Tips to help you stay focused!
We had just arrived at the chapel attached to our local diocesan seminary. As I tried to encourage my pouty four-year-old to more appropriate behaviour, my two-year-old daughter quietly slipped out of our pew and wandered towards the altar.
She was almost at the foot of the altar before she turned back to look at me, pointing at the tabernacle and shouting: “Look Mum, it’s Jesus. Jesus is there.”
Of course she was absolutely correct. Jesus was there. In my haste to get the children seated and settled, I had neglected to remind myself of Jesus’s True Presence in that chapel. Instead I had entered the chapel on autopilot, guiding the children through their genuflection and unpacking and distributing a few books to keep them occupied.
These practical aspects of being a mother are certainly important. I was there, after all, to make use of the Sacrament of Confession and undertake spiritual direction afterwards. But I was distracted by the practical aspects of the morning that lay ahead of me.
When my daughter focused my attention on the Tabernacle I felt myself duly reprimanded. To be honest, I envied her simple faith. It is beautiful to watch my children engage with Jesus and our faith in their individual ways. One has a particular affinity for Saint Michael and his defeat of Satan. Another has a strong devotion and affection for Our Lady.
Above all, they seem to grasp the infinite, whilst I’m often preoccupied with the finite.
And I couldn’t help but reflect on Chapter 18 of Matthew’s Gospel:
“At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” (Matthew 18:1-5)
Unless you change and become like children… Easier said than done perhaps, but here are some starting points for all of us:
Children accept that they don’t know everything. They trust that the adults will have the answers to their questions, the wisdom to guide them in tricky situations, and an unconditional love that is endless. Accepting that we don’t have all the answers and trusting in God’s wisdom and mercy is essential.
We can read a multitude of spiritual tomes, blogposts and articles, but unless that reading is followed by meditation and prayer to discern its personal application by God’s grace, we might make little progress in our spiritual lives. One of the best ways to really grow in holiness, to foster our childlike faith, is to sit in quiet and meditative prayer and call God’s presence to mind. Spending this prayer time in His True Presence is even better.
We can do this over the course of the day in our structured prayer times but also in the regular humdrum parts of our day. Hanging out the washing with increasing monotony? Peg each item with an accompanied “All for You Jesus, all for You.” Thank Him when we’re happy, confide in Him when we’re struggling. Short, simple and spontaneous, and straight from the heart.
If you’re finding life a bit rough at the moment, then approach a good, holy priest or religious for help and spiritual direction. Or trusted friends and family who share your faith might be able to offer support and guidance for whatever you might be struggling with. In fact, they might even admit to having experienced something similar. Hearing the tale of their battles to cope with adversity and reach a place of peace, may imbue you with the hope that this time of suffering will ease for you too.
If you’re like me, relinquishing control is not easy. But it is precisely when we accept and welcome God’s will into our lives that we make the most spiritual headway. Learning to put God’s will ahead of ours, or accepting it when it’s the complete opposite of what we want can feel excruciating. God knows what is best for us, and if we can let Him take the lead, who knows what we can achieve for Him?
May God give us all an increase in faith, trust and hope so that we might truly call ourselves His children and experience heaven, where we belong:
“Then little children were being brought to him in order that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples spoke sternly to those who brought them; but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.” (Matthew 19:13-14)
©Emily Shaw is a former Australasian Catholic Press Association award-winning editor turned blogger for youngcatholicmums.com and is a contributor to Catholic-Link. A Wife and mother of seven, she resides on a farm in rural Australia and enjoys the spiritual support of her local Catholic community.
In times of uncertainty, there's no need to panic. Just make sure that you are in the loop! Some years ago, I made a pilgrimage, with a friend of mine, along the Camino de Santiago in Spain. One day, we encountered a group of pilgrims which included a blind man. He looked to be about 25 years old and was walking along with the help of his mother. I immediately noticed that they were joined at the wrists by an elastic band–one loop was around her wrist, the other loop around his. In his other hand, he held a white cane used by the visually impaired. My friend and I walked at a slight distance behind this group for quite a while, silently observing them. They were a lively group, enthusiastically chatting with one another. The young man walked very confidently, linked to his mother only by that thin elastic band. Although we were walking through a forested area with dips and turns on the trail and little streams to cross over, she seemed to be leading him effortlessly, without undue concern. She wasn’t turning to him or anxiously looking at where he was placing his feet, nor did he move hesitantly or cautiously, but kept up easily with the group as they clipped along at a good pace. It looked so natural that you could tell she had been guiding him all of his life, and he trusted her. If we did come across a section of the trail that was extra rocky or had uneven terrain, then she would stop and take his arm to guide him over that. But for the most part, she was chatting and interacting with the group in a carefree manner, as was he. Mother and son took it all in stride. I have reflected a lot on the real-life parable that I witnessed that day. The Lord wants to guide us along life’s journey, just like the mother guiding her blind son. Jesus calls Himself the Good Shepherd, and good shepherds deftly guide and protect their sheep. So, how do we enable the Lord to guide us? To receive His guidance and remain secure on the right path, stay connected to the Lord and trust that He knows what He is doing. Like this mother who gently guided her son with the aid of the band attaching them, God invites us to be attached to Him. He has promised that He will never leave us, as Hebrews 13:5 says, “I will never forsake you or abandon you,” and we can count on that. But we need to do our part. What is our part? It is to stay connected to Him. We do that through a serious prayer life. Spend time daily with the Lord–getting to know Him; listening to His still, small voice; learning to sense those slight tugs and indications of where He is guiding us that day. As we stay securely attached to the Lord through prayer, we will know when we are approaching danger; we will grow in trust that the Lord will guide us through any crisis, any peril, and any difficulty. The Lord will give us insight and wisdom on how to negotiate any situation. Prayer is the “elastic band” that connects us to our Good Shepherd. One thing that this worldwide pandemic should have taught us is that we are not in control. But we have a God who is. He loves us so much that He sent His Son to die for us. There is nothing that God won’t do to guide us on our path to eternal life. Even in the midst of so much uncertainty, we can trust the Lord. Stay connected to Him, like this young blind man who never lost connection with his mother. He reached his destination safe and sound and enjoyed the journey along the way. This can be our destiny too if we go hand in hand with our Good Shepherd.
Christopher was waiting for his Dad to pick him up from church. He was brooding over what his Catechism teacher had taught about the Black Mass and satan worshippers who mistreated Jesus by mocking and desecrating the consecrated Eucharistic host. He had never even heard of a Black Mass before and felt sorry for Jesus. In his innocence, Christopher tried to concoct a plan. Suddenly his attention was caught by a lizard which had self-amputated its tail and shed it in order to distract the predator, a brown spotted bird. Christopher noticed that the severed tail was wiggling and spinning and the brown spotted bird, continuously picked at the tail without realizing that the lizard had actually fled. Looking at this Christopher thought, ‘what if Jesus quit from the Blessed Sacrament? What if Jesus was able to escape from the satan worshippers, just like the lizard? What if Jesus could remove His presence in the Blessed Sacrament so He would not have to suffer? If Jesus quit, then the consecrated bread would just become ordinary bread. That way, satan worshippers, or those who participate in Black Mass, would not be able to humiliate Jesus. Later that day, when his Dad came to pick him up, Christopher ecstatically detailed his new found plan for Jesus. “Dad, why can’t Jesus just quit from the Blessed Sacrament? That way, he wouldn’t have to suffer, right?” Christopher asked. For a moment, his Dad was silent. This was a bizarre question and his father had never thought about this before. “My son, Jesus cannot leave the Blessed Sacrament because He is true to His word,” his father finally said. “The priest uses the words of Jesus when he blesses the Eucharist. When Jesus says: ‘This is my Body which is broken for you for the forgiveness of sins’, he has given a promise. He will never go back on His promise. So, for humankind, He will suffer any humiliation. Jesus suffered and gave up His life on Calvary to save mankind two thousand years ago. He is still suffering today.” Do we realize how much Jesus is suffering in the Blessed Sacrament because of our sin, ignorance and lack of respect? Let us pray for the conversion of those who participate in Black Masses and all other sinners. Let us also pray that the whole of humankind will respect and love Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.
The way to true success in less than 1000 words! We are called to live a life of hope, peace and joy. Pope St. John Paul II once proclaimed that, “In a true sense, joy is the keynote of the Christian message. My wish is that the Christian message may bring joy to all who open their hearts to it... Faith is our source of joy.” What would be your answer if you asked yourself, “Does my life proclaim a message of joy? Is my faith the source of my joy? If we are honest, we would likely have to say that life circumstances often get in the way of living joyfully. And circumstances certainly have not been favourable recently – the pandemic has adversely affected each and every one of us. Staying positive and hopeful can be difficult. Even more than the circumstances around us, there is something else that steals our joy: Ourselves. A prime source of unhappiness comes from our own negative thoughts and self-perceptions. We are all children of God – precious and loved. But too often we forget this and define ourselves instead by worldly standards. One of those standards is success. We have probably been measuring ourselves with that measuring stick since our youth. We have been told repeatedly that we need to secure a good career, salary, marriage. And whatever you do, be good at it! That seems to be the resounding message--one that can leave us feeling inadequate. We have been conditioned to judge by appearances. We commend people on their achievements, not on their efforts. It is the results that count, we are told. So we can easily overlook what truly matters. The prophet Jeremiah was called by God to warn the people of Israel of impending judgement. But from his own words we know of his lack of success: “Who would listen to me if I spoke to them and warned them? They are stubborn and refuse to listen to your message; they laugh at what you tell me to say” (Jeremiah 6:10 GNT). The people refused to listen to Jeremiah and the leaders of Israel rejected him. The judgement that he prophesied came to pass and Israel suffered. If we look at this through a worldly lens, all of Jeremiah’s work seems to amount to nothing. However, he showed remarkable faithfulness even in the face of immense opposition. He was obedient to God’s will and that was what made him a success. Now, let us look at a modern-day example. St. Mother Teresa famously said, “God has not called me to be successful; He has called me to be faithful.” Can you imagine a more counter-cultural motto to live by? I think most people would agree that Mother Teresa led a meaningful and admirable life. What made her life meaningful and admirable? Her words tell us why. Rather than trying to succeed in what she did, she simply did what God required of her. Her focus was not on herself, it was on God. This is evident in her remarkable kindness, and in the way she saw God especially in the weakest and poorest members of society. The witness of Jeremiah and Mother Teresa lead us to an important insight: “The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart." (1 Samuel 16:7). So, let us not get overwhelmed and stressed trying to be successful according to the world’s standards. If we stay close to God and serve him wholeheartedly, he will bless our efforts. Nevertheless, being faithful to God comes with many challenges. It requires endurance and perseverance; but we know that it is a goal worth pursuing. It can be tempting to compare ourselves to others and to strive for what the world considers success. But that leads to frustration and futility because there will always be those who are better, smarter, and more successful. However, there is a reassuring truth: The way the world sees us is not the way God sees us. God looks at our hearts. And ultimately God’s opinion is the only one that matters.
Are you anxious and worried about many things? Then this is for you! I guess it was my week for meltdowns. As I tried to settle into my prayer time, my mind roared. For the second day in a row, I gave Jesus a rundown of all the health issues plaguing me. I grumbled about how the uncertainties surrounding Covid-19 continued to drag on. I fretted about my seemingly unsolvable inadequacies in several relationships, and my discouragement with the big writing project I am involved with that does not seem to be progressing all that well. “I feel like I’m surrounded by enemies on every side”, I told Jesus, wiping my eyes and blowing my nose hard. I opened the Daily Scriptures (Luke 10:38-42). And stopped short. Yes— I surely was embroiled in a Martha mess, anxious and worried about many things I knew Jesus wanted to turn this around, but how? It was not long before I seemed to hear in my heart two quiet words: “Toughen up.” Instantly I was all attention. I connected back to a sermon I heard last week on the spiritual toughness of Saint Therese. “Therese”, I prayed, “you who were so spiritually tough when you faced excruciating suffering at the end of your life, pray for me. Help me.” Soon, I began glimpsing how Jesus wanted me to go about this “toughening up.” I realized that today I needed to concentrate on two things: 1. Trusting Jesus 2. Rejecting Discouragement Trusting Jesus I need to focus on Him, not on the problems. Remembering that that He always has my best interest at heart, I will trust His agenda, and not try to tell Him what to do. Martha made two mistakes that undermined her trust in Jesus. She focused not on Him, but upon her sister Mary. And, Martha pushed her own solution forward that Mary should get up and help her. Rejecting Discouragement Today I must remember that discouragement is a tool of the Enemy. It arises from the devil, not from Jesus. Sometimes, I am tempted to beat myself up with the big stick of self-accusatory thoughts. Instead of doing that—and thereby putting my attention on myself and my own inadequacies—I will instead remind myself to focus on Jesus and trust in Him. To help myself follow through on this lesson, I placed an index card on my kitchen counter (where I will see it umpteen times) on which I had written these words: Toughen Up “Jesus, Saint Therese, Saint Martha, help me trust, reject discouragement, and toughen up. Pray for me!” Jesus, I trust in you!
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