Posted by: wordofthevine | February 9, 2017

To Be Enough!

In readitumblr_n25vbqbmol1qi2kego1_500ng, Radical Gratitude by Mary Jo Leddy, I have been continually moved by the snippet that I have been reading each day. If you’ve ever felt like you were led to a book just at the time you needed it, you’d be sharing my experience with this book.  I’ve had the book in my stack of “should read” books  for several years but I sense the Spirit had the book pop out to me right now.

Leddy illustrates the penetrating power that comes from reorienting what you focus on. You can feel a familiar sense of dread and strain if you see clearly what’s not going right and on what you or someone else needs to change. She writes, “Our lives are directed by the stories we choose to dwell on and in.”[i]  Gratitude is possible even in the midst of great difficulty and suffering because we do not have to let our struggles be our defining moments.

As I write this, I am remembering as a hospital chaplain sitting across from a man who was dying from facial cancer. He had a large open sore in his mouth;  his face was deformed and he could not see clearly anymore because of the cancer. He looked at me  honestly and said, “I have so much to be thankful for!”

So often, being a sensitive person, I can tell you so quickly what’s been difficult or hurtful while I struggle to notice the simple good things that each day holds. I tend to challenge myself to grow, to be more loving and more alive so I can be more loving to others.

While this sounds good and generous I suppose, what Leddy and this man with cancer helped me see is that this pursuit of growth in virtues includes a general dissatisfaction with self, even in small things. Leddy writes, “I am struck by how gratitude involves some radical satisfaction with life, with oneself and with the world.” We have to trust that who we are and what we have is fundamentally enough. We become more holy and more receptive to life through gratitude when we say, according to Leddy, that “I am enough,… I have been given an unrepeatable mission…and I can make a difference”[ii] starting right now.

In cultivating this deep sense of our own goodness and the significance of our calling or vocation no matter what challenges we have, we realize “I do not have to be different or better than I am to find a measure of happiness and to be able to make a difference in the world.”[iii]

I saw this in my patient, with his unflappable sense of being blessed; he saw his life in terms of what he had and not for what he was missing. His gratitude for life stimulated a deep desire in me to give him my best to be a blessing to him!

What about you? Where is God leading you to just believe you are enough today? ~ Mary

[i] Leddy, Mary Jo, Radical Gratitude, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, NY, 2006, p 50

[ii] P 53

[iii] P. 53

Posted by: wordofthevine | February 3, 2017

The Habit of Gratitude

We are only a few weeks from Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. It is important to pay attention and ask God for the gratitudeinsight and the graces that will draw you to greater union with Him and greater charity towards others.

This Lent, I feel drawn to cultivate a greater sense of gratitude in my life. Sometimes, I let it slip through my fingers. My hope that this sense of gratitude can be more than just a fleeting occasional sentiment in my heart that I notice when things are going good, but become a habit of being grateful.  I am feeding this hope by reading the book, Radical Gratitude  by Mary Jo Leddy.  A priest friend gave me the book several years ago and I came upon it anew just a few weeks ago when I unpacked my library in moving.

While I am just in the beginning of the book and I have not learned how to practically grow in this virtue, her words are drawing me to deeply desire this heartfelt openness to God and to life. She says that in order to fulfill our God given missions in life, we have to learn to sustain gratitude as an all-encompassing attitude to life. We are to desire to live a different way than our consumerist culture trains us to. We are to notice what we have in great detail and stop seeking what we seem to lack.

We are meant for God, to be free of the dis-ease of focusing on the next pursuit. We are to “live with a sense of meaning and direction with some measure of happiness. In the experience of radical gratitude, we know the origin and purpose of our lives.”[i]

Contemplate with me some lines from Mary Jo’s poem from the first chapter of the book. She writes: “create us anew O God. Create us not novel but new. From the remainders of our dreams, create a new hope, O God. From the ashes of our failures, create a new spirit O God. From the castoffs of our words, create a new song O God.”[ii]

Where is God beckoning you this Lent? Where do you seek Him and where can He make you new and more whole and holy this day? ~ Mary

[i] Leddy, Mary Jo, Radical Gratitude, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, NY, 2006, p 8

[ii] P 12

Posted by: wordofthevine | January 27, 2017

How Not to Draw Back from God!

Two lines from today’s reading jumped out at me today at two different places in Scripture. I was praying the liturgy of the hours and the spiritreadings from the Mass when the words, “Do not throw away your confidence,  it will have great recompense”  and “we are not among those who draw back from God” both from Hebrews Chapter 10. As I reflect on my own life, I see that often I fall short of carrying the joy of God in compassionate service to others when I am simply grounded on the here and now. I may be tired, over extended where I don’t sometimes feel like being charitable. How can exercising confidence in God and the reality of his grace change this? How can I life stepping forward to God.

We can practice exercising our confidence by first noticing our feelings, and experiences in the here and now, but not stopping at this. We want to understand ourselves as children of God and of the light. He meets us in our broken and limited places to invite us to step with Him into the light.

An example of this comes to us from the late Agnes Sanford and her book, The Healing Light. She helps us see that something can shift inside us when we find God with us by a simple turn of our attention. She  writes, “ For instance, I once slammed a very heavy door upon my finger, turning it black. If I had said “damn” and had fought the pain, the finger would have continued to hurt. But being very conscious at the time of my own power and authority as a child of God, I held my finger up before Him and blessed the pain therein, congratulating it as one of His healing agencies. The pain ceased immediately as if I had somehow shifted my sensations into the spiritual kingdom.”[i]

Let us step forward in the midst of our everyday life, like Agnes, and live more fully through the pain to the reality at our fingertips as children of God.

 

[i] Sanford, Agnes, The Healing Light, Ballentine Books, New York, 1947, p 64

Posted by: wordofthevine | January 24, 2017

The Grace of God that Supports Me!

st-faustinaAs I wrote earlier, I have been working for the last six months in a new job directing spiritual care at a Catholic hospital three hours away from my family. I stepped into this job after my husband and I earnestly discerned that God had opened this door and was beckoning me to follow his will for me. I like my job and where I am living but I struggle markedly with the grief of living apart for a few months from my husband and my youngest son , who is a senior in high school.

This last weekend, I had returned home to my family after being away for three weekends due to bad weather. We all enjoyed spending time together which made leaving yesterday, Sunday, very difficult. I talked to several  women close to me. Each understood how difficult it is for me to leave each time and return back to work.

As I talked, it just seemed like I couldn’t see clear how to come to peace in this predicament. I felt mortally torn between my job and my family. In the midst of rehashing the stale difficulty, I received a light from God through the words shared by a friend. I could see that I was being asked to let go of control in my life, to trust that God had been providing for my son, for he was thriving. I was being asked to grow apart from my family context as an instrument of God in my own right while my husband was growing in covering some bases that I had traditionally covered. God was blessing us and engineering all of our growth.

From this insight, I felt a deep settling in peacefulness. My struggling eased. Today the grace continued along with an awareness that my mother must be praying for me. I was having a deeply joyous day at work, felt energized and free from my earlier anguish. I was sure I was having a blessed day because someone, probably my mom, was praying for me.

Tonight as I was eating dinner by myself, with my dog at my side, the phone rang. My mom was calling to check in on me and to tell me that she had offered Mass for me today. She had prayed that God would take my hand and give me insight into His will for me. My good day was the direct result of my Mom’s prayers for me.

My mom’s phone call brought to my mind the words from St. Faustina Kowalsa’s diary, Divine Mercy in My Soul. She wrote, “I do always what God asks of me, although my nature often quakes and I feel the magnitude of these things is beyond my strength. I know well what I am of myself, but I also know what the grace of God is, which supports me.”[i] Let us pray for one another ! ~ Mary

 

[i] Kowalska, Saint Maria Faustina Diary: Divine Mercy in My Soul, Marians of the Immaculate Conception, Stockbridge, Massachusetts, 2001, p 272, paragraph 652

Posted by: wordofthevine | January 18, 2017

Being Captivated by Jesus!

toddler-jesusI celebrated my first Christmas at Mass in my new parish. Almost my whole family, all my kids, was together at Mass which made me very happy. As I gazed upon the altar, I found my eyes raised to contemplate the infant Jesus in the Holy Family statue that sits above on the high altar. I was drawn so I couldn’t take my eyes off of the toddler Jesus form before me.  I was so moved, in fact, that every day for the next week, I prayed with a prayer card of the child Jesus which confused me somehow.

Because I cherish being a mom and particularly loved it when my kids were in the toddler stage, I sensed that Jesus was just loving me through my human experiences in a way that allowed me to reach deep within myself to make an offering of my life to him. He spoke “my language.”

Sometimes I can fall prey to an expectation that if I was truly spiritual, I would be able to just let go of the particulars of my human life and sail on grace to God. When I sit down to pray, my mind can wander and my body gets restless sitting down to pray. God must know this for He comes to me in a way that best captivates me and is most familiar to me.

Jesus was teaching me a simple truth about growing spiritually. We grow in holiness and intimacy with God by bringing to Him everything about us, our life story, our human experiences and desires and connecting it with Him. He comes to us through what means the most to us on the human plane so we are most open to receiving Him.

Blessed P. Marie Eugene, O.C.D., a newly beatified Carmelite priest illustrates to me why I was moved by the image of Jesus that was so familiarly united with my own life. He says that “in order that the outpouring of the divine life might be more abundant [in us], Christ wanted our contact with His humanity, which is the physical instrument for this. By this holy humanity of Christ, the Word lays hold on and draws after Him all people who let themselves be taken captive by His grace.”[i]

What about you and your life? How is the Lord pursing you to reveal his love to you? Be alert to what moves you, slow down and pay attention to how intimately and personally God is reaching out to you by what you know the best. We come most easily to God to be transformed by savoring our human life but finding God coming intimately to us through our humanity.

[i] Blessed P Marie Eugene, O.C.D., I want to see God, The Fides Publisher Association, Chicago, Ill, 1953, p 75, 77

Posted by: wordofthevine | January 15, 2017

Standing in the Midst of the Storm!

01d58367c1da77af0bb0c08512fc50b9Recently I have made many significant changes in my personal life. I moved three hours away from where I had lived for twenty years and raised my family. My husband and I discerned that I was being called to take a new position directing spiritual care at a Catholic Hospital which meant moving to a new town and even a new diocese. We are keeping two places and commuting back and forth so our youngest can finish high school this spring with his classmates, a separation that seems to bother me more than the senior in high school. I like my job but have questioned God at times. Why now and why here away from my familiar stomping grounds. I can’t see everything that God is doing in and around me, but my earlier experiences of loss and change have shown me that God is faithful to his provision for me. I feel hopeful that this will ultimately deepen my capacity for ministry and for loving others.

Change brings growth, and usually the most costly changes bring the greatest blessings and growth. Without the Cross, we stay comfortably stagnant in the familiar. When our footing changes under our feet, we don’t stand so securely on our own resources/perception.  When we are dealing with the grief that comes with loss, we are more vulnerable which means we can either get stuck in negative emotions or with the right approach become more faithful. If we nurse angry, resentful emotions, for me homesickness for what used to be, the enemy of our souls can work to create division and havoc. However, God can become more a part of our life when we suffer because we know we need him and seek him wholeheartedly without reserve.

The Diocese of Sioux City, Iowa, where we moved for my work, has just announced the final plan for Ministry 2025 pastoral reorganization which involves closing parishes, going from 100 parishes to 31 parish clusters. This hits deep in the heart for since I’ve come the threat of all this has been weighing on minds of so many. Parishes where people have received all their Sacraments along with their grandparents and great grandparents are closing and either becoming oratories for only weddings and funerals or clustering with ten or more other parishes near them.  (My great-grandparents are buried at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, one of the parishes that is becoming an oratory.) People are struggling to stand faithfully together.

Blessed  Father Marie Eugene, O.C.D. a French Carmelite priest who was beatified several months ago offers us key insights into working with the difficulties in our lives so we become holy and the best version of ourselves as people and as parishes. He says the best defense against demoralization is to focus our attention on what we have been seeking through our parishes…greater love of God. Band together, drop, kick and run from temptations to lash out. Turn to God; make an act of love of God which will free us from focusing on what’s bothering us.

Father Eugene tells us that this ability to release our present situation to God and run towards God is something that we grow in being able to do. At first, we make the decision to note our reactions but to exercise our faith in God by telling God how we love and trust in His provision for us.  We do this as often as we need to, to keep our balance. This isn’t over spiritualizing our difficulty but knowing in humility what we have the power to change and what we don’t. We can direct our attention to God, over and over again, so we can move in His Spirit here and now and love those who seem to bring us down.

Posted by: wordofthevine | April 15, 2016

Place of Greatest Potential

spiritIn our parish bulletin was a request for volunteers willing to sit with the dying; wanting to ensure that none died alone. My 104 year old grandmother had recently died and I was thankful that my aunt and her friends stayed with my grandmother during her final hours, since I lived three hours away and could not be there. I felt compelled to do for others, what I could not do for my grandmother.

I sat with a small, frail stranger three or four hours a day during his final week. The first time I took his hand, I noticed his irregular, labored breathing would calm and became peaceful. What an amazing gift for him with such little effort on my part. I sat and read as I kept vigil. My reading was interrupted by a thought…what if I was holding the hand of a rapist, drunk or thief? Suddenly, I felt this vision or knowing come to me…those things that I worried about were all man made things. His reputation and behaviors, when pulled away from the God made spirit or soul, exposed the beautiful, perfect part of his being that was made in the likeness of God. This perfect part of him looked exactly like that part of me and any other person on earth regardless of the sin we all have committed. I instantly fell in love with this stranger and I was so privileged and honored to be present at this time of his life.

10 years ago, there were three individuals who made my professional life miserable. It was because of them, I left the job I loved and excelled at. I love my new job even more, which made it easy to forgive the three because, had they not made me uncomfortable in that job, I would never had taken my current job, which has been so rewarding.

There is a difference between forgiving and forgetting. Years later, despite the happiness in my current job, animosity and spiteful feelings would well up in me each time I would cross paths with those three individuals. At reconciliation, Father would share strategies or perspectives to help me move past the pain they had created for me, but still, those feelings would resurface.

After the experience with the dying stranger, I am now able to look beyond that imperfect man-made shell of these three individuals. I am able to forgive, forget AND love them for the perfect God-made soul they are. Such a gift of peace I have received. I had gone to the nursing home to give of myself to others but instead, received a far greater gift from this stranger.

It is important to always put ourselves in the place of greatest potential to BE Jesus or RECEIVE Jesus. Each person you see or meet is there for a reason…either to make a difference in YOUR life or for you to be a blessing in THEIRS. If all you do is work in your cubical, barn, home or factory and you then go home and spend the rest of your day in front of a TV or game station, you are cheating yourself and others from experiencing Jesus through the gifts and talents he has given each of us. How are others going to cross your path if you are not ON the path?  ~Brenda

cc: hickory hardsspiritcrabble – https://www.flickr.com/photos/66621355@N00

 

Posted by: wordofthevine | December 6, 2015

When Holiness Means that You are Not the One!

I recently attended a conference on caring for those with Alzheimer’s. The presenter was a very compassionate person as well as a gifted acaring-for-elderly-parentsnd engaging speaker. I am sure that her abundance of joy and energy grew from her ability to use her gifts and charisms to their fullest. It was a day well spent; filled with tips and strategies that were built on love.

At one point I remembered thinking how lucky her parents were to have her in their lives… to help them live until they die; rather than spending life waiting to die. On a personal level, she shared that even though her own dad had attended her conferences and knew what she had to offer (as a nurse and as an expert in the field of Alzheimer’s), it was not she who he turned to for assistance as he aged.

All families have strained relationships and even though you are able to work through issues and forgive; the past often cannot be forgotten and in some cases, remains a barrier to having the perfect relationship with everyone you love. Her advice to those in the room was…you are off the hook. Do not beat yourself up if you do not help, even though you may be the logical and most qualified person.

These may be wise and accurate words, but for those with a tender heart; whose gifts are caring and nurturing, it is difficult to sit on the sideline and watch. For my sister who once was a nurse and who may be more qualified than me to care for my dad who has Alzheimer’s, these words do not ease her pain of not being the caregiver-of-choice for dad. However, her gifts will be the grace needed to help the father of her close friend who is battling cancer. God put her in the lives of those He wanted her to touch with her gifts and charism.  It is not hers to question or doubt.

Last year, my 104 year grandmother (who lived 3 hours away) did not die alone; my aunt and other volunteers remained by her side till the end. It was a comfort to know someone was with her. I only wish it could have been me. As a Hospice Volunteer, I occasionally sit with total strangers so they too, will not die alone.  I may not have been able to use my gifts with my grandmother but I was able to use them with a member of God’s family. The conference speaker was not able to use her gifts for her own father; yet many like my own father, benefited greatly from her gift shared with me at the conference.

It is a very humbling experience to be in the presence of Christ through the people we serve. Even more so to trust and go where He calls us, rather than where WE think we need to be.  ~Brenda

Posted by: wordofthevine | November 30, 2015

Cyber Monday Renamed “Transcendent Monday” for a Purpose!

thanksgiving15Today is Cyber Monday, an online super shopping day which is designed to super charge our spending towards Christmas. What about your walk with God? How are you trying to super charge your prayerful actions in Advent as you spiritually move towards Christmas? I’m not just talking about how to incorporate more prayer in your life. A new, growing edge for me is to integrate my faith/prayer with my life. I am trying to make my practical actions of relating to others, a prayer and an off shoot of prayer. I am remembering St. James’ adage, “Faith with out works is dead.”

We’ve all just celebrated Thanksgiving with many of us encountering our extended families during the celebration. While you can’t pick your family like you do your friends, how did you choose to relate to those that you struggle with. Maybe I’m making an assumption here, but I think most of us have certain family members that take more energy for us to relate with. How did prayer allow you to be unglued from your own perspectives to see issues and life through the eyes of these challenging people? Most want to experience that they belong, that in their wrinkles and struggles, others are willing to hang in there with them.

I am reminding myself these very things. I am in the middle of supporting my elderly mother’s move to a senior apartment. My brothers had different ideas than I about how to address mom’s needs. She has a value of letting “the boys” be in charge so I felt frustrated in sharing my perspectives. I tend to talk things out, to process thoughts and feelings, while my brothers are “doers” and couldn’t understand the need to work any relationship dynamics out so we can proceed together as a team to address Mom’s needs. I decided to let go, let mom move ahead with the boys’ plans for her as she seemed to desire and to show her support, even though I felt hurt by the interaction.

We want to work on ourselves and our reactions here so that these people can experience the fruits of our prayer as loving action through us. Who knows, we might be right next to them in heaven and we want to be alright with that, even happy for them. They helped us buff off rough edges to  our loving here on Earth and our undue need for control. We need to be grateful for them if our goal is fullness of life here and in the age to come! These are the thoughts that I am reminding myself on this Cyber-Monday, which I am renaming Transcendent Monday! ~ Mary

 

Posted by: wordofthevine | November 21, 2015

Letting Yourself Get Lost in the Word!

Six owordofGodr seven years ago, my husband and I participated in a 21-week bible study that followed the story line through the old and new testaments. It was a rich and engaging experience that brought the Mass alive for us and fueled a hunger for more. Because we were the leaders for the study, we were obligated to read every last page AND prepare personal responses to the reflection questions. Some of the reading assignments were quite lengthy and time consuming and really took the fun out of the journey through the bible. I felt pushed to complete it rather than let myself be lost in thought with Him. But, what were the authors suppose to do? The class was already more than 5 months long…a commitment most won’t sign up for. Shortening the readings would lengthen the commitment to participate in the class…a definite barrier to most.

I recently bought a Didache Bible which contains comments based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church. In the front of the book, it suggested reading the Word until something really speaks to you, stop, and spend time in contemplation…Lectio Divina.
It was once explained to me, that the repetition of a word, phrase or the retelling of an event, indicated importance that demanded my attention. One example being John 21:15…’feed my sheep’…repeated three times. My habit of prayer includes the Divine Office, reading the reflections for the daily reading from The Word Among Us, sometimes a chapter from a book written by a Catholic author and always ending with me picking up where I left off as I work my way through the bible.  Nearly every day my attention is drawn to a word or phrase that is repeated. Sometimes, like John 21:15, the repetition comes in one chapter of the bible. Often times, the word or phrase will speak to me in two or more of the pieces I spent time on in prayer. Other times, the word appears in everyday life…a song on the radio, a message from my boss or a news clip on TV and I am drawn back into contemplation of an earlier time in prayer.
As an educator of adult learners, I know that allowing time for reflection is a best practice. I also know that it is often hard to get adults to come to classes because time is scarce in their busy lives. Personally, I know that unless I spend QUIET, uninterrupted time alone with the Word, I will never hear Him speak.  As much as I loved that first study we participated in, I wonder if a better way to evangelize might be to teach people how to know God by encouraging them to read the bible…giving them a list of the books and chapters to read, which brings the story to life. Teaching and modeling  Lectio Divina; and providing quiet uninterrupted space and time that will allow them to hear and recognize his voice when He speaks to them. ~Brenda

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