Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: 3 Ways to Mark Midsummer and Midlife

Midsummer is officially in June, at the summer solstice, though that is actually the start of summer. Real midsummer is now, as we’re about halfway through the season. Another month before we’re doing the back-to-school thing, still time to reflect. Midlife is a similar time of reflection, halfway through a standard allotment of years on earth. It’s appropriate to think of both summer and life in terms of seasons, and here are a few tips to help:

  • Do it now. If there’s something that you meant to do this summer, or in this lifetime, don’t postpone it. Whether it’s a visit to a water park or a broken friendship you want to heal, tomorrow isn’t guaranteed.
  • Slow down. You’re still rushing… through the summer, through life. Too many appointments, too much work, too many distractions. Take time to savor what you have today.
  • Read. In Kathryn James Hermes FSP’s book, Reclaim Regret, read how God sees your future even when all you see is failure. It’s primarily about midlife, but can be applied to any season as well.

As we move through life’s seasons, let’s be constantly aware that no matter what the summer, or lifetime, might bring, we’re not alone. God is with us, his hand extended, offering a spiritual friendship that’s more nourishing than any of our doubts or disappointments.

Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: 3 Ways to Find Balance in Your Life

Have you noticed that some of the holiest people around are also the most merry? There’s a deep connection between humor and holiness. Humor keeps us from taking ourselves too seriously, and it gives us some relief from the tensions and stresses of everyday life. It nurtures joy and creates fellowship. In a 2016 interview, Pope Francis commented, “a sense of humor gives you relief, it helps you see what is temporary in life and take things with the spirit of a soul who has been redeemed. It’s a human attitude, but it is very close to the grace of God.”

How can you nurture a holy sense of humor?

  • Read the words of others who have treasured humor. There’s a Jesuit who does stand-up comedy. When a reporter asked Saint John XXIII how many people worked in the Vatican, the pope quipped, “About half of them.” Fr. James Martin wrote a book called Between Heaven and Mirth. There’s a lot of material out there to enjoy.
  • Spend some time with children. Jesus spent time around children, and it’s easy to picture him laughing at their antics, pronouncements, and silliness. It’s impossible to spend any time around children without lightening up a little.
  • Stop and listen to yourself. Sometimes you can turn a difficult situation around by defusing it with humor. We all sometimes fall prey to feeling sorry for ourselves; there’s nothing that banishes self-pity like humor.

“Angels can fly,” writes G. K. Chesterton, “because they take themselves lightly.” Humor can help us to take subjects seriously without taking ourselves seriously in the process. And that’s surely part of God’s plan!

Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: 3 Ways to Begin Your Summer

Summer’s officially here! And while the glorious long days are wonderful, summer can wreak havoc with your spiritual practices. Some churches offer fewer Mass times in the summer, friends you count on are off on vacation, and frankly, you’ve been doing spiritual reading to sustain you during the lockdown and don’t have the energy now to read more. What can you do?

  • Rest! “Our greatest hindrance in the Christian life is not lack of effort, but lack of acquaintance with our spiritual privileges” (John Owen). Summer is a great time to cultivate deep rest in your own heart as you spend time at the feet of Jesus learning more deeply what he has done for you and how he can comfort you now. Christians are those who dare to rest in a world of hurry and chaos.
  • Make a retreat. This is the best time for it, when your family is occupied with camps and friends and their own summer pursuits. There are some beautiful DIY retreats you can do (our own Awakening Love is one of them) and you’ll immediately feel a reconnection with God.
  • Reconnect with nature. The earth is God’s gift to us, but we take it for granted most of the time (and spend a good part of the winter avoiding it altogether!). Take a walk—preferably barefoot—and drink in the beauty of God’s world. Perhaps we can remember Pope Francis’ Laudato si, a reminder that we’re all connected to our world. Take advantage of it!

Summertime is an amazing opportunity to get outside, to feel the sun and the wind, and to rediscover the world. Enjoy, and God bless!

Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: 3 Ways to Cherish Families

Since we finished celebrating Mother’s Day and Father’s Day this spring, it seems a good time to be thinking about family. Not all family life is a celebration, however, and we need to know that sometimes it will be more difficult to “be” family than at other times. What can we do?

  1. Meditate on the example of the Holy Family. If anyone knows about sacrifice, danger, the difficulties of small-town gossip, the fear of the unknown, it’s them! Yet Mary and Joseph both relied entirely on the Lord to provide for them and his young Son. We all worry, but prayer helps.
  2. Spend time together. Time is the most precious and fleeting gift we can give to anyone. Some many activities and priorities jostle each other for precedence in our lives; but even as we are called to be part of the family of God, that starts in our own families. Give them every moment you can, whether it’s exploring a new recipe, heading out on a bike trail, or just stopping to listen.
  3. Remember your vocation. As Pope Francis has underlined, a family’s vocation is love.Is love reflected in all your family interactions? Sure, there will be arguments and hurt feelings—but do you work to repair those moments and to forgive?

As Catholic families, we need to live out our faith in our daily tasks, and provide an example to the world of how to be fully alive with the Gospel. When we keep our eyes on Christ, we can have the confidence to go forth and show charity to others, both in our families… and beyond.

Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: 3 Ways to Build Patience

One of the seven virtues extolled in Scripture is patience… and it’s one of the most important, perhaps the most important, as all the other virtues require patience in order to be perfected! Yet patience is one of the most difficult virtues to practice. Here are three ways you can build patience:

  • Pray. Anything and everything can happen through prayer. St. Augustine reminds us we’re all beggars before God. If we ask, we will receive.
  • Meditate on Jesus. St. Jane Frances de Chantal writes, “With whom did Jesus converse? With a traitor who sold him at a cheap rate, with a thief who reviled him in His last moments, with sinners and proud Pharisees. And shall we, at every shadow of an affront or contradiction, show how little charity and patience we have?”
  • Practice agere contra (to go against). This is a concept borrowed from Ignatius of Loyola: when you feel impatient and are tempted to be unkind, go against your impulse, and smile, be thoughtful, do what you don’t want to do—but can do, with the help of God (see the first item in this list: prayer!).

The truth is, we all hate to wait. If a website doesn’t load fast enough, if the car in front of us doesn’t take right off at the green light, if a friend is a few minutes late in arriving, we tend to lose it. But over and over we are assured that God wants us to be patient—with others, and with ourselves. And we can do it, with God’s help!

Bonus hint: Many saints struggled with patience, but none more than St. Cyprian, who wrote a whole book on it called On The Advantage of Patience. His advice? Remember the times others have been patient with us, and how it felt. If it’s a gift we appreciated, then we can better pass it on to others.


Being Vulnerable with the Sacred Heart of Jesus

There’s an expression in English: to wear one’s heart on one’s sleeve. What it means, essentially, is to be open, to be vulnerable, to be genuine, to be transparent. What you see is what you get, as another expression would have it. It means showing, and feeling, the essence of the person.

Despite my growing up in France, where so many churches and cathedrals are named for the Sacré Coeur, I never had much attraction to the devotion. As a child, I found the Sacred Heart image frightening—and, honestly, a little gruesome. I didn’t understand why there was a devotion to Jesus’ heart, per se—why not, simply, to all of him?

I knew a woman who spent years working with the Peace Corps in Malawi, a grueling job that included the realization of just how much she had been blessed by being born where she was—and not in Africa. She saw preventable children’s diseases ravage families. She saw babies too hungry to even cry. She saw the horrors that over half the planet lives with every day, and “it broke my heart,” she said to me.

It was just an expression, I thought. We’ve all talked about experiencing a broken heart, haven’t we? But for Tasha it was real: she experienced an actual heart attack through the constant worry and concern she experienced for “her” kids, and she died. Tasha’s love tore her heart right out of her. Her heart was truly broken, and I’ve never used the term pejoratively again.

If one person can be that brokenhearted for those she loves who are in pain or distress, I wondered, brokenhearted unto death, then how much more so must Jesus feel brokenhearted for the pain of the world?

And the next questions followed… what does it mean, to follow Jesus on his path of love? Do I, like Tasha, like Jesus, need to have my heart broken?

That’s where the imagery comes in, for me. It’s not the fact of a heart: it’s the fact of a heart that gives everything. A heart that makes itself vulnerable to everyone in order to keep loving. Tasha’s family and friends all urged her to give up, to return home, to turn her back; she wouldn’t—her heart was in Malawi with the children she was treating. And as we know, Jesus also had plenty of opportunities to turn back, to go home, to let the world take its course. He wouldn’t—his heart was and is right there, with us, for us, in us.

Choosing to let your heart be broken—even to death—is a risky and terrible choice. Because if we really do wear our hearts on our sleeves, like Tasha and Jesus, then we give up the guarantees of a safe life. If we open our hearts to the poor, we can end up suffering as they do. If we open our hearts to injustice, we can end up ignored, ostracized, even killed. If we open our hearts to the sick and the dying, we can end up haunted by their fears and pain.

I was thinking of the cost of opening our hearts recently when I read of the Indigenous children’s bodies found at the Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia. My heart aches for them, and for their families, who never knew what became of their little ones—and for my Church, too, which was responsible for the children. What alternate outcome could have been possible, had those who took them from their communities worn their hearts on their sleeves? How many of those young ones would have survived if their wellbeing had been “taken to heart”?

There’s no compromise here. Either we share in Jesus’ vision, in Jesus’ love… or we don’t. In a sense, the image of the Sacred Heart has changed from being a painting on the wall to the greatest challenge of all time.

Yet this is its reality. It’s the reality of the Incarnation and it’s the reality of the Sacred, sacrificial Heart. Look closely at the image, and what do you see? Fire, a sword, the crown of thorns. It is not an easy path we’re being asked to walk. It’s the ultimate in vulnerability.

The Sacred Heart is, at its core, a representation of how Jesus loves us: completely, radically, sacrificially. The Sacred Heart invites to consider the most important questions of life: What would it mean to love the way Jesus did? What would it mean for me to have a heart like his? How can my heart become more “sacred”?

So… what do we do?

The corollary to Jesus’ death is, of course, the resurrection. The Eastern Churches sing, “Christ is risen from the dead: trampling down death by death.” Just as we die, we will have eternal life, the ultimate contradiction. Love is stronger than suffering, stronger than doubt, stronger than cruelty, stronger than death.

I am willing to wear my heart on my sleeve, to take the chance, to stand up for the innocent and the weak, to risk being broken—so that I can rest in that beautiful sacred heart, and live within it forever.

by Jeannette de Beauvoir

Image credit: Tacho Dimas via Cathopic

Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: 3 Ways to Feel Hope Again

As many countries choose to “open up” again, there’s some fear and anxiety over what the next phase of our lives holds. How will we live our faith in a changing world? We may not know what’s going to happen, but we do know who will be there with us!

  • Ask God for courage every day. We often awaken and fear is the first emotion that floods our minds and hearts. Resist fear by immediately saying an Our Father and asking God for courage in facing the day. Do it long enough and it will become a habit… that makes waking up easier!
  • Remember your Good Samaritans. Rewind the film of your life in the spirit of prayer and awareness and you will notice the many times that God placed in your path some Good Samaritan who helped you in your need. This will keep your thoughts focused on gratitude, not worry. And perhaps inspire you to become a Good Samaritan in someone else’s life!
  • And finally, dream of a world still not seen, but will certainly come one day. Think of those who sailed oceans, scaled mountains, conquered slavery or made life better for people on earth. It will give you courage to work toward that which is good, holy, and hopeful!

“Hope is the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.  The Holy Spirit…He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that we might be justified by His grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life.” (CCC #1817)

Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: 3 Ways to Enjoy Life

Some of us have the blessing, this spring, of emerging slowly into the sunlight, blinking slightly at its brightness, after a very dark year and a half brought about by the worldwide pandemic. How can we set about enjoying life again?

  • Don’t wait for joy. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that the moment God has given us is right now, this moment. So many people have the mindset that they will be really happy and enjoy life “when”…when they go on vacation, when the kids are older, all that sort of thing. God wants you to enjoy your life now, not “when.” The Holy Spirit gives us strength to live this ordinary, day-to-day life with the supernatural joy of the Lord.
  • Remember St. Paul’s “secret” and try to live it. St. Paul learned the secret to being content in life: “I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
  • Give yourself permission to feel good again. We’ve been through dark times. Some of us have suffered terrible things. Some of us feel guilt that we haven’t suffered as others have. Either way, God does not want us to stay in that dark place of guilt, pain, and remorse. He wants us to feel joy. If he can give us permission, then surely we can do that for ourselves?

Enjoying life now doesn’t mean that we’re forgetting what came before. But what we have is a gift, a tremendous gift from God. We are doing both ourselves and him a disservice if we don’t respond with joy!

Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: 3 Ways to Pray When Praying is Hard

There are times—when we’re lucky—when praying feels easy, and natural, and even wonderful. Just talking with God, right? 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 on. But what can you do about it?

  • 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.
  • Read the psalms. You’ll be surprised at how much of these songs and prayers and verses will sound familiar to you. They have served as an inspiration to Christians for centuries, and they’ll 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 on your conversation with God..

Even the saints 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 Seasons and How to Cope with Them

We know that seasons change, and just like the way natural seasons change, we can also see the changing of seasons in our lives. The book of Ecclesiastes tells us that there is a season for everything, and adds, “God has made everything beautiful for its own time.”

If you are going through a difficult season in your life, here are some ways to cope with it:

  • The dry season: You feel uninspired, and your prayer life seems empty. Remind yourself that you’re not the first person to feel this way, and fall back on prayers you know and love—the Our Father and the Hail Mary. Persevering through these simple prayers will get you though your feelings.
  • The waiting season: God has something in store for you, but it’s taking forever! You feel like the whole world is holding its breath in anticipation. This is a time to read: many of the saints needed to learn patience! Read about St. Cyprian, St. Monica, and St. Francis de Sales.
  • The trials season: Sometimes it just feels like you’re being tested, over and over again. The best thing now is to not be alone: others can help guide you through this difficult season. Use the sacrament of reconciliation frequently. This might be a time to consider talking to a spiritual director.

Not all seasons of your life are the same, and living through them with grace and with God means that you need to be deliberate. Don’t just allow them to happen to you; have a hand in how you experience them.