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Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: 3 Ways to Enjoy Fall

In the northern hemisphere, the weather is turning crisper, the days shorter. Fall officially arrives tomorrow, and for many of us, the spring and summer were so different this year that it’s hard to feel enthusiastic about yet another season of uncertainty. Here are three things you can do to not just survive this autumn, but also thrive:

  • Set aside time for reflection. “In autumn’s vibrant colors there are reminders of summer’s fullness of life, of winter’s impending bleakness, and of the prospect of spring not far beyond. Autumn compels us to think about life’s transience and continuity all in one.” (Allen M. Young)
  • Limit your busyness. Fall seems to be a time of accelerating activities after the lull of summer, and you can lose your whole season that way. Choose one special fall recipe, and make it. Choose one craft project, and do it. The extra time you’ll find? Perhaps an hour of Eucharistic adoration once a week?
  • Celebrate the calendar. Fall is filled with beautiful celebrations! Check out this saint of the day calendar and mark these moments: St. John Henry Newman;  Sts. Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael; and coming up in October is St. Thérèse of Lisieux, the Guardian Angels, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, St. John Paul II… the calendar is chock-a-block with celebrations! Why not mark them at home and do something special?

Fall doesn’t need to be dismal: its vibrant colors, crisper air, and bright blue skies can help us find new ways of living in God’s presence. Why not try one today?

Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: How to be Presence to Others

Why do we suffer? It’s a complaint humanity has lodged with God through the long centuries of our relationship, and it’s as unanswerable today as it was to the early Israelites. God never promises that we’ll not suffer; what he does promise is that we won’t be along. And just as we know Jesus us beside us in our pain, we too can be with others when they are hurting. We can be presence to them. But… how?

  • Remember God is there. God doesn’t rush in to fix things or to sugarcoat anything; God is there for us for the long haul, though everything. If we remember that, it helps us to just be with someone else who is suffering.
  • Validate the other person’s pain. The worst thing you can do is say “Cheer up, it’s not really that bad.” Even if it doesn’t feel “that bad” to you, it feels that way to them. Respect that and don’t minimize others’ feelings.
  • Be Christ to the person in pain. Don’t try to come up with answers; just offer Christ’s presence. The most difficult thing is to do nothing and just be; but you’re not doing it by yourself.

No one understands why we suffer, and there are no “right” prefabricated answers to pain. All that there is, is presence. You can be that presence; you can make sure that the person in pain is not alone. The ability to freely enter into the suffering of another is a reflection of God’s love, and it’s what we’re all called to do. 

Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: 3 Ways to Enhance Your Life

So many times we think about improving our lives by getting rid of bad habits, or finding another way of looking at the world. But there are small, incremental things that can have a tremendous effect on our quality of life. What are some of them?

  • Spend an extra five minutes with God. Five minutes isn’t much. It’s feasible for just about everybody. No matter what else you do, an extra five minutes can make much more of a difference than you might think. Five minutes paying. Five minutes reading Scripture. Five minutes sitting in front of an icon. Five minutes singing. This small amount of time, over time, will improve your life exponentially.
  • Read a new translation. The approved Catholic translation of the Bible is the New Revised Standard Version (Catholic Edition), and it is where we turn for our daily and liturgical readings. But often we can find inspiration and elucidation by reading another version in addition to the NRSVCE. One interesting translation is The Message, which is not a study Bible, but rather a “reading Bible.” The verse numbers have been left out of the print version to facilitate easy and enjoyable reading. 
  • Do one “good deed” a day. We are at our most fully human when we are reaching out to others. This can be a small thing—a kind word at the checkout, paying for the coffee of the person behind you in line, offering to help someone carry their groceries—but it extends God’s love through you to others.

We all want to make big, dramatic changes in our lives, but the truth is that it’s the small things that over time can make the biggest difference. Try these for a few weeks and see what happens!

Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: Participating in God’s Creativity

Imagine trying to apply Jesus’ Golden Rule without creativity! He said, “In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12). So… how do you figure out what that is? By using your imagination! By putting yourself in that other person’s space. By participating in God’s creative work. We are made in God’s image, and therefore we participate in his creativity. But some days it’s not easy to feel creative. How can you manifest it today?

Here are some ideas:

  1. Ask yourself, “What if?” Every time we worry or feel discouraged, there’s always a counter-suggestion our creative minds can make. What if there could be a better food pantry in your community? What if that tired wall in your bedroom could be freshened up with an image or reminder of God’s beautiful creation? “What if” is the first step toward making change—toward creating!
  2. See what’s out there. Yes, as G.K. Chesterton pointed out, the grass is green. But how extraordinary, when you think of it, that it should be green! What a creative, beautiful color! Look at the world afresh and it will inspire you.
  3. Know you’re already doing it. You imagine every time you make a plan, whether it’s what to cook for dinner or how to educate your grandchildren. As long as you’re engaging with your mind and visualizing outcomes, you’re being creative.

God is a creator, and we as children of God have a creative side. We have a desire to make something new and beautiful. God’s world rings with wonders and we all have a part to play in the overall symphony.

Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: 3 Ways to Persevere

Endure and persevere. If we asked our ancestors the way through a crisis, chances are good their advice would include those words. A person who has perseverance endures, no matter what the trials or how much suffering or grief they have to go through. It’s from the root word meaning “to remain under.” It means a person would be willing to remain under trials, if necessary, and to follow God’s way. But how do we find that depth and breadth of perseverance?

  1. Read Scripture. We all look for how-to manuals; and we have one in the Bible. You’ll find if you read the Bible regularly, you’ll be less likely to get upset. (The opposite is also true: if you’re not reading the Bible regularly you’re more likely to become stressed and overreact to little things.)
  2. Keep moving. Perseverance isn’t about standing still, it’s about moving: St. Paul likens life to a race, and his images are appropriate. The world is powerful and trying to pull us down with lies, but we can discipline ourselves, and we can run. We don’t merely brace ourselves for the things life throws at us. We run through them, and we’re not running alone.
  3. Get outside yourself. We’re not only meant to persevere through our own problems: St. Paul tells us we “bear one another’s burdens,” too. Connection to both God and others will give us the strength to keep moving through whatever is before us, and in helping others persevere, we learn to persevere as well.

We can learn from St. Paul. God helped him persevere through horrific experiences—being shipwrecked, beaten, hunted, mocked, and thrown in jail. And even with all of this God gave St. Paul a “thorn” to remind him even more how much he needed God. St. Paul understood that God’s grace is sufficient for anything he might have to persevere through. God doesn’t always save us from hard times, but he will always be with us through hard times.

Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: Three Ways to Find Courage

“The true pilgrim who has found the way says in his thankful heart, ‘I will run when I can, when I cannot run I will go, and when I cannot go I will creep’ (Fr. William Congreve, SSJE).” Sometimes we forget that the greatest courage can be the quietest, and that creeping along can be blest by God.

  • Sometimes, courage is loud and obvious, as when David fought Goliath. Everyone saw how he defeated the giant. But courage isn’t always showy. Sometimes it’s quiet. You might see it but not be able to identify it at the time. Be aware of looking for examples of quiet courage in those around you; it can inspire your own.
  • Courage is persevering when we don’t like our circumstances. It’s looking at the hard day ahead and putting one foot in front of the other to keep moving forward. It’s saying, I don’t want to do this, but I have to, and I know I’m not alone—God is walking with me.
  • We can rest knowing we don’t have to depend on our own strength; God will give us what we need, when we need it. We have a Heavenly Father who is for us greatly encourages us in facing our fears.

However it is that you are facing the challenges of these days, even if you are creeping through them one step, one moment at a time, remember that as you creep, you are not alone. The One who promised to be with us, even to the end of the age, is with us still, whether we are running, or going, or creeping. 
 
This week, as you creep along, look back with amazement at what you have managed, and look forward with courage, knowing that Jesus is with you, even in your creeping.

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A Strategy for Dealing with Whatever Raises Our Ire

by Sr. Mary Lea Hill, FSP 
Complaints never just appear from nowhere. They are not isolated entities. There is always a “why” to be discovered, to be befriended, to be accepted or gently dissolved. Ranting, accusing, striking out are no more helpful than cowering, whimpering, and hiding when it comes to what causes complaint. 

Because we don’t always have control over what causes us to complain, we need to develop a strategy for dealing with whatever raises our ire. Begin by honestly telling yourself why you had to complain (this will require some soul-searching). Then try to make peace with it: either there is some truth to it (however small) or it is a fabrication, something we imagined or misunderstood, and so the best approach is to admit it to yourself. 

Finally, smile at yourself for making such a big story out of next to nothing. Turn it into a prayer, a little conversation with God!

To be honest, my reputation as a complainer is far better recognized by my sisters in community than by me, the source. So much so that when I transferred out of Boston to St. Louis, as a remembrance, they sent an effigy… of me! Luckily, it wasn’t a burnt effigy, but rather tasty. A saint would have jumped on that cookie and devoured it, but I kept it on my desk as a reminder of who I’m not, yet!

It’s a good thing we only get fleeting glimpses of ourselves, otherwise we’d probably be constantly despondent. The flashes of reality give us food for thought and a reason to examine each day to see how Christ-like we’ve been. So, ever onward! Let there be no more “iffy-effies.” It’s time to put on Christ—and radiate!

Complaints of the Saints available today.

Read the first six chapters now.

Explore all of Sr Mary Lea’s books.

Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: 3 Ways to Develop Patience

Patience! Who among us hasn’t wished for more of it? As one humorous prayer would have it, “God grant me patience, and I want it right now!” So much of our lives would be easier and more fruitful if we could just slow down and take life in God’s time, not our own. But how do you develop patience?

  • The spiritual practice of fasting is one way many of the saints—and less-saintly people—have been able to develop patience. Fasting can help you be more calm and patient, even in frustrating situations: because it doesn’t offer immediate gratification, it can help you develop an appreciation of waiting.
  • Since we often lose patience with other people, cutting them a little slack can start with inserting the word “yet” into our vocabularies. “Mary didn’t remember to call me yet” is a world away from “Mary didn’t remember to call me.”
  • It’s good to learn to observe when our lack of patience comes from a sense of entitlement. Problems aren’t all about us! If you’re sitting in bad traffic because of an accident on the road ahead, praying for those involved in the accident takes the focus off you and your impatience to get where you’re going on time.

“Love is patient,” says St. Paul, and if we are a people of love, as we are called to be, then we need to be a people of patience. Try just one of the suggestions here every day and see if it doesn’t get a little easier—and remember that if it doesn’t, prayer will always help!

Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: 3 Ways to Tame Your Worried Mind

We all know the verses in Scripture that tell us not to worry. But it’s a lot easier said than done! Worry seems to be the default position for many people, yet it’s not good for us and it’s not good for our relationship with God. But how can we quiet our worried minds?

  1. Analyze your worry. Sometimes if we can get through the emotions associated with worry, we can gain clarity around solving problems. What has worked for you in the past when you were worried? How can you apply those lessons today?
  2. Be specific in your prayers. God doesn’t want you to live in anxiety. What are your responses to worry? Fear, discouragement, anger, impatience? Ask him for help with the specifics of your situation.
  3. Re-align your focus. When you’re worried, your situation or fears about the future take center stage. Once you’ve handed them over to God, keep your focus on him and his word. Every time your mind starts fretting again, grab a Bible or prayer book and re-focus your attention. We’re always calmer when we are feeling the presence of God!

There’s a lot to be worried about, and it’s easy for worry to take the driver’s seat in times of stress. Being worried is feeling fear about a future that has yet to arrive. No matter how you deal with the situations you’re worried about, you’ll be better equipped to face them when you remember you’re not alone.

Inspiration, Listening to the Heart, saints

Accidental Parenting

I came to parenting a little backwards. I’d had not much intention of getting married, much less starting a family (“not my vocation,” as I’d often said), but I was enjoying getting to know Paul when in a phone conversation after our second date, he mentioned, almost in passing, that he had two children. Two. Children.

Okay, that pretty much was that. I remember pacing up and down the corridor in the apartment building where I lived (not much room for pacing in my studio!), and thinking, no, no, no.

God had other plans. Three months later I met said children—Jacob was five and Anastasia almost four—and a year later Paul and I were married. And I learned first-hand why parenting is not, but not, for the faint of heart.

Becoming a stepmother means walking into a house of grief. No matter whether the children’s mother has been lost through death or divorce, the loss is real and constant and the kids are not thrilled about someone being there in her place. Boundaries are tested. Decisions are second-guessed. Tears are shed. I felt that if God was calling me to do this thing, then I was going to do it the best I could—but he was going to have to help!

And he did. Those early years were tough years, I won’t pretend they weren’t. Later years were tough, too, though for different reasons. Jacob is now twenty-eight, Anastasia twenty-seven, and frankly these days I cannot imagine my life without them in it. Our marriage didn’t survive, but my parenting did, and in retrospect I am so grateful to have had the honor of helping raise these two beautiful young people.

I suspect many parents feel that same honor at the end of the day. And grandparents, too. It’s just what one does before that’s… tricky. There are hundreds of parenting manuals out there, and none of them offers a magic formula, a secret method for getting it right. Maybe there really is no one “right” way to parent. Are you too strict? Not strict enough? Should you allow them to read anything they want? Should you censor who they hang out with?

I know how difficult it was to parent my stepchildren through what might euphemistically be called a “normal” time; I cannot imagine it in the time of coronavirus, where the decisions you’re making are, quite literally, life-and-death decisions. What children crave as much as love is certainty: they like a routine, a schedule. They need to know what will happen next week. They have to be sure the blocks of their world will stay the same for the foreseeable future. And how can anyone promise them that—now? We don’t know what the next few weeks, or months, or years will bring; how can we communicate reassurance to our kids and grandkids?

When I’m feeling a little lost, I turn to the Church, because in the thousands of years of our existence, you can be sure there’s someone, somewhere, who has something to teach us. And in looking for parenting models, the most obvious choice are the parents of Our Lady: Anna and Joachim, the earthly grandparents of Jesus.

Like me, they were a little surprised by their foray into parenting. I had never wanted to have children; they were unable to have children; and yet by God’s design we all ended up doing his will. Joachim and Anna are not mentioned in the Bible, but other documents outside of the Biblical canon do provide some details. These documents outline some of the Church’s traditional beliefs about Joachim, Anne and their daughter.

One story says that, rebuked in the Temple for his fifty years of childless marriage, Joachim took his flocks and went to a high mountain, refusing to return home in shame. Meanwhile, Anna prayed in her garden. God sent the Archangel Gabriel to each of them, who gave them tidings of the birth of “a daughter most blessed, by whom all the nations of the earth will be blessed, and through whom will come the salvation of the world.” Each promised to have their child raised in the Temple as a holy vessel of God. The archangel told Joachim to return home, where he would find his wife waiting for him in the city gate. Anna he told to wait at the gate. When they saw one another, they embraced, and this image is the traditional icon of their feast.

This may or may not be exactly what happened. But what did happen, and this we know, is that they raised a young woman to fulfill her role in a story far bigger than their lives, to become the handmaid of the Lord and the mother of longed for Messiah. And while I expect they had as many bumps in their parenting journey as I did—it cannot be easy, bringing up a child when one is well into one’s grandparenting years!—they still kept faith. They still prepared her for what the future would bring. They had no way of knowing what that would be—just as we, today, really don’t know what the future holds.

But, trite as it is to say, we do know who holds the future. We know that God guided Anna and Joachim, just as he guided me, just as he is guiding mothers and fathers and stepparents and grandparents today.

The world is as uncertain now as it’s ever been. Our children crave stability, and we can give it to them. Not necessarily in the way we’d like to, but in a way that’s better, more profound, longer-lasting. We can give them the stability of a life in Christ, the certainty of the love of God, the protection of the Holy Spirit. That’s the best gift we can give our children, and the only certainty any of us ever really has, now or ever.

And… they do notice. On her 23rd birthday, Anastasia wrote me a letter, thanking me for giving her, among other things, the Mass, and a trust in God. But I knew that already, because I have the privilege now of watching how she lives. And that makes it all worthwhile.

by Jeannette de Beauvoir

Image: Dimitris Vetsikas for Pixabay