November 1st is All Saints Day when many recall their favorite saints. It is easy to place these virtuous men and women on a pedestal and think you could never achieve sanctity. Some people say, “I’m no saint” like it is an unreachable goal. The fact is that we are all called to be saints.
Saints are not flukes or the exceptions. They are the standard operating model for all human beings. We are ALL created in the image and likeness of God. We are ALL destined for greatness. Becoming a saint is to become fully who God intended you to be. As it says in Ephesians 1:4, “He chose us in Him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him.”
A lot of people think, I could never become a saint because I could never do all those amazing things that the saints did, and they sell themselves short, or more accurately, they sell God short. You do not need to do a humongous number of grandiose things to become a saint. You only need to do one thing…say YES to God and let Him work in you. This means taking the hands off the steering wheel of your life and letting God drive. Kind of scary I know, for God is “invisible” and we don’t know where He will navigate us. However, His plan for us is way better that what we have mapped out. For He makes crooked ways straight. (see Isaiah 42:16)
So, trust in God and know that you are a saint in the making. Yes, you! Saint You! For with God, all things are possible.
“What are we supposed to do?” This question arose recently in a small group discussion with some of my family and friends. We had decided to get together (via an online meeting) to try and make sense of the unsettling things that have been happening in our country and beyond. As Christians, we pondered the classic question of what would Jesus do? We knew prayer was a definite answer. In addition to prayer, we also felt a need for action.
And then someone brought up fasting.
Fasting? Lent is over!
This is summertime, and the living is supposed to be easy! But as we all know, things are not easy right now. Jesus spent 40 days in the desert praying and fasting in preparation for his ministry. Praying and fasting like Jesus will help us break our attachment to material things and will sharpen our spiritual focus. It will unite us as children of God in a unified goal of peace. And most importantly, it will draw us closer to God.
This summer, let’s go into the desert with Jesus and strengthen our soul for the spiritual battle that is taking place all around us.
Why fast and what is it?
Fasting is usually associated with abstaining from food or drink, although it can also be giving up comforts or luxuries. When you fast, you withhold something good for a time, which helps us to depend more fully on God. Deacon Sabatino Carnazzo of Mclean Va. explains fasting this way. It is “the deprivation of the good, in order to make a decision for a greater good.”
Jesus, as well as Moses, Elijah, St. John the Baptist, and many other holy men and women have gone into the desert to take part in the spiritual exercise of fasting. If it was good for them, it will be good for us.
Fasting has many benefits:
It helps us grow in discipline and the virtue of temperance
It breaks excessive or unnecessary attachments to material things
It engages us in a spiritual sacrifice in solidarity with Jesus (and others)
Along with prayer, fasting is a useful mode of self-reflection, contrition, and repentance
It is a powerful spiritual weapon to use against the tactics of the evil one
If you are interested in fasting as a spiritual weapon, check out this article.
INTO THE DESERT: A 40-day Summer Fast
In the current state of affairs, many are stressed out, worried and unsettled. People want to do something but don’t know what. Into the Desert: A 40-day Summer Fast is an opportunity to join your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ for a 40-day peaceful fast during these heated times.
To join the 40-day Summer Fast
Find at least one other person to take part in the fast with you
Discern what your fast will be
Consider offering this summer fast for serenity in our society
Make sure to focus on prayer too for the 40 days!
Suggested time: July 7 – August 15* July 7 is the feast day of Blessed Ralph Milner, a martyr for the faith August 15 is the feast of the Assumption
*If you read this after July 7, YOU CAN STILL PARTICIPATE. You can start now and finish on August 15 – you don’t have to do all forty days. Or, if you really want to do the full time, then count 40 days from whatever day you start to determine your finishing date.
FOOD- Fast from something you really love, like sweets, red meat, bread, wine, salting your food, whatever!
MEALS- Fast from snacking between meals. Or how about eating only one big meal per day and two smaller meals?
DRINK- Make water your only drink. No alcohol, coffee, tea, juice, milk, etc.
HOT SHOWERS- Fasting from hot showers during the heat of summer might not be as bad as trying this in the winter, but cold showers will surely be a challenge.
EXCESSIVE NOISE & DISTRACTIONS-Fast from listening to the radio or music or podcast in the car. (Good opportunity to pray instead) Turn off the TV when not watching.
SOCIAL MEDIA/NEWS FEED-Though it is important to stay informed of what is going on, you can fast from social media and news feeds by keeping your screen time to one hour or less per day.
THE SNOOZE BUTTON-Create what is called “The Heroic Moment” by getting up as soon as you hear the alarm clock. No hitting the snooze button. Say a prayer and immediately start your day.
If you have any other ideas, please share them in the comments below. We could all use ideas on how to make our relationship with God stronger.
A Prayer to Prepare Your Heart to Fast:
Dear Father, How priceless is your unfailing love. You have fearfully and wonderfully created us. You have ordained all our days and written them in your book before we were born. All your thoughts towards us are precious. We praise you because we are your handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, ones you have prepared in advance for us to do. We come before you today to humble ourselves before you, submitting to your will for our lives. Because of you, Father, surely goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our lives. Let us be devoted to living out your will on earth, to be more concerned with storing up treasures in Heaven than on earth. Lead us, Lord, in the way we should go. Direct our steps and fulfill your plans for our lives. Let our feet run swiftly to follow after you. In Jesus name, Amen. Prayer credit to Lynette Kittle at iBelieve.com
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
OK, for the small percentage of people who are actually born today (May 31st) this happy birthday wish might make sense, but the rest of you might be wondering about this joyful greeting. Today we celebrate the feast of Pentecost, also known as the birthday of the Church – not the church building – but the people who are the Church.
Christ promised his disciples that he would send the Holy Spirit to help them after he ascended into heaven, and on Pentecost, the birthday of the Church, they were granted the gifts of the Holy Spirit. These “birthday gifts” from the Holy Spirit were pretty amazing!
For example, Peter, who had been quietly waiting and praying in a room with Mary and the disciples, boldly came out after receiving the Holy Spirit and proclaimed with great zeal the truth about Jesus. In addition to that, the Holy Spirit gifted the disciples with the ability to speak in other tongues! Over three thousand people were baptized that day! For this reason, Pentecost is considered the birthday of the Church.
The cool thing is that the amazing gifts of the Holy Spirit are not just for the apostles, they are for us too! There are seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: Wisdom, Fortitude, Understanding, Piety, Knowledge, Counsel, and Fear of the Lord.
Heroic Character Traits
These seven “heroic character traits” are critical in the challenge of helping to spread the gospel – the good news – to all. They empowered Peter and the other disciples, and they can empower us too!
As Frank X. Blisard states in his article, The Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit, “the seven gifts are designed to be used in the world for the purpose of transforming that world for Christ. Isaiah 11 vividly portrays what these gifts are to be used for: to do what one is called to do in one’s own time and place to advance the kingdom of God. ”
So, we are supposed to do what we are called to do. That deserves repeating: Do what He calls us to do! (Yeah, I know…easy to write, harder to figure out and carry out.) We will have more success in accomplishing this task of spreading the kingdom of God if we use the gifts given to us. Tapping into these heroic character traits, the seven gifts of the Spirit, is imperative!
As baptized (and confirmed) Christians, we have full access to all these amazing gifts. The question is, are we an open channel for the Spirit’s gifts? Or do we close ourselves off to these gifts by our fear, low expectations, or worldly distractions? Do we think we can do this all by ourselves, and put the gifts away on a shelf? Or do we humbly ask for help as we “armor up” and go do His work?
If we take up arms by saying yes to God’s call and get out there to do the work assigned to us, these heroic character traits, these seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, are there to empower us. Blisard writes that “the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are our spiritual weaponry for the spiritual warfare of everyday life.” When you strive to live a virtuous life and take on the battle, the Holy Spirit endows you with these supernatural powers. Now that’s amazing!
So back to the birthday wishes. God in his inexhaustible love has great things for us, not just on Pentecost, the birthday of the Church, but every day! Let us pray and ask Him to bless us with these amazing gifts:
O Lord Jesus Christ Who, before ascending into heaven did promise to send the Holy Spirit to finish your work in the souls of your Apostles and Disciples, deign to grant the same Holy Spirit to me that he may perfect in my soul, the work of your grace and your love. Grant me the Spirit of Wisdom that I may despise the perishable things of this world and aspire only after the things that are eternal, the Spirit of Understanding to enlighten my mind with the light of your divine truth, the Spirit of Counsel that I may ever choose the surest way of pleasing God and gaining heaven, the Spirit of Fortitude that I may bear my cross with you and that I may overcome with courage all the obstacles that oppose my salvation, the Spirit of Knowledge that I may know God and know myself and grow perfect in the science of the Saints, the Spirit of Piety that I may find the service of God sweet and amiable, and the Spirit of Fear that I may be filled with a loving reverence towards God and may dread in any way to displease Him. Mark me, dear Lord, with the sign of your true disciples, and animate me in all things with your Spirit. Amen.
(Prayer from the Champions of the Cross Novena to the Holy Spirit)
I learned the beautiful prayer “Hail, Holy Queen” as an adult, by hearing it prayed by others in prayer groups and on EWTN’s broadcast of the Rosary. I’ve always thought of it as referring to the state of our life here on earth before we see Jesus in heaven (“…show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb Jesus…”). I see it in another light now because of the current COVID-19 pandemic. The experience of having my daily and weekly routines completely disrupted for the unforeseeable future is a modern form of exile that I never imagined would occur.
The fact that this “exile” is occurring during Lent adds a spiritual aspect that might not have been as evident during other times of the Church calendar or the year.
I recently participated in a Bible study of the prophets of the Old Testament, who lived before and during the time of the Israelites’ 70-year exile in Babylon. Today, we worry that today’s “exile” could last four or more months, even with all of our modern-day technologies and conveniences!
Perhaps those four months are the least we need to get back on track with God. The Israelites’ were without the Temple and the “Holy of Holies” during their exile. Maybe, for us, this time away from Mass and the Eucharist will deepen our longing for that “blessed fruit”, Jesus, and that we “may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.”
Hail, holy Queen, Mother of mercy, our life, our sweetness and our hope. To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve. To thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears. Turn, then, most gracious advocate, thine eyes of mercy toward us, and after this our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus. O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary. V. Pray for us, O holy Mother of God. R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
We are in a time when we cannot go to our normal place of worship and celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass with the rest of our church community. Yet the third commandment tells us that we are to keep holy the sabbath day! It has been suggested that we watch Mass online or on TV. This is a wonderful opportunity for the domestic Church (which is the family) to delve deeper into the beauty of the Mass.
Below are suggested tips for reverently viewing Mass from home. Be sure to read them all well in advance and have the children help get things ready. Most all the tips are very kid-friendly, and they will truly enjoy the Mass much more if they help prepare!
1. All on Board
First, discuss with your family members when you will all come together for Mass. Keeping with your family’s normal routine would be ideal, so a good idea is to choose a time close to when you would ordinarily attend Mass on Sunday. However, if you decide to watch a live stream, then your time frame might need to change. Online Mass links are at the end of the article. Another option is to watch a televised Mass. EWTN broadcast theirs on Sunday at 7:00am, 11:00am and 6:00pm, as well as every day of the week.
2. Technology Check
Check out the different options for watching Mass and see what best fits your family. Of course, viewing on a bigger screen would be ideal versus using a phone. Do a test run sometime beforehand to make sure all is good to go. Trying to figure things out right before you are scheduled to watch can really take away from the atmosphere of reverence that you are trying to establish. This is also a good time to print out the readings for the day and the Mass responses if you would like to follow along during Mass. Once again, links can be found at the end.
3. Prepare the Worship Space
Choose a space where you would have a good view of the screen and where you can set up some chairs to make a pew or two. Yes, resist the temptation to lounge on the couch or the recliner! You should not be so comfortable that you are tempted to fall asleep during Mass. (Is that why the pews are so hard in church?) Remember we also kneel and stand in Mass, so make sure you have enough space for that.
4. Set up a Home Altar
Somewhere close to the viewing screen, set up a small table. A simple TV tray would work. This is Lent and the liturgical color is purple, so put something purple on your home altar. A scarf, a t-shirt or even a purple piece of paper. Then put an unlit candle on or two on the altar. How about a crucifix? Maybe some spring flowers that are sprouting up in the lawn. This is a step that you can definitely let the children do – and the home altar can stay up all during Lent and into the Easter season! Just be sure to change out the purple color to white for Easter.
5. Shortly Before Mass
Dress up! Put on the nice clothes that you would normally wear when traveling out to go to Mass in your church community. This is a special event, so don’t wear your pajamas, even though you are in the comfort of your home. Make sure all distractions (phones and other electronic devices) are turned off and put away. Toys should also be put away. “Arrive” at least 5 minutes early before the viewing is to start. Have the children light the candles on your home altar. Spend some quiet time in prayer.
6. During Mass
Actively participate! Sing the songs, say the prayer responses. Stand, kneel or sit at the appropriate times during Mass. Make sure to hold hands during the Our Father and share a kiss of peace with each other. That human touch is important during this time of social distancing. Resist the temptation to talk or get up and go to the bathroom. Act as if you were truly in the large church building with others around you and quietly and reverently take part for the entire hour.
7. After Mass
Donuts? Breakfast Tacos? Go to Grandma’s? Try to do whatever you normally do after Mass on Sundays. It might mean making your breakfast tacos or donuts at home if you normally go out for those things. You could Skype Grandma for a visit. Make sure to include time to discuss the readings and homily. Also get feedback from all family members as to what went well or what might need tweaking for your next home viewing of the Mass, for this might be the new norm this for a while.
Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston Prayer in the Time of Coronavirus:
Comfort us, O Lord, for we are like your disciples on the storm-tossed seas, unsettled by what lies ahead. We turn to You, our Healer and Guide, to still our hearts in our time of need and hear our prayer: Heal those who are sick with the coronavirus and protect the elderly and most vulnerable. Give strength to all who tend to our health and wisdom to researchers who work toward a cure. Open our eyes and hearts, as you did during Hurricane Harvey, that we may look beyond our immediate needs to care for others who need help. Through the Holy Spirit, guide our leaders to make wise decisions for the welfare of all the people they serve. Grant eternal rest to those who have died from the virus. May Mary, Our Mother, who has heard our pleas in the storms of our lives, intercede to her Son, that we may find healing and a prompt end to this illness. Mary, Star of the Sea, pray for us. Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Savior, heal us. Amen
“Mmm….just right!” your mouth tells you as you take a sip of the perfect latte, cappuccino, coffee, hot tea or whatever you start your day with. But if there’s too much sugar, not enough cream, or the temperature is too cold or too hot, it can throw a wrench in the works. You mumble & grumble and pour and stir until you get it just right. How do I know? Because I find myself scrupulously preparing my cup of morning brew!
We live in a society that tends to gratify our every desire. And we are inundated with soooo many choices in which to indulge ourselves. “Go ahead,” they say “You deserve it!” And a lot of times you are looked down upon if you try to exercise a little self-control and temperance.
Here’s a thought: Make a conscious effort to break your normal routine. It can be as simple as skipping the sugar in your coffee or having carrot sticks with your sandwich instead of chips. Yes, it is a sacrifice, but giving up something you enjoy is a sign of love. And what the world needs now is more love, NOT a perfect cup of latte.
May you have a love-filled and spiritually productive Lent!
This post was previously published on February 13, 2017
A humongous box of firecrackers? A kitten in a basket? Those gifts may be unusual, but they are nothing like the very unusual Christmas gift I received from my parents. My parents’ very unusual Christmas gift was something that can’t be packaged and tied up with a string. They gave it not only to me but to my siblings as well. It was not something that we touched, but something we experienced. The very unusual gift that my parents gave was that of a slow Christmas.
Just what is that?
I’m glad you asked. A slow Christmas is the opposite of a chaotic Christmas. For most people the holidays are hectic. A frenzied rush of trying to get everything done. This frantic mode seems to permeate everything we do from shopping for presents, to decorating the house, to cooking holiday treats, and opening gifts. The hustle and bustle of getting ready for Christmas can easily cause us to miss the true importance of the holiday. My parents’ slow Christmas helped us to have a deeper appreciation of this special day.
Here’s what it was like:
I can still see it. The sheet that my parents hung in the opening to the living room to hide where the tree and presents were. It was Christmas morning and Christmas Mass came first. It was hard, knowing that all our gifts were right there ready to be opened and played with, but we were not allowed to go in and look. The slow Christmas had begun.
After Mass, my parents knelt and said extra prayers as they always did after Mass. I knelt too, trying to pray, but my mind kept wondering what was behind that sheet. If I prayed, it was probably that my parents would hurry up and finish their prayers.
The family had to be fed when we got home, so mom warmed up her cherry nut bread and wassail. We sat down together, said grace, ate breakfast and cleaned up. Then we were finally allowed to go behind the sheet to the tree full of presents. The lucky thing about being the youngest…I got to in go first! We did not all rush in at once. You see, my parents only let us in one at a time. It didn’t make much sense to me back then, but now I know they wanted to see the joy of each individual child’s face as they came in.
The best part!
First came the gifts from Santa, which were not wrapped. After we spent time oohing and aahing and playing with our Santa gifts, it was time to open the wrapped presents. This was the pinnacle of our slow Christmas.
First, we all had to be there. If someone had stepped out to go to the bathroom or get another mug of wassail, my parents waited till they got back. Nothing could be opened until all eight of us were there.
My dad would slowly get one package from under the tree, read the tag silently to himself, then make eye contact with the person who it was for, and drawl out the words, “to Sharon from Mark,” or whoever it was to and from.
After carefully handing the present to the person, everyone gave their full attention to the family member opening the present. We all got to experience the delight of the person opening their gift. If you were the person who had purchased the gift, it was extra special watching them open and enjoy what you had lovingly picked out for them. We did not rush right away to another gift. Time was given to enjoy the gift and of course to thank the person who gave it to you.
When it felt right, my dad would leisurely get another gift and repeat the process. One. Gift. At. A. Time. This, of course, took a while to open all the gifts under the tree but savoring the moment and being fully present during each opening was actually a gift in itself. We obviously grew in the virtue of patience, and we also learned that it is truly better to give than receive.
As a child, I took all of this for granted. A slow Christmas was the only type of Christmas I had experienced. But as an adult, I came to see that other families did things differently.
I remember the first Christmas I spent away from home. As I watched this family open gifts I was in shock. They sat around the tree and opened their presents all at the same time. Yes, ALL at the same time! They did not open one gift at a time. They did not stop to enjoy their loved ones opening the presents they gave them. And hardly a “thank you” was spoken. It all seemed to be about me-me-me and what I was getting, not about others and the joy in giving.
Though I did not experience a peaceful and slow Christmas that first year away from home, it opened my eyes. I realized what a special ritual my parents had created. Exchanging presents the way we did, not only was a way to show appreciation and gratitude, but it strengthened our bonds with each other.
Every family has their traditions. Put the tree up on Thanksgiving; put it up on Christmas Eve. Have turkey; have ham. Watch the Nutcracker; watch A Christmas Carol. Have a hurried and frenzied Christmas; have a slow Christmas.
My parents’ very unusual gift of a slow Christmas was intentional. The peaceful pace was a way to honor the sacredness of the day. From taking our time at Mass and breakfast to not rushing through the opening of the gifts. The method they established of opening the presents fostered a sense of altruism and was a tradition that I knew I wanted to continue as I got married and started a family.
A slow Christmas is something I have strived for over the years, and honestly, I have fallen short many times. The one part of the slow Christmas that I have managed to carry on year after year is that of opening one – gift – at – a – time. A tradition started by my parents. A tradition I have passed on to my children. And it is a tradition I offer to you.
God bless, and have yourself a very merry, slow Christmas.