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Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: 3 Ways to Care for Yourself

We often think that doing for others is the only way to be a faithful Christian. But the only way we can do for others is to first do for ourselves, so we are strong and steady in helping them. When you board an aircraft, the cabin crew will tell you that in the event of an emergency, it’s your duty to first locate and put on your oxygen mask, before helping your child or parent or friends locate theirs. You cannot help anyone else breathe when you can’t breathe yourself. In these difficult times, it’s a good reminder that we have a responsibility to God and to those who depend on us—to take care of ourselves. How?

  1. Self-care isn’t bubble baths and manicures. Self-care means giving your mind and your body what they need to function well. So make sure you get enough sleep (8 hours is recommended), that you eat healthy foods, that you find ways to exercise.
  2. Self-care isn’t something that comes easily: it is a discipline. We confuse self-care with self-indulgence, whereas it is the bedrock of our lives in Christ. We cannot accomplish being okay by sheer willpower, we have to work toward it through proper self-care. We are both body and soul, and we must care for both.
  3. Know yourself. Self-care will look different from one person to the next. What really matters is knowing yourself and what restores you. What restores and sustains you during stressful times might differ from what helps your friends and family recharge.

You probably already know what your body, your mind, and your soul need to feel healthy and nurtured. Give yourself permission to engage in those practices, and take them on as a daily discipline so you can continue to grow in Christ and bring others to the joy of his presence and of his love.

Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: Beginning a New Summer

Summer’s officially here! And while the glorious long days are wonderful, summer can wreak havoc with your spiritual practices. For those of you who have gone back to church, it can be difficult to focus on the liturgy while also following social distancing requirements. Some churches offer fewer Mass times in the summer, friends you count on are off on vacation, and frankly, during the lockdown you’ve been doing spiritual reading to sustain you and you might not have the energy now to read more. What can you do?

  • Make a retreat. This is the best time for it, when your family is occupied with their own summer pursuits. There are some beautiful DIY retreats you can do (Awakening Love is one of them) and you’ll immediately feel a reconnection with God.
  • Reconnect with nature. The earth is God’s gift to us, but we take it for granted most of the time (and spend a good part of the winter avoiding it altogether!). Take a walk—preferably barefoot—and drink in the beauty of God’s world. This is the year of Laudato si, Pope Francis’ reminder that we are all connected to our planet and all who live here. Take advantage of it!
  • Understand that this summer is different. With the fine weather, there’s a temptation to pretend that COVID-19 is behind us, to draw a line under everything bleak and difficult that’s happened in the first part of the year. But as you find the “new normal,” remember that we all need to talk a little differently in the world this year, and that your prayers are what keep you sane… and others safe. Pray for your community, that the summer will be a healthy one for all.

Summertime is an amazing opportunity to get outside, to feel the sun and the wind, to rediscover the world we’ve been missing as we sheltered in place. Be safe as you begin to enjoy it again!

Inspiration, saints

What does St. Paul have to say to YOU?

St. Paul is one of those saints who speaks to people throughout the ages. His love for Jesus Christ, and his journeys to bring the message of Jesus to others, tell us of Paul’s commitment to him. What is remarkable is that Saul—his name before he became Christian—began his life as a very committed Jew. He was born into an observant Jewish family and was very well educated in both secular subjects and the Jewish law. He was so passionate about his religion that he searched high and low for Christians, arrested them, persecuted them, and threw them into jail.

But Jesus Christ powerfully intervened in his life when Saul was on his way to Damascus to arrest more Christians. Suddenly, a light from heaven flashed around him. He heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” What an eye-opening response!

As we reflect on the encounter between Jesus and Saul, we realize that Saul not only “encountered” Jesus in the sense that he met Jesus. St. Paul actually experienced Jesus. Jesus and Paul opened themselves to each other, deeply revealing themselves to the other. Paul’s mind and heart, therefore, experienced Jesus, he knew Jesus as a Person. This encounter changed his life. He became a believer, a Christian, and was baptized by Ananias. 

After Paul’s conversion, he went into the desert for three years, spending his time in prayer and being instructed by the Holy Spirit. He emerged filled with love for Jesus and his heart burned to bring the Good News of Jesus throughout the known world.

For about 20 years he traveled throughout much of the known world preaching about Jesus and founding Christian communities in Asia and Europe. Paul’s passionate love for and commitment to Jesus are evident in letters that he wrote to these communities. It is also clear that Paul’s love has reached the pinnacle of uniting him completely to Jesus. This is especially poignant and clear in his Letter to the Philippians 1:21 when he writes that “for me to live is Christ” and when from his experience he exhorts them to “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:5).

St. Paul writes these words to us. We, too, are to be united with Jesus, so that gradually we are transformed into him. Then our thoughts resemble those of Jesus, our choices, and our love—for God, for ourselves, and for others—become those of Jesus Christ. This is a lifelong journey in which we continually seek to know Jesus, by prayerfully reading Scripture, especially the New Testament, and by spending time with Jesus in prayer. He speaks and we listen—and we speak and he listens.

St. Paul will accompany us in our spiritual journey toward transformation into Christ so that we too will one day be able to say, “For me to live is Christ.”

by Sr. Patricia Shaules, FSP
Image: Dimitris Vetsikas for Pixabay

Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: 3 Ways to Find Joy During Hard Times

Let’s face it, the first half of the year 2020 hasn’t offered any of us the easiest of times. Maybe you’ve lost someone you loved to COVID-19. Maybe you’ve been ill, yourself. Perhaps your business has failed as a result of the economic downturn. And then just as we felt we could finally talk about something else, we were all faced with the fallout from our systems that promoted systematic racism. Where do we find joy in any of that?

  • Know you’re not alone. James writes that “whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance” (James 1:2-3). Job lost everything but still praised God. We are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses cheering us on; that has to make you smile!
  • Shift your perspective. No matter what is happening in your life, there are places to find joy—even if it’s only in acknowledging that things could be worse. Look around you, right now, this moment, and see the things you have to be thankful for. God never sends trials without sending gifts as well.
  • Don’t get confused. Joy is not the same thing as happiness. Happiness is a feeling that comes and goes, buffeted by life’s circumstances; joy, on the other hand, abides. Experiencing God’s joy is a choice. During dark days, when we think we just can’t make it another step, let’s remember that Jesus never leaves us, no matter how unhappy we may feel.  

“Joy,” writes Pope Francis, “does not mean living from laugh to laugh. No, it’s not that. Joy is not entertainment. No, it’s not that. It is something else. Christian joy is peace, peace that is deeply rooted, peace in the heart, the peace that only God can give. This is Christian joy.”

We wish it to you all.

Photo: Abed Mhajne for Unsplash

Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: 3 Ways to Help Heal the Racial Divide

The past few weeks have been fraught with anger, fear, and distress, not just in the United States but all over the world. Who would have thought that a global pandemic would take second place in our immediate concerns. How can any of us make sense of it? How can we discern what our role needs to be?

Here are three ideas for what you can do, both now and in the long term:

  • Try to identify types of projects or activities that bring together different individuals, schools, parishes, small groups and/or communities to work together on an issue.
  • Listen to a podcast reviewing why Catholics need to care about racism.
  • You could turn to Mary and pray the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary for an end to violence.

As Pope Francis said on Pentecost: “The Spirit loves us and knows everyone’s place in the grand scheme of things: for him, we are not bits of confetti blown around by the wind; rather we are irreplaceable fragments in his mosaic.” The USCCB has resources to combat racism that include articles, videos, and more, and they might give you some ideas for remembering that we are not that confetti but are all irreplaceable fragments in his mosaic.

Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: How to Not Lose Hope

We’re living in difficult times. Every day we wake up to news that seems to get worse and worse as the days progress. It’s easy to feel discouraged! We know that as Christians we are people of hope. But how do we stay hopeful in the midst of everything?

  • Stay positive in your messaging. It’s easy to take to social media with complaints and accusations; it’s easy to feed the negativity around us. But if you consciously decide to not participate in it, if you keep your messaging positive no matter what, you’ll find that there are things to be hopeful about. Pope Francis said in 2017:  “never to yield to the negativity that tears things and people down, but keep building, try to make this world conform ever more fully to God’s plan.”
  • Read about a saint who found hope in the midst of trials. The saints weren’t those who never fell, but those who never gave in to their falls. There have been times as difficult as ours, and in every age people have risen to the challenges presented to them. This is a good time to develop a devotion to one such saint.
  • Pray. Prayer grounds us in the realization that, first of all, we are not alone. Even when seemingly no one else hears us in our pleas, God always hears us. It reminds us that the truly important things in life are bigger than us and we must set aside our pride to focus on what is truly important in life.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, in his encyclical Spe Salvi (Saved by Hope) stressed how the virtue of hope is critical for anyone who encounters suffering: “[T]he present, even if it is arduous, can be lived and accepted if it leads towards a goal, if we can be sure of this goal, and if this goal is great enough to justify the effort of the journey” (Spe Salvi 1).

Inspiration

As the economy opens up, let’s not forget each other

In this watershed moment for humanity—a global pandemic—we need more than a vaccine. We’ve all realized by now that things won’t return to normal, at least not any time soon, and maybe they shouldn’t.

I’ve been much more careful of what I consume, more caring of others, more concerned for the rest of the world whom I see in a new way as my family. We live together on this common earth we call home.

In a moment of fear I place my hopes on a vaccine that will keep me safe. In my better moments I remember that the problem is much more than a drug to keep away a virus. The situation is complex and the crux of the problem lies at the intersection of the failure of each of us. In little ways and on a larger scale, we harm others, the earth that supports us, and ourselves when we choose the “impulses that come from the flesh” over those that come from the Spirit. When we choose egoism over generosity. Domination over disinterested service. Discord, dissension and prejudice over living in a truly human and Christian way, in love.

Last week, Catholics around the world celebrated Laudato Si’ Week, marking the fifth anniversary of Pope Francis’ landmark encyclical on the environment. The week focused on interconnectedness during a time when we are experiencing it more than ever on a worldwide scale in light of COVID-19.

We’ve seen how a virus that began with one person has spread globally, and how that has affected our collective health, economy, and environment. And yet in the midst of this, miracles have happened. Because of how we have all slowed down, we see pictures of clear water, clear skies, the return of wildlife where before there was smog, litter, and cloudy water ways.

We’ve also started to see how reliant we are on our healthcare workers, our grocery-store workers, and our community leaders. We see how much responsibility we bear for the most vulnerable among us, and how they are often the ones who feel the effects of our actions first.

This connectedness has always existed, and will hopefully be more a part of our thought and conscience after the virus has passed. Globalization means that the products I consume impact the conditions in which people live and work on the other side of the world. The challenge will be taking the lessons we learn in this time and using them to make those connections more prayerful, more deliberate, and more just. We have to remember how our actions impact each other, even after life gets busier and it’s easy to once more forget our interconnectedness once our economies “open up” again.

The urgent challenge to protect our common home includes a concern to bring the whole human family together to seek a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change. The Creator does not abandon us; he never forsakes his loving plan or repents of having created us. Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home (Pope Francis, Laudato si’, 13).

The Church is just now beginning a special Laudato Si’ Anniversary Year. Pope Francis sees this anniversary year—and the decade that will follow it—as a time of grace, a true Kairos experience and “jubilee” time for the Earth, for humanity, and for all God’s creatures. Perhaps during these days, when so many have stepped back from the normal rhythm of life, we’ve had more time to pause and examine the big picture. Hopefully, we can launch ourselves into this anniversary year reflecting on some lessons that are common to both this coronavirus pandemic and the climate crisis.

As we saw during the Laudato Si’ week, there are direct links between the current pandemic and our lack of environmental response. The present crisis is an opportunity to start over again, and to make sure the world that arises after this crisis is sustainable and just.

The encyclical can indeed provide the moral and spiritual compass for the journey ahead, so we can create a more caring, fraternal, peaceful, and sustainable world. We have a unique opportunity to transform the present groaning and travail of creation into the birth pangs of a new way of living together, bonded together in love, compassion and solidarity, and a more harmonious relationship with the natural world, our common home. The pandemic has made clear how deeply we are all interconnected and interdependent. As we begin to envision a post-COVID world, we need above all an integral approach as “everything is closely interrelated and today’s problems call for a vision capable of taking into account every aspect of the global crisis” (LS, 137).

Let’s start with this prayer from the USCCB, based on Laudato Si’:

Father of all,
Creator and ruler of the universe,
You entrusted your world to us as a gift.
Help us to care for it and all people,
that we may live in right relationship–
with You,
with ourselves,
with one another,
and with creation.

Christ our Lord,
both divine and human,
You lived among us and died for our sins.
Help us to imitate your love for the human family
by recognizing that we are all connected—
to our brothers and sisters around the world,
to those in poverty impacted by environmental devastation,
and to future generations.

Holy Spirit,
giver of wisdom and love,
You breathe life in us and guide us.
Help us to live according to your vision,
stirring to action the hearts of all—
individuals and families,
communities of faith,
and civil and political leaders.

Triune God, help us to hear the cry of those in poverty, and the cry of the earth, so that we may together care for our common home.

Amen.

by Sr. Kathryn James Hermes, FSP

Image: Jakob Owens for Unsplash

Everyday Grace

3 Tips for (Soul) Spring Cleaning

It may have felt that spring was somewhat delayed this year, but it’s really here and it’s high time to start thinking about spring cleaning! And while getting your home aired out and scrubbed is satisfying, it’s also useful to think about clearing out some of the bad habits you might have picked up over the long winter and through the long pandemic. Here are a few tips to get you started:

  • While building a habit is good, doing the same thing over and over again eventually feels rote. So clear out your prayer life with something new. There are a number of beautiful prayer books (Queen of Apostles Prayer Book, Sacred Heart Prayer Book, Holy Spirit Prayer Book) that can give you fresh words and ideas to enhance your prayer time.
  • Notice how “stuff” gets accumulated over the winter? We’re just not as careful about cleaning then. Even if you cannot go to confession, you can clean out your interior life by making an Act of Contrition. It clears the decks of all the times you’ve tripped and fallen, and you’ll be all set for the springtime of your soul!
  • What can you get rid of? Are there things that you’re clinging to that are standing between you and God? Maybe it’s resenting someone else, or wishing that you had as much as someone else, or holding onto a perceived insult. Let them all go!

Spring cleaning for your soul can be just as liberating as spring cleaning for your home. It will give you a whole fresh outlook on life!

 

image: The Creative Exchange for Unsplash

Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: Be Brave!

We’re living through a time that asks us to do things we’ve never had to do before. We’re choosing to do what is right for our communities and our families, even though it is sometimes costly for us. And now, as it seems that our environment is changing yet again, we’re called upon to be brave. To continue to do what is right for all of us. Christian courage is the willingness to say and do the right thing regardless of the cost. Jesus promised that nothing on earth was going to be easy, and he was right! What can you do to find courage in everyday life?

  • Make specific plans. If you know you’re going into a situation that is going to demand you to take a stand, think about it ahead of time. Practice what your response will be. The more prepared you are, the less scary things will be.
  • Find role models. You’re not the first person who has had to be courageous. The Bible is filled with stories of people who were scared but moved forward anyway; so are the lives of the saints. Fill your heart and mind with them.
  • Pray without ceasing. You’re not in this alone: the Holy Spirit is with you every step of the way, in every conversation and every awkward situation and every danger. Do not hesitate to call for help: that’s what the Spirit is there for!

Life can be scary, and times can be challenging, but when you’re called to be courageous, you have tools you can use to help you. You have this!

Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: 3 Ways to Tame Your Anxiety

We’re all experiencing anxiety these days. We don’t know what the future holds; we’re isolated from supportive environments and people; we can even feel abandoned by God. And our bodies make it worse, because they’re treating the discomfort of anxiety as danger to our organisms.

What do we do when we’re in danger? Our bodies have only three responses: fight, flight, and freeze. None of those responses is helpful in our current situation. But there are some things we can do that will help alleviate some of the distress and discomfort of anxiety:

  • Remind yourself: you’re okay and you’re not alone. Everybody is experiencing anxiety right now. Try writing down your worries, getting as granular and close to the root cause as possible. As you write, what may have seemed like an overwhelming, murky constellation of problems will suddenly come into focus and be narrowed down to a set of realistic concerns.
  • Be easy on yourself. Some days will be worse than others. It’s important to cut yourself some slack on the days you’re feeling bad—days, even, when things do seem unmanageable. We’re living through a global health crisis, after all; times are tough, they’re stressful, and struggling with dark thoughts or overwhelming feelings is to be expected.
  • Use your tools. We’re so blessed to have our faith to help us keep perspective through this terrible time. There are many online opportunities—to join a prayer circle, to stream Mass, to read spiritual classics—as well as your own devotions. Why not say a Hail Mary during your handwashing time? Why not add an Examen at the end of the day? These practices will all help you keep your anxiety at a social distance!

We’re all so used to being in control, so see this time as an opportunity to know that God’s in control, and to just give him more control: let go, and let God.