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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!

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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 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!

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Everyday Grace: 3 Tips for Getting Along Better with Others

There’s a reason we pray, “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” God really expects us to get along with people, to forgive and be forgiven. But sometimes that can seem like the most difficult thing ever. How can we really live well with others? Here are a few tips to try:

  • It’s so much easier to see other people’s failings and obnoxious habits than our own. But try this experiment: list the ways in which others might find you difficult. If you’re really brave, ask people around you what’s annoying about you. Now check out that list and remember another scripture passage: “let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” Remind yourself of your list the next time you’re impatient with someone else.
  • Focus your attention and really listen to the other person. A lot of times, we listen only so there can be a break in the conversation that we can fill. Let your thoughts go and see what their thoughts are. Even if you end up disagreeing, you’ve given them the respect of hearing them out. And this generally means that in turn they will accord you the same courtesy.
  • Always leave the door open. If you really feel that you cannot get along with someone, don’t burn bridges, don’t reject them out of hand. The door should always be left open for future reconciliation.

Further reading/meditation: Take a look at Amish Grace, the book documenting a local Amish community’s response when a shooter killed a number of girls in their schoolroom. The community’s forgiveness—including that of the victims’ parents—was immediate and complete. How could they do that? We could learn something from their response.

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Everyday Grace: 3 Ways to Love the World

Valentine’s Day brings with it images of hearts and flowers, of romance and closeness to others. And there’s nothing wrong with any of that… love and companionship are among God’s greatest gifts to us. But it also could be a time to extend love beyond one’s spouse, and reach out in Gospel love to others.

  • Get to know people in your building or neighborhood who live alone. You could knock on the door and see if they need anything the next time you are going shopping. Sometimes it’s as simple as just letting them know you’re there if they need anything.
  • Spend some time at a nursing home. Valentine’s Day will bring back memories of deceased loved ones, and the day can be bleak for many. Spending time with the elderly is a beautiful gift of love you can give.
  • Make Jesus your model. He loved everyone, noticed everyone, cared for everyone. It’s worth asking yourself who you’re neglecting… who Jesus wouldn’t. Can you help with a program at your parish for the poor? Donate to Catholic Charities? Volunteer your time and talent?

Loving the world means more than the hearts and flowers of Valentine’s Day: it’s loving people near and far every day. But you can make this Valentine’s Day the start of a new, deeper appreciation of God and God’s people, the start of being in love with the world.

“If you want to enjoy the water, you first learn how to swim; if you want to enjoy the snow, you must first learn how to ski; if you want to enjoy people, you must first learn how to do things for them.” (Allan Fromme)

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Everyday Grace: Finding Solace in Silence

For those of us in the northern hemisphere, winter is the coldest season; it feels like everything has frozen over and all we can do is wait impatiently for spring. But winter is also a time of rest, peace, inner focus, stillness, and reflection. The flow of life naturally slows down and turns inward, and we can tap into this peace with a skill we rarely use: keeping silent, and meditating on what God is doing in this cold season.

  • You may have planted bulbs this past fall. Even if you didn’t, think about the life happening under your feet. It may be quiet where you are, but down below the roots are getting stronger. Take a walk in a park or a garden, and reflect on the life just waiting to burst free.
  • It seems that the world is screaming at us right now. Our smartphone ding with interruptions, the television and the internet all tell tales of violence and anger and hopelessness. Turn it all off for a day. Find a day when you can take yourself off the grid. Don’t read Facebook. Don’t watch TV. Give yourself a mini-retreat and spend the day in silence, reading, thinking, praying, meditating.
  • Find a half-hour every day when you can practice silence. It might mean getting up earlier than usual, or going to be later. It may mean taking that lunch break, not to socialize, but to be alone. However you do it, find a half-hour when you can be in silence: sitting, walking, whatever works best for you. If you practice this daily you’ll feel more positive and more energized.

We live at a noisy time in a noisy world. But we have some control over it. Turing our thoughts, our minds and hearts, to God instead of to the maelstrom around us will keep us on the right path.

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Everyday Grace: Keeping Afloat Through the Storms

We all feel buffeted, these days. What seemed to be “the ways things are” one day don’t necessarily continue into the next. The difficulties of navigating a world that feels increasingly stormy sometimes feel overwhelming.

When we’re afraid, bad things happen to our bodies and minds. 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. Pray. 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 angry by breathing deeply or taking a walk. Do your best to turn toward solutions rather than amplifying problems.
  3. Choose joy. In these 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 lovable.

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Everyday Grace 3 Lessons from Martin Luther King, Jr.

We don’t have to be Baptists to learn important lessons from this Baptist preacher, any more than others need to be Catholic to learn important lessons from Saint Teresa of Calcutta. Some people’s faith and wisdom simply belong to the world as a whole. How can his principles of nonviolence inspire Catholics today? 

  • Our mission as Catholics seeks to defeat injustice—not people. Those who oppress are themselves oppressed. Today, pray for those who do evil, that their hearts might be open to the Good News of Christ and their lives transformed by his love. 
  • As trite as it may seem, choosing love instead of hate is essential. Jesus told us to love our enemies and do good to those who injure us. In these partisan times, it’s easy to hate “the other side.” Jesus never said we have to agree with them: he just said we have to love them. 
  • We need to work toward redemption and reconciliation. Our purpose is to seek the kingdom of God, and that means enlarging our community to include everyone in friendship and understanding.  

Is there someone you can reach out to—today? Someone who thinks differently from you, who might believe in something to which you are passionately opposed? Your nonjudgmental gesture might just prove their tipping-point. As Christians, we’re supposed to look and act differently from the culture around us. Martin Luther King Jr. knew that, and lived it. Can we? 

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Everyday Grace: 3 Tricks for Finding Patience

And, yes, we do have to find patience. Writer Albert Mohler has observed, “Patience is not optional for the Christian.” St. Paul repeatedly writes to the people in his scattered communities about being patient with each other—so often, in fact, that it’s clear they had as much trouble with patience as we do! But God may be at work in those with whom we are experiencing disagreement and conflict. How can we incorporate that knowledge in our daily lives? 

  • Look inside. When you find yourself experiencing impatience, stop and ask yourself, “why is this bothering me so much?” Chances are good that you’re upset disproportionally to the situation itself (does it really matter so much that someone cut in front of you in line?); understanding why it’s making you crazy can make you… less crazy. 
  • Count to 10. No, really. This simple and obvious trick absolutely works. When you’re done counting, most of your initial impulse (to yell, say something you’ll later regret, etc.) will go away. Impatience is an impulse, not a thought, and by delaying the impulse you allow for thought to step in. 
  • Just love. God loves this person; you can do the same. Your child just broke a family heirloom? Your coworker is too slow? Somebody at the movie theater keeps sniffling? Jesus died for them, too. God loves them in that moment. Take a deep breath and you’ll find that you can love them in spite of it all. 

I’m constantly reminded of St. Francis of Assisi and his quote, “you may be the only Gospel your neighbor ever reads.” When the person ahead of me at the grocery store does something I don’t like, is the Gospel reflected in my reaction? As Catholics, we are role models for others, and the impulse of impatience, though clearly very human, is not sending the right message. The good news? Patience can be learned: we just have to try. 

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A Plan of Life for 2019

“Come to me, all of you,” Jesus said to then-sixteen-year-old James Alberione. It was December 31, 1900, the famous “Night Between the Centuries” when James was praying in the Cathedral of Alba. “Come to me, all of you.” James, I want you to bring me all the people of this new century. I want them all, and I want you to bring them to me using the “new means” of communication. But first I want you to bring me yourself, James: “Come to me, all of you!” I want all that you are; I want your mind, will, and heart. I want everything, James! 

Jesus says these same words to each one of us as we begin this New Year of 2019. “Come to me all of you, Sr. Laura.” “Come to me all of you, _______.” Jesus wants all of us: that’s you and that’s me! This task of bringing all of ourselves to Christ can be daunting and overwhelming but it is possible, “for all things are possible with God.” (cf. Lk. 1: 37). And a plan to help with this task is what can make it happen—a plan for our spiritual life. 

Think of it. Whenever we want to succeed at something important, we have a plan: a business plan, a financial plan, a game plan, a marketing plan. You name it, we have a plan! But what goal, what endeavor in life is more important than our growth in Christ, our transformation into him, our “Christification” as Blessed Alberione would say? 

Last spring, Pauline Books & Media released a great book that can help us with this task of “becoming Christ,” i.e., saints! It’s called Plan of Life: Habits to Help You Grow Closer to God by Fr. Roger Landry. This is a marvelous, practical, straightforward book that makes the often-overwhelming task of becoming a saint possible; it brings it within our reach. St. Paul encourages us when he says, “all things are possible for those who love the Lord.” But it is still important to have a Plan of Life. And this is what Fr. Landry does. He shows how the Christian life comes alive and deepens when certain habits are practiced regularly. 

What are some of the habits essential to our Plan? Morning offering, Sunday Mass, general examen, frequent confession, daily prayer, and sacred scripture. Are you surprised by this list? Probably not; you might even say, “this is nothing new!” You are right—it isn’t new, but it is true. If we want to really grow in the Christian life and see ourselves gradually change into the “best-version-of-ourselves” as well-known writer and speaker Matthew Kelly says, then these elements need to be present in our lives on a regular basis…. 

  • The morning offering is a simple prayer we say at the start of the day. We offer God all that we have, all that we are and will experience, the “prayers, actions, joys, and sufferings” of our day. We offer it all to him who has given it to us in the first place. 
  • Sunday Mass is a given, but this is certainly not clear for many Catholics. Whatever happened to “remember to keep holy the Lord’s Day”? And many who do attend Sunday Mass regularly see it only as an obligation, something that they are required to do. The Second Vatican Council describes the Mass as, “the source and summit of the Christian life.” And this means that the Mass is what nourishes and feeds us; it gives us strength for the week. And don’t we all need that? 
  • General examen is usually done at the end of the day reviewing all that has happened to us. (Alberione also encourages us to include it in our Hour of Adoration before the Blessed Sacrament.) With the examen, we ask Jesus to show us where he has been present in our day and how we have responded to that presence. Socrates once said that an unexamined life is not worth living; we don’t want to fall into that category. 
  • Frequent confession flows right from the examen. When we seriously take stock of our lives each day we see we are sinners.  Each of us falls short, sins, and needs God’s mercy. And the best place to find that mercy is in confession! 
  • Daily prayer is as necessary as air to breathe and food to eat. It keeps us in communion with God. It gives us strength and guidance for what we will encounter during the day. 
  • Sacred scripture, God’s word is also necessary if we want to grow in our relationship with him. God speaks to us in and through his word. He enlightens us through his word… 

Mother Thecla, the co-foundress of the Daughters of St. Paul, writes to each of us, “Let us live in intimacy with the Divine Master: mind, will, heart, and activities; our senses, hands, feet, eyes, ears- everything in him, for him, and with him. Let us strive for always greater union with him…” 

And a Plan of Life will help put this within our reach. A blessed and happy 2019!