Here are 3 ways to help you fight the good fight
Why do we so often avoid the things we want to do and indulge in those we don’t? Saint Paul couldn’t figure it out either (see Romans 7:15). And why does it take a pandemic to remove unwanted distractions from our lives? It seems to be an unfortunate part of our human nature. But perhaps the current pandemic that has brought serious illness and death around the world can help us overcome some aspects of our stubborn human natures.
Social distancing has been challenging in many ways for many people, but ironically for some it has also proven useful and beneficial. The greater time alone many experienced is providing unexpected opportunities to focus on what’s really important and to draw closer to God. When these restrictions ease, it will be all too easy to fall back into our old habits. So, to maintain whatever progress we’ve made, let’s do what good Catholics do—get our hands dirty, dust off the Rosary beads, light candles on the family altar and lift our minds heavenward as we examine three simple steps that can keep us from losing ground.
While it is wonderful that your prayer life may have become more fervent during this time of crisis, remember that it is generally easier to pray when we have a determined and pressing intention on our mind. So, when things ease up, be mindful not to lose this zeal by becoming lax.
Don’t change your prayer time to fit your routine as you reestablish your new ‘normal’, change your routine to fit your prayer time. If you have managed to allocate more time to prayer, meditation, and contemplation during the pandemic, strive to maintain your routine when schools and workplaces resume operations.
Find solutions that fit your circumstances: podcasts or CDs you can play in the car on your commute, family Rosary around the dinner table while the littlest kids are still strapped into their highchairs, family Lectio Divina or Bible reading in the evening.
Attending Mass and receiving Our Lord in the Eucharist sounds appealing to many of us right now. Lack of access to the sacraments makes us long for them. As they say, ‘you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.’
But will we retain our longing for the Mass once we are able again to attend freely? It will take effort to approach each Mass with the same intensity we feel now. Otherwise, at some point after our churches are reopened, we may find ourselves growing complacent and treating our faith like an obligation rather than the gift and privilege it is.
Pondering this very idea, Josemaria Escriva said, “Many Christians take their time and have leisure enough in their social life (no hurry here). They are leisurely, too, in their professional activities (no hurry here either). But isn’t it strange how those same Christians find themselves in such a rush and want to hurry the priest in their anxiety to shorten the time devoted to the most holy sacrifice of the altar?”
How can we dedicate more of our time to God?
Make Sunday—the whole day—one dedicated to the Lord. Yes, attend Mass, but don’t stop there. Build community at your parish. How about morning teas after Mass, or perhaps invite another Catholic family to your house for tea or lunch? Maybe you could try to get to Mass early, make use of the Sacrament of Confession, offer a Rosary together as a family, or spend time in quiet prayer?
Lockdown and social distancing have drastically altered the number of ways we can spend our time. Perhaps the pandemic has invited us to think about the activities in our lives. Which do we miss, and which do we not miss at all? Which do we need, and which don’t we need?
Are we overscheduled? Do all our activities cause us stress and create logistical nightmares? Do our children need to attend every extracurricular activity there is? Are we failing them if we limit their extra-curriculars, or are we doing them a greater service? Perhaps it’s time to ‘Marie Kondo’ those extracurricular activities so you can find a healthy balance for your family.
Less time in structured activities means more unstructured time together as a family, and it’s the unstructured activities that make for the best quality time. Spontaneous board games, baking cookies, and unplanned bike rides make memories children will treasure.
The pandemic has given us an opportunity to assess our prayer lives and priorities. No doubt the suffering and challenges we face during this time will be accompanied by graces that will help us make changes for the better.
There is no time like the present to take stock of our lives.
©Emily Shaw is a former Australasian Catholic Press Association award-winning editor turned blogger for australiancatholicmums.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
Read the extraordinary story of Cintia who was miraculously saved from the clutches of suicide. Joyful Lips I grew up in a middle class family in Brazil. My father was a paediatric surgeon who taught the students before he moved into Health Management and my mother is a nurse, so there was plenty of money for every material thing—good schools, a beautiful house, delicious food. My father had two families to support, since it was his second marriage, so he worked a lot and so did my mother. Sometimes I didn’t see her at home for two or three days because of the shifts she was working. We had someone working in our house to help care for us and do the housework, but I really missed my parents. When I was sixteen-years my father betrayed my mother with another woman and they separated. I felt even more abandoned and frustration boiled up inside me as I felt so helpless. Even though we still had every material thing, we were not happy. Although my brothers and I had been baptized, we had not been catechized. Occasionally, we would attend Sunday Mass but because we didn’t really understand what was going on, we found it boring. We believed in God, but we didn’t have any relationship with Him. Regular prayer and an understanding of our Catholic faith were missing. My friend and I were lamenting our lack of good friends and the need to build something better in our lives when my brother’s friend said, “Oh I know where you can meet lots of young people who could be good friends because they follow God. They’re from the Catholic Church. Maybe you could go to Mass or a retreat there.” My friend and I liked the idea, so we went. It was very different to what I’d experienced before—a lot of young people joyfully sang beautiful music and praised the Lord. Then, I heard a guy praying and saying many things that really applied to my life. All the things I had held inside—the emptiness, the sadness and the thirst for God that I hadn’t understood. I hadn’t realized that it was God that I was looking for. When I attended a four day retreat in this community, it was the first time that I really experienced God. I spent four days crying a lot as I heard so many basic elements of the faith explained for the first time. For the first time I felt the presence of God, so I started to read the Bible a lot and pray every day in my room alone. A Difficult Terrain My parents had always emphasized the importance of gaining a good profession so I could get a good job, have money to buy my own things and be independent. I took all this very seriously, but I also felt so emotionally empty, always looking for something. I didn’t know that God could help us in this way. Because I felt so frustrated with my family situation, when a guy from school asked me to date, I jumped at the chance to get out of the house. Because no-one had taught me God’s way and I did not have anyone to guide me. I soon found myself enmeshed in a really difficult relationship. We started to do many things that were not good. He started to control everything in my life. Initially he went to church with me but he used that to manipulate my mind. He would use words he heard in church or the Bible so I would be submissive to him and do everything that he wanted. My formation was so lacking that I didn’t understand how wrong he was and he started to draw me away from the Church. Because I trusted him, I lost everything. He cut me off from my family and friends and even disrupted my university studies. After four years in this relationship, I was in a really bad way, feeling crushed by all the pressure. Finally, I started to pray again when I was alone. I said to Jesus, “Three years ago I felt real love from you, but I’m so sad now. What has happened?” I begged God to help me with the many things that were troubling me. I surrendered everything to Jesus again and promised Him that I would live His way not my way. I wanted to be free and trusted that if God died for me, He would save me. I didn’t have the strength to break off the relationship, but my boyfriend got a job in another city twelve hours away. Finally, I was able to break off the relationship because he was too far away to come after me. It was like a miracle because I hadn’t been able to do that for so long. Lean Over the Edge However, I still held a lot of pain inside from all I had been through. One day, it all felt too much. I couldn’t support any more of this anguish. Suicidal thoughts tortured me and one day I gave in. I went to the window and prepared to jump out to commit suicide. I wanted to take my life away, but fortunately, I didn’t have the courage to simply jump. I leaned out further and further letting my weight take me over the edge. Suddenly, I felt a big hand in my chest pushing me back. I fell back on the floor and started to cry because I didn’t understand why I was feeling this way. God had given me a second chance. He saved me and I didn’t understand why. I cried out, “What do you want from me?” Then I felt Him saying, “Turn on the TV.” When I turned on the TV, I saw a priest talking about why we shouldn’t give up on life. Tears welled in my eyes as his words penetrated deeply into my heart. I listened intently for an hour as he ardently preached about the gift of our lives. Over and over again he emphasized, “Your life is important.” I finally understood why Jesus saved me and I needed His help because I couldn’t do anything alone. My mother noticed my tears and asked me if I needed help. I finally admitted that I did. When I started therapy, I was able to return to my studies. At the same time I understood that I needed to come back to church. I desperately needed Jesus. Because He saved my life and gave me a second chance, I promised that I would trust in Him and learn to do whatever He wants. In 2009, I spent a year in the Palavra Viva community in their evangelization school. Within a few months, God revealed my vocation. He spoke really deep in my heart and asked me to be a consecrated woman. I felt confused since I had always hoped to marry because I love children. I started to discern if this call to consecrated life was real. Finally I had people that could help talk to me and guide my vocational discernment. When I understood that my calling did lie in consecrated life, I said “Okay, I will do it”, even though I didn’t fully understand. In 2011, I professed my first commitments of poverty, chastity and obedience. In 2017, I made my definitive commitments and came to Tasmania where I live out my vocation today. I am just a limited human being with many, many sins, but if I trust in Him all will be well.
Too often we are keen to jot down the resolutions; but fail to keep them. How about having a twist this time? Drifting to Nowhere At this time of year, the feeling that my life was adrift was an annual occurrence. The end of one year and the beginning of another, inevitably led me to contemplate the changes I wanted to make in my life and within myself. However, a few weeks into the year, New Year’s resolutions took on less importance. The energy these intentions gave me on December 31st and through January would inevitably begin to wane. I always wanted to move forward in the quest for holiness and better myself, but so often I just got stuck. Although the good intentions were still there, knowing how to make it happen and stick to them, often eluded me. Figuratively speaking, I felt as though I was stationary or drifting without direction. Knowing my love of words, God has a way of speaking the language of my heart. One evening a few years ago, as the annual post New Year rut was weighing on my heart, a poem seemed to flow from my heart like an answer to my prayer. I, Myself and Me There was a ship that sat Amid the still deep sea, The only souls that came aboard were I, Myself and Me We sat and watched each sunset With silence, not a sound. I thought there was a whisper And got up to look around. A presence filled the air that night. That nobody could see. Its message was intended for I, Myself and Me My voice then broke into the night I said to Myself and Me, “How can we just be sitting here? We’ve lost our destiny!” I told Myself to take the helm And set a course for Me. I seized hold of the captain’s wheel To steer us through the sea. The ship it made no motion. I still sat amid the sea. We had the will to make her move, but could not…. I, myself nor me. A whisper sounded once again, And said these words to Me “Call to the wind and ask for help, It’s power can set you free!” Me, Myself held hands with I We bowed on bended knee. We asked the Spirit in the wind “Blow us across the sea!” We felt a shift, a motion, Our course what would it be? The ship it turned within the wind, To glide most effortlessly. We knew not the direction Or how rough the sea would be. We had to trust the Spirit To lead I, Myself and Me. Just a Call Away The first draft of this poem flowed from my pen so quickly; I could not write fast enough to keep up with the message God wanted me to contemplate. You see, for a great part of my life I considered God as my very own wonderful insurance plan. Decisions concerning my life were mine to make and if something didn’t go quite right, I’d call on Him to get me out of a bind. I would call on Him as I would an insurance agent. I always knew He was there, but it didn’t seem right to burden Him with the mundane day to day decisions. It was like: I am glad my insurance agent is a phone call away, but I don’t need him driving with me in my car every day. The world told me that I was the captain of my own ship! I believed I was the captain of my own ship, but as each year passed I became aware that I did not possess my own compass. What silly thinking! Furthermore, I didn’t even know how to sail. I didn’t know the first thing about navigation or setting a course through rough waters! It was this kind of wrong thinking that left me stuck or adrift, the first few months of each new year. God was never my insurance plan. He knows the plan for my life better than I ever would. He was and is the plan! A New Twist It was important to recognise the need for improvement in my life and to desire holiness, but I couldn’t do it on my own by sheer will power. When I contemplated the words that spilled over into the poem, I felt God knocking on my heart to assure me that He was there, just waiting for me to ask Him to direct my life. He wanted to give me the plan and the means to do it. God tells us in Proverbs 3:5-8: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, on your own intelligence do not rely. In all your ways be mindful of Him, and He will make straight your paths. Do not be wise in your own eyes.” It took a long time, as each resolution was made and forgotten, for me to realize that I should ask God what His plan would have been for me in the New Year. As I began to align my will with His will, it became clear that I did not lack willpower. How foolish I had been. When I aligned my will with His, I received His power through me. Saint Paul tells us in Phillipians 4:13 “I have the strength for everything through Him who empowers me.” My New Year’s resolutions have a new twist to them these days. In contemplative prayer I ask God to reveal, in His time, His New Year’s plan for me. In humility I ask the Holy Spirit to lead me and make things happen according to God’s holy plan. I ask for the gift of faith, so that even in the dark waters, I will know His presence, trust that He is leading me and accept His holy will for my life. Jeremiah 29:11 says, “For I know well the plans I have in mind for you; plans for your welfare and not your woe, so as to give you a future of hope.” Isn’t that lovely? For those of us who have the benefit of age and experience, it is clear that there are seasons and times for everything in life. This may be the time to stop drifting and this may be the season to align your New Year’s resolution(s) with God’s holy will for you. May Almighty God Bless you and speak to you in the language of your heart.
On a recent bushwalk, my daughter was afflicted by a bad mood just as we had clambered up to a spectacular cavern. While we were all marvelling at the natural beauty, she kept her gaze steadily downward, refusing to look up. It seemed illogical to deny herself a single glance at the grandeur surrounding us, only to stare at the dull earth beneath her feet or clamp her hands over her eyes lest a single glimpse should tempt her out of her mood. Upon reflection, it reminded me of the times when I am so immersed in the anxieties and workload of everyday life that I fail to appreciate the treasures God has placed before me—the wonder of a child’s smile; the warmth of the sun on a winter morning; the meal lovingly prepared by my husband; or the amazing sunrises and sunsets that God paints in the sky every day. How often do we distract ourselves from our cares with an overload of banal screen time? Endless varieties of movies, series, reality TV shows, sport, social media and computer games compete for our attention. Yet there never seems to be enough time for prayer, family activities and home duties. We so often lament that we don’t have enough time to interact with friends in real life. Yet even our time with friends or family is often centred around a screen, or everyone has a screen in hand. Perhaps it is time to turn off the screens, pull out the earphones, and cast our eyes upwards to embrace the glory that the Lord offers us every day. Let us give thanks to God and invite him into our daily engagement with the real world surrounding us.
Sometimes what begins as a harmless pastime can spiral your life into a dark abyss! Finding My Destiny During most of my adolescence, I struggled to trust God and from this lack of trust came my decision to entrust myself and my future into the hands of powers that promised prosperity, love and happiness. I turned to New Age beliefs and soon found myself mesmerized by tarot cards, psychics, horoscopes and magic. At first, dabbling in these things seemed fun and exciting. Because of the New Age practices, I felt I wasn’t walking blindly anymore—I clearly saw the path of my destiny and received helpful guidance for my life. I believed the cards and psychics knew me. They understood what was going on in my personal life that I had not shared with anyone, and because of this, I believed in them with all my soul. Pretty soon, what started off as a seemingly harmless hobby became an obsession that turned me away from God. Beyond the Obsession I was constantly consulting my tarot cards, desperate to find answers to my life’s problems. I worshipped false idols--gods and goddesses- -pleading for help that never came. I started looking into spells that were supposed to help me get out of uncomfortable situations or enhance my life. Thankfully, “looking into” was far as I got, but I came very close to actually casting spells. If it weren’t for guilt I felt as I researched witchcraft, I probably would have gone through with it. Looking back, I believe this was God’s grace keeping me away from something that would have led me on an even darker path. My obsession impacted my faith drastically. Although I had grown up Catholic, I no longer considered myself Catholic. I felt that I resonated with New Age beliefs more than anything else. I told my friends and family I wasn’t sure if I believed in a God anymore. After all, if God existed, why did I seem so hopeless and lost? Why did God work miracles for others but not for me? I didn’t see myself ever returning to the Catholic faith, not after all the “truth” that I had learned about “enlightenment.” I thought Christians were the blind ones, the ones who couldn’t see the truth right in front of them, while I could see past the lies and deceit of the world. I didn’t know that I was the blind one who was walking through life alone. I was desperate for guidance and thought New Age beliefs would give me something to hope for. Come Back to Me For weeks, my tarot cards were giving me mixed messages. They no longer made any sense, nor did they apply to what I was asking of them. I felt hopeless, frustrated. My Tarot cards were my only assurance that things would turn out okay, but even they stopped working. It was like everything was spiraling, and I no longer had any control over my life. But that was just it! I was so obsessed with control that when I lost it, I felt weak and vulnerable. I soon realized that God wants us to be vulnerable so that we can learn to surrender all control and put our complete faith in Him. In the end, it was Jesus who saved me and returned me to the truth that I had been seeking for so long. I know that people’s lives are not their own; it is not for them to direct their steps (Jeremiah 10:23). I began to hear God whispering in my heart that it was time for me to trust Him. I opened the door to the Lord, and He did not hesitate to enter in. After years of crying out to no one in particular, I received an inspiration from God rather than from my cards. God led me out in nature where I felt most at peace and He placed His loving arms around me. I looked up to the sky and God spoke to me, hidden in the clouds on that fateful afternoon. “Come back to me,” He said, and I was filled with more love than I had ever felt in my life. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6). It only took a day for the healing light of the Holy Spirit to brighten the darkness within which had plagued me for several years. This is the beauty of God’s healing powers which illuminate even the dimmest of souls! Still, I knew that I needed to open my heart completely to the Lord so that I could experience His grace. That night, in my bedroom, I poured out everything to God. I told Him I was sorry I had strayed so far away and repented of all the sins I had committed. I told God that from now on, I would trust Him with my life. I placed my destiny in God’s hands and I gave up New Age beliefs. I fell into the arms of a God who loved me as His child. Once I felt the comfort of resting in God’s merciful arms, I began to see that I could rely on the Catholic faith with all my heart, so I no longer felt the urge to be the sole director of my own destiny. I don’t obsess about answers anymore; now I trust in the Lord’s plan for me. “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).
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