Each one, as a good manager of God's different gifts, must use for the good of others the special gift he has received from God. (1 Peter 4:10)

Archive for January, 2019


Psalm 116 presented me the other day with these beautiful words:

The LORD protects the simple; I was helpless, but he saved me.
Return, my soul, to your rest; the LORD has been very good to you. (Ps. 116, 6-7)

And a little farther on, just in case we are missing the point:

I kept faith, even when I said, “I am greatly afflicted!”
I said in my alarm, “All men are liars!” (Ps. 116, 10-11)

Praying with the Psalms can be a wonderful exercise in the kind of humility that comes from knowing Who God is and who we are. This kind of humility is grounded in the very wonderful simplicity of faith — faith gifted to us by the Holy Spirit in baptism and fed throughout our lives by Word and Sacrament.

But life, you say, is complicated! There is so much to think about. There are so many questions, questions without easy answers that require complex analysis. There are decisions to make all the time — big decisions with big consequences for my life. If I’m not careful, you say, I’ll get it wrong and the dominoes will start to fall.

And you know what? You’re absolutely right. Life is complicated, and so are the questions and issues we face every day.

The great blessing is that the period at the end of that sentence is not the end of it. The great blessing is that while life is complicated and filled with complex questions and issues and big decisions, faith is simple.

And faith is just what we need to deal with all those complexities and complications.

If we approach life as the psalmist describes in Ps. 116:10-11, we find ourselves in a constant state of something close to panic. We are “greatly afflicted!” and tormented by the deeds and misdeeds of all the “liars” around us, and the more we realize that we are pretty much powerless to fix all that, the worse it gets and the more frantic our thoughts become. We fall into the trap of thinking that if we don’t worry properly or sufficiently, we will never survive this train wreck we call life.

Let’s go back to verse 6: The Lord protects the simple. I was helpless, but he saved me. 

There. Take a deep breath.

How do we get to be “simple”? The answer is, I think, pretty simple in itself. Once upon a lifetime ago when I was coaching people in how to manage change in their lives, I taught the benefits of figuring out what we have control over and focusing our energy there. It seemed to me then, and it still does, that this is a fairly simple process — but it does require us to be honest with ourselves in a way that isn’t always easy.

We have no control over the chaos that the world puts before us every day. Zero. Zilch. Zip. Politics? World events? Corruption? Nope, no control. The boss at work? Fellow employees? Customers? Nope, their actions are outside our scope of control. Financial markets? Interest rates? Stock prices? Nope, way outside our wheelhouse.

God’s grace? His mercy? His love? I’m going to tell you right now, these too are outside our control. And for that we should be thankful.

Because here is where it gets very, very simple. The one and only thing we have control over in our lives is our own response to all of it. And if we can focus ourselves on one single, simple response, we find ourselves in a place best described by Ps. 116:7: Return, my soul, to your rest; the LORD has been very good to you. 

That response is faith — the faith that we were given in Baptism, the faith that the Holy Spirit works constantly to perfect in us, the faith that lets us take on any of the complexities and poly-gosh-awfuls the world has to offer, look them straight in the face and say to our Father, “I trust in You and in Your grace, mercy, and love.” And then living like you mean it.

When the world and its liars fill us with alarm, we have a place to turn. We are not stuck in a place where our only source of safety and peace is what the world out there offers — which isn’t much, by the way. When the world and its liars fill us with alarm, we go to our simple response — faith! — and we find that the Lord, Who is contant in His love and care, is very good to us.

I Can Live With That (2)

A few things on my mind this Tuesday morning, not the least of which is that I haven’t been here writing for about a week, and I’ve realized that that hurts.

It hurts because writing is, for me, a necessary step in my spiritual life. It is something I know I am called to do — to write about my faith experience and spiritual (hopefully!) growth — and it feels like a necessary step in my personal lectio divina process: After I read, reflect, listen, and respond, I have a specific need to write so that I capture what I just experienced.

Over the past week or so, I’ve dealt with some nasty virus issues and just haven’t felt all that well physically. And sometimes, instead of rising above that to choose how I’m going to deal with it, I give in to just a touch of self-pity and allow myself to sit around in the midst of a bunch of nothingness.  And that space, I have discovered, is a space where not much growth or good happens. And I didn’t write. I thought about it a couple of times, but I didn’t ever just sit down and ask the Holy Spirit to set me to the work.

So not writing, I have discovered, has a reverse ripple effect. When I skip this step in my day, it isn’t long before I find I’m shortening my prayer time; the time I spend in prayer begins to feel dry and rote, and there is less and less joy in it. Bottom line: when I’m not answering my call to write (and thus share!) about my faith journey, things start to become all about me again, and that is just never going to be something that ends well.

I find myself thankful, this morning, to have received the grace to pray deeply and honestly for a renewal of spirit.

The path to this grace was kind of interesting. This past Sunday, I was invited to attend a prayer meeting at a local charismatic ecumenical community. I went with family, and we joined friends who belong to this community.

We were just a little late — not an unusual thing when one of your number is a little one who needs her naps! And as we opened the door to enter the space, we instantly felt the enormous energy in the room. There were close to 200 people, all singing and clearly very deeply engaged in this experience. I’m not fond of being in the midst of large groups of people, but this crowd had such a positive vibe going! I joined in the singing, found it to be a very emotional experience, and listened carefully to the message. All around me I heard the murmurs as people prayed aloud between the worship songs.

Now, I’ve never been very outwardly expressive in my participation in music and prayer and worship. Raising my hands during the Lord’s Prayer at Mass is about as far as that goes for me; I’m just not very demonstrative. And usually when I find myself in a situation like the one Sunday night, I feel just a bit pressured about participating, and I also feel very uncomfortable because it feels unnatural, and then I feel embarrassed because I’m not joining in the outward expression of my worship (but not as embarrassed as I feel when I try to join in clapping or other rhythmic activities and find myself completely out of sync with everyone else — no sense of rhythm here).

That wasn’t the case on this Sunday evening. What I felt was that I was surrounded by a sense of peace and love and that it didn’t matter how or whether I expressed my participation in it. It wasn’t about me, it was about God — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — present in this gathering and working in each of us very individually. The response that engenders in me is stillness and listening, and sometimes deep emotion. And I felt perfectly at peace with my own responses. What made me so positive that God was at work here, and not just the personalities and expectations of people around me, was the deepening sense of peace that I experienced.

The young man who spoke at this meeting talked about “the baptism of the Holy Spirit,” and this is where I began to have some questions — questions I’ve been turning over in my head ever since. What I gleaned from his message is that in addition to our baptism with water (the baptism which makes us members of the Body of Christ), there is yet an additional experience, i.e., the baptism of the Holy Spirit, that we should both seek and expect.

My belief about baptism has always had its foundation in the words of John the Baptist in his encounter with Jesus at the Jordan River: “I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming….He will baptize you with the holy Spirit and fire.” (Luke 3:16) When we profess and proclaim our faith in the words of the Nicene Creed, we state our belief in “one baptism,” and the sacrament of Baptism is a baptism of water as well as invocation of the Holy Spirit.

So when I think deeper into this message about “the baptism of the Holy Spirit,” I become cautious. What it comes down to is that I don’t like calling it a “baptism.” And I don’t think it is a matter of semantics; if I believe in “one baptism,” as the Creed expresses, then I do not and should not spend my time casting about for another baptism.

Once I get past that boulder in the path, I love to think about inviting the Holy Spirit — as the expression of the love between the Father and the Son, and therefore the Triune God — to fill me. This is a way to a deeper experience of my personal relationship with God. This is a path to turning my life over to God more and more with each day I live it. This is a moment, a moment that offers itself constantly fresh, to forget about what people call it and just let it fill me.

Remember, I came to this prayer meeting at the end of a week of increasingly negative feelings and spiritual dearthand dryness. I went into it (before we opened that door and walked into the wonderful energy there) with a sort of jaded “Wonder what this is gonna look like? Will people think I’m weird if I don’t act charismatic?” attitude. The music and singing took me out of myself and my growing spiritual ennui, and the Holy Spirit used the deep emotions the music and singing evoked as a way into my heart…a heart that was in some danger of hardening itself, I think.

Thus it was, at the end of the young man’s earnest message, when he invited us to pray for the Holy Spirit to come and fill us so that we might experience this baptism, I closed my own eyes and prayed simply for the Holy Spirit to come and own me, to come and renew my spirit. I remembered the words of St. Thomas Aquinas, when Jesus said that Thomas had spoke well of him and offered Thomas whatever he might ask for, and Thomas, with simple eloquence, responded that Jesus was all he needed. And in my deepest heart, I expressed my own need for Him. I offered my complete trust in Him, without reservation, knowing that He walks with me through whatever this world might throw at me. I asked simply, and yet again, for the grace to hear Him when He calls — and for the grace to have ears that listen for Him.

I don’t know if I’ll ever experience what charismatics call “baptism of the Spirit,” or the gifts that they describe — healing, speaking in tongues, and the like — but of this one thing I am absolutely certain: The Holy Spirit is with me daily, active in my life, and willing to drive my intentions and my actions and my words as long as I am open to Him and trusting in Him.

I can live with that.


Be the Tree

No, this isn’t going to be a 1980s transcendental meditation piece or some flavor-of-the-month motivational bit. Hang in there with me, and you’ll see.

The morning prayer for today in Magnificat presented me with these words from Psalm 52:

I am like a growing olive tree in the house of God.
I trust in the goodness of God for ever and ever.
I will thank you for evermore, for this is your doing.
I will proclaim that your name is good, in the presence of your friends. 

 Word by word, my prayer time took me deep. Here I am, in God’s house. I’m planted here like a growing olive tree! That is, I’ve taken root. Here I have all the nourishment — light, water, food, knowledge — that I need for growth. Here I am constantly tended and cared for, cherished, my best features enhanced in all ways. Here I trust fully that all of these things will always be present for me — not just present, but abundant. There is no need for me to look for a good place to establish myself, because everything is here.

I am like a growing olive tree in the house of God. Content to stay here where my nourishment is constant, I grow and grow. And where does that take me? Think of what the olive tree was to the Jewish people: in its fruit they found food; in its oil they found a source of light, of heat, and of healing; once it had passed its useful life as a source of fruit and oil, they found its wood a source of items both useful and decorative for their homes and their daily lives.

It seems to me that if I am content to be like an olive tree growing in the house of God, and trust that I will have everything I need to grow into my best self, then I can be a source of good things to the world around me. I am, in God’s Spirit, a way for others to find nourishment, light, warmth, healing, and perhaps even things both useful and decorative in their lives.

By letting myself be and become who and what God not only made me to be but intends me to be — by trusting Him fully with that process and making myself completely available to Him — I find a wonderful vulnerability to God’s presence and His working in my life. It’s a wonderful vulnerability, because it requires me to give up my hold on all those things that I thought afforded me safety and security in this world and place my trust entirely on Someone I can’t see or touch, Whose Presence is yet no less real because I find it solely in faith.

A tree — especially an olive tree, left to its own devices, will grow quite haphazardly. A limb shoots off this way or that; another branch finds its growth impeded and thus withers, yet continues to take nourishment that other branches need for their own growth. Left alone, the tree grows without purpose and without care as to the best way to perform its function. The withered branch, taking nourishment, nevertheless produces nothing; the errant branch produces fruit that may fall into other hands or fall uselessly to the ground; some of the branches produce too many leaves and not enough fruit, depending on how these branches have used the available nourishment. Every now and then, some of the branches produce wonderful fruit.

But in the hands of the best gardener, each olive tree gets pruned and shaped to make the very best use of available nourishment, light, and water so as to produce consistent fruit; every branch has the right balance of foliage and fruit production; when a branch is no longer producing, it is pruned and what’s left finds its best use.

I think it’s that way with us. When we rely on ourselves and seek our own desires, we’re likely to grow in unreliable ways, and we won’t produce our best spiritual fruit. Oh, but when we allow ourselves to be the olive tree — to live in that wonderful vulnerability, trusting God to bring us into our best selves, allowing ourselves to depend wholly on Him for everything we need to grow and thrive; when we have our roots solidly in God’s house, we are free to let His care guide our growth. And when we exercise that freedom, oh, when we let Him have His way, then we become fruit and light and heat and decoration to everyone around us. And if that is not a reason to sing His praises, to thank Him always, and to proclaim the goodness of His name, then I don’t know what would be.

Abba, Father, let me be like that olive tree, rooted firmly in Your house and looking only to You for my care and tending and all that I need. Let me be like that olive tree, producing the fruit and oil with which I can serve You in all the ways You direct me. Let me be like that olive tree, Father, providing for all who come near it a source of good and a way to come closer to You. I trust in You, my Father — to You, I entrust my roots, my branches, my very self, in the faith and certainty that You not only know what to do with me but will, most lovingly and mercifully, lead me according to Your will. I ask this one small thing, Lord — I ask the grace to see and recognize Your will as it is done in my life. Amen.


That’s Not How Any of This Works

This morning’s early Mass drew me into such a beautiful state of reflection, peace, and closeness to Jesus — definitely what a spiritual director would term a “consolation.” It began with the penitential rite at the beginning of the Mass. When I bowed my head and closed my eyes and thought about how sin separates me from Jesus, I prayed for mercy and forgiveness, and I thought about how hard it can be to avoid sin; and then I remembered to listen.

And when I listened, there He was. I felt that what He wanted me to know this morning is that He will always be right beside me, ready to help me if I will just turn to him. And for the rest of the Mass and through Holy Communion and all the way home, I carried the warmth and feeling of His closeness. As I prepared breakfast, I thought probably writing today’s blog post would be a breeze, because my heart was so full.

So why is it that when it came time to pour that last cup of coffee and sit down to write, I felt nothing? The place my words usually come from was dry as dust, and the lovely wonderful feelings I had enjoyed during Mass seemed about as far from me as they could possibly be and still be remembered.

When I sat down at the laptop and put my fingers over the keyboard, I felt a bit like the youthful pianist who, having memorized her piece for the recital, sits down to play for the audience and finds she has forgotten every note, even the beginning note; there is nothing to play. The channel from my mind to my fingers seemed to be closed. There was no feeling, there were no magical words, there was nothing with which to begin.

Although patience is not my strong suit, I sat patiently for a few moments and tried to let myself be open to the Holy Spirit. Quiet. Listening.

The title to this post is what came to my mind.

That’s Not How Any of This Works.

This spiritual life does not form and work at my command, and it most certainly does not have its foundation in my own will or in my feelings about what I am doing or experiencing.

I realized that once again, I had allowed myself to be drawn into the idea that this was about me. And if it’s about me, then it needs to be loaded up with feelings and a sense of satisfaction that I am doing these things. If it’s about me, it needs to come with rewards and needs to have all the bells and whistles.

And it’s not about me. It doesn’t originate with me. I don’t create this spiritual life, and I don’t make it go. It doesn’t run on feelings, whether those feelings take the form of consolations or the dryness of dust.

As a frail, weak, sinful human creature, I really want things to be about me. I would really love to let myself be addicted to the lovely feelings so that even the act of craving those feelings would make me feel like I am getting somewhere.

This spiritual life doesn’t originate with me, though.  That’s not how any of this works. The spiritual life originates with God; it’s entirely about Him and grows from His Word and develops by the urgings and whispers of the Holy Spirit. What a skimpy and unreliable life it would be if it came only from my limited and weak capacity and relied only on my ability to feel something. If I were to rely solely upon my own capacities to live this spiritual life, it would dry up and blow away like the dust.

This spiritual life isn’t about me or my abilities or my feelings. It is about God loving me and pursuing me and wanting me to be His child. It doesn’t arise from me, and yet it is intensely personal — because it is very definitely me whom God pursues and calls and loves by name. It requires of me only the willingness to be open to Him — to invite, to listen, to welcome; that much, and I cannot help but do what He asks.

Oh, my Father, thank You for leading me here. I desperately need Your grace to keep me listening and to keep my heart open to the promptings of Your Spirit. Please lead me so that I always turn to You when I am tempted, so that I am always open to Your pursuit of my soul and to Your love and care for me. Then, dearest Father, then use me in whatever way You want to use me for Your honor and glory. 



Psalm Reflections: Ps 143

A few posts back, I talked about some writing I had done back when I was with the Sisters of Christian Charity as a student and a fledgling religious. This writing came from reflecting on some Gospel stories as well as on the Psalms, and then writing about my reflections by restating, for lack of a better word, what I had read. I knew that a certain amount of imagination was involved in these restatements, and it was very important to me that I remain true to the core of the scriptural passages. Rather than becoming flights of fancy, these written reflections seem now to be very similar to the Ignatian manner of meditative prayer in which one imagines oneself in the moment that is captured by the passage, with a touch of Lectio Divina thrown in.

I recall being a little afraid of showing these writings to my directress; since our rules placed her in a position of pretty much total authority over her young charges, show them to her I must.

To my great surprise, the work I had done received praise and even was selected for some of our mealtime spiritual reading (one of our group always read aloud from some spiritual work for the first half of our mealtimes); not only that, I was encouraged to continue with this work.

When I left the convent, I left this small body of work behind, and I really don’t mind that. I’ve never felt very proprietary about my writing; what’s important to me is that I use the act of writing to share whatever thoughts and ideas might be helpful or useful to others.

Now, 50+ years after leaving, I find myself drawn to continue that work. So going forward, some days you will find a “scriptural reflection” here; other days, you might find a post about something triggered by other readings, a homily, or one of those nudges the Holy Spirit provides every now and then.

Today, my morning prayers led me to Psalm 143, one of the penitential psalms.

In my heart, I know that God is faithful and just and righteous. And so He deals with me in my many sins and faults and imperfections; He calls me to be like Him, He calls me out when I fail, and He forgives me when I have fallen. Why, then, do I still sin? 

With David, I realize that I am surrounded by the enemy, and the enemy does not love me. The enemy is immersed in self-love and does not desire my good. The enemy draws me away from what I know is good and tempts me with all kinds of things. The enemy promises light but delivers darkness, and by myself I am helpless. 

But here is what my God tells me: He is faithful, and I am not alone against the enemy. He is faithful, and He hears me when I ask for help. I know this, because He has answered me whenever I called to Him. Why, then, do I fail to call on Him in all circumstances? Why do I miss the opportunity to bring everything to Him? When I remember His goodness and how He has always saved me in the past, when I recall the way He has faithfully drawn me back to His own side out of the deepest pits I had fallen into, when I think of how He has always fogiven me out of His love and mercy — then I remember to trust Him, and I ask for grace to trust Him completely. 

The Spirit He sends to guide me is kind and gentle, not rough and demanding and loud like the enemy is. Let me be still in my mind and calm in my heart, so that I can hear His voice and feel His promptings. Let me reach for Him and live in the certainty that He loves me and will show me the path He wants me to walk. 

In His very faithfulness, He came to earth Himself in human form so that I, in my weakness, would have a clear model for my life. He loves me, He leads the way, and He showers me with the grace to follow. 

It’s all there. I need only reach out to Him and earnestly desire to grasp it. When I think of how He loves me, my one desire is to follow Him and serve Him. The enemy is subject to Him. When my trust is fully in the Lord, the enemy has no power over me. No matter what happens, I can turn to God, and in Him is all the strength I need. He gives me life — only He, and no other. 

Psalm 143:

A psalm of David.

LORD, hear my prayer; in your faithfulness listen to my pleading; answer me in your righteousness.

Do not enter into judgment with your servant; before you no one can be just.

The enemy has pursued my soul; he has crushed my life to the ground. He has made me dwell in darkness like those long dead.

My spirit is faint within me; my heart despairs.

I remember the days of old; I ponder all your deeds; the works of your hands I recall.

I stretch out my hands toward you, my soul to you like a parched land.

Hasten to answer me, LORDfor my spirit fails me. Do not hide your face from me, 
lest I become like those descending to the pit.

In the morning let me hear of your mercy, for in you I trust. Show me the path I should walk, for I entrust my life to you.

Rescue me, LORD, from my foes, for I seek refuge in you.

Teach me to do your will, for you are my God. May your kind spirit guide me 
on ground that is level.

For your name’s sake, LORD, give me life; in your righteousness lead my soul out of distress.

In your mercy put an end to my foes; all those who are oppressing my soul, 
for I am your servant.

Is Faith a Crutch?

Those of us who grew up Catholic and went to high school or college in the 1950s and 1960s lived in a world where “faith” — for the person who had it — often consisted primarily of adhering to the rituals and rules of the Church and reciting memorized prayers. That isn’t to say that people were not holy or that they lacked in belief; however, the practice of faith was more a behavior and less a response for many people.

We also grew up with another experience, particularly if we went to public schools and/or colleges: We were bombarded with the popular Marxist claim that “Religion is the opium of the people.” Surrounded by a secular world, we were constantly chided for seeking comfort in anything not defined by our own strength. We were encouraged to build ourselves up without reference to any need for a spiritual foundation. To have, and practice, religious faith was to — gasp! — admit to a level of human weakness that bespoke helplessness. Faith was a self-indulgent trapping for hapless humans who had not learned the reality of their existence and who failed to build their own strength.

I remember taking an economics class when I was in college; the professor, an avowed and proud Marxist, was fond of saying that there was nothing “wrong” with religious faith; the problem, he said, was that people let it take over their lives and lull them into a weakened state where they cannot deal with the world around them. He dismissed faith as a crutch that people used as a means of supporting their weakness and, as such, a practice that contributed to their weakness.

This morning, as I was returning home from the 6:30 a.m. Mass, I found myself thinking: Is faith a crutch? Is it indeed an opiate? Using the word “opiate” in these times of terrible and pervasive addictions and overdose deaths gives the old Marxist theory a truly terrifying connotation. So what about it?

My thoughts began to tumble over each other so fast that I had to grab a pen and paper before I even got my coat off so that I could jot some things down lest I lose them. And here is what formed itself in my mind as I considered the question.

Both the Marxist statement and our Catholic Christian view of faith (Marx calls it religion, but his meaning, in the longer version of the quotation, relates to the broader context of faith) are rooted in a pair of truths: We humans are weak creatures, and we humans fear our weakness and seek to cure it.

Where the two ways of thinking diverge, I think, is in what we should do about it. Marx says we should seek ways in which we ourselves can make ourselves stronger. Thinking that is rooted in faith says we should seek the one reliable source of strength — God, as He has revealed Himself to us — even as we acknowledge that we don’t have within ourselves the capacity to create our own strength against evil.

Now, my purpose here is not to foil the Marxist argument against faith; that’s for much smarter people. I’m going to say one more thing about Marx’s statement, and then I’m done referring to it specifically. It seems to me that the reference to religion/faith as the opium of the people is rooted in, and expressive of, a deep fear of the very weakness it seeks to cure. If we fear the weakness, it follows that we will flail about trying to escape it.

This is where faith proves itself in fact to be a crutch. That’s right. I said it. Faith is, in fact, a crutch.

It gives strength where our own weakness causes us to fall.

It provides assistance where we lack the strength or skill to move forward.

Used properly, it builds strength rather than supporting or encouraging weakness.

By myself, I am weak. I’ve proved over and over again that I’m simply not capable, all on my own, of being a good person. That is a truth for each of us that is both hard to admit and essential to finding our way to strength. As St. Paul taught, left to our own devices we are not capable of doing good: “For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want” (Romans 7:19).

The philosophy of the world is one of self-reliance, of building ourselves up with all of the things the world values so that in the eyes of the world we are “strong.” That path leads to all sorts of complicated questions and complex situations.

Not so, the life of faith. Faith is very, very simple.

Faith says: I believe. I believe in God. Everything I need or, in my life as a beloved child of God, could possibly want, flows from the Source of that simple faith.

The life we live in faith acknowledges our essential weakness, but instead of being based on fear, it is based on the trust that comes from that simple faith. It does not look for proof; rather, it thrives on that trust.

The life we live in faith is one where we are daily reminded of our essential weakness, but instead of groveling in it, we receive grace to turn to the one reliable Source of the strength we need.

The life we live in faith is Life Itself. In this life, we know that left on our own we would “practice the evil [we] do not want,” but we also know that in reliance on the Source of our strength, Jesus Christ, we can see and walk the Path to which He calls us. In the sacraments, He comes to us and infuses us with His own strength — so far beyond what we could ever summon from our own selves that it can’t be measured.

Yes, Lord, I am weak — and my weakness is a cause for celebration, because to heal it requires that I turn to You. By the grace of Your Holy Spirit, I rejoice in Your strength. Let me always see that in faith, I have the crutch I need to gain strength in You, the help I need to turn to You, and the Source of the strength I need to live the life of holiness to which You have called me. 

Renewal, and Discomfort

Sparky — that’s me — took a week’s hiatus from writing here in order to spend time caring for a wonderful little person while that wonderful little person’s parents were out of town for a mini-vacation. This tiny granddaughter of mine is the light of my life. She’s my renewal, my reminder that no matter what mistakes I’ve made in life I can always do better, and my chance to show that I can and will be a better person.

I very deliberately took a break from writing, because I did not want to settle in for a writing session and then feel put upon because she woke up or because she invited me to come and play with her or because she just wanted to tell me a story about something in her life.

The five days she spent with me were a wonderful opportunity to spend a significant amount of time putting someone else first, to devote myself entirely to her and her wellbeing and growth and to just love her and hug and snuggle. We didn’t get to do all the reading and storytelling and other activities that I had originally planned, because these plans we make are so often subject to the vagaries of life.

About halfway through her first night with me, she woke up about 1:00 a.m. and with little warning, threw up after drinking a signficant quantity of her milk. I had been asleep only about an hour, and when it happened I had to get myself wide awake and then take a second to figure out what to do. One complete change of crib bedding and pajamas later, after putting a towel down to protect the fresh (and only remaining) crib sheet, it became apparent that my angel was going to have trouble getting  back to sleep. We tried lying down in my bed together, but as soon as we dozed off she rolled off the edge. I didn’t know I could wake up that fast or move that fast! As horrified as I was, she was fine, and at this point — about 3 a.m. — she willingly went back to sleep.

We were both up before 7:00, and she seemed to feel all right, so we began trying diluted apple juice. Before long, she begged for milk. And in the midst of the relative chaos of her cousins’ arrival — one to spend the day, the other to spend a couple of hours before his late-start Wednesday at school — just as the boys’ mother was returning to take the older one to school, my sweet girl lost it again all over the kitchen floor.

I considered the fact that you haven’t really multitasked unless you are trying to clean up a puddle the size of Montana while trying to get a 7-year-old ready to get out the door and explaining to a 4-year-old why the 2-year-old threw up. I now know why I kept that supply of old dish towels and utility towels in the bottom drawer, and I now know I may be capable of just about anything.

And you know, as I mopped up for one and got outerwear on another and explained sick stomachs to the third, I gave thanks to my God and Father. I gave thanks that I could do and handle things that honestly would have put me over the edge not too many years ago. I gave thanks for the grace to be patient, to put these sweet children first, and to show them, first, foremost, and always, the love that helps them learn trust. I gave thanks that once again, God had showed me, in this most unexpected way of spending my day, exactly where He wanted me to be and exactly what He had for me to do in that time.

Wednesday is the day I always take care of this little one; the plan was for her to attend daycare as usual on Thursday and Friday. As the day went on, it was apparent that she had picked up yet another virus. Although her tummy got better, she had a cough and the kind of general malaise that tells you that going to daycare the next day is not a good plan. No fever meant that technically, she could go, but all I had to do was look at her to know that the best place for her was right here at Grannie’s house. And here she stayed.

On Friday, she did go to daycare. When we got there, homesickness set in, and it took some time for her to settle in. I gave thanks for the wonderful teacher who held her and comforted her and eased her into her day. I gave thanks that this little one has many people who love her and cherish her, and I gave thanks that at the end of that day, she would have learned that when I told her I would be back to pick her up, I meant it and kept my promise, and she would know how loved she is.

My five days and nights with this darling child flew by all too quickly, and I’m already looking forward to the next time her mommy and daddy need me to care for her for a few days so we can get on with the plans that her illness interrupted.

Any time I have occasion to count my blessings,my family is at the very top of the list. Yes,  my house is clean and quiet this morning; yes, I’m back to my routine, back to daily Mass and writing my blog and all the other things I do. The best part is that amid all that routine, and yes, amid the comfort of it, I’m ready to listen for where God wants me to go and what He wants me to do with each moment and hour and day, because I am firm in the knowledge that my greatest joy in this life is still to be in that place, doing what He calls me to do.

Tomorrow, back to the spiritual garden….

The Plan, and the Story: I Can Live with That.

Although I was raised in the Catholic faith, went to Catechism faithfully, and even spent several years immersed in the faith as a fledgling religious, I never understood salvation as a plan conceived by God for His beloved children; I never saw the Bible, in its integral essence, as the story of that plan.

It was not until the winter of 2015, when I attended a Bible study of several weeks’ duration, that I began to see salvation in this light and to explore the entirety of this plan and story.

Never mind that “Bible study” and “Catholic” weren’t actually used in the same sentence while I was growing up. “Bible study” was something our Protestant friends did, whereas we had our priests to explain all that. We really were not encouraged to read the Bible on our own. Thus it was something of a culture-shock, when I returned to the Catholic church after more than 45 years away, to find the parishes I attended offering all kinds of group Bible study. I quickly found myself newly immersed, and I think I may have learned more in the past six years than all the years before that.

The Bible study I attended that winter of 2014-2015 was based on a video series presented by Jeff Cavins, and it changed, profoundly, the way I viewed both the Bible and the way God interacts with His people. For the first time, I began to see thGod had a plan for redemption. Before I attended this study group, I had grasped the major points: Man sinned, heaven was closed, God sent Jesus to save us, Jesus died and then rose from the dead,at from the first moment of mankind’s sin and separation from God,  saving us and reopening heaven. With this Bible study, I could begin to see what God had really done. Cavins’ materials included a timeline for the story of salvation which puts and of its pieces into the context of world history, and it was fascinating.

Just as I was getting my mind wrapped around some of this new perspective, I led a small faith-sharing group as we explored a wonderful series on prayer. This was my first ever exposure to Lectio divina — literally, praying with Scripture — and once more, my spiritual life changed profoundly. As I explored, learned, and practiced lectio divina, I began to learn and understand the privilege and value of listening for God’s voice as I pray.

And out of all of this change comes growth. The more I grow in my spiritual life, the more I realize how much more nourishment my soul needs. The more I learn, the more I see there is to learn and know. The more I know, the more I am compelled to share. The more I pray, the more I find to pray for and about.

In the midst of it all, I am, every now and then, completely astonished — in what I’d like to think is a child-like way — at the new insights that present themselves.

This morning, I found that my focus in prayer needed to be on just being in God’s presence. I thought of Him turning and His face lighting up as I came to find Him and as He welcomed me. And then I thought of my soul simply settling in, leaning in to be close and know what it is that He wants for me today. Just being there. (This process is both simpler and more complex since my beliefs do not include a picture of God as a grand old man in white robes with white hair and a halo. As my life continues, I experience God more and more as a surrounding and encompassing and perfusing Presence, a Person without the need for physical traits…but that’s probably a different blog post.)

Anyway, while I was just being there with Him and listening, I began to think about the whole vast plan of salvation that is laid out for us, and how we, at this point in history, are the beneficiaries of the fact that this plan was completed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. And of course, I thought about the magnitude of God’s gift, that He sent His Son to take on human form and die for our sins.

That’s when it hit me. That’s when I stopped in my tracks, brought to amazement by the realization that what God actually did was give Himself to save us.

That is the essence of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are God. Three in One, One in Three.

I like to think that what God actually said, when He conceived of His plan of salvation, was something like, “My people have separated themselves from me by sin. I love them so much that I am going to give my very self to get them back.”

The mystery of the Holy Trinity is so very, very far beyond what I can comprehend. Human attempts to describe it or explain it come up short. But the faith to believe that mystery — that’s simple.

I believe.

And when Jesus came in human form to live and teach and die and rise again, He came not just as a man but as all of God.

The awesome, mighty God Who created and Who rules the entire universe came in human form to live and teach and die and rise again. Because He loves us.

That same awesome, mighty God Who created and Who rules the entire universe comes under forms of bread and wine to feed us with His own Body and Blood in the Eucharist. Every. Single. Time.

That same awesome, mighty God Who created and Who rules the entire universe knows my name, knows each and every one of His creatures by name and loves us all individually and personally. He sees us in sin, individually and personally. He forgives us and renews us in love, individually and personally.

“My people have separated themselves from me by sin. I love them so much that I am going to give my very self to get them back.”

I can live with that.


This morning, I spent a few minutes revisiting some reflections I wrote several months ago, and I came upon this one. In recent days, I’ve been thinking and writing about the Spirit’s gift of wonder and awe, and I enjoyed revisiting this piece that reflects how I’ve experienced it. I am amazed, daily, at how God pours joy and consolation over my living in faith.  Here is the piece:

During the Eucharistic Liturgy, just prior to Holy Communion, the celebrant holds up the Precious Body and Precious Blood, saying, “Behold the Lamb of God; behold Him Who takes away the sins of the world.” And we respond, like the centurion in Luke 7:6-7, “Lord, I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof; but only say the word, and my soul shall be healed.”

Lord, forgive me my distractions! But I see that most of us, kneeling as we are in the very Presence of Jesus Himself, do so with bowed heads and lowered eyes. In that manner we show our worship and adoration, I know; and yet I have such a clear recollection of a weekday Mass not so many years ago, when I knelt just so with bowed head and closed eyes and the words came suddenly and clearly into my mind:

“Look at Me.”

My head came up and my eyes opened, and I must admit that I wondered for a moment if someone had actually spoken the words.

And I looked at Him, and in doing so my heart was opened so widely to Him. My outpouring of prayer and adoration is met daily in that moment by such an influx of grace and mercy. That was the first time that I began to meditate on how it is that I can see with my human eyes only bread and wine, but in faith I have certainty that I am truly seeing Jesus. I am in His presence and He knows me by my name.

In this very sacred moment of the Mass, when we behold Jesus Who redeems us and Who will also judge us, we come to understand that He is the very Word that we ask Him to say so that we may be healed.

In this moment, we are asking:

Let the Word be spoken to us,

Let the Word be spoken in us,

Let the Word be spoken of us,

Let the Word be spoken by us,

Let the Word be spoken through us.

I do not know if I am capable of even a limited understanding of the wonder of this time in the Mass, when Jesus makes Himself present in these forms of bread and wine. I do not know if I will ever have the capacity to fully experience the joy and profound humility my soul experiences in His Real Presence. I do not know if I will ever have words to express the absolute wonder of this experience.

I do know that in these moments, He offers a clear invitation to us. He longs for us to come to Him, receive Him, be nourished by Him. This walk from my seat to the front of the chapel where I receive Him – and this walk back to my place, when He is truly present within me: These are the most precious and important steps I will take in my day. Here I receive the only gift that can truly satisfy every need.

Dear Jesus, my Lord, my King, my Savior, my Friend, thank You for coming to me in this most precious of sacraments. Thank you for this greatest of gifts. In receiving You I am nourished for the work You call me to do in this world. You come to me because You love me and long for me; please stay with me so that I may always know Your love and carry it with me for those I will meet throughout this day.

A Prayer for a New Year

My dearest Father, I went to sleep thinking about You last night, and while I was sleeping, You brought Your world into a New Year. And I woke up in this New Year feeling thankful and full of anticipation. 

This new year doesn’t happen — it never gets here — without Your love and grace. You are the God and Creator of the Universe, and the Universe is full of You and of Your glory. It is immense, beyond measure, and You are even beyond that. And still You love and care for and nurture Your people one by one by one, loving each for the unique self You brought into being in Your infinite wisdom.

Father, the more I know about You and how You love me, the more I want to know. And here I am this morning, looking ahead to this New Year You have given me.

Right here, right now, Father, I offer it back to You. I offer it in the same spirit of love and trust that Hannah offered Samuel back to you. What she longed for and prayed for and was granted, she gave back to You in love. I do the same with this new year. Take it, as You did Samuel, and please make of it a wonder of love and service and everything You want to accomplish through me. 

Father, in You I love myself and cherish each day that You give me in life. You love me enough to make me a part of Your plan of salvation. Let me live each day, and each moment in each day, the way a redeemed and beloved child lives. 

For myself, Father, my prayer is simple: teach me, please, to love and trust You so completely that I stay free of concern about things that don’t matter and remain free of mind and heart to listen for Your call each day, see You in all the people I encounter, and willingly serve You in all the ways You ask me to. 

Grant me the grace, please, to remember to offer myself and all that I do to You each day.

Make my work and all my actions in life a prayer, one that is given merit by Your own beloved Son’s redemptive act, and use it for all those inentions I pray for daily, especially for those suffering from addiction, mental illness, and physical illness, for the souls in Purgatory, and especially for all those on earth and in Purgatory who suffer and wait and have no one else to pray especially for them. I ask for Your healing power and for the grace that comes from the Holy Spirit to be poured out on them, their families, and their caregivers. I seek for them the grace to recognize Your healing and Your love, even when it comes in ways they are not expecting. Please let them feel the peace and comfort of Your hand on them, Lord. 

Dearest Father, I find my biggest challenge is in praying for this great country I live in and the world that surrounds it. Both are troubled, both are victims of greed and all kinds of other sin, and both seem, to the mind that does not know You, to be in a hopeless state. 

I know better, though. You are the One for Whom nothing is impossible, and Your Son is the One Who promised that whatever we ask of You in His name, You will grant it. 

And so I ask, Father, in Jesus’ name, that in this coming year You fix this world and this country that so desperately need Your love and grace. Speak in the hearts and souls of leaders, monarchs, elected officials, and self-appointed dictators, and pour Your grace on them so that they act in the best interests and for the good of the people in their charge. Please help and heal all who suffer as a result of natural disasters, and help all of us to become better stewards of the environment in this beautiful world You have given us. 

Grant that Your Holy Spirit may infuse the hearts of Pope Francis, the cardinals and bishops, all the clergy, those consecrated to religious life, and all those who teach and carry Your Word to Your people, so that they act in love and with moral integrity. 

School the hearts of Your people to stand against sin in all its forms and against Satan and all his blandishments. Give Your angels charge over us all to lead us and guide us and remind us of Your love, to keep us safe from both physical and spiritual harm. 

Lead Your people, Lord, through this coming year; lead them past all obstacles to true faith and trust. Lead them to fulfill Your plan for them, in Your infinite love for them as so many unique individuals. 

Lead Your people, Lord, to praise Your name for all to hear. Lead Your people to bear witness to You, for You and You alone are the Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier of all the world. 

Father, You love us each in such and intimate and personal way. Grant to each person the grace to deal with his or her doubts, struggles, issues, sins, and pain and to know the joy and peace that come with loving and trusting You. 

Father, on this first day of the New Year You have given us, we honor Mary, Your handmaiden who sought only to do what You asked of her; through the intercession of Mary, the Mother of Jesus and given by Him to be Mother of us all, and in the Name of Your beloved Son, Jesus, I ask that You hear and grant my prayer and that You lead me to pray always with my heart and soul and with my actions. Amen.

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