Sunday, November 30, 2014

New (Liturgical) Year's Resolutions

Happy New Year! 

No - I haven't mis-scheduled a blog post. On the first Sunday of Advent, the Church marks the first day of a new Liturgical year.  As with the celebration of the new calendar year each January, the new Church year is a time of new beginnings, of fresh starts, and of renewed purpose.

It is with good reason that the church chooses a penitential season to begin each new year. Advent, contrary to what every blaring cyber-Monday commercial and glittering fully-decorated Christmas trees at the local Mall would have you believe, is a season of interior preparation, not merely for the infant Jesus' birth into history which we celebrate on Christmas, but for the Lord's second coming in glory and for our own personal judgment which comes at our deaths. Like the other penitential season in the Church's calendar - Lent, it is a time of interior purification and renewal - preparing our hearts and souls to more fully live in union with God in this life in order to enjoy eternal happiness with him in the next. What better way to start off a New Year!

Here are seven ideas for New (Liturgical) Year's resolutions:

1. Go to Daily Mass one extra day per week. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, quoting Lumen Gentium, describes the Eucharist as "the source and suumit of the Christian life" and states that "the Church strongly encourages the faithful to receive the holy Eucharist on Sundays and feast days, or more often still, even daily." If you are not already a Daily Mass attendee, resolve to attend just one more Mass each week.

2. Add a new prayer to your prayer routine.  For me, this year, I am planning to embrace the discipline of doing Morning prayer and Evening prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours each day. However, there are so many ways of incorporating more prayer in your life: Daily Mass, the Rosary, the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, the Noon-time  Angelus- the list is endless. Make a commitment today that will be achievable - even if the only commitment you are able to make is to pray one single Our Father each day.

3. Read the scriptures. The Bible is the living word of God and spending just 10 minutes a day reading it will change your life. If you are new to reading the Bible - begin with the Gospel of John and commit to reading for 10 minutes. If you are already a regular scripture-reader, pick a book that you are not as familiar with and begin reading it. More ambitious? Check out this daily reading plan which will help you read the entire Bible in one year.

4. Begin a spiritual journal. Keeping a spiritual journal has been one of the most fruitful practices I have ever adopted. I journal my prayers, struggles, scriptures or quotes that have inspired me, petitions, thanksgiving for blessings and more. My journal is a concrete expression of my prayer time and provides a great tool for being honest in my prayer time. Reflecting upon my completed journals allows me to see how the Lord has moved in my life over a period of time. Looking for more tips about journaling?  Read 7 Lessons From Keeping a Spiritual Journal, grab a notebook and pen and being your love letter to the Lord this year!

5. Forgive. Holding a grudge? Resenting someone who has hurt you? Angry and upset about the way your parents/husband/children/friends/boss/etc. treat you? Holding on to unforgiveness is hurting only one person - you.  This New Year - resolve to forgive those who have hurt you. Spend some time in prayer and ask the Lord for the grace to extend forgiveness.  Remember that Jesus forgave from the Cross- it is difficult to withhold forgiveness when you meditate on the crucifixion scene. A great way to start is to write a letter to the person who has hurt you (you don't have to actually send it). In the letter, be specific about what you are forgiving that person for. When you have completed the letter, place the person in the Lord's hands and let them go.

6. Go to confession. Confession is tough stuff - it is not easy to sit before another person and plainly state, without excuses, all your failings, weaknesses and shortcomings. I spent 20 long, dark years away from Confession and can personally attest that it is an incredibly powerful Sacrament and the grace that is available through it to bring healing, freedom and wholeness is immeasurable. Do not be afraid to go to confession. If you have been away from the Sacrament for awhile, ask a friend to go with you. Find a priest that you think you would be comfortable with and explain that you are unfamiliar/uncomfortable/uneasy or just plain afraid - he can help with the mechanics of the Sacrament. Ask the Holy Spirit to bring to mind your sins and then jump in with both feet. You will be relieved, elated, and joyful afterwards. Don't wait - the Lord's mercy is the most amazing gift!

7. Make friends with a saint. Ever been asked by a non-Catholic: "Why do you pray to a statue?"  The Communion of Saints is a gift and a mystery that have nothing to do with praying to statues and everything to do with being part of a family that spans the boundaries of time and space. The saints are role models for living lives according to God's plan and powerful intercessors before the throne of the Lord in heaven. This year, resolve to learn about one new saint in a deep way - read their writings, watch videos about their lives, strive to identify and imitate their heroic virtue, and pray to them for their intercession.

Share some of your New Liturgical Year's Resolutions below!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

5 Ways to Grow in Gratitude

As we look forward to the annual celebration of Thanksgiving, I'm participating in "Worth Revisiting Wednesday" over at Theology is a Verb and Reconciled to You by sharing this post on growing in the virtue of gratitude. If you have ever watched at toddler, you will quickly conclude that gratitude is not an innate response that flows off the tongue with ease. Gratitude, like all virtues, needs to be practiced - built like a muscle through constant use and discipline.

"Blow, blow thou winter wind, thou art not so unkind as man's ingratitude." The past several years, our winters here in the Northeast have been particularly harsh. In the midst of those long, cold, snowy winter days,  Shakespeare's words have taken on a whole new meaning. That winter wind is nasty. Yet, Shakespeare suggests, its bitter bite is not as wicked as man's ingratitude. Ingratitude, it seems, has been a problem for people forever - rearing its ugly head long before Shakespeare penned those famous words. I would submit that a underlying temptation towards ingratitude was one of the reasons for Adam and Eve's fall. If they had been truly grateful for all the Lord had blessed them with, they would have not sought after the one thing that they couldn't have. Their ingratitude fueled their pride which ultimately caused them to succumb to the temptation of the devil.

In Luke's Gospel, we read the story of the ten lepers who were cleansed by Jesus and find that only one returns to thank him for his healing. Jesus' response to the one leper who returned to thank him was "Stand up and go. Your faith has saved you." (Luke 17 (11-19) Here we see another connection - this time between faith and gratitude. It was that one leper's faith and humility that compelled him to return with gratitude. Through his faith, he was able to acknowledge Jesus' power to heal him and thank and praise him for it.

Gratitude is more than simply saying "Thank you." It is an attitude by which we recognize that we are not capable of self-sufficiency - that we cannot provide for ourselves everything that we need or desire. When we show our gratitude to God we are responding to him in faith.  In gratitude, we acknowledge that He is the creator and we are his creatures - dependent upon him for our very existence.  In expressing gratitude to other people we also grant that they have given to us something that we did not already possess. Gratitude demands humility on our part and growing in gratitude is essential for overcoming our own pride.

The season of Advent is a penitential season and offers us an opportunity to take stock of our lives and examine how well (or poorly) we are practicing gratitude.  I'd like to offer five ideas for growing in gratitude this Advent.

  1. Begin the day with gratitude.  Before your feet hit the floor (or before you grab your iPhone off the nightstand) thank the Lord for the gift of a new day and for all the ways he will bless you in that day ahead. The simple act of acknowledging God's goodness before you perform any other activity of the day sets a tone of gratitude for the entire day ahead.
  2. Pray the Psalms. The Psalms are beautiful prayers of praise, thanksgiving, lamentation, wonder and awe over who God is and what he has done. Even those Psalms that are not specifically Psalms of thanksgiving can inspire an attitude of gratitude. You can simply begin praying one Psalm a day or, if you are so moved, pray the Liturgy of the Hours which incorporates several Psalms at each hour. (My favorites are Psalm 40 and 139) 
  3. Pray grace before you begin any new activity.  We very routinely pray grace before meals, but praying a prayer of blessing and thanksgiving to God before beginning any new activity is a way to grow in awareness of God's providential care and the practice of gratitude. GK Chesterton says "You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink."  
  4. End the day with a gratitude journal.  Designate a notebook or journal to be used as your gratitude journal. At the end of each day, write a list of at least two things that you are grateful for that day. Some days it may be difficult to find even one thing to be grateful for. On days like this, thank God that you lived to see another day. On other days you may fill pages. This journal will be a source of encouragement for years to come.  
  5. Write a "thank you" note.  That's right - a handwritten, pen and paper, put a stamp on it, genuine old-fashioned thank you note. Better yet - write several. Develop a habit of writing thank you notes when someone has done something for you - however small.  Try and be as specific as possible in your note about what you are thanking the person for and what impact it has had on your life. Remember, gratitude takes humility and at first, these notes may seem awkward and challenging to write.  However, if you persist, not only will you grow in gratitude, but the persons receiving your notes will be blessed and encouraged as well. 

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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Saints Quotes on Gratitude

As we look ahead to the celebration of Thanksgiving, here are five powerful quotes from the Saints on gratitude. What struck me the most about these quotes is that taken together they provide a broad picture of the "attitude of gratitude" which we should have towards the Lord. Our gratitude should be expressed in prayer, for God's mercy, his goodness and the blessings of the past. It should be lived out in both the joy-filled times in our lives and in the struggles as well. Finally, our gratitude should lead us to live radically for Jesus - to the point, as St. Ignatius bluntly states, of being considered a fool.

Have you thanked the Lord today? 





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Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Novermber Daybook: A Snapshot into My Life

Outside My Window...
Fall foliage is fully present in my neighborhood. Fall is my favorite season and I am always amazed at the beauty of the colors. This photo was taken at the end of my street. Just gorgeous!

I am thankful...
For the road trip we took with our Pastor and a few families from our parish this past weekend to the Catholic Underground in NYC.  The Catholic Underground is an apostolate of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal. The Underground is a Eucharistic Holy Hour accompanied by the melodic chanting of the friars. During the Holy Hour, the lights of the church are shut off and the Monstrance is illuminated by spotlight and candles. It was such a powerful night of prayer and worship of our Lord Jesus. Truly a glimpse of heaven. The congregation was comprised primarily of young adults - what a witness and a joy to see a church packed to capacity on a Saturday night in the middle of NYC! Here's a picture of the sanctuary of the church immediately prior to the Holy Hour.

I am thinking...
Of ideas to celebrate Advent with my family. The past few years I have missed the boat during Advent and have gotten swept up in the Christmas shopping/cooking/party frenzy. I have woken up on Christmas morning feeling unprepared, spiritually, for this great celebration, and burnt out from all the busyness of the month of December. Each year, I have resolved to do better the following year, but so far that has not happened. This year, I am once again determined to fully enter into the Advent season and am on the lookout for ways that my family can grow together during this holy season of waiting and preparation.

I am reading...
Everyday Meditations by Blessed John Henry Newman. Honestly, I am blown away by this book and the deep, thoughtful and heartfelt meditations it contains. My Spiritual Director recently introduced me to Cardinal Newman via his episcopal motto: Cor ad Cor Loquitur, which means "heart speaks to heart" and I have been hooked on his writings ever since. The book contains 50 short (3-4 pages each) meditations from the Cardinal's personal writings. These are not sermons, or intellectual discourses, but rather, deep heart-to-heart conversations with the Lord. They are so intense that I often find that I can't read more than a few paragraphs at a time. The book is a real treasure -I highly recommend it!

I am praying...
For the grace and the strength to stick to living out St. Josemarie Escriva's Heroic Minute every day. We recently completed the 14 Day "Heroic Minute" Challenge - click here if you are interested in taking the challenge - but as St. Escriva points out: "To begin is easy, to persevere is sanctity." The challenge made me realize that any growth in virtue in my life needs to be fueled by a ton of prayer and is really impossible without God's grace and mercy.

I am looking forward to...
A date night with my hubby this Friday! It is getting so much harder to have a private conversation now that the kids are getting older - it will be such a blessing to get out together and have fun and talk freely.  Of course, I am certain that the majority of our conversation will be centered on the kids!

A few plans for the rest of the month....
  • Thanksgiving Dinner with my family - our last one in my childhood home before my parents move in the new year. We are looking forward to having them live a few miles away from us, but saying goodbye to my childhood home is a bittersweet experience. 
  • Writing an exegesis paper on an Old Testament scripture for a course I am taking. This is not an easy task and I am honestly overwhelmed by the prospect of it. If you could spare a few prayers for me it would be much appreciated. 
  • Running an Advent Lighthouse Catholic Media giveway. I am planning to giveaway 5 CD's of talks for Advent and Christmas. Opportunities to enter to win will begin on Sunday November 16 and the drawing will be held on Saturday November 22. Stop back and visit! 

A favorite quote for today...
At the Catholic Underground, the Franciscan Friar who was leading worship spoke of this scripture verse in a way I had never considered before. He said that the "perfect love" isn't our love for God, but rather, God's love for us, which is always perfect and unconditional. His reflections have given me a whole new perspective on this passage and I have been meditating upon it ever since. What an awesome gift is the Lord's perfect love.

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Saturday, November 1, 2014

Testimonies From the Heroic Minute Challenge

Many, many thanks to all who participated in the 14 Day "Heroic Minute" Challenge. I'd like to share with you some testimonies from people's experience with the challenge. God truly cannot be outdone in generosity. When we set our minds to knowing, loving and serving him from the moment our eyes first open in the morning, he truly does respond by showering us with grace, strength and blessing. Hearing the testimonies, struggles and victories of others has been a great source of witness and inspiration for me and I hope they will be for you too!

From Charisse T: "'Just as man cannot live in the flesh unless he is born in the flesh, even so a man cannot have the spiritual life of grace unless he is born again spiritually.'  St. Thomas Aquinas  I've done this heroic minute thing before.  I read some of St. Josemaria Escriva's writings a few months ago, taped a Miraculous Mary medal to my snooze button, and committed.  5:30am on the dot every morning for about three weeks.  Work out, prayer, breakfast, and my day was off to the kind of start I wanted.  Then, whammo!  Something happened.  Nursing baby, teething toddler, late nights, and I fell back into my old, snooze button hitting habits.  So when Saints365 posed the Heroic Minute Challenge, I knew it was time to reclaim my mornings, but in a different way.  I don't feel proud of myself anymore, for I know how quickly I can fall.  Rather, I am grateful for each morning of opportunity that God gives me.  I've realized that, as a busy mom of five, my heroic minute sometimes means popping right out of bed and heading out the door for a run, but sometimes it means staying in bed long enough to nurse the baby first.  Sometimes my heroic minute is at 10:30 at night, when I choose to go to bed with hope-filled expectations for the new day, instead of staying up late to avoid the drudgery of living the next day with despair and pessimism.  And sometimes my heroic minute is when I offer my failure to get up at the appointed time to God, with full confidence in His infinite mercy.  The heroic minute is a chance to be "born again spiritually."  As I've made better choices at bedtime and waking time, I've strengthened my will to make better choices throughout my day.  Less facebook, more prayer.  Less unnecessary "chores", more quality time with my kids.  More disciplined and efficient housekeeping, more peaceful home.  I gave God one minute, but He gave me back so many more.  One small act of the will is all it takes to open the floodgates of God's grace!"
Visit Charisse at her blog "Paving the Path to Purity" or like Paving the Path to Purity on Facebook. 

From Debbie R: "Your challenge to put the Lord and prayer time first in my day has been both a motivation and an encouragement to me. Although I am at a different stage in life, the struggle is still the same in many ways. When my prayer time is not disciplined, often my exercise and healthy eating struggles also. I feel like I am catching up all day and squeezing the Lord in; like I’m not ready for the day.  Your struggles mirrored mine; the perfect day, the less than perfect for a good reason, the total failure day. It reminded me that each day is a new beginning, a chance to begin again, to adjust rather than quit, the reminder of the proper order of the day and importance of priorities. You confirmed some of my own experiences on my prayer life, as well as offering new ideas for encouragement through scripture and prayerful reading. Just because I am newly retired and have the time now, it doesn’t always translate to doing what we should do. The timing of this for me was just perfect and much needed!  All teachers appreciate the “value of struggling”. Another reminder I needed myself. Reflecting on my successes, attempts and failures also led to some additional insights for improvement. We know we need Catholic community on our journey and your online blog is another way to get it!"

From Michele G: The "Heroic Minute" challenge has been such a blessing for me  From challenging me to get up earlier on these crisp cool Fall mornings, to keeping prayer at the very start of the day, to keeping any distractions from detouring me. Instead of reading the newspaper, I turned to my Bible and gave the Lord my "first fruits" of the day and was spiritually fed and blessed every time! How beautiful when the Lord led me to Sirach 6:14: "A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter. He that has found one has found a treasure." The Heroic Minute also helped me focus on how precious time is and by spending time wisely, we are truly reminded of how we do "store up our treasures" for ourselves for here on Earth and for our Eternity. Praise God from whom all good blessings flow!

From Terry R:  "A couple of years ago I got into the habit of doing just that, I wake up most mornings and usually get right down on my knees and begin the day by surrendering it to the Lord. I ask him to open my eyes and ears, heart and mind to his Holy and divine will. I tell him that I trust in him and everything that He has in store for me that day (both trials and tribulations) I ask him to help me to shine with His that I may help to glorify His kingdom here on earth. Ever since I started doing this, I have noticed a radical change in my life...especially when it comes to accepting the days little challenges...I find it easier to stay focused on the Lord and I take comfort in both the good and the bad. That one little minute with the Lord at the beginning of the day is nothing short of a miracle, and why wouldn't it be. Its the Lord himself who said "Seek and you shall find, Knock and the door will be opened to you" It really is as simple as a one minute conversation with the Lord every morning. Praise be to God, now and forever!"

Interested in taking the Challenge? - Click here to read daily entries in the 14 Day Heroic Minute Challenge!