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Friday, May 19, 2017

33 Days of Merciful Love

Because reading Fr. Gaitley's 33 Days to Morning Glory had been a powerful experience for me, when I heard about 33 Days to Merciful Love being available for pre-order last year, I ordered a copy right away and then decided to read the book leading up to the Feast of Our Lady of Fátima and just finished re-reading it on the same cycle, leading up to today, the 100th anniversary of the first apparition of Our Lady of Fátima.

Even though I was excited for the book, I was worried about another consecration, wondering if it would feel too overwhelming. Nonetheless, Fr. Gaitley put me at ease right from the introduction as he talked about how the concept of Marian consecration and a Consecration to Divine Mercy align with each other and are complementary, rather than two disconnected aspects.

With that worry already set aside, I was instantly drawn in. Having a better sense of the narrative of trust running throughout The Bible through a conversation with my priest back in the summer of 2015 ended up being a pivotal experience for me, so when I started reading 33 Days to Merciful Love and noticed the big emphasis on trust, I took note.

Unlike 33 Days to Morning Glory, rather than focusing on a different saint for each of the four weeks, this time Fr. Gaitley focused specifically on St. Thérèse of Lisieux throughout the book, with some attention to St. Faustina occasionally. The book focuses on: Week One: What Is Trust? Week Two: The Little Way, Week Three: The Offering to Merciful Love, Week Four: Into the Darkness and the last days as review and preparation for consecration. Similar to 33 Days to Morning Glory, the review cycle focused on a day with three key words from each week. I appreciate this way to reiterate key points and tie it all together. I especially liked the reminder from week two with the emphasis on recognizing our smallness and then being persistent with trusting and trying. That is a reminder that I would do me good to hear again and again as it relates to so much in relation to our lives of faith.

As a teacher, I know how common it is to hear teachers lament that students don't know a concept that they should have learned in a previous year only to hear the teachers from the previous year(s) say they did teach the concepts. While re-reading this book there were so many concepts that I felt like I was figuring out through experiences but then realized that the concepts were in the book, that I had exposure to them before the experiences that made me feel like certain truths were becoming apparent to me. The realization of how a book could resonate one year but then make significantly more sense the next year with the time and space of additional first hand experiences to ground the concepts in between helped to confirm the need for on-going investment in spiritual development and the value in re-visiting resources that capture our attention, knowing that with time we change and can understand at a new level.

Now, I am currently reading Fr. Gaitley's Consoling the Heart of Jesus and Praying the Angelus

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Discerning the Spirits

Reading Fr. Timothy Gallagher's The Discernment of Spirits: An Ignatian Guide for Everyday Living helped me to understand so much of my experiences, especially over the last year or two since I have been intentionally focusing on my relationship with God in a deeper way than earlier in my adult life.

I mentioned previously that I read a Life Teen book last summer that introduced me to St. Ignatius' teachings, followed by reading Fr. Gallagher's Discerning the Will of God in March. Essentially, True North combined the concepts from both of Fr. Gallagher's books into one, so it laid a good starting point foundation to then revisit some months later in more depth.

After an introduction and prologue, this book goes into depth with each of St. Ignatius' 14 rules, followed by a conclusion. I remember that certain rules resonated for me this summer, while others seemed to resonate as truth on a certain level but I wasn't quite sure I fully "got" them. The concepts of consolation and desolation had stuck with me but it was easier for me to connect to properly identifying consolations. As I began to revisit the concepts with this book, one week I tried to track consolations and desolations, I later ended up crossing out desolations, upon realizing that I wasn't confident enough to use that term.

As if God noticed the teachable moment, shortly after I was pondering the concept, a desolation hit. It was a brief, short term one but impacted the majority of the day. I didn't immediately recognize it as desolation; however, as I continued reading, the concept started to make more sense. More importantly, I was able to reflect on whether or not it was specifically spiritual desolation. Having a clearer sense of the concept helped me to have deeper comprehension for the rest of the book.

I now feel more capable to recognize and know how to respond to the different movements in my spiritual life. I would like to re-read True North and know that I will also refer back to Fr. Gallagher's books over time. It helped me to reflect back on St. John of the Cross' Dark Night of the Soul, another book I would like to re-read. It put the quote from St. Frances de Sales that I love in proper context, as well "Do not lose your inner peace for anything, even if your whole world is upset." From the time I first saw that quote, I was drawn to it, knowing it was something I wanted; however, it was still baffling to me how I would be able to counteract the natural inclination to have my inner peace disturbed in response to external tensions and stress. Now I feel like from Fr. Gallagher's books (especially this one) and other resources, I am better equipped to maintain that inner peace. That will make all the difference.

I am so grateful that Sr. Hope happened to recommend this two books to me - the perfect suggestion for this phase in my life and something I really needed to make sense of occurrences. I am now better positioned to navigate my on-going faith journey.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Informal Education

I love school and learning. If I wasn't still paying for my last degrees, I would love to find an online degree program to get one in theology. I have even explored sites for programs and had started a someday list, but alas...

Recently, I have been thinking about how through shifting my routines and habits the last couple years my depth of knowledge has significantly changed without a formal program. By reading the daily readings on my own each day paired with daily Mass homilies, I have a much stronger understanding of Sacred Scripture, not to mention being nourished by the Eucharist each day. I have also been reading a range of books - contemporary and classic - and watching resources on Formed on various topics. Then there's many resources available to help engage Catholics for free via online technologies via blogging, YouTube, Facebook, and email.

Though I won't be earning another official degree anytime soon (or maybe ever), I can commit to investing in my faith formation - a combination of independent reading, viewing, studying, and reflecting alongside community and collaborative experiences.

As I recommit to my yes over time, God is creating the context for my growth with a perfect sense of what I need to know, when I need to know. He can help weave together a curriculum tailored to me.

Lead me, Lord. Help me to trust that you will reveal to me what you want me to know when and how you want me to according to your plans for me. You can create a learning environment more perfectly than I could ever imagine for myself. You know when to help me spiral back to a concept with which I will now have deeper comprehension based on the background knowledge that has been building. Thy will be done.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Perseverence in Parenting

"I want to go to Adoration," my 4 year old begged last night. I knew from experience how it would turn out, and yet...

"I want to pray," she said.

"I won't move," she said.

"I promise," she said. Again and again.

"Please."

If I walked out the door I would go with her crying in the background, wanting to come to church with me. If she came with me, I knew I would not have my time for quiet reflection that I look forward to each week.

Last night I gave in. It is about the 3rd time I have taken her with me to my weekly time slot spanning across multiple months, and each time the outcome is similar. Glimpses of piety mixed in with a whole lot of activity and curiosity. An "I want to pray the Rosary" followed by reciting after me part way through the first decade, guiding her hands along the beads. A kiss on a statue that she knew was Mother Mary.

There were tender moments of bonding between mother and daughter in front of the Blessed Sacrament, but there were also some frustrations. I tried to remember what my priest told me once when I said she had distracted me at Mass - "she's not a distraction; she's an attraction." I tried to think about the value in bringing her from time to time, even though I know it will be a struggle, rather than a retreat to rest in Him. I thought about her having early exposure to my most powerful form of self care and about how she will hopefully grow up longing to be in His presence on a regular basis as well - a comfortable rhythm and routine to her life.

Nurturing others in the faith requires sacrifice. Sometimes we need to set aside our plans for what we want and how we want it in order to provide access to experiences to others. As we were heading out the door and she repeated after me, "Good night, Jesus. I love you. Thank you for this time together," I knew she this was a good thing; yet, I also knew I will hesitate to bring her again for a while. There was also a layer of sadness that I didn't get "my hour."

I'm navigating this journey of investing in my relationship with God, while also allowing space to help construct a foundation for her relationship with God. As some have mentioned before, "You can't give what you don't have," I know that at times it is okay to tell her no when she begs, while at other times I am called to say yes to her pleas.

Lead me, Lord. Help me to recognize when I need to focus on my relationship with you and when I am called to sacrifice my desires to participate in your plan for building her foundation with you. 

Monday, May 1, 2017

Getting Past Perfect

When I saw Getting Past Perfect by Kate Wicker advertised via Catholic Mom as their next book club book, I ordered it right away. Once I started reading it, I realized that I couldn't stop to read along chapter by chapter according to schedule and instead, read through the book quickly.

After a foreword and introduction to set the stage for the book, there are 8 chapters that follow a similar format, followed by a conclusion. Each chapter has a title accompanied by an evil earworm and an unvarnished truth. For example, Chapter 1 - Queen Mommy: Motherhood is Not the Most Important Job a Woman Has. Evil Earworm: Being a mother is the most important thing a Catholic woman can do. Unvarnished Truth: Motherhood is actually not your highest calling. Being a daughter of God is (p. 1). Chapter 6 - I am Mother! Hear Me Roar!: Your Child's Success is Not a Measure of You. Evil Earworm: My kids are my sole custody, and their happiness is a reflection of my success as a parent. Unvarnished Truth: You do not own your children, you are stewards of them. They belong to God, not you, and they are here to fulfill his will--not yours or theirs (p. 69). I found that I enjoyed even just skimming through the introduction pages to each chapters and that this information alone provided a lot for me to ponder.

Then, jumping into the chapters, I appreciated being able to see how her thinking developed these concepts through her personal experiences over time. She writes with humility, not afraid to show what could be perceived as weaknesses (especially through the lens of those evil earworms) in order to share an authentic look at motherhood and the power of seeing it through the lens of the more realistic and healthy unvarnished truths.

She concluded each chapter with a Mom's Time-Out, a prayer followed by a wrapping up reflection with a call to action, an encouraging way to ponder the concepts of the chapter or to make a step toward aligning our lives to them.

Around the same time someone recommended Present Over Perfect. Though I have not bought it yet, it seems like they would be good companion texts. Wicker mentions Brené Brown's work in her book and Brown wrote the foreword of Present Over Perfect.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

33 Days to Morning Glory

In 2015 33 Days to Morning Glory was passed out on Ash Wednesday at churches across our diocese. The timing was perfect to start the daily retreat leading up to the Annunciation. At the time, it was a pivotal point in my life as I was pondering what was core and realizing that even though it felt counter-intuitive to add in additional layers to my life when I had been working so hard to set career boundaries and say no to some of my career related passions  in order to say yes to more time with family, multiple layers were drawing me deeper into reconnecting with my Catholic faith in a more meaningful way.

I had already been realizing multiple areas of the faith where I either never had a solid foundation or just wasn't ready to grasp concepts that were probably introduced at one point or another. This book made me think about the role of Mary in so many ways I had not yet considered. The introduction says, "what Marian consecration is all about: A new way of life in Christ. The act of consecrating oneself to Jesus through Mary marks the beginning of a gloriously new day, a new dawn, a brand new morning in one's spiritual journey. It's a fresh start, and it changes everything" (p. 20).

I worked my way through each day pondering the ideas. Because it was so new, I could tell I was not fully understanding everything. The Annunciation fell on my spring break when I happened to be miles away from home in Toronto, Canada for a conference. As I sat alone on my hotel bed, I prayed that I could tell there was so much more I had to learn but that I was willing to make the consecration with hope and trust.

Looking back, it is hard to untangle how much of the "changes everything" had to do with my Marian consecration and how much was related to other layers happening concurrently. I do know that having a better understanding of Mary and being able to look to her as a mentor in trying to align my life to God's will has been a game changer for me.

I ended up re-doing the retreat the summer of the same year, leading toward The Assumption. Once again, I found myself away from home on the consecration day. This time I was at our diocesan retreat center for an evangelization and catechesis symposium and sat in the chapel (one of my favorite places). That too was another key point in the year as I had been discerning which direction God wanted me to go and ended up making some decisions that weekend.

In 2016 I did not re-read the book because instead I read 33 Days to Merciful Love. This year I decided to read it again on the February 20th to March 25th cycle working toward the Annunciation. There was so much that made more sense. I could see how the concepts laid a foundation that impacted so much of my thinking, even when it was not necessarily at the surface level to make the direct link between my thoughts and the book until revisiting the book. I could also see how the impact of other experiences between then and now meant that I was different and able to understand at a new level.

The book is starting to get worn, and I anticipate it will be used many more times in my life. I have heard other people testify that their experiences also resonate that it changes everything, but I have not heard specific details. I would be interested to hear more about the experiences behind the statements as I am sure it would inspire a lot of awe and wonder for how God works in our lives.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Walk in Her Sandals

This Lent, I read a chapter from A Walk in Her Sandals: Experiencing Christ's Passion through the Eyes of Women each week alongside others in the St. Teresa's Online Book Club. After an introduction the book focuses six chapters on different days of Holy Week and Pentecost, followed by a conclusion. Each chapter focuses on a gift linked to the liturgical day, such as The Gift of Receptivity for Palm Sunday and The Gift of Prayer for Holy Saturday.

The book has a range of contributors with Kelly Wahlquist as the editor. Each of the main chapters incorporates an exploration of the gift and liturgical day through multiple angles. A consistent flow chapter to chapter makes it easy to navigate the different elements woven together as the pattern starts to feel comfortable. The components are: A Moment to Ponder, Enter the Scripture, Walk in Her Sandals, Unwrap the Gift of _____, Reflect on the Meaning of: ______ (Liturgical Day), Lectio, Questions for Group Discussion, and Walking in the New Evangelization. Some sections had a consistent contributor throughout all the chapters, while others rotated depending on the chapter. I loved the blend of different types of writing (fictional narrative, reflective writing, calls to action...).

I especially loved the final chapter focusing on Pentecost and the way that it linked to my one little word for 2017: filled.

Some of the names were familiar as they crossed over with The Catholic Mom's Prayer Companion and Catholic Digest. Right around the time we started to read the book, I heard that Kelly Wahlquist is going to be a speaker at a women's conference in our diocese this summer, so I enjoyed the opportunity to get to know her through the book and anticipate the conference this summer even more.