The cost of the Promised Land

juniperofalling

St. Junipero of Serra statue toppled

We’ve officially started summer, as the Summer Solstice was yesterday afternoon. When I was a child, summers always seemed to involve long car trips to whatever great destination lay at the end of the journey. I was one of five kids, so it was seven of us and sometimes the dog on 12-hour drive to a family lake house. With luggage for seven for a week or two, even the huge station wagons of the 1970s were crowded, and so the drive was basically an endurance test and a test of faith. We had to trust that the lake at the end of the trip would still be there, that it would be clean and clear and cool, and there would be no garden to weed, and no barn to clean, just water to swim in and canoes to paddle.

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Freedom Rider

My father would have been 90 today. He was an idealist, but also a depressive, so he rarely followed through with the actions implied by his strongly held beliefs.

He was a Platonist rather than an Aristotelean. But at least once in his life, he took great risk and really made a stand for his principles.

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In September 1961, he was one of 14 Episcopalian clergymen who broke the segregation laws of Jackson, MS, by eating at a lunch counter with a black man. They were held in jail about a week before the judge dismissed the case. Kabuki theater in the end, but at the time he was preparing to be sent to the kind of work farm depicted in the movie Cool Hand Luke.

We are all made in the image and likeness of God, as we read in the first chapter of the Book of Genesis. We are also all the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve, who turned away from God in the Original Sin, as we read just a couple of chapters later in the same book.

Every person, every human life, is precious, and we must never lose sight of that fundamental truth. Likewise, every person is a sinner, imperfect in his behavior despite his profound dignity and importance to God. When Jesus invited the righteous to throw a stone at the sinful girl, nobody did because all recognized their own unrighteousness. Let us love each other as God loves us: through thick and thin, without judgment, risking our own lives.

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Serenity

Serenity

These are some strange and unsettling times we are living in.

Are we open, closed or somewhere in the middle?

Do we wear a mask and or gloves or not?

We could not go to Mass (even enter Churches!) for 2 months, now we have Mass back in five days, but it will not look like what we are used to…

We keep our distance from other people, to “stay safe,” but inside we are slowly withering without enough human connection.

We wonder, when will things return to what they used to be?

When will churches and airports and schools and office buildings be full again?  When will we hear the laughter and pure joy of children on playgrounds? When will we celebrate weddings with more than 10 people? When will we rush up to hug a good friend without asking “are you ok with hugging?”

Social distance, masks, plexiglass dividers, gloves, temperature readers…when will these words not be the dominant topic of conversation?

I have personal answers to these questions, but this is not the forum for that.

 

What has been running through my head a lot recently, and what helps me tremendously, is the Serenity Prayer.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

The courage to change the things I can,

And the wisdom to know the difference.

 

I first learned this prayer in Alcoholics Anonymous almost 33 years ago, and it is one of the most beautiful and at the same time practical prayers I have ever learned.  Many times, this prayer has kept me from making rash decisions, impulsive mistakes, and doing things I would later regret.

Let’s take a look at the meaning of each part of the prayer.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change

In this first part of the prayer, we acknowledge who is in control and has things under control – God. Then we ask for His help in asking for serenity.  What is serenity? Serenity is peace, restfulness, stillness.  It is knowing that as Julian of Norwich said: “All will be well” and meaning it.   Knowing that Divine Providence has everything worked out and we don’t have to fix everything.  Yes, we have a role to play, we are not jellyfish to be blown about by the stormy waters, we are called to be active and engaged, but at the same time to trust and know that He is God and we are not.  God said to St Catherine of Siena “I am He who Is, and you are she who is not.”

How do we attain this serenity?  Prayer.  The Christian life without daily prayer, daily conversation with God, is dry and brittle and easily breaks apart.  A life lived with each day beginning with conversation and silent time with Our Lord is the way to serenity.  So, begin a prayer life.  (previous blog posts have talked about this and the book to read is Into the Deep by Dan Burke).  Once our relationship with God deepens in prayer, we are able to trust Him because we Know Him.  We know His ways, His teachings, His Love.  Trust comes from knowing, trust leads to serenity, where we rest in the reality that God loves us, takes care of us, and has EVERYTHING under control.  We don’t always understand His ways, because we are human and He is God, but we trust that He is holding everything in His Hands. Serenity is knowing that I don’t need to change everything, I just need to change myself – to be more like Jesus.

The Courage to change the things I can

So, what can I change?  Me.  The thing I can change is myself. How do I do that?  Pray, get to know God, ask Him to show me what I need to work on, and what his mission is for me in this life. When we can live with this posture, we will experience serenity. The Church teaches that we are all called to Holiness, it’s a Universal Call.  We are all called to Union with God – to be Saints.  This call is beautiful, yet difficult.  What does the path to Holiness look like?  The apostolate group of which I am a member, Apostoli Viae, calls this the Paradigm of Ascent. Very briefly, the path begins with three things:

  1. Regular participation in the Sacramental life – Mass and Confession
  2. Daily Mental Prayer
  3. Ascesis

To listen to podcasts where Dan Burke, author and founder of Apostoli Viae, explains the Paradigm of Ascent – click here. (https://spiritualdirection.com/donate/sunday-evening-reflections-series-link

Get started today on improving and deepening your relationship with God.  This takes courage and perseverance.  It takes courage to look honestly at our lives, see what we need to change, and take the steps to change.  Ask God to give you the courage to assess where you are and if necessary make changes- to pray daily, to make the sacraments a priority in your life, to learn what it is to live mastering our passions and living a disciplined life – ascesis.

The cardinal virtue of courage, also called Fortitude, is doing the right thing, even when it’s hard, and it helps us overcome dangers, obstacles, and fear.

“To have courage, it is absolutely essential to first have your priorities straight. A man who pursues a lesser good at the expense of a greater good is not brave, but stupid. It is stupid to exchange a dollar for a penny, and it is of no profit to a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul. Courage is about ordering your loves and fears so that you fear most the loss of what is truly most valuable. Only then will you be able to overcome lesser fears in carrying out what is right. Pray then to the Holy Spirit for His gift of the “Fear of the Lord,” which allows us to fear the loss of His love before all else.” (Holy Family School of Faith – www.schooloffaith.com)

The courage to change the things I can, means to ask God for the grace to amend my life and my actions to place Him first, to love Him more, and then take that love out into the world.  I can change things within my sphere, with the people I know and interact with, and in the broader world, by the way I live.  But I cannot change you, or other people, or Church leaders, or government officials.  I can be the Light in the world, and the Light changes everything.

The Wisdom to Know the Difference

Learning the difference between what I can change and what I cannot change takes time and practice and turning our minds to God more often.  If we ask Him for direction and try to discern His Will in the decisions we make each day, we will acquire over time, the wisdom to know what is ours to take on, or what to leave to God. When we rest in the sure knowledge of God’s love for us and in His Divine Providence and we ask the Holy Spirit to guide us in our daily lives as we make decisions and plan, then we will be granted the wisdom to know what we can do and we cannot do, what we are called to do and what we are not called to do, what we can change and what we cannot change.  And as our relationship with God deepens and interior lives grow, the peace, the serenity that comes from God alone, will help us to navigate storms of all shapes and sizes, from daily dilemmas to pandemics, with a “settledness,” a resting in the surety of Divine Love and hope for Eternal Life with the love of our lives – Jesus Christ.

 

 

 

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Practice of the Present Moment

The Practice of the Present Moment

By Helen Young

 

A Morning Offering

God, I offer myself to Thee-
To build with me
and to do with me as Thou wilt.
Relieve me of the bondage of self,
that I may better do Thy will.
Take away my difficulties,
that victory over them may bear witness
to those I would help of Thy Power,
Thy Love, and Thy Way of life.
May I do Thy will always!

It is tempting in difficult times to fret about the past and to worry about the future.  In pandemic times it is also tempting to be wary of the unknown in the present.   All of these are natural reactions to situations when we feel uncertain and fearful, when it feels like the sand beneath our feet won’t stop shifting and may in fact turn into quicksand. But what if the sand is not that on which we are to focus?  Perhaps the focus is to be on the beautiful sunrise or the sparkling water?  Both the sunrise and sparking water will be gone in an instant, and we will have missed the beauty of the moment if we only see the sand at our feet.   In order to see the colors of the sky or the dancing sun on the water we must be paying attention in the moment.  If we are distracted by the past or worrying about what comes next, we will miss the beauty.

Our Heavenly Father created the beautiful world in which we live as our temporary home, our eternal home is with Him forever in Heaven.  And Heaven will be ever so much more beautiful, brilliant, enveloping, full of so much more love than we can comprehend.  The feeling of being pierced in the heart with love of God that we experience when prayer is fruitful, or when we are fully engaged in Mass, or when having a meaningful conversation with a dear friend or spouse, or when we do something we love like painting or writing or another creative hobby, these are but a tiny glimpse of the Immense Love that will be the reality of Heaven.

How do we experience these glimpses of Heaven but in the moment?  They are powerful because we are in the moment, present to reality of that exact spot in time.  If we are not paying attention, if we become distracted, the moment is lost and like the fleeting sunrise, we will miss it.  All this is to say that God, who is outside of time and space, is in the present moment.  In every single present moment we can be with Him while we walk here on earth.  But we must be paying attention to Him.

What if the present moment involves suffering?  God became man and entered into the physical world of time and space to save us.  In the person of Jesus Christ, fully God and fully man, God experienced everything we experience.  Every feeling, physical, mental and emotional.  There is nowhere we can walk that Jesus has not walked.  When we suffer, we can stop in that moment, and come into the Presence of Jesus, and offer our suffering joined to his, for the salvation of the whole world, or for a specific intention.  God is with us in every moment, in joy and in suffering, we just  to tune into His frequency.  And practice makes it easier to find Him.

What does this look like in our daily lives?  A great way to start is when you first wake up, pay attention to how you feel and what you sense.  Thank God for the sleep and for waking you up for a new day. Then begin your day with prayer time in the morning, and in the prayer time begin with a Morning Offering.  In the Morning Offering we acknowledge God as Divine Providence, and ask for and hope for the openness to turn our will over to His Divine Will and then ask for the guidance and ability to live out what God wills for us and those we encounter in our day.

As we journey through the day that the Lord has given us, we can frequently turn our hearts and minds to Him, to check in, to ask again what His will is in the moment, and to express our love and gratitude to Him for all that He has provided for us – everything! The air we breathe, the lungs to breathe the air, the earth we walk on, the brains to control the bodies we live in, our souls which can connect with other people in love and with our Majestic Triune God in love.

What to do when we forget about God and get caught up in the daily chores and routines of our lives?  When you realize you have not checked in with God, do just that.  Stop for a moment, and say thank you again and enjoy the Presence of God in the moment.  And again, ask for His guidance and protection. And so, our days become many moments of touching base with the One who loves us because He made us, He loves us unconditionally and eternally.  When we check in with God moment by moment we are picking Him before ourselves and our own selfish wills.  When we check in with God, we are able to avoid sin because we stop to see where God is before we act.  When we check in with God, we are able to love others like He does, because we can first experience His love for us, and that love is so abundant it flows out into others.

Staying in the present moment with God, keeping our eyes on Him, takes practice.  Over time, if we keep trying, we will spend more of our day paying attention to Him and His will and focus less on ourselves.  This is the daily path to Union with God.  In this way we are open to receive the abundant grace that God is pouring out all the time.  In order to receive the grace we must: be paying attention to Him, have open hearts to receive the grace, and have open minds to understand His will and what that looks like in the world.  God’s aim is always to bring all of us into His loving embrace.  He desires that each of us who know Him and love Him take the good news of the Gospel and the Light out into the world.  The daily way to light the fire within is the practice of the present moment – checking into the Eternal Flame all through out the day helps us to keep the fire bright and strong.  With our torches lit we can then bring the Light of Christ to our brothers and sisters.

“One of the essential conditions of interior freedom is the ability to live in the present moment. For one thing, it is only then that we can exercise freedom. We have no hold on the past—we can’t change the smallest bit of it. People sometimes try to relive past events considered failures (“I should have done this . . . I should have said that . . .”) but those imaginary scenarios are merely dreams: it is not possible to backtrack. The only free act we can make in regard to the past is to accept it just as it was and leave it trustingly in God’s hands.”
– Fr Jacques Phillipe,
Interior Freedom, p.81

“We may spend our whole lives waiting to live. Thus we risk not fully accepting the reality of our present lives. Yet, what guarantee is there that we won’t be disappointed when the long-awaited time arrives? Meanwhile we don’t put our hearts sufficiently into today, and so miss graces we should be receiving. Let us live each moment to the full, not worrying about whether time is going quickly or slowly but welcoming everything given us moment by moment.”
– 
Interior Freedom, pp.90-91

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We are an Easter People!

Easter reflection April 12, 2020

We are an Easter people, a people of Love!

By Helen Young

 

The Lord is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

Love and Obey.  My wise husband has always said we can sum up all of scripture in those two words.  He would remind me of this when we were in RCIA and were waiting for the time when we could be in full communion with the Church and thus receive Jesus, Body Blood, Soul and Divinity.  When were received into the Catholic Church at Easter 1996 I distinctly remember the longing I felt for eight long months as we waited to receive our first communion at the Easter Vigil.  This longing for the physical Presence of Jesus is something the whole Catholic world is now intensely aware of, as access to the Sacraments has been taken away from us.

We are an Easter people and the normal way we participate in the life of the Church is through the Sacraments.  Through the Sacraments God reaches out and touches us really and personally with sanctifying grace, which changes our souls and makes us more like our Savior Jesus Christ.  When we are deprived of sanctifying grace, we not only feel empty, lonely, and bereft but are also more prone to give into temptation from the enemy.  Our souls become parched without the Sacraments.

And so here we are – a parched people longing for the physical Presence of our Lord.  Our hearts cry out for the love of God that is poured into us through the Sacraments.  Is this not exactly how the disciples must have felt on Holy Saturday and in the days following Jesus’ death as the word of His Resurrection was beginning to spread though the Christian network, but not everyone knew the amazing news.  How must Mary have felt on the day after her son’s horrible torture and death, after watching him suffer and die the worst possible death on the Cross – empty, bereft, grief stricken.

And yet, Mary, so full of grace, must have known that her loving God would make something new out of something awful.  So she waited with love and with longing, but with hope. Mary knew that her God could make all things new.  One of my favorite scenes in The Passion of the Christ is when Mary meet Jesus after He falls and he says to her “See Mother I make all things new.”  Jesus makes all things new through his suffering, death and resurrection.  Even when we have to wait, we can remain strong in the knowledge that He will make all things new.   This must be our posture as we wait for the return of our Sacramental lives.  We wait with love and with longing for the return of Our Eucharistic Lord.  And He will return to us.  In God’s time.

So how do we celebrate this Easter, when we normally receive the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord, but are not able to receive Him?  We celebrate by opening our hearts fully in prayer, by lifting our broken hearts to Our Lord and begging Him to forgive us for the many abuses of the liturgy and of the Eucharist.  We tell Him how much we love Him in prayer and by showing up to pray daily, and we are loved by Him in prayer.  We live the love received by pouring that love out into the world, which right now means loving the people closest to us and also by giving to those in need when we can.

While we are without the Sacraments the primary place we can draw close to Jesus is our interior lives – prayer.  We have time right now – busyness is no longer an excuse.  So while we still have time left in this pandemic shutdown, make daily prayer a priority.  It will change your life.  If you haven’t been praying daily, make time in the morning to pray.  If you already pray daily, lengthen your prayer time or add a devotional prayer time later in the day.  (Basic daily prayer is taught in previous blog posts and in the book Into the Deep by Dan Burke).

We have a Universal Call to Holiness and that call to become Saints is for all of us, not just a few!  Our Resurrected Lord, the second person of the Majestic Trinity, is reaching out to each of us every moment of every day to draw us close to His Father in the Love of the Holy Spirit.  The call to Holiness is the call to Union with God.   But we are closed off from Him.  We are distracted by the world and its fleshly delights, and also its burdens and worries.  But no matter what, Jesus’ love never stops, never fails, never leaves us, but we look away from the One Person who can save us.  Who by His suffering, death and resurrection, redeems us and saves us from ourselves and sin.

So while we have this time apart, this strange time of isolation, instead of focusing on what we don’t have and what we can’t do, let’s instead grow in friendship and relationship with Jesus.  No excuses.  Just do it.  Pray daily.  It will change your life!  Our Resurrected Lord, outside of time and space, is waiting for you to run to Him.  His arms are wide open and His Sacred Heart is longing for union with you. No excuses, pray daily, run to Jesus. Let His love pour into you and overflow into the world.  He is waiting.

 

John 14

Jesus answered and said to him, “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him. 24Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; yet the word you hear is not mine but that of the Father who sent me.

25“I have told you this while I am with you.26The Advocate, the holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name—he will teach you everything and remind you of all that [I] told you.r27Peace* I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.

 

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Watch, Wait and Pray

John 14

 Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me.2In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be.  4Where [I] am going you know the way.  5Thomas said to him, “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?”6Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.  7If you know me, then you will also know my Father.   From now on you do know him and have seen him.” c8Philip said to him, “Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us  9Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?  10Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on my own. The Father who dwells in me is doing his works.   11Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else, believe because of the works themselves.  12Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father.  13And whatever you ask in my name, I will do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  14If you ask anything of me in my name, I will do it.

 

Holy Week has begun.  And it will be the strangest Holy Week we have ever experienced.  We as a Catholic people, the body of Christ, are without our Lord in the Mass, in the Eucharist.    We cannot receive Him physically.  This is not a small privation for us.  The Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ present in the Eucharist really and truly changes our souls.  The sanctifying grace received in the Sacraments changes our souls and makes us more able to be like Christ in the world.  The Eucharist is THE healing balm for our souls.  But the Act of Spiritual Communion made after examining our consciences and having true contrition for our sins, and also while affirming our belief in the Real Presence, will affect a positive change in our souls.  Christ is present to us when we pray an Act of Spiritual Communion, and that is where our faith is grounded right now.

 

What is it that God is doing in each of our lives this Holy Week?  Let’s all stop and pray and ask God specifically what it is that He wants us to learn, where is it that we are called to grow, to convert to stretch towards Him.  There is a specific message for each of us this week, and we are called to make time to pray to LISTEN to the gentle voice of our Loving God.

 

It might be that I am called to grow in patience with my children or spouse or aging parent.  I might be called to spend more time in prayer with Jesus.  I might be called to take on a Marian devotion, I might be called to help my neighbor, I might be called to express myself creatively.  There are so many ways that God is reaching out to each of us RIGHT NOW.

 

Fear, worry, anxiety – none of these come from God.  So if you are experiencing these and feel disconnected from the Church go to more prayer.  Prayer is where Jesus is waiting for us with arms wide open.  Those same arms and hands that were stretched wide and nailed to the Cross.  For me and for you.  For all of us for all time. Jesus restores us to life through His death on the Cross and that is where we are called to pray this week.  To enter into His Suffering and Death and then be gloriously joyful in His Resurrection.  But we can only truly experience the joy of His Resurrection when we have entered into His Suffering and Death.  We can meditate on the Passion in each of the Gospels, and imagine ourselves in each scene.  Hear Jesus when He asks his disciples to go get him the colt and bring it to Him, ride with Jesus on the colt into Jerusalem and hear the crowds cheer.  Spend time with Jesus early in the week as the events of the Passion approach.  Ask Him what he wants from you, and ask Him what you need to change in your life to draw closer to Him.  Watch as Jesus washes the feet of the disciples and as the Passover meal is prepared for the disciples, and look at Jesus’ face as he consecrates the bread and wine that Thursday evening. Imagine what it would have been like to have Jesus wash your feet.  Feel his loving hands on your dirty feet and feel the love that is poured out from Him in His act of Service.

 

Watch and pray with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane , and see the sweat and blood fall from His beautiful face as He faces and is willing to bear all sin for all time, as He prays to His Father for this cup to be removed.  Hear Jesus as He says to His Father “Thy will be done.”  Pray about what it would be like to know that you will suffer and die SO PAINFULLY, it’s the worse pain you could have, and choose it willingly!  Feel how full of love Jesus’ Sacred heart is for us, that He would take on all the pain and suffering for you.

 

Stand beside Jesus as He watches Judas approach with those will arrest Him.  Feel the love Jesus has for Judas.  See Peter cut off the ear of the slave and Jesus heal that same ear of the servant Malchus.  Feel the love, the compassion that Jesus has for all of those who arrest Him.  Pray with Mary and Mary Magdalene the night Jesus is jailed and enter into the darkness and anguish and lack of understanding they must have felt.  And yet our Blessed Mother, Jesus’ Mother, never doubted God, never gave up hope, she waited, she watched, she sorrowed, but she Trusted.

 

Hear the words of Pilate as he condemns Jesus to death, and listen to the crowds cheer for this verdict.  Look at the face of Christ through all of this, of the God-man who will save us, as he peacefully and lovingly accepts the Will of the Father, even though He is in pain and suffers more than we can imagine.  See the love in Jesus’ eyes for each of us – and accept that love.

 

Watch with Mary and the other women as Jesus is scourged and then made to carry His own Cross and is mocked the whole time.  See the blood pouring forth from his wounds – that blood that is shed for you and for me to save us from sin and death. Watch with Mary and John and Mary Magdalene as Jesus is nailed to the Cross and groans in agony.  Do not look away.  Face the pain and agony that Jesus experienced for each of us so that we can have eternal life.  Watch as the Cross is hoisted up into the air and feel the pain that must have been unbearable as the weight of His body hung on the Cross.  Know in your mind and heart that Jesus suffered and died and hung on that Cross, that horrible implement of torture, for you and for me;  and wait with Mary and John at the foot of the Cross for three hours on Friday.

 

Hear the words that Jesus spoke from the Cross and try to understand their meaning for you.  What do the words say to you?  Feel the relief and total grief that Mary and John felt as Jesus died, He is no longer in pain and yet He is dead. Hold Jesus’ Feet as Mary holds Jesus’ body after He is taken down from the Cross.  Look at those deep nail wounds, see the blood, and know that Jesus’ did this for you.  These same feet that walked the earth carrying the body of Christ who brought with Him the message of Love, of Freedom, of Salvation, and yet was not received by most.  Realize that we can be the hands and feet of Christ here on earth, if we open our hearts to Him and let Him show us how to live for Him and serve others.

 

Help carry Jesus’ body, anointed for burial, into the tomb and  gently lay him on the cold hard stone, wrapped in burial cloths.  Help roll the stone over the opening to the tomb and lean back against it, exhausted, grieving and alone.  Sob and release all of the tears for the loss of the best brother and friend, teacher and master you will ever have.  Sit with this grief.  Feel the emptiness, the hollow space created in each of us for Jesus to dwell, but now feels empty.

 

Sit and wait, do not go forward to Easter yet.  Wait until Sunday.  For now, for this Holy Week, when we have nothing but Faith and Love, enter into the events of Holy Week.  Let’s watch and wait with Mary and the disciples.

 

Then on Sunday we will see what God can do!  Then we will see that all things will be made anew.  But not yet, be patient and pray this week.

 

Watch, Wait and Pray.

 

 

 

 

“Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight,
At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,
When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death,
And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.”

-CS Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

 

 

 

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Attitude of Gratitude

An Attitude of Gratitude

By Helen Young

March 30,2020

 

Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
    he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.

 

It’s easy to focus on all of the things we don’t have right now, especially since we are without the sacraments, the ordinary way we receive grace from Our Loving Father.  But that is exactly what the enemy wants us to do right now, he wants us to be angry and despair, he wants us to be fearful and anxious, he wants us to be impatient and lash out at those we love and are living so closely with right now.

But what does Jesus want?  He wants us to focus on Him and develop our interior life with Him.  That looks like: daily mental prayer, perhaps participating in an online mass, spiritual reading, praying the rosary or divine mercy chaplet.  It looks like offering up our small sufferings, or large ones if that’s what is in your life right now.  Offering up our sufferings for the end to the coronavirus, for healing for those who have the virus, for the safety of those working on the front lines (doctors, nurses, all healthcare workers) and those providing for us at home (grocery store workers, truck drivers, delivery services, mail men, city workers), for those who are now unemployed, for the businesses that have failed in the last couple of weeks, for all who are feeling lonely and depressed at home, for the mothers trying to work from home and home school, for the whole world.

What does it mean to “offer it up?”  We hear that phrase so often and don’t know how to do it or even really know what it means.  Simply put it means to act in our role as priests, which we received at our baptism when we were anointed with the Chrism oil.  The priest or deacon prays these words at the anointing:

As Christ was anointed Priest, Prophet, and King, so may you live always as a member of his body, sharing everlasting life.

When we are baptized with water in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit, we are forgiven from original sin and the door is opened to a new life in Christ.  We are restored through our baptism and are able to be in relationship with our God.  Through our baptism we are sons and daughters of the King and are also called to be priests, prophets and kings through the anointing with oil.

What does this look like as laypeople, to exercise our roles as priests, prophets and kings? Ordained priests, by Holy Orders, become members of the ministerial priesthood. Yet the common priesthood designates all the baptized. Sharing in the priesthood of Christ begins at one’s Baptism.

Writer Pat Gohn explains it well:

“The common priesthood and the ministerial priesthood worship together at Mass. We are a priestly community. The lay faithful worship alongside the ordained priest(s). Both make offerings to God. The priest is specifically ordained to confect the Eucharist — to offer and consecrate the bread and wine — on behalf of those gathered. The laity, too, actively participate by offering themselves and their gifts and sacrifices to God.”

So we can offer our joys, works, sorrows, sufferings, our very lives at the altar at Mass with the priest.  These are real offerings and we do this by bringing to mind all that we have to offer God during the offertory, and then by visualizing ourselves placing these offerings on the altar so that during the Eucharistic prayers our offerings are joined with those of the Priest as he prays:

“Pray, brothers and sisters, that my sacrifice and yours (meum ac vestrum sacrificium) may be acceptable to God the Almighty Father.”

There are not two sacrifices. Rather, we share in the singular sacrifice of Christ, each in a unique way.

But, you say, “right now we aren’t able to go to public masses!”  But you can participate in a livestream Mass and you can still offer your offerings and sacrifices and they are joined with the Priests sacrifice, just as if you were there.

Another way to exercise your role as a member of the common priesthood is to offer your prayers and sacrifices during your daily prayer time.  I close my eyes and offer my whole life to Jesus, I see myself placing all that I am and all that I have at the foot of Cross daily, and in this way we can participate in the redemptive work of Christ on the Cross.  I offer Jesus, my joys, the things that I am most grateful for, my sorrows, the things that most trouble my heart, the sufferings of the world, of those who are sick and those who have no one to pray for them.  I place all of these things at Jesus’ feet and I ask Him to accept them and make them a real part of His Sacrifice that redeems the world.

So do not let your hearts be troubled, but instead give everything to Jesus, and let Him offer it all to the Father in the Holy Spirit.

Another way to stay focused on Jesus right now is to make a gratitude list.  Write down specifically what you are grateful for and thank Our Heavenly Father repeatedly for taking good care of us all.  But you say, “I can’t see the good care right now!”  But He is taking care of us!  The fact that we even exist is thanks to Him.  If He stops thinking of us, we cease to exist.  A good place to start is to simply thank God for our existence.  For the fact that we woke up today, that we can breathe, that we have shelter and do have food.  We can thank Him for our families and friends and for the technology to keep us in contact with each other.  AND we can thank God for the things that we don’t like right now – that we are stuck at home, perhaps that we are lonely, that we feel isolated, that some plans that we have counted on have now changed.  God will take all of these things we don’t like and make them beautiful.  He will work good out of bad – He always does.  He IS and always will be our Loving, Kind, Generous, Doting, Father – even when we cannot see it.  His love is constantly poured out, but sometimes with our limited vision we have a hard time seeing His immense Love.  By writing out a daily or even several times daily gratitude list we develop and attitude of gratitude, instead of an attitude of ungratefulness and bitterness.

I am grateful for my interior life where I meet Jesus daily in prayer, and the prayer room in my house that He helped me create. I am grateful for the Love that is poured out in that prayer time and for the desire to share that Love.  I am grateful for the Catholic Church and her wisdom and that I can be obedient to her even when I can’t understand everything. I am grateful for good Pastors who shepherd their flocks with love, and my wise spiritual director.   I am grateful for my husband and his love for me even when I am difficult, and for my three children and the people they love.  I am grateful for my sobriety, one day at a time.  I am grateful for shelter and food, and even for the pollen that makes me sneeze. I am grateful for the bees that are pollinating and for the beautiful weather.  I am grateful for the time God has given me during this strange period to start and finish projects that I had been procrastinating.  I am thankful to live in America, to have good doctors and healthcare when we need it, for good leaders and those who support them.  But mostly, I am thankful for God’s Divine Providence – that He has a plan and I don’t need to know it, see it, or understand it, but that I TRUST in my God and love Him with my whole heart.

 

“In all created things discern the providence and wisdom of God, and in all things give Him thanks.”

– St Teresa of Avila

 

 

 

Psalm 131

A song of ascents. Of David.

LORD, my heart is not proud;

nor are my eyes haughty.

I do not busy myself with great matters,

with things too sublime for me.

Rather, I have stilled my soul,

Like a weaned child to its mother,

weaned is my soul.

Israel, hope in the LORD,

now and forever.

 

 

 

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Be Not Afraid

Psalm 56

Have mercy on me, God, for I am treated harshly;

attackers press me all the day.

My foes treat me harshly all the day;

yes, many are my attackers.

O Most High, when I am afraid,

in you I place my trust.

I praise the word of God;

I trust in God, I do not fear.

What can mere flesh do to me?

Is there any one of us out there who can honestly say that in the last ten days he or she has not experienced some kind of fear or anxiety?  Even if your spiritual life is deep and anchored in Jesus, your circumstances have changed dramatically, and you can’t go to Mass or hang out with friends or run errands to distract yourself all day.  If you haven’t been praying daily and your sacramental life is not up to speed, you may be feeling especially anxious or wonder where God is in all of this?

The answer is – He is right here with us in the middle of the fray, but we do have to turn to Him, acknowledge His Presence and ask for help.  Three steps:

  • Turn to God
  • Acknowledge that He is God and we are not
  • Ask for Help

The spiritual battle is real and the battleground is our souls.  We either pick God or we pick the enemy.  The enemy wants to distract us and keep us focused on: the news, social media, fear, worry, anxiety, false sadness – ANYTHING but God.  The enemy uses our old thoughts and temptations to keep us from leaning into Jesus moment by moment.  The enemy uses anything he can find to lure us away from our One True Love.  The ONE PERSON who will never disappoint us, never leave us, never betray us.  The ONE PERSON who sacrificed his whole life for us.  The ONE PERSON whose love for us is so great that it overcame death so that we might have life eternal with Him.

JESUS

If we are in the grips of temptation or distraction by the enemy (who is the Devil in case that wasn’t clear) what must we do to return to our dearest friend and Savior?  First, we must name the temptation out loud so we can face it.  Once we name it then we can pray and ask for help.  Then going forward we can look for the places and be aware that the enemy is looking for ways to distract us from God.

I have been sober for 32 years and there is much wisdom in Alcoholics Anonymous (did you know a Sister was involved at the very beginning of AA and was inspirational in much of the writings?)  One of my favorite AA sayings is “Name it and Claim it.”  This expression applies to naming whatever the enemy is luring us into currently.  So, if fear and worry are what is keeping you from focusing on Jesus, then right now stop and get a piece of paper and write down your biggest fear at this moment.  It might be fear of Coronavirus, fear of economic failure in the US, fear of losing your job, fear that we won’t be able to go to Mass anytime soon, fear for your children or aging parents, fear of the unknown, or perhaps you are restless and bored, stuck in your house and can’t see then end in sight, or you are overwhelmed with children at home, or your spouse is driving you crazy because you are together more than usual.

Whatever the fear or worry is – write it down and then tell a trusted friend or family member.  Say it out loud.  That’s naming it and claiming it.  Then call on Jesus and Mary.  Give them this fear and ask them to take care of it for you.  It’s very helpful to pray the Jesus Prayer and the Memorare:

 

Jesus Prayer

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Jesus, I trust in You.

Memorare:

Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary,
that never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection,
implored your help or sought your intercession,
was left unaided.

Inspired with this confidence,
I fly to you, O Virgin of virgins, my Mother;
to you do I come, before you I stand, sinful and sorrowful.

O Mother of the Word Incarnate,
despise not my petitions,
but in your mercy hear and answer me.

Amen.

A few more helpful hints to reduce fear anxiety and worry, none of which are from God, but are from the enemy who is trying to lure you away and keep you on edge.

  1. Stop watching the news – information overload unsettles your brain and heart
  2. Detach from your phone – addiction to devices unsettles our souls
  3. Pray daily – this must happen in order to stay grounded in Jesus (best book on daily prayer is Into the Deep by Dan Burke)
  4. Add structure to your day, make a schedule and stick to it. Especially pray at the same time each day and pick a time to pray as a family
  5. Make a gratitude list – write it down
  6. Pray the Rosary with your family or a friend, can be in person or by phone or video
  7. Do something creative – anything where your brain is engaged and you lose track of time ( I am painting and writing)
  8. Read a book with spiritual content
  9. Connect with a friend by phone or video conferencing
  10. Watch a funny movie – laughter is good for the soul

Taking action helps all of us when we are anxious or uncertain.  So what is a concrete action that we can do to help at this time?  Pray a Novena.  Here is a Novena for the Coronavirus:

https://p.praymorenovenas.com/blog/the-next-novena-the-coronavirus-novena

And another Novena to Our Lady of Perpetual Help (aka Our Mother of Perpetual Help):

https://redemptorists.net/omph-novena/

Either Novena can be started on any day.

Why pray a Novena?  We are opening ourselves to God, joining in prayer with the Church Militant, and we are making a conscience choice for God and therefore stomping on the enemy.

Remember, Jesus is with you right now, you just have to open your heart to Him.  Call out his name, ask for help and ask Mary to pray for you.  We are never alone.  Our Majestic God loves us and takes care of us even when we can’t see it, even when things seem hopeless.  Lean into Jesus, as John the Beloved Disciple did.  Lean into Jesus and listen to His words in the daily Gospel.  Let Jesus’ words be a balm for your soul in these difficult days.

John 17:15-24

“ I do not ask that you take them out of the worldj but that you keep them from the evil one.

16They do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world.

17Consecrate them in the truth. Your word is truth.

18As you sent me into the world, so I sent them into the world.

19And I consecrate myself for them, so that they also may be consecrated in truth.

20“I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word,21so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.

22And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one,23I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me.

24Father, they are your gift to me. I wish that where I am* they also may be with me, that they may see my glory that you gave me, because you loved me before the foundation of the world.”

 

 

 

 

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Eyes on Jesus

“My eyes are always on the Lord,

For He rescues my feet from the snare.

Turn to me and have mercy on me,

For I am alone and poor.”

Psalm 25:15-16

 

It’s been said over and over in the last few days – we are living in strange times.  No matter which side of the information overload you find yourself on, one thing is certain – these are uncharted waters.  Uncharted waters frighten us and we often look for safety in things that are comforting – family, friends, sharing meals together and perhaps most importantly going to Mass and receiving Jesus.  Right now the only one of those things we can do is stay home with family, and this is a great time to unplug and spend time in the presence of each member of our families at home with us.  Since everything else seems to have been taken away we might become even more frightened (or bored) and turn to things that are unhealthy – bad things on our devices, information overload on our devices, eating or drinking too much and being mad at God, or just distant from Him.

But none of these things will bring us any comfort and will in fact push us further away from God, which is exactly what the enemy is hoping we will do.  All things ultimately come from God, and whether God is punishing the world with this virus or just allowing it, doesn’t really matter.  What matters is how we respond.

Jesus is the master of rough waters.  He can calm our hearts just as He calms the waters in Matthew 8:

23 And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. 24 A gale arose on the lake, so great that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. 25 And they went and woke him up, saying, ‘Lord, save us! We are perishing!’ 26 And he said to them, ‘Why are you afraid, you of little faith?’ Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a dead calm. 27 They were amazed, saying, ‘What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?’

Jesus asks the disciples why they are afraid, because they are with Him.  When we are with Jesus, no matter the circumstance, we have no reason to fear.  This is how the martyrs in the early Church were able to face death without fear and with love in their hearts and on their lips.  This is how St Paul endured so many trials and hardships and yet remained strong and courageous – He was close to Jesus.  This is how the Saints and martyrs through the ages have endured persecution, torture and death with loving attitudes, loving minds and loving hearts – they are so close to Jesus that He fills their hearts and  they become mini-Christs in the world.  When we keep our eyes on Jesus everything else falls away except His love for us and our love for Him.

Does this sound too hard for you and me?  If we are truly close to Christ then this call to incredible love is not too hard, in fact it becomes a joy.  Christ loved those who tortured, mocked and killed Him.  He even asked His Father to forgive them as He hung on the Cross in agony!  When we grow in intimacy with Jesus, we will be able to have this same kind of incredible love to share in the world – even in dark and uncertain times like the ones we find ourselves in now.

But how, you may ask, do we draw so close to Jesus?

The sacraments and prayer.

Since the Church is not having public masses right now that leaves us with confession (still available at some parishes) and prayer.

And we can all pray.

And we can all pray! And keep our eyes on Jesus.

Last week I suggested the prayer method called Discovery Prayer or Lectio Divina.  And the key is be praying daily at the same time and for at least ten minutes.  Another helpful hint to strengthen your daily prayer time is have a special or sacred place where you pray.  That can be a favorite chair or corner of the sofa with an image of Jesus (you can print one you like) or a crucifix and perhaps a candle.

At the same time every day, in our sacred space, we use the five R method of reading the daily Gospel.

Read, Reflect, Respond, Rest, and Resolve.

When we spend time with the Gospels praying this way, we will grow closer to Jesus.  We will know who He is, how He lived here on Earth, His teachings, how He related to others, how He loved others and also hear his Wisdom.  In the reading of the Gospels a relationship will develop in the time spent reflecting and sitting in silence waiting for and listening to God.  This relationship takes time and it takes showing up every day, but if we do this we will grow towards God and our hearts will open to Him.  We will see the world differently and our eyes will be opened also – to see the world the way God does, with love and mercy.

If we are to be effective in forming a daily prayer habit three things are necessary: humility, confidence and attention.  If we are humble we know that God is God and we are not.  As God the Father said to St Catherine of Siena in prayer:  “You are she who is not, I AM HE WHO IS.”  Humility helps us get things in the right order, God first and everything else after Him.  Developing our relationship with Him in prayer becomes a priority in our day.

Confidence is trusting God.  It flows from knowing that God is in control and has a plan and that we can trust Him to guide the relationship in prayer.  We don’t have to worry about praying perfectly, or just the right way.  We show up and pray with the Gospels and God leads.  Keep it simple and trust God.

Finally, paying attention in prayer is important as we grow in our prayer life.  We all struggle with distractions.  Everyone does, even the Saints did.  The question is, what do you do when the distractions come?  We just release the distracting thoughts and return to our conversation with God.  We don’t fret or beat ourselves up because we are distracted.  We come back to God’s Presence.  In fact, every time we release the distraction and return to God, we defeat the enemy as we pick God.  Don’t get obsessed with distractions.  As you pray more you will become familiar with how to let them go and return to God.

We all have more time alone right now.  For extroverts like me that can be a little scary.  But time alone is time that can be spent in prayer, time spent growing closer to Jesus, training our hearts and minds to stay close to Him at all times.  When we keep our eyes on Jesus, the darkness becomes light and we see the way to spread love in the world. 

A few helpful prayers during this uncertain time when many of us cannot attend Mass, but can make a Spiritual Communion instead.

Act of Spiritual Communion

My Jesus, I believe that You are in the Blessed Sacrament. I love You above all things, and I long for You in my soul. Since I cannot now receive You sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. As though You have already come, I embrace You and unite myself entirely to You; never permit me to be separated from You.

 

Litany of Trust from the Sisters of Life

From the belief that I have to earn Your love … Deliver me, Jesus.

From the fear that I am unlovable … Deliver me, Jesus.

From the false security that I have what it takes … Deliver me, Jesus.

From the fear that trusting You will leave me more destitute … Deliver me, Jesus.

From all suspicion of Your words and promises … Deliver me, Jesus.

From the rebellion against childlike dependency on You … Deliver me, Jesus.

From refusals and reluctances in accepting Your will … Deliver me, Jesus.

From anxiety about the future … Deliver me, Jesus.

From resentment or excessive preoccupation with the past … Deliver me, Jesus.

From restless self-seeking in the present moment … Deliver me, Jesus.

From disbelief in Your love and presence … Deliver me, Jesus.

From the fear of being asked to give more than I have … Deliver me, Jesus.

From the belief that my life has no meaning or worth … Deliver me, Jesus.

From the fear of what love demands … Deliver me, Jesus.

From discouragement … Deliver me, Jesus.

That You are continually holding me, sustaining me, loving me … Jesus, I trust in you.

That Your love goes deeper than my sins and failings, and transforms me …Jesus, I trust in you.

That not knowing what tomorrow brings is an invitation to lean on You … Jesus, I trust in you.

That You are with me in my suffering … Jesus, I trust in you.

That my suffering, united to Your own, will bear fruit in this life and the next …Jesus, I trust in you.

That You will not leave me orphan, that You are present in Your Church…Jesus, I trust in you.

That Your plan is better than anything else … Jesus, I trust in you.

That You always hear me, and in Your goodness always respond to me …Jesus, I trust in you.

That You give me the grace to accept forgiveness and to forgive others …Jesus, I trust in you.

That You give me all the strength I need for what is asked …Jesus, I trust in you.

That my life is a gift … Jesus, I trust in you.

That You will teach me to trust You … Jesus, I trust in you.

That You are my Lord and my God … Jesus, I trust in you.

That I am Your beloved one … Jesus, I trust in you.

Amen.

 

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If you love Me, you will obey Me

p1000735In today’s readings there are some challenging, even hard, teachings. Jesus tells his disciplines plainly the nature of love. He says, “whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me.”

Do you remember the story of the wedding at Cana from the Gospel of John? They are running out of wine, and Mary tells the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” That was not just a thoughtful Mom making sure the party went well. That was basic instruction on Christian discipleship from Christ’s best disciple. That story was in Chapter Two. Now, in Chapter Fourteen, Jesus says it himself. Just as she said, “Do what he tells you to do,” Jesus tells his disciples — which is us —  “Do what I tell you to do.” Continue reading

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