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Everyday Grace: Living Christ in the Day-to-Day

There are times when it’s easy to do what is right… and times when that’s the hardest thing ever. We’re often at our best in a crisis, when we need to rise to the occasion; but the slogging details of everyday life don’t exactly fan the flames of commitment. Yet that is where we are most likely to spend most of our time; most of us aren’t called to martyrdom. How can we find ways to be passionate about our faith every day?

  • Try seeing yourself through someone else’s eyes. St. Francis of Assisi said, “You may be the only Gospel your neighbor ever reads.” Do you think people look at you and see the Gospel at work? What can you do to become more Christlike?
  • Take Jesus at his word: “By this they shall know you are my disciples: that you have love for one another.” Are you present to the people around you? Do others feel they can count on you? Living Christ daily means renewing your love for others—daily.
  • Ask for help. Everyone loses their passion from time to time; we cannot be in a constant state of excitement about our relationship with God. Ask your priest or spiritual director or Bible study group for help. We are in truth a community of faith when we can watch out for each other. (p.s. you can also ask God for help!)

C.S. Lewis said, “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing Christianity cannot be is moderately important.” Be serious about serious things, and find ways to live that… every day.

Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: Stay with Easter!

We tend to see Easter, like Christmas, as a holiday rather than a season. We’ve been to Mass, celebrated the resurrection, enjoyed an Easter Egg hunt, eaten a sumptuous Easter dinner, and now we’re done. But the Church in its infinite wisdom invites us to live the Easter message in a season of joy. And why would anyone bypass joy? Here are three ways you can stay with Easter this year:

  • Connect Easter with spring. We’re all aware of the new life around us, as the first brave flowers make their brilliant appearance. It’s an obvious metaphor, and a good one: our new life in Christ is just as beautiful as the new life surrounding us. So fill your house with flowers as a reminder of the resurrection.
  • Pay attention. Have you noticed that the usual reading from the Hebrew Bible at Mass has been replaced by readings from the Acts of the Apostles? It’s to emphasize the role of the Church in our journey as Christians. This may be a good time to re-read the whole book; it’s our story, the story of our spiritual ancestors. We’re all interested in what Grandmother was like or when it was Uncle Paul joined the navy, so let’s take on our corporate geneaology too!
  • Keep the celebration going. Why not send out Easter cards or give your family Easter gifts now? It emphasizes the fact of Easter being truly 50 days and not just one. Add a note to explain that the card or gift is arriving now not because you are late, but because you’re right on time.

Easter is the most openly joyful time of celebration we have, a contrast to the background of the shadows and darkness of Lent and Holy Week. The Easter season is a living expression of the hope that God has brought into the world through the death and resurrection of Jesus. So let us rejoice and be glad!

 

Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: 3 Ways to Celebrate Mary’s Month

The month of May has been for some centuries devoted in a special way to the Blessed Mother. But once you’re outgrown the May processions of schooldays, what can be done individually to reflect that devotion and embrace our Mother? Here are a few ideas:

  1. There are many ways Mary has reached out to the faithful. Why not research and adopt a new Marian devotion this month? There are many from which to choose: Our Lady of Fátima, Our Lady of Sorrows, Our Lady Undoer of Knots, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Our Lady of Perpetual Help… find one that touches you in some special way.
  2. Read a book. There are so many beautiful books written about Our Lady, and different authors draw readers into different aspects of her love and generosity. (Pauline Books & Media offers an excellent selection of such books.)
  3. You might also consider becoming invested in the scapular as an outward sign of your consecration to the Blessed Mother. Your priest will bless it for you so you can wear it under your clothing as a constant reminder.

Whatever way you choose to celebrate Mary in May, it’s sure to bring you joy. Our Mother is with us always, leading us to Jesus and loving us all. She certainly deserves her own month and any special joy we can bring her through our devotions!

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A Mother’s Smile

by Sr Anne Flanagan, FSP

This will be the sixth year I won’t be picking out a really special Mother’s Day card, or making that phone call to say thanks to the one whose love was first to welcome me to the world. Those words in the Creed, “I look forward to the resurrection of the dead,” mean a little more to me on Mother’s Day.

random-day - Copy - CopyMy mom had an incredible smile. Even at my sister’s wedding, the day after Dad’s funeral (he had insisted on his deathbed that we go forward with our plans), Mom smiled with genuine happiness over Jane’s improbable and providential meeting with her own Mr. Right. Looking at the pictures, it seems Mom’s smile on that day was even more radiant than on her own wedding, which had also been affected by a funeral. The mother of the bride had worn black,  because her own mother had died and people had been pressuring the bride to do likewise since the date fell within two weeks of her grandmother’s death. So the wedding-day smile is there, but a bit strained.

In the rest of the photos we have, Mom’s smile is stunning.

 

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Jane-wedding-CR

Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar wrote about the tremendous importance of a mother’s smile. “In the mother’s smile, it dawns on [the child] that there is a world into which he is accepted and in which he is welcome, and it is in this primordial experience that he becomes aware of himself for the first time” (Mary: The Church at its Source). Having come into being “beneath the mother’s heart,” as St. John Paul II has said so beautifully, we find our existence affirmed in her smile.

A mother’s smile is life-giving.

That image reminds me of the miraculous healing St. Thérèse experienced as a piteously ill ten-year-old whose mother (St. Zelie) had long since died: “Finding no help on earth, poor little Thérèse had also turned toward the Mother of heaven, and prayed with all her heart that she take pity on her. All of a sudden the Blessed Virgin appeared beautiful to me…but what penetrated to the very depths of my soul was the ‘ravishing smile of the Blessed Virgin.’ At that instant, all my pain disappeared….” (Story of a Soul, Chapter 3).

A few weeks ago on Twitter I came across a theologian’s insight into the connection between motherhood and Mary that Catholics make in the month of May. Dr. Josh Madden (@DrJoshMadden), one of those scholarly worthies who reads the Greek New Testament as he sips his morning coffee, noticed something that we readers of English translations will never find. Here it comes. (And don’t you love that he put this on Twitter?)

In John’s narrative of the Crucifixion of Jesus, among the Seven Last Words of Jesus (Chapter 19, verses 25-27), the word mother is repeated three times. (Hint: threefold repetition means “pay attention.”)

Here is the English translation we use at Mass, with the verse numbers noted:

(25) Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala. (26) When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son.”  (27) Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.

In verse 25, the Greek says “his mother” (Jesus’). In the next verse (26), it reads “Jesus saw the mother” and “said to the mother, Woman…” In verse 27, speaking to John, Jesus says “your mother” (you in the singular, addressed to the beloved disciple).

Dr. Madden points out a real progression here: from his, Jesus’ own, mother, Mary becomes the universal mother (“the” mother; also the “woman,” like “the woman” of Genesis 2), so that she can become John’s mother, my mother, your mother.

Again we turn to Hans Urs von Balthasar. “After a mother has smiled at her child for many days and weeks, she finally receives her child’s smile in response. She has awakened love in the heart of her child” (Love Alone is Credible).

This Mother’s Day, I imagine my mom with her radiant smile directed, like a child’s, to the Heavenly Mother who awakened so much love in her, a love that she shared in turn with her children and grandchildren. Together we return the smile of Our Lady, the pained smile of acceptance with which she received the beloved disciple as her own son; the smile that mercifully healed the child Thérèse and gave her to the Church as the universal teacher of the “Little Way”…  the smile with which she looks on each of us today.

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Everyday Grace: 3 Ways to Deal with our “Soul-Sickness”

“For a believer, it is important to see racism as a soul sickness. Racism is that interior disease, that warping of the human spirit, that enables us to create communities where some matter and some do not.” (Fr. Brian Massingale)

  • Understand what racism really is. It’s not hating people of another color, though people who do hate are definitely racist. It’s also accepting white privilege as the status quo, and looking at those of other races or nationalities as being different from us.
  • Apply critical thinking to the situation. God gave us minds and expects us to use them. Resist nostalgia for the security that comes from having simplistic answers to complex questions, and engage with the questions.
  • Embrace the Gospel as the basis for our responses. Jesus died for the sins of diverse groups of humans and God raised him from the dead. If we call God “Father,” then we must call every man “brother” and every woman “sister.”

Racism is a complex issue for everyone, but as Catholics we have an obligation to embrace complexity and ask ourselves—in this as in all things—“what would Christ do? What would he want me to do, to think, to feel?” God changes everything.

Here’s a first step: imagine that the tables are turned. Try reading this article and see if you start to think differently about race!

And from the USCCB:

Racism is an attack on the image of God that has been given to every one of us by the Creator (Gen.5:1-3). Because each person has been created by God, we are all united together with the Lord and with each other. Racism rejects what God has done by refusing to acknowledge the image of God in the other, the stranger and the one who is different.

“Racism is divisive and damages the harmony and oneness that should characterize all our relationships. What divides us does not have to destroy us. Differences do not have to frighten us. Following the advice of St. Paul, we can pray for the grace to look beyond our own prejudices: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph: 4:32). Recall that before his death, Christ prayed, “May they all be one” (Jn 17:21).

 

 

Everyday Grace, Seasonal

Everyday Grace: 3 Ways to Live in the Light

It happened. The impossible-to-understand event has occurred. The tomb was empty, and an ordinary gardener turned out to be the Risen Christ. It’s easy to think this bit of salvation history, this holiday, is now over. The house is full of chocolate eggs, and we’re all a little stunned by the journey through Lent and Holy Week. Time to get back to Real Life.

Well, maybe not. What is easy to forget is that Jesus’ reappearance wasn’t a sideshow. He came back, and he stayed for another forty days. Jesus didn’t just show up and leave us again. His death and resurrection were not the end of his teaching. He didn’t leave us alone with our grief. He stayed, and when he left, he gave us the Holy Spirit so the Triune God could be with us forever.

But how does one live this Easter season, these forty precious extra days when Jesus walked the earth again? Here are some ideas:

  1. Many Catholics try to perform spiritual or corporal acts of mercy throughout Lent. But aren’t they even better suited to Eastertide? In gratitude and joy in his presence we can offer the very things that Jesus did for us: visit someone who is sick, give away clothing to someone who needs it, forgive someone else, pray for the living and the dead.
  2. This is a time to reflect on your Lenten journey. We’re usually so glad Lent is over that we don’t even think of it again. What worked, and what didn’t? Were you able to find a Lenten practice and stick to it? Write your reflections down in a notebook and remember it next year; it can guide you in your choices.
  3. Imagine being a disciple seeing Jesus appear after dying. How could that not change your life? Eastertide is a time of gratitude and sharing. If you don’t already keep a gratitude journal, this might be a good time to begin.

Eastertide is all about presence, Jesus’ real presence in our lives. We meet him in the Eucharist… but we meet him so many other places, too, on dark roads and in storms, in midnight’s shadows and bright springtime sunlight. Maybe just being aware of those encounters is a good way to begin.

Everyday Grace, Uncategorized

Everyday Grace: 3 Ways to Keep Your Focus During Holy Week

Holy Week, as we all know, is an intense journey with Jesus through the darkest moments of life, emerging finally into the glory of the resurrection at the Easter Vigil. Through many different liturgies, our Church invites us to recall this journey and these events.

Unfortunately, in real life, most of us don’t have the option of slowing down to accommodate extra liturgies and church attendance. So how can we keep our focus on Jesus throughout the week?

  • Either alone or with your family, watch one of the many excellent movies that re-tell the Holy Week story. One favorite is Jesus taken from The Bible Stories series, with Jeremy Sisto as Jesus. You may have another favorite. This is a wonderful way to enter into the story visually and emotionally.
  • Use your social media. If you can’t unplug, then post Bible passages, appropriate poetry, and links to great works of art that point to God’s redeeming love instead of posting political rants, pictures of your cat, or updates about your activities.
  • The Good Friday liturgy is beautiful and moving, but you might not be able to get to church for it. If not, take a longer lunch break at work to acknowledge this sacred time. Shut off your electronics, read quietly, reflect on Jesus’ last words.

We’d all love to be able to spend this entire week in church and with the community of faith, but most of us don’t have that luxury. Don’t give up! You don’t have to be physically in a church to carry Christ in your heart this Holy Week.

Everyday Grace, Uncategorized

Everyday Grace: How to Make a Difference in Difficult Times

We’re all in bad-news overload these days, it seems. Natural disasters, political frays, grief and sadness… it’s a constant assault on our minds and hearts, and with so much bad news coming at us, it’s easy to feel small, insignificant, and ineffectual.

But we’re assured that God loves us, that he has carved us into the palm of his hand. We are important in God’s eyes, and knowing that can empower us to take action:

  • Pray about it. Prayer changes things. Prayer changes us. God has arranged his world so we can make choices, and we can often discern his will when we open ourselves to it. Remember the words of Padre Pio: “Pray, hope, and don’t worry. Worry changes nothing. God is merciful and will hear your prayer.”
  • Do something locally. The world is a vast place, and changing it is a tall order. But you can make a difference locally. Support a local political candidate of your choice. Volunteer at a local shelter. Encourage your community to reuse and recycle. Support your local parish. This is the level at which you can effectuate change.
  • Educate yourself. If you accept everything you hear, then there’s reason to be discouraged. But choose something that bothers you, or excites you, and learn all about it. Explore it from different viewpoints. Expand your horizons. The world still might not make sense, but you’ll have gotten a little control over at least your understanding of it.

We live in difficult and confusing times. But remember—so did Christ; so did many of the saints of the Church. For some reason, God has called you to live in these times. Meet that challenge thoughtfully and prayerfully, and you can make a difference.

Inspiration

The Lesson of the Sleeping St Joseph Statue

A dear friend of mine had only months to live. Her life had been complex. Woven into each decade were unforeseen sorrows that still scarred her spirit. A visit from the local parish had left her unsettled and worried as she faced her final goodbyes, her last yes to God, her final look back on her life, the reality of all that had been. She began to feel that all she had done was somehow now written in stone and could never be made right.

She called me up not knowing what to expect, if there was any hope for her, afraid even to ask lest she find out that her pastoral visit was really her final door…closed…on hope.

We settled into a quiet conversation. I sensed she was clutching at straws, trying to pin down the mystery of life and death with some logical explanation. As she turned and twisted her life this way and that in an attempt to understand, she generated explanations and analysis which didn’t seem to satisfy. I could see what was happening. She was going through an enlargement of her spirit that now reached far beyond the story she had lived. Faced with her imminent eternal reality, she like a candle was already being lit with the radiant FOREVER that awaited her, yet she was aware of how she had not fully grown into the spiritual maturity that suddenly was becoming clear to her.

As I listened to her, there came to my mind the image of St. Joseph…sleeping.

Here he was the new guardian and foster-father of not just any baby, but the Light of the World and the Son of the Eternal One…. They were escaping imminent danger as King Herod sought the child to kill him. They were resting exhausted in the desert as they were escaping to Egypt. And Joseph slept. The stakes were too high for him to rely on his own strategy to care for the Son of God and the Son of Mary. His sleeping acknowledged his fatigue, his weakness, his sorrow, as well as his trust in the mysterious strategies of the Eternal One that often make no sense to us. This is the lesson of the sleeping St. Joseph who knew that even as he was a “little one,” his every need was cared for by the divine providence of the Eternal Father.

So I offered my friend this image of the sleeping Joseph. I encouraged her to be okay with being a little one. I can imagine that Jesus had a deeply affectionate memory of his earthly father when in his public ministry he prayed to his Father in heaven with a loud voice: “Father, Lord of heaven and earth, I thank you that you have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to the little ones” (Mt. 11:25).

The little ones. It is okay, my friend, to be a little one.

To have the courage to rest, knowing that the way God sorts things out is always in our favor, that he sees what no one else knows, that he isn’t trapped in the stories we write of our lives but sees the alternate story HE is writing with our lives.

St. Joseph, model of the little ones, is the model of every virtue in the Christian life. Pope Paul VI called St. Joseph, “a poor, honest, hardworking, perhaps even timorous man, but one with unfathomable interior life, from which very singular directions and consolations came, bringing him also the logic and strength that belong to simple and clear souls, and giving him the power of making great decisions, such as that decision to put his liberty at once at the disposition of the divine designs, to make over to them also his legitimate human calling, his conjugal happiness, to accept the conditions, the responsibility and the burden of a family, but, through an incomparable virginal love, to renounce that natural conjugal love that is the foundation and the nourishment of the family; in this way he offered the whole of his existence in a total sacrifice to the imponderable demands raised by the astonishing coming of the Messiah, to whom he was to give the everlastingly blessed name of Jesus (Mt. 1:21), whom he was to acknowledge as the effect of the Holy Spirit, and his own son only in a juridical and domestic way” (Homily of Pope Paul VI on St Joseph, March 27, 1969).

I have in my room a statue of the sleeping St Joseph, but in our convent we have a large St. Joseph statue (and many small statues in individual rooms and offices) where we put our requests this great Saint and Provider to help us with things we need. St. Joseph has never been “sleeping on the job” when it comes to caring for our community’s needs. I have been praying to St Joseph for his guidance in prayer and holiness since 2008 when I wrote the book St. Joseph: Help in Life’s Emergencies, when my own devotion to St Joseph began. And I can always tell when I forget to pray to him. The uber graces begin to dwindle. St. Joseph is very respectful and doesn’t impose himself upon us. He waits to be asked.

Powerful graces are won for us through the intercession of St. Joseph even in our spiritual life.

Saint Teresa of Avila believed so strongly in the power of St. Joseph that she once said, “To other saints Our Lord seems to have given power to succor us in some special necessity—but to this glorious saint, I know by experience, he has given the power to help us in all. Our Lord would have us understand that as he was subject to St. Joseph on earth—for St. Joseph, bearing the title of father and being Jesus’ guardian, could command him—so now in Heaven Our Lord grants all his petitions. I have asked others to recommend themselves to St. Joseph, and they, too, know the same thing by experience.”

So whether you are in great need of interior peace, as my friend was, or asking for the grace of a good death for yourself or others…or you are turning to St. Joseph for material needs for yourself or your loved ones…or asking St. Joseph to guide and heal and protect the Church, you can be assured that this great saint will teach us the same trust in the Eternal Father’s providential care that he had learned as the guardian of Jesus. We will learn that we can sleep peacefully in God’s protective compassion, knowing that we are well cared for.

Here is a prayer to St. Joseph by St. Francis de Sales that you may wish to pray today on the Feast of St. Joseph:

Glorious St. Joseph, spouse of Mary, grant us your paternal protection, we beseech you by the heart of Jesus Christ. O you, whose power extends to all our necessities and can render possible for us the most impossible things, open your fatherly eyes to the needs of your children.

In the trouble and distresses which afflict us, we confidently have recourse to you. Deign to take under your charitable charge these important and difficult matters, cause of our worries. Make its happy outcome be for God’s glory and for the good of his devoted servants. Amen.

By Sr Kathryn J. Hermes, FSP

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Everyday Grace: Humor and Your Daily (Spiritual) Life

Have you noticed that some of the holiest people around are often 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!