Worth Revisiting: Ash Wednesday!

Ash Wednesday Edition!

Today as we begin the season of Lent I thought that this beloved Catholic funny was definitely worth revisiting!  Beyond the obvious, when many of us have left with just a smear across our forehead, I see myself. (As a bit of perspective, I have actually corrected the cross of ashes on my forehead more than once in my life!) For so many years, I have let my own desire of perfectionism determine the outcome of success. It is a fruitless game of never fully being pleased. and where often the reason why we even tried gets lost in our own sense of pride.

True, this time of Lent is intended to work on those things in our life that distance us from God. However, we cannot do this solely on our own, nor were we ever meant to. Rather than seeking control, by forcing a square peg in a round hole, we are to allow God to chip away at our sins and challenges. To shape us in the true image we were always intended to be.

This is why I encourage you this Lent to:

  • Let go of who you think you once were, or who others have defined you to be to allow God to accomplish His work and what he wills within you. We cannot be transformed if we retain our old selves.
  •  Carve out space and time for both quiet reflection and dialogue.These next 40 days are a gift- an invitation to slow down, get away, and spend time with your heavenly Father. Jesus himself recognized the need to leave his everyday surroundings and daily to-do’s for clarification and direction. Yet, without ready access to a desert..we have to create the time and space in our lives apart from the noise.
  • Whatever you choose to do differently, agree to make it meaningful. If you decide to pick up a devotion this Lent, whether it be the rosary, adoration time, daily mass, Bible study, Liturgy of the Hours, or the Examen resist rushing through to check it off your list. Rather than passively going about this time be purposeful in seeking direction and unhurried in reaching a destination. Keeping in mind that our faith is a journey- one in which Our Father not only meets us but leads and indeed carries us home.
  • Oh, and don’t forget..

God Makes Beautiful Things Out of Dust!

Peace,

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So What Am I Attached To?

Though a seemingly simple question, the question of attachment is one which may unearth many layers. It also isn’t a matter of one and done, but most certainly bears continual, if not daily, reflection. But why, isn’t this a quick inquiry as to what is important in my life? And is it wrong to desire for or want to be attached to anything in life?

The short answer is no. We are by our very nature created to be in relationship with God and one another. Desires can be good and enable us to make the best use of our time here on this earth to grow in our love for God and all creation great and small. The important clarification here is to ask ourselves where are our dis-ordered attachments in our lives. In and of themselves any of these things may not be intrinsically bad, but our attraction towards and longing for them could very well be.

What is it that supersedes our pursuit of God will for our lives, or has begun to interfere with a genuine relationship with him?

The reason why this question is so challenging is that we are prone to convince ourselves about our own level of attachment or allocate culpability to friends, family and even God himself.  We, in a sense, look at our intentions rather than our actions themselves and determine our complicity or innocence.  St. Ignatius, is quite helpful here as he looks at attachment from three Christian perspectives with a scenario of newly acquired wealth.

With the first person, we have an acknowledgement that the desire has potential for temptation or ruin but the reflection goes no further. Unable to do some much needed introspection, this individual has no idea the effect of that desire might be in their own lives. It is merely a subject for debate. For the second person, they want to make God part of their already determined course of life and pray that he approves of how they use that desire. God is essentially asked to give his consent to a decision that he never was invited to be a part of in the first place, the co-pilot approach. Finally, with the third perspective we see that they admit that they are attracted to that desire and strive to become detached from it. Though they may never be completely free from that desire, they seek to become indifferent to an disordered desire and to know God’s will.

At different times in our life, we may be any one of these three or a combination, in varying degrees, with anything of value. Again, it isn’t that we shouldn’t have desires or  be joyful at the realization of a goal achieved. Rather, this pursuit cannot be at a cost to our relationship with Jesus Christ or God’s will for our lives. Is there a push for success at work, reward or recognition for even the most humanitarian of causes? Am I motivated by affection, dependent on praise and love outside of myself?  Mentally while we might understand that all human praise, wealth and success are fleeting, nonetheless we chase after the wave anyway.

Quite honestly, I can say that as a type A personality in reform, I have often been driven by the pursuit of perfection. Regardless of what it is, how long I have attempted the task, or lack of God given talent I have pursued the brass ring. While this is in itself a noble cause, I have come to recognize not the goal that God always intends. At times, I am being asked to help others to realize their dream or to learn important lessons in the process. Other times, I have discovered that there is a dire need to patiently await God to unfold his desire for me rather than try to force his hand.

Just order, then humbly places God first and everything in God’s hands. It requires inviting God, from the beginning,  to take the lead with whatever your heart desires. Recognizing that his plan for you is ultimately better, you acquiesce to becoming who you were created to be. And when on occasion that order is tested, it is prayerfully discerning how to detach and surrender once again.

“Father, you know me better than I know myself. Help me to release my stubborn willfulness and attachment to the things that get in the way of my love for you.  Enable me to learn to desire your righteous and holy will for my life. Allow me to see, even in small ways, where I need to let go and grow. All this I ask in your name, Amen.”

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: Thy Will be Done

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Lately these four words have spoken profound volumes in my life. With the busy fast paced work of collaborative parish life, my own vocation as wife and mother, and the decision of putting our own house on the market,there is such solace in this simple prayer. In an Ignatian practice of pause, time spent in contemplation of each word prayerfully leads us to consider what God’s word means for our lives today.

Thy

All that is within creation is God’s alone. From the smallest grain of sand to the tallest mountain, from the fiercest storm to the most placid waters it is all His and in His control. From the tiniest spark of life placed by the Creator, to the life nearing the end of its days- God is present and attentive to our cry.  In awestruck wonder I stand amidst it all and offer my gratitude both for the grandeur of all I see, but also for my place in His plan.

This week my cousin was fatally killed when struck by an automobile while crossing the street. His childhood was a difficult one growing up on the outskirts of Chicago, and he fell easily into a life of addictions as did his sister who died early of an overdose.On and off again homeless, he did have moments of stability but none lasted very long. With his mother and father now gone too from cancer, there were but a few that were close to him. Though he too, I believe, was loved dearly by his heavenly Father, he longed for that sense of belonging here on earth. The reported images of his passing, struck and laying dead in the middle of the road left me immediately heartbroken. Yet, how could I let my grief consume me when I know the certainty of the love and mercy of God’s embrace? He is Yours now Father. May his struggle here meet your joy and forgiveness, and may he know that he is truly missed.

Will

Here there is a beautiful recognition that God is God and I quite simply am not. Truthfully, I do not want my life to follow my own inclinations, despite my repeated attempts to persuade or otherwise take the reins at times.

This week in bible study we turned towards Genesis-walking in the peace of the Garden, and experiencing the pain of our disobedience and prideful use of will. Do we too desire to have the wisdom of God? Whatever would we do if we did? I do not know about you, but I haven’t always made the best decisions when I have acted on my own. What are the consequences even when we have achieved our immediate desire? The key can be found in the search itself- the longing for happiness.  So often, we look for happiness not eternally, but rather satisfy ourselves with temporary happiness. Those things which pacify us but disappear quickly are our forbidden fruit. In consuming them they give us a feeling of self-empowerment, and control and cloud the reality of our utter dependence on God.

Oh, Lord please help my will to align with Yours! Please make straight my crooked paths and set everything right when I have forgotten your loving ways. Though I do not know the way ahead, I trust that you do.

Be Done.

Release of the outcome to the One in control of it all is essential in a life directed towards God’s will. His time, His direction, His edits and our “YES!”. Are we saying yes daily but our more accurate response is a maybe?

As anyone who has gone through the process of selling a home can attest to..one wishes not only for a good price but for the pain to end quickly. Living in a constant state of readiness and cleanliness is a work of wonder with a family of boys and a playful German Shepherd. Only week two and I who began this quest in an open surrender am already petitioning God to walk the right family through our home. I know, that God’s answer might be yes..but it may be a no, or perhaps later. After we do all that we can do to prepare each day, what remains for each of us is for the resolve of the situation to “Be done”.

Reflect: How do we respond when situations are slower than unexpected, or end unfavorably for what we would have desired? Can we let God who has the big picture take the lead? If not, what could we do differently?

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: A Storyteller’s Guide to A Grace Filled Life

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In reviewing this book, I cannot help but share a bit about the storyteller as who he is leaps off of every page in a humble, open, sincere and unassuming way. No different in real life, Tony has a profound gift of engaging the heart, inspiring reflection and engendering friendship. Through his eyes we glimpse the lost, lonely and forgotten and through his words we are invited to see ourselves in each of these.

“Since we cannot do good to all, we are to pay special attention to those who, by the accidents of time, or place, or circumstances are brought into closer connection with you.” St. Augustine (p. 27)

Whether close to home, at table with our families, in our daily interactions with others  or in a prison cell… grace is a chosen gift to accept.

As Tony illustrates, grace touches not only the ones we are moved to be attentive to but it can renew our faith, restore our relationships, and change the course of our very lives. What is remarkable is that when encountered, grace seeks not to occupy a corner of our hearts but to consume it entirely. Through prison and homeless ministry, Tony relates time and again our innate need to feel loved, and be reminded of our self worth despite the circumstances we might find ourselves in. Grace calls our name, and provides the reassurance that God loves us regardless of the past and ushers in the hope of change.

Within the family, Tony is key to point out the cultural influences of today that pull us away from deep conversation and allow us to settle for shallow waters of accommodation. Sacrificing both quantity and quality of time we far too often miss out on the numerous grace filled moments that God desires to bless our lives with. And in prizing our own idea of self we neglect to honor or claim who God has created us to be in our varied vocations. To this Tony is not remiss in offering a bit of well earned and honed wisdom from the challenges he too has faced in life.

Yet, more than a prescription, A Storyteller’s Guide to a Grace-Filled Life invites the reader following each story to reflect on their own joys, sorrows, weaknesses and gifts to discover or re-discover grace. For grace does not expire, or cease but simply awaits our response to more fully be who God has created us to be. And our unique stories, as Tony so beautifully remarks not only “forms the fabric” for our understanding and struggles in our lives but also “become the glue that connects each generation to the next”.

A word of gratitude to my dear friend and fellow Catholic blogging evangelist Tony Agnesi who continues to share his “Grace-Filled” journey with the world. You are such a bright ray of hope and grace…Thank you for letting your light shine!

To hear an on-air conversation between Tony and I through An Engaging Faith, available on podcast tune in here .

Peace,

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In Search of Water

 Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” They came out of the town and made their way toward him. John 4:28

Growing up as a southern girl in a small town, where everyone knew everybody and all their business there wasn’t much that ever stayed hidden for long. Gossip tended to flourish even over the smallest insignificant things despite the Sunday sermon that preached against it.  And yet, there was a wide path of forgiveness, where amends could and would be made if you planned on becoming a lifer. Especially, if you belonged to the same church and came with either a contrite heart or with a reasonable explanation requesting prayers.

Church was known to be a place where reconciliation occurred not just between the penitent and God but with the community. Where you were encouraged to foster relations between Christ, neighbor and stranger alike refusing to let them fall. Moreover, by inviting a new friend you participated in a grownup Christian show and tell. Out of town relatives and those who had left other churches were considered indeed special as they were entitled to a warm welcome.

Now in an age where an event can not only make the evening news but is broadcast all over social media, it is no wonder why community reconciliation seems near to impossible. Likewise while you may know several repeat families at a particular Mass, the thought of inviting a new friend and introducing them is itself a foreign concept.  Thus, in a strange dichotomy, Church can be a place that is a solitary and isolating experience where the in club includes everyone but you.

Recently I encountered one such believer, who through no fault of her own had found herself alone and pitted against the world. Circumstances created by another had placed her family first and foremost in the center of the news. Due to the nature of the event, she could not help but feel judged and defined forevermore. However, now in need of help she knew of no where within her own community to turn. And “why would they?”, she questioned, for she did not have the bonds of neighbor or friend to call upon.

For this reason, her call for help involved a conversation with a church in a neighboring community whom she hoped would have a different perspective. Though, despite my best efforts to encourage her reach out locally, she had already resolved that help was unavailable. Whether or not her assessment was accurate, one thing became clear she needed someone she could trust to turn to. Someone, that is, who could see beyond the precipitous of the crisis providing mercy without scrutiny.

 “I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together.” John 4:35-36

While her story is highlighted here it is not a remote occurrence within our society or our churches. Quick to rush to judgment we often listen to the side that is portrayed without considering all of the victims of the situation. Even unintentionally we fail to provide the same merciful encounter with Christ that we are being asked to witness. Yes, “the fields are ripe” and there is much work ahead.

We who have “reaped the benefits” of the labor of saints long before cannot remain idle if we are to have a church community living the Gospel. Welcoming needs to mean more than a smile at the door… as Catholics it must entail an encounter with the real presence of Christ. That is, we must be willing to attend to the real needs of those around us, extending both hand and heart to the isolated, and disenfranchised. Each person becomes then more than a member but a profound witness to Christ alive in this world as well as the promise of eternal life.

Reflect:

Do I take God’s love and mercy for granted? Has my discipleship and witness become stale? Who might be in need of an encounter with the living Christ today?

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: Whose we Are

“What I think is more important than what others think..The more you trust my love the less you care about their (opinions). Remember, Eli said, you are special because I made you. And I don’t make mistakes.” You are Special, Max Lucado

As you reread these words again for a moment pause, and ask yourself if you could hear these words said by anyone who would you want for that to be? Truth is, from our very birth we have been created to seek affirmation and approval. The difficulty is that we choose, far too often, to seek it from all the wrong places. Am I smart, talented, pretty or successful? What is it that others see, and is that what truly makes me special?

In and of themselves these qualities are worthy to be appreciated, and yet they will never be the sole measure of our worth. For as we all know beauty fades, success wanes, and talents can come and go in an instant. Even the praise received by family, friends, and peers can quite easily be matched by criticism given time and circumstance. This is true too for quite the opposite. Some of the most creative minds in history have lived unnoticed quiet lives before their discovery. Prompting the world to ask , where on earth have they been?

So back to our original question, who and what are we living for?

As the youngest of three, with an incredibly beautiful sister and a successful brother ahead of me, I had decided to work on being the “smart one”. This was motivation for me to consistently aspire for the highest grade, receive recognition in the community, and be admitted to one of the top undergraduate schools in the nation. Pushing myself in this way for so long, there came the recognition that this was an endless pursuit that had not only taken a toll on me, but was no longer fulfilling. If it ever really was in the first place. There was so much more in life that lay unexplored including who I was at my core and had been created to be in this world.

While my faith had always played a substantial role in my life, somehow I had compartmentalized my interior and exterior life. Rather than approaching God to see who he wished for me to be, I was instead coming to God asking him to validate or not who others saw me to be. In doing so, I was not living like I was loved but in fear of the next critical word and anticipation of the next word of praise.  This has been, for me, a lifetime of reaffirming self discovery with God leading the way.

“You are special because I made you. And I don’t make mistakes.”

And still, what time and experience have revealed is the profound need for these words to permeate deep within the soul of every one of us in our lifetime. Yet, in order to do so we must keep our eyes and trust on him. It entails spending time with our Creator, and allowing him to remind us who and whose we are. The more often we do this, the less we care what others think whether good or bad in nature. We were created with and for an extraordinary purpose- the continual revelation of which has been, for me, an unimaginable source of true and lasting happiness.

Reflect:

Do I rely too much on the opinions or affirmation of others for an assessment of my self worth? How often do I seek God’s evaluation and affirmation in my life? 

Challenge:

Spend 15 minutes today in silence, free of distractions allowing God to remind you of your purpose and value.

Peace,

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To Guard Their Soul

 Prayer and fasting, worship and adoration, Scripture and sacraments and sacramentals all provide the weapons of our spiritual warfare. With them we go on the offensive against the Evil One. But the virtues provide our defense armor…They are our best defense against his attacks, for they guard our minds and hearts from his deceptions and temptations. ” Paul Thigpin, Manual for Spiritual Warfare

As parents, we instinctively prepare our children for every kind of weather, coach them on the right attitude on the field and off, all in order to keep them physically and emotionally safe. Yet are we talking to our children about their spiritual journey with the same level of preparedness? Let’s face it, their minds and hearts are just as vulnerable and less visible to the eye. And still each day they encounter innumerable decisions and temptations that propose a different or altered course for their lives.

These may come as an outright affront or more often as subtleties, small moral choices that go unnoticed. That is, until they don’t or they lead to a bigger decision in life.  Do I watch this video..and if I did, do I tell my parents? Do I join my friends in doing something I feel is wrong?  While we can never protect them from every danger, we can give them the tools to help guard their soul, with virtue.

 

  1. Fortitude (Courage) is the virtue that strengthens and emboldens when we face challenges and temptations overcoming fear and persecution.
  2. Justice is the virtue that entails resolute commitment to God and towards the rights and good of all persons.
  3. Prudence is the virtue of continual discernment of what is ultimately good in our lives and how to achieve it.
  4. Temperance is moderation of needed things and abstinence from things which are not needed.
  5. Faith is the virtue through which one comes to believes in God and in what has been revealed as true .
  6. Hope is the virtue that enables us to long for the kingdom of God and eternal life as our ultimate happiness. Fully aware that we could never achieve it alone but only through the Holy Spirit’s assistance.
  7. Charity (Love) is the virtue by which our love of God is above all, and through which we come to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.

Virtues, like riding a bike work best not with over-corrections but with balance. Likewise what is hard to teach in theory is best witnessed in the lives of others. Take the virtue of love for instance. Someone who is loving of others to an extreme may not see the value in caring for their self or their own self worth. Likewise without love for God or one another, we can become self-centered and distant from God’s will for our lives.  Depending on the age of the child the examples can be more detailed and applicable to what they see and hear around them.

Recently, my 13 year old son approached me about a headline that had made all the news. At the center of the conversation was the action that had now defined who that person was known to be. ” How do you think that this happened?, I asked, Do you think that this person just woke up and decided to commit this crime?”
“Maybe, but there were probably other things before this, he offered, “that led him to this point.”
“Hmm, I agree. Temptations and sin are not always big things, but add up and pull us farther and farther away from where God wants us to be. Much like a doorway,  we begin to allow more and more of what is evil to enter our hearts and lives.”
“But wait..St. Michael can defeat Satan, can’t we just ask him to go to battle for us?”
“The saints are ready to help us but God asks us to strive to grow too. Satan comes in many forms, not just the creature you see pictured with St. Michael. Simply put, Satan comes wrapped in any package that tempts and lures you to go against God’s will for your life or your ultimate happiness.”
“Even a pretty girl?”, he comically tendered.
“Especially a pretty girl!”, I quipped.

After a good laugh I took a few moments to talk to him about the virtues and how they provide a good defense in our lives. Using sports terminology, he readily understood that any good offense also required a good defense to clinch the game. This spiritual battle wasn’t just being waged outside of him, but indeed required his active participation. Now I had his full attention… and so did God.

Reflect:

Where is my armor weakest, and in what virtue might God be inviting me to grow the most?

Peace,

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