Everyday Grace, Lent

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 eloquent, but you might not be able to get to church for it. If you can, 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.

Everyday Grace, Lent

Everyday Grace: 3 Ways to Refresh Your Lenten Practice

This second Lent of the worldwide pandemic is weighing heavily on us all. You may have started it with enthusiasm, picking a penance or a practice that may or may not still be working for you several weeks in. Here are some ideas to refresh your Lenten practice now:

  • Change your language. Don’t talk about giving up, think in terms of a Lenten practice that will carry you through the remainder of the season and be more meaningful than a farewell to chocolate. What will be your Lenten practice this year?
  • Be prayerful in selecting your fast. We tend to abstain from the same things every year, but is that always what God calls us to? The point of a fast is to become uncomfortable so our thoughts can focus on God. What would make you uncomfortable for the remainder of Lent?
  • We forget what the Good Samaritan did after rescuing the man by the roadside. He gave money to the innkeeper to look after the victim; freely and wholeheartedly, as though giving that money were the most natural thing. For Catholics, it is! Almsgiving flows from prayer and fasting and is central to Lent. Who is your “innkeeper” this Lent? To whom will you give your money freely to help someone else?

We’ll never have all the answers, but God doesn’t expect us to. What he does expect is for us to be discerning: to ask the difficult questions of ourselves, our Church, and our world. Partway through Lent is an excellent time to ask those questions.

Everyday Grace, Lent

Everyday Grace: Fasting this Lent

It’s the second Lent of the pandemic, and tempers are, safe to say, frayed. Everyone is exhausted. Everyone is in mourning. There is still uncertainty ahead. So how are we supposed to think about fasting when the world seems to have tilted sideways on its axis?

Here’s a suggestion.

Listen to the Holy Father: the pope calls us to…

  • fast from hurting words and say kind words
  • fast from sadness and be filled with gratitude
  • fast from anger and be filled with patience
  • fast from pessimism and be filled with hope
  • fast from worries and have trust in God
  • fast from complaints; contemplate simplicity
  • fast from pressures and be prayerful
  • fast from bitterness; fill your hearts with joy
  • fast from selfishness and be compassionate
  • fast from grudges and be reconciled
  • fast from words; be silent and listen

If we can do any of these things, in this time of pain and uncertainty and of hope, then we’ll be on the right road toward the resurrection.

Everyday Grace, Lent

Everyday Grace: 3 Ways to Prepare for Lent

Hard to believe, but Lent is right around the corner: Ash Wednesday is next week! So if like many of us you haven’t yet thought about your Lenten practices, now is the time.

Yet this year is unlike every other year, and this Lent may call for more introspection, more preparation. Rather than just rushing into what we’re going to “give up,” let’s also think about what we need.

  • As you prepare for Lent, ask God what your soul needs. Just ask, and just listen. It may take several days of asking before you get an answer. This Lent may be very different from others; stay open to how you can grow.
  • Ask God what about your life brings him joy. There are things you do and think that make God happy, even though you might not be aware of them. Again, listen for a response. These are things you’ll want to encourage this Lent.
  • Finally, ask God what the world needs. There are many ways of reaching out during Lent, and we all generally just go for the most obvious. 2021 may need to be different. Listen to what God wants you to do this year.

The Lenten season unfolds so many possibilities. It is a gift of renewal. By planning before it begins, we can enter Lent in that same spirit, a spirit of renewal, of love, and of change.

Everyday Grace, Seasonal

Everyday Grace: 3 Ways to Find the Light

Set between Epiphany and Lent, on February 2, there’s a holiday that’s easy to overlook. It’s the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord Jesus and the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, but it’s also known as Candlemas, a Christian holiday adopted from a pagan one, marking the halfway point between the shortest day of the year and the beginning of spring, when traditionally candles were brought into churches to be blessed.

Candlemas is all about light. We’re starting to see more light here in the northern hemisphere as the days get longer. We’re reminded, too, that Christ is the light of the world. This is a holiday worth celebrating! Here’s what you might do:

  • Make it a fun family celebration. In France, the tradition is that each family member prepares and cooks a crêpe while holding a coin in their hand, bringing wealth and happiness until the next Candlemas celebration. So why not make a family celebration of cooking and eating crêpes together?
  • Decorate your home. Gather all your candles in one room and light them from one central candle. Or place a candle in each window (but watch them carefully!). Say a prayer of thanksgiving for the light, or you might choose this Candlemas prayer.
  • Celebrate all things new. Candlemas is a time of new beginnings. If you didn’t make New Year’s resolutions for change, this is a good time to make them instead. Try and find a resolution that will help you re-set your connection with God.

Whatever you choose to do, this holiday is a reminder to look to the light. We have been in darkness for a long time, and the promise of light—daylight, and the light of the love of Christ—is something to celebrate!

Christmas, Seasonal

Sharing Hope with the World

Just before Christmas, on December 21, many of us were able to see a special conjunction of two planets that have come together only a few times in the past centuries—once, very notably, two millennia ago over the town of Bethlehem. That astronomical event, known to us as the Christmas star, was a time of holy awe. Starlight and angels drew shepherds away from their night shift into the warmth of a stable to visit a newborn child, and mysterious men from foreign parts brought exotic gifts and a foretaste of a king’s narcissistic rage. The story of the three Magi is one of the best-loved tales in the Bible.

Early Christian writers identified them as men who studied the stars and the planets—which, to the ancients, bore great astrological or mystical significance. When our Magi looked up at the night sky and saw a star brighter than they had ever seen hanging over Judea, they would have remembered the prophecies of the coming Messiah, and paid strict attention. We have to remember where this story is located, in the Gospel of St. Matthew. And this gospel presents a Messiah who isn’t only the Savior of Israel, but the promised light and hope for the nations. The journey of the Magi from the East represents the gentiles who came to adore the newborn King.

After adoring Jesus, the Magi left for their own land by another route, to avoid returning to Herod. They may have even been the first missionaries, since no doubt they would have been eager in their travels to tell others of what they had seen, of this Child who was so much more.

The example of the Magi going out into the world could also have inspired early Christians fulfilling Jesus’ Great Commission to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” The Magi were the first to go out into the world and spread the story of the manger, and after them came millions of other people, following in their footsteps, bringing the Good News of the gospel to all the ends of the earth, to all who would hear it. There is a real, solid hope inspiring those willing to take on the Great Commission.

This isn’t a hope that “maybe it will happen, it would be good if it did;” it is, rather, a hope born of love and empathy and determination. The Magi gave us hope that, no matter who we are, in places remote and familiar, far and near, we can share the message of the Incarnation.

So there is already hope for us built right into the account of the Magi who traveled to Bethlehem to honor Jesus.

This hope is something for us to carry with us into this new year as we learn different ways of being together, as we are given opportunities to spread the light. The same hope that inspired the Magi to travel weary miles in search of the real King, the holy Child, is the same hope that will set our hearts aflame anew every year. It’s the promise that there is so much more to life than our small moments and petty concerns: the understanding that a broken world awaits the grace and love of the King of kings, and the promise that he is here to give it. Now. With you. With us. With the whole wide world.

How extraordinarily right it is that those three mysterious people appeared on the scene! How wonderful it is that God’s love is revealed to everyone, everywhere, without bound or limit!

There are stars that beckon us. There are stories that reflect the meaning and hope of God’s presence for us. God is revealed in those we love, those whom we meet, and in the experiences we have every day. Life itself can be an epiphany of the faith. Hope and love are the great gifts of God to us this season and this year and this lifetime. Perhaps during this January, this Epiphany season, we might be like those Magi… searching, seeking, and following… looking for the radiance and brightness of God.

The hope of the Magi is our shared and blessed hope, as the star “guides us to that perfect Light.”

Christmas, Everyday Grace, Seasonal, Tips

Everyday Grace: 3 Ways to Beat the Post-Christmas Blues

There’s a lot of work, thought, anticipation, and activity leading up to Christmas, even this unusual Christmas, and for many people the following weeks feel like something of a letdown. The jolly Santa Claus images are looking a little tired; the big event we’ve been waiting for has come… and gone. How do you cope with the post-Christmas blues?

  • Keep the light going. The Christmas season is all about light: leave your nativity set out (and pray to the Infant Jesus), keep the decorations blinking and the candles lit: this is the season that gets us through the dark nights of winter and all the way to the Baptism of Our Lord and on to Candlemas.
  • Exercise. Many of us have neglected our bodies during the pandemic. The irony is that exercise makes us feel better, but we have to start! Exercise releases endorphins, and allow us to view the long nights and short days with equanimity.
  • Reach out. Did you know there’s a spike in calls to crisis centers right after Christmas? Loneliness and depression can move in for many different reasons. This is an excellent time to volunteer with an organization that reaches out to those who are alone, homeless, ill, elderly, or shut-in. There are many volunteer opportunities you can do from home, either via telephone or online. And getting you outside of yourself will improve your mood, too!

The manger was just the first step of our journey of faith, the journey that will take us though to the cross and the resurrection. Keeping that in perspective, and doing what we can to help ourselves and help others, is what will surely beat the post-Christmas blues!

Advent, Everyday Grace

Everyday Grace: Three Ways to Welcome Advent

Advent is here, the beginning of… everything! This year, the words seem particularly poignant and relevant this year: “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light…” We have all been through a year of terrible darkness, but just in time, Advent is here to give us hope. How can you best mark the season?

  • If you’ve never before kept an Advent wreath in your home, now is a good time to start. The act of lighting the candles will lift your mind and your spirit. The light is coming!
  • Join the Daughters of St. Paul choir for its annual Christmas concert—available virtually online for you to share with your family and friends.
  • Give and give… choose a different charity every week and make a donation. It will enable you to reach out even in these days when we cannot be together physically.

As we prepare to welcome Christ into the world, let’s take some time to be mindful and prayerful about our preparations. They will remind us of a life beyond the pandemic… and a life in the world to come!

Lent

With Your Rod and Your Staff You Comfort Me

My car recently had a flat tire, and, as it was a nice day, I decided to change it myself. Or at least attempt to; I’m not exactly known for my practical skill set. I emptied out my car’s trunk and assembled what I thought I would need to change the tire. I struggled for a while (what is that thing supposed to do?) before deciding I didn’t really want to spend the entire day changing a tire, and I called AAA. The gentleman who responded had my tire changed in under five minutes. He had experience, and he had the right tools.

Having the right tools, it seems to me, is the answer to many of life’s problems and challenges.

In While Shepherds Watch Their Flocks, a chapter is devoted to a tool I’d heard of but never thought much about: the staff. Everyone knows the Psalmist’s words, “your rod and your staff comfort me,” but perhaps, like me, you never wondered precisely what this rod and this staff are that provide such a comfort to a frightened soul.

The rod, it turns out, is defensive. For centuries, shepherds encouraged the flock with their rods; they threw the rods at predators approaching their flocks. Most importantly, perhaps, the sheep were made to “pass under the rod” when they were counted and inspected every night, as the shepherd checked each one for any wounds or the presence of parasites.

The other wooden implement used by the shepherd is the staff. Tall enough to lean on, frequently curved at the top, it’s a tool with many uses: it’s used to keep sheep apart from each other during lambing, for rescue operations, and to guide sheep through a pass. A very useful tool indeed.

For a more vivid description of the staff in action, we turn to the biography of Dr. Alexander Duff, a Christian missionary to India who lived in the 19th century:

In 1849 Dr. Duff was traveling near Simla under the shadow of the great Himalaya mountains. One day his way led to a narrow bridle path cut out on the face of a steep ridge; along this narrow path that ran so near the great precipice he saw a shepherd leading on his flock following him, but now and then the shepherd stopped and looked back. If he saw a sheep creeping up too far on the one hand, or going too near the edge of the dangerous precipice on the other, he would at once turn back and go to it, gently pulling it back.

He had a long rod as tall as himself, round the lower half of which was twisted a band of iron. The thick band was really a staff, and was ready for use whenever he saw a hyena or wolf or some other troublesome animal coming near the sheep, for especially at night these creatures prowled about the flock. With the iron part of the rod he would give a good blow when an attack was threatened.

I’m reading that passage and there’s part of me that’s saying, lucky sheep! What a feeling of security!

It’s a feeling not a lot of us are experiencing right now. The world around us, we have learned, is unsafe. In fact, we’re understanding that even the people around us have become, in these days of the coronavirus, a threat to our wellbeing. No one feels any sense of security: losing jobs and income, worrying about our families’ health, not knowing what might happen next. Lucky sheep, indeed!

Jesus is called the Great Shepherd. He defends his sheep with his rod, but he also brings back the wandering or straying sheep with his shepherd’s crook. The staff has a curved end that fits the neck of the sheep perfectly, taking care of little lambs as well as the grown sheep. He can defend the flock from the wolves by his rod, and correct us by his rod when we need it; he keeps his sheep close to him by his staff. This is how Micah referred to the staff, writing “Shepherd your people with your staff, the flock of your heritage that lives apart in a woodland, in the midst of an orchard.” (Micah 7:14).

God loves us so much not to leave us to ourselves. He is the shepherd whose life is closely intertwined with ours. If he didn’t love us, he’d let us wander off like sheep over a cliff. His rod protects us from the enemy and he uses his staff to keep us close to the Shepherd. Jesus is the Great Shepherd who uses both the rod when we need it—and the staff when we need it, too.

Let’s take a look at what the staff means to a shepherd out in the field with his sheep. Being a shepherd is a difficult job. It’s not the stained-glass window picture of someone standing there looking rather beatific. Not at all. Shepherds work hard, and they get dirty. If you’re a shepherd, there are three reasons you need the staff:

  • First, you need it because you’re leading the sheep out in the country. You’re on rocky ground, so you need a staff to help keep you stable. In that sense, it’s like a hiking stick. It catches you when you fall.
  • The second reason you as a shepherd need a staff is that it’s an offensive weapon. If somebody’s coming against the sheep, you use the staff to fight them, to keep them away. Your job, after all, is to protect the sheep.
  • Then there’s a third reason: sometimes sheep have minds of their own. They aren’t always very smart, and they need correction. They might wander off. When that happens, you can use the staff to pull them back into the flock, to keep your sheep in line.

Of course, these are the very things that Jesus the Shepherd is doing in your life. He wants to help keep you steady, particularly when you’re walking in a difficult season, as we all are now. He wants to fight on your behalf against the enemies that come against you. And if you’ve made a commitment to say, “I will follow you,” he takes you very seriously.

So if he says, “Go this way,” and you’re going another way, he’ll use his staff to correct you, to bring you back in line. Not because he’s mean, but because he loves you, and because if you go that way, you could encounter a pack of wolves. Your Shepherd wants to keep you safe.

All three of these are ways Jesus demonstrates his love:

  • By steadying us when life is hard.
  • By fighting on our behalf when we need somebody to do so (and we all do from time to time).
  • By correcting us when we’re going the wrong way.

But this staff represents not just Jesus’ ministry, it also represents the Church. God has given the Church a community responsibility: we are called to be the shepherd’s staff in the community where God has placed them.

Steadying

Who in the community needs people to come and stand beside them and steady them because life is hard? That’s the Church’s ministry to the community. There’s a reason Jesus emphasizes the same things over and over again: Care for the weak. Care for the sick. Care for the poor. A Church that claims to be under the authority of the Good Shepherd has to demonstrate that kind of care to those in need.

We’ve all been the recipients. We’ve received forgiveness when we didn’t deserve it. We’ve received mercy when we didn’t deserve it. He gave his life for us, he saved us, even though we didn’t deserve it. He has steadied us in our walk. And if Jesus is steadying us in our walk, being part of a community means we need to take up this staff and care for others. Because that’s what Jesus is doing for us. We are here to steady those in need. This coronavirus crisis is a particularly good time to show we all belong together… even when we cannot actually come together.

Protecting

Who are the people in your community who need someone to come and fight on their behalf? The system isn’t helping them; their neighbors aren’t helping them; even often their own family members aren’t helping them. Who are the people who need somebody to come and stand beside them and say, “What can we do to help?” It could be legal assistance. It could be education. It could be someone helping them find counseling and care. It could be prayer, because more often than not, fighting the battle in prayer is often the thing that breaks loose what needs to happen in somebody’s life. There isn’t one of us here who doesn’t need that. I hope none of us feels they can get through this crisis without saying, “I need somebody to pray for me right now.” Because we all do. And God has built that kind of interdependence between us.

Correcting

We used to rely on families or bosses to help raise people up into positions of responsibility, to love them enough to correct them when they needed correcting. But part of what we’re wrestling with is that people in responsible leadership positions no longer take time or care to mentor, to correct, and to reach out. And so there are many people who haven’t learned important lessons, who don’t understand the need they might have for correction, because they think they should be free to do whatever they want. But that’s not true freedom. Our freedom is the freedom to serve the common good, to reach out to others, to care for people, to give sacrificially. All of us need this staff of correction in our lives.

That’s what it means for the Church to take on the ministry of the shepherd in the communities it serves. That’s what it means for the Church to be God’s steadying, protecting, and correcting staff.

And remember that if the shepherd starts off with one hundred sheep, he will surely bring home one hundred sheep, so we can say, with the psalmist, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff comfort me” (Psalm 23:4).

So now let’s imagine again. Imagine yourself to be one of the woolly sheep in a large flock. You don’t think much. You pretty much follow whatever the sheep in front of you is doing. You make a lot of noise when you’re hungry, or unhappy about something. You might not think; but what you do is sense. You can sense danger. You can sense fear. And right now you’re feeling both of those things.

You don’t know why you’re afraid, but you know in your heart there’s something to be afraid of. You huddle even closer to your neighbors. Maybe they can keep the Bad Thing away from you. Maybe you can hide in the midst of them. But you realize that they, too, are shivering; they, too have picked up on the danger. Everyone is at risk. Oh, no! What are you all to do?

And then you hear his voice, the man who takes care of you. He is shouting, but not at the sheep, not at you. He is shouting and running after something, his rod in the air. When he comes back, you feel it right away: the fear has lifted. The danger is gone. You didn’t even know how close you came to disaster—but he did, and he kept it away from you.

There’s no reason to belabor this point. Carry the image with you as we move through this terrible time of a global pandemic. Carry it as we get closer to the end of our Lenten journey, to the final cruel week. Jesus is our shepherd, but he is also the Lamb of God, ready to die so his flock might live on.

 

by Jeannette de Beauvoir

 

 

 

 

Inspiration, Lent

I Am Patrick: From Slave to Saint

Finally, a film on St. Patrick that’s not about snakes and shamrocks – not that there is anything wrong with that! Welsh actor, John Rhys-Davis (Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Lord of the Rings) does a superb job as the older St. Patrick who tells us about his life and journeys. I wish I could say the same about Robert McCormack, the young Patrick, but thankfully his screen time is limited.

The film’s successful and accurate portrayal of Ireland’s favorite son relies on its heavy use of Patrick’s own words from his Confessions for the film’s narrative. As a young man in Britain, he comes from a wealthy family and though his father is a deacon, Patrick is not religious and prefers a life of privilege and dissoluteness. The turning point comes when, at sixteen, Irish pirates capture him and force him into slavery for six years to the point of near starvation. However, his imprisonment becomes a time of conversion, prayer and spiritual development. The Lord’s powerful mercy comes upon him as he repents for the sins of his youth and recommits to living his Catholic faith.

During this time of fervor, he receives what would be the first of many visions from the Lord telling him that he would escape and make his way back to Britain and his loved ones. But Patrick soon realizes that he is called to return to Ireland and that despite the many difficulties he would encounter, the Lord calls him to bring the Gospel to the inhabitants of this rough and wild land. He is seen as a foreigner who opposes the Celtic kings, takes no part in the Druid ceremonies, and when falsely accused by his own bishops who want him to return to Britain – his stance never waivers. Patrick converts thousands of Irish to Christianity. His trust is solely in Jesus Christ, His Lord and Savior.

I’ve seen other films about Patrick and none of them have told me how he converted all of Ireland – a task that seems almost impossible for just one man. This film reveals his “secret.” He formed small groups of believers and when he felt that they were strong enough to be on their own, he left to start anew on the next town or tribe. As he left, Patrick encouraged them to spread God’s word to all those around them.

A word of praise must be given to cinematographer, Colm Hogan. I found his shots of the Irish countryside to be a fitting tribute to the beauty of the Emerald Isle.

As Bishop Thomas J. Tobin, Bishop of Providence, so nicely sums it up,In short, Saint Patrick was a good, courageous, and holy man whose entire life was informed by his encounter with God and his belief in the Gospel. His impact on the Christian Church and the whole Western World is enormous. That’s why his memory, celebrated on March 17th, deserves to be marked with much more meaning than can be offered by civic parades, green beer and shamrocks. Clearly, the movie I Am Patrick points us in the right direction.”

If you’re looking for something special to do for St. Patrick’s Day, here it is – a film on a great saint he entire family can enjoy! Click here for theatrical release locations.

 

By Sr. Christine Salvatore Setticase, FSP

https://www.fathomevents.com/events/i-am-patrick

[Photo credits: ©2020 The Christian Broadcasting Network Inc. All rights reserved.]