Catholic Family Fun (TLL Blog Tour Finale)

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It’s the last day of my blog tour, and guess what? I’m going to do something different! If you’ve been around my blog for a while, you have seen several reviews of books by Sarah Reinhard. Sarah and I are both write-at-home Catholic moms writing resources to help parents raise kids with a vibrant faith.

CathFamFunThe difference is (well, okay, it’s not the only difference), Sarah is a whole lot funnier than I am. 🙂 Which makes this book, Catholic Family Fun, entirely appropriate.

Sarah doesn’t think religion has to be so darned serious all the time. Everybody needs to blow off steam sometimes, so from chapter one–“Silly Things to Do Together”–she makes it clear that families need to enjoy their time together, and the faith formation should be tied to what’s taking place in real life.

The first three parts of the book offer lots of ideas for basic fun activities both at home and “abroad.” The vast majority of these activities are not actually religious activities. Rather, they’re things you would do at story time at the library. The “faith angle”–blocked out in boxes after every section–suggests ways to tweak the activities or talk about them afterward to connect them with faith concepts.

Some of my favorite ideas:

  • Silly stories (think mad lib)
  • “Opposite season”–a living room beach party in February, for example
  • An unbirthday party–so if your February birthday girl loves the pool, have a pool party in July
  • Fun with saint feast days: a scavenger hunt to honor St. Anthony, a nail driving contest for St. Joseph
  • Christmas ornaments made from canning lids

Part four is more specifically focused on matters of faith, and Catholic faith in particular. These are more in-depth–having the whole family pitch in to build a Mary garden, for instance, or sorting clothes at the crisis pregnancy center. She also challenges parents to take the kids along for adoration and stations of the cross, and honestly? That makes sense; if it’s important to take your kids to Mass even though they aren’t “getting” it yet, then the same is true of the other opportunities for prayer that enrich Catholic life.

I think the hardest part for me is making the leap from “fun” to the religious lesson. Faith matters need to be tied into what is passing in an ordinary day, but even when we recognize the connection, it often feels forced if we draw the lines out loud. But guess what, folks? We’re the parents, and if we don’t draw the lines between ordinary life and faith lessons, the kids will never hear it. We’ve got to get over ourselves.

giveaway-triooCatholicbooksI’m going to leave you with this little gem of a quote, which I highlighted thinking of myself, and only in retrospect realized was probably intended to be about the kids themselves:

“Sometimes, ‘fun’ is something you don’t realize you’re having until you look back on something, especially if you’re in a certain age range.”

So why exactly am I touting someone else’s book on the last day of my blog tour? Because Sarah’s giving away not one, not two, but three books for Catholic families: This Little Light of Mine: Living The Beatitudes, Catholic Family Fun, and Vinny Flynn’s 21 Ways to Worship. Look at that: in one giveaway package, you’ve got faith in action, faith in fun, and faith in prayer. I think we’ve got you covered. Head on over to Sarah’s place to enter the giveaway!

Guest Post: Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness (This Little Light of Mine Blog Tour, Week 8)

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There are people who, when you first meet them, remind you of people who are very dear to you already. In those cases, you learn to love the new acquaintance on the spot. That was my experience with today’s guest, Dr. Tom Papreck, who with his wife Tammy teach NFP in our diocese. I hope his perspective on this topic inspires you.

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Praying Hands (Dürer)Halfway through my second marriage, the five year mark to be precise, I had a sudden change in direction in my faith life.  I had been a little more than a pew potato.  While I had been a Lector and had been involved in the periphery of parish governance I found myself searching for more involvement in the life of the church and something that I could commit to after my retirement which was but five years hence.  The two immediate triggers were a new truck with satellite radio and an invitation from one of our deacons to consider service in the ordained ministry.

For Lent that year I chose to give up listening to all books on tape (with their jarring four letter words) or any news programs and instead promised to invite Mother Angelica and EWTN into my life for all my trips each week to rural health clinics.  It soon became apparent what a slackdog Catholic I had become! The thought gave impetus to the deed and through what seems a divinely inspired restructuring of my medical practice I was able to begin inquiry and discernment into the diaconate. Ultimately my wife and I devoted 5 years of time, talent, treasure and prayer seeking ordination.

ThisLittleLight_Beatitudes_CoverAlong the way, and separate from the diaconate formation, our diocese recognized that I as a physician and my wife as a former OB nurse would be ideal candidates for training as NFP instructors.  We spent a year of Sunday nights, several hours each of those nights, taking the online course and ultimately becoming certified.  December 2012 as our final classes in the diaconate ended and ordination loomed four months away I was informed that because of an article discussing our new NFP ministry in the diocesan newspaper, a letter objecting to my ordination was received by the bishop…

The good news is that we continue to serve the Church, the Diocese of Jefferson City, our parish, and the Couple to Couple League, but not as an ordained minister and wife.  We have 18 new deacons and their wives to count as our lifelong friends and my very active role as an instituted acolyte here at home.

Did I feel persecuted?  YESSSS! Did I feel angry? YESSS! At first, but mostly sad for me and my “accuser”. This would seem to be a perfect example of the maxim “no good deed goes unpunished” but I prefer to look at it as a major contribution to reducing the temporal punishment for my many sins and as a result as the beatitude says “the Kingdom of Heaven shall be mine” perhaps a little sooner than later.

Dr. Tom Papreck practices family medicine in rural Missouri. He and his wife are highly involved in prolife work, including as teachers of natural family planning for the Couple to Couple League.

Guest Post: Blessed Are the Peacemakers (This Little Light of Mine Blog Tour, week 7)

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Today’s guest post comes from Barb Mecker. Barb is my sister-in-law’s mother and a woman I respect tremendously for her love, faith, and passion for life. I hope you will enjoy her thoughts on making peace in this decidedly unpeaceful world.

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Barb Mecker Hammond photoWhen I hear the Beatitude, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they are the children of God,” I often flash back to my days as a peace activist in the late 60s and early 70s. I participated in anti-war marches, volunteered at the Syracuse Peace Council, and managed the local War Tax Resistance Fund.  We certainly had “saints” to whom we looked for inspiration:  Jesuit priest and poet Dan Berrigan and his brother Phil, Trappist monk Thomas Merton, Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, and especially for me, Loretto sisters Mary Luke Tobin, Cecily Jones, and many others. We had secular saints who inspired us as well: singers such as Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, and so many others; movie stars such as Jane Fonda, Martin Sheen and Paul Newman. These folks created lots of energy and enthusiasm for the peace movement, probably much like the energy and enthusiasm of children.

Over the years, I have participated at various levels in the anti-nuclear movement, the women’s movement, the protests against the Iraqi War, and the protests to close the School of the Americas (SOA). Mostly though, I had to figure out how to be peaceful in my own life, amidst the stresses of being a wife, mother, teacher, daughter, sister, etc. That to me seemed much more immediate and far more challenging! I really felt far less successful at establishing peace in these personal realms than I did at working for peace on a global level.

Thankfully, I am now retired, my children are grown, and I face far fewer personal challenges to living a somewhat peaceful life than I used to. When I look at issues of peace in the larger world, however, they seem more challenging than ever, both within our own country and within the world, and even within the universe. We don’t really seem to have the inspiring saints that we had during the Civil Rights movement, the anti-Vietnam war days, or even the days of the women’s movement. How do we work for peace in the current age?

ThisLittleLight_Beatitudes_CoverMany of us in the Loretto Community have been reading a book by James O’Dea entitled Cultivating Peace:  Becoming a 21st-Century Peace Ambassador. He believes that we must go beyond the traditional ways we have worked for peace—with protests, marches, demonstrations, and even conflict resolution. He is not disheartened by the apparent lack of charismatic leaders because he believes that at this time, each of us is capable of being a global leader. Like Jesus says in the Beatitudes, we must cultivate peace in our own lives first, but with advances in our understanding of culture, psychology, spirituality, mental and physical health, we perhaps have better tools with which to accomplish this. He is also convinced that our own interactions with ourselves and others have an influence on the rest of the world, much like the flapping of butterfly wings can affect the weather in a far off location. Although O’Dea’s work has a bit of a New Age sound to it, it seems to me that this is actually quite similar to our belief about prayer. It turns out that my struggles to figure out how to be peaceful amidst the daily stresses of life may have been more important than my direct work for peace! Certainly this makes it possible for each of us to help create a more peaceful world—and perhaps each of us has a chance to become a saint!

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Barb Mecker and her husband Brian Hammond are co-members of the Loretto Community (Sisters of Loretto and co-members). Barb coordinated the Loretto Volunteer Program for eight years after retiring from a teaching career. She and Brian have four children and nine grandchildren.

Blessed Are the Clean of Heart (TLL Review and Excerpt )

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ThisLittleLight_Beatitudes_CoverThis Little Light of Mine: Living the Beatitudes is written not only for use with children, but to help form the faith of the adults who work with them. Today’s excerpt, from Chapter 6: Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God (Sacraments and Private Devotion), comes from the section for adults.

Most of us spend our whole lives searching for the meaning of life. Every time we think we get close to an answer, something knocks us off course again. We hunger and thirst for–what? All we really know is we’re incomplete, and nothing we pursue quite fills the emptiness, because it’s God we ache for, God we need. But God can feel far away at times; and the journey to reach him long and uncertain. Along that road, we need sustenance: tangible, physical touch points to strengthen us on the way. We find that sustenance in the sacraments and in a rich heritage of private devotions.

Just Live It:

Try celebrating a Passover meal with your family. Look up the traditional foods online, or keep it simple, with lamb and a loaf of unleavened bread…

During the meal, ask all in attendance to think about what it is they need Jesus to deliver them from. What is the habitual sin that you can’t overcome on your own? As you pass the bread around the table, have all people break off a piece to eat, and if they feel comfortable, share their thoughts aloud. But don’t force it. Conversion happens inside and manifests outside in different ways for different people. It would be easy for an exercise like this to turn into an opportunity to be self-righteous, which defeats the whole purpose. (From This Little Light of Mine, chapter 6)

Hop on over to Alicia’s place for this week’s review and giveaway!

Guest Post: Blessed Are The Clean of Heart (This Little Light of Mine Blog Tour, Week 6)

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Dan Quinn was the youth minister, and thus my “boss,” the year I led music for our local Life Teen program. Today, in the context of the Beatitude calling us to be “clean of heart,” he reminds us about an old practice many of us don’t give much thought.

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If you would ask your Catholic grandparents and especially great-grandparents about sacramentals and devotions you would hear about their affection for rosaries, medals, saints, saint feast days, etc. Today’s Catholics do not seem to have the same affection for sacramentals. How can the Catholic traditions of so many years ago apply to us and our society? Maybe our grandparents and great-grandparents are out of touch with our society? That was a different time – a different morality.

Truth be told, the past generation is out of touch with today’s society. Just look at the difference between the forms of entertainment then and now. They watched TV shows like Leave it to Beaver and The Andy Griffith Show while we watch sexually charged shows like Friends and Two and Half Men. For movies they watched Gone with the Wind while we watch Magic Mike. The elderly think that Fifty Shades of Gray must have something to do with the color palate. Maybe we should join our elderly and become out of touch with today’s society.

It appears to me that the gradual decrease of the devotion to sacramentals coincided with the increase of immorality in our society. Whether or not you accept this analogy between immorality and sacramentals, let us first understand how sacramentals help protect us against immorality.

The lack of devotion shown to sacramentals by today’s Catholics may be due to a lack of education.  Sacramentals are blessed objects like rosaries, medals, crucifixes, scapulars or sacred signs such as the sign of the cross, sprinkling holy water, bowing, pilgrimages, etc. The major importance of sacramentals is they “prepare you to receive grace” and direct us to “sanctification of men and the praise of God.” [CCC 1670]

Some Christians and even some Catholics do not understand why we should utilize sacraments when you can go straight to Jesus. It is important to note that sacramentals are not to replace our relationship with Jesus, sacraments or the liturgy, all of which are far superior. [CCC 1675]. The fact that they “prepare us to receive grace” flows from the Paschal mystery of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ. [1670] Sacramentals have always been an important part of Christian and biblical faith. Here is just one biblical example:

ThisLittleLight_Beatitudes_Cover“So extraordinary were the mighty deeds God accomplished at the hand of Paul that when face cloths or aprons [sacramentals] that touched his skin were applied to the sick, their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them.” (Acts 19:11-12).

It is said that we should learn from our past and our past was devoted to sacramentals. Maybe it’s time our society places less importance on the latest iPhone and place more importance on sacramentals such as the miraculous Medal. Sacramentals help us by preparing us to live a sanctified or holy life. A sanctified life spiritually puts us in a better position to receive the fruits of the Holy Spirit. Our immoral society would see more joy, peace, charity, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, and chastity. I am confident that we all could use more of all of these.

My favorite sacramental is the Miraculous Medal and the Immaculate Conception of Mary. I know this has deepened my relationship with Jesus and I encourage you to find your devotion to a sacramental. Pray this Prayer of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and ask for help finding your sacramental devotion.

O God, who by the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, didst prepare a worthy dwelling place for thy Son, we beseech thee that, as by the foreseen death of this, thy Son, thou didst preserve her from all stain, so too thou wouldst permit us, purified through her intercession, to come unto thee. Through the same Lord Jesus Christ, thy Son, who livest and reignest with thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end. Amen.

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Dan Quinn and his twin brother, John, are the authors of the Marion Amazon best seller The Ultimate Saint Guide to the Immaculate Conception. He is administrator of the Immaculate Conception of Mary Facebook page.

Blessed Are The Merciful (TLL Review and Excerpt)

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ThisLittleLight_Beatitudes_CoverChapter 5 of This Little Light of Mine: Living the Beatitudes ties together the idea of mercy with the 4th through 10th commandments–as I like to call them, the “rubber-meets-the-road” commandments. Today’s excerpt comes from the section for children.

Have you ever heard that old saying, “What goes around, comes around?” That’s kind of what Jesus is getting at here. God is good to everyone all the time, but people have trouble being nice to those who are mean to them.

The last seven of the Ten Commandments tell us how we should treat other people. Here are some things to think about:

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“You shall not kill.”

Most of us are never going to kill anyone, but that doesn’t mean this commandment is an easy one to follow. There are people we just don’t like, and sometimes we say mean things to or about them. “I don’t like playing with you.” “You’re not very good at sports.” “I’m a better reader than you.”

The way we talk to other people and what we say about them when they aren’t around can make them feel that they are important and loved, or it can make them feel like they are worthless. When we hurt other people’s feelings, we are “killing” their spirit. God wants us to talk about other people with respect and not trash their reputation.

Just live it

How can you tell people they hurt you without doing the same thing to them?

(Excerpt from This Little Light of Mine: Living the Beatitudes, chapter 5)

Today I have TWO reviews to share! Here is Ellen Gable Hrkach’s review at Amazing Catechists, and Carol at Simple Catholic Living has both a review and a giveaway in process! Hop on over!

Guest Post: Blessed Are The Merciful (This Little Light Blog Tour, Week 5)

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Today I welcome blogger, columnist and author Sarah Reinhard to the blog. Her charm and humor shines through everything she writes, and today’s offering, in which she really digs down to the heart of a lived faith, is no exception!

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The Rubber Meets the Road with the Merciful

reinhard sarah 402x401So often, I love the thinking, theory parts of my faith life. I like to think about how things work and go all deep and thinkoretical. I’ve always been this way.

I was all set to live my life this way until right after I became Catholic. It was at that point, with the sun streaming in through our little parish church, when the director of religious education found me and turned her big brown eyes on me.

“You’d be great as a catechist,” she said, so sincerely, so charmingly, so humbly.

Yeah, you know the drill. I said yes. And life has never been the same.

You see, there’s nothing like a class full of younger people—in my introductory case, 3rd graders—to make all that theory into just a bunch of marshmallows. They don’t care what it’s supposed to look like. They want to know how it is. They want to know why. They want to know how.

And the thing about kids, whether they’re in 3rd grade or 5th grade or Confirmation-aged, is that they’ll ask. They’ll demand (if you’re lucky) or they’ll tune you out (if you’re not).

Over the years, I’ve learned that parents—and, really, all adults—aren’t so different. Give them, for example, a tangible way to apply the commandments and live the beatitudes, and, while they might wiggle their eyebrows (their kids got it naturally), they will also think about it. They will probably try them. With God at work, they may even start to make them their own.

There is a longing in the Catholics all around us for Truth and, even more, for ways to apply Truth. We’re at odds with the world around us, but we’re also so very conditioned and immersed in life…where’s the line? How do we know?

That’s where the last six commandments come in. And, if you stop for a minute, it’s also where the beatitude about mercy—”Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy”—comes in.

On the surface, it seems too easy to even mention. At first, you almost wonder if it’s not a cutesy way of saying the same thing twice.

ThisLittleLight_Beatitudes_CoverBut when you try to live mercy, when you try to refrain from strangling a small person or yanking the hair out of a rude operator, when you attempt to swallow the sharp retort or eat the entire foot you just had shoved down your throat—well, then it becomes clear that mercy isn’t so easy to live. At. All.

This year, our religious education program focused on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy each week. The students earned a cut-out hand to hang on the wall for each work of mercy they performed. In my class, I had one student who really focused on bearing wrongs patiently, especially with his younger sisters.

By the end of the year, a couple of the other students in my class were also citing that work of mercy. They were sharing how they helped someone with homework, how they prayed for a friend, how they did something so inconsequential they giggled as they told me.

And that’s what mercy is, isn’t it? It’s bearing wrongs patiently in our homes so that we’re ready to do it in the Great Big Out There. It’s feeding the hungry who clamor and rudely demand so that we are reflexively gracious and generous with the stranger and poor. It’s a thousand small moments not ignored, but made habit. It’s a way of being that mirrors how Jesus himself taught us to live.

Sarah Reinhard is a Catholic wife, mother, author, and farm girl who writes at SnoringScholar.com.

Guest Post: Blessed Are Those Who Hunger And Thirst For Righteousness (Week 4, This Little Light Blog Tour)

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Chapter 4, “Blessed are They Who Hunger And Thirst For Righteousness,” focuses that hunger and thirst on the liturgy. Today’s guest post comes from Bill Harper, who I have gotten to know because and my husband were involved in music ministry together in his childhood parish. Below, Bill shares some thoughts on the liturgy as a way to help us find structure when life seems unsettled and uncomfortable.

The Natural Order of Things

Bill Harper.Have you ever been in a situation where you felt ill at ease or unsettled? Or perhaps a situation where things just didn’t feel right and you couldn’t quite put your finger on the problem? I’ve experienced that many times. But one of the most revealing examples in my life was watching it happen to someone else.

4th grader, Hannah, was serving mass for the very first time. She was doing an excellent job in exercising her ministry. I‘ve experienced her as a loving, sincere child in the classroom, the lunch room and on the playground.

John is 80 plus years old. He is a lifelong parishioner and his health is failing. He attends mass weekly, in a wheel chair, with the help of a health care professional. He suffers from early stage Alzheimer’s and has bouts of involuntary vocalizations. Mostly they are sounds, more than words or sentences.

During the consecration John began moaning loudly. Hannah immediately snapped her head around towards John as if to ask, “Are you okay?” And then, she looked at the congregation for some indication that everything was alright. She snapped her head back and forth two or three times; from John to the congregation and back again. I don’t know if anyone else noticed. The congregation was prayerfully engaged in the special moment at the altar. I wanted to walk up to Hannah and whisper that everything was okay.

Finally her eyes settled on mine. I smiled and nodded with as much reassurance as I could muster. That soothed her anxiety and she returned her focus to the mass. I think the congregation’s lack of response to John’s outburst may have aided in calming Hannah, as well.

Does Hannah’s reaction remind you of instances in your life when you were taken aback by a new situation? Unsure of what response is required? Like little Hannah, our heads look to our earthly situation –to God – and back again; looking to God for the reassurance that everything and everyone is alright. But isn’t it the image of the congregation, respectfully showing the way, which is to be our beacon; not getting distracted by extraneous details, but instead focusing on the task at hand?

It’s a struggle, isn’t it? We are bombarded by news and information which distracts us from the work we need to do to find our eternal peace. It is imperative that we maintain that focus so that we might fulfill the promise of the covenant; to join in God’s salvation.

Physics teaches us that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Astronomers, chemists and social scientists all struggle to find order in the chaos of our history and present day life. For the most part, we are all reconstructionists and deconstructionists in our desire to create order out of our lives. Have you ever spent time going over and over a situation, trying to find resolution to a seemingly insurmountable problem? Or trying to make sense out of another person’s perspective which makes absolutely no sense to you? In those times, it is prayer which is the work we must do.

Did you know there is a science dedicated to finding the orderliness in chaos? Perhaps you’ve heard of chaos theory. We must find order, we are driven to it. Even the primary books of our faith, the Bible and the Lectionary, are subject to our “orderedness.” And our liturgical year is structured to help us make sense of the life of Christ and the Church. But the purpose of those structures is to free us to see God in the Word and in our liturgies.

Our every move seems preordained, but must we follow?

ThisLittleLight_Beatitudes_CoverWe have seasons of the year to describe the various effects of the earths’ rotation, clocks and calendars of various sizes, styles and purposes; all designed to promote order. I remember my 13 years living in California and the uncomfortable lack of distinct seasons. I hated the brown barren hills. I missed thunderstorms and the greenery of Southern Illinois and the Fall leaf displays. It’s that same unsure feeling that deters us from staying on God’s path.

At times, it seems that we’re all scurrying around like the White Rabbit, in Alice in Wonderland, one eye on our watch and crying out, “I’m late! I’m late!” We have built machines to assist us in maintaining structure. Corporations invest thousands of dollars training employees to be more efficient and organized. Our whole lives are spent running around trying to create order out of chaos, which only creates more chaos in our lives. “Schedules…and deadlines…and lists…Oh, my! – Schedules…and deadlines…and lists…Oh, my!” We spend our earthly time rushing from one scheduled activity to the next. “Hey, stop the world and let me off! I’m tired of goin’ round and round!”

Won’t it be wonderful when we reach the joy of our eternal seventh day of rest; when we can let go of our desperate attempts to order even heaven to our humanly understanding; when we can stop being the White Rabbit; when all this self created hysteria will be rendered meaningless? Let us all pray that we are not distracted to the mission to which we are called. That sounds like the ultimate reward. God calls us to the joy of our eternal rest. Amen.

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As pastoral associate at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Marion, Illinois, Bill Harper performs a variety of ministerial and administrative functions, including liturgy and overseeing religious instruction. A 2008 graduate of the Aquinas Institute of Theology, he has a Masters
degree in Pastoral Studies with an emphasis on Liturgy. In his “spare” time he is a professional solo singer/guitarist who has produced eight CDs.

Guest Post: Blessed Are The Meek (Week 3, This Little Light Blog Tour

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Today’s guest post comes from my good friend Kelley, whom I got to know when we worked across the hall from each other at the parish office…and even after jobs changed, we never stopped helping each other along the Christian (and parenting, and marriage) journey. Chapter 3 of “This Little Light” focuses in on the gifts and fruits of the Spirit, and that’s what Kelley is talking about today.

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…the fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.

                                                                                    Galatians 5:22

Burns photoI love gardening.  Each March, my husband and I plan out our garden plot and rush to the store to make our botanical dreams come true.  Every spring we buy little baby plants and seeds, and I dream of a great harvest of tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, melons, etc.  Now let me clarify.  By the phrase, “I love gardening,” I actually mean I love to eat things that grow in a garden.  Year after year, when green begins to appear on the trees and I’m high on daffodil fumes, I think I love gardening.  And then we plant a garden, and I’m reminded that I actually do not enjoy weeding and watering, transplanting and staking.

Last fall, when my round-the-clock job as a youth minister and my round-the-clock job as a mom and wife were beginning to pile up, I thought to myself that what I really needed was some joy in my life.  And then a few days later, patience was what I needed.  And then a heavy dose of love for the people I live with.  So I began to pursue these things, looking for ways to infuse my life with them.  I read book after book, trying tactics and techniques that seemed so easy and yet in practice didn’t have the effect I was searching for.

One day in prayer, it hit me.  What I was lacking most in my life were these fruits of the spirit.  But I wanted the fruit without putting in the work.  I was trying to obtain the fruit without being attached to the vine.  Oh yes, I wanted so badly to be joyful and patient with my children and my husband.  I yearned to have control over my selfishness and to be a holy and faithful disciple.  But beyond the mere wanting of it, what had I done to grow that fruit in my life?  Sure, I had tossed up a prayer now and then, when I remembered, but other than that I was trying to make these qualities materialize out of sheer will.

In the garden, if you neglect the plant it might bear a little fruit at first, but it certainly won’t be a plentiful harvest.  The same is true in our spiritual lives.  By tending to my soul through persistent prayer, daily reading of scripture, reception of the sacraments, etc, I can ensure myself a bounty of sweetness in the form of those fruits of the spirit.  When I routinely forget to nurture my own spirituality, becoming so busy that I forget to water the vine, the end result is a meager sampling of what God has intended for our lives here on Earth.

The Holy Spirit spoke to me, when I was feeling weak and parched–reminded me of the Living Water that is waiting to be poured into our lives, if we only ask for it.  I spent the next nine weeks praying a homemade novena of sorts.  Each week for the nine weeks, I prayed actively for one of the fruits of the Spirit.  I read scripture as much as possible, attended daily Mass, and really focused on tending the garden.  The results were powerful and undeniable.  Life was springing forth.  While I might not be any better at actual gardening, I feel like I am making some forward strides in spiritual gardening!  Of course I still struggle.  Of course I grow lazy and complacent.  But I’m noticing the neglect more quickly these days—trying my best to continually water and feed my soul that is yearning for that nourishment.  Working hard for a plentiful harvest!

In the cool of the day, You come and meet me.
All the blue fades away; the stars are winking.
Your love’s so strong.  I can’t recall–
What was this thing they called the fall?
And You walk with me.  You never leave.
You’re making my heart a garden.

“Garden”

By Matt Maher and Audrey Assad

About Me: I am a wife to the best husband money could buy, mother of three (9, 7, and 2 ½), and a ginger.  We are all ginger, in fact.  I am a former youth minister, turned elementary school teacher, turned youth minister, and am now rocking the gig as a stay at home mom.  I love music, coffee, Jesus, the Catholic Church, and reality TV.  Also Harry Potter.

Guest Post: Blessed Are Those Who Mourn (Week 2, This Little Light Blog Tour)

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I met Barbara Shoeneberger through the blogosphere, as we both participate in a weekly Catholic carnival. She has approached her chronic health issues with a beautiful attitude of faith. I hope her thoughts today will illuminate the sufferings in your lives as well.

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Barb Feb 2010 resizedNobody gets through this life without mourning. Mourning implies loss of something we value.  Whether it is a dear one, a body part, a capability diminished or extinguished by age, infirmity, or accident; a job, financial security, or innocence; loss can pierce the heart, grind away the stomach, or leave one in a state of emotional and physical collapse.  With loss of what we value comes suffering unique to each person in expression and duration.

Often we are tempted to question God when suffering deeply: “Why me?” That is our first mistake, albeit a natural one. God permits us to suffer for reasons we cannot always see at the time, but by faith we know that He only wills our good. In fact, one of the best ways to suffer well and eventually joyfully, is to seek an ever deepening faith in God. “Lord, I believe. Help Thou my unbelief” (Mark 9:24).

Next we can begin to look for God’s blessings in the heart of our misery. This is essential to avoid getting stuck in suffering. The finishing phrase of this Beatitude: “…for they shall be comforted,” contains the key. The Greek word for “comforted” is the same origin for the word “Comforter” that Jesus uses in John 14:26 when he tells the apostles, ” But the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things…”.

Holy Spirit

Holy Spirit (Photo credit: Glass.Mouse)

When we are mourning or suffering, our Father sends us the Holy Spirit to teach us and to show us that He is with us. The Holy Spirit not only enters into the receptive heart Himself, but He comes also by others to help us find peace. We are comforted in our anguish by kind words and sometimes the simple silent being of a friend sitting with us, touching our hands, fixing a meal or doing a chore we can’t do. He puts new people and information into our lives to help us and show us ways to be in a changed existence. Often we describe these people as “Godsends” and indeed they are.

Suffering with joy is my motto for the rest of my life. When we pray “Thy will be done” in the Our Father we are affirming our submission to the good that God desires to do for us. I am joyful in suffering because I have seen how God is reshaping me, redirecting my life, changing my focus from myself to Him. That doesn’t mean that I am not in pain or that I don’t have moments of doubt or panic or rebellion or that I won’t have to start all over again at times because I’ve started to focus on myself and my misery. I just know now that He has a purpose for me, that I am to be faithful to that purpose, that I am not alone, and that I must take life one day at a time. It is enough for me.

O Lord, thank you for the hardship in my life. Thank you for the people you have sent to help me in my difficulties. Thank you for helping me grow in faith, hope, and charity, and for making it possible for me to help others. Please teach me what You want me to know. Give me the grace to understand what You want from me and the strength to do it. Give me submission of heart and will to execute Your plans for me for the good of all.

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Barb Schoeneberger blogs at Suffering with Joy. She serves on the Catholic Writers Guild Seal of Approval committee, provides copy editing and proofreading services to writers, and is working on a book on sin.