Saturday, April 26, 2014

JPII Talks Holiness - 7 Quotes

The theme of Saints 365 is the church's universal call to holiness. Pope John Paul II not only lived out this call through the radical holiness of his own life, but also challenged and encouraged the world to become saints! Below are 7 powerful quotes on holiness from Saint John Paul the Great! 


-1-
"Dear young people, the Church needs genuine witnesses for the new evangelization: men and women whose lives have been transformed by meeting with Jesus, men and women who are capable of communicating this experience to others. The Church needs saints. All are called to holiness, and holy people alone can renew humanity. Many have gone before us along this path of Gospel heroism, and I urge you to turn often to them to pray for their intercession." (Letter to World Youth Day Attendees, 2005)
-2-

-3-
"...the life of holiness which is resplendent in so many members of the People of God, humble and often unseen, constitutes the simplest and most attractive way to perceive at once the beauty of truth, the liberating force of God's love, and the value of unconditional fidelity to all the demands of the Lord's law, even in the most difficult situations." (Veritatis Splendor)

-4-

-5-
"The Christian life to be aimed at cannot be reduced to a mediocre commitment to “goodness” as society defines it; it must be a true quest for holiness. We need to re-read with fresh enthusiasm the fifth chapter of Lumen Gentium, which deals with the universal call to holiness. Being a Christian means to receive a “gift” of sanctifying grace which cannot fail to become a “commitment” to respond personally to that gift in everyday life. It is precisely for this reason that I have sought over the years to foster a wider recognition of holiness, in all the contexts where it has appeared, so that Christians can have many different models of holiness, and all can be reminded that they are personally called to this goal." (Letter to Priests, 2001)

-6-

-7-
"While the Second Vatican Council speaks of the universal call to holiness, in the case of the priest we must speak of a special call to holiness. Christ needs holy priests! Today's world demands holy priests! Only a holy priest can become, in an increasingly secularized world, a resounding witness to Christ and his Gospel. And only thus can a priest become a guide for men and women and a teacher of holiness." (Gift and Mystery)

Read related posts here:

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Pope Francis' Do's and Don'ts of Mercy

We're joining Loyola Press in celebrating the release of The Church of Mercy , a brand new book documenting Pope Francis' vision for the Catholic Church in his own words. The book shares the Holy Father's powerful message of mercy, service and renewal - a message that has captured the attention of Catholic's and non-Catholic's alike.

Our beloved Pope Francis knows how to tell it like it is. His direct style seems to be one of his most endearing qualities. In fact, his bluntness is so engaging, that even when he is delivering some, a-hem, fraternal correction, it is received by the faithful with joyful cheers. "Thank you sir, may I have another" comes to mind.... He does, however, do so much more than teach through mere words. Through his actions, Pope Francis is showing the world what it means to live out our identity as Catholics - a life of mercy received and given.

One of the Holy Father's favorite subjects is mercy. God's mercy, and our openness to both receive that mercy and extend that mercy to others, is a frequent topic of his homilies, audiences and other messages. Here are three "don'ts and do's" of mercy according to Pope Francis.

Don't build walls.
In a powerful and convicting morning homily, Pope Francis spoke how evangelization is stifled by those who prefer to build walls which exclude people, rather than having the "Apostolic courage" to go out to those who are on the fringes and take the time to listen to their stories. He warns that "when the Church loses this apostolic courage, she becomes a lifeless Church. Orderly, perhaps — nice, very nice — but barren, because she has lost the courage to go to the outskirts, where there are so many people who are victims of idolatry, worldliness, and weak thought.” In the work of evangelization it is often tempting to take the safe road, and isolate ourselves behind the walls of the church, rather than going out into the messy world of humanity's struggles, difficult questions and painful life-situations. According to Pope Francis' words and example, this is exactly the where the church needs to go, bearing with her the message of mercy and the Good News of Jesus.

From the earliest moments of his Pontificate, we have witnessed Pope Francis tearing down walls through his gentle, yet powerful actions of love and mercy. We have seen him wash the feet of juvenile delinquents, embrace those who are severely disfigured or disabled, take selfies with teens and urge nursing Moms to feed their babies at Mass. With each action, the Pope is showing us by example how to reach out in love and mercy to those who might otherwise feel excluded from the church and tear down any walls of artificial separation which may exist.

Do build bridges.
The Pope offers an alternative to the exclusionary option of "building walls"  - that of "building bridges". Using the example of St. Paul's preaching to the idolaters in Athens, the Pope says that St. Paul's strategy was not to condemn the Athenians in their sin, but to "build a bridge to their hearts, and then take a step further and proclaim Jesus Christ” He goes on to say that St. Paul's approach was simply following the example of how Jesus dealt with those on the outskirts of the religious establishment - he took the time to "listen to everyone." As Catholics, each of us has the ability to be an ambassador of mercy and a builder of bridges through the simple, yet under-utilized art of listening. A compassionate, listening ear, rather than a harsh, condemning tone can be all the difference necessary to lead others into faith in Christ Jesus. Like St. Paul, we can build a bridge to the heart of the people we meet who may be struggling with doubt, sin and unbelief. Once that bridge is built, we can humbly and honestly share our faith and invite the other person to cross that bridge with us to help them.

Those same actions of Pope Francis which have torn down walls, have also been the very actions that have enabled him to be truly Pontifex - a bridge builder. His witness has begun to build bridges over which people who may never have considered the Catholic faith are now beginning to approach and cross.

Don't wait to go to Confession.
This is one of my favorite videos of the Holy Father. You simply can't get more direct than this - but each time I watch it I just want to run to Confession!

Do seek the Lord's mercy with humility and confidence. 
Pope Francis' actions speak far louder than his words on the necessity of seeking the Lord's mercy with humility. He makes going to confession look so easy - because it is!  Even when what we are confessing is difficult, or it has been a long time since our last confession we need to approach the sacrament with humility and confidence in the great mercy of Jesus who is waiting to forgive us.




Don't doubt the Lord's mercy.
On many occasions, Pope Francis has drawn from the powerful words of Scripture to illustrate the infinite scope of God's mercy and love for us. In his homily on Divine Mercy Sunday, 2013, the Pope describes St. Thomas' encounter with the mercy of Jesus. He comments on Jesus' response to Thomas' doubts: "How does Jesus react? With patience: Jesus does not abandon Thomas in his stubborn unbelief; he gives him a week’s time, he does not close the door, he waits." 

What beautiful, comforting thoughts the Holy Father shares with us!  We must never doubt God's mercy - never assume that he has lost patience with us, or "written us off" as too stubborn or difficult. It can be a temptation to project our own imperfect experiences of patience and mercy that we have received from others onto God, but this is a grave mistake, for God's mercy is perfect. Pope Francis invites each of us to experience the mercy of the Father where "We will feel his wonderful tenderness, we will feel his embrace, and we too will become more capable of mercy, patience, forgiveness and love."

Do radically trust in God's mercy. 
"What a beautiful truth of faith this is for our lives: the mercy of God! God’s love for us is so great, so deep; it is an unfailing love, one which always takes us by the hand and supports us, lifts us up and leads us on." With these words, also spoken on Divine Mercy Sunday, Pope Francis provides for us the foundation that we need to build our radical trust in God's mercy upon - His unconditional love. Because God's love for us is so perfect, so total and unfailing, we can have the confidence to place all our trust in him -  even at times when we have gravely injured our side of the relationship or at times when it seems that the situation we find ourselves in seems helpless and hopeless. It is during these difficult times, that God is ready to shower us with his mercy. Like the Prodigal Son, we have only to begin to move towards the Father and we will find him already there, waiting for us with the open arms of mercy.

Read More Related Posts:
What's the Big Deal About the Pope Going to Confession
7 Lessons From Pope Francis
Front Row With Francis: A Path To Unity
Bothering Our Pastors

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Sunday, April 20, 2014

8 Inspiring Quotes on the Resurrection


Alleluia! Jesus is risen from the dead!  Today (and for the next 8 days) the Church celebrates the Octave of Easter, which basically means that the celebration of Jesus' resurrection from the dead goes on for eight straight days!  Here are eight (seven below + one above) inspiring quotes on the Resurrection to meditate on during the Octave...  

  • "The Gospel of Easter is very clear: we need to go back there, to see Jesus risen, and to become witnesses of his Resurrection. This is not to go back in time; it is not a kind of nostalgia. It is returning to our first love, in order to receive the fire which Jesus has kindled in the world and to bring that fire to all people, to the very ends of the earth." (Pope Francis, Easter Vigil Homily, 2014)
  • "Faith in the Resurrection of Jesus says that there is a future for every human being; the cry for unending life which is a part of the person is indeed answered."( Pope Benedict XVI,  Benedictus, 128)
  • "The Cross had asked the questions; the Resurrection had answered them...The Cross had asked: "Why does God permit evil and sin to nail Justice to a tree?" The Resurrection answered: "That sin, having done its worst, might exhaust itself and this be overcome by Love that is stronger than either sin or death." (Archbishop Fulton Sheen, Lent and Easter Wisdom, 110) 
  • "If one does away with the fact of the Resurrection, one also does away with the Cross, for both stand and fall together, and one would then have to find a new center for the whole message of the gospel. What would come to occupy this center is at best a mild father-god who is not affected by the terrible injustice in the world, or man in his morality and hope who must take care of his own redemption." (Hans Urs Von Balthasar, The Cross For Us)
  • "O Death, where is your sting? O Hell, where is your victory? Christ is risen, and you are overthrown. Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen. Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice. Christ is risen, and life reigns. Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave. For Christ, being risen from the dead, is become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. To Him be glory and dominion unto ages of ages." (St. John Chrysostom, Easter Homily)
  • "In fact, everything that exists and moves in the Church - the sacraments, doctrine, institutions - draws it's strength from Christ's Resurrection." (Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, Life in Christ, 67)
  • The Lord’s triumph, on the day of the Resurrection, is final. Where are the soldiers the rulers posted there? Where are the seals that were fixed to the stone of the tomb? Where are those who condemned the Master? Where are those who crucified Jesus? He is victorious, and faced with his victory those poor wretches have all taken flight. Be filled with hope: Jesus Christ is always victorious.(St. Josemarie Escriva, The Forge, 660) 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Am I The Centurion?

Scripture
The centurion and the men with him who were keeping watch over Jesus feared greatly when they saw the earthquake and all that was happening, and they said, “Truly, this was the Son of God!” (Mt 27:54)

Reflection
Unlike Jesus' friends and even the Pharisees, who were present at the crucifixion because of the vested interest they had in Jesus' death, the Centurion and the other guards were there because they had to be, not because they wanted to be. The scriptures tell us of how the Centurion, after witnessing the signs and wonders which occurred in nature after Jesus' death came to believe in him. The Centurion experienced conversion - a shift in his heart from cold, distant unbelief, to lively, certain faith that led him to boldly proclaim that Jesus was the "Son of God".

Father Cantalamessa, in his book Life in Christ, urges all of us to experience the Passion from the inside out, not merely as detached observers recounting a piece of history.  He says:
 "An earthquake must take place in the life of every man; he should feel in his heart something of what took place in nature as a warning, at the moment of the death of Jesus when the curtain of the temple was torn in two, the stones broke and the tombs opened. It is necessary once and for all that a holy fear of God should shatter our proud hearts, which are so sure of themselves in spite of everything." (62)
Perhaps we identify with the centurion this Holy Week - attending Holy Week services as a casual observer, not allowing ourselves to enter into the truth about what we are witnessing, just watching the clock and waiting for it all to end so we can get back to our "normal" lives.  Let us ask the Holy Spirit to allow us to experience the "earthquake" of deep conversion and  the heartfelt understanding that Jesus is the Son of God who died to save each one of us from our sins.

Prayer
Jesus, I had been keeping guard over you for hours; just doing my job, watching you suffer in agony as you endured the brutal death by crucifixion  I've seen it all before and I really couldn't allow myself to get caught up in the emotions of those people at the foot of your cross. I was just waiting for time to pass so I could leave that place of death and suffering, when suddenly I felt the earth shake beneath my feet, as if revolting at your death. More than the outward signs, I felt a revolution in my heart and mind and I am filled with the certainty that you truly are the Son of God. In an instant I know that my life will never be the same. Help me, Jesus, to understand what I have experienced - help my to truly know you.

Read more Who am I? Reflections here...
Am I the Good Thief?
Am I Simon?
Am I Pilate?
Am I Peter?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Am I the Good Thief?

Scripture
Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us.” The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, “Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied to him, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:39-43)

Reflection
Here in Luke's Gospel we witness the dialogue from the cross between Jesus and the two thieves who are "Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise." 
crucified with him. The one thief, caught up in his own pain and self-pity, joins with the crowd in mocking Jesus, while the other thief looks upon the face of Jesus and sees him for who he truly is. In this revelation, the Good Thief, known today as St. Dismas, immediately acknowledges his own sins and begs the Lord to "remember him".  His confession is met with one of the most beautiful promises in all of scripture, "today you will be with me in Paradise."

What was the difference between the two thieves? How was it that one persisted in his own pride and misery, while the other was able to humbly face the reality of his sinful life and confess that to Jesus?  Why did two people with similar backgrounds encounter Jesus in the same way, but react to him in totally opposite ways? Why do we still today see deathbed conversions of some, while others die in bitterness and unbelief?  Father Sopocko, who was Saint Faustina's Spiritual Director, describes this dramatic conversion as an act of grace:
"How close Dismas had come to eternal condemnation! A murderer and thief, he had behind him a lifetime of sin and crime. And now suddenly a ray of grace had shone into his soul, and from a thief be became a penitent."
God's grace acting in a person's soul is a mystery - a mystery for us to bow before and accept, as the Good Thief did on the cross. Father Sopocko goes on to say that all the Good Thief had
"was a little good will that led him to sympathize with Thee, O Jesus!—to follow the call of grace and co-operate with it." (read Father's entire article here)
Perhaps we identify with the Good Thief this Holy Week - seeing our own sins and shortcomings in the light of Jesus' passion. Perhaps, through the same grace that touched St. Dismas, we may even be facing the truth about ourselves for the first time. Let us ask the Lord to create in us a "new heart"  - one is open to his grace and mercy, so that we too may receive the beautiful promise of being with Jesus in Paradise. 

Prayer
Jesus, I have only just met you and I can sense that you are unlike anyone else that I have ever known. Your face is bloody and disfigured and yet in your eyes I see something I have never experienced before. You are looking at me with love and kindness. I can feel the walls that surround my heart crumbling. I see inside my heart all the terrible thing I have done, the malicious thoughts I have had and all the ways I have hurt others. Jesus, I am not worthy of receiving anything from you and yet, I am drawn to ask you to forgive me and to allow me to remain with you forever.

Read more Who am I? Reflections here...
Am I the Centurion?
Am I Simon?
Am I Pilate?
Am I Peter?

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Am I Simon?

Scripture
"As they were going out, they met a Cyrenian named Simon; this man they pressed into service to carry his cross." (Mt: 27: 32)

Reflection

Simon the Cyrene was not a willing helper to Jesus. Different translations of Matthew's gospel use the verb "compelled" and "forced" to describe how Simon came to be part of Jesus' long walk to Calvary. In Luke's account Simon is described as being "seized" by the soldiers. (Luke 23:26) This was not exactly a volunteer job. And yet, through this experience, Simon was given the privilege of assisting the Lord in carrying the very cross that would be his salvation - the salvation of all the world.

The cross is the source of life and blessings, hidden under pain and suffering. However, we will only experience the life that the cross and resurrection promises us if we are willing to not only pick up our own crosses, but also help others carry theirs. St. Paul instructs the Galatians to "bear one another's burdens" ( Gal 6:2) In spite of these words, we may find ourselves, like Simon, reluctant partners in the bearing of someone else's cross. Willingly entering into the pain of another person, whether that pain is physical, spiritual or emotional, is never easy. It is far "safer" to stand aside, like the crowds surrounding Jesus, and watch from a distance. Helping to carry another's cross requires strength, perseverance, patience and love. It requires the openness to experience pain ourselves, in solidarity with that person. 

Perhaps we identify with Simon this Holy Week - finding ourselves sharing the cross with someone else. We may be embarrassed at our own reluctance to help and wondering what difference our assistance is really making. The scriptures do not tell us how Simon's help impacted Jesus. Likewise, we may never know the extent to which our help blesses another person. What we are assured of  is the promise made by the Lord himself that "whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me." (Mt 25:40)

Prayer
Why am I being asked to help you carry your cross? I don't want to be near you. I am afraid to step into your pain. What will happen to me if I do? Yet, I am drawn to your side. I am moved by your silent suffering. Struggling alongside you under the weight of the cross, this encounter with you is changing me. Help me, Jesus, to willingly and compassionately help others carry their crosses. Purify me of my reluctance to experience the pain of another's cross and give me the grace to be changed by sharing in the suffering of another.

Read more Who am I? Reflections here...
Am I the Centurion?
Am I the Good Thief?
Am I Pilate?
Am I Peter?



  

Monday, April 14, 2014

Am I Pilate?

Scripture
Pilate said to him, "So you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Every one who is of the truth hears my voice." Pilate said to him, "What is truth?" (John 18:37-38)

Reflection
Pilate is full of questions for Jesus - "Are you a king?", "Are you the king of the Jews", "Where are you from?", and finally, the infamous "What is truth?" In his interrogation of Jesus, you can almost hear the desperation in his voice. Here is a man caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place, desperately looking to make the decision that will bring the least amount of personal and political harm to himself. He is so entrenched in his own world that he cannot or will not recognize Jesus as the truth that he seeks. Yet, there is something compelling for him about Jesus. He clearly recognizes Jesus' innocence and his questions suggest that he recognizes in Jesus something more.

Catholic Encyclopedia describes Pilate as "...a type of the worldly man, knowing the right and anxious to do it so far as it can be done without personal sacrifice of any kind, but yielding easily to pressure from those whose interest it is that he should act otherwise. He would gladly have acquitted Christ, and even made serious efforts in that direction, but gave way at once when his own position was threatened."

Perhaps we identify with Pilate this Holy Week. We may be in a place where cultural or societal pressures are leading us to "wash our hands" of Jesus and go along with the whims of the crowds shouting around us. We may be tempted to give in to these external pressures and ignore the nagging voice in our heart which cries out "What is truth?"

Prayer
I am so confused. All my life I have been taught to live one way. I understand the rules of my world. But now, you, Jesus are standing in front of me and all my prior assumptions are being challenged. My world is coming apart around me and I am in a no-win situation. If I believe you, Jesus, then my career and, more than likely, my life as I know it will be over. If I don't believe you, I fear I will be making the biggest mistake of my life. Is there an answer these questions that haunt me? Are you the answer, Jesus?

Read more Who am I? Reflections here...
Am I the Centurion?
Am I the Good Thief?
Am I Simon?
Am I Peter?

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Am I Peter?

Scripture
Then the maid who was the gatekeeper said to Peter, “You are not one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not."...Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. They said to him, "Are not you one of his disciples? He denied it and said, "I am not." One of the servants of the high priest, a kinsman of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, "Did I not see you in the garden with him? Peter again denied it; and at once the cock crowed. (John 18:17, 25-27)

Reflection
The denial of Peter is one of the most well known moments in the passion narratives, and is recorded in all four Gospels. There we see all of Peter's bravado and solemn declarations of loyalty spoken on Holy Thursday dissolve into a heap of  panic and cowardice when he is faced with the reality of Jesus' arrest. Peter's repeated denial of Jesus seems to be an epic failure and an irrevocable breach of friendship. But that is simply not true. No sin or denial, no matter how grave, is ever out of the reach of the mercy of the Lord. 

Pope Francis, in a February 2014 homily spoke about the necessity of understanding Peter "...within the context of a long journey, after having traveled a long path. A path of grace and sin." It is "the disciple's path", the Pope said. In fact, he added, "following Jesus enables us to know Jesus. To follow Jesus through our virtues" and "also through our sins. Always following Jesus!" (L'Osservatore Romano

Perhaps we identify with Peter this Holy Week: afraid and ashamed of our own failings.  Then, like Peter, we must persist in following Jesus in spite of our weaknesses, sins, and missteps along the way. We must trust completely in Jesus' mercy and seek his forgiveness when we fall. 

Prayer
Lord, in the depths of my heart I desire to follow you, but my fear of being persecuted by being associated with you is crippling my faith. Forgive me Lord, for the times when my fear has paralyzed  my love for you and I have denied you before others. Strengthen me, through the power of your Holy Spirit, that I may become the bold disciple that you wish me to be.

Click here for more Lessons from Our First Pope

Read more Who am I? Reflections here...
Am I the Centurion?
Am I the Good Thief?
Am I Simon?
Am I Pilate?

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Who Am I This Holy Week?

"Who am I this Holy Week?" 

This was the question posed a few years ago by one of our parish priests during his homily on Palm Sunday. He explained further:

"Which of the people we meet in the passion narratives from the scriptures do we most identify with?"

At the beginning of each Holy Week, I ask myself this question. Each year I find that I  identify with someone different, some of whom I am not exactly proud to admit. This year, as we begin this most sacred week, let us  ask ourselves which of the people present during the Lord's passion, death and resurrection do we most relate to. It is important to not be fearful of the answer, but rather to allow the Lord show us the truth about ourselves, strengthening us in our goodness, and gently correcting our weaknesses.

Beginning on Palm Sunday and ending on Holy Thursday, Saints 365 will post a daily reflection entitled "Am I...." Each reflection will provide a scripture verse, an exploration of  the characteristics of one of the people present during Lord's passion, and a prayer. I invite you to stop by each day for these reflections and pray that they help us to enter more deeply into the celebration of Christ's redeeming acts during this Holy Week.

Friday, April 11, 2014

7 Lessons From Keeping A Spiritual Journal

Keeping a spiritual journal can be a great asset to growing in our relationship with the Lord Jesus. I began keeping a journal about eight years ago and it has proven to be one of the most fruitful practices I have. I am not an expert, but here are seven lessons I have learned through journaling.

Many of the saints kept journals. 
Journaling has a long-standing history in the Catholic Church and some of the greatest saints have kept spiritual journals. Two examples of well known saints' journals which have been published are St. Therese of Lisieux's The Story of a Soul and St. Ignatius Loyola's Spiritual Exercises. These journals, published many years after the saint's death, continue to be a source of  inspiration and encouragement to millions of people.

More recently, Blessed John XXIII kept a personal journal from the age of 14 until his death, which is available in a book entitled The Journal of a Soul.  Read more about his journal here. The personal notes of Blessed John Paul II, are also soon to be published in English. Through these spiritual journals, we are able to grow and learn from the interior lives of these great saints of our times.


A journal is not a diary, it's a prayer. 
A diary is a chronological accounting of daily events. A journal is much more than this. It is a prayer directed to Jesus  - an capturing on paper of an interior dialogue between the writer and the Lord. A journal is a place to capture one's own spiritual experiences and thoughts. Early on in my journaling, I found that it was easiest to stay on track with the spiritual nature of a journal by beginning each entry with the salutaion: "Dear Lord". In this way, my writing always takes the shape of a personal dialogue with the Lord, through which I often ask him questions, repent of my sins, and thank him for his blessings. Over time, I have grown to also use my journal to jot down scriptures or quotes from the saints which have touched me. I have inserted prayer cards and holy pictures that I have found along the way. By the time any single journal is complete it is bursting at the bindings with a rich expression of my own spiritual life that is singularly unique to me.

Blessed John Paul II Handwriting
--- 3 ---
Write in your own hand.
As tempting as it is to keep an electronic journal, there is something very powerful about writing your prayers, struggles, victories and dialogue with the Lord out in your own handwriting. Through the deliberate act of handwriting, your words take on a distinct shape and meaning that simply cannot be achieved if you type out the same words. Your handwriting is very real extension of you and it can display your emotions much more accurately than any computer "emoticon" can.


Keep it real.
One evening, I was sitting in the Adoration Chapel journaling my heart out. I had written a beautiful, pious, eloquent prayer to the Lord and I was quite proud of my words. After a time, I paused from my writing and sat quietly. During this pause, I had an interior sense that said something like this: "GET REAL, DEBBIE!" The words startled me. Huh?  Weren't my poetic words good enough?

The fact is, they weren't. The Lord has no need of our beautiful words - he wants our hearts, he wants our struggles, he wants our anxieties, he wants our sins, he wants our victories.  He wants us to be real with him. Jesus issues an invitation to all of us saying "Come to me all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest." (Mt 11:28)  Journaling is a powerful way to express our burdens to the Lord. Today, when I begin a time of prayer and journaling, I ask the Lord for the grace to be as "real" and honest as possible. It is only when my journaling  is "real" that I am able to experience more powerfully the Lord's healing touch and enter into his rest.

You aren't going to be graded. 
When I first began journaling, the perfectionist "straight A student" in me insisted on proper grammar,
descriptive adjectives and powerful opening and closing sentences in each of my journal entries. It took me quite some time, and many ripped-out pages of my journal to realize that I was not going to be receiving a grade on my journaling. In fact, the Lord has very little interest in grammatically-correct journaling and my insistence upon it was actually creating an unnecessary burden.

The point of journaling is to share your heart in a "black and white" way with the Lord. It is not an excercise in award-winning writing. In fact, editing your journal can often result in editing your heart and that is counterproductive. When you journal, write freely without agonizing over form, style or content. I can guarantee that all of your journal entries will receive the one page view you most desire - Jesus'.
Getting started can be difficult.
It can be daunting to sit in front of a blank sheet of paper and try to enter into a dialogue with the King of Kings. Fortunately, there is help available and lots of it. Find some journal starters, which are nothing more than writing prompts, questions or short meditations to help you focus your journaling.  They are a great way for begnners (and even more seasoned journalers) to get started.  Some great places to find (free) journaling prompts are:
Some things are worth saving.
Over the years, I have saved all my completed journals in a safe, secure and private place. From time to time, I go back and look them over. Each time I review them, I am struck by several things. First, the Lord really does answer prayers. Second, over time and with faithful perseverance, we do experience spiritual growth. And finally, God truly desires to communicate with us through our own prayers, through the sacraments and through his presence in other people. Whenever, I am feeling discouraged, a walk through my past journals assures me of God's steady presence in my life in a way in a tangible way.


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Chasing the Fox

Have you ever been to a fox hunt? Me neither. In fact, as a city girl, a fox hunt is about as foreign to me as a game of stickball is to an English country gentleman. The idea that a spiritual lesson based around a fox hunt could in any way resonate with me is a stretch, but a few years ago at a faith formation program I was attending, that is precisely what happened.

Here's how it went: In a fox hunt, the hounds who lead the pack have seen the fox they are chasing. They have sniffed his scent. These hounds have encountered the fox and this encounter motivates them to chase him with abandon - always keeping him in their sights. There are other hounds in the hunt as well who, by contrast, have not actually seen the fox for themselves. Instead, this second set of hounds are chasing the first set  - caught up in the excitement and frenzy of the pursuit. After a time, however, the second set of hounds loses interest and drops out of the race. Why? Because they do not have a clear vision of what they are chasing - they have not encountered the fox.*

If we liken our spiritual journey to a fox hunt - we need to examine which category of hound we fall into: the first set who have encountered Jesus personally or the second set who have not "seen" Jesus for themselves but are merely following others who have. 

Many of us begin the journey in the second category - we may hear a powerful testimony, or be inspired by a family member or friend's conversion. In some cases we may be part of a vibrant faith-filled community and enjoy the camaraderie and fellowship that brings. Perhaps our spiritual life is largely cultural  and we participate because it is a tradition and expected of us. We may be drawn to a spiritual leader - a priest, or preacher who touches our heart.  None of these motives are wrong in and of themselves, but ultimately all of them will be insufficient if we do not personally encounter the Lord Jesus himself.

In the story of Jesus' dialogue with the woman at the well in John's Gospel, we read of how this encounter touched the woman's heart so powerfully that she immediately returned to the town where she was considered an outcast and boldly proclaimed what Jesus had done for her. The townspeople were intrigued by her testimony and they invited Jesus to remain with them for two days. The passage concludes with the townspeople telling the woman: “We no longer believe because of your word; for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world.” (John 4:42)

In the span of two short days, the townspeople moved from wanting to meet Jesus because of the woman's testimony to believing in him because they had experienced him for themselves. The went from being the hounds who chase the other hounds, to the hounds who chase the fox.

How does this encounter occur? For the townspeople, and the countless others in the 2000+ years since them - the first step to a personal encounter with Jesus is hearing someone else share their story of what the Lord has done for them. Personal, humble, honest witness is the single most effective evangelization strategy there is. But it doesn't end there. The next essential step, which John's Gospel tells us that townspeople took, is to invite Jesus to stay (John 4:40) and to hear him for ourselves. (John 4:40-42) This second step of personally inviting the Lord to "stay" is an ongoing process. None of us can keep up the pace of the spiritual fox hunt without encountering the Lord on a daily basis in prayer, in the sacraments, through the scriptures and in silent meditation. Without this we will quickly slip to the back of the pack and eventually out of the race altogether. Instead we must daily ask the Holy Spirit for grace to see the Lord and to stay with him in order that we, like St. Paul might boldly declare at the end: "I have finished the race; I have kept the faith." (2 Tim 4:7)

Friday, April 4, 2014

7 Lessons From Teaching My Children To Pray


Pope Francis tweeted the following earlier this week: "Dear parents, teach your children to pray. Pray with them." My husband and I are parents to an 11 year old son and a 9 year old daughter and over the years we have learned many lessons in trying to teach our children to pray. We are by no means experts at this and we certainly do not have it all together, but the lessons that we have learned, we gladly share.

Kids thrive on routine. 
For our family, one of the best things we ever did when it came to bringing our children to Mass was to set up a routine when they were just babies. Sunday mornings meant pancakes, baths, 12 Noon Mass and a trip to Dunkin Donuts. We have stuck to that routine almost without exception for more than 10 years. The routine helps them know what to except and gives little wiggle room for objections (which is not to say that those don't happen from time to time). Our persistence in struggling through years at Mass with crying babies, hungry toddlers and fidgety pre-schoolers is finally beginning to pay off - we now leave Mass and have family discussions about the readings and Father's homily. Alleluia! (sorry, I know it's Lent - couldn't help myself). 

Everybody loves a special occasion. 
The life of the church is filled with special occasions and we have brought our children to them all from the solemn celebrations of Holy Week, to the Easter Vigil, to Corpus Christi Processions, to Ordinations, to Eucharistic Adoration and Benediction and more. At all these special events, I find myself so grateful for our Catholic faith which engages all five senses in worship. Worship which engages all our senses is worship that children can and should participate in. My children are riveted by the smells and the bells and the chant that goes on during Benediction. Their jaws were on the floor as they watched the candidates for ordination prostrate themselves in prayer. They love being able to lead the Corpus Christi procession with other children, dropping rose petals as they go to make a footpath for the Lord. Do they fully understand the nuances of everything that is happening? Certainly not, but as the years pass and we continue to bring them, they are growing in their understanding.


Take them to church during off-hours.
My children praying
before the tabernacle.

Going to church off-hours is a great way to introduce children to the richness of a Catholic Church while allowing them the freedom to explore and ask questions without disturbing anyone. My children and I have spent many afternoons walking through our parish church - looking at the Stations of the Cross, talking about the saints depicted in the statues, sitting in the confessional discussing the details of the sacrament and role playing in preparation for their first confessions, and praying before the tabernacle. As Catholics, our churches have a wealth of visual appeal which children (and adults alike) find fascinating. Giving them the time to soak it all in is a great way to enhance their ability to connect with their faith in a tangible way.


"Singing is praying twice."
St. Augustine's famous quote seems especially true of children, who love to sing joyfully to the Lord. Christian music provides one of the greatest catechetical tools out there for teaching our children how to pray. Car rides, rainy days, play dates and more all present great opportunities to pop on a fun, catchy CD on and let our children sing and dance to the music. By far my children's absolute favorite CD's are the CatChat series entitled Amazing Angels and Super Saints available through Lighthouse Catholic Media. (forgive me for the shameless plug!)


Read Bible stories and the lives of the saints out loud.
Children love to be read aloud to. Reading aloud provides great family bonding time and allows the children to use their imagination to visualize the stories they are hearing. I have been reading Bible stories and the lives of the saints out loud to my children from the time they were infants all the way up to the present day, where we begin each school day with me reading a Bible passage or saint book out loud while they snuggle up next to me on the couch. I am always pleasantly surprised by how much the children retain from these read-aloud sessions and how, over time, their questions and the subsequent discussions we have had about our reading has grown and matured. Of course, an added bonus is the amount I have learned through our readings!

Over the years, I have greatly benefited from all the leg-work that Jessica over at Shower of Roses has done to create extensive book lists of saint books for children of all ages. Head over there for some great book suggestions to celebrate the Church's feasts and the feast days of the saints.


Encourage a dialogue with the Lord.
As adults, we know that prayer is a dialogue. We speak to the Lord and then we must take the time to listen to him. Children likewise need to be taught this. From when they were old enough to speak, we have encouraged our children to pray in their own words, offering their simple petitions and words of thanksgiving. When we pray a family rosary, we ask them to state their intentions. As they have gotten older, we have come to know the concerns of their hearts through these intentions. We have also taught them to pray over each other and us, again using their own words and asking for blessings for the person they are praying over. I was brought to tears one afternoon when I was not feeling well to wake up from a nap to find my children with their hands on my head asking the Lord to heal me.

For our children's First Reconciliation we gave them a gift of their own Bible and journal and have coached them to use their journal as a way to speak and listen to the Lord. At the beginning their journals consisted of little more than "I love you Jesus" written in 7 year old print. Over time, however, they have evolved into profound prayers of surrender and adoration. Through reading the scriptures on their own and journaling they are engaging in a personal dialogue with the Lord that is independent of us. 

Sometimes praying with your children is a near occasion of sin.
As I said at the beginning, our family certainly does not have this all together and sometimes, praying with our children is one of the most frustrating and exasperating tasks of the day.  I have already shared my tale of woe in our daily attempts to pray the Angelus here. Our struggles don't end there. We have had our fair share of battles over what constitutes appropriate Sunday dress. Our family evening rosary is generally preceded by 10 minutes of whining about why we have to pray a rosary. Perhaps my favorite of all is the comment: "I don't need to go to Confession, I never sin." (almost always said immediately after attempting to slug one's sibling). Family life is messy and complicated - we should expect that family prayer will be the same. Still, as parents we are responsible for teaching our children the ways of the faith - this is a promise we make at our children's Baptism. And so, we persevere echoing the words of St. Paul as we go: "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." (Phil 4:13)

Please use the comments box to share what has worked for you in teaching your children to pray. As my children are approaching the Tween and Teen years, I would especially love to hear how your family's prayer has evolved during those years...

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