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

Inspiration

Reclaiming Peace

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.

Cynthia

Guide to Goodness

Do You Have a Desire to Want Better?

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,

Cynthia

Uncategorized

My Peace I Give To Others

I believe what we hold in our heart is a microcosm of what we bring into the world.  During this fourth Sunday of Advent, we prayerfully light the Angel’s Candle or the Candle of Love in the Catholic tradition.  This symbolizes the Christmas message of the angels “Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Men.” You can find the full message here. 

As I light the candle, I acknowledge my less-than-perfect preparation of heart during this season of waiting for the coming of Christ.  As much as I try on my own, I fall short.  I am reminded that if I were perfect, I would not need a Savior. It is only when I fully appreciate how flawed I am that the miracle of Christmas becomes personal. It is in Christ that my hope resides, which is what I embrace as I light the candles today. Only He can infuse healing light into our broken hearts, broken bodies, and a broken world, bringing peace and joy regardless of our circumstances. I remember to go back to my Advent mantra, prepare me God, you are my center.

Peace comes when we trust God and say, I do not have a clue what I am going to do about this, but I am going to pray about it because you are in control and you know what you are doing. Jesus tells us to put on his yoke and learn from him when we feel burdened.  This does not mean that we sit down and abdicate all responsibility we still need to move forward and do our part. The critical thing is to determine what we are responsible for and what part is out of our hands. We must trust God with that we cannot control.

Corrie Ten Boom writes that worry is caring tomorrow’s load with today’s strength – carrying two days at once. It is moving into tomorrow ahead of time. Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow. It empties today of its strength and robs us of our peace.  This keeps me from bringing my best self into this world.

Stress, the opposite of peace, is a contributing factor to many physical problems, including diabetes, stomach problems, mental illness, and even tumor development, writes Salleh Mohd Razali in his scientific article on life events, stress, and illness. But the good news is that the amount of stress you have is not what predicts how it will affect you in the long run — it is how you react to the stress in your life that determines how well your body can handle it, say psychologists like Alexandra Crosswell and Dr. Elissa Epel.  There are some practical tips on how to develop a healthy mindset during a very unusual holiday season here, such as changing how you think about stress, assessing your daily habits, getting better support and not letting work consume you.

During this Advent, I have been meditating on Mary’s willingness to say yes. She certainly did not have all the facts, but she said yes in an act of faith.  We can rely on Mary’s example and pray for her grace daily and invite the Spirit to come and mold our hearts, minds, and words – becoming our personal fiat.

Let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

Focus on His truth, 1 John 3:18

Rejoice, the Prince of Peace is coming bringing a peace that surpasses all our human understanding. Being a peacemaker is a hard job for all of us.  We may not always be successful, but we must remain faithful to this work. It is through this peace of heart that we can bring goodwill to our homes, friends, and communities. 

I hope you will join me in seeking peace on earth, bringing good will toward all, and being Smitten with Goodness.

Cynthia

Uncategorized

The Truth is, I Need a Savior

Photo from Worship House Media

It is officially the Advent season, December 1 and the countdown to Christmas begins.  Like lent, Advent is a penitential season in addition to a time for hope, joy, peace and love. We prepare to enter into our need for a savior.  But first, I must feel that I need a savior.

I must confess that I struggle with this at times. Much of my life I bought into the culture’s prevailing view that I am self-made, that I invent and define my reality. Over time, the richness of Twelve Step recovery has softened my view and had a profound impact on my spiritual journey. Step one in the program is hitting bottom, recognizing we are powerless over something or someone and acknowledging that our life has become unmanageable.  Only then, can I be open to the possibility of believing that a Power greater than myself can restore me to sanity.  It opens the door to the need for a savior.  Sometimes, I try and force my solutions on other people.  This is when I need to take a step back, go to step one, realize my powerlessness and ask my savior for help.  Life works better this way.   I believe we all need a savior but when my ego says, “I’m fine,” I am not ready for Christmas and the coming of a savior.  

O Come O Come Emanuel is the story about God’s coming as the ransom to free the captive Israel.  For centuries, the prophets had foretold the coming of a messiah, the God of Israel who would come to earth, take flesh upon Him, and become their Savior and Redeemer. Listen and prepare your heart.

During Advent, we hear a lot from Isaiah who wrote about the coming of God and role sin and disobedience plays in severing this foundational relationship. By asking myself a few questions, I can assess where I am:

Do I find myself wandering off the path I know I should be walking?  The path that allows me to be the best version of myself and the person God wants me to be?  Do I have the feeling I have drifted from my North Star or there is a problem in my life I do not know how to solve?  This is when I need a savior.  Oh Lord I pray, why do you let me wander from your ways?

Have I lost my sense of wonder and awe of God’s goodness?  Has my heart become hard and brittle, not hearing His voice? I want a soft and supple heart ready to be molded into who He wants me to be.  Oh Lord I pray, why do you let me harden my heart to fear you not?  I need your grace.

Am I resistant to who God wants me to be and feel alienated from His truth? I end up in a bad state when I am not sensitive to the fact that things are not right between us.  Oh Lord I pray, let me feel your passion to set things right. 

I have called you by name. You are mine.

Focus on His truth, Isaiah 43:1

Can you identify with any of these questions?  If so, do you feel withered and lifeless? Advent is a time of waiting and preparing our heart for the hope of Christ.

O Come, O Come Emanuel.

Uncategorized

Is Your Heart Full of Hope?

Our world was made from love and goodness as we are assured in the origin story of Genesis. Throughout time, God ensures us that the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome the light. 

As humans, we have always and continue to make poor choices especially when it comes to our soul.  We become complacent in the day to day activities and worries of life, taking our eye off the fact that our earthly home is only temporary.  We fail to keep our eye on the long game.  By doing this we lose hope.

Because God created us in His image out of love, he developed a rescue plan for us to come back to goodness and to the light.  A plan for divinity to enter humanity, draw us back to Him and lead us to true joy, peace and happiness.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him

Focus on His truth, Romans 15:13

Today is the first Sunday of Advent, the period of preparation before Christmas and the coming of Christ.  When I hear this story of Christ’s birth year after year, I am called to anticipation and the reminder that hope, love, joy and peace are at my fingertips.  I am reminded that Christ came to save me.  He came to save you. This love proclaims Maranatha, Our Lord has come, Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus.  My heart opens to my inherent goodness and turns me away from darkness.   As Bishop Barron suggests, we need Advent, not just as a liturgical season but as an attitude in our soul oriented toward spiritual growth. 

In her book The Liturgical Year, Joan Chittister wrote, Advent relieves us of our commitment to the frenetic in a fast-past world.  It slows us down. It makes us think.  Advent asks the questions, what is it for which you are spending your life? What is the star you are following now? And where is that star in its present radiance in your life leading you?

During this busy season, I invite you to dedicate some time in your schedule for stillness and silence and ponder these questions.  I am giving myself permission to not get caught up in having the superficial, Pinterest worthy Christmas and ground myself in anticipation and expectation. I plan to support faith based businesses by using this resource

The first Sunday of Advent carries the message of hope. We can have hope because God is faithful and He will keep his promises. Will you join me and commit to being watchful in hope? Expectant in waiting as we journey toward Christmas. 

Our faith story transforms us the more we hear it. Each time we hear about God entering our humanity and suffering, the message resonates in a new and deeper way.  It is easy to forget God’s promises, what he has fulfilled in the past, when a new trial emerges in our present. 

To hope is to trust that we are part of a larger narrative bigger than ourselves and to look forward to the new life Christ offers.  The challenge and opportunity of Advent lies in cultivating stillness and silence, time for resting in Christ.  This preparation time allows me to ponder the hope of the angel’s message as Mary did.  I can discern how is God seeking to come into my life?  How is he already present?

Faith, charity, and good works lead us to hope, happiness and prepares us for eternal life. . Pope Francis cautions us that if we are guided by what is most attractive to us and our own interests, our life becomes sterile. We must respond to God’s grace by doing good every day. 

How are you going to make time for prayer this advent season?  God is waiting to show you his goodness and wants to reflect His goodness to the world in your face.  He is patient and generous and waiting for you and for me.    

Hope revives our spirit. This spiritual renewal and living in the light are directly tied to the grace of me surrendering to my creator.  Oh, how I live in gratitude that Christ was born to save me from myself, allowing my soul to shine His light.  If you want some daily inspiration for your soul, you can sign up here for Matthew Kelly’s Advent messages.

Advent calls us to be alert, be watchful.  The vision of Smitten With Goodness is to challenge and inspire us to be alert and awake to God’s goodness daily while living in the tension and preparing for eternal life.  Silence and prayer facilitate this for me. 

How do you stay awake, keep an eternal perspective and battle complacency to live in hope, love, joy and peace?  How will you reclaim this goodness for yourself this Christmas season?