Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Life Lessons From Saint Peter

I LOVE St. Peter. The Scriptural accounts of the missteps of this outspoken, hot-tempered, passionate first Pope reveal a man who is flawed and weak. I can relate. Equally, the Scriptures reveal to us  a man whose life has been thoroughly transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit - his flaws are remade into his greatest strengths. I can relate.

St. Peter's life, like that of all the Saints, opens up to us a litany of examples that we can both meditate upon and imitate in our own striving for the heights of holiness in the trenches of everyday life.

Let's look at seven life lessons that we can draw from St. Peter. 

Grace builds on nature.
Boldness was a gift that Peter possessed in abundance - a gift that made him a natural born leader. The problem with natural gifts is that they are not always directed to the right ends or exercised in the right manner. Time and time again, Peter's natural gift of boldness landed him in hot water with the Lord. See Mt 16:22-23 and Jn 13: 6-11 for two examples.

Natural gifts need supernatural grace to purify them and build upon them. After Pentecost, Peter's natural gifts had been anointed by the Holy Spirit and we see his propensity for bold statements now transformed into his ability to preach the core Gospel message (the kerygma) in power. (Acts 2:14-37) Like Peter, we too need to ask the Lord for the anointing of the Holy Spirit to transform our natural gifts and talents into ones that will bear supernatural fruit.

Fear blocks faith. 
Perhaps one of the best-loved stories from the scriptures is that of Peter walking on the water. Here we see Peter, walking across the stormy sea at Jesus' command. This courageous act of faith is quickly overcome by the paralyzing grip of fear when Peter's eyes drift from Jesus to the wind and the waves which surround him. He begins to sink. (Mt 14:27-33)

Like Peter, I too have had moments in my relationship with Jesus where my faith and trust has led me to "walk on water". Similarly, I can recall far too many episodes in my own life where my focus has been on the wind and the waves around me and I have hit bottom like a lead brick. This Gospel account teaches us so many lessons, but perhaps the one that strikes me the most is that fear is a block to faith. When we allow our fears of "what could happen" or even "what should happen" to block our faith, we effectively block the power of grace. The Lord knows this and the words "Be not afraid" are one of the most often-repeated phrases in all of the Scriptures. In moments of conflict between fear and faith, let us ask St. Peter for his intercession to help us keep our eyes on Jesus and continue to walk on water.

No sin too great for the Lord's mercy.
Denying the Lord is a grave sin. Jesus, in a discourse directed to the Apostles, warns them of the consequences of such a denial: "But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father" .(Mt. 10:33)  He directly foretells Peter's denial to him. (Lk 22:34) In spite of these warnings, Peter does indeed succumb to his own weakness and vehemently denies that he knows Jesus three times. (Lk 22: 54-62)

Luke's Gospel relates to us that immediately after his denials, the "Lord turned and looked at Peter." (Lk 22:61). I can only imagine that look of love and mercy - of sheer compassion that Jesus gave to Peter in that moment. A look which expressed his desire to forgive Peter and his knowledge of the great potential inside Peter in spite of his outward failings. No sin is above the mercy of the Lord. When we sin, we have only to seek that look of love from Jesus in the sacrament of Confession to be restored to his grace.

Discipleship sometimes requires a career change.
Peter's encounter with the Lord led him to abandon his fishing career to follow Jesus as his disciple. After only a few short years in training, he made a post-Pentecost career change to preacher, healer, foreign missionary and head of the budding universal church. None of these changes came up after reading What Color is Your Parachute? and meeting with a career counselor.

Encounters with Jesus still lead to career changes today. Not long after I experienced a powerful conversion in the year 2000, I was led to quit my six-figure job and trade my successful career for a life of service as a stay at home Mom. Nearly two decades later, I am homeschooling, studying theology, writing, speaking and still in awe of all the Lord has done in my life.

Not all disciples are required to make such dramatic career changes. What is required of all disciples is that we submit our career to the Lordship of Jesus and allow him to direct our path, trusting that his plans for our lives are far better than any that we could conceive for ourselves.

Try not to fall asleep in the chapel.
One of my favorite accounts from the Gospels is that of the Lord rebuking Peter, James and John for falling asleep while he was praying in agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus says to Peter: “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray that you may not undergo the test. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak." (Mk 14:37-38)

Why do I love this account?  Because more often than not, I too find myself  giving in to the weakness of my own flesh. It is a comfort to me to know that I am not alone in my struggles. Prayer can sometimes be difficult. Every time I sit down to pray I battle distractions, fatigue, and the temptation to insert my own agenda into my prayer time. Far from being discouraging, Jesus' words spurn me on to continue to persevere in prayer in spite of the obstacles - asking the Holy Spirit to "come to the aid of our weakness". (Rom 8:26)

Share what you have been given.
In Acts Chapter 3 we read about the crippled beggar asking Peter and John for money. Here is Peter's reply: “I have neither silver nor gold, but what I do have I give you: in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean, [rise and] walk.” (Acts 3:6) The crippled beggar was intermediately healed.

Peter gave the beggar a far greater gift than the alms that he was asking for. He gave him the gift of healing which he had received through the power of the Holy Spirit sent to the church by the Risen Lord Jesus at Pentecost. All of us, by virtue of our Baptism, have received the gift of the Holy Spirit and like Peter, we too need to share that gift with others. 

The sharing of what we have received may not always take the form of physical healing, but we must be open to opportunities to see through what people are asking for to what they really need. Our world is filled with people who are crippled in many ways - let us imitate Peter and boldly share the gift of hope and salvation in Jesus that we have received. 

Prepare your testimony.
Peter writes in one of his letters a directive that applies to us today as much as it did to his readers nearly 2000 years ago: "Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope..." (1 Pet 3:15) Our testimony is simply that: a witness of what Jesus has done for us which is the foundation of our hope. Peter goes on to describe the way this testimony should be delivered: "with gentleness and reverence" (1 Pet 3:16)

When we follow Jesus, people will be curious about our beliefs and our lives. Not all of us have dramatic conversion stories, but all faithful disciples of Jesus have moments of encounter with the Lord that can serve a lifeline to those walking in darkness. It is helpful to intentionally reflect on those special moments in prayer  - perhaps even writing them down in a journal. In this way, we too will be ready to give this "explanation" to anyone who asks.

St. Peter, pray for us.

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Friday, February 17, 2017

Week Six: "The Hidden Power of Kindness": Ch. 4

PHEW.  I really thought I dodged a bullet with this chapter.  Looking at the title, I breathed a sigh of relief.  Of all the capital sins, anger is not one that I struggle with.  At least I thought anger was not one that I struggled with....  It seems that I am wrong.

Fr. Lovasik rightfully makes distinctions between anger that is justified and anger that is not. He also includes other behaviors under the anger umbrella: irritability and impatience being the ones that jumped off the page at me.

While I am not prone to outbursts of anger that "goes beyond reason", I do find myself quite often succumbing to this no-so-dynamic duo. The victim of my irritation and impatience are, as Fr. Lovasik rightfully points out, the people closest to me.

What is it about anger in all its forms that most often directs itself towards the people who we love the most?  I don't have an answer to that question, but this chapter really made me think about how I let my own feelings and moods dictate my responses to those whom I love.

Here are three of my own strategies for keeping irritability and impatience under control:
  1. Self-care is essential. Getting enough sleep, eating right, making time for exercise and managing stress are all key elements in leading a balanced, healthy life. For me, they are essential in keeping my negative emotions in check.  When I am tired or stressed,  I am anxious and irritable. 
  2. Speak less. This is not easy for me. My initial reaction to each and every situation is to address it with words (often not very nice ones either).  However, I have learned that sometimes the best strategy is to take some time to process the situation before reacting to it. Often, a few minutes time is all it takes to diffuse some negative reactions in favor of a more reasonable response. 
  3. Look under the hood. When I find myself chronically irritated, I know it is time to take a check-point and look under the hood of my heart to figure out what is really bugging me. Nine times out of ten, the source of my irritation has nothing to do with the situation at hand, and all to do with something that I am anxious about, or stressed about. Getting to the root of the issue is essential to finding a long-term solution. 
My favorite quote:

This has always been one of my favorite short prayers, and I love Fr. Lovasik's advice to pray this whenever anger or irritability or impatience threatens to rule the day.

Questions for Reflection:
  1. Ask the Lord to reveal the roots of your anger and impatience and write down an action plan to begin to overcome this - don't forget to have patience with yourself.  Rome wasn't built in a day, and habits of meekness and kindness are not either. 
  2. If someone is particularly irritating you, take some time to see the world through their eyes, and try to overcome your own irritation by performing an act of kindness towards them. 
Personal Resolutions: 

Fr. Lovasik provides a wonderful resolution that I plan to incorporate into my life this week: "Why not pick out one person or situation that can make you get angry suddenly? Work on that alone. Plan ahead how you are going to handle that situation or person." (p.78)

This week's readings:  This week we'll complete Chapter 5

Please share your thoughts in the comments below! 

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Saturday, February 11, 2017

Week Five: "The Hidden Power of KIndness" - Ch. 3

This chapter really hit home with me. For much of my young adult life, I was under the spell of the material world - and greed, envy and jealousy were my daily currency. Here is an experience that I had at that time that really changed my heart.

In the pecking order of office politics, Sandra (not her real name) was that person - my nemesis.  You may have had one of them in your life too.  For me, Sandra was the person who stood in the way of my next promotion; the one whose every decision I disagreed with; the person whose job I was certain that I could do better than she.  In my all-encompassing world of corporate career growth, Sandra was enemy and I disliked her immensely. My behavior towards Sandra was, to put it mildly, not very nice. I am not exactly how she felt about me at the time. I would have to guess, based on the way I treated her, that she would never have nominated me for the team player of the year.

This was a nearly two decades ago. I was immersed in my career in corporate America. I had no time for the Lord or the things of God. And, frankly, I thought I had no need of them. My own selfish ambitions and a desire for all the material world had to offer me ranked as my number one priority and I viewed other people as friend or foe inasmuch as they advanced my goals or stood in their way.

Sandra stood in my way. 

It was at this place in my life that I was confronted with a reality that I had honestly never given much consideration to - the reality of the power of a single act of kindness. This confrontation shook me to my core and set in motion the slow turning of my heart back towards the Lord.

My encounter with kindness took place on a hot, sticky, humid Sunday afternoon in the city I grew up in. I was attending my grandmother's wake and I was miserable; terribly sad over my grandmother's passing and lonely, knowing that my friends who lived over an hour's drive away were not likely to make the trip to the wake. As I stood in the funeral home making small talk with my family, I looked up and to my utter shock and surprise, there was Sandra. She approached me and after giving her condolences over my Grandmother's passing, she explained how she had ridden her bicycle two miles to attend the wake. I was, quite literally, speechless. Her kindness shocked me. The amount of effort she made to be there for me was overwhelming.  The fact that she had come at all was something I had difficulty getting my mind around.

Sandra's kindness that day changed me. For starters, it totally changed my relationship to her. I never viewed her again as my enemy - instead I saw her as she was - a person, not an obstacle to be overcome. Secondly, the power of her act of kindness shifted my thinking about life. It was not a major shift at the time, but it did get me thinking that life was about more than corporate and material success. Finally, that one, small act of kindness mysteriously set my heart on a course back to the Lord. Sandra's act of kindness to me that day was like a gentle chisel that chipped away a small opening in my stony heart. Through that opening, God's love, shown through the kindness of another, began to soften my heart.

I have never forgotten what Sandra did for me that day. I think of her often  in the trenches of everyday life, when I find myself too tired, busy or preoccupied  to reach out in kindness to others. I remember the power of her one single act of kindness and pray for the grace to do the same..

My favorite quote:


All my years of corporate success left me unsettled and unsatisfied.  It was only after I experienced a major conversion, gave my life to Christ, and traded my six-figure salary corporate job for the life of a stay at home Mom that I realized the truth of these words.  The Lord has blessed me with peace and contentment that no material success could every come close to touching. 

Questions for Reflection:
  1. In this chapter, Fr. Lovasik clearly defined some of the major areas of weakness which tempt many of us, and lead us away from love and kindness. Review the definitions of greed (p59), envy (p60), jealousy (p63) and vainglory (p65) and humbly ask the Lord to reveal your own personal areas of weakness, always remembering God's unconditional love for each of us, in spite of our weakness.  Ask the Lord for the grace to overcome any of these temptations. 
  2. Read St. Paul's words in 1 Cor 13: Love is patient, Love is kind.  Substitute your own name for the word "love" and meditate on how that passage sounds with your own name. 
Personal Resolutions: 

Fr. Lovasik points out the need for immense gratitude for all God's blessings saying: "You have received great favors and unmerited blessings from God. Of yourself, you are and have nothing, except sin. Left to yourself, you would be a slave to passion. Whatever is good in you is really due to the working of grace in your soul. Therefore, humility and gratitude should be natural to you." (p66)

This week, my resolution is to bring to mind the reality that all I have and all I am are undeserved gifts from God.  Each time I think of all the blessings I received I will echo the words of the psalmist and say "Not to us Lord, not to us, but to your name be the glory." (Psalm 115:1)

This week's readings:  This week we'll complete Chapter 4

Please share your thoughts in the comments below! 

Click here to view all of "The Hidden Power of Kindness" Book Club posts.

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Friday, February 3, 2017

Week Four: "The Hidden Power of Kindness": Ch. 2

Father Lovasik opens this chapter with a matter-of-fact statement that I never considered before. He says, "Nothing is easier than faultfinding. No talent, no character, no self-denial, and no brains are required to set up this grumbling business." (p47)

The last few weeks our family has engaged in something we don't normally do on a regular basis - watching the evening news.  The recent Presidential inauguration has provided lots of teaching moments for our children, and we sat down together each night to watch the news.  There we were faced with something far from factual reporting of the days events.  Instead, we heard a variety of opinions, speculation about motives, and a whole big heaping load of faultfinding on all sides.

Worse than that, our family jumped right in, agreeing with one newscaster, disagreeing with another, assigning motives to actions and statements and gestures which we really had no clue about and no business judging.

Father Lovasik's chapter came just in the nick of time!

It astonishes me time and time again just how easily I can slip into criticism and judgement and this chapter was a real wake up call for me.

The biggest lesson I learned this week is that judgement and criticism are just as wrong when they are directed at a political figure, a newscaster, an acquaintance on FB or the person sitting next to me on the couch.  I needed that reminder. I pray for the grace to live by Father Lovasik's wise counsels.

My favorite quote:

OUCH!!!!!!!!  More than any other statement in this chapter, this particular quote hit me dead between the eyes. I know from examining my own heart that I have mastered the art of finding fault in others without ever holding the mirror up to my own behavior.  Father Lovasik's words were a great reminder to examine my own conscience instead of examining that of others around me.

This quote reminded me of the following words of Jesus:
"How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me remove that splinter in your eye,’ when you do not even notice the wooden beam in your own eye? You hypocrite! Remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter in your brother’s eye." (Luke 6:42)

Questions for Reflection:
  1. Father Lovasik opens the chapter urging us to be kind when dealing with the faults of our superiors. This week, let us examine our consciences regarding our attitudes towards our superiors (this includes bosses, pastors, and all those in authority). Do I have a critical spirit towards those in authority? If yes, I ask the Lord to show me the roots of that criticism - is it pride, or envy or insecurity? Once the Lord reveals the roots, I pray for the grace to overcome that critical spirit. 
  2. This is not so much a question as an action item - whenever you feel the urge to criticize another rise up in you, stop and pray a Hail Mary for that person and all the intentions of their heart. 

Personal Resolutions: 

Father Lovaisk says, "If, when you charged a person with his faults, you credited him with his virtues too, you would probably like everybody." (p49) My resolution for this week is to deliberately think of the virtues of other people when I am tempted to judge or criticize them.

This week's readings:  This week we'll complete Chapter 3

Please share your thoughts in the comments below! 

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Friday, January 27, 2017

Week Three: "The Hidden Power of Kindness": Ch. 1, Pt. 2

I learned a lot about kindness this week. Our family got hit hard with a nasty stomach bug.  So hard that the jingle running through my head for most of the week has been "buckets here, buckets there, buckets buckets everywhere." You get the picture.

My daughter succumbed first and my husband and I spent the better part of that night taking turns holding back her ponytail while she vomited and then stroking her hair and wiping her tears while she fitfully slept. Honestly, I didn't really consider what we were doing an act of kindness, until the shoe was on the other foot a few days later.

This time it was me on the couch, alternately sweating and shivering from the fever I had, bucket close at hand, while my now recovered little one rushed about taking my temperature, logging my symptoms, getting me gatorade and whispering sweet words of sympathy and love into my ear and my heart.

What did this teach me?

Kindness begets kindness. My little one understood how to show kindness and love because she had first received kindness from my husband and I. When we are blessed with the experience of being on the receiving end of kindness, it motivates us to be kind ourselves.  In effect, we are creating an atmosphere of kindness and that atmosphere can truly transform our homes, our families and our lives.

Back to Father Lovasik

While I continue to find Father Lovasik's message challenging, what I did note in my reading was that he offers some very easy-to-implement strategies (at least on the surface) into this chapter. One which really struck me was "the ability to give in." (p33). While reading this whole section, snippets of my life flashed in front of my eyes: how many times I have dug my heels in because my hubby wanted sushi and I wanted steak for dinner, pointless squabbles with the kids because of my own personal preference over their developing sense of style, snarky comments made about a decision made by another without every stopping to consider their circumstances. How easy would it have been to yield in those circumstances!  I got to wondering just how many blessings have I forfeited because of my own stubborn insistence on my own way.

I have heard many a parenting advice book suggest "picking your battles" and I think Father Lovasik is expressing the same idea on a much broader scale - it is really quite a freeing thought not to be compelled to insist on my own way in every single circumstance.  This thought led me to another conclusion. Being kind is freeing. It costs nothing, but yields so much - probably the best return on investment around.  Most of all, as Father Lovasik points out, doing good brings joy and who doesn't want more of that!

My favorite quote:

I love this quote!  Father Lovasik's words are one of the best definition of the term "heroic virtue" I have ever encountered. We are all called to be holy, and all called to practice virtue, but it is true sanctity is to practice that virtue when it is difficult. 

Father Lovasik, in this entire chapter, is challenging us to kindness, generosity and self-sacrifice in all circumstances, not just when it is easy, convenient, or directed towards someone we actually like. In this manner he echoes Jesus' words in Luke 6:32-35:

"For if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do the same. If you lend money to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit [is] that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, and get back the same amount. But rather, love your enemies and do good to them, and lend expecting nothing back; then your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked."

Questions for Reflection:

  1. Father Lovasik suggests: "Ask our Lord frequently to prompt you strongly to make sacrifices for the interests of others, especially when you are blind to the situations or reluctant to see them." (p37) In prayer, reflect on the person in your day to day life who you are having the most difficult time with and ask the Lord for the grace to make small sacrifices for that person. 
  2. Write a prayer of gratitude for a time this week when you experienced an act of kindness. If you know the person, let them know what their kindness meant to you. 
  3. On page 45, Father Lovasik encourages everyone to become part of the Apostolate of Smiling. Re-read that section of the chapter and put it into practice, noting in your journaling or daily prayer time, how smiling more often has impacted your ability to both give and receive kindness. 
Personal Resolutions: 

For this coming week I am continuing my resolution of speaking or writing an encouraging word to someone each day. In addition, my experience of being on the receiving end of acts of kindness this week has led me to realize that these happen more than I realize and that I need to take some more time to notice and be grateful for all the kindness I receive on a daily basis! Oh and I plan on becoming a card-carrying member of the Apostolate of Smiling! I hope you'll join me!

This week's readings:  This week we'll complete Chapter 2

Please share your thoughts in the comments below! 

Click here to view all of "The Hidden Power of Kindness" Book Club posts.

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