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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.

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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.

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Everyday Grace: Humor and Your Daily (Spiritual) Life

Have you noticed that some of the holiest people around are often also the most merry? There’s a deep connection between humor and holiness. Humor keeps us from taking ourselves too seriously, and it gives us some relief from the tensions and stresses of everyday life. It nurtures joy and creates fellowship. In a 2016 interview, Pope Francis commented, “a sense of humor gives you relief, it helps you see what is temporary in life and take things with the spirit of a soul who has been redeemed. It’s a human attitude, but it is very close to the grace of God.”

How can you nurture a holy sense of humor?

  • Read the words of others who have treasured humor. There’s a Jesuit who does stand-up comedy. When a reporter asked Saint John XXIII how many people worked in the Vatican, the pope quipped, “About half of them.” Fr. James Martin wrote a book called Between Heaven and Mirth. There’s a lot of material out there to enjoy.
  • Spend some time with children. Jesus spent time around children, and it’s easy to picture him laughing at their antics, pronouncements, and silliness. It’s impossible to spend any time around children without lightening up a little.
  • Stop and listen to yourself. Sometimes you can turn a difficult situation around by defusing it with humor. We all sometimes fall prey to feeling sorry for ourselves; there’s nothing that banishes self-pity like humor.

“Angels can fly,” writes G. K. Chesterton, “because they take themselves lightly.” Humor can help us to take subjects seriously without taking ourselves seriously in the process. And that’s surely part of God’s plan!

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Everyday Grace: 3 Questions for a More Fulfilling Lent

Sure enough, it’s upon us: tomorrow is “fat Tuesday,” a last gasp before Ash Wednesday and the rigors of Lent begin. Most of us are only beginning to think about what we’ll “give up” in order to make this a spiritually fulfilling season. Here are three questions to challenge you to think differently about your Lenten journey.

  • Change your language. Instead of making “resolutions” or “giving up” something, think in terms of a Lenten practice. The way we articulate things matters, and a practice is more in keeping with what will work over 40 days than any 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 this 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. And Lent is the best time for that process to begin!

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Everyday Grace: 3 Tips for Getting Along Better with Others

There’s a reason we pray, “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” God really expects us to get along with people, to forgive and be forgiven. But sometimes that can seem like the most difficult thing ever. How can we really live well with others? Here are a few tips to try:

  • It’s so much easier to see other people’s failings and obnoxious habits than our own. But try this experiment: list the ways in which others might find you difficult. If you’re really brave, ask people around you what’s annoying about you. Now check out that list and remember another scripture passage: “let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” Remind yourself of your list the next time you’re impatient with someone else.
  • Focus your attention and really listen to the other person. A lot of times, we listen only so there can be a break in the conversation that we can fill. Let your thoughts go and see what their thoughts are. Even if you end up disagreeing, you’ve given them the respect of hearing them out. And this generally means that in turn they will accord you the same courtesy.
  • Always leave the door open. If you really feel that you cannot get along with someone, don’t burn bridges, don’t reject them out of hand. The door should always be left open for future reconciliation.

Further reading/meditation: Take a look at Amish Grace, the book documenting a local Amish community’s response when a shooter killed a number of girls in their schoolroom. The community’s forgiveness—including that of the victims’ parents—was immediate and complete. How could they do that? We could learn something from their response.

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Everyday Grace: 3 Ways to Love the World

Valentine’s Day brings with it images of hearts and flowers, of romance and closeness to others. And there’s nothing wrong with any of that… love and companionship are among God’s greatest gifts to us. But it also could be a time to extend love beyond one’s spouse, and reach out in Gospel love to others.

  • Get to know people in your building or neighborhood who live alone. You could knock on the door and see if they need anything the next time you are going shopping. Sometimes it’s as simple as just letting them know you’re there if they need anything.
  • Spend some time at a nursing home. Valentine’s Day will bring back memories of deceased loved ones, and the day can be bleak for many. Spending time with the elderly is a beautiful gift of love you can give.
  • Make Jesus your model. He loved everyone, noticed everyone, cared for everyone. It’s worth asking yourself who you’re neglecting… who Jesus wouldn’t. Can you help with a program at your parish for the poor? Donate to Catholic Charities? Volunteer your time and talent?

Loving the world means more than the hearts and flowers of Valentine’s Day: it’s loving people near and far every day. But you can make this Valentine’s Day the start of a new, deeper appreciation of God and God’s people, the start of being in love with the world.

“If you want to enjoy the water, you first learn how to swim; if you want to enjoy the snow, you must first learn how to ski; if you want to enjoy people, you must first learn how to do things for them.” (Allan Fromme)

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Everyday Grace: Finding Solace in Silence

For those of us in the northern hemisphere, winter is the coldest season; it feels like everything has frozen over and all we can do is wait impatiently for spring. But winter is also a time of rest, peace, inner focus, stillness, and reflection. The flow of life naturally slows down and turns inward, and we can tap into this peace with a skill we rarely use: keeping silent, and meditating on what God is doing in this cold season.

  • You may have planted bulbs this past fall. Even if you didn’t, think about the life happening under your feet. It may be quiet where you are, but down below the roots are getting stronger. Take a walk in a park or a garden, and reflect on the life just waiting to burst free.
  • It seems that the world is screaming at us right now. Our smartphone ding with interruptions, the television and the internet all tell tales of violence and anger and hopelessness. Turn it all off for a day. Find a day when you can take yourself off the grid. Don’t read Facebook. Don’t watch TV. Give yourself a mini-retreat and spend the day in silence, reading, thinking, praying, meditating.
  • Find a half-hour every day when you can practice silence. It might mean getting up earlier than usual, or going to be later. It may mean taking that lunch break, not to socialize, but to be alone. However you do it, find a half-hour when you can be in silence: sitting, walking, whatever works best for you. If you practice this daily you’ll feel more positive and more energized.

We live at a noisy time in a noisy world. But we have some control over it. Turing our thoughts, our minds and hearts, to God instead of to the maelstrom around us will keep us on the right path.

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Everyday Grace: Keeping Afloat Through the Storms

We all feel buffeted, these days. What seemed to be “the ways things are” one day don’t necessarily continue into the next. The difficulties of navigating a world that feels increasingly stormy sometimes feel overwhelming.

When we’re afraid, bad things happen to our bodies and minds. Fear activates the brain’s amygdala, a sensor that gives us three response options: fight, flight, or freeze. To ensure we have everything we need to carry out this instinctual response, the amygdala limits activity in the prefrontal cortex, where logical thought, clear decisions, and rational choices are generated. So fear keeps us from being our best selves.

What can we do?

  1. Pray. St. Augustine said, “Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you.” When faced with fear, pray for courage, and trust that all things work for the good for those who love the Lord. You’ll find it easier to plan your next steps when you start with prayer.
  2. Take action. Help someone else, volunteer some time, donate some money, share a meal or a coffee with a friend to talk, cool down when you feel angry by breathing deeply or taking a walk. Do your best to turn toward solutions rather than amplifying problems.
  3. Choose joy. In these difficult times, joy is an act of resistance against the darkness. There are moments of beauty and peace all around us: try to see them. If you can see the light, you can become a light for others.

Remember that there has always been something to fear. We’re not alone; history proves that there have been times worse than the one in which we live. If we can see the world as it is, rather than as we are, our perspective changes. God made this world and loves this world. If we can reflect that love, the world will become more lovable.

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Everyday Grace 3 Lessons from Martin Luther King, Jr.

We don’t have to be Baptists to learn important lessons from this Baptist preacher, any more than others need to be Catholic to learn important lessons from Saint Teresa of Calcutta. Some people’s faith and wisdom simply belong to the world as a whole. How can his principles of nonviolence inspire Catholics today? 

  • Our mission as Catholics seeks to defeat injustice—not people. Those who oppress are themselves oppressed. Today, pray for those who do evil, that their hearts might be open to the Good News of Christ and their lives transformed by his love. 
  • As trite as it may seem, choosing love instead of hate is essential. Jesus told us to love our enemies and do good to those who injure us. In these partisan times, it’s easy to hate “the other side.” Jesus never said we have to agree with them: he just said we have to love them. 
  • We need to work toward redemption and reconciliation. Our purpose is to seek the kingdom of God, and that means enlarging our community to include everyone in friendship and understanding.  

Is there someone you can reach out to—today? Someone who thinks differently from you, who might believe in something to which you are passionately opposed? Your nonjudgmental gesture might just prove their tipping-point. As Christians, we’re supposed to look and act differently from the culture around us. Martin Luther King Jr. knew that, and lived it. Can we? 

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Everyday Grace: 3 Tricks for Finding Patience

And, yes, we do have to find patience. Writer Albert Mohler has observed, “Patience is not optional for the Christian.” St. Paul repeatedly writes to the people in his scattered communities about being patient with each other—so often, in fact, that it’s clear they had as much trouble with patience as we do! But God may be at work in those with whom we are experiencing disagreement and conflict. How can we incorporate that knowledge in our daily lives? 

  • Look inside. When you find yourself experiencing impatience, stop and ask yourself, “why is this bothering me so much?” Chances are good that you’re upset disproportionally to the situation itself (does it really matter so much that someone cut in front of you in line?); understanding why it’s making you crazy can make you… less crazy. 
  • Count to 10. No, really. This simple and obvious trick absolutely works. When you’re done counting, most of your initial impulse (to yell, say something you’ll later regret, etc.) will go away. Impatience is an impulse, not a thought, and by delaying the impulse you allow for thought to step in. 
  • Just love. God loves this person; you can do the same. Your child just broke a family heirloom? Your coworker is too slow? Somebody at the movie theater keeps sniffling? Jesus died for them, too. God loves them in that moment. Take a deep breath and you’ll find that you can love them in spite of it all. 

I’m constantly reminded of St. Francis of Assisi and his quote, “you may be the only Gospel your neighbor ever reads.” When the person ahead of me at the grocery store does something I don’t like, is the Gospel reflected in my reaction? As Catholics, we are role models for others, and the impulse of impatience, though clearly very human, is not sending the right message. The good news? Patience can be learned: we just have to try.