As was the case last year during the beginning of the pandemic closures, this year’s Stations of the Cross (or Via Crucis) presided over by Pope Francis were held in the quiet and virtually empty St. Peter’s Square. This year, though, the mediations and prayers for each Station were prepared and read by children from Rome and other Italian cities. The faith and hope expressed by these children are profound and moving and are worthy of further reflection during this Easter season. As a complement to the text of the meditations and prayers provided here, you can watch a video of the Stations and hear the children’s sweet voices, as well as see several of the children greet Pope Francis with hugs after the Stations concluded.Continue reading “Shining a Light on Goodness: We Adore You, O Christ, and We Praise You”
Written by Jennifer Stavinoha for Every Sacred Sunday one April 4, 2021
It’s the greatest news to ever hit the headlines of humanity – but the arrival of Easter comes with some surprising emotions.Continue reading “Shining a Light on Goodness: Hallelujah, He is Risen!”
As we have journeyed through Lent and an intensified Holy Week, I hope your heart is rejoicing and full of light in the fact that God’s mercy endures forever. He is risen. Alleluia! I hope your faith has been strengthened and your heart has been lovingly pruned and purified so it is bursting with love. Christ suffered greatly to grant us access to eternal life. The time is now for us to mature spiritually and Be His Light in the world.Continue reading “God’s Mercy Endures Forever, Let Us Be His Light”
Another blow. Why can’t we catch a break? These were my thoughts as I drove my husband to the emergency room. He had only been home from the hospital 20 days after previous admissions adding up to more than 200 days following his bone marrow transplant last year. Sometimes it is just too much to be surrounded by all the suffering, the uncertainty life brings, and waiting in the fear of the what ifs. The blanket of heaviness can descend upon me covering me in darkness when all I want to do is bask in the light.
Anxiety can ruin your life. It is complicated. Fundamentally, any struggle with anxiety has a multitude of underlying issues including mental illness, chemical imbalance, a diagnosed anxiety disorders, and it includes a spiritual component as well. For many like me, it is a worship problem. I might be overwhelmed and preoccupied with external events of my life: like my spouse’s illness, not having a job right now or some other problem. These things are the object of my anxiety and consume a lot of my time and energy. But my problem is first a problem with God. It is a problem of trust. Is the Lord Sovereign over my life? Does the peace of Christ rule my heart? If not, there is a war in my soul, and it overwhelms me. I have a divided heart and am not surrendering and trusting who God says He is. At times, I do not believe in His goodness. It gets to a point, as the pressure builds, where I cannot handle the anxiety on my own. But I am not alone in my struggle.
Anxiety is a persistent part of our human condition. It is so common that an estimated 23 million Americans suffer from panic attacks, while millions more identify as having some form of anxiety disorder. Recent research shows that almost 40% of Americans are more anxious now than they were at this time last year. Anxiety affects 1 in 8 children in the US and 18% of adults. Mental illness and substance abuse expenditures are the single driver of disability costs. And Post-COVID forecasts warn that the cost of treating widespread anxiety and depression will create a $1.6 trillion drag on the US economy. This is a crisis. You can find out more information here.
If you do not personally struggle with anxiety, then someone close to you does and it is important to be educated. Anxiety is a weight that pulls you down. It is pressure upon pressure, being paralyzed by fear, and lost in the worry of all the what if’s. These pressures can sometimes be accompanied by despair which should not be a surprise, since so many people have both anxiety and depression. Healing must be a priority.
The question is where do you turn?
“God comforts us in all our affliction” (2 Cor. 1:3-4). It is a truth for all believers throughout time. Paul reminds us that God graciously allows suffering to strip His children of self-reliance – of the pride that feeds so many of our other sins and hinders our usefulness for His purpose. He wants to transform us, and He uses trying life circumstances to accomplish Christian growth and perseverance. Setting our hopes on God alone is the ultimate remedy for anxiety. Additionally, we need to discipline ourselves to look to Jesus regularly; especially when the anxiety tries to dominate our thoughts. Scripture says, “On Him we have set our hope” (2 Cor. 1:10). Hope delivers us from the crippling effects of anxiety because it helps us cling to an immovable anchor: the truth that God is for us in Jesus Christ.
This Lent I have been enjoying DISCIPLE talks. These conversations are rooted in Catholic teaching and Scripture and will guide you to a deeper understanding of your baptismal calling to live as a child of our Heavenly Father, as a brother or sister of Jesus Christ, and as a temple of the Holy Spirit. It is helping to un-divide my heart and lean into trust of God’s goodness.
A free handbook accompanies the talks, highlighting key points, with questions to facilitate discussion or deeper reflection and suggestions for small activities called “Missionary Assignments,” that will help you grow in your relationship with Christ. Our hearts must be at peace, and free from anxiety if we are to fulfill our mission in this world and fulfill our call to holiness.
As adopted children of God, through baptism, we are called to trust that our Father is leading us to salvation. He can use the anxiety to let me know that my heart is not in right order. We have a choice to love and love the good things of God or fall into the trappings of the world. For me, these are my negative thought patterns that create anxiety. Rather than being reactionary and living in scarcity, I need to focus on the abundant gifts God has provided.
Many of our fallen ways of thinking, have come from the lies we have told ourselves from past wounds that have not been healed. I recently discovered Life Giving Wounds, whose mission is to help young adults and adults with divorced and separated parents, give a voice to their pain and find deep spiritual healing. Although I have not participated in a retreat or workshop, I am enjoying their information including GRACE, their simplified Ignatian Examen (Examination of Conscience). I have started incorporating this into my prayer time and this is helpful in putting me into the role of observer of my life and seeing a glimpse of how God sees me.
For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways.Focus on His truth: Isaiah 55:8-9
When I keep an eternal perspective, I realize that life is a gift. Each breath is another moment to serve and be the hands and the feet of the Lord on this earth. I can bring a little piece of heaven to others by using the gifts for God’s kingdom that I was uniquely designed to give to the world.
When I am overwhelmed with my life, and when the order I have known dissolves into disorder, darkness, and suffering, I am learning to look to the light. Instead of focusing on negative thoughts, I can lift me eyes to creation and see God’s beauty. He sends a ladybug, a hummingbird, a cardinal, or a rainbow or any number of signs to show His love and that He is caring for me. Then the veil is lifted, and I smile at the brightness. The light that was already there opens before me. I am not in this alone. It is not my job to eliminate the suffering or move mountains. I whisper, “That is Your job Lord, You are my light and my salvation.”
This fourth Sunday is the halfway mark of Lent and is traditionally known by the name Laetare Sunday, meaning Rejoice. We rejoice because God loved us so much that He sent His beloved son to rescue us from sin and death. I focus on this love and ask the Spirit to guide my thoughts, words, and heart to love. Strip away the anxiety and fear. Help me continue to see that the light is more powerful than the darkness. Let me invite You in and surrender and let You be my guiding light as I walk through the darkness into the light. Help me to reclaim the peace You have already provided and be smitten with Your goodness.
“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
We can all unite in the goodness of prayer…..
To End Human Trafficking
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!
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,
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!
I’d love to hear your Word of the Year.
Smitten with Goodness,
Now this is a good summary of new year’s resolutions!
Shining a light on goodness puts the spot light on what others are doing which can help us on our journey to see God’s goodness. A friend recently introduced me to Prayer Bowls and blessed me with a beautiful Serenity Angel for Christmas.
Do you ever find yourself saying “I’ll pray for you” but then it falls off your to do list? You can capture those prayers and intentions by creating a prayer bowl. The founder, shares goodness through her inspirational story of how God worked through her support our prayer lives. God is near to us when we pray. When we commit to pray, we see big changes.
The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call him in truth.Focus on His truth, Psalm 145:18
The start of a new year has always provided me with hope, a chance for new beginnings, a fresh start, and a time to recalibrate. It is a time when I want to remember to accept what comes my way with joy and peace as well as practice supportive habits. Attending to my spirit provides a crucial foundation for the way I want to live. The new year touchpoint puts a symbolic distance between us and the year we have had. This past year which has taken our ordered lives and brought chaos, heartbreak, and uncertainty. We have all experienced some level of disruption including loss of freedom, of health, of loved ones and our ideas of how things ought to be. I think you will join me in saying it was a year of disorder. But with disorder comes reorder. God is always calling us forward to recalibrate and refocus our vision. I find it more than a little ironic that 20/20 is perfect vision.
What does perfect vision look like in a spiritual sense? It is remaining awake and diligent, proclaiming the light, spreading words of hope, and feeding the fires of joy in our heart. Here are some practical steps to measure our spiritual foundation and goodness this year:
Be attentive. Awareness is a superpower in my book. By remaining awake and diligent, I can discern the signs of God’s intention and purpose for me. By spending time in prayer, contemplation and reading His word, I seek and learn my purpose and know His will for me. I feed myself with the soul food that nourishes and satisfies. God always meets us where we are and provides what we need.
Act. Once I have discerned my purpose and what I am being called to do, I need to act. This takes courage. Sometimes we know what God wants us to do but we do not act, either out of fear, laziness, or bad habits. Action is my word for this year. Did you know that the bible defines Goodness as action? It is not something we do only for the sake of being virtuous. In Greek, the word goodness, “agathosune” means an uprightness of heart and life. I am being called to move my 2020 contemplation into greater action, especially for Smitten with Goodness. This action is proclaiming the light and spreading words of hope.
Expect Opposition. On my spiritual journey, I need to expect opposition. This can be external and internal. Because we live in a compromised world, I must accept the reality that I lean toward sin and selfishness. What does this look like for you? For me, opposition is leaving my comfort zone and surrendering control. My co-dependent tendencies of “helping” others can quickly become me “doing” things for them. I call on the Serenity Prayer and remember wise words like “Don’t do anything for someone that they can do for themselves.” When I really have my control-freak on, I can pray this Surrender Novena which creates a shift in my heart and gives control to the one who is really in the driver seat. Here is a cool screen saver I downloaded to help me remember “Jesus you are the Lord of my year, you are the Lord of my life.”
Bring My Best to Christ. Of course, I can choose to stay in my comfort zone. When I do, I deprive those I love, and the world, of my best self. Stress and anxiety raise thier nasty heads because I am not living my purpose. Several questions that help me focus are: Am I serving with my whole mind, heart, talents, and abilities and loving with all my strength? Each one of us has gifts and talents no matter our stage in life, what are the gifts and talents I give away? Using these talents to fulfill my purpose brings peace to my world and stokes the fires of joy in my heart. We can be like the magi, the wise ones who seek Him.
Go a different route. If I want to change my life, for the better, I usually need to do something different. When I open my heart to Christ, I can expect change and to walk a different path. A path of love which is different from our current culture. In the catholic church, the month of January is traditionally dedicated to the Holy Name of Jesus. and today is the feast day of The Holy Name of Jesus, where Jesus receives his name “God Saves.” This devotion was popularized by St. Bernardine of Siena and is often symbolized by the monogram “IHS,” (sometimes called a Christogram), which is the first three letters of the Greek spelling of His name. Will you let His goodness save your weary, scared, or hungry soul? When I look up to His goodness, it ensures my intention and frees me from my natural impulses. I acknowledge my dependence on the Spirit within who is eagerly waiting for me to surrender and renew me.
Because of the Lord’s great love, we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new each morning; great is your faithfulness.”Focus on His truth, Lamentations 3:22-23
God always wants to bring us somewhere better – the question is will I be drawn to evolve. I think we all desire to want better for ourselves and the world around us. If we get out of our own way, we can develop, grow, and change for the good. Let’s use the action of goodness as our measure for a successful year ahead.
Have a great week and be Smitten with Goodness,