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What the Good Shepherd taught me during this pandemic

At first, the thought of closing our book and media center didn’t seem to be daunting. Perhaps we could get some cleaning and painting done. There was always something waiting for us to have the time to do. After the first week we had completed inventory. Everything in our bookcenter was counted and entered into the computer. Task done!

After this I thought we would all move on to the next task we had all talked about getting to. Then things changed. I found myself unable to sleep after reading too much about Covid19. I worried about my family members. The tasks we were determined to carry out began to feel secondary to everyone as we adjusted to news reports. We began missing the visits of friends and the possibility of visiting family. I found myself calling family and friends more often. This brought on some feelings of guilt. Wasn’t I supposed to be getting on with those tasks? What is our mission now that we’re not able to open the front door to people seeking gospel inspiration? How is prayer going to be now that we are streaming Mass? Yes, we kept a schedule and yet even that was unfamiliar. Since our community would be taking turns making annual retreat in the convent, I asked to begin first.

I made this request because I knew I needed some one-on-one with Jesus Good Shepherd! As I knelt and sat in his presence, day after day for eight days, my attitude began to change. The invitation to “be still and know that I am God,” reminded me that the shepherd was a door to his sheep. They could go out of the sheepfold to romp in the fields and the shepherd would silently watch, call their name if they strayed, and go out looking for anyone straying too far. At night this good shepherd lay across the entrance to the sheepfold to defend it from wolves. During the day the good shepherd again led the flock to refreshing water and dewy fields of grass. Knowing the names of each lamb, ewe, and ram, the shepherd also knew their individual needs.

Surrendering my fears to Jesus Good Shepherd meant to trust him with everyone I felt concerned about. It meant I could sit near Jesus and watch how he loves each person I love. Turning myself over his care was a reminder that doing tasks was not what needed to be primary. Learning to love was primary. And that felt strange in a new way. How to love during a pandemic? After a while I tried new ways to reach out to my sisters and others. First I let myself be loved by the Shepherd, and then I followed his lead.

I could always go safely in and out of the fold listening for his voice. I knew this Good Shepherd already laid down his life for his sheep.

 

by Sr Margaret Kerry, fsp

 

 

 

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Can’t we just go back to the way it used to be?

The underlying theme of these Coronavirus days seems to be stress. Of course, there are many variations on this theme depending on the factors of our lives. Life isn’t what it once was or what it should be. We feel stressed and basically life’s a mess.

Can’t we just go backwards, back to how things used to be?

Let’s try it with something simple, like the word “stressed.”

If we spell it backwards it becomes “desserts.” Isn’t that nice? Doesn’t that make you feel better already? Maybe yes, maybe not exactly. Living under stress can actually make us daydream about desserts. It becomes harder to focus on the good, the better, and the best about life.

This even happens when we pick up the Gospel.

How many times have we waltzed through the account of the Beatitudes without a second thought. Some see them as kind of charming, a bit poetic, sort of like a spiritual dessert. Nice for posters or bookmarkers, but not necessarily life-changing words.

However, the Beatitudes are the heart of the Gospel. They are what it is all about. They are a description of what life should look like.

As I say in my book, Blessed Are the Stressed, The beatitudes are attitudes refined over a lifetime, culminating in an eternal enjoyment of perfect happiness.

These are the attitudes that in the here and now bless our lives, our day-in-and day-out lives, our hunkered down in place days and our back to normal days.

Take some time today and read through Matthew 5: 1-12 and savor these wonderful promises of Christ. We can’t avoid being stressed, but the Beatitudes say to us: blessed are the stressed. 

Sr Mary Lea Hill, FSP
Author of Blessed Are the Stressed

 

 

Everyday Grace, Uncategorized

Don’t Feel Like Praying? 3 Ways to Re-Engage!

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 up. But what can you do about it? Here are some ideas:

  • Read the psalms. You’ll be surprised at how many of these songs and prayers and verses will sound familiar to you. They’ve served as an inspiration to Christians for centuries, and they can 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!

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Everyday Grace: 3 Ways to Banish Fear

When we’re afraid, bad things happen to our bodies, minds, and souls. 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. 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 fearful by breathing deeply or taking a walk. Do your best to turn toward solutions rather than amplifying problems.
  3. Choose joy. In 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 loveable.

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Everyday Grace: Dealing with Differences

It’s a wide world out there, filled with people who are very different from us. There are a couple of ways of dealing with our differences, ranging from friendship on one end to war on the other. But what does Jesus call us to do? He tells us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. And St. Paul in his letter to the Church in Rome wrote, “If your enemy is hungry, give him something to eat; if thirsty, something to drink. By this, you will be heaping red-hot coals on his head. Do not be mastered by evil, but master evil with good.”

But how does that work out in everyday life, especially in a world that seems more and more partisan and bifurcated?

  • When you cannot agree with someone, acknowledge that they may have life-circumstances that brought them to their opinion or action. We don’t know how anyone’s past experiences have scarred them. React to them with gentleness, not anger.
  • Don’t behave badly, even if others are. Listen to St. Paul, and offer them food and drink. Give them your kindness; it’s what they expect the least.
  • Pray, pray, pray. We know that prayer is the foundation of the Church and of our life in it and in the world. Prayer changes things. We may never see what happens because of our prayers, what soul is brought to God, what terrible accident is averted; but we have faith that it makes a difference.

We can all make the world a better place to live while we wait for God’s Kingdom. Why not start today?

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3 August Feasts that Remind Us of Heaven

Today, August 6, 2019, marks 224 days since last Christmas. (It’s important to let this sink in before the retail world starts bombarding us with how many shopping days are left before the next Christmas. If you are interested, there are 141 days before next Christmas—4 months and 19 days…).

There have been approximately four months since the celebration of the Paschal Triduum which normally occurs somewhere around early to mid-April.

So the Church, in her wisdom, bids us stop once more to celebrate liturgical mysteries that transform our lives as much as the Incarnation, death and Resurrection of the Lord. August offers us three heavenly mysteries which reveal to us what has been given us through the immense love of the Father who sent his only Son to redeem the creatures whom he created and with whom he remains madly in love.

The end of December brings us to the crib, where we kneel with shepherds and kings before a child who with his shiny eyes looks on us with such love. That child was both Son of God and Son of Mary, Emmanuel God-with-us, our Redeemer, our Teacher, Healer and Master. How could it be, we wonder in the liturgies of the Christmas Season that God would take on our human nature that we might take on the divine.

Four months later we stand beneath the cross, aware anew at what cost God has loved us. As Mary of Bethany, Jesus breaks the precious vessel of his body on the hill of Calvary and releases over the earth the fragrance of a most extravagant perfume, anointing us his brothers and sisters, co-heirs with him, children of his eternal Father. We stand as witness to the truth of the resurrection of Christ, and the miracle of mercy testified by the resurrections in our own lives.

On August 6 we celebrate the Transfiguration of Christ on Mount Tabor, when our Lord appeared in his divine glory before the apostles Peter, James, and John. This event came at a critical point in the ministry of our Lord, just as he was setting out on his journey to Jerusalem. He would soon experience the humiliation, suffering, and death of the cross. However, the glorious light of the Resurrection was revealed to strengthen  his disciples for the trials that they would soon experience.

The feast also points to the glorious Second Coming of our Lord and the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God when all of creation will be transfigured and filled with light.

On August 15 we will celebrate the Assumption of Mary body and soul into heaven. Eric M. Johnston helps us think about this great feast in the light of what God wants for all of us. “God wants to bring Mary—and all of us—body and soul to heaven. He wants his Empire to extend that far, to save us in our entirety. And that’s why he did all those other things. That’s why he did the Incarnation and the Cross—so that we could reach the heavenly mysteries of August.”

On August 22 we celebrate the Queenship of Mary. God crowned Mary Queen of heaven and earth. Johnston reflects: “Mary participates fully, in every aspect of her person, in the glorious joys of heaven; everything is at the service of this mystery, everything comes together in the fulfillment prefigured in Mary’s coronation.”

August, then, is about a new heavens and a new earth, the celebration of the Kingdom inaugurated by Jesus Christ by which you and I and the world are saved, body and soul. The glory shining on the face of Christ shines also in our souls even now, to radiate in all its fullness one day when the Kingdom comes to fulfillment in us. For where Mary has gone, we are to follow.

May this month of heavenly mysteries reorient all of us—especially as we cope in our minds and hearts and souls with the darkness wrought by recent acts of violence and hate—to an intentional common pilgrimage to that eternal Jerusalem where we already are citizens, where the saints and angels long to have us as their companions, where the Father waits to receive us and to crown his mercies effected in us for his glory.

Blessings, Sr Kathryn

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Everyday Grace: Midsummer and Midlife

Midsummer is officially in June, at the summer solstice, which has never made much sense to me. Real midsummer, it seems, is now, about halfway through the season. There’s another month before we’re doing the back-to-school thing, there’s still time to reflect. Midlife is a similar time of reflection, halfway through a standard allotment of years on earth. It’s appropriate to think of both summer and life in terms of seasons, and here are a few tips to help: 

  • Do it now.If there’s something that you meant to do this summer, or in this lifetime, don’t postpone it. Whether it’s a visit to a water park or a broken friendship you want to heal, tomorrow isn’t guaranteed. 
  • Slow down.You’re still rushing… through the summer, through life. Too many appointments, too much work, too many distractions. Take time to savor what you have today. 
  • Read. Kathryn James Hermes FSP’s book, Reclaim Regret, is how God sees your future even when all you see is failure. It’s primarily about midlife, but can be applied to any season as well. 

As we move through life’s seasons, let’s be constantly aware that no matter what the summer, or lifetime, might bring, we’re not alone. God is with us, his hand extended, offering a spiritual friendship that’s more nourishing than any of our doubts or disappointments. 

 

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

 


ENJOYED THIS ARTICLE? HERE ARE 2 WAYS TO GO DEEPER…

We Daughters of St Paul have created a new way for you to interact directly with Sisters, receive spiritual guidance on the road to holiness, and always have a sacred space that is restful, enriching, and beautiful available to you at any time: MY SISTERS.

If you are like most of our members your Faith is important to you, but you have unanswered questions, can’t find someone you can trust to talk with about your life of faith, and sometimes find yourself exhausted, angry and confused about what is happening in the world and Church today.

So we hope you join your SISTERS on the journey:

Join us by email twice a week for EVENING PRAYER: Rest in the Lord’s Love Tonight. This short evening prayer email comes Sunday and Wednesday evenings.

Become a member of My Sisters online faith community. 

This is why people love My Sisters:

1  Mentorship: We all need mentors in our lives. The saints have always recommended that we have spiritual guides or companions along the way. Spiritual Accompaniment sessions offered by the Sisters on Monday and Thursday evenings are broadcast live on Facebook, creating a space for learning, growing, praying, and sharing together. These are available for later viewing.

2  Community: Our members care about each other and enjoy the live chat. As people come to know each other, they realize they are not alone. They find comfort in walking together on the road of sanctity and have greater courage in the midst of today’s struggles.

3  Answers: There is so much to learn about holiness. Where do you begin? How do you find answers when you aren’t sure what questions to ask? As you listen and learn and take part in the discussions, the questions become clear and we explore the answers together.

4  Deeper Prayer: We all wonder how we can pray better. Learn more about the way the Saints have taught us to pray and deepen the Church’s spiritual tradition. Participate in the live streamed First Friday Hours of Adoration, Scripture meditations, Rosary, and more.

Try a month today for just $1 and enjoy being part of a community dedicated to helping you deepen faith and discover anew the beauty of your Catholic identity. 

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Everyday Grace: 3 Steps to Memento Mori

Everyday Grace: 3 Steps to Memento Mori

 Memento mori (literally, “remember that you have to die”) is an ancient practice of reflection on mortality, the reminder that this life is not forever. We have seen that our Lenten memento mori devotional and the accompanying journal have helped many people come to terms with the process. Once you open yourself to considering death, you may find you live life more fully!

The practice isn’t meant to be depressing, but rather to remind us of where our real life lies.

  • Remember that every day on earth is a gift from God. How many people died in their sleep last night? You weren’t one of them. Wake up with a sense of gratitude.
  • Keep this life in perspective. When someone angers you or hurts you, step back from it. Will it matter a year from now? Ten years from now? Take the long view.
  • If you were to die today, what would be left unsaid, what would be left undone? Make a list, and start crossing items off.

Scripture tells us that we never know when God might call us home to live with him in eternity. Memento mori is a practice that reminds of that, every day. We are just passing through this life: our real home is in heaven.

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Everyday Grace: 6 Steps to a More Meaningful Prayer Life: Part One

“Lord, teach us to pray!” was the request of the disciples, and it’s true that we’re all searching for a prayer life that will keep us centered on God, even when we’re not actually on our knees. This week and next week we’ll look at some things you can do to enrich your prayer life and bring yourself into a space that’s mindful and meaningful. This week it’s three things you can do to prepare for prayer:

  • Set your prayer time apart. You won’t pray regularly unless you plan for it, and weaving it into the rhythm of your daily life will help form the habit. You might write your prayer time in your daily planner, or pray right before or after meals, or choose a time that’s reasonable and set an alarm to remind yourself. You always make time for the things you need: work, appointments, etc. This is just as important, so make sure you don’t approach prayer haphazardly. It won’t happen unless you make it happen.
  • Separate yourself from distractions. Don’t leave your phone on, turn off the radio, the television, anything that is distracting. If possible, go somewhere alone: outside, in a separate room, even in a hallway or a parked car, etc. Finding solitude is one of the best conduits for prayer.
  • Be present to the Presence. “The body ought to pray as well as the soul. Body and soul are both better for it.” (C.S. Lewis) You don’t have to kneel or stand, though many people find that helps. Just be present in your body as well as your mind. You are conversing with God, so enter into the conversation with respect and awe.

Preparing your prayer is the best way to ensure you will continue it into the rest of your life’s events and duties. Now that you’re prepared, next time we’ll take on the practice of prayer itself!