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Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: 3 ways to honor our deceased loved ones

November is a month of precious memories of friends and family who have gone ahead of us into eternity, loved ones we hold in love and prayer. How can you honor your own loved ones this month?

  • Enroll their names in the Daughters of St. Paul’s novena of masses. The sisters’ prayers and suffrages can bring comfort to those who’ve gone ahead of us in death. Pray for your departed loved ones by enrolling their names in these nine masses.
  • Pray with the Memento Mori prayer book. It contains everything you need to connect more deeply with God when you’re grieving.
  • If you don’t have the Memento Mori prayer book, pray all the same. Spend an hour this month in Eucharistic adoration and pray the St. Gertrude Prayer: “Eternal Father I offer you the most precious blood of your divine son Jesus, in union with all the Masses said throughout the world today, for all the holy souls in purgatory, for sinners everywhere, sinners in the Universal Church, those in my own home and within my family. Amen.”

November is the month in which we remember why we’re here, where we’re going, and those who have gone before us into eternity who still need our comfort and the compassion of our prayers. They are like “angels among us” still, and they remind us from eternity that life is truly about Good News! They know God’s salvation and mercy in a way we can now only hope to understand: that we are loved by God individually, uniquely, and eternally.

 

Image: Thomas Vogel for Unsplash

Advent, Inspiration

3 Ways to Open Doors of Hope

Don’t go through the next month and a half straight to Christmas. Take time to hope!

“Advent,” wrote then-Cardinal Ratzinger in 1986, “is concerned with that very connection between memory and hope which is so necessary to man. Advent’s intention is to awaken the most profound and basic emotional memory within us, namely, the memory of the God who became a child. This is a healing memory; it brings hope.”

Our problem? We want to go straight to Christmas without taking the time the Church gives us for waiting, for expectation, for longing, for looking back, for looking forward… for hope! It’s easy for that to happen. Shops and online merchants lure us with promises of more to buy, more to do, more, more, more—until Advent gets lost in a headlong tumble of activity, anxiety, and stress.

“It is the beautiful task of Advent to awaken in all of us memories of goodness and thus to open doors of hope.” (Cardinal Ratzinger)

Here are three ways to open those doors:

#1: Start now

Download our free #PutJesusFirst Advent planner. What differentiates our planner is that it’s integrated: every week, along with practical reminders to buy stamps for Christmas cards and make travel arrangements, you will find prayers, family activities, Scripture readings, and more.

#2: Look ahead

Now is the time to plan for your Advent reading for yourself—and Christmas giving for others. Visit our webstore or one of our Pauline Books and Media Centers and get your children a reminder of what Christmas is really about—or find books for your friends. Choose some reading for yourself that will either challenge or comfort you, depending on this year’s needs. Order from our webstore now and you’ll be taking advantage of our free postage through December 8th!

#3: Be present every day

People talk about experiencing “the best Advent ever,” but even that is missing the point. Advent needs to change you, to allow God to act inside you and your family, to prepare you for the greatest gift of all: God come to earth as a tiny, poor, refugee child. In the birth of that child alone is our whole hope for the future.

Let us help you go through the doors of  hope this year!

Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: Are You Worried About the Environment?  Here are 3 Ways to Help

It is because we value our relationship with God and God’s creation that concern for the environment and about climate change is for us Catholics a profoundly spiritual, ethical, and moral issue. Saint John Paul II said, “We cannot interfere in one area of the ecosystem without paying due attention both to the consequences of such interference in other areas and to the wellbeing of future generations.” But what can we as ordinary Catholics do? It turns out, plenty!

  • Abstain from meat on Fridays—and as often as you can. The Catholic practice to abstain from meat one day a week is to remain mindful of what Christ did for us, but also has significant environmental benefits. The less meat we demand, the less slaughterhouse pollution we contribute and the fewer natural landscapes we convert into pasture.
  • Buy less, use less. We live in a commercial culture that demands the newest, the brightest, the best in everything from clothing to electronics to automobiles. This consumerism comes at a price that is both spiritual and environmental. Consider buying things second-hand—or not buying them at all.
  • Sign the Saint Francis pledge. It is simple and yet powerful: you commit to praying with and for creation, living more simply by lowering your family’s, parish’s, and/or religious community’s carbon footprint, and advocating to protect our common home.

What was once an individual decision is now a moral issue, since it is the poor and marginalized who will suffer the worst consequences of our changing environment. But the good news is that we can do something about it! We can show through our actions that we are a people apart, that as Catholics we live differently from the consumer culture around us. One step at a time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“We are losing our attitude of wonder, of contemplation, of listening to creation, and thus we no longer manage to interpret within it what Benedict XVI calls ‘the rhythm of the love-story between God and man.'” (Pope Francis)

 

 

Inspiration

Why I Hate (Sort of) Being Middle-Aged

It’s probably fair to say that middle age took most of us by surprise. One day—or so it seems—you can eat whatever you like, go to bed at two in the morning, and fit into all your clothes. The next day you’ve developed allergies, consider 10:00 “staying up late,” and find there’s more belly on you than there used to be. And I won’t even talk about wrinkles!

But by far the most difficult part of being middle-aged is that we begin losing people.

For many of us, it starts with our parents’ deaths, and the world feels suddenly far colder and more lonely when there’s not that generational buffer between us and death anymore. Then, slowly, friends develop life-threatening diseases—diabetes, cancer, respiratory infections—that limit their quality of life and eventually end it altogether.

And who’s ready for that? Who’s ready to say good-bye to people who are special, beloved, important? Who’s ready to start thinking about inching closer every day to it being our turn?

The truth is, we’re woefully unprepared. Our culture doesn’t deal with death very well. Instead of confronting our own or anybody else’s mortality, we stave it off. If someone mentions death or dying, we act as though they breached the most egregious of etiquette taboos and we describe their interest as “morbid.” Most Americans view death as the enemy, something to be fought at all costs.

It’s counterintuitive, but even Catholics follow those cultural norms. We know that death is not the end of our lives, but the beginning, a passageway to the kingdom of God. We’re like someone who’s lived in a small apartment their whole life and now is leaving to go live in a palace—for eternity. You’d think we’d want to talk about death! You’d think we would spend time every day imagining our futures, where there would be no pain, no sorrow, no hatred, only happiness and love. You’d think we’d teach our children about it, that we’d go joyfully to the bedside of someone dying.

You’d be wrong. We’re as uncomfortable as everybody else.

This came home to me the last time I sat in a hospital room with a person dear to me who was dying. I thought I was pretty sophisticated about the whole thing, but what actually happened was—nothing. I had nothing. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know what I could offer. I didn’t know how to be close to this person in this incredibly important moment. I left that room impoverished, not only by my loss, but by my inadequacy to the event.

I wish she were dying now, because something amazing happened to me recently that would have changed that whole interaction: I picked up a book about to be published by Pauline Books & Media. Simple enough—I read all our books before they’re published, and I had no reason to think that the Memento Mori: Prayers on Last Things prayer book would change me in any significant way.

It did.

Reading this book, which gathers together both the strongest and the most comforting prayers and thoughts, felt like those moments when dark clouds part and sunlight comes streaming through—only it was the light of Heaven that was surrounding me. It enabled me within minutes to really understand death as a passage and not as an event. If I had had this book in my hand at my dying friend’s bedside, I wouldn’t have been uncomfortable. I wouldn’t have been tongue-tied. I would have had the right words to say, to read, to pray. She is with Jesus now, of course; but the next time that happens (and as I said, the moment we pass 40 or 45 the inevitability of losing people becomes very real indeed, and there will be a next time, and a time after that, and a time after that), the next time, I will be prepared. I will have the words. I will be the presence God is calling me to be.

I can’t share everything, all the incredible wonders of this book, but I can give you a taste of them. For example, the prayer for those close to death would have made all the difference in my friend’s hospital room:

Merciful Father, with the death of Christ you opened the gateway to eternal life. Look kindly on all those who are close to death, especially [name]. United to the passion and death of your Son, and saved by the blood he shed for us, may [name] come before you with confidence, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

But it’s not just a book to be read and prayed at deathbeds. We really can be different from the culture around us, and this book offers us a way there. Saint Francis called her “Sister Death,” and we can see dying in that light, too, but only if thinking, reading, and praying about it becomes part of our daily routines. I have added the prayer to Our Lady of Mt. Carmel to my own personal evening prayers, so that every night I can ponder the mysteries of death, and entrust myself to God:

O Immaculate Virgin, glory and splendor of Carmel, look kindly upon me and cover me with the mantle of your maternal protection. Strengthen my weakness with your prayers, illumine the darkness of my mind with your wisdom, increase in me the virtues of faith, hope, and charity. Adorn my soul with grace and virtue so that it may be pleasing to you and your divine Son. Assist me in life, console me at the hour of my death with your presence, and present me to the Holy Trinity as your child and devoted servant to praise and bless you forever in heaven. Amen.

Everything you will need to shift your perspective and open yourself to God and the passage from life to eternity is in this book. You’ll find New Testament Scripture passages, the writings of the saints, and the most comforting of Psalms. It will instruct you in doing an examen and in making a good confession. It addresses your fears with prayers to combat evil, prayers for protection, and spiritual warfare prayers, as well as a renewal of baptismal vows. It includes litanies, chapelets, Rosaries, and then rightly shifts your perception onto Heaven itself. There is no other prayer book like this one.

Okay, so I still sort of hate being middle-aged. But I’m learning to lean into it more gracefully, and to accept help when it’s offered… like through the words of the Memento Mori prayer book.

 

Image: Clément Falize for Unsplash

Inspiration, Seasonal

Running with the Saints

Jesus said, “A city on a hill cannot be hidden” (Mt. 5:14). I think this is the verse our sisters had in mind when they planned the location of our motherhouse!

For exercise, I like to go jogging. It gets my heart pumping, it’s good for me, and afterward I usually feel great. But our motherhouse here in Boston sits at the top of an extremely steep hill. So no matter what direction I start jogging in, the very last part of my run is always a huge hill.

Usually when I get to the bottom of this hill, I’m exhausted. I’ve already gone pretty far and when I see the hill, it intimidates me. I wonder if I have the energy and the strength to get up it. But if I can get going, running slowly but steadily, keeping my eyes fixed on the entrance to our property, not focused on how fast I’m going or how ridiculous I may look… then, I can get there.

If I’m being honest, the hill that leads up to our convent is probably one of the smallest obstacles I’ll have to overcome in my life. When I consider that becoming a saint is my goal, I could list off any number of reasons why I can’t get there. With the wounds I carry from my past, my own weaknesses and limitations, and my sins, it seems impossible. The events of life can leave me exhausted. And it’s easy to get discouraged when I compare myself to how well other people are doing.

But, friends, Jesus knows this. He knows that the goal of becoming a saint is, in a way, too big for us. We cannot do it on our own.

St. Paul likes to refer to the spiritual life as a race. He tells us, “Run in such a way that you may win the race” (1 Cor. 9:24). When I run, I often think of this quote from the letter to the Hebrews: “Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus” (Heb. 12:1).

We must run with perseverance the race that is set before us. Yes, this race, our earthly lives, can be difficult. Sometimes we may get a little bit off course. We may be exhausted. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, and we will need nourishment and support. We’re in it for the long haul.

The good news is Jesus has not left us to run this race alone. Not only is he always there pouring grace upon us, but he also founded a community, the Church. And this Church does not exist only on this earth but in heaven as well. Some of the most important members of the Church are the saints who form a “great cloud of witnesses” that surrounds us as we journey toward heaven.

These saints are people who have already run the race. They know the course and they have made it to the finish line. Whether you have a wild and crazy past life or have always been close to Jesus, are married or single, feeling the aches and pains of aging or are in the prime of your youth, there is a saint (or maybe ten) who has been there too.

We really are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses, whether we realize it or not. They’re quietly (or sometimes loudly) cheering for us, praying for us, giving us every bit of encouragement to help us to reach our final goal. They help us to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. We may get worried about how far we still have to go before we reach that goal of holiness. We may get distracted by other things, other worries, and look away from him. But they are a part of our lives, gently nudging us to look back at Jesus.

When we interact with the saints, praying through their intercession, getting to know their life stories, and learning from their paths of holiness, we become aware of just how much God loves us. It becomes evident that he really does want us to be in heaven with him and that he will hold nothing back that might help us to get there. Just saying that makes me feel loved deeply and helps me to see my God-given dignity. I hope it does the same for you.

When we get to heaven, the finish line of this race that we are running, we will be united totally with Jesus, who is our goal. And the saints will be there, excited and rejoicing to welcome us home.

What saints have been a part of your life, encouraging you as you journey toward God? It doesn’t have to be a canonized saint. Maybe it’s a deceased loved one who you’ve felt especially close to even after they’ve passed away. Whoever it is, make sure you ask for their intercession, especially when you’re having a difficult time in your spiritual life. We really are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, who will encourage us and help us along this path that we are walking, the race that we are running. Let them cheer you on, even when you feel like you might not make it, and don’t stop running until you cross that finish line.

 

by Sr. Cecilia Cicone, novice

Image: Goh Rhy Yan for Unsplash

Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: 3 Ways to be of Good Cheer

Cheerfulness. The very word can grind when we’re not in the right frame of mind. Monday mornings, gray weather, not enough sleep, too much to do… there are a lot of reasons to not be cheerful. Yet it’s what God asks of us. St. Paul is constantly urging the churches to rejoice, to be glad; and in fact as Christians we are bound for eternal life with Jesus—there’s the best reason of all to be cheerful!

Still, when the tribulations of life seem overwhelming, there are things we can do.

  • Start every day with a resolution. Add this one phrase to your morning prayers: “Make me honest, painstaking, and cheerful.” Speaking the words helps rewire your brain to anticipate the behavior.
  • Let go. One of the biggest barriers to cheerfulness is holding on to the past, worrying about the future, and letting negativity rule your mind. It’s not easy, but you can do it. Forgive; focus on the here and now; let the past go.
  • Put on your acting hat. Our minds and bodies like patterns. If you have a pattern of being disgruntled, that is where you’ll feel most comfortable, and that’s how you’ll continue to behave. Give yourself a new pattern to follow: acting cheerful leads to feeling cheerful and thinking cheerful thoughts.

Fr. Roger J. Landry says that “the clearest sign of the greatness of faith is joy. It’s the clearest sign of the loving trust and total surrender that is involved in faith.” If we go about our days with cheerfulness and joy, it is a sign to the world, it is us living out the Gospel and drawing others to Christ. Not a bad reason to be cheerful!

 

Photo: Sithamshu Manoj for Unsplash

 

 

 

 

Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: 3 Steps to Memento Mori

Memento mori (literally, “remember that you have to die”) is an ancient practice of reflection on mortality, the reminder that this life is not forever. French painter Philippe de Champaigne illustrated it in his painting Still Life with a Skull, showing the three essentials of existence: a tulip (life), a skull (death), and an hourglass (time). The practice isn’t meant to be depressing, but rather to remind us of where our real life lies.

  • Remember that every day on earth is a gift from God. How many people died in their sleep last night? You weren’t one of them. Wake up with a sense of gratitude.
  • Keep this life in perspective. When someone angers you or hurts you, step back from it. Will it matter a year from now? Ten years from now? Take the long view.
  • If you were to die today, what would be left unsaid, what would be left undone? Make a list, and start crossing items off.

Scripture tells us that we never know when God might call us home to live with him in eternity. Memento mori is a practice that reminds of that, every day. We are just passing through this life: our real home is in heaven.

Inspiration

She said she’d never read Cardinal Newman. This changed her mind

Sister Mary Emmanuel Alves, FSP, never thought John Henry Newman would—or even could—inspire her. “Newman wrote the book entitled University Sermons; he was a high-class theologian,” she remembers with a twinkle in her eye. “Definitely not for me!” she thought. “Give me the Curé d’Ars instead, this Newman will be over my head.”

That all changed when she came across a quote from Cardinal Newman that shed light on her life at a particularly difficult time:

God has created me to do Him some definite service; He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission—I never may know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. Somehow I am necessary for His purposes, as necessary in my place as an Archangel in his—if, indeed, I fail, He can raise another, as He could make the stones children of Abraham. Yet I have a part in this great work; I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good, I shall do His work; I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it, if I do but keep His commandments and serve Him in my calling.

Therefore I will trust Him. Whatever, wherever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him; in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him; if I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. My sickness, or perplexity, or sorrow may be necessary causes of some great end, which is quite beyond us. He does nothing in vain; He may prolong my life, He may shorten it; He knows what He is about. He may take away my friends, He may throw me among strangers, He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide the future from me—still He knows what He is about.

“I met him through that quote,” Sister Mary Emmanuel says, and she is smiling at the memory. “I just had to find where he said it, so I located a copy of Parochial and Plain Sermons—it turned out the quote I was looking for wasn’t there, but I started reading anyway. And as I was reading, I kept thinking, ‘My goodness, I understand the man!’ I kept reading, I had to go back and re-read what he said several times because there are so many layers of meaning to everything he writes.”

She started reading Newman, and kept reading Newman. “What attracts me to him,” she says now, “is his laser-focus on the invisible world, his relentless search for light in a dark world, and his continuous awareness of being in the presence of God.”

Sister’s books by Newman are well-thumbed, marked with notations, filled with colorful sticky notes; this is clearly where she turns, again and again, for strength and inspiration. “Most people live good lives,” she says. “They go through their days, but they don’t know that God has an eternal purpose for their lives and why he put us here. Newman says, ‘God leads us by strange ways’ and it’s true: so many people are taking the wrong way simply because they do not know. But if you read Newman… what he says transcends the ages, it transcends errors, it transcends public opinion. Many doubters have found their way to God through Newman. He is a man for our times because his sources are the timeless wisdom drawn from the Scriptures and Fathers of the Church.”

So Newman really is, at the end of the day, someone who can speak to anyone and everyone. “There’s a beautiful chapter on finding God and sanctity in our daily rounds,” says Sister Mary Emmanuel. “We’re all engaged in the exhausting cycle of everyday routine. But Newman wanted to help people see God in their daily rounds. Each day is to bring forth its own treasure. He speaks of the sacrament of the present moment. Keep your mind on what you’re doing, and God is there with you in that moment.” Newman wrote, “Look out for his presence in everything that happens, however trivial.”

“Mark my words,” Sister says, “he will eventually be a doctor of the Church. He is for everyone: theologians, philosophers, and even for those of us who have not studied extensively. Newman has taught me to be continually aware of what he calls “the secret supernatural system going on under the visible scene.” It is faith that sees it and love that chooses it.

John Henry Newman’s canonization is an excellent opportunity to start reading more of his work and learning about his life. “I don’t want people to be afraid of him,” says Sister Mary Emmanuel. “Give him a chance. There is so much to understand. God wants you to understand why he gave you this life, and Newman can help with that. You will find the peace you’re looking for!”

Newman_SALE

 

Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: 3 Ways to See Why God Loves You So Much

If we’re made in the image of God, if we’re one with God, then we were created as perfectly beautiful and infinitely precious. This can be very hard to accept! Our culture is constantly telling us our worth is based on what we do, what we accomplish, how we look, how much we have, the roles we play, or what people think about us. How can we come to love ourselves?

  • Start from where you are. Right now, God loves you more than you can even imagine. You are his beloved child. Right now. Sit with that realization, pray with that realization. If God thinks you’re this awesome—and he knows you far better than you know yourself—who are you to disagree?
  • As Catholics, we need to always reflect the glory of God. “You may be the only Gospel your neighbor ever reads” (St. Francis). Self-debasement sends a message to others. St. Paul writes, “For you have been purchased at a price. Therefore, glorify God in your body” (I Cor. 6:20). Remember that purchase price in everything you do: God thinks you’re worthy of his son dying for you! Once you really understand and believe that, it will change the way you think about yourself.
  • Practice patience with yourself. This isn’t self-indulgence; it’s simply acknowledging yourself as a work in progress. Think of the patience a parent shows their child, and acknowledge the child within yourself that needs to grow and blossom.

Two books by Sr. Marie Paul Curley, FSP, can be helpful in learning self-love and self-patience:

  • Meditations to Grow in Self-Esteem: This set of reflections is designed to help you develop one area of your spiritual life: growing in self-esteem through the love of God who loves and cherishes you. God will lead you to be interested in certain meditations, so you can go wherever he leads you!
  • See Yourself Through God’s Eyes: This amazing book will take you on a journey not only of self-discovery but of inner healing through the experience of how much you are cherished by God. These 52 meditations are short enough for daily prayer but profound enough to break open your heart to the grace that saves and rebuilds what has been broken. Indeed you will learn to see yourself through God’s eyes!

 

Inspiration

How God challenged St. Francis of Assisi—and challenges us

Fall is a challenging time of year. For many people, that challenge is going back to school, or starting a college or graduate degree. For everyone, fall is the end of summer, a time traditionally associated with vacations and rest. Leaves turn brilliant colors before disappearing. The very air trembles with the threat of cold, of winter.

So perhaps it’s an appropriate time to think about some other challenges. And as on October 4 we celebrate the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, it’s also appropriate to look to him for guidance. He was in many ways very much like us in his weaknesses: like us, there were people, things, and situations that made him uncomfortable.

Francis was born into a wealthy family, and spent the early part of his life doing precisely what he wanted when he wanted. Perhaps his fastidiousness was a leftover relic from those times, but we’re told in the Legend of the Three Companions that he had a particular aversion to lepers, the unfortunate victims of an infection that wasn’t understood (or treated) for centuries, and that often left sufferers blind and with lesions that led to amputation and death. The Legend says Francis shuddered at the sight of lepers, holding his nose and averting his eyes from them.

One day Francis was riding outside the city proper when a leper suddenly appeared on the path in front of him. This time, however, the Holy Spirit spoke to him, and he made himself get off his horse, forced himself to do what he didn’t want to do—approach the leper. Suddenly inspired, he embraced the man as a brother in Christ, and in doing so was transformed. Later he would write about the encounter, and say that “what was so bitter was changed into sweetness.”

Clearly, if Francis was to found and live in community, he had to extend his love and acceptance to all people, not just those he found appealing. God made that clear, by sending a single leper to encounter the saint and challenge him to change and grow.

It’s recorded in several sources that Francis was not a particularly organized person, nor did he have any natural leadership skills or gifts. He would have been perfectly fine living out his life as the humblest of friars in his new community, rather than being the community’s head and leader. He must have felt lost and ill-equipped to deal with his growing order and all the problems that growth engendered. God could have called someone who had those skills, but it was Francis he wanted, and Francis rose to the challenge.

John Henry Newman assures us that God has a plan for each of us. That doesn’t mean the plan will be obvious or feel natural or comfortable; God often calls people out of their comfort zones as he did St. Francis. Francis rose to the occasion because he was inspired by the Holy Spirit and because he relied on God to help him do what he couldn’t do alone.

It’s often when we’re outside of our comfort zones that we experience the most spiritual growth—and that we accomplish things we never thought we could. God challenges us to step outside of what we like, where we feel good, in order to work out his plan for our lives. It’s in these situations, where we feel inept, incompetent, and afraid, that we have to rely on God to do what we alone cannot.

We are so quick to associate Francis with the natural world he loved so deeply. But perhaps today on his feast-day we can learn a different lesson from the saint. God challenged him to do what didn’t feel comfortable, and it changed his life. Perhaps doing the same thing can change ours, as well.