Everyday Grace: 6 Steps to a More Meaningful Prayer Life: Part One

“Lord, teach us to pray!” was the request of the disciples, and it’s true that we’re all searching for a prayer life that will keep us centered on God, even when we’re not actually on our knees. This week and next week we’ll look at some things you can do to enrich your prayer life and bring yourself into a space that’s mindful and meaningful. This week it’s three things you can do to prepare for prayer:

  • Set your prayer time apart. You won’t pray regularly unless you plan for it, and weaving it into the rhythm of your daily life will help form the habit. You might write your prayer time in your daily planner, or pray right before or after meals, or choose a time that’s reasonable and set an alarm to remind yourself. You always make time for the things you need: work, appointments, etc. This is just as important, so make sure you don’t approach prayer haphazardly. It won’t happen unless you make it happen.
  • Separate yourself from distractions. Don’t leave your phone on, turn off the radio, the television, anything that is distracting. If possible, go somewhere alone: outside, in a separate room, even in a hallway or a parked car, etc. Finding solitude is one of the best conduits for prayer.
  • Be present to the Presence. “The body ought to pray as well as the soul. Body and soul are both better for it.” (C.S. Lewis) You don’t have to kneel or stand, though many people find that helps. Just be present in your body as well as your mind. You are conversing with God, so enter into the conversation with respect and awe.

Preparing your prayer is the best way to ensure you will continue it into the rest of your life’s events and duties. Now that you’re prepared, next time we’ll take on the practice of prayer itself!


The Brown Scapular: 6 common questions

The Brown Scapular is known officially as the Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Many of us who are fifty years of age or older were invested in the brown scapular at the time of our First Holy Communion. But to be honest, even though I know I was, I don’t remember it (I was in second grade, after all!). Nevertheless, wearing the brown scapular was a part of our Marian devotion growing up. If you are new to the brown scapular or, like me, are just hoping to find out more about it, here are answers to the six most commonly asked questions about the brown scapular:

Where did the brown scapular come from?

The Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel hearkens back to St Simon Stock, who often prayed to the Virgin Mary asking her to favor the Carmelite Order with some singular sign of her favor. It is said St Simon Stock saw an apparition in Cambridge, England on July 16, 1251 in which the Virgin Mary appeared to him holding the Scapular. She said, “Receive, my beloved son, this scapular of thy Order; it is the special sign of my favor, which I have obtained for thee and for thy children of Mount Carmel. He who dies clothed with this habit shall be preserved from eternal fire. It is the badge of salvation, a shield in time of danger, and a pledge of special peace and protection.”

How does the brown scapular reflect the habit of the Carmelite monks and nuns?

In its large form the Carmelite scapular consists of the brown apron-like part of the Carmelite habit. It extends to almost the length of the habit in the front and the back. The Carmelite Scapular forms an essential part of the monastic habit of Carmelites. In its original context, the meaning of this promise of the Virgin Mary to St Simon Stock was that Carmelite religious who persevered in their vocation would be saved.

Beginning in the 16th century, the Carmelites began giving the Brown Scapular to lay people who wanted to be affiliated with the Order, and it became increasingly popular as a religious article. In its smaller, devotional form the scapular is made up of two small pieces of cloth joined by two bands of cloth worn over the shoulders. For centuries, the Church has held that one doesn’t have to be a monk or a nun to be a part of the Carmelite family, wear the Scapular, or enjoy its blessings. All Christians are able to put on the Scapular to express their love for the Mother of God and enjoy this sign of Mary’s protection.

How does wearing the scapular express devotion to Mary?

According to a 1996 doctrinal statement approved by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, The Brown Scapular is “an external sign of the filial relationship established between the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother and Queen of Mount Carmel, and the faithful who entrust themselves totally to her protection, who have recourse to her maternal intercession, who are mindful of the primacy of the spiritual life and the need for prayer” (Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments; Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy. Principles and Guidelines. Vatican, 2001).

The brown scapular is a garment we wear as both a sign of our belonging to Mary and as a pledge of her maternal protection in this life and the next. It expresses our  consecration to and trust in Mary, and is an incentive to imitate Our Lady’s virtues, especially her humility, chastity, and prayerfulness.

What is the benefit of being invested in the brown scapular?

All those invested with the Brown Scapular become sharers in all the fruits of the good works of the Carmelite Order. After death they share in all the prayers of the Carmelites and in a weekly Mass offered by every Carmelite priest, all the deceased members of the Scapular Confraternity are remembered.

All those who out of true love and veneration for the Blessed Virgin constantly wear the scapular in a spirit of faith, after being properly invested with it, will enjoy the help of the Mother of God, especially regarding their eternal salvation.

What does the scapular look like?

In the current Catechesis prepared under the direction of the North American prior provincials of the Carmelite Order and the Order of Discalced Carmelites and given imprimatur by the Archbishop of Washington D.C., the scapular must consist of two pieces of brown cloth with one segment hanging on the wearer’s chest, and the other hanging on his/her back. These pieces are joined by two straps or strings which overlap each shoulder—hence the word “scapular” (shoulder blade). Religious pictures or symbols, though unnecessary, may be sewn on; this custom began in the eighteenth century. The catechesis also acknowledged that the Scapular was formerly required to be made from 100% wool (a rule since dropped); it noted the habits of the Carmelite religious are also now typically made of other, less expensive yet more practical materials. It is normally worn under the clothes but not pinned to undergarments.

Because wool deteriorates rapidly in tropical climates, since 1910 those properly invested into a confraternity may wear a properly blessed scapular medal with the depiction of Jesus with his Sacred Heart on one side and Mary on the obverse. However, Pope Pius X expressed his preference for the cloth scapular. Pope Benedict XV has also proclaimed the Church’s strong preference for cloth to be worn rather than the medal. This preference is because cloth is important to the sign value of the scapular as a garment, a habit.

Do I need to be invested in the brown scapular?

Unlike typical sacramentals, brown scapulars are not merely blessed. A person needs to be invested by a priest. The short form of investing or conferral consists of a priest or deacon taking a blessed scapular and while placing it over their head reciting with the person any Marian prayer (e.g. Hail Mary, Memorare, Salve Regina). The person is now invested.

In the “Catechesis and Ritual for the Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel”, published in 2000 and distributed by ICS Publications, the prayer there is a short prayer that can be used for investiture:

“Receive this Scapular, a sign of your special relationship with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, whom you pledge to imitate. May it be a reminder to you of your dignity as a Christian, in serving others and imitating Mary. Wear it as a sign of her protection and of belonging to the Family of Carmel, voluntarily doing the will of God and devoting yourself to building a world true to his plan of community, justice and peace.”

There are no lists to join, though those who are invested in the brown scapular are henceforth members of the Scapular Confraternity and share in its spiritual benefits (the prayers of the members). No special daily practices are obliged, though someone consecrated to Mary, of which the scapular is the sign, should live chastity according to their state and recite the Rosary daily.

There is also a long form in the Book of Blessings, chapter 46, which is very fitting for group investments. One final note: investing is done with the cloth scapular. Those who wish to wear the medal can do so after investment. The scapular blessing attaches to each subsequent scapular. A new blessing is not required.






Why Cultivate a Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus

June is drawing to a close, and we cannot leave it without remembering its dedication to the Sacred Heart. To many people, devotion to the Sacred Heart seems a little strange. We worship Christ who was resurrected from the dead, and yet we have a special devotion to his… heart?

Inspired by the Holy Spirit, the Church recommends this devotion, and we all know about it, but we don’t necessarily know why. And yet even when we don’t “know” in our heads, we “know” in our own hearts and souls: with so much indifference to faith in the world, having Jesus call to us though his heart, giving us the symbol of God’s infinite love, the symbol of his generous self-sacrificing love for humanity, speaks directly to our own hearts.

And we cannot forget the simplicity of the symbolism: in every language, the heart is regarded as the natural symbol of love and affection.

In fact, humanity has always associated the heart with love. It is the life-force of the body; when the heart stops beating, life ends. So it’s not surprising that as devotion to the Incarnated Christ increased in the Church, people experienced his love for them through his heart.

In Judaism, the word “heart” is referring to every person’s core. While recognized as the principle life organ, the heart is also considered the center of all spiritual activity and the seat of all emotion, especially love. As the psalms express, God speaks to a person in their heart. This notion of the heart is clear when we read the words of Deuteronomy 6:5-6: “Therefore, you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength. Take to heart these words which I enjoin on you today.”

Throughout the Gospel we see the outpouring of Jesus’ love from his heart—in the miracle stories, his reconciliation of sinners, and his compassion for the grieving. Even on the cross, Jesus poured out his love for us as the soldier’s lance pierced his side and blood and water poured out.

The early Church Fathers clearly cherished this meaning of the Sacred Heart:

  • St. Justin Martyr said, “We Christians are the true Israel which springs from Christ, for we are carved out of His heart as from a rock.”
  • St. Irenaeus of Lyons said, “The Church is the fountain of the living water that flows to us from the Heart of Christ.”
  • St. Paulinus of Nola said, “John, who rested blissfully on the breast of our Lord, was inebriated with the Holy Spirit, from the Heart of all creating Wisdom he quaffed an understanding which transcends that of any creature.”

General devotions to the Sacred Heart were popular in early Benedictine and Cistercian monasteries, but specific devotions became even more popular when St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, a Visitation nun, had a personal revelation involving a series of visions of Christ as she prayed before the Blessed Sacrament. She wrote, “He disclosed to me the marvels of his Love and the inexplicable secrets of his Sacred Heart,” with the chief features of the devotion being reception of Holy Communion on the first Friday of each month, Eucharistic adoration during a Holy Hour on Thursdays, and the celebration of the Feast of the Sacred Heart.

The devotion continued to grow throughout the Middle Ages, and in 1353 Pope Innocent VI instituted a Mass honoring the mystery of the Sacred Heart. During the age of the Protestant movement, devotion to the Sacred Heart was practiced in hope of restoring peace to a world shattered by political and religious persecution.

St. Margaret Mary Alacoque was given promises as well as admonitions, the benefits that could be accrued when we pray to the Sacred Heart:

  • I will give them all the graces necessary in their state of life.
  • I will give peace in their families and will unite families that are divided.
  • I will console them in all their troubles.
  • I will be their refuge during life and, above all, in death.
  • I will bestow the blessings of Heaven on all their enterprises.
  • Sinners shall find in my Heart the source and infinite ocean of mercy.
  • Tepid souls shall become fervent.
  • Fervent souls shall rise quickly to great perfection.
  • I will bless those places wherein the image of My Heart shall be exposed and honored and will imprint My love on the hearts of those who would wear this image on their person. I will also destroy in them all disordered movements.
  • I will give to priests who are animated by a tender devotion to my Divine Heart the gift of touching the most hardened hearts.
  • Those who promote this devotion shall have their names written in my Heart, never to be effaced.
  • I promise you in the excessive mercy of my Heart that my all-powerful love will grant to all those who communicate on the First Friday in nine consecutive months, the grace of final penitence: they will not die in my disgrace, nor without receiving their Sacraments. My Divine Heart shall be their safe refuge in this last moment.

Devotion to the Sacred Heart provides a special closeness to the incarnated nature of God. We love his heart with all of our own hearts. We rest our heads, our worries, and our pain within his heart, and he has promised that he will hear us.

More than just a way of prayer, this devotion is based on the essence of the Gospel: to take on the heart of Jesus so as to live in his love and bring it to others. No matter what stage of spiritual growth you are experiencing, praying to the Sacred Heart of Jesus can help you grow more deeply in love with Jesus and experience the love of his Sacred Heart in your life.

by Jeannette de Beauvoir


Everyday Grace 3 Ways to Do What Christ Asks of Us

We’re all familiar with the Gospel reading in which Jesus tells us, “whatever you do to the least of these, you’ve done until me”… and it’s probable that we all try our best to treat others as we’d like them to treat us. But author Caryll Houselander is much more direct and practical (probably the most practical of any mystical writer): she brings this notion of “seeing Christ in everyone” right into our kitchens and offices and relationships by challenging us to make it real. That person you’re arguing with—if they were Christ, would it change the way you put your point across? Would it change the way you listen as they put their point across? It’s a sobering thought, but you can do it!

  1. Visualization: We all have images in our minds of what Christ looks like. When you feel angry, or upset, or vexed with someone, take a few minutes on your own to visualize. Think about the person with whom you’re upset. And now visualize Jesus taking that person’s place. Imagine him there in front of you. How would you handle the situation now?
  2. Question yourself. Encounters with others always change us in some way or another. How do you talk to the people around you? How do you relate to the people at the shop, at the office, at school? Are you treating them as though they were Christ? How could you change that?
  3. Practice, practice, practice! It’s easier to see Christ in the abstract, in people we pass by every day. It’s harder to see him in the person in the cubicle next to yours, in the nosy neighbor, in the houseguest overstaying their welcome. It doesn’t happen all at once. Every day you have to recommit to responding to those people as though they were Jesus. But practicing helps!

Seeing Christ in others isn’t just a way of responding to the Gospels. After you do it long enough, you’ll find that people respond to you. In the end, that makes for a kinder world. And that’s something we all can live with!



3 Ways to Change The World

No one but God can change the world in one fell swoop, and it’s often discouraging to even consider change: the problems are so vast, and we are so small. Yet God is sensitive to the smallest things—he notices, we’re told, when the smallest of sparrows falls from the tree—and small acts, taken together, are the most powerful agents of change. Here are three you might try:

  • Be positive. It’s easy to be overwhelmed and discouraged. But when you feel negative, that’s what you project out into the world. When you’re having a bad day, a stranger’s smile or a coworker’s kind word can transform your experience. You can do that for someone else… every day! There isn’t a single experience that isn’t a chance for healing, goodness, and evolution.
  • Reduce your TV and social media time. How much of our negativity gets fed by our consumption of news? What else could you do with that time? Plant a garden, volunteer to help others, make a visit to the Blessed Sacrament… these are all actions that will change the world. Watching Netflix, not so much. You don’t have to give it all up…. Just be aware of your stewardship of time!
  • Pray the Our Father for the intentions of the world. “The ‘Our Father’ is a prayer that ignites in us the same love of Jesus for the will of the Father, a flame that drives us to transform the world with love,” said Pope Francis. Prayer changes things. Pray for missionaries, for teachers, for those who every day work to make the world a better place.

“Even the smallest person,” wrote J.R.R. Tolkien, “can change the course of the future.”  We might all feel small, but in God’s eyes we’re not. Once we accept that, once we’re grateful for that, then there’s nothing we cannot do!


Everyday Grace: 3 Ways to Love the Unlovable

We all know we’re supposed to see Christ in everyone, but with some people that’s a tall order. We all have someone—or several “someones”—in our lives who make it very difficult indeed to follow Jesus’ gospel admonitions to love our neighbors as ourselves. What are we to do?

  • Take God’s perspective. Don’t treat people the way they treat you; treat them the way God treats you. One of God’s most noticeable characteristics is that he loves everyone the same. If he can do that for everyone, then surely you can do it for someone.
  • Lower your expectations. If you enter into anything—a relationship, a conversation, or anything in between—with certain expectations of how the other person is going to behave, then you will be disappointed. You have the right to expect a certain level of behavior from yourself; not from them.
  • Don’t give up. Remember that God never gives up on us, no matter how many times we disappoint, no matter how many promises we break, no matter how bad our behavior. When people understand that you’re not giving up on them, it can help them change.

Scripture tells is there’s nothing we can do that will separate us from God’s love. Nothing. As Christians, we are called to reflect that love to all of humanity. It’s not impressive to love people who are easy to love; the work of loving people who think differently from us, who push us away, who do things of which we don’t approve—that’s the work we are called to do.

Everyday Grace, Uncategorized

Everyday Grace: Why Am I So Tired?

We push ourselves every day to do more, to save time, to keep going, to add just one more thing… and then we are surprised when we find ourselves exhausted and spiritually drained. This fatigue will sap at our spiritual, mental, and physical health if we let it. But what can we do?

  1. Jesus gave us the answer. “Come to me, all of you who are weary, and I will give you rest,” he said, and then showed how: he “often withdrew to lonely places to pray.” Making and keeping specific times in the day to pray in solitude will naturally slow you down, keep you focused, and keep you energized. Prayer is a powerhouse. Use it!
  2. God takes good care of our souls, but we’re responsible for our bodies. We can only fulfill our place in God’s plan when we care for them. Getting enough sleep at night, eating the foods that will nourish but not overwhelm our bodies, and exercising are all common interventions to fight fatigue.
  3. Ask for help. We are not in this alone. We are part of a wide community of faith that can support us in prayer; we have only to ask. We are part of a physical community that can provide a listening ear, help with the carpool, the loan of a book, and so much more. We have only to ask.

So much goes into taking care of ourselves so we can care for others. Airlines regularly instruct passengers to place their own oxygen masks over their faces before helping others. We need to be strong and healthy in order to do God’s work, and the best way to attain that strength is through prayer.

One of the practices of the Daughters of St. Paul is to spend an hour every day in Eucharistic Adoration. It’s not uncommon for people to question how they find the time—to which the most frequent answer is, how can one not? St. Francis de Sales said, “Every one of us needs half an hour of prayer a day, except when we are very busy—then we need an hour.”

It might be worth a try!


More Than a Mystery

This Sunday’s observance of Trinity Sunday brings me back to my first encounter with that ineffable dogma. I came home from first grade, mischievously entertaining what I knew to be the mildly blasphemous definition, “God is the Supreme Bean.” (That would be Supreme Being, or Bein‘ in my teacher’s very pronounced Southern accent.) And this Supreme Being was One God in Three Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Son, I knew, is Jesus. The rest—and how it relates to us—as far as I could gather, all fell under the category of “It’s a mystery.”

For decades, even into my early religious life, I honestly thought that the mystery of the Holy Trinity was some kind of supernatural lagniappe: a little something extra thrown in with the truths of the Apostles’ Creed, the grace of the Sacraments, and the guidance of the Commandments; a reality to be revered, preserved and adored—from a distance. It didn’t cross my mind that this pinnacle mystery, this Mystery with a capital M, had any connection whatever to the human vocation.

And then Pope John Paul started giving his now-famous series of Wednesday morning talks, starting with the creation of the first man and woman, male and female, “in the divine image.”

“Man appears in the visible world as the highest expression of the divine gift, because he bears within himself the inner dimension of the gift, and with it he carries into the world his particular likeness to God.” [TOB 19]

From the beginning, the human body in its masculinity and femininity was a “transparent component of reciprocal giving in the communion of persons. Thus, in the mystery of creation, the human body carried within itself an unquestionable sign of the ‘image of God‘…” [TOB 27.3]

“Happiness is being rooted in Love” [TOB 16], and God, who is Love (1 Jn 4:8), created us so that we could participate in that selfsame happiness. The pope loved to quote (and did, at least twelve times!) Vatican II’s teaching that because we are made in the image of God, we can only find fulfillment through a “sincere gift of self” (Gaudium et Spes 24:3). He even gave this principle a name: “The Law of the Gift.”

The language John Paul uses in his Theology of the Body when speaking of human beings is the very same language he uses when writing of the mystery of God in his encyclical on the Holy Spirit, written about the same time. In fact, John Paul refers to the Holy Spirit as the “Person-Gift” of the Trinity.

A gift is always a sign of ourselves, given freely and without expectation of return. There is nothing more beautiful in life.

We reflect this with those we love every time we find ourselves planning a surprise for them for a special occasion, or simply because we saw something that would give delight. It is possible to turn almost everything into a kind of gift. It’s almost embarrassing how small these can be—friendly eye contact with a harried cashier; letting a car in at an intersection; welcoming the halting and imperfect expression of something that you may not fully agree with. Even receiving a gift can be a gift we return to the giver!

Thanks to the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the Holy Spirit is poured into our hearts so we can begin to love not only our dearest family and friends, but everyone—even (and this is the sheer grace of God) our enemies, something the Christians of Egypt, Iraq, Syria, and Sri Lanka teach us on an almost-daily basis.

The Trinity is not, as I thought since first grade, a remote “Supreme Being.” We ourselves are meant to reveal the Most Blessed Trinity; to be living images of the living Triune God whose life is gift: fully given, received and returned. We are meant to be the self-portraits of God in the world; living portraits, engaged in the Trinitarian life of self-giving love in myriad places, ways and occasions.

The Feast of the Most Holy Trinity is a renewal of the call to “be like God as his very dear children” (see Eph 5:1): something that is only possible if we live by the fruit of the Tree of Life, the Cross.

by Sr Anne Flanagan, FSP


3 Ways to Honor Our Military Dead

The Church has a tradition of extending a single holiday into a longer period of remembrance, and Memorial Day certainly qualifies for that treatment. While for many it’s a chance for a long weekend and the first sunburn of the summer, it’s important to get past those three days simply as vacation, and do something meaningful to remember what we owe our military dead.

  1. Storytelling is the most powerful tool for memory. This week, read a poem or a story that remind you of the sacrifices military men and women so willingly made. Options can include In Flander’s Field (John McCrea), Losses (Randall Jarrell), How to Tell a True War Story and The Things They Carried (Tim O’Brien) and The Upturned Face (Stephen Crane).
  2. Unite with the poor who are often victimized by war. Volunteer to work with refugees in your community, or make a donation to an organization like Catholic Relief Services or Caritasthat promotes peace and provides humanitarian relief in places ravaged by war.
  3. Pray for war to end. There is almost always a better way. Pray for peach every day; pray that our leaders might find that better way.

God of power and mercy, you destroy war and put down earthly pride.

Banish violence from our midst and wipe away our tears, that we may all deserve to be called your sons and daughters.

Keep in your mercy those men and women who have died in the cause of freedom and bring them safely into your kingdom of justice and peace.

We ask this through Jesus Christ Our Lord. Amen.

Just as Jesus died for our sins, these women and me we remember died for our present and our future. Let’s give them more than a barbecue and a day on the beach.


Everyday Grace: Living Christ in the Day-to-Day

There are times when it’s easy to do what is right… and times when that’s the hardest thing ever. We’re often at our best in a crisis, when we need to rise to the occasion; but the slogging details of everyday life don’t exactly fan the flames of commitment. Yet that is where we are most likely to spend most of our time; most of us aren’t called to martyrdom. How can we find ways to be passionate about our faith every day?

  • Try seeing yourself through someone else’s eyes. St. Francis of Assisi said, “You may be the only Gospel your neighbor ever reads.” Do you think people look at you and see the Gospel at work? What can you do to become more Christlike?
  • Take Jesus at his word: “By this they shall know you are my disciples: that you have love for one another.” Are you present to the people around you? Do others feel they can count on you? Living Christ daily means renewing your love for others—daily.
  • Ask for help. Everyone loses their passion from time to time; we cannot be in a constant state of excitement about our relationship with God. Ask your priest or spiritual director or Bible study group for help. We are in truth a community of faith when we can watch out for each other. (p.s. you can also ask God for help!)

C.S. Lewis said, “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing Christianity cannot be is moderately important.” Be serious about serious things, and find ways to live that… every day.