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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!

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The Brown Scapular: 6 common questions

The Brown Scapular is known officially as the Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Many of us who are fifty years of age or older were invested in the brown scapular at the time of our First Holy Communion. But to be honest, even though I know I was, I don’t remember it (I was in second grade, after all!). Nevertheless, wearing the brown scapular was a part of our Marian devotion growing up. If you are new to the brown scapular or, like me, are just hoping to find out more about it, here are answers to the six most commonly asked questions about the brown scapular:

Where did the brown scapular come from?

The Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel hearkens back to St Simon Stock, who often prayed to the Virgin Mary asking her to favor the Carmelite Order with some singular sign of her favor. It is said St Simon Stock saw an apparition in Cambridge, England on July 16, 1251 in which the Virgin Mary appeared to him holding the Scapular. She said, “Receive, my beloved son, this scapular of thy Order; it is the special sign of my favor, which I have obtained for thee and for thy children of Mount Carmel. He who dies clothed with this habit shall be preserved from eternal fire. It is the badge of salvation, a shield in time of danger, and a pledge of special peace and protection.”

How does the brown scapular reflect the habit of the Carmelite monks and nuns?

In its large form the Carmelite scapular consists of the brown apron-like part of the Carmelite habit. It extends to almost the length of the habit in the front and the back. The Carmelite Scapular forms an essential part of the monastic habit of Carmelites. In its original context, the meaning of this promise of the Virgin Mary to St Simon Stock was that Carmelite religious who persevered in their vocation would be saved.

Beginning in the 16th century, the Carmelites began giving the Brown Scapular to lay people who wanted to be affiliated with the Order, and it became increasingly popular as a religious article. In its smaller, devotional form the scapular is made up of two small pieces of cloth joined by two bands of cloth worn over the shoulders. For centuries, the Church has held that one doesn’t have to be a monk or a nun to be a part of the Carmelite family, wear the Scapular, or enjoy its blessings. All Christians are able to put on the Scapular to express their love for the Mother of God and enjoy this sign of Mary’s protection.

How does wearing the scapular express devotion to Mary?

According to a 1996 doctrinal statement approved by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, The Brown Scapular is “an external sign of the filial relationship established between the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother and Queen of Mount Carmel, and the faithful who entrust themselves totally to her protection, who have recourse to her maternal intercession, who are mindful of the primacy of the spiritual life and the need for prayer” (Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments; Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy. Principles and Guidelines. Vatican, 2001).

The brown scapular is a garment we wear as both a sign of our belonging to Mary and as a pledge of her maternal protection in this life and the next. It expresses our  consecration to and trust in Mary, and is an incentive to imitate Our Lady’s virtues, especially her humility, chastity, and prayerfulness.

What is the benefit of being invested in the brown scapular?

All those invested with the Brown Scapular become sharers in all the fruits of the good works of the Carmelite Order. After death they share in all the prayers of the Carmelites and in a weekly Mass offered by every Carmelite priest, all the deceased members of the Scapular Confraternity are remembered.

All those who out of true love and veneration for the Blessed Virgin constantly wear the scapular in a spirit of faith, after being properly invested with it, will enjoy the help of the Mother of God, especially regarding their eternal salvation.

What does the scapular look like?

In the current Catechesis prepared under the direction of the North American prior provincials of the Carmelite Order and the Order of Discalced Carmelites and given imprimatur by the Archbishop of Washington D.C., the scapular must consist of two pieces of brown cloth with one segment hanging on the wearer’s chest, and the other hanging on his/her back. These pieces are joined by two straps or strings which overlap each shoulder—hence the word “scapular” (shoulder blade). Religious pictures or symbols, though unnecessary, may be sewn on; this custom began in the eighteenth century. The catechesis also acknowledged that the Scapular was formerly required to be made from 100% wool (a rule since dropped); it noted the habits of the Carmelite religious are also now typically made of other, less expensive yet more practical materials. It is normally worn under the clothes but not pinned to undergarments.

Because wool deteriorates rapidly in tropical climates, since 1910 those properly invested into a confraternity may wear a properly blessed scapular medal with the depiction of Jesus with his Sacred Heart on one side and Mary on the obverse. However, Pope Pius X expressed his preference for the cloth scapular. Pope Benedict XV has also proclaimed the Church’s strong preference for cloth to be worn rather than the medal. This preference is because cloth is important to the sign value of the scapular as a garment, a habit.

Do I need to be invested in the brown scapular?

Unlike typical sacramentals, brown scapulars are not merely blessed. A person needs to be invested by a priest. The short form of investing or conferral consists of a priest or deacon taking a blessed scapular and while placing it over their head reciting with the person any Marian prayer (e.g. Hail Mary, Memorare, Salve Regina). The person is now invested.

In the “Catechesis and Ritual for the Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel”, published in 2000 and distributed by ICS Publications, the prayer there is a short prayer that can be used for investiture:

“Receive this Scapular, a sign of your special relationship with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, whom you pledge to imitate. May it be a reminder to you of your dignity as a Christian, in serving others and imitating Mary. Wear it as a sign of her protection and of belonging to the Family of Carmel, voluntarily doing the will of God and devoting yourself to building a world true to his plan of community, justice and peace.”

There are no lists to join, though those who are invested in the brown scapular are henceforth members of the Scapular Confraternity and share in its spiritual benefits (the prayers of the members). No special daily practices are obliged, though someone consecrated to Mary, of which the scapular is the sign, should live chastity according to their state and recite the Rosary daily.

There is also a long form in the Book of Blessings, chapter 46, which is very fitting for group investments. One final note: investing is done with the cloth scapular. Those who wish to wear the medal can do so after investment. The scapular blessing attaches to each subsequent scapular. A new blessing is not required.

 

 

 

 

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Everyday Grace 3 Ways to Do What Christ Asks of Us

We’re all familiar with the Gospel reading in which Jesus tells us, “whatever you do to the least of these, you’ve done until me”… and it’s probable that we all try our best to treat others as we’d like them to treat us. But author Caryll Houselander is much more direct and practical (probably the most practical of any mystical writer): she brings this notion of “seeing Christ in everyone” right into our kitchens and offices and relationships by challenging us to make it real. That person you’re arguing with—if they were Christ, would it change the way you put your point across? Would it change the way you listen as they put their point across? It’s a sobering thought, but you can do it!

  1. Visualization: We all have images in our minds of what Christ looks like. When you feel angry, or upset, or vexed with someone, take a few minutes on your own to visualize. Think about the person with whom you’re upset. And now visualize Jesus taking that person’s place. Imagine him there in front of you. How would you handle the situation now?
  2. Question yourself. Encounters with others always change us in some way or another. How do you talk to the people around you? How do you relate to the people at the shop, at the office, at school? Are you treating them as though they were Christ? How could you change that?
  3. Practice, practice, practice! It’s easier to see Christ in the abstract, in people we pass by every day. It’s harder to see him in the person in the cubicle next to yours, in the nosy neighbor, in the houseguest overstaying their welcome. It doesn’t happen all at once. Every day you have to recommit to responding to those people as though they were Jesus. But practicing helps!

Seeing Christ in others isn’t just a way of responding to the Gospels. After you do it long enough, you’ll find that people respond to you. In the end, that makes for a kinder world. And that’s something we all can live with!

 

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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.

Everyday Grace, Uncategorized

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.