What Are You Thirsting For?

In this first week of Lent, I am realizing how my heart is being purified to be undivided.  It has been a challenging week where we truly entered the frigid desert here in Texas with a historic storm that crippled our infrastructure.  This arctic storm took away our power and electricity, water, internet, and spotty phone service.  To whom did I turn?

I like my routine, and this really threw me off.  It foiled my plans to start the Blessed is She Lent devotional Set a Fire, the Magnificat Lenten Journey, and Word on Fire reflections. Rather than having my one cup of coffee I am limiting myself to during lent and my holy hour, I found myself driving around in the car to keep my husband warm to stave off pneumonia, and charging my cell phone to continue contact with the outer world. 

Not the perfect start to Lent as I had hoped but I saw the angels among us.  Like our sweet son and his roommate, who did not lose power, offering to switch living spaces with us.  Or a friend with a back-up generator inviting us to stay with them.  COVID-19 and risk of any exposure kept us from accepting any of these kindnesses and we drove.  We drove and drove and drove looking for an open restaurant that had hot food.  We finally found one lone Panda Express drive thru where we waited in line for 45 minutes to partake in a limited menu.  We were grateful. 

A year into the pandemic, on top of true isolation due to my husband’s bone marrow transplant and now the weight of this storm, I truly felt I was in the desert.  I tend to crave the normalcy, distractions and comfort of my previous life.  Where do I turn to quench my thirst, ease my mind, and strengthen my soul?

Creating space for silence has been a big shift for me and opened my heart in ways I never thought possible.  I was fortunate to talk about this in a recent Catholic Woman article.  The silence is where we learn, are challenged, and grow.  It is where we decrease, and He increases. 

Just as Jesus suffered and was tempted by Satan, during Lent we are called to enter the desert of our own lives.  What are you being called to purify in your heart this Lent?

Through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, God prunes our hearts as we are united to Christ and his suffering.  These practices of good works help give us strength to resist sin and to follow in His footsteps.  The Master gardener wants to prune the weeds of destruction we cause ourselves and others and purify us toward love. 

During the storm, I may not have had my traditional holy hour, but my heart was in constant prayer.  Prayers of intercession for the homeless who were freezing on the street, the elderly who were home alone with no power and running out of oxygen in their tanks to breathe and the new mother in a frigid apartment with a one-month-old baby.  Prayers of meditation through the rosary and the beautiful mysteries of our Lord’s life that show us the path to walk with him.  Prayers of gratitude for warmth in our master bedroom, a car full of gas to stay warm in, saving enough water to boil, a friend who is continuing to fight the good fight after complications of a bone marrow transplant and having a son-in-law with internet to post our Ash Wednesday blog, Hope is Not Cancelled.  (I am convinced the Spirit was at work both with the topic and prompting me to have the article ready the Monday prior to posting and right before I lost power!)  Prayers of praise acknowledging God’s goodness and grace in my life.   Rather than being caught up in the minor inconveniences this storm brought our way, I was able to see through the eyes of Jesus. This was the journey of my soul during these days without the usual distractions and surrendering to the true powerlessness in my life. An undivided heart.

One of the things I saved and brought inside prior to the freeze were my herbs that I planted last summer.  I have never been a gardener like my grandmother, mother, and sister, but had recent success this past year growing herbs in planters.  My usual mode of operation is to under or over water my potted plants each year and kill them within a few weeks.  I have learned that there is a balance.  When I pay attention to the plants, look at the soil to determine if they need water and prune the dead parts the herb grows stronger.  This is what the Master gardener, Our Creator wants to do with our hearts.  He knows us and what we need before we even need it.  He wants us to be aware and invite Him into our places of need.  Only He can quench the thirst of my soul. 

My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.

Focus on His truth, Psalm 63:1

Only a few days into the desert, I am noticing one of the crosses I bear is my divided heart.  My soul desires to be immersed in the goodness of God versus being preoccupied with the temporary things of this world.  I contemplate am I bringing all my feelings to prayer – anger, fear, and mistrust as well as generosity, goodwill, and gratitude?  I know I have more anxiety when I do not surrender and keep an eternal perspective.  By bearing this cross of a divided heart and walking through my desert, I can see my continued conversion when I seek God to quench my thirst and allow Christ to live in me. 

From the cross, Jesus said, “I thirst.” That thirst was for all people to be reconciled to the Father. It was a thirst for souls to return to the love of God and find their way to the heavenly Kingdom. When I come to God with the dryness of my soul, He fills it with the living water and gradually I see the events of my life through the wisdom and detachment my spiritual relationship provides. 

May we all be Smitten with goodness,

Cynthia

Hope is Not Canceled

Today’s post is written by a guest contributor Jacquelyne Rocan. Jacquelyne has been a spiritual sister to me throughout the years and I am pleased to introduce you to her!

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent and I find myself recalling this time last year.  While there were certainly reports of the new coronavirus circulating in more and more communities, I celebrated Ash Wednesday in 2020 in many of the same ways that I have always marked that day — attending Mass, receiving ashes on my forehead, fasting, and setting in place plans for experiencing a holy and spiritual Lenten season.  This included plans for additional prayers, readings, and attending Stations of the Cross.  I marked times for all of the Holy Week services on my calendar — the Easter Triduum of Holy Thursday Mass, Good Friday service, and Easter Vigil Mass.  It was important to me to fully participate and prepare by attending these services, as much as I could (especially through many years of serving on the RCIA team in my parish).  My Lenten and Easter seasons have felt incomplete when I have been unable to prepare and attend the Easter Triduum services.

Of course, we now know, the many plans that we all had for 2020 came to a crashing halt in March when the scope and seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic became evident and closures and cancelations began in earnest.  While I could still pray, fast, and practice charity while at home, many of the big markers of Lent and Easter were suddenly gone.  Not being able to attend Mass and hear the rich and textured readings and experience the reception of our dear Lord in Holy Eucharist was difficult for me, and for so many Catholics.  I worried that I was missing out on Lenten preparations and I would not be ready for Easter.  My focus on what I did not have or could not do was overwhelming what I actually could do. 

Then, two weeks into the pandemic closures, I received an email with a daily prayer from the Missionary Oblates which contained the following:  “…PRAYER is not canceled, FAITH is not canceled, and HOPE is not canceled.”  This statement was a game-changer for me.  It helped me focus on what I could do, when isolated at home.  I continued my daily prayers and readings, my Lenten readings, daily rosary, and a weekly Stations of the Cross at home with increased commitment.  I was able to maintain a quiet, peaceful space to focus on Lenten preparations in anticipation of Holy Week and Easter Sunday.  For the first time in my life, I felt my experience of Lent and Holy Week was aligned with the Blessed Mother and the apostles and disciples.  Just like I have to live with the uncertainty of when and how the pandemic will end, I feel solidarity with the Blessed Mother and the apostles and disciples who did not know what would happen after Jesus suffered and died on what we now call Good Friday.  They remained faithful and prayed through the uncertainty of those dark and difficult days and received the greatest blessing of the resurrected Christ.  Their example allowed me to continue my Lenten preparations, even amid the uncertainty of the world around me.

I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

Focus on His truth, Matthew 28:20

I will always remember this experience with gratitude and peace in my heart.  In previous years, I would rush to make sure I was on time for Stations of the Cross and the Good Friday service, participating in RCIA retreats, and meeting with family and friends.  While a beautiful and spiritual experience, I did not get to experience quiet and peace on this most solemn day.  I spent Good Friday last year in quiet prayer and contemplation.  I listened to Bishop Robert Barron and his beautiful talk on Jesus’ last seven words on the cross.  I conducted a private Stations of the Cross.  I watched Pope Francis conduct the Good Friday service from the Vatican, and also watched a special prayer service reverencing the Crown of Thorns from Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris (with memories of the fire that almost took that building from us on April 15, 2019).  Mostly, I focused on the ultimate sacrifice that Jesus made for all us, including me, over 2,000 years ago, and the gift of mercy that he gave to us all that still resonates through the years to the present day.  I felt closer to God in the silence and contemplation in a way that I had not experienced before.

This Lent, I pray that the quiet and contemplation of Good Friday 2020 will fill my heart and soul as I prepare for Easter.  I have identified several resources to assist me in these preparations, including many of the resources listed here.   Mostly, I plan to leave room for quiet prayer and reflection to focus and prepare for the great miracle of the Easter Resurrection.  While I still do not know when or how the coronavirus pandemic will end and what our new “normal’ may look like, I know deep in my soul that Jesus died for all of us, that He has risen from the dead, and that He is with us always, until the end of the age.  This reality fills my heart with joy, and peace, and love.

May we all be Smitten with Goodness during this season of Lent!

Jacquelyne

Jacquelyne Rocan is a life-long Catholic that enjoys continuing to learn and grow in the faith.  She has a special devotion to St. John Paul II and St. Teresa of Calcutta.  Born in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, she lived in a number of U.S. cities while growing up and is now happy to call Houston, Texas home.  During the day, she practices law, and spends her free time reading good books, enjoying movies, drinking hot tea, and dreaming of when she can travel to Italy again. 

Are You A Giver Or A Taker?

I recently listened to organizational psychologist Adam Grant’s podcast about Givers and Takers where he breaks down three personalities and offers simple strategies to promote a culture of generosity in the workplace.  It was validating to know that the givers win out in affecting positive culture and increased results. Go figure!

Being a giver is good for others and good for us.  As we wrap up another Valentine’s Day, a day which has its roots in Catholicism and the profound concept of love, I want to focus on the third leg of the Lenten stool of good works: almsgiving or service to others. 

Because we are created to love and be loved, we yearn to love and be loved. This innate yearning is fulfilled and strengthened by the practices and traditions of our faith of loving one another which is service at its core.  

When we are in service of others, we willingly enter the loop of grace, giving away the gifts we have received.  A gift must be given for the original gift to be multiplied and enhanced. This is God’s grace. 

Most of us feel the weight of the symptoms of lack of love in our world today.  When we lift the veil, the problem is really lack of self-possession.  Self-possession is doing what is good, true, noble, and right.  Our ability to love is directly linked to the level of self-possession we have.  

How can I love my neighbor if all I am concerned about is myself and my needs before the needs of others?  

To give of ourselves, we must first possess ourselves.  Broken relationships, divorce, and dysfunction, which surround us, fuel our lack of self-possession.  But there is a blueprint for us to rebuild self-possession in the spiritual disciplines that make up the landscape of Catholic spirituality.  These disciplines are designed so we can love God and neighbor and be loved the way we were created to be loved.  The perfect Valentines gift to our world!

The foundational call of Christians to charity is a frequent theme of the Gospels.  During Lent, we are asked to focus more intently on almsgiving, which means donating money or goods to the poor and performing other acts of charity.  Our interior penance can be expressed in many and various ways, but scripture insists on three forms, fasting, prayer, and almsgiving, which express conversion in relation to oneself, to God, and to others.   

This conversion of heart is accomplished in daily life by gestures of reconciliation, concern for the poor, the exercise and defense of justice, by the admission of faults, fraternal correction, revision of life, examination of conscience, spiritual direction, acceptance of suffering, and endurance of persecution for the sake of righteousness.  All these expressions allow us to take up our own cross each day and follow Jesus. Voluntary self-denial such as fasting and especially almsgiving allow us to be reverent, and experience brotherly love to both the living and the dead.  

One thing I have been learning about recently is that the Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead.  I am understanding the importance of commemoration and helping those who have died by offer prayers for them.  

God blesses those who come to the aid of the poor and rebukes those who turn away from them.  The Church’s love for the poor is a part of her constant tradition.  Love for the poor is even one of the motives for the duty of working to be able to give to those in need.  It extends not only to material poverty but also to the many forms of cultural and religious poverty.  When we attend to the needs of those in want, we give them what is theirs, not ours. More than performing works of mercy, we are paying a debt of justice.  Our world is in such need of true justice!

For I was hungry, and you gave me food, I was thirsty, and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me. 

Focus on His truth, Matthew 25:35

The works of mercy are charitable actions where we come to the aid of our neighbor in spiritual and bodily necessities. Instructing, advising, consoling, comforting are spiritual works of mercy, as are forgiving and bearing wrongs patiently.  The corporal works of mercy consist especially in feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and burying the dead.  

I will never forget my conversion of heart after I gave blessing bags every day of lent to a different person in need on the street.  Many times, I was blessed to see the face of Jesus as I looked into that person’s eyes.  For a COVID safe idea, check out the CRS Rice Bowl where you can help feed the world. 

How will you experience a conversion of heart and serve others this Lent?

As St. Francis of Assisi says, “Let us give alms because they cleanse our souls from the stains of sin. Men lose all the material things they leave behind them in this world, but they carry with them the reward of their charity and the alms they give. For these they will receive from the Lord the reward and recompense they deserve.”

Out of personal devotion, we may promise almsgiving as a sign of respect to the divine majesty, love for a faithful God and to be Smitten with Goodness.  Giving alms to the poor is one of the chief witnesses as to how we love our neighbor, and it is also a work of justice pleasing to God bringing His love into the world. 

In His Service,

Cynthia

Feel Like Something is Missing? Pray….

“Through prayer, the Word of God comes to abide in us and we abide in it. The Word inspires good intentions and sustains action; it gives us strength and serenity, and even when it challenges us, it gives us peace. On “bad” and confusing days, it guarantees to the heart a core of confidence and of love that protects it from the attacks of the evil one. Christian life is at the same time a work of obedience and of creativity. Good Christians must be obedient, but they must be creative. Obedient, because they listen to the Word of God; creative, because they have the Holy Spirit within who drives them to be so, to lead them forward.”


Pope Francis
GENERAL AUDIENCE JANUARY 27, 2021

Help Build A World Of Equal Dignity

We can all unite in the goodness of prayer…..

To End Human Trafficking

Loving Father,

We seek your divine protection for all who are exploited and enslaved.

For those forced into labor, trafficked into sexual slavery, and denied freedom.

We beseech you to release them from their chains.

Grant them protection, safety, and empowerment.

Restore their dignity and provide them a new beginning.

Show us how we might end exploitation by addressing its causes.

Help us reach out in support of victims and survivors of human trafficking.

Make us instruments of your spirit for their liberation.

For this we pray through our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen

St. Josephine Bakhita pray for us!

Fasting For The Love Of It

Fasting is amazingly popular in our culture today if you are seeking to shed some weight or reap the debated health benefits.  A google search provides an overwhelming amount of information.  On the other hand, not much is written about fasting as a tool for our spiritual growth.  This time-tested practice is a proven method for shedding the weight of self-will and the evolution to our lower self.  Today, I challenge us see how fasting trains our soul for goodness and the higher purpose of love.  I have mentioned previously, God prunes our hearts through prayer, fasting and almsgiving, as we unite with Him. 

When our lives are aligned with and to God, we become conduits of enormous power.  A force for good.  When we step fully into our higher self and reflect God’s goodness in our broken world, we impact every person in our life.  

Attachments block us and break us from this flow.  The ego is involved in all our attachments.  We can be attached to wealth, possessions, persons, a group, our jobs, or our intelligence.  It is anything I convince myself I cannot live without such as money, power, pleasure, honor, comfort, social media, you get the picture, right?

This past year, with the pandemic and my husband’s transplant, brought to light many of my attachments that I am now choosing to let go of.  Clothes, purses, and shoes do not bring the same joy as they used to.  It is also time to let go of my coveted Houstonian membership as I simplify and pare down to only what I need. 

We have more than 2,000 years of history that point to the benefits of fasting.  With the right intention, fasting trains our soul for goodness and to resist evil. Out of love for His father, Jesus overcomes the temptations of sin and shows Himself as God’s servant, obedient to the divine will opposed to Adam who gave into temptation and ate the dreaded apple.   Did you catch that?  Jesus prays and fasts out of love for His father.  It is not about what is being offered it is the why.  As I offer things for God’s love, it increases my love and faith for my God. 

I love my coffee and there are days when I would really like to have a third cup.  As I have grown in my knowledge about fasting, I often offer up that third cup of coffee for God’s love and feel him smiling at me for this small sacrifice.  

In our developed countries the flesh rules and our lives are oriented to this reign of self-destruction.  We think it is a blessing that we can find whatever we want, whenever we want it, in abundance whether legal or illegal.  Instead of making our lives better, this addiction reverses the intended roles of our lower and higher natures.  Immediate gratification feeds our lower nature and our craving for the things of the flesh that seek to rule us.  It feeds our desires that lead us to the seven deadly sins and their offspring, all of which unchecked, lead us into our own personal hell.  These desires enslave us to the wants and whims of our feelings rather than to our intellect and will that God has given to us.  This enslavement leads to a weakened will and down a pathway to internal disintegration including anxiety, stress, and ultimate separation from God.  

Return to me with all your heart, with fasting. 

Focus on His truth, Joel 2:12

In the Lost Art of Sacrifice, Vicki Burbach provides a pathway to reinvigorating the lost art of ascesis – of saying yes to God and no to the flesh.  She gives us a process of reordering the flesh so that it is subordinate to the spirit which is essential in knowing the peace of God and to the soul’s progress to sanctity.  Fasting is a disposition that helps us develop the art of sacrifice.  

The precepts of the church are set in the context of a moral life bound to and nourished by the liturgical life.  Observing the days of fasting and abstinence prepare us for the liturgical feasts; they help us acquire mastery over our instincts and freedom of heart.   Interior penance can be expressed in various ways, but scripture insists above all on fasting, prayer and almsgiving.  Throughout scripture we find that God’s people fast and as they fast, the power of their prayers increased, especially when they are engaged in spiritual warfare.  Voluntary self-denial through fasting sets us free.

St. John Chrysotom wrote about God allowing temptation for us to grow our spiritual muscles.  Since we have received greater power and a sharper sword against evil through baptism, we learn through trials, the superiority of His grace and the greatness of this spiritual strength.  God allows these attacks and the opportunity to gain many victories. 

St. Thérèse of Lisieux shows us that making sacrifices in the proper spirit brings us joy and growth.  She understood that the size of the sacrifice is not important, but it is the motive of the heart.  As a child, St. Thérèse knew this power and would carry a sliding string of beads in her pocket as a reminder.  She wanted to make at least ten acts of love daily, so she would offer up a small sacrifice and pull one of the ten beads to the other side of the string, until all the beads were pulled. 

A friend of mine told me a story about the $8 Priest.  Every day this priest set aside eight one-dollar bills in his wallet as Gods money to use as He willed.  Some days the priest would be called to give the money to eight different people, others he might give all the money to one person.  Small things done in love. 

I hope this post helps you identify something in your life that you are willing to give up for love during the forty days of Lent.   For me, I think this year I need to give up worry.  Every time I start to worry, I will offer that up in prayer “Jesus, I trust in You!” 

As Matthew Kelly says, “Love is a choice, and an important one, because we become what we love.”   Will your higher self be victorious over your lower self as you reflect on your day?  I pray that our small daily victories add up to great wins so we can be smitten with goodness, spreading seeds of goodness throughout our world.

In His Love,

Cynthia

Prayer is Allowing God to Love You

In last week’s blog, I talked about growing in good works through prayer, fasting and service and how they unite us to Christ.  These are the three tools we have in our spiritual toolbox to resist sin and follow the path of true love.  I find Lent is a perfect time to examine my choices and search the desert within me to evaluate my motivations.  I can learn, with God’s grace, where I am flirting with darkness and then make a conscious decision to snuggle up with my Creator instead of turning to the fleeting relief the world provides.  Prayer helps me see my life as God sees it and assures me I am loved.

Over this past year, I have learned a lot about prayer.  It has shifted my perspective, broadened my mind, and softened my heart.   Most of my life has been focused on the realm of petitionary prayer, asking God for what I think I need.  God has such an interesting sense of humor as rarely what I think I need is what He thinks I need.   Does God ever say to you, can you just shut up and let me love you?  This is the heart of prayer.  How much time are you allowing god to love you, to embrace you?  

Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. 

Focus on His truth James 4:8

Ultimately prayer is the key to our relationship with God.  Our level of humility, the foundation of prayer, correlates to our ability to receive the gifts and fruits of its goodness.  Upon reflection, my prayer life shifted after I learned what it truly means to be humble after praying this Litany of Humility with regularity a few years ago – whoa! 

There are so many ways God invites us into a relationship with Him that is both personal and communal. He speaks to us through His Son, Jesus Christ, the Word-made-flesh. Prayer is our invitation and response to God who is waiting to reveal Himself to us. In the Catholic Christian tradition, prayer engages our whole person in a relationship with God the Father, through the Son, and in the Holy Spirit. 

Many of us think of prayer as the expression of spontaneous or reflective thoughts or feelings expressed in words but there are three types of prayer: vocal prayer, meditation, and contemplative prayer.  They have in common the recollection of the heart.  (Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) 2721)   

Keep in mind that the biggest obstacle to prayer is just doing it.  

If you are resisting the habit of prayer, perhaps a good place to start is to tell Him why and ask for His help in cultivating this habit in your life.  After all, we are given the gift of self-discipline we just need to own it!  With my growing humble heart, I look at prayer as a commitment to spend time with the most important relationship in my life. 

The rest of this post synthesizes the three different types of prayer. It’s a bit lengthy but I hope you find it a good resource to use to allow God to love you through prayer.  Let me know what you think in the comments and how you deepen your prayer life.

Vocal prayer

There are so many treasures available to us to align our heart with God.  This month, I have started using the Praying from the Heart guided prayer journal – it is an amazing resource to unravel the thoughts in my heart and mind and learn how to “abide in Him” (John 15:5). 

Vocal prayer is based on the union of body and soul in our human nature and associates the body with the interior prayer of the heart.  An example is Christ praying to his Father and teaching the Our Father to his disciples.  I was fascinated to learn that there are five methods of vocal prayer:

  • Blessing or adoration – This is where we exalt the greatness of God and acknowledge our dependence on Him in all things.  Because God blesses our heart, our hearts yearn to return to Him and bless Him.  The Mass and other liturgies of the Church are full of prayers of adoration or worship. 
  • Petition – This is when we ask God for what we need – primarily spiritual needs, but physical as well.  Our prayer should always include a statement of our willingness to accept God’s will whether He directly answers our prayer or not.  Forgiveness and every true need are the objects of the prayer of petition.
  • Intercession – Praying for others is an important part of prayer as this leads us to pray as Jesus did where we are not concerned with our needs but with the needs of others.   This prayer knows no boundaries and must even extend to our enemies.
  • Thanksgiving – It is crazy, but prayers of gratitude or Thanksgiving are the most neglected type of prayer.  We are strengthened when we stop throughout our day and thank God for all the good things that happen to us and to others.  Recognizing the seeds of goodness being sown in our world. Give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thess 5:18) When I wake up, I find offering my thoughts, my words, and my heart to God for His purpose help order my day.
  • Praise – Prayers of praise acknowledge God, give him glory for his own sake beyond what he has done but simply because HE IS – This is being Smitten With Goodness!  These prayers reflect to him His goodness as David does in the Psalms.

Meditation

Meditation engages thought, imagination, emotion, and desire.  Its goal is to make our own faith the subject considered, by confronting it with the reality of our own life.  It is a Christian practice of prayer dating back to the early Church.

Meditation is above all a quest. The mind seeks to understand the why and how of the Christian life, in order to adhere and respond to what the Lord is asking. By meditating on the Gospels, holy icons, liturgical texts, spiritual writings, or “the great book of creation,” we come to make our own that which is God’s. To the extent that we are humble and faithful, we discover in meditation the movements that stir the heart, and we are able to discern them. It is a question of acting truthfully in order to come into the light: Lord, what do you want me to do? (CCC 2705-2706).

An essential form of Christian prayer, meditation is especially for those who are seeking to answer the vocational question, Lord, what do you want me to do? and how can I be the best version of myself?

  • The Rosary is a beautiful tool for meditation.  As a convert, I never understood the fascination Catholics had with the Rosary.  Now I get it.  A few years ago, I became curious and took a 30-day Rosary challenge.  That led to saying a daily Rosary for lent.  Now it is a daily habit and gift I give to myself.  By meditating on the mysteries of the Rosary, I get to know Jesus through his mother’s eyes, seek the promises of the mysteries and obtain their fruits.  It is an antidote for anxiety and keeps my gaze and heart firmly planted where it should be.  If you are new to the Rosary, you might join a community like ManyHailMarysAtATime to learn and pray daily with over 3,000 people online. 
  • Lectio Divina is a method of praying the Scriptures.  What better way to get to know God than by spending time in His spoken word?  St Benedict made it a regular practice in his monasteries.  This is different from a bible study which can be valuable as well. There are many forms of Lectio Divina but they incorporate the following elements:
    • Read. The first element of this type of prayer is reading (lectio): you take a short passage from the Bible, preferably a Gospel passage and read it carefully, perhaps three or more times. Let it really soak-in. 
    • Reflect. The second element is meditation (meditatio). By using your imagination enter into the Biblical scene in order to “see” the setting, the people, and the unfolding action. It is through this meditation that you encounter the text and discover its meaning for your life.
    • Respond. The next element is prayer (oratio) or your personal response to the text: asking for graces, offering praise or thanksgiving, seeking healing or forgiveness. In this prayerful engagement with the text, you open yourself up to the possibility of contemplation. 
    • Rest. Contemplation (contemplatio) is a gaze turned toward Christ and the things of God. By God’s action of grace, you may be raised above meditation to a state of seeing or experiencing the text as mystery and reality. In contemplation, you come into an experiential contact with the One behind and beyond the text.

Contemplative Prayer

Contemplative prayer is the simple expression of the mystery of prayer.   It is a gaze of faith fixed on Jesus, an attentiveness to the Word of God, a silent love.  It achieves real union with the prayer of Christ to the extent that it makes us share in his mystery.  (CCC 2724)

Centering prayer is a receptive method of Christian silent prayer that prepares us to receive the gift of contemplative prayer, prayer in which we experience God’s presence within us, closer than breathing, closer than thinking, closer than consciousness itself.  It is a relationship with God and a discipline to deepen that relationship.  You can learn more about this type of prayer and join a community to practice this discipline. 

Nature can be a mirror for God.  Going on a nature walk and noticing my surroundings can be a form of contemplation. I enjoy noticing and contemplating birds when I can be in nature at our Peace of Heaven.  When I’m in the city, I am able to notice and contemplate God’s wonderful nature through Whoop Jenny and the beautiful birds she meets.

When was the last time you really sat with the Lord in prayer? 

If you sense something is missing in your life, even though you think about your faith often, perhaps it is time to get quiet and lean into the one who created you!  We can consume resources about prayer, read devotionals, and learn about our faith without ever coming to Him.  We can depend on self-care, as defined by our culture, to refresh our soul when all we need to do is shut up and let God love us! If you need support, please let me know as I would like to assist.

Praying for our Smitten With Goodness community,

Cynthia

Growing In Good Works

I hope this post finds you settling into your word of the year as well as having a plan mapped out to get to know your Saint buddy. My prayer time this week included a plea for guidance on how to best get to know mine, St. Joseph. The next day, I was listening to the Godsplaining podcast and low and behold, they were discussing the Year of St. Joseph. This conversation gave me a good starting point for my plan. I love how God works! Do you have a plan to nourish your mind this year? Another practice I wanted to share that supports my growth is identifying twelve books that will challenge my thinking. Getting through this stack feels good when I complete in December.

Have you started thinking about Lent? 

Lent is early this year beginning on Ash Wednesday February 17, 2021. Just as Jesus suffered and was tempted by Satan, during Lent we are also called to enter the desert of our own lives. Through the good works of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, God prunes our hearts as we are united to Christ and his suffering. These practices give us the strength to resist sin and follow His counter cultural path of love. If we open our heart and hear His word, we learn how Jesus, exposed in his humanity, rejects sin when confronted with temptations and seeks solace in God the Father. This serves as an example for us in our own personal deserts. We will take the opportunity to unpack each topic of prayer, service and almsgiving over the next few weeks. The 40 days of Lent is a good time to solidify and root these practices in our life.

We must consider how to rouse one another to love and good works. 

Focus on His truth, Hebrews 10:24

There are many great resources out there to help guide your Lenten journey. Here are a few to explore to begin preparing your heart in what is best for you:

Blessed is She has a new Lent devotional Set a Fire which I will be using in addition to my Magnificat Lenten Journey and Word on Fire reflections.

Walking with Purpose helps to prepare your heart for the triumph of resurrection through several short, powerful bible studies:

Looking to feel revived and refreshed as you grow in the knowledge that you are loved? Choose Living In The Father’s Love.

Need to be awakened to the reality of who you are in Christ? Choose Fearless and Free.   

Desire to learn how all Scripture points to Jesus, and recognize and appreciate God’s plan for your own life? Choose Beholding His Glory.   

Want to counter feeling weighed down by a culture that all too often leaves us feeling empty and dissatisfied? Choose Beholding Your King.   

Dynamic Catholic continues their Best Lent Ever series and you can sign up for free. This year the topic is feeding your soul with prayer. Nothing will transform your life so completely, absolutely, and forever like really learning how to pray. It is not what you give up for lent, it is who you become.

To be Christian is to imitate Christ. Good Catholic and Fr. Ken Geraci are taking a journey through The Life of Christ that promises Christ will become more real to you, in His humanity and His divinity. You can learn more here.

Pope Francis says, the word of God consoles and encourages us. At the same time, it summons us to conversion, challenges us, and frees us from the bondage of our selfishness. For His word has the power to change our lives and to lead us out of darkness into the light.

Let’s use this Lent to walk through the darkness and further into the light being Smitten with His Goodness!

Cynthia

Action: Ready, Fire, Aim or Aim, Ready, Fire?

Photo by Steven Arenas on Pexels.com

Have you ever heard the expression ready, fire, aim?  It seems to me that a lot of our culture operates this way taking immediate action and reacting to something before thinking it through.  If we are not careful and intentional, this behavior can transcend our life, including our spiritual life.

Landing on the word action for my word this year was a bit tricky.  I needed to adjust my mindset around its definition and what act means.  Action is defined as the process of doing something, typically to achieve an aim.  Since I am looking for holiness in my life, I measure success by my relationship with God and spiritual growth year over year.  This is my north star. The way I think, speak and act should align with this aim.  Being out of alignment with my purpose and my values is a recipe for stress and anxiety.  Many people go through life not really knowing what they want, and they drift.  As believers, we have a simple, clear, unambiguous articulation of the end goal of how we should live life.  We can do this by being smitten with God’s goodness.

Do you know the stumbling blocks that keep your eye off goodness?  I stub my toes often on my self-reliance, thinking things are all up to me.  This nasty coping skill was the result of lost connection with my mother from alcoholism.  As I learned later through recovery, I have an overdeveloped sense of responsibility and its easier for me to be concerned with others which enables me to not look to closely at my own faults.  It was easier for me to take on this responsibility and have what I thought was control over my chaotic world.

Our culture glorifies and rewards self-reliance even though it is destroying our relationships and our mental health.  We are called to love God with our whole being. I find myself asking for forgiveness more often than I like.   As humans, we are made for love and connection.  Through learning to do things different, I know the quality of my relationships correlate to my ability to trust and be vulnerable.  If I want to grow in my love with God, my husband, family, friends, and my community, I need to invite others to help and support me.  Self-reliance creates stress and anxiety and robs me of the gift of peace because I feel everything is up to me.  I feel like Atlas, carrying the world on my shoulders. 

With this context, action for me is aim, ready, fire.  This is the right-ordered action.  Since my aim is to do God’s will, I need to get ready through prayer and then fire or act!  It is simple but challenging given my tendencies – I oftentimes bypass the most important step, prayer. 

Whatever I learn, receive, or hear from God or what I see in Him, if I put it into practice peace will live within me allowing me to be smitten with His goodness.  The value of goodness is transcendent!  Goodness is not only a virtue but a practice where I find ways to create good things and make my life better including the lives of everyone else around me.  The gifts and fruits of the Spirit are abundant!

For the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness, and truth. 

Focus on His truth, Ephesians 5:9

Being smitten with goodness brings light into the world through partaking in the divine nature by faith and confessing the greatness of the One who created me.  When I am secure in this identity, rather than the old habit of self-reliance, I live a life worthy of the gift I have been given.  I am made capable by doing this by grace and the gifts of his Spirit, which I receive through the sacraments and through prayer.  (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1692

Living a life of virtue is a habit with a firm disposition to do good.  It allows me to not only perform good acts but to give the best of myself.  When I look toward the good with my whole heart, I take concrete steps to grasp beauty around me and have an attitude and disposition that will govern my actions, order my passions, and guide my conduct according to reason and faith. 

In action and goodness,

Cynthia

Do You Have a Word of The Year?

Last year’s word of the year for me was Be.  Upon reflection, Be was the perfect word that fueled my spiritual growth and cultivated my peace of mind.  Flash back to last February.  In my journey to understand love, the way our Creator intended, I stepped away from a 35-year career to support my husband through his lifesaving bone marrow transplant.  Little did I know, we would be contending with COVID the following month to add complexity to his immune compromised state as well as facing a grueling year of multiple complications from the transplant.  Hiring in my field of philanthropy slowed down as well and positions of interest were and continue to be on hold.  Since much of my time prior to the transplant and COVID was focused on working, it was hard to be still and just Be. Being is an uncomfortable space to find yourself in after years of doing.  Through faith and trust, I learned what it meant to Be and was blessed with many gifts through this surrender.  By being still last year, I was able to see and understand God’s grace and His goodness.  I started writing about this goodness which I hope inspires you in your journey.  Have you taken some time to reflect on how God has worked in your life this past year and written a few key moments in your spiritual journey and identified your hopes for the new year? 

St Benedict said, “Whatever good work you begin to do, beg of God with the most earnest prayer to perfect it.”  I am taking some of my dreams to God this year and asking for help to sort out what needs an action plan.  Dreams will never come true if I do not take conscious steps towards making them a reality.  It is the intention of my actions.  What are your dreams?

A few years ago, I started setting a word of the year when I felt called to pay more attention to my spiritual life.  The Spirit always reveals the perfect word when I take notice through specific themes, images, songs, scripture, prayer, or meditations. 

Action is my word this year.   I am excited to see how this theme plays out through my year.  I feel this word will create the conditions conducive for the spiritual growth God desires for me.  I am praying for the courage to take action on what I am called to do and fight the bad habits that sometimes get in my way.  At times, I get lost with distractions and do what is urgent rather than what is important, this keeps me from moving towards my goals and the big picture.  Recently during my holy hour, I found myself spending two hours reading daily meditations, in addition to the daily mass readings and prayers on my phone.  Although these can support my spiritual growth, it did not feel productive.  My spiritual growth is about strengthening my relationship with my Creator which I do through prayer and spending time with Him.  I had the realization, it is not necessarily about what other people’s interpretations are, I need to take action on what I hear in the whispers of prayer to bring to the world.  Contemplation and action are both important and I am looking forward to a flow between the being and doing this year.

Commit to the Lord whatever you do and your plans will succeed. 

Focus on His truth, Proverbs 16:3

Planning is deciding what to change today so tomorrow will be different from yesterday. Our plans help us construct a vision of how we would like the future to be, but only actions will bring these things about.  With confidence in the rightness of our desires, we can be assured that God never gives us a dream we cannot reach.  I want God’s grace to take root in me this year to continue to see His goodness and take action to share this goodness.  I will need to ask for His help and guidance, not carry the weight of doing things all myself and saying no to being comfortable.  This will position me well to fully receive what God has for me in this new word and say Yes!

If you are new to The Word of the Year, check out this Abiding Together podcast for some inspiration and the great journal questions to get you started. 

I’d love to hear your Word of the Year.

Smitten with Goodness,

Cynthia