Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: Surviving Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is almost here, a time Americans have set aside to express gratitude to God in the company of family and friends. But at a time of deep divisiveness in the country and indeed the world, holidays that bring us together can also tear us apart. Here are three tips for surviving (and thriving!) this Thanksgiving:

  • Take the high road. You will never, ever regret it. Even if someone wants to argue with you, be graceful, change the subject, and acknowledge that they have a right to their opinion.
  • Avoid alcohol. Drinking only intensifies anger, bitterness, and sadness. You don’t need any of them at your Thanksgiving table! Choose a sparkling nonalcoholic drink instead.
  • Take a break. If the conversation is going somewhere that makes you uncomfortable, excuse yourself for a few moments. Go to a quiet place (even the lavatory!) and say a prayer. This won’t change the situation at the table, but it will change how you feel about it.

At this time of year it’s especially important to remember that we are all God’s children—even the people with whom you disagree. Try and see everyone through God’s loving eyes, and initiate conversations that heal rather than divide.

Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: Praying for the Dead

Did you know that the general custom of praying for the dead dates back to the Hebrew Bible? (2 Maccabees 12:42-46) But it wasn’t until the fourteenth century that Rome set aside a special day of intercession for the dead, praying for souls in purgatory that they might find perfect union with God.

How can you mark the Feast of All Souls?

  • If there is a Mexican community near you, you might join in or observe Day of the Dead processions/celebrations. Why not try some special food? Pan de muerto (sweet rolls shaped like a bun, topped with sugar, and often decorated with bone-shaped phalanges pieces) and calaveras (sugar skulls, display colorful designs to represent the vitality and individual personality of the departed) are both popular.
  • Nearly every culture includes visits to cemeteries on All Souls’ Day (and the night before); in Hungary it’s a silent, reflective time, with extra buses available to shuttle people to graveyards, while in Louisiana, relatives whitewash and clean the tombstones and prepare garlands, wreathes and crosses of real and paper flowers to decorate them. In the afternoon of All Saints’ Day, the priest processes around the cemetery, blessing the graves and reciting the Rosary.
  • This is an important time to gather as the community of faith at your parish church. There’s a Polish legend that at midnight on All Souls Day a bright light shines on the local parish; the light is the holy souls of departed parishioners gathered to pray for their release from purgatory at the altars of their former earthly parishes.

No matter how you mark this day, it’s a time to stop the flow of everyday life and remember those we love who have died, to reminisce about their lives and the gifts they gave us, and to pray for their souls to be united forever with God in heaven.

Everyday Grace, Uncategorized

Everyday Grace: Prayer

There’s a lot of talk about spiritual “practices” and “disciplines,” and a lot of people are left wondering whether or not what they do qualifies. This is the first in a series of three Everyday Grace columns that will help you find the spiritual practices that work best for you.

Prayer. It’s been made to sound complicated, but it doesn’t have to be. When asked how to pray, Jesus gave his disciples the simplest, most direct, and best prayer of all, the Our Father; and you probably have your own well-established prayer practices as well. Here are three suggestions for enhancing your prayer life:

  • Balance prayers that are prayed in the solitude of your heart with those prayed in community. The Angelus can draw your attention back to God in the midst of a busy day, and the prayers of the Mass reaffirm your part in the community of faith.
  • Pray through action by taking part in a work of mercy. Practicing forgiveness, visiting someone who’s sick, helping out at a thrift shop, giving comfort to someone in pain are all prayer in action as long as you perform them with an open and loving heart.
  • Get an advisor whose approach to prayer is something that resonates with you. Read widely—Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, G.K. Chesterton, Henri Nouwen, Thomas Merton… read enough of what these writers have to say about prayer to see if it is attractive to you, and then read more. There is no need to reinvent the wheel: these people have been though what you’re going through and have a lot to teach.

“We can be sure that there is no such thing as a superfluous or useless prayer. No prayer is lost.  When faced with evil we often have the sensation that we can do nothing, but our prayers are in fact the first and most effective response we can give, they strengthen our daily commitment to goodness. The power of God makes our weakness strong.” (Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, speaking on September 12, 2012 at his Wednesday General Audience)