Guide to Goodness

The Greatest Solemnity of the Year

After recollecting our Lord’s Passion and Death on Good Friday, Holy Saturday begins as a day of quiet prayer and reflection.  It is a day when no Mass is celebrated in the Catholic Church (until the solemn Easter Vigil that begins after sundown).  Instead, the faithful pray and meditate on the great sacrifice our Lord has made for all of us, and anticipate His Resurrection from the dead on Easter Sunday. 

I spend the day in the quiet, thanking Jesus for the ultimate gift that He gave to all of us on Good Friday.  I try to place myself in the confusion and fear (as well as hope) that the Blessed Mother, the apostles, and the other witnesses to Jesus’ Passion undoubtedly felt on that first Holy Saturday.  In doing so, I realize how fortunate I am to know how the story ends and that Jesus Christ will be rising on Sunday morning! 

As the day progresses, my thoughts turn to the Easter Vigil Mass.  For those who have not experienced an Easter Vigil Mass, I strongly encourage you to do so when you are able (whether attending in person or watching at home, perhaps viewing Pope Francis offering the Easter Vigil Mass from St. Peter’s in Rome).  It is a long Mass (usually three hours) that gives us the opportunity to keep vigil for the Lord in the greatest solemnity of the year.  You will hear, see, and feel the entirety of our salvation history and be united with members of the Church throughout all time. 

The Easter Vigil Mass is divided into four parts:  (1) The Solemn Beginning of the Vigil (or the Lucernarium); (2) The Liturgy of the Word; (3) The Baptismal Liturgy; and (4) The Liturgy of the Eucharist.  Each of the parts of the Mass have unique characteristics and I will point out several that are significant to me. 

The Solemn Beginning of the Vigil begins in the dark but you will see light beginning to break through. 

The church is dark before the priest blesses a fire outside the church and then prepares and lights the Paschal candle.  After the blessing, there is a procession in which the Paschal candle is brought into the dark church, with the procession stopping at certain intervals for prayer.  While the procession continues, the Paschal candle is used to light the small candles that each member of the congregation has been given.  It takes your breath away when you see the wave of light slowly move through the dark church representing Christ spreading His light throughout our world.  When the candles are lit and the procession reaches the front of the church, the Easter Proclamation, or Exsultet, is chanted by a deacon.  The Easter Proclamation is filled with images of light and recalls Christ’s death and Resurrection, giving us time to reflect on what we have prepared for during Lent and are now able to celebrate as Christ is risen.  The candles that the congregation hold are typically extinguished after the Easter Proclamation and the church is again dark. 

The Liturgy of the Word during the Easter Vigil is unlike the Liturgy of the Word that you experience during a normal Sunday Mass. 

It is an extended liturgy that includes up to nine readings from the Old and New Testament, with Responsorial Psalms after each reading.  These readings (which begin with the creation story from the Book of Genesis, then move to Abraham’s sacrifice and the Israelite exodus from Egypt from the Book of Exodus, and conclude with the great prophets Isaiah, Baruch, and Ezekiel) highlight crucial moments in our salvation story.  This is our story of healing and redemption and it reminds me that I am part of this great story too.  After the readings and psalms conclude, the lights are raised, the candles lit, and the sounds of the Gloria and bells fill the church (for the first time since Lent began).  We can now celebrate that our Lord has risen and has overcome death and sin for us.  The sounds and the light (arising from the previously dark church) fill my soul with joy.  We then move to a reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans proclaiming Christ risen from the dead and dying no more.  The Alleluias ring out, also for the first time since Lent began, and we hear the Gospel reading of Jesus’s Resurrection.  This year, the Gospel reading is from Mark 16: 1-7, in which Mary Magdalen, Mary, the mother of James, and Salome are greeted by a young man at the tomb with these words:

Do not be amazed!  You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified.  He has been raised; he is not here.  Behold the place where they laid him.

Focus on His truth, Mark 16:6

The Mass moves to the Baptismal Liturgy.

This is a very special and important part of the Mass for me as it is the time when adults entering the Church experience the initiation sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation. I spent many years working with catechumens and candidates in the RCIA process and was so privileged and blessed to be part of their faith journeys that culminated in the reception of sacraments at the Easter Vigil Mass.  At my parish, there would be a retreat for them on Good Friday evening.  Each adult that was to enter the church was encouraged to take a glass, fill it with water to the level that represented where they were in their faith journey, and tell the group their story.  It was truly amazing to hear the faith and hope that these soon-to-be Catholics shared with us.  They then poured the water into a pitcher.  The water in that pitcher was added to the baptismal pool water so that each adult would be baptized with each other’s faith journeys.  What a powerful statement of faith and community!  To see the glow on the faces of the newly baptized and confirmed helps strengthen my faith every year.  After the sacramental rites, the congregation is given the opportunity to renew their baptismal vows and be sprinkled with holy water.  We are also blessed with the faith journeys of the new members of our Church in the sprinkling of the holy water, united in our faith, the faith of our Church.

The Liturgy of the Eucharist then follows.  While it is the same liturgy we experience at all other Masses, it takes on heightened importance during the Easter Vigil. 

We celebrated the institution of the Holy Eucharist during the Holy Thursday Mass and now once again recreate that sacrament on the altar during the Easter Vigil.  The newly baptized and confirmed will receive the body and blood of our dear Lord for the first time at this Mass.  So many of them have been longing to receive this sacrament and you will see many of them overcome with emotion as they return to their pews after their First Communion.  When I see their faces, I am always reminded to not take the miracle of the Holy Eucharist for granted.

The conclusion of the Easter Vigil Mass is really the conclusion of the Easter Triduum that began on Holy Thursday.  The recessional will include one of the great Easter hymns, such as “Jesus Christ is Risen Today.”  To join our voices together in proclaiming this great mystery that we just commemorated invigorates me in my faith as we enter the Easter season. 

Jesus Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  May this truth fill your heart with peace, joy, and hope, and may you be Smitten with Goodness during this Easter season!  

Jacquelyne

Guide to Goodness

Good Friday Lord’s Passion: Action Speaks Louder than Words

So much of my life I was caught up in what people would say instead of basing reality on their behaviors.  This likely stems from having significant relationships in my life who were emotionally unavailable to me in my formative years.  This destructive coping mechanism led me into a lot of wishful thinking and living in the hopeful future.  After suffering the consequences of a failed marriage and another long-term dating relationship, I was able to see how this habit was not serving me well and was able to change my mindset to ensure that actions must match words.

As Christians, we believe that Jesus gives us the playbook to live a life of love and peace.  Our faith is based on what God has promised but also on what He has done. 

Even if you do not believe in me, believe the works.

Focus on His truth, John 14:11

The greatest of all His works is the resurrection from the dead, which we will commemorate a few days from now.  Works, or actions are always more powerful than words.  Words may convince my mind but works move my will into action – to decision.  Jesus continues to do the works of the Father today, through the sacraments, especially in the Eucharist and sacramental confession.  Through God’s grace and love, I see these works as they really are, true actions of Christ available with the power to transform me.

Good Friday and the Lord’s Passion is a work of pure love, beyond our human understanding.  As Pope Francis says, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified…unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.  Jesus reveals that for every man and woman who wants to find him, He is the hidden seed ready to die in order to bear much fruit.  As if to say: if you wish to know me, if you wish to understand me, look at the grain of wheat that dies in the soil, that is, look at the cross.”

The cross gives us a way out of the sin of our human nature.  It is the ultimate act of a loving Father, to sacrifice His son who bears the weight of darkness and the world.  I will always remember one Good Friday service where we venerated the cross.  Emotions of gratitude, sadness and hope welled inside me as I kissed Jesus’ crucified feet – so powerful they will never leave me. 

The Three Hours’ Agony, or Tre Ore, is a liturgical service held on Good Friday from noon until 3 o’clock to commemorate the Passion of Christ. Specifically, it refers to the three hours that Jesus hung on the Cross and includes a series of homilies on the seven last words spoken by Christ.  Bishop Barron was invited by Timothy Cardinal Dolan in 2012 to preside over the Tre Ore service at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York which you can watch.  The service includes an hour of reflections on the Seven Last Words of Christ which you can listen to here.

As we reflect on Christ’s sacrifice this Good Friday, the Seven Last Words give us powerful insight into His thoughts as He took all the sins of mankind upon Himself. With these words, He forgives His enemies, forgives the penitent thief, cries out to God, and declares the end of His earthly life:

  1. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Luke 23:34
  2. “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:43
  3. “Woman, behold your son. Son, behold your mother.” John 19:26–27
  4. “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Matthew 27:46 & Mark 15:34
  5. “I thirst.” John 19:28
  6. “It is finished.” Matthew 27:46 & Mark 15:34
  7. “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit.” Luke 23:46

This message of forgiveness provides a way out and path forward from the darkness of sin in our life.  Christ’s love breaks the cycle of our natural human response where if you are cruel to me, I will be cruel to you.  Gandhi also noted, “An eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind.”  Christ did not run away or confirm the violence afflicted upon Him.  Instead, He stayed, stood His ground by refusing to cooperate with the standards of this world and mirrored the violence to those who inflicted it upon Him.  We have many other examples in the lives of the saints who model this for us.  Saint Mother Teresa, after finding a child in the streets of Calcutta, brought her to a baker’s shop seeking bread for the child. The owner spit in her face.  She thanked him for his gift for her and asked what about the child.  Saint Pope John Paul II is another example where he went to his homeland of Poland to share the good news about God, human dignity, and human rights, drawing people into a new spiritual space where the people wanted God and the wall of communism was broken down.  The power of love can change lives and societies.  Actions speak louder than words – the cross is the purest example.

The Sign of the Cross is a simple prayer, an action where we can show our love, which bears great spiritual power.  This profound gesture opens us up to God, renews our Baptism, and acts as a mark of Christian discipleship, one that repels the devil and helps us to resist our self-indulgence and tendency toward sin.  In The Sign of the Cross: Recovering the Power of the Ancient Prayer, Bert Ghezzi reminds us of its true significance.  You can download this quick read here for free.

As we contemplate our Lord’s Passion on this Good Friday, I invite you to reflect upon how your daily actions reflect your love and gratitude for God’s goodness.   Has your journey through Lent opened your heart to receive a deeper encounter with God’s love?  Will you continue small sacrifices of self-denial, praying and serving others?  Action speaks louder than words.

May we be smitten with the goodness of loving actions,

Cynthia

Guide to Goodness

Finding Perfect Precious Love

Joy isn’t what happens when life goes perfectly. It’s what happens when you know you’re loved perfectly, even when life’s a mess.

Chris Stefanick, Living Joy

The journey of Smitten With Goodness began with a simple question.  What does it mean to love?

Continue reading “Finding Perfect Precious Love”
Guide to Goodness

Are You Perfectly Merciful?

Return to me with your whole heart for I am gracious and merciful

During this third Sunday of Lent as I continue wandering in the desert of my soul, I am very grateful for God’s endless mercy and graciousness.  As the Master Gardener pulls the sinful weeds that crowd out the flowers of beauty, my Creator is pruning my heart for beauty to burst forth!  Ouch!

Passing judgement became part of my DNA at an early age. Living in a house with a stepmother who was critical of others and struggled with her own shame, this nature was passed along to me. Shame was like water and I was the sponge, soaking up the darkness. I never felt completely loved and accepted so I learned to compensate by overachieving and striving. Becoming a perfectionist, I never felt confident in who I was and looked externally for who I should be. I needed to be needed by others to make myself feel valued. Through much healing and personal growth, I came to understand how the sins of our parents are passed down to our children if we do not transform ourselves. Shefali Tsabary, PhD, in The Conscious Parent book and Tedx Talk, describes the framework to break this cycle. It is lifechanging.

As we live in the light and follow the path of true love, our eyes open to our brokenness and our transgressions. They are like a mirror that reflects the areas where we need to change to bring God’s light into the darkness of our world. We are called to change our mindset – to transformation. How well am I doing this?

Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

Focus on His truth, Luke 6:36

Mercy or tender compassion is God’s most distinctive characteristic. St. Augustine reminds us that we are, by our very nature, ordered to God. Since God is tender mercy, “having” God is tantamount to exercising compassion, and being merciful ourselves. This in turn allows me to have mercy for others. I have learned that being merciful includes showing mercy and compassion towards myself. If I judge myself harshly, how can I expect not to judge those who I meet throughout the day?

We are given a guide in Luke 6:37-38 as to what mercy means and the fruits that it bears: “Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven. Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.”

Bishop Barron says that “according to the physics of the spiritual order, the more one draws on the divine life, the more one receives that life, precisely because it is a gift and is properly infinite. God’s life is had, as it were, on the fly: when you receive it as a gift, you must give it away, since it only exists in gift form, and then you will find more of it flooding into your heart.  If you want to be happy, Jesus is saying, this divine love, this tender compassion of God, must be central to your life; it must be your beginning, your middle, and your end.”

How many times do I listen with an open heart? 

Being an active listener has been a strength in my career as a fundraising professional.  I have been successful at listening with a genuine, curious, open heart, and guiding relationships through trust.   In my personal life, I have had to work and apply the same approach.  At times with my family, I do not truly listen as I am thinking about what I will say or I try to impose my thoughts, perspective, or offer a solution. I am not listening with an open heart and at times can be judging others. 

To stop judging is the foundation of empathy.  As I let go my point of view, I can hear what God is saying to me in my life.  By keeping an open mind and heart open, I can hear what God is saying to me through others. And I can have empathy for people by listening to what God says about others and not be judgmental: to instead have mercy and compassion and God’s love for others.

St. Bernard of Clairvaux says on loving God: although we have sinned, been wicked and done evil, our Father, astoundingly, is merciful. He desires to pour into our lap gifts in good measure. But in our rebellion, we often fail to recognize his mercy or show it to others. True union with God always entails our assimilation to him, by which we are able to adopt the compassion and forgiveness that are his. For the true measure of loving God is to love God without measure.

One of my foundational life principals has been the golden rule: “Do unto others as they would do unto you.”  After God’s pruning of my heart, I aspire to: “Do unto others as you would have God do unto you.”

How well do I pay attention to the needs of others and show mercy and compassion?  Let us all reflect on this question during our remaining days of Lent and let God prune our hearts to be more perfectly merciful like him.

Smitten with His Goodness,

Cynthia

Guide to Goodness

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. 

Guide to Goodness, Uncategorized

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

Prayer

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

Prayer

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!

Guide to Goodness

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

Guide to Goodness

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