Everyday Grace, Seasonal

Everyday Grace: 3 Ways to Live in the Light

It happened. The impossible-to-understand event has occurred. The tomb was empty, and an ordinary gardener turned out to be the Risen Christ. It’s easy to think this bit of salvation history, this holiday, is now over. The house is full of chocolate eggs, and we’re all a little stunned by the journey through Lent and Holy Week. Time to get back to Real Life.

Well, maybe not. What is easy to forget is that Jesus’ reappearance wasn’t a sideshow. He came back, and he stayed for another forty days. Jesus didn’t just show up and leave us again. His death and resurrection were not the end of his teaching. He didn’t leave us alone with our grief. He stayed, and when he left, he gave us the Holy Spirit so the Triune God could be with us forever.

But how does one live this Easter season, these forty precious extra days when Jesus walked the earth again? Here are some ideas:

  1. Many Catholics try to perform spiritual or corporal acts of mercy throughout Lent. But aren’t they even better suited to Eastertide? In gratitude and joy in his presence we can offer the very things that Jesus did for us: visit someone who is sick, give away clothing to someone who needs it, forgive someone else, pray for the living and the dead.
  2. This is a time to reflect on your Lenten journey. We’re usually so glad Lent is over that we don’t even think of it again. What worked, and what didn’t? Were you able to find a Lenten practice and stick to it? Write your reflections down in a notebook and remember it next year; it can guide you in your choices.
  3. Imagine being a disciple seeing Jesus appear after dying. How could that not change your life? Eastertide is a time of gratitude and sharing. If you don’t already keep a gratitude journal, this might be a good time to begin.

Eastertide is all about presence, Jesus’ real presence in our lives. We meet him in the Eucharist… but we meet him so many other places, too, on dark roads and in storms, in midnight’s shadows and bright springtime sunlight. Maybe just being aware of those encounters is a good way to begin.

Everyday Grace, Uncategorized

Everyday Grace: 3 Ways to Keep Your Focus During Holy Week

Holy Week, as we all know, is an intense journey with Jesus through the darkest moments of life, emerging finally into the glory of the resurrection at the Easter Vigil. Through many different liturgies, our Church invites us to recall this journey and these events.

Unfortunately, in real life, most of us don’t have the option of slowing down to accommodate extra liturgies and church attendance. So how can we keep our focus on Jesus throughout the week?

  • Either alone or with your family, watch one of the many excellent movies that re-tell the Holy Week story. One favorite is Jesus taken from The Bible Stories series, with Jeremy Sisto as Jesus. You may have another favorite. This is a wonderful way to enter into the story visually and emotionally.
  • Use your social media. If you can’t unplug, then post Bible passages, appropriate poetry, and links to great works of art that point to God’s redeeming love instead of posting political rants, pictures of your cat, or updates about your activities.
  • The Good Friday liturgy is beautiful and moving, but you might not be able to get to church for it. If not, take a longer lunch break at work to acknowledge this sacred time. Shut off your electronics, read quietly, reflect on Jesus’ last words.

We’d all love to be able to spend this entire week in church and with the community of faith, but most of us don’t have that luxury. Don’t give up! You don’t have to be physically in a church to carry Christ in your heart this Holy Week.

Everyday Grace, Uncategorized

Everyday Grace: How to Make a Difference in Difficult Times

We’re all in bad-news overload these days, it seems. Natural disasters, political frays, grief and sadness… it’s a constant assault on our minds and hearts, and with so much bad news coming at us, it’s easy to feel small, insignificant, and ineffectual.

But we’re assured that God loves us, that he has carved us into the palm of his hand. We are important in God’s eyes, and knowing that can empower us to take action:

  • Pray about it. Prayer changes things. Prayer changes us. God has arranged his world so we can make choices, and we can often discern his will when we open ourselves to it. Remember the words of Padre Pio: “Pray, hope, and don’t worry. Worry changes nothing. God is merciful and will hear your prayer.”
  • Do something locally. The world is a vast place, and changing it is a tall order. But you can make a difference locally. Support a local political candidate of your choice. Volunteer at a local shelter. Encourage your community to reuse and recycle. Support your local parish. This is the level at which you can effectuate change.
  • Educate yourself. If you accept everything you hear, then there’s reason to be discouraged. But choose something that bothers you, or excites you, and learn all about it. Explore it from different viewpoints. Expand your horizons. The world still might not make sense, but you’ll have gotten a little control over at least your understanding of it.

We live in difficult and confusing times. But remember—so did Christ; so did many of the saints of the Church. For some reason, God has called you to live in these times. Meet that challenge thoughtfully and prayerfully, and you can make a difference.

Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: 3 ways to rest your spirit this January

Christmas trees and parties and gifts and candy and dinners are over. Though the Christmas Season lasts liturgically until the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord on January 13, the fun and exciting aspects of the holidays are quickly fading. Perhaps you even feel some relief. The holidays are a lot of work: they can bring on family stress as people gather who haven’t seen each other in months, and gift-giving can mean a lot of expense. Taking down those decorations means life is back to normal. The stores are off to Valentine’s Day excitement, but really we all just need a break from the stress. Here are three things you can do to rest your spirit this month:

  • Breathe and relax. When you’re suffering stress, bringing your attention to your breath can help ground you in the concrete. Breathe deeply. Look around you. Observe your surroundings as if you were in a bubble, a little removed from powerful emotions. Tense and relax different muscle groups. Take some time to simply be present.
  • Disconnect from news and social media for a period of time. Constant access to other people’s worries and expectations, to commercials and blog posts about the next exciting thing, and to the 24-hour news cycle keeps our nervous system vigilant. We never really relax and know what it is to be at peace with who we are on our own. A regularly scheduled news and social media retreat can help us be less anxious.
  • Know that freedom from stress and anxiety doesn’t mean you won’t be stressed and anxious. No one can escape stress and worry in their life, but the truly free are those who can work skillfully with their feelings and fears so that the discomfort that is a part of life doesn’t overwhelm them. Cultivate gratitude and compassion for yourself and others in the presence of stress and anxiety.

 

What are your plans to de-stress and rest your spirit this January? Share with us below.

Everyday Grace, Uncategorized

Everyday Grace: 3 Ways to Put Jesus First Approaching Christmas

Once we pass Gaudate Sunday, it seems, time seems to accelerate toward Christmas. What can you do this year to keep the focus where it belongs? We have three ideas:

  • Give God a Christmas present! Make your gift one that no one knows about, and make it a sacrifice. Perhaps you can forgive someone you’ve needed to forgive. Perhaps you can give away something dear to you that someone else in your life needs. Whatever it is, it will be dear to God.
  • Write a Christmas letter to someone who needs it. Choose someone you don’t know—a missionary stationed far from home, a soldier serving in the military, a volunteer at a soup kitchen or a refugee camp. Assure them of your prayers. It will mean the world to them this Christmas.
  • Really listen to a Christmas song. This is possibly the easiest form of meditation! We sing Christmas carols without actually hearing them because they’re so familiar. Choose one, print out the words, and give yourself ten minutes to read it and truly think about it. Then when you hear it again, you’ll be putting Jesus first instead of fuzzy feelings that might otherwise surround the song.

Putting Jesus first can be a challenge as Christmas approaches, but there are simple ways that you can bring your attention, thoughts, and heart back to the source.

Why not share how you’re putting Jesus first this Advent and Christmas?

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)