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Everyday Grace, Lent

Everyday Grace: Fasting this Lent

It’s the second Lent of the pandemic, and tempers are, safe to say, frayed. Everyone is exhausted. Everyone is in mourning. There is still uncertainty ahead. So how are we supposed to think about fasting when the world seems to have tilted sideways on its axis?

Here’s a suggestion.

Listen to the Holy Father: the pope calls us to…

  • fast from hurting words and say kind words
  • fast from sadness and be filled with gratitude
  • fast from anger and be filled with patience
  • fast from pessimism and be filled with hope
  • fast from worries and have trust in God
  • fast from complaints; contemplate simplicity
  • fast from pressures and be prayerful
  • fast from bitterness; fill your hearts with joy
  • fast from selfishness and be compassionate
  • fast from grudges and be reconciled
  • fast from words; be silent and listen

If we can do any of these things, in this time of pain and uncertainty and of hope, then we’ll be on the right road toward the resurrection.

Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: 3 Ways to Love

Valentine’s Day has come and gone, but love? Love endures. We’re asked to love others as God loves us, but that can be a challenging endeavor. How can we step outside of ourselves and love people the way God wants us to?

  • Be observant. You can’t love anyone until you notice them. The Samaritan first saw the hurting man. No one had to call or text or email him: he noticed the pain of others. He looked and saw what the man really needed, not what he thought he might need. Look around you and see what the real needs are rather than just living inside your head and your assumptions.
  • Talk to people who aren’t like you. God doesn’t choose only certain groups of people to save, so we shouldn’t choose only certain groups of people when we are looking for ways to love others. Sr. Thea Bowman invites us to walk across the room and talk to the people over there. When you do that, you’ll find you can love them.
  • Love with food. There are so many people hurting as the pandemic continues. While we can’t have dinner parties, dropping something off on a doorstep goes a long way toward showing your love through your actions. You can even quietly pay for the groceries of the person behind you in line, or anonymously leave a bag of groceries on someone’s front porch. That is true love!

We all need love, now more than ever, and as Catholics it is our greatest commandment: to love God and our neighbor. And there’s a bonus to obedience: the more you practice showing your love, the better you, too, will feel!

Everyday Grace, Lent

Everyday Grace: 3 Ways to Prepare for Lent

Hard to believe, but Lent is right around the corner: Ash Wednesday is next week! So if like many of us you haven’t yet thought about your Lenten practices, now is the time.

Yet this year is unlike every other year, and this Lent may call for more introspection, more preparation. Rather than just rushing into what we’re going to “give up,” let’s also think about what we need.

  • As you prepare for Lent, ask God what your soul needs. Just ask, and just listen. It may take several days of asking before you get an answer. This Lent may be very different from others; stay open to how you can grow.
  • Ask God what about your life brings him joy. There are things you do and think that make God happy, even though you might not be aware of them. Again, listen for a response. These are things you’ll want to encourage this Lent.
  • Finally, ask God what the world needs. There are many ways of reaching out during Lent, and we all generally just go for the most obvious. 2021 may need to be different. Listen to what God wants you to do this year.

The Lenten season unfolds so many possibilities. It is a gift of renewal. By planning before it begins, we can enter Lent in that same spirit, a spirit of renewal, of love, and of change.

Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: 3 Ways to Find Hope in 2021

For most people, 2020 was a year of trials, disasters, and fear, and many of us are concerned about what this new year will bring. But as Christians we are called to be a people of hope, and there are things that we can do to bring more light to ourselves and to those around us!

  • Pray first thing in the morning. If there’s no time for anything lengthy, then just start every day with a quick prayer. By doing that, you’ve changed the whole day already!
  • Don’t look for the pain. It’s all around us, and it can be overwhelming. Make it a point every day to look for the joy in the world and in your life. It’s there!
  • Get over yourself. The best way to find hope is to give it. Volunteer to do something in your parish or community. As the pandemic continues, there are options for helping out from the safety of your home, and there’s always someone who needs you!

Remember: we’re not the first ones to face difficult times, and nor are we alone. Jesus is with us, every day, every step, and our hope is built on his promises and his love. 2021 can be a year of celebration of God’s work in the world—if we make it happen!

Everyday Grace, Seasonal

Everyday Grace: 3 Ways to Find the Light

Set between Epiphany and Lent, on February 2, there’s a holiday that’s easy to overlook. It’s the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord Jesus and the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, but it’s also known as Candlemas, a Christian holiday adopted from a pagan one, marking the halfway point between the shortest day of the year and the beginning of spring, when traditionally candles were brought into churches to be blessed.

Candlemas is all about light. We’re starting to see more light here in the northern hemisphere as the days get longer. We’re reminded, too, that Christ is the light of the world. This is a holiday worth celebrating! Here’s what you might do:

  • Make it a fun family celebration. In France, the tradition is that each family member prepares and cooks a crêpe while holding a coin in their hand, bringing wealth and happiness until the next Candlemas celebration. So why not make a family celebration of cooking and eating crêpes together?
  • Decorate your home. Gather all your candles in one room and light them from one central candle. Or place a candle in each window (but watch them carefully!). Say a prayer of thanksgiving for the light, or you might choose this Candlemas prayer.
  • Celebrate all things new. Candlemas is a time of new beginnings. If you didn’t make New Year’s resolutions for change, this is a good time to make them instead. Try and find a resolution that will help you re-set your connection with God.

Whatever you choose to do, this holiday is a reminder to look to the light. We have been in darkness for a long time, and the promise of light—daylight, and the light of the love of Christ—is something to celebrate!

Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: 3 Ways to Cope With Recent Death

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

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

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

Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: 3 Ways to Develop Fortitude

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

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

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

Christmas, Seasonal

Sharing Hope with the World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christmas, Everyday Grace, Seasonal, Tips

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

There’s a lot of work, thought, anticipation, and activity leading up to Christmas, even this unusual Christmas, and for many people the following weeks feel like something of a letdown. The jolly Santa Claus images are looking a little tired; the big event we’ve been waiting for has come… and gone. How do you cope with the post-Christmas blues?

  • Keep the light going. The Christmas season is all about light: leave your nativity set out (and pray to the Infant Jesus), keep the decorations blinking and the candles lit: this is the season that gets us through the dark nights of winter and all the way to the Baptism of Our Lord and on to Candlemas.
  • Exercise. Many of us have neglected our bodies during the pandemic. The irony is that exercise makes us feel better, but we have to start! Exercise releases endorphins, and allow us to view the long nights and short days with equanimity.
  • Reach out. Did you know there’s a spike in calls to crisis centers right after Christmas? Loneliness and depression can move in for many different reasons. This is an excellent time to volunteer with an organization that reaches out to those who are alone, homeless, ill, elderly, or shut-in. There are many volunteer opportunities you can do from home, either via telephone or online. And getting you outside of yourself will improve your mood, too!

The manger was just the first step of our journey of faith, the journey that will take us though to the cross and the resurrection. Keeping that in perspective, and doing what we can to help ourselves and help others, is what will surely beat the post-Christmas blues!

Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: 3 Ways to Deal with Loneliness

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

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

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