Inspiration

How to Pray When You Don’t Feel Like Praying

There are times—when we’re lucky—when praying feels easy, and natural, and even wonderful. The truth is that while those times are uplifting, they’re also not the norm. For many of us, prayer can often be difficult, either to get started or to keep on. But what can you do about it?

Read the psalms. You’ll be surprised at how much of these songs and prayers and verses will sound familiar to you. They have served as an inspiration to Christians for centuries, and they’ll work for you, too. Just read them and let your soul drift into prayer. “I call on you, my God, and you will answer me.”

Go for a “prayer walk.” Don’t just walk; walk intentionally. If you take yourself out of your everyday surroundings, you’ll have fewer distractions and you’ll be able to better focus.

Pray with someone else. For many of us, this is difficult; we’re not used to praying with other people except at Mass. But if you don’t feel like praying, you can bet someone else feels that way, too, and there’s strength in numbers! Invite a friend over, or pray with your children or spouse.

Even the saints often struggled with prayer, but the truth is, we’re called to “pray always,” whether we feel like it or not. Prayer as a discipline flows into prayer as joy, but you can’t have one without the other!

 

 

Inspiration

Praying in Different Seasons of Life

With so much tragedy and anxiety in the world, it’s more important than ever to remember that God is with us through everything. We’re not alone. But sometimes the same routine prayers don’t seem to make a difference. Perhaps this is a good time for you to try a different form of prayer, for a different season of life.

Vocal prayer is what we’re all most used to. We say words to God, either from an established prayer (Our Father, Hail Mary, etc.) or simply speaking to God directly from our hearts.

Meditation is thinking about God. It helps us recognize his presence in every moment of our lives. We can meditate as we read scripture or any religious text that inspires us.

Contemplation is resting quietly in God’s presence. (Compare it to sitting in front of a beautiful sunset. We don’t think about the sunset, we absorb its beauty. That’s the way we contemplate God.)

Now, more than ever, we need to turn to God and know that we rest safely in his heart, no matter what events are happening in the world. The stormy sea of our lives can only be navigated when we’re sure of our course and how to get there. Prayer helps!

Inspiration, Listening to the Heart

Think with your heart, not with your fear

We live in times that are difficult to process. Events occur that are beyond our capacity to understand and fit into our worldview as people, much less as Catholics. In a sense, we’re living in a constant state of spiritual cognitive dissonance, and it’s anything but comfortable.

I’ve been feeling that the most around two current situations: the burning of the Amazon rainforest, and the worldwide migrant crisis. The enormity of the issues is exhausting—what can one person do? How can I even begin to think about what is happening, and all the implications of what is happening, much less do anything about it? And where am I hearing the voice of Jesus in the world as it is today?

For me, honestly? The times feel nothing short of apocalyptic. Surely this is how the world will end, in flames of fire and accompanied by the cries of lost children?

Those are a lot of questions. And as always when I’m in a panic, I move and think too quickly, too superficially, I’m too ready to give up. Take a deep breath. There’s a nagging feeling that I am asking questions, but they might not be the right ones.

The very first Christian communities, the people St. Paul addresses in his letters, the early Church, they all had something in common with my current fear: they too believed they were living in apocalyptic times. Guided by St. Paul, Ignatius of Antioch, and Justin Martyr, they believed Jesus would return soon, within their lifetimes, and thus the world would end shortly. So as I struggle with my eschatological panic, there has to be something I can learn from them.

And there is. In the Epistle to Diognetes, a second-century writer describes those first Christians:

They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all others; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They are evil spoken of and yet are justified; they are reviled and bless; they are insulted and repay the insult with honor; they do good yet are punished as evildoers. To sum it all up in one word—what the soul is to the body, that are Christians in the world.

This passage reminds me of two things. First, it reminds me this world is not the perfect world to which I aspire; “they pass their days on earth,” says the writer, “but they are citizens of heaven.” As a citizen of heaven, then, how can I view the state of the world in which I am living? And that very question changes my perspective. Instead of anger and hopelessness, I can look on the world with pity and compassion. With sadness, too; but sadness without despair. Surely that is the way God looks upon his beautiful creation and his beautiful children.

The second thing this letter teaches me is that, even expecting the end to be imminent, even living in the very shadow of the final days, the early Christians went about their lives, getting married, breaking bread together, following the laws of the land. Even as they knew they were about to leave, they continued in their callings and in their lives. My panic, my crazed thoughts about how I can effectuate change? This may not be the best use of my time and gifts. Going about my life might be a better way.

The early Church listened to the voice of Jesus, relayed to them through the apostles and early Church Fathers, and lived a way of life that conformed to what it heard that voice saying.

So where is the voice of Jesus in my world? How can I hear Jesus speaking, here and now?

When I ask, “what can I do?” the truth is I already know the answer. It is inherent in who I am. I have remarkably few skills. I’m not much of an activist, I can’t build anything with my hands, I don’t have a head for figures. What I can do is write. Jesus already spoke to me: in giving me this talent and allowing me years in which to hone it, he is saying, “this is your role.”

I think if we all slow down and think with our hearts rather than our fears, we can find many ways in which Jesus is calling us to act. What skills and talents were you given? Do you listen well? Can you teach? Do you have time to volunteer somewhere? Do you have enough money to donate some to help others? We are not all called to drop water on flaming forests or rescue children from detention centers, though some of us are, and they are heroes for sure. What we are all called to do, rather, is discern how our own individual vocations, our callings, can help us respond.

I was recently reading the forthcoming Jesus Speaking, a daily devotional taken from Gabrielle Bossis’ spiritual classic He and I, and I remind myself that many of Gabrielle’s conversations with Jesus took place in a world that had felt hopeless, too. Nazi Germany occupied her country, and all around her people were living under suspicion, privation, even terror. In some ways, that time may well also have felt apocalyptic. Yet like the second-century Christians, she stayed steady in her course, writing out her conversations, tending her garden.

When issues feel too big for us to get our arms around them, it’s time to bring our thinking down to our own level. To ask how we can live out our own individual Christian vocations, and what those particular vocations can bring to the table in this moment.

Jesus is speaking. We’ll hear him when we can think with our hearts and not with our fear.

by Jeannette de Beauvoir

 

 

Inspiration

You have questions. God has answers.

What we know about Jesus is this: he lived on earth as we do, made a living the way we do, had friends and went to family celebrations and felt joy and sadness just as we do. It’s important to remember that he experienced fully an earthly life, because it means one thing: he knows. He understands.

That’s also one of the tenets running through the book He and I, the journals of French laywoman and mystic Gabrielle Bossis: Jesus spoke to her in her heart and she recorded it all, years of conversations, and what unifies those years of conversations is the deep sense of understanding. Jesus knows Gabrielle, just as he knows every one of us.

Reading He and I is like reaching into your own heart. Gabrielle asks all the questions you or I might be asking. Is God listening to me when I pray? What is God’s purpose for my life? Why do bad things happen to good people? Where will this all end? How do I move forward when there’s so much holding me back?

Let’s look at six instances where Gabrielle asked some of the questions we want to ask, and how Jesus responded.

How do I stop living with the ghosts of my past?

You know what this is: the things we’ve done that we’re not proud of, the uncertainty about God really having forgiven us, the regrets we carry in our hearts for things that now cannot be undone, those nagging fears we keep pushing out of sight.

Jesus’ answer to Gabrielle: “Don’t ever give way to the distress that keeps you aloof from Me. Be sure that My goodness is infinitely greater than the sinfulness of My children. If you didn’t count on Me for help, to whom would you turn? Hope and trust to the utmost in Me, and you will honor Me.”

Is God listening to me?

Sometimes it seems we feel we have to get “prayer” right. Maybe we feel we haven’t. That we’re not good enough or don’t know enough. That others pray much better than we. We hope God at least notices us and, as one friend said, takes note of the good things we do.

Jesus’ answer to Gabrielle: “Don’t aim at saying an exact number of wordy prayers. Just love Me simply. A look of your heart. The tender smile of a friend. (…) If you have the intention of loving Me when you pray, I’ll accept your prayer even when you are distracted.”

Why does God let bad things happen?

One of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is the gift of fortitude, and if ever there were a time we need to claim and exercise this gift, it’s in the face of the unanswerable questions, in the face of the existential despair we all feel and that to some extent permeates our world.

Jesus’ answer to Gabrielle: “No, it’s not an illusion. You’re not in error, only in the shadowland. Just feeling your way by faith. I planned it this way. So throw yourself into My arms. Say that you believe, that you hope, that you love and commit your entire being to Me. Act just as though you could see Me. It’s such good practice for your faith. And faith brings hope and love.”

Is God still here if I can’t feel him?

Sometimes I don’t feel it’s there, this relationship. Sometimes I can’t pray. Sometimes I even find it hard to believe. But that’s when I start to realize the value of faith: faith that believes, that knows it is in fact there, even when I can’t see it. Especially, perhaps, when I can’t see it. Knowing it’s real, no matter what. Looking for it everywhere.

Jesus’ answer to Gabrielle: “Do you remember when you were little how you used to hunt for Me? You would go and hide yourself in the dark room behind your grandmother’s kitchen. There, in the corner, was a large doormat rolled up. You would scramble into it, and when anyone called out, ‘Where’s Gabrielle?’ you would say to yourself, ‘I’m with the good God.’”

Does God really have a plan for me?

In the small hours in the dark, I ask the scary questions, both of myself and of God. Does my life make a difference? Why was I born? What’s my purpose here—and am I even close to fulfilling it? Many nights when I lie awake, I just can’t see through the fog of my own aspirations. What part of my ambitions is the fulfillment of my mission on earth, and what part of them is the feeding of my own ego? And if God has a plan for me, as scripture tells me is true, then why can’t I see it clearly? Where’s the blueprint?

Jesus’ answer to Gabrielle: “Lend Me your hand to write. Lend Me your voice to teach the little ones the living truth. Lend Me your gestures to love them. And to cheer your pastor in his duties, lend Me your kindness. In this way, through you, I shall be among them, among yours. Your influence will be increased and you will think less of yourself. ‘This is not the fruit of my own effort,’ you will say. ‘Jesus was there with me.’ Say it to yourself over and over again; it will keep you humble. And humility is truth.”

How can I grow in holiness?

Many years ago I would resolve that I needed to pray extra, or adopt a certain practice, or do special things in order to grow in holiness. What I really needed to do, and eventually learned, is that it’s the voice of the Lord that initiates any movement along the way. Many times that movement is mysterious. Sometimes it feels like we aren’t moving at all, or are moving backwards.

Jesus’ answer to Gabrielle: “You can’t compute holiness like a column of figures. A single act of love with absolute abandonment and trust can make a saint even at the moment of death. And how this honors Me! I am like Samson; I lose My power as judge when someone tells Me of his faithful love. Not because the love is so great either, but because it is the greatest he has to offer Me. It touches Me to the quick and I am ready to bend to his will and make it My own.”

6 days Conversation with the King of Kings_ Jesus Speaking_Pauline Books and Media_Daughters of St Paul

We delve more deeply into these questions in our special six-day series on Gabrielle Bossis and her conversations with Jesus. If you haven’t done so yet, click here to receive the series for free.

Inspiration

A Book Can Change Your Life

A book can change your life.

It doesn’t have to be a “serious” book or a popular one or a religious one. Just as God touches us through the people we meet, the air we breathe, the art and beauty we encounter, the music we hear, so too does he touch us through what we read. It can be a brief moment of insight through a single sentence, or it can be the sum of the book itself.

It’s in the latter way that He and I changed my life.

I’d read it once many years ago in its original French when I was still living in France, and to be honest, fireworks didn’t go off. It went on the shelf in my mind where I store some of the better-known spiritual classics, ones that are lovely or helpful or just vaguely positive. It certainly didn’t join the ones I knew to be directly speaking to me, the ones in which I underlined whole paragraphs and turned to again and again in distress: Teresa of Avila’s The Interior Castle; Julian of Norwich’s Showings; the entire work of C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton; Blaise Pascal’s Thoughts; the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins.

No; He and I just wasn’t one of those.

I came back to He and I, not through the book itself, but through its author. I happened to be doing research on the spirituality of the area in which I grew up—Angers, a city in the Loire valley—and came across Gabrielle Bossis, who lived for most of her life outside of Nantes and found herself, for various reasons, often in Angers; the two cities are not far from each other.

The more I read about her, the more entranced I became. Her c.v., if you will, reads like a novel: an enchanted childhood; the drama of becoming a front-line nurse during World War I; becoming an accomplished playwright, actor, and producer; and then finally holding conversations with Jesus as she lived out the last twenty years of her life through the occupation of another world war, active as always, traveling or simply talking to Jesus as she pulls weeds in her garden. The few photographs we have of her show an attractive woman, a slight smile on her face as though contemplating the folly of photography.

I was fascinated. I went to lectures given by people who had known her. I read everything about her I could get my hands on. And then it finally occurred to me: this woman couldn’t have written anything that would leave me feeling lukewarm about it. The fault wasn’t with He and I, it was with me.

So I picked the book up again. And read it straight through during one cold snowy gray New England day, pausing only for food and coffee. This time, I did find passages to underline, passages to meditate on, passages that seemed to be speaking directly to me and my situation. What a difference an attitude makes!

It helped, of course, that I was able to contextualize so much of the book. The dates, the places, were all familiar to me. I know from my family what the Occupation was like, the privations, the rationing, the constant fear; and as I read the pages from those dark years I knew what Gabrielle was living even as Jesus was consoling her. And I was sitting beside her on the train from Nantes to Angers, a train I’ve traveled on many times myself, as Jesus continued to assure her of his love. Perhaps it took that contextualization for it to get through to me; I suspect it’s far more accessible to someone less stubborn!

It didn’t change my life in sweeping dramatic obvious ways, of course. I didn’t enter a convent or start a new career or move to a hermitage in the mountains. But it changed my life in subtle ways, in listening to my thoughts more closely, in trying to discern if Jesus might speak to me in ways similar to how he’d spoken to that other French laywoman. Through my heart.

He and I is a substantial book, and there’s no reason you should need to read through it in one fell swoop as I did. In fact, the new daily devotional Jesus Speaking is the best possible introduction to this spiritual classic: it structures the reading, adds a meditation, and generally helps you get through to the very passages that will prove meaningful to you.

Welcome to the world of Gabrielle Bossis, to her conversations with Jesus, and to whatever marvelous things he has in store for you as you read and pray with Jesus Speaking!

by Jeannette de Beauvoir

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Inspiration, Uncategorized

Wait—Coloring Books Can Help Me Pray?

Slow down. Take a deep breath. Still your mind. It’s good advice for anyone who wants to feel calmer in the midst of the frenetic pace of life; but saying it, and doing it, are often two different things!

I’m told there are ways to get into that meditative space, to open up the soul and the senses to prayer, and one of those ways is through the act of coloring, specifically in one of the series of Catholic coloring books published by Pauline Books & Media.

To say I was both skeptical and unenthused is to understate the situation. I’m not an artist. I’m not even attracted to doing art, my crowning achievement in that arena being a pitiful stick-figure of a duck. What if I tried it and I hated the results? That’s not very meditative, is it? And what if I found my mind straying instead of staying with God?

Surely there must be other ways I could pray and meditate!

Well, there are, and for a long time I stuck with them. But meditation is always tricky: I sit and wait for something to happen, focus on my breathing, and hope that my thoughts will slow down. I try and  listen for God to break through. And I end up checking my watch and realizing that I’ve really only been at this for three minutes.

So recently when I was organizing some boxes and came across our most recent coloring book, Inspiration from the Saints, I thought, okay, this is your chance to find out once and for all.

I chose Julian of Norwich, because I love her gentle wisdom and her closeness to God. I even prayed that she might guide my hand and my whole being as I tried this experiment. At first, I was cautious, picking colors that might go nicely together… and then, of course, second-guessing my choices. I decided on some general colors, and I put on some Gregorian chant for background music, and I set to it. And at first all I felt was anxiety. “I’m not doing this right… I knew this wouldn’t work… I’m not focusing the way I should.”

But gradually, amazingly, I began to feel a change in my body. My breathing had slowed down and become deeper. My head didn’t seem to have quite as many thoughts whirling around in it, and none of them was about the quality of my coloring. My muscles were relaxing; I was settling into a different posture.

And into that relaxation came God.

I kept coloring, but I felt myself transported in my mind to an experience I’d had in my early twenties. As with most European cathedrals, the nave of the cathedral at Chartres is filled with chairs for those attending Mass, but once a week the chairs are moved so people can walk the labyrinth in the cathedral floor, and I was there on one such day.

Walking the labyrinth is a curious exercise. There is only one way in; unlike a maze, a labyrinth doesn’t give you opportunities to choose your route. There’s only one choice—to enter, or not. Once you’re in, a sweeping route takes you through the four quadrants of the circle until you reach the very center, and on the way you have to concentrate on your breathing and your balance. I cannot describe the feeling when you reach the center—it’s as if your whole being were focused on God. Like those photographs of sunlight streaming down on just one place on a forest floor: standing in the light of God.

And now, as I colored the page for Julian—who came, after all, out of the same medieval tradition that created the labyrinths—I felt a similar sense of focus and awe wash over me. It wasn’t about the colors, or getting it right. It wasn’t about fastidiously keeping inside the lines. Like the balancing act of walking a labyrinth, the act of coloring focused me on something other than the worries and concerns of my daily life, and allowed me to absorb—that’s the only word—the spirit of God. It wasn’t a thought. It wasn’t a prayer. It was an experience.

Coloring offered the same kind of relief and mindfulness I experienced at the labyrinth without the paralysis that thinking about meditation can cause. There’s nothing to trap you, there’s nothing to solve. You just follow the path until you’re done.

The same goes for coloring. You don’t have to create the picture; it’s already there. You don’t have to find the focus for meditation and prayer; it’s already there. All you have to do is choose a color and fill in empty spaces on the page. My mind wanted to fill in blank spaces, just as my heart wanted to be filled with the love of God.

Coloring puts us back in touch with all the sensory parts of our religion, because it bypasses the rational part of the brain and accesses, instead, that “imaginal” part of us. Remember going to Mass when you were a child? Go back to that memory. It’s probably not the words or the thoughts you’re remembering. Instead, you’re remembering the experience: the light coming through the stained glass windows that bathed you in color; the smell of the incense; the sound of the music; the flickering of the candles’ flames. God reaches out to us in many ways, through all of our senses, and if we don’t respond with all of our senses, we are missing out.

So—try a coloring book. See if it doesn’t do all the things it’s supposed to do (slow you down, relieve stress, etc.)… and much, much more.

by Jeannette de Beauvoir

 


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Inspiration

Discover in Prayer God’s Deepest Desires for You

An Interview with Fr Greg Cleveland

In Awakening Love: An Ignatian Retreat with the Song of Songs, Fr. Greg Cleveland, OMV breaks open some of the most intimate words in sacred scripture. Using the Song of Songs, he provides us with beautiful insights, reflections and prayer exercises that help us to delve deeper into our relationship with the Lord and to open ourselves up to God’s ever-present grace. We wanted to know more about Fr Greg’s way of inviting people to discover in prayer God’s deepest desires for them, so we asked him a few questions. 

Thank you for taking this time, Father! So let’s dive right in. How can people experience God?

God is always present to us and trying to communicate himself to us if we have eyes to see and ears to hear.  It reminds me of the story of a farmer once attended a conference on Christian life. The group was asked to consider a moment in life when they had an experience of self-transcendence. The farmer became very interested when he recounted that during the harvest he would stand in a field of wheat and hold a grain of new wheat in his hand. This experience was overwhelming and moved him to tears; but he never told anyone as he didn’t think they would understand. As the farmer continued, he came to realize that up until now he had never connected this profound experience of the harvest with his faith as a Christian.

God was blessing that farmer, providing for him in his work, and giving him the joy of the harvest, though the farmer did not realize it. The more we are open and attentive, the more we will realize God’s presence and receive his gifts. The experience of God touches our whole person, our mind, our emotions, even our physical bodies. We need to reflect more on the ways we really experience God in our ordinary lives in order to come to greater conscious awareness of his presence within and around us.

It sounds like personal reflection and being open to God reaching to us is the key. Is that correct?

God can communicate himself to us in so many ways. He reveals himself through creation which reveals the beauty and power of the Creator. In persons, places and events he is present to us. He cleanses and nurtures us with his very life in the sacraments. In prayer God manifests himself to us in a special way through our faculties—especially the most spiritual faculties of the human person – in our memory, intellect and will. As we experience God through these faculties, we move from God “out there” to God within our very being. We meditate on God’s word and come to understanding of his truth and conviction in living in his love. Faith is not merely intellectual assent, but the experience of the living God in a covenant of love. In prayer we open our hearts to God’s action and he moves us in the free use of our faculties, making us alive in his grace.

So where do we start?

Let’s begin with the faculty of memory. Our memories are the storehouses of our life experiences and give us a sense of identity. We have an entire history of our relationship with God in these experiences. As we pray with the scriptures, God touches our memories and brings us to awareness of our participation in the mysteries of the life of Christ. For instance, as I pray upon the episode of Christ’s baptism, I may recall my own baptism and incorporation into Christ and how his abiding presence has awakened a sense of my own call as a son of God the Father.

I then apply the faculty of the intellect to ponder the mystery. I might think about John the Baptist and his humility, feeling unworthy to baptize Jesus. I think of Jesus’ humility in identifying with sinners though he was without sin. I allow these thoughts to penetrate my own proud heart, moving me to desire humility and a share in the grace of Christ’s baptism.

Now I am moving through the memory and intellect toward acts of the will. Aware of the presence of the Holy Trinity in Christ’s baptism, I am moved to desire greater union. I make acts of faith, hope and love with my will. I choose to accept the grace of my own baptism and to follow Christ more closely in his humility and desire to serve. Touched by God’s grace, I feel alive in body, soul and spirit.

Notice how the memory, intellect and will always work together in harmony. In exercising these faculties, we are in the image of the Holy Trinity. In prayer and by grace, we experience the love of the holy Trinity in and through these spiritual faculties. We really do experience God, especially in prayer. 

What are some practical steps we can take?

Prayer is the greatest adventure of the heart. There are a few things I’d suggest. You can even look at them as bullet points:

  • Realize prayer is a priority. I’m never too busy for prayer. I need God more than the air I breathe or the food I eat. Carve out quality and quantity time for prayer – begin with a manageable amount of time and gradually increase it.
  • Develop a method of praying with Sacred Scripture. You cannot do better than praying with the Word of God. We need to structure our prayer to ponder the scriptures and apply them to our lives. St. Ignatius offers various methods that help us open our hearts to God.
  • Pay attention to movements in my heart. God addresses himself to us in prayer and elicits a response on our part. I may be moved to positive feelings of love, joy or gratitude –- negative feelings of fear or resistance. I notice my reactions and express them to the Lord.
  • Experience conversion of heart. The Lord comes to cast his healing light into the dark recesses of my heart, moving me to repentance or change of heart. This is a joyful, liberating experience that removes obstacles to the Lord’s presence.
  • Become sensitive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. As I live in the Lord’s abiding presence through prayer, I notice his invitation to imitate him and follow him more closely. My heart is more easily moved by the Spirit to be Christ-like in specific situations.
  • Be reflective about God’s presence in my day. Take some time to reflect back on your day to notice how God has been living and active in your life. Look for the blessings with gratitude and fill in the negatives with his mercy. Move forward with a hope, trusting in God’s help and providence.

Prayer is less about what we accomplish than what God is doing within us.  We live in a culture that values achievement above everything else.  We feel we must accomplish something in order to feel useful, and we base our self-worth on our achievements.  But in prayer we simply receive, enjoying reality and the holy Trinity of persons.

A seasoned and skilled retreat director, Fr Greg Cleveland helps people tap into their deepest desires as they learn to journey intimately with the Lord. Currently executive director of the Lanteri Center for Ignatian Spirituality in Denver, Colorado, where he offers spiritual direction and retreats while teaching training programs in these ministries, Fr. Greg Cleveland is the author of Awakening Love: An Ignatian Retreat with the Song of Songs. “Writing with insight, passion, and pastoral verve, Fr. Cleveland shows us how to respond to God’s gift with total self-giving that is both appropriate and supremely joyful” (Fr. Peter John Cameron, O.P., Editor-in-Chief, Magnificat).

 

Inspiration

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

Inspiration

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

Inspiration

The Lesson of the Sleeping St Joseph Statue

A dear friend of mine had only months to live. Her life had been complex. Woven into each decade were unforeseen sorrows that still scarred her spirit. A visit from the local parish had left her unsettled and worried as she faced her final goodbyes, her last yes to God, her final look back on her life, the reality of all that had been. She began to feel that all she had done was somehow now written in stone and could never be made right.

She called me up not knowing what to expect, if there was any hope for her, afraid even to ask lest she find out that her pastoral visit was really her final door…closed…on hope.

We settled into a quiet conversation. I sensed she was clutching at straws, trying to pin down the mystery of life and death with some logical explanation. As she turned and twisted her life this way and that in an attempt to understand, she generated explanations and analysis which didn’t seem to satisfy. I could see what was happening. She was going through an enlargement of her spirit that now reached far beyond the story she had lived. Faced with her imminent eternal reality, she like a candle was already being lit with the radiant FOREVER that awaited her, yet she was aware of how she had not fully grown into the spiritual maturity that suddenly was becoming clear to her.

As I listened to her, there came to my mind the image of St. Joseph…sleeping.

Here he was the new guardian and foster-father of not just any baby, but the Light of the World and the Son of the Eternal One…. They were escaping imminent danger as King Herod sought the child to kill him. They were resting exhausted in the desert as they were escaping to Egypt. And Joseph slept. The stakes were too high for him to rely on his own strategy to care for the Son of God and the Son of Mary. His sleeping acknowledged his fatigue, his weakness, his sorrow, as well as his trust in the mysterious strategies of the Eternal One that often make no sense to us. This is the lesson of the sleeping St. Joseph who knew that even as he was a “little one,” his every need was cared for by the divine providence of the Eternal Father.

So I offered my friend this image of the sleeping Joseph. I encouraged her to be okay with being a little one. I can imagine that Jesus had a deeply affectionate memory of his earthly father when in his public ministry he prayed to his Father in heaven with a loud voice: “Father, Lord of heaven and earth, I thank you that you have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to the little ones” (Mt. 11:25).

The little ones. It is okay, my friend, to be a little one.

To have the courage to rest, knowing that the way God sorts things out is always in our favor, that he sees what no one else knows, that he isn’t trapped in the stories we write of our lives but sees the alternate story HE is writing with our lives.

St. Joseph, model of the little ones, is the model of every virtue in the Christian life. Pope Paul VI called St. Joseph, “a poor, honest, hardworking, perhaps even timorous man, but one with unfathomable interior life, from which very singular directions and consolations came, bringing him also the logic and strength that belong to simple and clear souls, and giving him the power of making great decisions, such as that decision to put his liberty at once at the disposition of the divine designs, to make over to them also his legitimate human calling, his conjugal happiness, to accept the conditions, the responsibility and the burden of a family, but, through an incomparable virginal love, to renounce that natural conjugal love that is the foundation and the nourishment of the family; in this way he offered the whole of his existence in a total sacrifice to the imponderable demands raised by the astonishing coming of the Messiah, to whom he was to give the everlastingly blessed name of Jesus (Mt. 1:21), whom he was to acknowledge as the effect of the Holy Spirit, and his own son only in a juridical and domestic way” (Homily of Pope Paul VI on St Joseph, March 27, 1969).

I have in my room a statue of the sleeping St Joseph, but in our convent we have a large St. Joseph statue (and many small statues in individual rooms and offices) where we put our requests this great Saint and Provider to help us with things we need. St. Joseph has never been “sleeping on the job” when it comes to caring for our community’s needs. I have been praying to St Joseph for his guidance in prayer and holiness since 2008 when I wrote the book St. Joseph: Help in Life’s Emergencies, when my own devotion to St Joseph began. And I can always tell when I forget to pray to him. The uber graces begin to dwindle. St. Joseph is very respectful and doesn’t impose himself upon us. He waits to be asked.

Powerful graces are won for us through the intercession of St. Joseph even in our spiritual life.

Saint Teresa of Avila believed so strongly in the power of St. Joseph that she once said, “To other saints Our Lord seems to have given power to succor us in some special necessity—but to this glorious saint, I know by experience, he has given the power to help us in all. Our Lord would have us understand that as he was subject to St. Joseph on earth—for St. Joseph, bearing the title of father and being Jesus’ guardian, could command him—so now in Heaven Our Lord grants all his petitions. I have asked others to recommend themselves to St. Joseph, and they, too, know the same thing by experience.”

So whether you are in great need of interior peace, as my friend was, or asking for the grace of a good death for yourself or others…or you are turning to St. Joseph for material needs for yourself or your loved ones…or asking St. Joseph to guide and heal and protect the Church, you can be assured that this great saint will teach us the same trust in the Eternal Father’s providential care that he had learned as the guardian of Jesus. We will learn that we can sleep peacefully in God’s protective compassion, knowing that we are well cared for.

Here is a prayer to St. Joseph by St. Francis de Sales that you may wish to pray today on the Feast of St. Joseph:

Glorious St. Joseph, spouse of Mary, grant us your paternal protection, we beseech you by the heart of Jesus Christ. O you, whose power extends to all our necessities and can render possible for us the most impossible things, open your fatherly eyes to the needs of your children.

In the trouble and distresses which afflict us, we confidently have recourse to you. Deign to take under your charitable charge these important and difficult matters, cause of our worries. Make its happy outcome be for God’s glory and for the good of his devoted servants. Amen.

By Sr Kathryn J. Hermes, FSP