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3 Ways to Change The World

No one but God can change the world in one fell swoop, and it’s often discouraging to even consider change: the problems are so vast, and we are so small. Yet God is sensitive to the smallest things—he notices, we’re told, when the smallest of sparrows falls from the tree—and small acts, taken together, are the most powerful agents of change. Here are three you might try:

  • Be positive. It’s easy to be overwhelmed and discouraged. But when you feel negative, that’s what you project out into the world. When you’re having a bad day, a stranger’s smile or a coworker’s kind word can transform your experience. You can do that for someone else… every day! There isn’t a single experience that isn’t a chance for healing, goodness, and evolution.
  • Reduce your TV and social media time. How much of our negativity gets fed by our consumption of news? What else could you do with that time? Plant a garden, volunteer to help others, make a visit to the Blessed Sacrament… these are all actions that will change the world. Watching Netflix, not so much. You don’t have to give it all up…. Just be aware of your stewardship of time!
  • Pray the Our Father for the intentions of the world. “The ‘Our Father’ is a prayer that ignites in us the same love of Jesus for the will of the Father, a flame that drives us to transform the world with love,” said Pope Francis. Prayer changes things. Pray for missionaries, for teachers, for those who every day work to make the world a better place.

“Even the smallest person,” wrote J.R.R. Tolkien, “can change the course of the future.”  We might all feel small, but in God’s eyes we’re not. Once we accept that, once we’re grateful for that, then there’s nothing we cannot do!

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Everyday Grace: 3 Ways to Love the Unlovable

We all know we’re supposed to see Christ in everyone, but with some people that’s a tall order. We all have someone—or several “someones”—in our lives who make it very difficult indeed to follow Jesus’ gospel admonitions to love our neighbors as ourselves. What are we to do?

  • Take God’s perspective. Don’t treat people the way they treat you; treat them the way God treats you. One of God’s most noticeable characteristics is that he loves everyone the same. If he can do that for everyone, then surely you can do it for someone.
  • Lower your expectations. If you enter into anything—a relationship, a conversation, or anything in between—with certain expectations of how the other person is going to behave, then you will be disappointed. You have the right to expect a certain level of behavior from yourself; not from them.
  • Don’t give up. Remember that God never gives up on us, no matter how many times we disappoint, no matter how many promises we break, no matter how bad our behavior. When people understand that you’re not giving up on them, it can help them change.

Scripture tells is there’s nothing we can do that will separate us from God’s love. Nothing. As Christians, we are called to reflect that love to all of humanity. It’s not impressive to love people who are easy to love; the work of loving people who think differently from us, who push us away, who do things of which we don’t approve—that’s the work we are called to do.

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Everyday Grace: Why Am I So Tired?

We push ourselves every day to do more, to save time, to keep going, to add just one more thing… and then we are surprised when we find ourselves exhausted and spiritually drained. This fatigue will sap at our spiritual, mental, and physical health if we let it. But what can we do?

  1. Jesus gave us the answer. “Come to me, all of you who are weary, and I will give you rest,” he said, and then showed how: he “often withdrew to lonely places to pray.” Making and keeping specific times in the day to pray in solitude will naturally slow you down, keep you focused, and keep you energized. Prayer is a powerhouse. Use it!
  2. God takes good care of our souls, but we’re responsible for our bodies. We can only fulfill our place in God’s plan when we care for them. Getting enough sleep at night, eating the foods that will nourish but not overwhelm our bodies, and exercising are all common interventions to fight fatigue.
  3. Ask for help. We are not in this alone. We are part of a wide community of faith that can support us in prayer; we have only to ask. We are part of a physical community that can provide a listening ear, help with the carpool, the loan of a book, and so much more. We have only to ask.

So much goes into taking care of ourselves so we can care for others. Airlines regularly instruct passengers to place their own oxygen masks over their faces before helping others. We need to be strong and healthy in order to do God’s work, and the best way to attain that strength is through prayer.

One of the practices of the Daughters of St. Paul is to spend an hour every day in Eucharistic Adoration. It’s not uncommon for people to question how they find the time—to which the most frequent answer is, how can one not? St. Francis de Sales said, “Every one of us needs half an hour of prayer a day, except when we are very busy—then we need an hour.”

It might be worth a try!

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3 Ways to Honor Our Military Dead

The Church has a tradition of extending a single holiday into a longer period of remembrance, and Memorial Day certainly qualifies for that treatment. While for many it’s a chance for a long weekend and the first sunburn of the summer, it’s important to get past those three days simply as vacation, and do something meaningful to remember what we owe our military dead.

  1. Storytelling is the most powerful tool for memory. This week, read a poem or a story that remind you of the sacrifices military men and women so willingly made. Options can include In Flander’s Field (John McCrea), Losses (Randall Jarrell), How to Tell a True War Story and The Things They Carried (Tim O’Brien) and The Upturned Face (Stephen Crane).
  2. Unite with the poor who are often victimized by war. Volunteer to work with refugees in your community, or make a donation to an organization like Catholic Relief Services or Caritasthat promotes peace and provides humanitarian relief in places ravaged by war.
  3. Pray for war to end. There is almost always a better way. Pray for peach every day; pray that our leaders might find that better way.

God of power and mercy, you destroy war and put down earthly pride.

Banish violence from our midst and wipe away our tears, that we may all deserve to be called your sons and daughters.

Keep in your mercy those men and women who have died in the cause of freedom and bring them safely into your kingdom of justice and peace.

We ask this through Jesus Christ Our Lord. Amen.

Just as Jesus died for our sins, these women and me we remember died for our present and our future. Let’s give them more than a barbecue and a day on the beach.

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Everyday Grace: Living Christ in the Day-to-Day

There are times when it’s easy to do what is right… and times when that’s the hardest thing ever. We’re often at our best in a crisis, when we need to rise to the occasion; but the slogging details of everyday life don’t exactly fan the flames of commitment. Yet that is where we are most likely to spend most of our time; most of us aren’t called to martyrdom. How can we find ways to be passionate about our faith every day?

  • Try seeing yourself through someone else’s eyes. St. Francis of Assisi said, “You may be the only Gospel your neighbor ever reads.” Do you think people look at you and see the Gospel at work? What can you do to become more Christlike?
  • Take Jesus at his word: “By this they shall know you are my disciples: that you have love for one another.” Are you present to the people around you? Do others feel they can count on you? Living Christ daily means renewing your love for others—daily.
  • Ask for help. Everyone loses their passion from time to time; we cannot be in a constant state of excitement about our relationship with God. Ask your priest or spiritual director or Bible study group for help. We are in truth a community of faith when we can watch out for each other. (p.s. you can also ask God for help!)

C.S. Lewis said, “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing Christianity cannot be is moderately important.” Be serious about serious things, and find ways to live that… every day.

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A Mother’s Smile

by Sr Anne Flanagan, FSP

This will be the sixth year I won’t be picking out a really special Mother’s Day card, or making that phone call to say thanks to the one whose love was first to welcome me to the world. Those words in the Creed, “I look forward to the resurrection of the dead,” mean a little more to me on Mother’s Day.

random-day - Copy - CopyMy mom had an incredible smile. Even at my sister’s wedding, the day after Dad’s funeral (he had insisted on his deathbed that we go forward with our plans), Mom smiled with genuine happiness over Jane’s improbable and providential meeting with her own Mr. Right. Looking at the pictures, it seems Mom’s smile on that day was even more radiant than on her own wedding, which had also been affected by a funeral. The mother of the bride had worn black,  because her own mother had died and people had been pressuring the bride to do likewise since the date fell within two weeks of her grandmother’s death. So the wedding-day smile is there, but a bit strained.

In the rest of the photos we have, Mom’s smile is stunning.

 

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Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar wrote about the tremendous importance of a mother’s smile. “In the mother’s smile, it dawns on [the child] that there is a world into which he is accepted and in which he is welcome, and it is in this primordial experience that he becomes aware of himself for the first time” (Mary: The Church at its Source). Having come into being “beneath the mother’s heart,” as St. John Paul II has said so beautifully, we find our existence affirmed in her smile.

A mother’s smile is life-giving.

That image reminds me of the miraculous healing St. Thérèse experienced as a piteously ill ten-year-old whose mother (St. Zelie) had long since died: “Finding no help on earth, poor little Thérèse had also turned toward the Mother of heaven, and prayed with all her heart that she take pity on her. All of a sudden the Blessed Virgin appeared beautiful to me…but what penetrated to the very depths of my soul was the ‘ravishing smile of the Blessed Virgin.’ At that instant, all my pain disappeared….” (Story of a Soul, Chapter 3).

A few weeks ago on Twitter I came across a theologian’s insight into the connection between motherhood and Mary that Catholics make in the month of May. Dr. Josh Madden (@DrJoshMadden), one of those scholarly worthies who reads the Greek New Testament as he sips his morning coffee, noticed something that we readers of English translations will never find. Here it comes. (And don’t you love that he put this on Twitter?)

In John’s narrative of the Crucifixion of Jesus, among the Seven Last Words of Jesus (Chapter 19, verses 25-27), the word mother is repeated three times. (Hint: threefold repetition means “pay attention.”)

Here is the English translation we use at Mass, with the verse numbers noted:

(25) Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala. (26) When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son.”  (27) Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.

In verse 25, the Greek says “his mother” (Jesus’). In the next verse (26), it reads “Jesus saw the mother” and “said to the mother, Woman…” In verse 27, speaking to John, Jesus says “your mother” (you in the singular, addressed to the beloved disciple).

Dr. Madden points out a real progression here: from his, Jesus’ own, mother, Mary becomes the universal mother (“the” mother; also the “woman,” like “the woman” of Genesis 2), so that she can become John’s mother, my mother, your mother.

Again we turn to Hans Urs von Balthasar. “After a mother has smiled at her child for many days and weeks, she finally receives her child’s smile in response. She has awakened love in the heart of her child” (Love Alone is Credible).

This Mother’s Day, I imagine my mom with her radiant smile directed, like a child’s, to the Heavenly Mother who awakened so much love in her, a love that she shared in turn with her children and grandchildren. Together we return the smile of Our Lady, the pained smile of acceptance with which she received the beloved disciple as her own son; the smile that mercifully healed the child Thérèse and gave her to the Church as the universal teacher of the “Little Way”…  the smile with which she looks on each of us today.

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Everyday Grace: 3 Ways to Deal with our “Soul-Sickness”

“For a believer, it is important to see racism as a soul sickness. Racism is that interior disease, that warping of the human spirit, that enables us to create communities where some matter and some do not.” (Fr. Brian Massingale)

  • Understand what racism really is. It’s not hating people of another color, though people who do hate are definitely racist. It’s also accepting white privilege as the status quo, and looking at those of other races or nationalities as being different from us.
  • Apply critical thinking to the situation. God gave us minds and expects us to use them. Resist nostalgia for the security that comes from having simplistic answers to complex questions, and engage with the questions.
  • Embrace the Gospel as the basis for our responses. Jesus died for the sins of diverse groups of humans and God raised him from the dead. If we call God “Father,” then we must call every man “brother” and every woman “sister.”

Racism is a complex issue for everyone, but as Catholics we have an obligation to embrace complexity and ask ourselves—in this as in all things—“what would Christ do? What would he want me to do, to think, to feel?” God changes everything.

Here’s a first step: imagine that the tables are turned. Try reading this article and see if you start to think differently about race!

And from the USCCB:

Racism is an attack on the image of God that has been given to every one of us by the Creator (Gen.5:1-3). Because each person has been created by God, we are all united together with the Lord and with each other. Racism rejects what God has done by refusing to acknowledge the image of God in the other, the stranger and the one who is different.

“Racism is divisive and damages the harmony and oneness that should characterize all our relationships. What divides us does not have to destroy us. Differences do not have to frighten us. Following the advice of St. Paul, we can pray for the grace to look beyond our own prejudices: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph: 4:32). Recall that before his death, Christ prayed, “May they all be one” (Jn 17:21).

 

 

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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!