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Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: 3 Ways to Cope With Recent Death

It has been a year of horrible loss. More Americans have died of the Covid-19 pandemic than died in any of our wars, and more than in many of those wars combined. Last week we passed the 4,500-deaths-in-a-single-day mark. It’s sobering when you hear it on the news, but the numbers remain just that—numbers—until one of them is someone you know, someone you love. That changes everything. How do you cope when someone you love dies?

  • Take care of yourself. This is a dangerous time for you; many people experience a temporary “cognitive slippage,” meaning that our minds aren’t working as well as usual; and none of us pays enough attention to eating, sleeping, driving, crossing streets.
  • Keep God with you. Keeping rosary beads in your pocket may be helpful. That immediate, physical touchstone recalls your mind and heart to God even when feelings of grief and loss are overwhelming. It’s a way of staying grounded in what matters.
  • Celebrate life. Plant a flower, adopt a pet, volunteer some time, make a donation to hospice care. In other words, do something positive. Death feels negative; it’s up to us to turn it around and remember what it really is: a passageway into eternity.

The isolation imposed on us by the pandemic multiplies our normal feelings of isolation around a death. It’s important to remember that our loved one is not alone… and neither are we!

Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: 3 Ways to Develop Fortitude

Fortitude is the third cardinal virtue, and it’s what enables us to do the right thing, even in the face of adversity. By its very definition and nature, then, it’s not an easy virtue to develop! What can we do?

  • Ask for help. Have you noticed that the stories of Jesus’ healings always begin with someone’s request of him, approaching him, or reaching out to him? He wants us to turn to him. He will never leave us bereft.
  • Keep asking. Virtues become habits by constant practice. In his exhortation The Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis calls us to be “firmly rooted in prayer” as we call on the Holy Spirit for courage to live our faith. Can you examine a typical day in your life and see if there are ways you can speak with God more regularly?
  • Practice patience. Patience is an integral part of fortitude. Patience leads us to suffer in silence, to cope with tiredness, with other people’s bad tempers, with injustice… and do it all without complaint.  

Developing fortitude is not an overnight enterprise: it often takes years to grow into this special kind of courage. Sometimes an image can help: Scripture often speaks of a rock. In one of his parables, Jesus refers to the need to build upon rock, which means not just listening to his words, but making an effort to put them into practice. Starting every day. Starting now.

Christmas, Seasonal

Sharing Hope with the World

Just before Christmas, on December 21, many of us were able to see a special conjunction of two planets that have come together only a few times in the past centuries—once, very notably, two millennia ago over the town of Bethlehem. That astronomical event, known to us as the Christmas star, was a time of holy awe. Starlight and angels drew shepherds away from their night shift into the warmth of a stable to visit a newborn child, and mysterious men from foreign parts brought exotic gifts and a foretaste of a king’s narcissistic rage. The story of the three Magi is one of the best-loved tales in the Bible.

Early Christian writers identified them as men who studied the stars and the planets—which, to the ancients, bore great astrological or mystical significance. When our Magi looked up at the night sky and saw a star brighter than they had ever seen hanging over Judea, they would have remembered the prophecies of the coming Messiah, and paid strict attention. We have to remember where this story is located, in the Gospel of St. Matthew. And this gospel presents a Messiah who isn’t only the Savior of Israel, but the promised light and hope for the nations. The journey of the Magi from the East represents the gentiles who came to adore the newborn King.

After adoring Jesus, the Magi left for their own land by another route, to avoid returning to Herod. They may have even been the first missionaries, since no doubt they would have been eager in their travels to tell others of what they had seen, of this Child who was so much more.

The example of the Magi going out into the world could also have inspired early Christians fulfilling Jesus’ Great Commission to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” The Magi were the first to go out into the world and spread the story of the manger, and after them came millions of other people, following in their footsteps, bringing the Good News of the gospel to all the ends of the earth, to all who would hear it. There is a real, solid hope inspiring those willing to take on the Great Commission.

This isn’t a hope that “maybe it will happen, it would be good if it did;” it is, rather, a hope born of love and empathy and determination. The Magi gave us hope that, no matter who we are, in places remote and familiar, far and near, we can share the message of the Incarnation.

So there is already hope for us built right into the account of the Magi who traveled to Bethlehem to honor Jesus.

This hope is something for us to carry with us into this new year as we learn different ways of being together, as we are given opportunities to spread the light. The same hope that inspired the Magi to travel weary miles in search of the real King, the holy Child, is the same hope that will set our hearts aflame anew every year. It’s the promise that there is so much more to life than our small moments and petty concerns: the understanding that a broken world awaits the grace and love of the King of kings, and the promise that he is here to give it. Now. With you. With us. With the whole wide world.

How extraordinarily right it is that those three mysterious people appeared on the scene! How wonderful it is that God’s love is revealed to everyone, everywhere, without bound or limit!

There are stars that beckon us. There are stories that reflect the meaning and hope of God’s presence for us. God is revealed in those we love, those whom we meet, and in the experiences we have every day. Life itself can be an epiphany of the faith. Hope and love are the great gifts of God to us this season and this year and this lifetime. Perhaps during this January, this Epiphany season, we might be like those Magi… searching, seeking, and following… looking for the radiance and brightness of God.

The hope of the Magi is our shared and blessed hope, as the star “guides us to that perfect Light.”

Christmas, Everyday Grace, Seasonal, Tips

Everyday Grace: 3 Ways to Beat the Post-Christmas Blues

There’s a lot of work, thought, anticipation, and activity leading up to Christmas, even this unusual 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. Many of us have neglected our bodies during the pandemic. The irony is that exercise makes us feel better, but we have to start! Exercise releases endorphins, and allow us to view the long nights and short days with equanimity.
  • 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. There are many volunteer opportunities you can do from home, either via telephone or online. 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!

Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: 3 Ways to Deal with Loneliness

The holiday season brings a lot more than good cheer, gifts, and way too many carbs—the holidays can also often be times of intense loneliness, and this year, when the right thing to do is to be socially isolated, more people than ever are feeling lonely. What can we do for ourselves and others?

  • Do something to create: One contributor to feelings of loneliness can be a loss of sense of meaning. Sign up for an online course, create a family tree using genealogy websites, or start that art project you’ve been putting off.
  • Do something to serve others: Even with the pandemic on, there are ways you can help. One option issigning up to be an online volunteer through the United Nations.
  • Do something that brings you closer to God: We have the assurance that the Holy Spirit is always with an in us. How can you come closer to feeling that presence? You might try a new prayer book that will open different doors of devotion and spirituality.

In our loneliness we can see what needs there are and then determine how God can use us to meet them. There is so much to be done and God may have to put us in a lonely place for a season so that we can get a greater reason to serve.

Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: 3 Ways to Set Your Intention

Advent marks the beginning of the Church’s new year, so while we don’t generally make New Year’s resolutions before Christmas, it’s not a bad idea to give some thought and prayer to intentions. What are your intentions for this coming year?

  • Discover a new devotion. As you progress in your spiritual life, at different times we need different guides. Pick up a saint’s biography, or just explore the lives and gifts of various saints online. You may be finding your new best friend!
  • Do an inventory and decide what matters. This year has been good for teaching us what is and what isn’t essential in our lives. Follow through by decluttering your mind and heart.
  • Make room for the unexpected. God touches us in many ways and through many people. Listen and try to discern where he is speaking to you.

Setting your intentions for the new liturgical year will help keep you on course. A very happy Christmas to all the Everyday Grace readers! You are all in our prayers.

Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: 3 Things to Shed

Much of the time, our prayers are petitions, asking God for something—help, health, success, courage, a whole myriad of things. But as the year wanes and we start thinking ahead to a new year, perhaps it’s a good time to ask for help in letting go. What are things it would be good to get rid of, to shed?

  • Shed pride. We often think we can handle things on our own, but the truth is, even on our best, most capable days, we still need God. Do a little inventory of your life. How consumed are you by worry, and how does it drive you to control situations? Are there specific areas of pride that are the biggest struggle? Ask God for help in letting go and depending on him.
  • Shed idolatry. What is the thing that replaces your prayer time the most? Crossing five more things off the to-do list, watching a movie because we’re too tired to pray, worrying, even, seems more productive than praying. It might be social media, it might be work, or workouts, or even indulgent sleep. Be alert to these moments and see the trade-offs. 
  • Shed the things you hide from God and yourself. Some call this “unconfessed sin.”  If we have unconfessed sin, we will feel a distance from our Father. Pick up  a notebook and start confessing. Start with the really small things and keep sharing your heart. And use this notebook next time you’re able to go to confession.

We’ll all be happier when we can close the door on 2020. Let’s just make sure we’re not taking the wrong things with us into the new year.

Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: 3 Ways to Develop More Empathy

Empathy is the capacity to feel another person’s feelings, thoughts, or attitudes vicariously. St. Peter counseled Christians to have “unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind. St. Paul also encouraged empathy when he exhorted fellow Christians to “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.”

  • Listen more, talk less. Step back and listen for two things: what the other person is feeling and what the other person needs. Give them a chance to express those feelings and needs, and repeat back what they’ve said so they understand you are hearing them
  • Offer prayer. Have you ever had someone offer to pray for you when you were struggling? Think about how great it probably made you felt that someone wanted to do that for you. You can do the same for others to show you have empathy for their situation. 
  • Read fiction. It’s strange but true! Studies are showing that living a life other than your own through fictional characters’ lives helps develop empathy for real people outside of books, as well!

We can all do with a little more empathy, both from and for each other.

Advent, Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: Three Ways to Welcome Advent

Advent is here, the beginning of… everything! This year, the words seem particularly poignant and relevant this year: “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light…” We have all been through a year of terrible darkness, but just in time, Advent is here to give us hope. How can you best mark the season?

  • If you’ve never before kept an Advent wreath in your home, now is a good time to start. The act of lighting the candles will lift your mind and your spirit. The light is coming!
  • Join the Daughters of St. Paul choir for its annual Christmas concert—available virtually online for you to share with your family and friends.
  • Give and give… choose a different charity every week and make a donation. It will enable you to reach out even in these days when we cannot be together physically.

As we prepare to welcome Christ into the world, let’s take some time to be mindful and prayerful about our preparations. They will remind us of a life beyond the pandemic… and a life in the world to come!

Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: 3 Ways to be Grateful

Here in the United States it’s the week of our Thanksgiving celebration, a celebration that will feel very different from other years. But it does remind us to be grateful every day, not just on that one Thursday in the fall. In fact, in scripture, God commands his people to give thanks in all circumstances. Gratitude should be a way of life for Christians.

  • Bring it back to the basics. The challenge of the Christian life is to know who we are and to whom we belong.As daughters and sons of God, through grace, we possess all we need to nurture gratitude in our lives. Start every day with an Or Father, even before you get out of bed, to remind yourself.
  • Make a list. In our world, many suffer from an inability to be grateful: homelessness, malnutrition, lack of basic healthcare, racism, fear of deportation, loss of affection, broken relationships… The list is long. But for the grace of God, any one of us could find ourselves in a seemingly hopeless situation. That’s worth saying thank-you for.
  • Materialism fuels our ingratitude. Our culture and greed often lead us into a vicious circle of materialism: The more we get, the more we want. Materialism leads to the “give me” mindset in which “stuff” fills the void of our hearts. It is important to focus on the non-material world where we share our thanks with words of affirmation, kind deeds, and prayers of thanksgiving.

Even in the waning days of what has been a very hard year, we can find reason to celebrate. We can find moments of joy. We can find things to be thankful for. And we can keep doing it—through the approaching holy season of Advent, the miracle of Christmas, and a new year that, we hope and pray, will be better than the last. In so many, many ways, God is joy. And spreading that joy has to be our fundamental response to him.