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Pray, serve, and reign with Christ (Queenship of Mary)

When we pray we become channels of God’s love and grace, of his holy will.
The praying soul is like a window opening. Sunshine and a warm, sweet wind flow through that soul to everyone and everything. It’s clear openness fills the whole world, and each of its situations with healing light. The rushing wind and light of the hidden spirit of prayer changes hearts, lifts up those who suffer, makes a way for peace to happen. It sets people and all of life free.
We are so little but it is God who draws us to prayer. In his creative power, because of his joy in sharing his divinity with us, because of the Incarnation of the Lord in the marriage of humanity with God, the smallest breath of prayer suffuses the universe with a flow of light and beauty.

In the beginning the Spirit of the Lord breathed upon the waters, and life sprang from his command. Jesus walked among us, recreating, redeeming and renewing the world by his life, death and resurrection. We are baptized into union with him, infused with his love.

He could have renewed the world by himself. But he shares his mission with the littlest of us because of his love. He has lifted us up to join him in his work.
I think this is what it means to “reign with Christ.”
Living water has come to flow from our hearts.

So pray, Christian soul, however you can, without a doubt in your mind. We don’t always know what God will do. But we know he will do something. Just open the window of your soul as best you can, letting God do the rest.
Mary knew this when she told the servants at the wedding at Cana, “Do whatever he tells you.” And so we do whatever he tells us. We pray, we grow in faith, and in love, then love leads us to service, as St. Mother Teresa taught us.

This is how we spend our days when we love God.

We can draw from the “Little Way” of St. Therese of the Child Jesus, that when we are rooted in God, he makes our smallest acts of humble service and sacrifice reverberate with spiritual power throughout the world for the good of all.
Everything we do affects everyone everywhere. Even our willingness to offer God the thoughts, words, actions and experiences of our day, the Lord expands into a mystery of grace in union with all that Jesus did, even his greatest of offerings, that of himself, and blesses all of us drawing us closer to the Kingdom.

In this way, too, we reign with Christ, and he shares his life and his action in the world with us.

We know that Mary, the first Christian, God crowned with stars and made her the luminous queen we love so much. She had lived the life of a Jewish peasant in a rough world of hard work and political upheaval and injustice. Only the angels saw her queenly beauty as she sweated in the fields, carried water, helped the neighbors, cooked dinner.

Mary was a Jewish woman of the first century. As such, like the other women, she would have prayed all day as she worked and served her family and community. She would have prayed over the bread she made, the work she did, her son’s play, and when she lit the evening lamps. Like Mary, we can do the same in all that we do. God expands the worth of our small offerings, touching them with glory.
So we can lift all that we pray, all that we do, placing it at the foot of his altar in Heaven, trusting that he will make it something amazing. He can, and he will.

Today as we celebrate the Memorial of “The Queenship of Mary,” we should remember our own crowns. We should straighten them on our heads, smile, and wear them well.

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Our Lady of Guadalupe at the Walmart Memorial in El Paso

Fifteen or more years ago I had a dream that is still vivid to me now. I was in a small, dimly lit church where the early arrivals were just sitting down before mass. Near the altar there was a large terra cotta colored relief of Our Lady of Guadalupe. I was standing in the aisle gazing at this rendering of Our Lady and it started to become beautifully colorful. A man in the pews to my right started complaining about the image and saying there were too many (*racial slur*) around here already and the image should be removed. He continued to complain about dark skinned people being in the church and “taking over.” I was extremely upset of course and started begging him not to say things like that especially in the church. As I continued to try to persuade him, the corner of Mary’s dress began to darken as if it were burning and smoke started rising. I was alarmed as I saw the disfiguring burn spread across the image.

I was in El Paso staying in a migrant shelter, attending what is called “The Border Awareness Experience,” to learn about Immigration issues. Everyone had been in Juarez that morning, we had met at a section of the iron border fence with Border Patrol and now we were getting out of the van at the Walmart in El Paso to visit the memorial for the victims of the shooting that had happened eight weeks before on August 3, 2019.

It was a very hot October afternoon. The sunlight was golden and slanting in beams when we got out of the van.

We had all seen makeshift memorials that spring up after tragic events on the news. I knew this would be a sad experience.

I was not prepared. The emotional impact of being on the spot was immense.

The memorial stretched into probably about three city blocks. There was an army of religious candles stretching as far as I could make out. There were stuffed animals, pictures of the dead, messages to the dead, messages of encouragement to the community, poems, letters, prayers. There were flags from other countries, a big poster of a fused Mexican and American flag that said, “Together against all odds.” There was a letter to the president pleading for understanding, mercy toward immigrants, and change. It was in Spanish so I asked Maria from our group to translate for me.

A big red poster near the middle said,

“PAIN…. but I will not let it turn to hate.”

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Photo by Luis Quintero on Pexels.com

There was a large picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, banners with Bible verses, a message of solidarity from the city of San Antonio, more messages, more prayers, toys of the little child who was killed. I remember a most the toy train draped in rosaries. A massive number of flowers and rosaries populated the entire area. There were numerous statues and pictures of Our Lady of Guadalupe. I thought about my dream.

A young white supremacist drove 11 hours from Dallas to El Paso to “kill Mexicans.” I can only guess he chose El Paso because of the spirit of friendship and community between the sister cities. Maybe he hated what El Paso represents. Maybe he wanted to do this at the border where people from both sides shop together. I don’t know. His manifesto had talked about “an invasion” referring to migrants and refugees and Hispanics in general I suppose. I had not read it. No need. I had been seeing the results of its ideology for days.
Actually I wasn’t thinking about any of these things at the time. I was overwhelmed with the emotional impact of the place. We all were. It was riveting. It was devastating. I think we were all in shock.

Eventually I sat down near a bank of flowers to pray. In my dream of Our Lady the loud racist man perhaps couldn’t see the destruction of her image he was causing. People get so upset about sacrilege of religious images. I understand that. But what about the people at the Border who are images of God, treated without dignity or compassion, let alone the scores of them who have died because of our indifference? Isn’t that a much more serious desecration? I had seen only some of what our country has done to migrants. I had only been at Casa Vides a couple days and I felt inundated with the suffering and injustice so many people back home justified and even applauded.

In the presence of this great outcry of shock and pain that was this memorial, I could only sit with God and hold my rosary. No words of prayer came to me. It could only be a prayer of presence and solidarity.

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Photo by Gift Habeshaw on Pexels.com

A woman I thought seemed like recently bereaved family thanked us for coming. I recognized the deep pain in her eyes and that aura of grief around her shoulders like a heavy black shawl that weighed her down.

When we got back into the van some of our group were crying. Nobody wanted to talk.

Chris, our leader during the Border Awareness Experience, a volunteer at the shelter, said he knew we were feeling upset but we were running a little late for our last meeting of the day at Hope Border Institute so we just had a few minutes while we drove to get ourselves regathered. So we tried.

I think seeing this place would have hurt deeply no matter what. But after what we had been learning about Border issues, having met the migrants Casa Vides was serving and having heard their stories, the experience hit us particularly hard. As we pulled away I thought of Jesus saying that when we hate our brothers and sisters, we have already committed murder in our hearts. That scene of physical mass murder was the result of collectively harbored hate, fear and resentment and anti-immigrant sentiment in our country. Something like that shooting was bound to happen. And if we don’t change, it will keep happening.

We pulled up at Hope Border Institute with the Diocese of El Paso. Their work centers around applying Catholic Social teaching to Immigration Issues.

Toward the end of various presentations, one man on staff named Dylan gave us an extemporaneous discourse on what Our Lady of Guadalupe means to migrants. Her image is ubiquitous in El Paso, in every place you go, there she is. I remember him saying that she came for and represented the Spanish and the Indigenous of Mexico, not either/or, herself a bridge between two cultures, similar to the migrants who have had to leave their home countries but don’t yet belong to their new one.

She appeared to St. Juan Diego, an indigenous Catholic convert. She was brown skinned as he was, (probably close to what she looked like during her historical life) and dressed like an Aztec maiden. Specifically, she looked Mestiza, a combination of Spanish and Native. She gave the gift of miraculous Castilian roses for the Spanish Bishop, the roses he missed from home, miraculously growing in the snow when she spoke to St. Juan. She said, “I am the perfect and ever-virgin Mary, Mother of God.” the name Guadalupe itself would have mean something to the Native people and the Spanish. “She who treads on the snake” to the Aztecs and a reference to another image of her in Spain. She wanted to comfort her children and hear their cries in the new church she asked for. Her image appeared instantaneously on the cloak of St. Juan Diego in the Bishop’s presence. Hundreds of years later it is still fresh, new and relevant. A microscope shows that in the pupils of her eyes, a reflection of the people in the room at the time her image appeared. We are all in her sight, she is here with us and she loves us.

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Photo by Chris F on Pexels.com

Dylan pointed out that in the impression, her knee is out to show she is dancing. She is pregnant. She is praying.

She is about presence, compassion, hope and new life, about the coming together of two peoples as one in Christ.

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Night will be no more, Pastoral letter on racism from Bishop Mark Seitz in the wake of the shooting.

Solidarity and Love: #BlackLivesMatter

Yesterday I walked in a peaceful (though good and loud) Black Lives Matter protest in Houston in response to the murder by police of George Floyd and by the long list of black men and women who have also been killed by police.

It was a powerful experience.

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My daughter drove us so even though traffic was slow and she didn’t know where she could park, I jumped out of the car right away with my sign, my phone in my back pocket and joined the chanting throng streaming into the street from Discovery Green.

It felt so good to be able to do something, to show support at this time along with so many others of every possible race and ethnicity. I saw “Arabs for Black Lives” t-shirts. I saw Jewish men with their prayer shawls on. I saw Hispanic people, Asian people, and plenty of other white people. There were families with their children too. Mostly I saw everywhere beautiful black people standing up for themselves, and for their murdered brothers and sisters and their families, supporting one another, demanding righteous change. It was awe inspiring.

One of the chants were the last words of George Floyd, “I can’t breathe!” He also had said to please let him up and that they were killing him. And he called out for his mother. There was so much heartbreak that day at the protest that at times it seemed like a funeral. Sure enough that is partly what it was. As the leaders of the March said, “We are here to lift up his name.”

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That was another chant: “SAY HIS NAME!” And the response, “GEORGE FLOYD!” Over and over they said this and I think it is so important. We should not forget the individual people who have died in the seemingly never ending stream of police violence against people of color. They were people, individuals. We are standing up for them specifically, as well as the entire African American community.

“BLACK LIVES MATTER,” of course, was shouted throughout.

*For the “all lives matter” crowd, maybe I can be of some help as to what “Black Lives Matter” means and why it is a non starter to keep saying that.

My friend, here is what I gather about this: black people are telling us they feel their lives don’t matter to us. Can you blame them? They are not trying to tell us other people’s lives don’t matter. They are asking us to notice what’s happening when they say that. And they are reminding themselves that their lives matter in the face of all this. When people say back “all lives matter” it sounds like “you aren’t suffering from this,” “It’s all in your head,” or worse, “We don’t care.”

Suppose a fire truck arrives at your home as it is burning and begins to fight the flames; and a neighbor runs up yelling at the firemen, “all homes matter.” Think about it, or better yet, pray about it.
-Julian Mcmurrey

We marched to the courthouse where there were speeches I couldn’t hear very well. I understood that at least one woman who spoke was a mother of another black man killed by police. The drift of what a lot of the speakers were saying, though was that we should not stop here with this protest, that there is a lot of work to be done once we got back to our lives.

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Photo by Ave Calvar Martinez on Pexels.com

There were signs about different organizations and their websites so people could follow up on their commitment. I will include a couple of these at the end of this post.

It annoyed me that there were drones buzzing around close enough we could have swatted them. Helicopters flew overhead constantly. Eventually we noticed snipers on the roof of the court house and on other nearby buildings.

“See?” a woman said to me, “They don’t even care about us. We’re trying to speak out but they aren’t listening. This is how they do.” It was over kill, I thought. And so many children in the crowd too.

I texted my daughter who had her little one with her, and told her about the snipers. That was her cue to head in another direction. (By the way I also told other people coming into the area who had children with them as well.)

I stayed a while longer. Eventually, after a couple of hours, I started to head back to the car.

A couple of women from the march stopped me and wanted to take a picture of me with my sign. I said sure I would be honored. My sign was a quote from Pope Francis, “Racism is the greatest evil in our world today.” I had a bright red rosary wrapped around my wrist. Its dangling cross against my hand reminded me constantly of what I was doing there. I absolutely considered it my Christian duty to be there. I wanted to bring Jesus and Mary with me to love the people and stand with them, to try to radiate their love and solidarity. Also I was there as a Catholic. If anybody noticed my rosary maybe they would know “Catholics (some Catholics) “are with you.”
That was my idea anyway.

Volunteers were on corners handing out masks (I already had one) and water bottles. It was so hot so I took one. Im glad I did because after that my phone went dead and my daughter and I had a harrowing few hours where we couldn’t find each other.

I also couldn’t find my way back to the car although I had a general idea where it was.

I got kind of lost but then I managed to get back to the courthouse. There was a group of women on a corner there talking about prayer not being enough, and how God expects us to take action too. (I have noticed this too about God.)

“Its the Holy Spirit,” another woman said. “This is the Holy Spirit.”

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Photo by Ezekixl Akinnewu on Pexels.com

I asked if they could point me back to Discovery Green because I hadn’t paid attention to the route we all took earlier, having been too excited to do so. They laughed kindly about that and said all we had done is go straight down the street behind them. It would take me straight to Discovery Green.

They liked my sign and I told them I had carried it in the Richard Spencer protest at Texas A & M too. One lady asked if I knew my daughter’s number. No I did not. She asked if Roise was on Social Media, and eventually she found her and sent her an instagram message for me that I was headed to the car.

Expressing my gratitude I started to pick up my sign and go. An older lady said she had an assignment for me once I got safe home. I was eager to hear it. She said, “Memorize. Your daughter’s. Number!” “I know right? Thanks ya’ll, for telling my daughter her ridiculous mother is headed her way.”

They thanked me earnestly for being there that day. I hadn’t expected that and I didn’t feel I really deserved it since it was something I wanted to do. But I knew what she meant. And I said thanks for having me.

Actually my daughter and I got that all day from people, “Thank you for being here.” Silly us! We hadn’t been quite sure we would be welcome or if it was appropriate. We know this is a black lead movement and we want to support that. Sometimes it just isn’t clear to us as white allies learning on the job, what we should do. I feel like I understand a little better now.

A long, tired, hot time later, I finally found the car. Two other people let me use their phones to try to call my daughter on social media along the way. “This is mom. I’m at the car.” I also had good conversations with them.

Of course my girl had the keys. Exhausted, I climbed on top of the car with my sign and prayed the rosary. After a while though, I started to get scared. Where was she? Did she get held up? What should I do if she never came back? What if something bad happened to her or the baby? My other daughter, I reflected, was going to kill me if anything happened. She had been very upset and scared that we were coming to this, given what happened in Minneapolis. I started to get that cold feeling you get in your stomach when you are really worried.

I saw a group of police officers getting out of a car near me. One of them pulled his baton out and said, “Yeah now we’re going to have some fun.” He caught my eye and looked (appropriately) a little embarrassed. As far as I know he never got to have any “fun.” For which I am grateful. I should say though that the police I saw around yesterday were trying to be relaxed and non intrusive.

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On I waited. I checked nearby restaurants. No luck. I went back to my car.

I think I had been sitting on the car for an hour and a half before I happened to look up at the right time and see my daughter, pushing the stroller a couple blocks down. I was astonished when she didn’t turn to come down the street where the car was.

After thinking about why she would do that, I scrambled down from the car and took off running. When I got to the street she was on, she seemed hopelessly far away. So I put on the mom voice I used to call my daughters home with when they were out playing in the neighborhood as kids. “ROSAAAAAAAAAAAAY!” A man nearby resting with his sign on his lap chuckled.

To my relief she turned around and started coming toward me. I jogged toward her and was surprised to see she had been crying. She started crying when I hugged her and said she had gotten lost and her GPS was acting crazy, sending her all over the place. She had gotten overheated and collapsed and some people from the protest had helped her up, some talking brightly to her daughter as other people gave her water and stood by until she had drunk the entire bottle. They had her sit on a curb with them until she was better. Someone called her phone and helped her find it. They gave her directions to Discovery Green but she stopped to get a soda at a pub which made her sick and she promptly forgot the way. My granddaughter, Arelani, was glad to see me. She started chattering like the loquacious little being she is.

I walked them back to the car and drove us out of the city and toward home.

We were kind of in awe about the day, grateful there was at least something we could do, and so glad of all the kind people we had met, and how amazing the solidarity and unity had been. So many people, thousands of people, coming together to do a good thing, a holy thing, really. It had felt sacred to me, as well as sad and angry and hopeful too. It was motivating and we intend to do whatever we can to help out in future.

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Photo by Ave Calvar Martinez on Pexels.com

I want to say that our dearest black friends were very supportive. LeeAnne and her husband said “God bless you.” Mel told me to play Bob Marley on the way there for him. Between Mel and me this is how I keep him present at special times, like when I am making his birthday spice cake every year. He and his wife Lilly sent pictures of themselves to me too so I could carry them with me. My daughter’s best friend wept when she told her where we were going. “Why are you crying?” “I just feel thankful that y’all are doing this.” We hadn’t expected that but I think it is worth noting.

I remembered an article I had seen, and the photo in it of a big sign that said, “White people. Do Something.” Maybe it felt to them that we were responding. And that is what the black community wants from us, y’all. That’s what they want. For us to listen to what they want to say to us, to care and respond and be willing to help the way they want to be helped with this.

I’m slow but I am learning.

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In the car, my four year old granddaughter, who is half African American, started chanting “BLACK YIVES MATTER! BLACK YIVES MATTER!” And “GEORGE FYOYD! GEORGE FYOYD!” Well, she had heard those things a lot today. We took video of her doing this and sent it to her dad (who is black.) It was adorable but also touching to see her do that. This is all also about her and her future.

On the way home we got a flat tire. I had forgotten my spare had been stolen so we were in a pickle. A friend picked us up and we are home safe and incredibly tired today. But it is a “good tired.”

In spite of the trouble, we are both profoundly glad we went, honored to have been there, to have been a part of it.

*photos not taken by my daughter, Roise Manning-Pauc, have been used with permission from the photographers.

Think Twice (Before you call the police, consider these alternatives.)

What white people can do for racial justice

Racial justice organizations that you should support

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Choosing a method of Contemplative Prayer

And the one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because it intercedes for the holy ones according to God’s will.
Romans 8:27

No matter the method of meditation, each one employs some kind of anchor to help us master our thoughts during prayer;a scripture passage, a set prayer, a holy word or phrase help us return again and again when the mind wants to do its busy work. In Christian Meditation, this anchor will also be a way to root us in our intention of prayer, openness and presence to the Beloved

There is often a format, a structure that helps us to make our prayer a process, a movement, a conversation, an exchange of love.

The basis of all Christian prayer, including holy meditation, is Jesus.

Moreover it is our intent to connect to this Lord that makes our meditation prayer rather than a mental exercise.

Please don’t worry too much about whether a method is what you think it should be or whether other people should be using it. Use discernment in your choice, but know it is not as if doing the “wrong” one is going to make your or anyone else’s prayer go down the wrong pipe and not to God. That’s just plain silly.

To me prayer is about love and my will to be with God, no matter what technique I use to learn to be ready for an encounter with the Friend. Prayer is less about me and more about God. In my experience, when I seek his will he responds and when I am open and willing to be corrected, he will correct me. This seems to run true for others as well. “If I am wrong, Lord, change my heart.”

The author of the Christian classic The Cloud of Unknowing ( the “cloud” representing the fact that our intellect cannot reach God sufficiently) tells us to use our anchor in meditative prayer as a spark or arrow of love, to pierce through the “cloud of unknowing” straight to the Heart of God. That is a beautiful way to think of it, and it also rings true.

If a certain technique confuses you or you feel you aren’t making good progress with it, make adjustments and carry on. Yes there are pot holes on the road of prayer. I think I have fallen into them all along the way, though I eventually overcame, thanks be to God and God willing, I will continue to.

I am concerned that a lot of people seem to be overly cautious about Christian Meditation or about this or that method. Don’t do anything that makes you uncomfortable, but don’t freak out. Just move on if something you try isn’t right for you. Be free about this. I am. So far liberality of spirit has born great fruit for me,

If you are striving to grow, and you are guided by love of God, faithful in practice, doing your best to conquer sin, if you are living a sacramental life,loving more, then I think you are fine to set out on the Royal Road of contemplative prayer, or to stay on it,wearing the shoes that fit you best.

In short,

don’t be scared,

pray and be cool.

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Easter Evening: “Stay with us, Lord.”

When I wake up on Easter morning what I usually feel is happy for Jesus. He is the first person I say “Happy Easter” to. Happy Easter, Beloved Lord. You win!
Love is stronger than death, oh Love Itsef!

Then I think of the Church all over the world and how we are all together in spirit, experiencing this day that is not just a remebrance of the past, but something happening now, a special time of grace from Heaven as we all celebrate together.

Then I think of all the people I miss, especially my family that have died, and I am so grateful I will see them again because of this Lord who accomlished it.

Granted this has been the strangest Easter in any of our lifetimes, but that’s another thing about Easter. Jesus is unstoppable.

I had a good enough day, and was able to pray with my youngest daughter and her four year old in our traditional way. I heard from my eldest daughter, and my friends too. I have had time to pray and reflect and listen to music that is special to me at Easter. It was sad to be away from mass and that is an understatement. I am sure you can understand too.

It was a quiet day, and pretty outside. I blew bubbles on the back porch with my granddaughter, a sweet way to end the day.

And now my place is quiet again. I think about how this is the time maybe the disciples settled down enough they could just enjoy Jesus.

All day he was playing hide and seek, surprising different disciples in different places and in different, wonderful ways, all of them crazy. It had been an overwhelming day, a world inside out day.

They had laughed and cried and screamed, tried to understand and experience impossible things and some couldn’t even believe their own eyes. It was too astonishing.

All that was settled now, and they said, “Stay with us Lord, for evening draws near.”

They got to be with him for 40 more undoubtedly beautiful days.

It must have been hard to stop looking at him, hard to stop hugging him, hard to calm down and just be with him. Maybe it was easier in the glow of the fire to relax in his presence, to enjoy his tenderness and love for them.

To me the signature of the touch of the Lord is tenderness. This is something I am deeply grateful for today.

Sometimes I don’t emotionally identify with Easter that much. My life feels like a long Holy Saturday after several Good Fridays. I’m not complaining. I want to say that I am aware that I possess a much deeper joy than emotional happiness, though I would say I am happy enough, even after all the losses. I have been aware of this joy through it all, not to say I haven’t been desolate because I have. It’s the joy of that rock solid knowledge of God all the way to the center of my soul. I don’t think I would have that if I hadn’t gone through hell so many times; emotional hell, and spiritual desolation.

“My one companion is darkness,” the Psalmist wrote (Psalm 81.) In some ways this is still true, my soul cleared of so many things that filled it. But there is something beyond that emptiness. That something is what I am made of now. The darkness has a radience to it. I lost all the lushness of my spirituality and gained infinitely more. Maybe the disciples found something in their own souls similar after the Ascension.

Carl Jung, asked if he believed in God, said, “No.”
And then he added, “I don’t believe, I KNOW.”

I can identify with that.

I don’t believe in the Resurrection. I know. And that’s a gift of the Resurrection itself, of the power flowing from it.

Even when I don’t necessarily “feel” God I just know and that’s enough for me.

When I do sense his presence, that tenderness I also know as his sign. I hope he feels my tenderness too.

Jesus said, “I will not leave you orphans. I will come to you.” (John 14:18)

In the evening we can rest in that. We can know.

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Photo by Alex Andrews on Pexels.com

Holy Saturday

For me Holy Saturday is usually a quiet, meditative day spent with Mary.

Normally the parish church would be open, but quiet and bare. Catechumen and Candidates would be gathering for Morning Prayer with their teacher, their sponsors perhaps, and the pastor. The feeling would be somber and expectant too, this last gathering before the class would be baptized and/ or confirmed at the Easter Vigil.

Mary seemed to sail through Great Silence like a sparrow released into a moonless night. The others watched her closely for signs of life and awareness, but her heart was fully awake.

“Mother, please,” Magdalene said, “Have something to drink. For me.” Her sisters had brought breakfast. Something hot and steaming was pressed gently into her hand. The cup warmed her fingers. She looked at the tear stained faces and worried eyes around her and took a small sip. She felt the weave of the mat she sat on, the movement of air, the stillness of earth.

The room filled with the others who also sat. As the strips of light from the shutters moved across the floor, no one spoke.

The cup grew cold.

At home I keep my little apartment quiet except for playing some Marian chant now and then. I pray the Hours too.

Our family altar is bare as well.

The door is open.

For you, my God, my soul in stillness waits. Truly my hope is in you.

(See Psalm 95/Catholic Hymn “My Soul in Stillness Waits” by Marty Haugin)

My Soul in Stilllness Waits

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Photo by Johannes Rapprich on Pexels.com

Ash Wednesday with Mary

Today we humbly receive ashes on our foreheads and hear that we are dust, or maybe, “turn away from sin and believe in the Gospel.”

Usually I think of setting out into the desert with Jesus to pray and fast with him.

This year I am thinking about Mary. What was it like for her when Jesus went into the desert for 40 days?

I am sure he let her know he was going. Maybe his apprentices ran the carpentry shop while he was gone so Mary wouldn’t go without.

I am sure she missed him and she understood that their private lives together were over, and that his mission had begun. Like any mother, I am sure she was both sad and excited too. “”Son we have waited so long, so long for you!”

She knew how much people needed him. She knew who and what he was and she was ready to assist him, let him go, face what came next, do or be whatever he required of her.

Just as Mary accepted the purification ceremony after the birth of Jesus even though she was already free from original sin or any other sin, I have no doubt she would have wanted to be baptized too as Jesus had ( though he was sinless and didn’t need baptism.) Maybe she was there that day.

She would have seen the Holy Spirit come down from Heaven in the form of a dove and heard the voice of the Father, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” I can almost see her smile and close her eyes in prayer when that happened.

Jesus went into the desert to pray, to fast and face Satan. Mary went home to an empty house. And she had to get on with her life.

She would have gone about her work in the garden, with her weaving,cooking, hauling water, kneading bread, caring for the animals, talking with friends and family. Yet the sense of him was always with her. Now and then maybe she paused, raising her hands in prayer for her Son, and for the whole world.

In Carmel, one facet of our charism is “to stand before God for all,” as St. Edith Stein put it. This is also Mary’s vocation in her prayer for us all as universal mother.

While Jesus was in the desert, Mary kept her spirit close to his. In the spirit of her baptism, she stood before God for us all, praying for us, in sack cloth and ashes, at least in the depths of her heart on our behalf. I imagine her prayerfully lowering her head to touch the ground, a gesture of solidarity with the earth and with the profound humility she had as a daughter of Eve. She wanted to put her freedom from sin, and her place as Queen Mother toward our good in her petitions to the Father, and to unite herself with the mission of Jesus.

When we make our Lenten sacrifices, maybe we could say with Mary, “Oh Jesus, it is for love of you, and in union with Mary.”

So when we receive our ashes for penance and dedication for our journey of Lent, we could receive them in union with Mary for the whole world as well as the way we always do, which is to say, for ourselves. And as we go about our lives during these forty days, maybe we could do so with Mary, doing our work, living our lives, always aware of Jesus, pausing and praying deeply whenever we can for the whole world, and for Jesus’ continued mission of salvation on earth.

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Weaving the Scriptures into our lives

On this the first Sunday of the Word of God, I am thinking about how we can weave Scripture into our daily lives so that it becomes more and more a part of us.

One of my favorite spiritual books is The Way of the Pilgrim/ The Pilgrim Continues His Way (first published in 1884.)

In The Way of the Pilgrim, the Pilgrim (who remains anonymous throughout the story) tells of meeting an army officer who had at one time struggled with hopeless alcoholism. The officer had met a monk who said his own brother had suffered from the same thing but was cured by reading a chapter of the Gospel whenever he felt the urge to drink. It had worked and the brother was 15 years sober. The monk had urged the soldier to try the same and gave him a copy. The soldier said no because this copy was in Old Slavonic and he could’t understand it. He was told, “You may not understand the Word of God, but the devils do, and tremble.”

So the officer tried this and eventually was cured. In his gratitude he had this copy of the Gospels bound with silver and kept it close to his heart under his uniform. He made a vow to God to read a chapter of the Gospel every day for the rest of his life.

If he was too tired to read, he would ask his wife or daughter to read it to him. I want to try the same thing. It would be even better to read a commentary alongside it. If you don’t have anyone to read it to you when you’re tired, audio recordings of the Gospel can help.

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Another great way to put Scripture in your life is to pray the Liturgy of the Hours through the day. Universalis has a free online version and an app as well. Otherwise known as the Divine Office, it is made of of Psalms, prayers, Scriptural Canticles and brief readings arranged in a pleasant orderly way in tune with the theme of the current Church season. It takes me about 10 minutes to pray Morning or Evening Prayer. The other ones are much shorter. This habit puts me in contact with the Word at least three times a day. The Divine Office app has audio of the various hours if you are busy. In a pinch I listen to these in the car.

Start a Bible study with your friends. Lots of people like to go to their parish Bible studies held at church. But a fun way to do Scripture study in a more intimate informal way is to start your own with your friends. This is actually what got my inner circle of friends together in the first place. Years ago we started doing Bible studies as a group. We met once a month rotating whose house we met in. The conversation was friendly but deep and always supportive. Somebody usually brought wine, we had food, coffee, laughter and prayer. We called ourselves “The Pontifical Biblical Institute of the Holy Hippie Sisterhood.” Why shouldn’t it be fun as well as enlightening to study the Bible? No reason at all!

There are so many great Catholic Bible Studies available now. We liked the ones from Turning to God’s Word, and the Come and See Catholic Bible Study on the Wisdom books.

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I really like the Navarre Bible series and the Sacra Pagina commentaries. There are so many more that are good. Some are written about certain themes, others about particular books, some are arranged as daily readings.

If you attend daily mass you are hearing holy Scripture and getting a reflection from your pastor every day. Over three years you would hear the entire Bible. Attending Sunday mass regularly you would hear the entire Bible over five years. The mass itself brims over with Scripture in the parts of the mass and the responses and antiphons as well. So go to mass! 🙂

On days I am not going to mass I make sure to read the readings for the day. These are great for choosing a passage for Lectio Divina and keeping the spirit of the Church season as well as connecting with the Church all over the world reflecting on the same readings together. You can find the daily mass readings with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Most parishes print the readings for the week in the Sunday bulletin as well.

I try to memorize various passages of Scripture that are important to me so I can meditate on them or think about them during the day. When I am in line somewhere or filling up at the gas station I can recite them mentally. This is a fruitful practice for me.

At night I sometimes listen to audio of the Scriptures, especially one of the Gospels. I think of it as my bed time story. I have a few different versions so I don’t stop hearing it in a meaningful way. I have one that is more like a performance with actors reading the parts and sound effects and everything. I have others that are more in a quiet reading style by one voice. Sometimes I just want to hear these when I am doing house work or walking.

I like to copy out passages I am working on memorizing, writing them out over and over. The copying itself can be meditative.

I also at times write verses I want to carry in my pocket during the day on small pieces of paper to look at from time to time.

Nobody needs to carry out all of these ideas for all time or every day. I don’t. Some are habits that are helpful for a while at different times. Others have become life habits for me. Some things I stop doing but come back to later.

How do you work Scripture into your life?

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Seven ways to Practice the Presence of God

“In the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees in the Chapel.”~ Brother Lawrence

Brother Lawrence was a Carmelite Lay Brother (d. 1691.) He had an intense realization of “the fact of God” while looking at a dead and leafless tree. He had been a soldier, and after being wounded he became somewhat lame. He then became a footman but, as he said, was “a great clumsy fellow who broke everything.” He no doubt was feeling like a dead, leafless tree himself at that time. But God opened a way for him to find life again. He became a Lay Brother in a Carmelite monastery; cooking, (a job he disliked right away) running errands, sweeping floors and of course, praying and discovering God within at all times and sharing this way he called The Practice of the Presence of God with others.

By making active use of the teachings of The Practice of the Presence of God we can learn to be continually recollected in God, which keeps our souls most open for God’s grace and at his service at all times.

The flow of our lives then becomes a conscious flow of God’s transforming love.

The consequences of this simple practice seep into our personalities and the way we are in the world. We find we even touch inanimate objects with love. We feel affectionate and open towards people. We feel happier, more peaceful, certainly more in tune with God.

1. Morning Offering.

Many Catholics begin the day by dedicating/offering it to the Sacred Heart of Jesus in a Morning Offering. If you already do this, try to do it more consciously than usual. Pay close attention to what you are saying and to Whom you are speaking. Reflect on what the words mean to you.

If you don’t do this, you could start doing this. Write a Morning Offering on a post-it note and stick it on the coffee maker. You could write your own dedication instead of the traditional one if that would be more meaningful to you.

2. Address your thoughts to God.

This may sound overwhelming to do all the time but even recalling God and restarting your conscious awareness of him whenever you remember to, during the day can have a noticeable effect that will grow.

While you are at it, try turning your grouchy thoughts into prayers of praise. No really. So many things in the course of the day are annoying to us. Figure out how to make prayers of praise or gratitude out of these irritating things. You may be surprised how amusing this can be, and how it becomes second nature after a while.

Turn your thoughts into a continual conversation with God. We all live in a river of thoughts, images, memories, plans, worries, what have you. Turn this river toward the Lord, as often as you can remember to.

I think about my daughters more times a day than I care to enumerate. So, for example, I can try to talk to Jesus about them instead of only thinking to myself or worrying or dreaming for them, as parents will.

Today my daughter is moving, My other daughter and her husband are helping while I watch the grandchildren and hope the three year olds get along and the baby isn’t too distressed by the whole thing. I can talk to the Lord about this. “Calm any fears that arise, Lord. Help us to make this a joyful day.” Or I can express my concerns to him if I want to. As Winnie the Pooh says, “It’s friendlier with two.”

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3.Turn your suffering into prayer

The best way is to hold your pain up to God just like you used to bring your bumps and bruises to your mom for her to kiss. Words are unnecessary here unless you want them. Let God sit with you like a loving quiet friend when you are hurting. You probably know this is harder than it sounds.Try it anyway though.

Catholics also have the habit of offering up our suffering in union with the suffering of Jesus. We call this being co-redeemers. When something bad happens to me I consider myself a treasure of grace and try to offer my suffering as prayer for everyone who needs it.

4.Purposely invite God into even the smallest things you do each day

This is at the center of Brother Lawrence’s teaching, and a big part of The “Little Way” of St. Therese as well. Instead of rushing through a task or just trying to get a thing done, it helps to slow down and concentrate on it. As Eknath Easwaran says, “Concentration is consecration.”

Offer your task as if it were an act of prayer and then it will be.

St. Therese would offer the difficult things she had to do for missionaries or for priests. Maybe you would like to offer your work for something you care about to help the world or the Church.

Your offerings can be as simple as saying, “Lord here is my little pancake for you” if you are cooking, for instance. Maybe this sounds silly to you but I recommend you try it for a while and see for yourself. Maybe you too will find God “amidst the pots and pans.”

“We ought not to be weary of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed.”~ Brother Lawrence

This habit of being aware of God in your actions takes a lot of practice but even if you only remember to do this a couple times a day God will bless it and you. You will soon notice a difference in how connected you feel to God at all times.

When you are in line somewhere or at a red light (we spend a lot of our day waiting) use some of that time to connect to and talk to God. It’s easy.

5.“Listen” for God with an open heart

No matter where you are, whether you are alone or with others, hanging out with your friends, at work, petting your dog or talking to a small child, try to maintain a sensitivity to God in all situations. You will sense a heightened awareness and connection to other people and all living things when you do this. You will notice beauty you used to miss. You will be more and more able to register signs of God’s will or voice in the events and conversations of your day. It will become a working part of you in time.

6.Presence/mindfulness

We hear a lot about these concepts lately and I think that is good. As Christians, being present in the moment and being mindful in our daily lives is going to mean conscious awareness of God in the present moment, mindfulness of God in all we do and experience.

Fr. Greg McLaughlin said to me once, “You are not on this planet! I don’t think you are even in the solar system! God is in the present moment. God is right here! And right now, right here, he is saying‘ Where are YOU?”

To be absent minded is to be absent to attentiveness to God who is here with us now. This one has been a hard one for me as I am given to day dreaming. I have learned that we don’t have to be perfect at this present mindedness. But every little bit helps.

St. Teresa of Avila’s way of thinking was that “God is within us, and we should not leave him there alone!” She thought we should imagine the Lord beside us at all times until that active mental effort becomes internalized and natural, part of consciousness.

7. Repetition of the Holy Names

Brother Lawrence doesn’t talk about this in his letters or conversations. However this can be a useful key to keep on your key ring that can help you in your quest to cultivate the constant sense of the presence of the Lord in your life during your day. It can open the door for you.

When I am doing a task that doesn’t require a lot of thinking, I repeat the names of Jesus and Mary. For me it does the trick, and brings me into conscious awareness and attentiveness to the presence of God. It is also a prayer because I am calling on them in my heart and dedicating whatever I am doing to them.

Doing this in the waiting times of our lives can bring us into focus as well, so we can fill those empty spaces with the Lord.

It is very helpful in times of stress or fear too or any time I need to re-center.

St. Rose of Lima is said to have memorized the Names of God from the Bible during a time of blankness and darkness in her prayer life, and repeated them while she did her embroidery or any task that allowed it. It was her light through that difficult time.

Before going to sleep I like to tell God what I am grateful for about the day and commend all to him, good and bad.

I also try to fall asleep with the holy names of Jesus and Mary, taking them with me into the night.

“He does not ask much of us, merely a thought of Him from time to time, a little act of adoration, sometimes to ask for His grace, sometimes to offer Him your sufferings, at other times to thank Him for the graces, past and present, He has bestowed on you, in the midst of your troubles to take solace in Him as often as you can. Lift up your heart to Him during your meals and in company; the least little remembrance will always be the most pleasing to Him. One need not cry out very loudly; He is nearer to us than we think.”
― Brother Lawrence

People who wrote about talking to Brother Lawrence remarked on his deep peacefulness. He was a simple Lay Brother who had had a poor and difficult life, wounded in war and witness to horrific slaughter in his own home town. Through his remarkable relationship with God, and this way he found to live always in his presence, he found deep peace and was able to help others find the same.

This way is available to all of us.

Developing these habits may sound like an arduous process. Remember that we do what we can and God will do the rest. God sees and will bless our efforts. He’s cool like that.

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