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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!

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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.