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Monday, March 27, 2017

Living at the Core 1: Setting the Tone for the Day

The last couple of years as I have reflected on what is core in my life and then considered how to align my life to that, I have discovered strategies that help me. I decided to start a feature on my blog where I share tips that I have learned work for me over time. It is an on-going experimentation and process of refining to adjust to shifts in my life.

In this initial installment, I begin with how I start my day. Shortly after multiple transitions occurred within a 5 month period (our third daughter was born, we moved back to the county where I grew up, I transitioned from my K-12 career to teacher preparation, and we sold our house), I read Jessica Turner's book The Fringe Hours. The concepts resonated with me. I was able to reflect on how I was already able to carefully manage my time, while also considering room for growth. As the years passed, I couldn't remember all the details but the concept of maximizing the time we have and finding ways to creatively incorporate the self care we most need here and there into our day to day lives stuck with me.

Last year I discovered that in the juggle of my everyday life I really craved time for quiet reflection and prayer. While I had already begun to start my day with reading the daily readings, I realized that I wanted a more extended amount of time. Because I am often exhausted by the time everyone winds down at my house,  I decided that in order to get my quiet time I needed to rise before everyone else.

These days my alarm goes off at 5 am 7 days a week. I quietly move onto the love seat in my living room, and pull out my Missal, Bible, and composition notebook. I begin with the daily readings, noting verses that especially capture my attention. Sometimes I write my thoughts about the readings and how they resonate with my life at this time. Then I shift into other books, a combination of books that are read short excerpts at a time, such as the daily reflection from The Catholic Mom's Prayer Companion, as well as longer sections from books I happen to be reading at the time. My notebook remains close as I shift between reading and writing.

Waking up at 5 am has allowed me to get about 45 minutes prior to my husband waking up on weekdays. On the weekends the time can sometimes stretch into multiple hours. Sometimes the rhythms of my 5 am fringe hours routine is shift momentarily when my baby wakes up, in which case, I rock her and nurse her in the darkness of my room while praying the Rosary. One way or another though, I have been able to consistently start my day with calm and peace. It sets the tone for the day and makes all the difference.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Discerning the Will of God

A week ago I was at a high school youth conference and was talking briefly to a nun from the religious community Sisters of Life. In our conversation, she asked if I had read about St. Ignatius' works on discernment and mentioned that I might enjoy Fr. Gallagher's books and specifically recommended Discerning the Will of God: An Ignatian Guide to Christian Decision Making and The Discernment of Spirits: An Ignatian Guide for Everyday Living.

Upon arrival home from the retreat, I ordered the books and was excited to get started with Discerning the Will of God. I chose to read it first because the initial pages immediately captured my attention. Last summer I read a LifeTeen book, True North: A Roadmap for Discernment and appreciated the suggestions. I can't remember how different these two books are, other than remembering that True North was written more specifically for a teen/young adult audience - first person narrative layered in with an explanation of St. Ignatius' concepts. I remember that it was an engaging, thought provoking read; however, I forgot the specifics of it containing the rules and modes until I just referred back to the preview on Amazon.

Nonetheless, since I read about the concepts under a year ago, that made reading Fr. Gallagher's book even easier because the concepts were not completely new. In contrast to True North, Fr. Gallagher's book is written for an adult audience and weaves in a range of different scenarios from people in all different contexts in order to illustrate the discernment process. I can't remember if True North included multiple stories aside from the author's narrative that was interspersed throughout the book bringing the concepts to life.

Fr. Gallagher divides his book into three parts - preparation, discernment, and fruit. This was especially helpful because many of the aspects were already a part of my thinking process, but I had not retained how to intentionally move through a discernment process in a systematic way. Discerning the Will of God provides that, starting with setting the stage for successful discernment. As I moved through the three parts, I was able to notice which concepts seemed familiar and which aspects were either new or forgotten. I could reflect on which of the glimpses into lives of others resonated with my experiences and how they differed. I considered how the way I try to make decisions could have a stronger foundation and more naturally flow through a progression.

The section on preparation goes through the question at the heart of discernment, the foundation, the disposition, and the means or spiritual exercises. This helps me to reflect on the core of discernment. With the exercises, it was easy to consider what is already present in my life and what is lacking or could be improved. Part two goes through each of the modes, and that is where many aspects were familiar to True North. Finally, part three frames the bigger picture value of discernment.

Fr. Gallagher's book was accessible, easy to navigate because of clear organization and helpful headings. It will be fairly easy to go back and locate information that I want to refresh in my mind. While I don't have an immediate opportunity to go on a silent Ignatian retreat, I have plans to carve out some intentional time and space to have a self-directed retreat. Fr. Gallagher's book is going to help me with this process. Being able to intentionally look back at some of my spiritual notebooks through the lens of St. Ignatius' discernment concepts is going to help process what I have noticed and what I have been missing and to consider how to proceed.

I am grateful for the suggestion to read the book, God helped put this book in my hands at just the right time.

Friday, March 17, 2017

The Joy of Love

As I have seen glimpses into different papal documents in various resources, I have realized that there is so much I would like to read. Pope Francis' post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia was the first complete papal document that I read, but it of course pointed toward many others I would like to explore in full.

Our parish is participating in the Dynamic Catholic Parish Champion program, and this book was one of the monthly free resources last fall.

At the start of the document Pope Francis stated that it "represents an invitation to Christian families to value the gifts of marriage and the family, and to persevere in a love strengthened by the virtues of generosity, commitment, fidelity and patience," as well as "[encouraging] everyone to be a sign of mercy and closeness wherever family life remains imperfect or lacks peace and joy" (p. 11). Pope Francis then provided an overview of the entire document and recommended ways to approach it, namely for readers to take their time reading and to feel free to read sections that appear most relevant to current context, rather than needing to read the book beginning to end.

I appreciated the insight shared relevant to different layers of marriage and family life, including navigating different phases. It provides aspects to reflect on in order to celebrate the vocation of marriage and living a sacramental life. It gave me points to consider as a wife, as a mom, and to support other families with links to current life contexts. It prompted to consider the beautiful plan for families while also recognizing the reality of challenges and less than ideal contexts. Through it all there was a sense of hope to families to reflect on current realities and grow from there and the role of the Church to support this process.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Catholic Mom Daily Gospel Reflections 2017

I participated in the 2017 Catholic Mom Daily Gospel Reflections this year. Today was the second of three reflections for the year.
***
 Today’s Gospel: Matthew 17:1-9
Through the transfiguration, Peter, James and John saw a glimpse into Jesus’ glory. It was natural that Peter had a desire to stay. Nonetheless, there were other plans for his life. We, like Peter, are called to recognize that God’s timelines and will for our lives may be different than our own inclinations. If we are willing to allow Christ to transform us, we have to trust in the goodness of His plans for us and use our free will to decide to cooperate.
When I first started to intentionally think about this concept as an adult, early on my priest drew my attention to Mary and her “Thy will be done.” I had a propensity to worry too much or try to over-plan. Instead, one initial step to transformation was the on-going call to focus my attention on letting go and trusting, conditioning myself to change my mindset.
As I grew in this area, I noticed both peace and unexpected tensions. Once again my priest guided me, letting me know I needed to expect inner conflict, instead of thinking that I would easily know all details of alignment and that all tensions would fade away. Sometimes it is about stepping forward in faith and prayer and doing what we see as the next step, even when it seems counter-intuitive. With time and patience I have been able to reflect with a greater sense of clarity on how God was working all things for my good through those phases of uncertainty. It’s an ongoing process to patiently wait as things unfold, trusting they will happen when and as they should. Just as the disciples fell prostrate, it is important to give praise when we feel a sense of awe upon the recognition of the power of God in our lives.
Ponder:
What is something that is producing anxiety or tension in your life right now? How can you turn to God for support and guidance?

Pray:

Dear Lord Jesus, thank you for gently guiding me to do the next thing, whether big or small. Help me to grow in trust and faith through life’s experiences and like Mary be able to say, “Thy will be done.”

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Interior Castle

After reading The Way of Prayer, I transitioned into another of Teresa of Avila's works with a commentary, Interior Castle: The Classic Text with a Spiritual Commentary by Dennis Billy, C.Ss.R. When my priest recommended I might like her work, he was specifically referring to this one in order to understand different levels of prayer and the spiritual life.

While reading, I noticed a shift with the extent to how much I could connect to and grasp as I progressed through the book as could be expected since it moves from more common to less common. In the initial castles more aspects resonated with my experiences and I felt a higher level of certainty that I had experienced those castles. Then it shifted to sections in the middle where I thought maybe in some sections and definitely not in others. Finally, for the last sections of the book I felt a high level of certainty that I had not experienced what she was describing. Though from time to time for a brief moment I could connect to some small aspect, overall I knew that I could not grasp what it would feel like other than a sense of awe and knowing that it would be beautiful.

Nonetheless, my biggest take away from the book is to focus on growing in the virtues, to be humble and to trust in God, rather than to beg for these experiences. St. Teresa emphasized again and again that it is more about love of God and love of neighbor, rather than having these mystical experiences and consolations. She also talked about how consolations are not "so frequent" (p. 223) and are often quick, which helped to put into perspective that we should be grateful for what does occur but also be able to persevere through challenges when they are absent. Based on reading her ideas, a main take away is to be cautious against an overemphasis on wanting to be at a specific place in my spiritual life, and instead to remind myself frequently to wholeheartedly say, "Thy will be done."

In general, I loved the book because it was emphasizing different layers that I have been learning especially during the last couple of years. In a sense it was pulling different concepts together and showing me how they all complement each other for a strong foundation in seeking to grow closer to God and to align my will to His. Despite the comprehension gaps in the later castles based on lack of personal experience, I could tell multiple areas where my comprehension was deeper based on already having others (my priest, books, and videos) push my thinking related to ideas she brings up and emphasizes in her book.

Examples of sections that spoke to me as different pieces were coming together towards the end of the book were:
  • "Since we know the way we have to take to please God--namely, that of keeping His commandments and counsels--let us be very diligent in doing this, and in meditating upon His life and death, and upon all hat we owe Him; and let the rest come when the Lord wills" (p. 221). 
  • "For life is long and there are many trials in it and we need to look at Christ our Pattern, and also at His Apostles and Saints, and to reflect how they bore these trials, so that we, too, may bear them perfectly" (p. 223). 
  • From the commentary: "Teresa reaffirms that the most important thing in the spiritual life is to will only what God wills. God loves each person and knows what is best for him or her. She reminds her readers, moreover, that these favors do not last forever and have very little to do with holiness. Rather than focusing on such favors, it would be much better for the soul to dedicate itself to growing in the virtues" (p. 236). 
  • "For it is quite certain that, when we empty ourselves of all that is creature and rid ourselves of it for love of God, that same Lord will fill our souls with Himself" (p. 274)
  • "We always find that those who walked closest to Christ Our Lord were those who had to bear the greatest trials" (p. 290). 
  • "Oh, my sisters, how little one should think about resting, and how little one should care about honors, and how far one ought to be from wishing to be esteemed in the very least if the Lord makes His special abode in the soul" (p. 291). 
  • "Anyone who cannot achieve everything at once must progress little by little" (p. 291). 
  • "Fix your eye on the Crucified and nothing else will be of much importance to you. If His Majesty revealed His love to us by doing and suffering such amazing things, how can you expect to please him by words alone? Do you know when people really become spiritual? It is when they become slaves of God and are branded with His sign, which is the sign of the Cross, in token that they have given Him their freedom. Then He can sell them as slaves to the whole world, as He Himself was sold, and if He does this He will be doing them no wrong but showing them no slight favor. Unless they resolve to do this, they need not expect to make great progress" (pp. 291-292).