakes.

It’s always interested me that the three churches within Christianity have very different representations of the cross. For us Catholics, it is a crucifix, Christ dying. For Protestant churches, it is an empty cross, Christ resurrected. And for the Orthodox churches, it is a king, Christ crowned. All three are, of course, true. But I remember the words of writer Toni Morrison, who said of her work, “I’m just trying to look at something without blinking.” We’re looking at the cross without blinking. We’re seeing the very worst we can do to Jesus, and the consequent boundlessness of his love for us.

Encouraging others to reflect on the wounds of Christ, Pope Francis says,

“We are not asked to ignore or hide our wounds. A church with wounds can understand the wounds of today’s world and make them her own, suffering with them, accompanying them and seeking to heal them. A wounded church does not make herself the center of things, does not believe that she is perfect, but puts at the center the one who can heal those wounds, whose name is Jesus Christ.”

We believe that freedom from brokenness comes through Brokenness Itself, the cross of Christ. Freedom from brokenness means we can reach out to others who are in pain, searching, suffering. Freedom from brokenness is what makes us whole, allowing us to live holy lives that preach redemption instead of anger or insecurity.

One of my favorite spiritual authors, Caryll Houselander, writes that

“in the world in which we live today, the great understanding given by the spirit of Wisdom must involve us in a lot of suffering. We shall be obliged to see the wound that sin has inflicted on the people of the world. We shall have X-ray minds; we shall see through the bandages people have laid over the wounds that sin has dealt them; we shall see Christ in others, and that vision will impose an obligation on us for as long as we live, the obligation of love.”

Our inner spaces may be broken at times, but it’s not a permanent affair. We can find wholeness, and not just for ourselves, but for others as well. We can see through those bandages and reach out to others. Jesus died for us, and asked only one thing in return: love. And there’s no brokenness that love can’t transcend.

by Jeannette de Beauvoir, who works in the digital department of Pauline Books & Media.
Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: How to Start Your Day

Most of us find when things go wrong early in the day, it casts a shadow over everything else. The good news is that the opposite is also true: when our days start well, we’re more confident, more present, and a great deal calmer! And when you intentionally start your day with the Lord, that can only keep you present with him through to bedtime. But with alarm clocks ringing and a line for the family bathroom, how do you find calm in the morning?

  • Get up. It sounds simple, doesn’t it? But hitting the snooze button two or three times; all that does is make you late. Put your clock across the room if necessary so that you’re already out of bed when you turn it off.
  • Pray. I know: you think you don’t have time. And perhaps this isn’t the best moment for a full morning prayer service or a recitation of the Rosary. The good news is, all you need is a quiet prayer while you’re getting dressed! Tell God you’re grateful for this day and that you’re putting your trust in him to guide you through it. That’s all you need.
  • Resolve to be cheerful in encountering everything in your morning. C.S. Lewis writes that where Christ is, cheerfulness keeps breaking in, and it’s true! Your mood will spread to others and enhance the day they start their days, too.

Even for “morning people,” starting the day can be difficult and frustrating. But you’re in control of more than you may think. Try these simple steps for starting the day right and see what a difference they can make.

Inspiration

I used to think the saints were boring

I used to think the saints were boring.

My lack of enthusiasm about saints as a young convert was due entirely to how they were described in many writings at the time. I loved the saints of the Bible; I could see their personalities, flaws, triumphs, hearts… and I loved the saints who lived during my time—I knew, from seeing their interviews and news coverage, exactly what kind of people they were. But it was all the personalities in between that I struggled with, as I read books that spoke of them as inherently perfect people, who never cracked jokes, were never swayed by pain or doubt, who never struggled with Jesus, never embarrassed themselves… I wondered, were these people even real? Because I had never met anyone like that, and certainly saints like Peter, or John Paul II, could not be described that way!

Then I read about St Philip Neri.

It’s impossible to recount the life of Philip Neri in a stark and pristine way, no matter how proficient an author is at making people seem like emotionless vessels. Philip Neri’s sense of humor shone through what would otherwise have been a dull account, and suddenly, I knew I’d found a friend. He was someone who really felt life, who I realized I could joke with and look up to. And he was someone I actively wanted to tell people about, knowing that the humor of his approach to life could break through their walls, too.

In reality, every saint who ever lived, felt life and lived life deeply. Each saint has a unique personality and a unique way of communicating. Some were comical, some were serious, most felt somewhere in between, but all of them experienced life as humans who struggled between doubt and trust, weakness and strength, and who found their deepest love and fulfillment in Christ. The saints are not boring!

Nevertheless, sometimes saints are written about in such dry and sterile ways it can be hard to remember all that about them. It can be hard to make out their personalities. It can be hard to remember we can bring them into our daily lives and share with them both our tears and our laughter.

The newest “Catholic Funny Fill-ins: Saints Spectacular!” is a wonderful way for kids to avoid the pitfall I plummeted into as a young reader, wondering if I could bring these saints into the fun and joviality of my life. As a word game that encourages collaboration and creativity, “Saints Spectacular!” guides kids in learning about real saints in a way that inspires a real respect for them, while at the same time inviting kids to let the saints in on their sense of fun. I can’t think of a better way to expand the joy of classroom or family games than to get our brothers and sisters in heaven in on them! And I hope and pray that the balance of reverence and humor in this title will help many kids find that easy, amicable friendship with a saint… the way I found one with Philip Neri!

 

by Sr. Orianne Dyck, novice

image: Gerd Altmann for Pixabay

Uncategorized

Everyday Grace: 3 Ways to Banish Fear

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.
  2. Take action. Help someone else, volunteer some time, donate some money, share a meal or a coffee with a friend to talk, cool down when you feel fearful by breathing deeply or taking a walk. Do your best to turn toward solutions rather than amplifying problems.
  3. Choose joy. In 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 loveable.

Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: 3 Ways of Letting Go of Resentment

Resentment is the re-experiencing of past injustices (real or perceived) and old feelings of anger connected to them. Resentments form when people get angry and hold on to that anger. As Catholics, we are called to let go of any resentment we feel, but that’s easier said than done! Praying is the ultimate way out, but you can incorporate some other practices to help you as well:

  • Call your resentment by name. Who or what is it about? Visualize that person or group as a beloved child of God. God loves them; do you want to be apart from them?
  • As difficult as it may be, practice treating those people you have resentment toward with kindness and compassion. Notice what happens when you change how you act toward them; they will often change how they act toward you.
  • Resist the urge to be a channel for the resentment of others. The resentment of others can be seductive; it can have an almost magnetic pull. Don’t buy into it; resist the urge to join in their negativity or participate in gossip.

The stronger the resentment is, the more time you spend thinking about it, the more you’ll re-experience the anger connected to it. This is a form of mental, emotional, and spiritual bondage. Ultimately, the person holding the resentment is the one who suffers most. With God’s help, you can set yourself free!

 

 

 

Image: Trinity Kubassek for Pexels  

Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: How Do I Know God Loves Me?

Sometimes it’s easy to wonder. Things can go terribly wrong in our lives, often through events or circumstances outside of our control. The world can feel like an unfriendly place. Where is God in it all? How do I know he loves me?

  • Look around you. We generally see what we want to see. If you expect to see bad things, you will. But if you expect to look around yourself and see God’s presence and love, even in small things, then you will see that, too. The gift of such a crazy beautiful world is a good sign of God’s love.
  • Read scripture. Especially the Gospel of John. The leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the promise of God’s love for every one of us. And remind yourself that Jesus died for you, personally: the greatest indication of God’s love there ever could be.
  • See Christ in others. It’s easy to judge those who are different from us. If you can stop and see Christ in everyone around you, then it will be easier to be Christ to others, too, letting God’s love flow through you and into others’ lives.

God knows every one of us inside and out, far better than we know ourselves. He has promised to never leave us, to never forsake us. Saint Paul wrote, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).