Jun 7, 2011

A Tangible Treasure

We think that everyone knows who Jesus is, but although most have heard the name “Jesus,” many do not know much about the real Jesus who lives and loves still today.  Archbishop Wuerl wrote in Disciples of The Lord: Sharing the Vision, A Pastoral Letter on the New Evangelization, “There are numerous people, particularly in the Western world, who have already heard of Jesus. Our call is to stir up again and rekindle in the midst of their daily life and concrete situation, a new awareness and familiarity with Jesus. We are called not just to announce, but to adapt our approach so as to attract and to urge an entire generation to find again the uncomplicated, genuine, and tangible treasure of friendship with Jesus.”

This means that we need to share our relationship with Jesus just as we naturally share other things that excite us or mean a lot to us, kind of like introducing someone to one of our very best friends. And it’s not just what we say, but also how we integrate our faith into our normal lives, and how that faith shows through to others. It may be blessing our food when we are out to eat, offering to pray for someone who is suffering through a difficult time in their life, sharing a story of how God is working in your life, or openly expressing gratitude to God for the good things. These are little ways to attract rather than announce or preach. These little ways can “stir up and rekindle” in others a “new awareness and familiarity with Jesus.”

Do you personally have a “tangible treasure of friendship with Jesus” that is visible in your day to day life? If not, what can you do to live what you believe?

Jun 2, 2011

Catholic Spiritual Warfare

Spiritual warfare is not a concept we hear much about. Spiritual warfare, or spiritual combat, is simply our struggle against the enemy of our soul. He attacks, and with the grace of God we defend. This is part of our normal spiritual life as we grow in faith and virtue.

This book was recommended to me when I asked about a simple book on spiritual warfare - I didn't want anything scary, nothing that would be too complicated. I just needed something that would give me some tips and courage. I was experiencing some deep struggles, and knew it was more than just emotional. I knew there was a very strong spiritual component and I wanted to feel better!

I must say the book Onward Catholic Soldier totally surprised me. It was so much more than what I had hoped or even imagined possible. The author, John LaBriola, describes the book well in his introduction:
"With this book, I hope to shine a bold, bright light on the evil one, the light of Christ and His Church that dispels all darkness. Relying on Scripture and the saints for grounding and inspiration, the following chapters offer practical advice on how to do and how not to do battle. The realities, the cautions, the burdens and the benefits of spiritual warfare will be discussed. Satan will be spoken of, but only to the degree that it serves the kingdom of God."

LaBriola's writing is confident and informative, bursting with quotes from a variety of saints. Whatever struggles you may have - depression, temptations, unforgiveness, any struggle you could imagine - there is hope in this book for you. LaBriola leads us through understanding, encouraging, arming, and learning when to engage and when to ignore.

This is not a book you will read once and put on the shelf. The sheer quantity of quotes, scripture verses, and even references to the Catechism, make this a resource for which you will continue to reach. I make sure I have a pen in my hand whenever I pick up this book to read it as there are so many jewels to highlight and come back to again and again. The final chapter puts additional tools right into our hands by including an assortment of very inspiring and helpful prayers, such as the Anima Christi, Litany of Humility, and the Breastplate of St. Patrick.

Loving Our Neighbor, Following God's Will, and Trusting God

"To be a servant of God means to have a great charity toward one’s neighbor and an unshakable resolution to follow the divine Will in all things, trusting in God with simplicity and humility, bearing with one’s defects and patiently tolerating the imperfections of others. " 
St. Francis de Sales
Spiritual Diary by the Daughters of St. Paul

Just as we must “love our neighbors as ourselves” we also tolerate their defects as we tolerate our own. This is not about feelings, or accepting that we must live forever with the faults we have, or that we should allow ourselves to be victimized by someone elses' sinful behaviour that cause us great pain. This is about extending mercy towards ourselves and others. Mercy in loving, mercy in forgiving. Mercy, love and forgiveness all being actions of our will, decisions we make and the feelings may follow, or they may continue as they were. Whether the feelings follow or not, we continue to use our will to choose how we live instead of following our emotions, and in this way we learn to follow God’s Will in all things.

May 29, 2011

How to Love God's Will

The will of God is one of my favorite subjects to read about. The Will of God in Other Words by Dom Hubert Van Zeller excited me because it was published in 1964, not too long ago really, compared to most of the spiritual “classics.” This book is out of print so if you find it used, be sure to snatch it up!

Van Zeller wrote:

"It is important to think of God’s will as something positive, as a vital force with which we can become identified, and not merely as something restrictive and imposed in virtue of God’s prerogative. In our recognition of God’s will it would be something of a waste to stop short at bowing to the inevitable. God’s will should be an invitation, a challenge to the service of love."

So often we refer to God’s will with a sense of reluctant acceptance. We may see it as something that we are not enjoying, but must submit to because we don’t have any choice anyway. We often do see it as “restrictive” and limiting, something that we must try to fit ourselves into no matter how we feel about it. It requires a real change in attitude to think of it as a “positive vital force.”

Would this vital force be love?

Would this "vital force with which we can become identified” be God’s love for us and our love for Him that we can find within His will?

Van Zeller says it would be a waste to merely accept what we can’t control. Although accepting and submitting to God’s will is so very important, Van Zeller is explaining to us what our motivation should be, could be, in doing so. He is teaching us a secret to joy.

“God’s will should be an invitation, a challenge to the service of love.”

God is personally inviting us to serve Him in love, to live in love. His will challenges us to do so in a way that will change not just our outer actions, but also our inner attitudes. Our thoughts form our feelings to some degree and also influence our actions. St Paul wrote that we should “be transformed by the renewal of our minds.”

How we think about God’s will is vitally important to how we are able to submit to it and accept it. This submission, this abandonment to God’s will can bring great joy when we begin to look at it as an acceptance of His loving invitation to step closer to Him.

My devotion to Cardinal Mercier’s Secret of Sanctity prayer has helped to change my inner attitudes. I say it every morning, and often during the day. The heart of it for me has been, “I promise to submit myself to all that you desire of me, and to accept all that you permit to happen to me…”

This prayer allows me to move through the feeling of suffering at the hand of God and into a feeling that God is present with me, that He is still in control, and that His love will sustain me. It has allowed me to accept difficult things as a challenge and invitation to walk more deeply into God’s loving embrace. The words of this prayer give me encouragement; they challenge me to love, to trust, to hope beyond my own feelings, uniting myself with what Van Zeller calls “the vital force” of God’s will.

I invite you to find a prayer that speaks to your hear and that will transform your inner attitude so that you can joyfully accept God’s will as an “invitation…in the service of love.”

May 26, 2011

Praising God, Loving Life

Indian Shores, Florida

I was sitting at the beach tonight alone, but not alone. The waves whispered continuously to me of God’s love, the wind was His breath caressing me. The beauty of heaven spread out before me in the soft white sand, the sea-green Gulf leading to the blue of the sky.

The sky itself a miracle of light as the fiery transformation of light to dark unfolded before me – the orange glow extending across the horizon line where the water meets the sky. The colors of the sky melting through the colors of the rainbow until they finally succumb to darkness. And then on the drive home yet another gift as sudden flashes of heat lightening exploded from huge fluffy clouds of darkest grey with moments of orange-tinged light.

All the suffering and pain I have endured – physical, emotional, spiritual – I do not regret and would not want to have avoided living through. I like who I am at this moment, embraced by God and aware of his beauty.

I am grateful for every grace and gift He has lavishly bestowed; grateful to be able to praise Him and to see His beauty all around me and within me; grateful to smell the salt in the moist air that envelopes me; grateful for the colors of the sunset that He created for me to see and appreciate. I am grateful for the warm orange glow emanating across the watery horizon like arms reaching out to embrace me, the fiery heat descending into the water to be hidden – just for tonight – but not to stop existing. As the gravity of the sun continues to hold our earth in orbit even when it is hidden in the darkness of night, so He has sometimes been hidden from me - yet still His love sustaining me invisibly.

No, I would not change one part of my life; I embrace every moment, the joys and the suffering, and offer it all in praise to Him. My life is mine to give now to Him, it is what made me who I am today and enabled me to love the One who sustains me.

“Bless the Lord, oh my soul, and let all that is within me bless His holy name!”
Psalm 101:3

May 23, 2011

A Crisis of Faith or Crisis of Holiness?

"Some people say there is a crisis of faith or of authority, but I think there is actually a crisis of holiness. Any trials you can encounter can refine you and seperate the good from the bad in you."
The Road of Hope by Bishop Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan

I am so excited to now own this book! I first learned about it through a presentation by a Vietnemese seminarian to our little prayer group. He shared a qoute from this book and I wanted to read more. Last month I read another qoute from it at Beginning to Pray and I knew I had to get the book - soon!

I did splurge finally, and to my great delight, the book arrived just this weekend! As much as I long to take in all it says immediately, I am savoring it slowly. It is not a book to quickly read cover to cover. It is full of short inspirations composed while Bishop Francis Xavier was imprisoned for 13 years and that were smuggled out to be shared with his flock.

These inspirations are arranged into themes by chapter, making it easy to find a topic that is dear to you at the moment. Thinking of the conditions in which these words were written gives me an even greater respect for the wisdom that is communicated, as well as the love that seems to animate them. I read them hungrily but slowly, allowing them to resonate within me, giving them the respect they deserve because of the sacrifices that accompanied their writing and delivery. I pray the words of Bishop Francis Xavier will draw me along the path of holiness and help me also to sanctify my suffering.

May 21, 2011

Three Favorite Scripture Verses

Thank you, Anne at Imprisoned In My Bones, for tagging me in my first ever blogging meme. A meme (rhymes with dream) is a blog post topic that is passed around, shared. This time around the theme is
 "Three Favorite Scripture Verses."

The rules are:

1.Write a post on your three favorite verses from the Bible and why you like them.
2. Link back to this post.
3. In your post tag three other bloggers to carry this theme forward, link to you and tag additional bloggers.

Yes, it is hard to pick a top three, but here are three I love right now:

1) Because you are precious in my eyes and glorious, and because I love you, I give men in return for you and peoples in exchange for your life. Isaiah 43:7

This verse makes me feel loved! God thinks I am “precious and glorious!” WOW!

2) O, Lord, my heart is not proud nor are my eyes haughty. I do not trouble myself with great matters, with things too sublime for me. Rather I have stilled my soul, hushed it like a weaned child, like a weaned child on its mother's lap, so is my soul within me. Psalm 131:3

This Psalm first became important to me during a transition from seeking an overabundance of intellectual knowledge about the faith to moving into the heart - sitting with the Lord like a little child. It called me to pray by turning within to where the Lord dwells and meets us in the quiet of prayer. I picture a child of about three, about the age a child would have been weaned, sitting peacefully and no longer pulling and tugging trying to get the milk they used to need, but now satisfied just to be with its mother, on her lap being loved. I nursed three children and I had experienced the difference between a child on my lap wanting something, and a child on my lap just cuddling.

3) Out of weakness they were made more powerful, became strong in battle, and turned back foreign invaders. Hebrews 11:34

This is a verse I started praying with when my marriage was breaking up and going through the divorce. I felt very weak and vulnerable. The part about “foreign invaders” sometimes I would consider to be referring to my negative thoughts – anger, bitterness, self-hatred. My prayer response was…“Lord, I am weak, so You can make me powerful. You give me strength in the battle to push back the foreign invader.” It still reminds me that is okay to be weak because then God will make me strong.

I tag bloggers:

Holly at A Life-Size Catholic Blog
Marc at Marc Cardaronella
Denise at Catholic By Grace

You are invited to share your favorite verse (or two or three) below in the combox, but be sure to say WHY you love it, too!

May 20, 2011

Living What We Pray

What happens when we live what we pray? Beautiful things happen. Little miracles that are beyond our personal strength. This has been a daily prayer for the last twelve years. I say it. I try to live it. It changes me.

Cardinal Mercier’s Secret of Sanctity

Holy Spirit, soul of my soul I adore you;
Enlighten me, guide me, strengthen me, console me,
Tell me what I should do, give me your orders.
I promise to submit myself to all that you desire of me,
And to accept all that you permit to happen to me,
Let me only know your will.

This is the prayer that guided me through the day I drove home alone after my appointment with the ob/gyn where the heart beat they found so easily the month before no longer existed. It guided me through the days of grief that followed, trying to explain to a four year old that although mommy still looked pregnant, the baby was dead. It guided me through the week or two of waiting before finally being induced to deliver little John who was already gone from us before he had arrived.

“I promise to accept all that you permit to happen to me…”

He permitted it, so I worked to accept it. I learned that even in the midst of deep grief, I could experience joy in the Lord. I could desire still to sing praise to Him, to glorify Him. I drove home from that lonely appointment singing, “no more dying now, we are going to see the Lord.” My heart lifted to praise Him and filled with love for Him as I sang "alleluia" through my tears.

I prayed the words of Job, "The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, blessed be the name of the Lord." I figured if he could say it and mean it, I could say it and mean it. After all, Job lost far more than I had lost. Job had lost everything. I still had my two little boys.

Cardinal Mercier’s prayer got me through the next pregnancy when well-meaning grandma’s at church would comment “it seems like you’ve been pregnant for such a long time!” I had grown so large in the four months of the previous pregnancy that by looking at me most wouldn’t have realized that one pregnancy had ended and a new one had begun. I would just smile and agree, although inside my heart still hurt remembering.

This prayer got me through the innocently asked question, “So, how many children do you have?” when my heart would break knowing that I had only two on earth, but one had been recently accepted into heaven. He gave me grace to hold back the tears as a smiled and answered, "two." Only later when the grief had begun to subside could I add..."and one in heaven."

"...strengthen me, console me..."

This is the prayer that carried me through the days when my marriage was disintegrating between my fingers, like an old photo crumbling as I held it tighter and tighter. I didn’t know what to do, but I knew I had to accept, had to submit, had to do what I prayed every day to do. I trusted Him to strengthen me in my weakness when I didn’t know how I would get through the day at work without crying, and He did strengthen me. I trusted Him to console me in the crushing grief and He did console me.

How can I say that He consoled me, with the excruciating pain I endured for so long, not just months but almost two years of deep grief and anger? He consoled me in moments in the chapel, where I would retreat to cry and pray and just sit loving my Lord and being loved by Him in return. He consoled me in the moments of peace that would settle when I looked at a sunset, or listened to the waves caress the shore of the beach. He consoled me in the hug of my daughter, in the love of friends. He consoled me as I learned to forgive.

So many times, I would not know what to think, feel, or do until I recalled the words of that prayer. I knew I needed to live what I prayed, to do what I said I would do. So I did, as best as I could. Sometimes I didn’t want to “accept and submit,” sometimes I didn’t feel “enlightened, guided, strengthened or consoled’ but that prayer continued to be my map, showing me where I so deeply desired my journey to lead. And God blessed that little effort that I made, He blessed the little bit of love in my heart as I stumbled to walk along that path, His path I had chosen.

This is how I live, as best I can, what I pray.

May 18, 2011

Our Soul - Use It or Lose It

At my physical therapy appointment today I was given the disappointing news that I had lost 25-50% of the strength in my arms and shoulders since the increasing elbow pain had caused me to take a four week break from therapy. Those weeks were spent with doctor’s appointments, testing, ineffective cortisone shots, but with none of the exercises I had worked so hard building up to during the recovery from my neck surgery.

We are now back to work with lots of tape, ice and ultrasound. I have been sent to look for an elbow brace to support my partially torn ligament that “shouldn’t” be causing problems but does in fact seem to be the cause of the pain. I have lost much strength that I will now have to rebuild very slowly.

This reminded me of our need to be consistent with prayer times. Theresa of Avila wrote that if we are not moving forward, we will move backwards. She said that even if we have reached great heights of prayer, if we neglect spending time in prayer, we will slide backwards even worse than when we began in the first place.

We don’t have to spend four hours a day in prayer; we do what we are able to do. But we must be consistent, everyday our 15 minutes, 30 minutes, hour – whatever we have committed to and fits with the responsibilities we have in our vocations. It is essential for our spiritual strength that we spend this time with the Lord meditating and reflecting on the Word of God and allowing time for Him to speak to our hearts in silence.

Sometimes we fill our time with so much busyness, even good things serving God, going to religious events, working in ministries. We may forget that those cannot replace the relationship we nurture within our personal prayer time. Our soul suffers when that relationship is neglected. Whether it is our bodies or our souls, we have to use it or we lose it. Yes, we can lose the precious gift that God extends to us – intimacy with Him, our Creator. Let us push through the daily distractions that pull us away from receiving this exquisite gift!

May 16, 2011

God's Will is Our Happiness

Our true happiness, our holiness, consists in breathing
 the breath of His will
back to Him from whom it comes.

The Will of God, Dom Hubert Van Zeller p. 23

This is a beautiful thought to sit with in prayer, asking the Lord to explain it and to teach us the way to happiness and holiness through His will. How will we breath His will back to Him? I can't tell you how to do this; you must listen for His voice to teach you in the silence of your heart.

May 15, 2011

Mary Help of Christians Novena

Mary Help of Christains

My sweet “adopted” Salesian nun, Sister Frances, emailed me to let me know that tomorrow begins a novena to Mary Help of Christians. She included the beautiful picture above. I am grateful to her, as I had never heard of this novena, and in general am "not a novena-type of person." But this novena is quite beautiful with a scripture verse and prayer that change each day. I will use tehnology to help me pray by setting up a Google calendar alert reminder.

St. John Bosco and Mary Help of Christians
You may know that St. John Bosco and his Salesian order had quite a devotion to Mary under this title. According to the Salesian Sisters’ website,
“This title for the Blessed Mother dates to 1571 and Pope Pius V. Don Bosco believed, "Our Lady wants us to honor Her under the title Mary, Help of Christians. Times are so bad that we need Our Lady to help us to be faithful and defend our faith."
The Novena
The nicest format of the Mary Help of Chritians novena I found online is at America Needs Fatima.

My Salesian Sisters
The Salesian sisters have been very good to me with their prayers and kindness over the past twenty years. Sr. Theresa Franco was the first sister we adopted and she introduced me St. Mary Mazzarello (the foundress of the Salesian Sisters), Mary Help of Christians and to the beautiful Salesian spirituality. We prayed for each other and I am sure she is still praying for me now, although she left this earth years ago. I will certainly be joining my novena to her prayers and the prayers of the other sweet Salesian sisters who have prayed me through some difficult years.

If you would like to learn more about “adopting” a retired nun or more about Salesian spirituality, visit their website at www.SalesianSisters.org . As they say, adopting a Sister isn’t about taking her into your home, it is about taking her into your heart.

May 13, 2011

Changing Our Culture

Today we are looking at the second and third elements of “evangelization” as defined by John Hardon’s Modern Catholic Dictionary. It includes
1) interior conversion to Christ and his Church; 2) affecting not only the individual person but the whole culture; and 3) as a result, changing this culture and its institutions to make them Christian and Catholic.
Our inner conversion - change, awakening to Christ - this naturally affects not only us as individuals but also the whole culture as we connect and interact with it. Changing the culture doesn’t mean we try to get a crucifix hung in every public building. It means that we change the culture and institutions not only by what we do but by who we are. We the people make up the “institutions and the culture” of our society.

We are people who seek goodness and truth. We value honesty, forgiveness, kindness, mercy, and justice. We respect the sanctity of human life. Catholic values bring respect for the human person and true freedom and justice into our society.

We affect the marketplace by the movies we choose to watch, the magazines we buy, and the TV shows we invite into our homes. Every choice we make in the market place is our support of one thing over another and contributes to the formation of our culture. We effect the institutions with every vote we cast, every letter or email to our government officials, every time we stand up for what is right within our own place of employment.

All of us can make a difference in the world around us by our actions and by our prayers. Some are called to do great things; all of us can do small things with great love. This is the beginning of evangelization, of sharing the gift of faith.
This is the follow up article to We Lead With Our Hearts in Evangelization

May 10, 2011

Leading With Our Hearts in Evangelization

 According to John Hardon’s Modern Catholic Dictionary, evangelization is the “zealous proclamation of the Gospel in order to bring others to Christ and his Church.” We tend to think of evangelization as going out and telling people about Christ and getting them to come to Church. This proclamation and “going out” are certainly essential aspects of evangelization, but they are not the entire picture of what is meant.

The definition goes on to add, “…Evangelization, therefore, includes three distinctive elements: 1. interior conversion to Christ and his Church; 2. affecting not only the individual person but the whole culture; and 3. as a result, changing this culture and its institutions to make them Christian and Catholic.”

Notice the first element listed - our own “interior conversion.” The first step of evangelization occurs within us. Until we experience an inner conversion, a changing of our heart, we don’t have much to share and we lack the grace God offers us (and we so desperately need!) for the work at hand.

Think of the candles at Easter Vigil. We might be in the church holding a candle, but it if there is no flame then we cannot light the candle next to us. Maybe our flame went out, maybe it was never lit in the first place. If we want to share it, we have to first have it!

We say we are Catholic, believe what the Church believes, follow the rules and go to Mass, but an “interior conversion” means that we also begin to change our hearts. We seek to learn and understand the truths of our faith, spend time in personal prayer, and make little sacrifices as we conform our lives to Christ. Love begins to guide more than fear. A relationship grows through prayer. How we think and live changes and we are glad of the changes. This is interior conversion. This is the beginning of a love we can share.

This post is for my column in our parish e-newsletter "Little Ways to Live & Share Our Faith" To subscribe to the Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church newlestter, please visit http://www.blessedsacramentonline.com/ 

May 9, 2011

Beloved Brides of Christ

The Church is the Bride of Christ and so as we bask in the joy of Christ’s resurrection it is appropriate to consider our relationship with the Risen One. This spousal relationship extends to us personally, inviting us to a real intimacy with Christ.

Think of the language used in Song of Songs, where the Lord speaks to us as our Beloved, as one longing for intimacy with us. “Ah, you are beautiful my beloved!” and “Arise my beloved, my beautiful one and come” Song of Songs 1:15 and 2:13

Doesn't that love spoken to you in God's Word touch your heart
 and inflame it with love  in return for the love so generously offered?

Cherishing Each Other

Perhaps it is more comfortable and familiar to look at a human marriage relationship then to talk about our intimacy with Christ. We understand that spouses are to cherish each other. Let us also remember that “cherishing” is more than just a feeling of loving affection; “cherishing” is an active cultivation of the deepest love that can exist – the love of God for us, His most prized creation. It is this active love that spouses are to cultivate for each other, not just romantic feelings that may come and go.

It is within the marital relationship that God places His very self into the palm of our outstretched hand, even as we receive the Sacred Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of the Eucharist. For those who are married, it is the small kindnesses done for one another such as overlooking mistakes or listening patiently and with full attention even when you don’t feel like it; these and other little ways are the actions of love and are the ways in which we humble ourselves to receive Christ our Savior and Beloved into our hands, into our soul in a deep and intimate experience.

Becoming the Bride of Christ

Do I miss out on this beautiful relationship, this cherishing, if I am not married? Oh, no! God does not deny this intimacy to those of us who are single. We may not experience unity with Christ through an intimate relationship with another person, but we can experience the relationship it was patterned on – the intimate spousal relationship with Christ. He speaks to us, “You have ravished my heart, my sister my bride; you have ravished my heart with one glance of your eyes…” Song of Songs 4:9.

Jesus cherishes each one of us, He invites us into His own arms of love and delights when we set aside all else to sit with Him quietly in prayer. He yearns for this time with us and nothing else can fulfill this yearning He has for us individually, just as nothing else can fulfill our yearning for Him.

Will we not respond with love to the one who created us? Will we not spend time alone with Him, quiet with Him, allowing Him to love us and loving Him in return?

Prepare Your Trousseau

Let us spend this season of Easter preparing our bridal trousseaus by practicing mercy, forgiving those who don’t deserve it, loving the unlovable, holding back from gossiping, choosing the difficult over the easy, setting aside ample time to pray. Simple choices we make each day can create little additions to our trousseaus.

Yes, “My lover belongs to me and I to Him; He browses among the lilies.” Song of Songs 7:10

We will be preparing our bridal trousseaus  this Easter as we cultivate the beautiful lilies of virtue in our lives and enter more deeply into intimacy with the One who loves us more than we can possibly imagine. A few moments here and there, turning within to remember Who abides with us through the day. Fifteen minutes or maybe half an hour to sit with Him, reflect on His Word, listen for His whispering in the secret of our heart. We don't have to do great things that we can't do, but we must do the little things that we can do.