Inspiring Goodness

Shining a Light on Goodness: Hallelujah, He is Risen!

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.

Photo by Lerkrat Tangsri on Pexels.com
Continue reading “Shining a Light on Goodness: Hallelujah, He is Risen!”
Inspiration

Pruning Hearts

Today’s post, on this second Sunday of Lent, is written by a guest contributor Melanie Boutiette.  Melanie is my sister, mother figure, and friend.  I am pleased to introduce you to her and an article from her blog Just Beloved, Words of Encouragement for you!

I love to garden. I love digging my hands in the rich soil, planting beautiful flowers, and transforming a once barren area into a beautiful bed or landscape. The whole yard is filled with a variety of flowers and plants. I especially love the front of the house. I have an English garden there that once was just an ugly plot of ground after disease destroyed all the bushes and plants. To look at my yard right now in the dead of winter, you cannot tell that I love to garden.

More than ten years ago, a friend of mine who is a true master gardener, surprised me for my birthday that year and had my circle of friends gift me with a rose bush. Then she helped me transform that ugly plot of land with beautiful flowering roses. There is a profusion of color in bold reds, soft pinks, pale lavender, white, and yellow roses when in bloom.

Over the years, many, many more plants have been added to this English garden. Yellow lilies, purple, white, and lavender irises from my mother’s garden. Pink, fuchsia, and white peonies from my grandmother’s garden…just to name some of the plants. I am not a master gardener, so I do not know the specific names of all the variety of flowers but they are all precious to me.

My husband has joined in by planting zinnias, phlox, geraniums, petunias, and more. My husband, children, and grandchildren have given me a new rose bush or hydrangea bush to plant for Mother’s Day or my birthday annually. My garden is not limited to just flowers, but has many herbs for cooking like mint, thyme, parsley, and rosemary.

I love when the garden is in full bloom, fragrant with life, drawing the bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. I love making beautiful bouquets of flowers to enjoy and share with others in neatly arranged vases. I relish cooking with fresh herbs. I simply love gardening.

And so, does God. He is a Master Gardener. He loves transforming barren hearts and lives into places of beauty. How precious is His Love?

Gardening is not easy. In fact, it very hard work. It is a constant struggle to tend the plants: to water, nurture, fertilize, and feed them. It is laborious to keep the weeds at bay and any pests or invaders out. It is hard work to keep plants trimmed and maintained. It is worth it though to realize the fruit of my labor.

A garden can often reflect the nature of the heart too.

Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that I may bear more fruit.”

Focus on His truth, John 15:2

God looks at our hearts as a garden. Daily we must spend time with Him. Time in His Word. We must water and feed our soul on that which is good. We must constantly weed out bad attitudes, anger, unforgiveness, resentment or anything that does not reflect the beauty of God. We must confess sin and pluck it out quickly before it has time to take root and spread. We must be careful to tend our garden well, and not allow foreign invaders in or pests and disease to ruin its beauty. For how quickly the world and sin can influence the garden of our heart with the lures of temptations so that we no longer look, talk, walk, or act like Christ!

And the garden does not just need tending in the spring, summer, and fall, but in the winter too. Winter seems brutal to look at the garden. The rose bushes have been pruned back as has the verbena bushes. The peonies, and much more have seemed to die and have been cut back. It is ugly right now. And everything seems dead. But winter is also a time of rest. And though it looks barren and hopeless, much is happening behind the scenes, and underground if you will.

God will often prune our lives and it can be severe. It can even be painful. He will cut off things that do not serve His purposes, or that are causing disease. He will pluck up, pull down, and root out anything in our lives that do not reflect His beauty, because He is after the better! Sometimes those old plants He is rooting out can be people, activities, friendships, jobs, and more because we have allowed those to replace God or they have become idols in our hearts.

Sometimes God knows the things in our heart’s garden are hurting us or holding us back from His vision and purpose. And like a diseased plant, He is pruning us because He is the Master Gardener. He sees the bigger picture. He sees the beauty and fruit that will bloom in due season through that painful process called pruning.

It is winter now: but wait for spring and summer and trust the Master Gardener!  Let Him prune you; beauty will burst forth! It is a promise.

Beloved:

Do you know that My love for you began in a garden?  I delight in all things beautiful. All My creation testifies to that. The delicate smell of a rose or flower is the fragrant perfume of Me drawing you and wooing you with beauty and love. The delightful dance of the bumblebee and butterfly reflects My beauty as well; it is a dance of love.  And when I planned your life, like a Master Gardener, I had specific intent and design to transform the barren landscape of your life and heart into a beautiful garden to reflect Me. But you have an enemy of your soul who seeks to creep in like unwanted weeds and pests and bring lies and destruction. And since the Fall, there is now toil involved in tilling the soil of your heart and in your literal garden.  When I come alongside you to trim and prune and cut away anything that robs you of true life and beauty, sometimes you’ve seen Me as cruel or harsh. You have not understood My ways. And when it seems as though you’re in a winter season where nothing is happening, can you rest in Me and trust? Do you not know that I am good and that everything I do has good plans in store for you?  As I prune you, it is so you can produce an even more abundant garden or fruits for others to see My beauty and goodness.  And it is ultimately for your joy and benefit as well.  Though you may not understand My ways, can you trust My heart?  Yield to My pruning and in time you will celebrate and see the abundance explode forth: just like a spring and summer garden.  I love you My beloved daughter, let Me prune your heart.

Melanie Boutiette is a passionate lover of Jesus, of coffee, and chocolate, she loves just about all things creative. Her creativity finds its expression in writing, painting, crafting homemade cards, gardening, throwing a party, reading, exercising or hiking, traveling, cooking, and playing with her grandchildren. She especially loves to encourage others through a timely note of encouragement or through the inspiring words in a story, poetry, prose or humor.  A former magazine and freelance writer and retired teacher, she now blogs regularly at Just Be-Loved.

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

Inspiration

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

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

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

Inspiration

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