Archive for the ‘anxiety’ Category

The beautiful heart of St. Paul

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

Reflection on today’s readings (May 23, 2012) Acts 20:28-38; Psalm 68:29-30,33-36, John 17:11-19

Many women do not like St. Paul. I am not one of them.

Ever since I asked St. Paul to intercede for me for a special need (more on that in a moment), I have found myself reflecting on his life, his writings, and his enormous contribution to Christianity.

From Acts Chapter 20

Today’s reading from Acts moved me deeply. I found myself welling up as I imagined Paul’s impassioned plea to the presbyters of the Church of Ephesus. Knowing they would never see them again, they wept openly, throwing their arms around him and kissing him.

Saying goodbye

Any mother knows the pain of an empty nest when the son or daughter leaves home for the last time. You struggle to hold it in so you won’t embarrass yourself and often times you just can’t help it. I had said what I thought was the final goodbye a few times to my son, first when he went off to college and lastly, when he moved to a neighboring town. That last time was especially hard. Now he is moving out of state at the end of the summer and I haven’t dared to begin thinking about that yet!

Paul’s attributes

What I love about St. Paul is his commitment, love and fortitude. This man emptied himself each and every day out of love for his Lord, but also for love of the people he was sent to minister to. There was never any hesitation. He never pulled back, never worried about what others would think of him. He was focused only on pleasing his Lord.

Knowing who you are

Paul was fully aware of what he had been. He had been forgiven of some pretty horrendous sins and he never forgot to be grateful for the privilege of carrying the Good News. That gratefulness acted like gasoline on the fire of his love.

A special intercessor

I especially love St. Paul’s focus and the example he uses of the marathon runner with the eye on the prize. About a year ago, for some reason, I asked  St. Paul to intercede for me for a very specific intention. I asked him to run beside me whenever I found myself stuck in traffic when I desperately needed to relieve myself. Because of a medical condition, this happens frequently. The pain is unlike any I’ve known and the emotional distress makes the pain more acute.

At the first sign of trouble, I call upon St. Paul to run beside me and we run together. Taking on his focus, my emotions are controlled and the pain is less acute. As a result of these encounters, I have developed an affection for St. Paul which has caused me to read more carefully the extraordinary writings which built on the foundation of our faith.

Empty, and beautiful

It is no wonder that the presbyters at Ephesus felt such a strong connection with Paul who, for 3 years, had spent his life for them. Each day, he was empty, and beautiful.

And I think of that man, that saint, running beside me, comforting me in my little trouble. How good our God is to provide these wonderful saints for us!

Matt Maher, a Christian singer and songwriter, recorded a wonderful song about St. Paul that he called Empty and Beautiful. As you watch the video below, think on today’s reading and the man who knew exactly who he was and what had been given to him. He knew too what to give back and why.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lhaHB1Cad_4

God works through the least of His creatures

Monday, September 5th, 2011

This is the story of the tiniest of crises in my life: a tale of a cat. And how God is right there in the middle of this most trivial of moments.

If you are an animal lover, you may disagree that this crisis is small. If you’re not, you’ll know exactly what I mean! :-)

It began 4 weeks ago when I had to take my elderly cat, Bacci in for his physical. Although Bacci had a history of being super sensitive to the slightest change in his routine, I felt he would manage with a physical.

As expected, Bacci was so fearful of the exam that he was shaking, and purred to comfort himself. At 14 he had lost significant weight and had developed an infection due to scratching around his mouth (his gums were bothering him). The vet cleaned up the area around his mouth, put a cone around his head, prescribed antibiotics, and then told me he had a hyperactive thyroid that needed treatment (the cause of the weight loss). I was upset to see the cone because I knew deep down this would never fly. I was so right!

Bacci became unhinged after that visit. He couldn’t cope with the cone and began acting out (by not using the litter box) until I had to remove the cone. The antibiotic did not agree with him and as a result, he was losing more weight. I could see that he was spiraling downward (something I had seen in previous elderly cats) and felt the end was coming. It did come, 1 week and 3 days after the annual physical.

I was devastated. Usually I have my husband doing the “dirty deed” but he wasn’t home. I could feel myself becoming unhinged as I prepared to take Bacci to the vet for the last time.

I felt silly calling upon Jesus and Mary to see me through this but I knew if I didn’t call upon the Lord now, I wouldn’t call on Him for more important matters. I began to pray to His mother for intercession and immediately I felt her unique touch of peace. I just wanted to hold it together so I could follow through with what I knew needed to be done. Bacci was suffering terribly and putting him down was the right decision.

After it was done, I cried and cried. Bacci had been adopted from my mother’s nursing home and I felt guilty that I had not been able to provide him with the peaceful life I promised. Bacci had had a tough time in our home as he was not used to other cats, and the other cats sensed weakness in him and tormented him. I felt it my mission to make this cat feel safe, showering him with attention, hugs and kisses. And ironically, just before the physical, he seemed to have reached a happier place. It was a bitter end to the story.

It was also the last physical tie to my mother and I began grieving over her all over again.

Such a small matter, putting down a cat. So many people are hurting in this world and I lose it over a cat!

And here I discovered that the Lord is truly in the midst of everything in our lives, right down to the most trivial of details. He showered me with unspeakable graces and consolation, even in this smallest of crises. My daughter came home on a dime when I called to tell her of Bacci’s fate. My son sent me a beautiful letter telling me that my care of Bacci despite all the difficulties showed him the example of kindness and gentleness that he wanted to emulate.

God’s light had actually shown through me by the care of one of His creatures. This trivial matter was used to broaden my heart and show others that love.

I learned through Bacci that God will use anything and everything to demonstrate His gracious, abounding and unending love.

Truly, God IS in everything!

Here I wrote a tribute to Bacci if you’d like to know more about this sweet cat of mine.

 

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The price for taking one’s eyes off the prize

Thursday, August 4th, 2011

Today I read two very different things that hit me in a big way.

Quote from classic literature’s favorite mother

The first was a quote from a biography I am currently reading on the life of Abba Alcott, “Marmee” of Little Women (Marmee, the Mother of Little Women by Sandford Meddick Salyer). This quote hit me right between the eyes:

From Abba Alcott: ” ‘Let not your left hand know what your right hand doeth’ is a safer principle than that degree of caution which does little on faith and less in love.”

Balking at His call . . .

Yesterday I balked when the Lord asked me to do some ministerial work. An event was being proposed by a dear friend, someone I have worked together with several times, and our work has always born good fruit.

Excuses, excuses . . .

Yet yesterday I found myself filled with misgivings about the offer and I wrote back, citing a full calendar due to my commitments to the Commission for Women of the Diocese of Worcester as its new chairman (and our upcoming women’s conference, Gather Us In 2011), plus a confirmation retreat happening the weekend after the proposed event.

I wrote back my friend, citing the long drive to his church, the time away from my family, the fact that I don’t have the stamina I used to have, etc., etc., etc. . . .

I even wrote, “I hope this doesn’t sound like copping out (maybe it does).”

What about love?

That’s why Abba Alcott’s quote hit me right between the eyes. All my misgivings were all about me. I wasn’t even giving God a chance to lead me through it. My heart was small, like the Grinch who stole Christmas. The last phrase, that degree of caution which does little on faith and less in love.” hit me with a thud.

Needless to say, I wrote back to my friend today and told him I was interested.

Walking or sinking?

Then today I read an outstanding meditation from the RC Catholic Spiritual Direction blog, using the Gospel reading for this coming Sunday, Matthew 14:22-33. It’s the story of Peter, walking on the water. The title is “Why Do We Doubt?” and it maintains that we don’t keep our eyes focused on Jesus.

Hmmm. That sounds like something I was unwilling to do in accepting the proposed event from my friend. At least Peter gave Jesus a chance! I didn’t.

God’s bright, probing light

During my ride into work today I suspended my usual routine and just listened to music so I could reflect. God took that time to shine that bright-but-painful light into my inner self, revealing a spirit of cowardice, a lack of faith, a heart that is still too small, and a life still stuck in the mud.

A firm and loving message

While that bright light was harsh, it was also loving. Throughout the examination, I felt the presence of God encouraging me to continue on and not allow myself to get discouraged. His presence was firm and His desire was clear – keep my wandering eyes and heart fixed on Him! He alone is worthy of trust – He is the Prize.

Be like Peter – accept the invitation to walk on the water. But don’t be like Peter too – never take your eyes off the Prize.

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Perhaps Fr. John Corapi is still teaching us

Thursday, July 14th, 2011

Today I saw a wonderful article regarding the Fr. John Corapi saga. I liked this article because it was firm yet reasonable, strong yet loving. It was free of hyperbole and written by someone who had greatly admired Corapi.

Here is the link to the article:

Father Corapi — Still Teaching

July 14th, 2011 by Patti Maguire Armstrong

I particularly loved a section of the article which quoted a blog from Father Dwight Longenecker regarding true saintliness:

“Where shall we find a holy person? Where shall we find a saint? It is difficult because the real saint is hidden and humble and holy. Instead of looking for the hidden holy ones we fall for the celebrity ‘saint.’ We want the big dramatic conversion story. We want the dynamic, uncompromising speaker. We like the one who speaks out on sin and rails against the devil…

“…Stop and consider that the real saints are hidden. They follow the little way. If you were to tell them they were saints they would laugh and tell you to keep searching. If you even had the sense and discernment to see the saint next to you–the ordinary person who perseveres–the little person who serves others–the plain Jane who takes life easily and simply loves people–then you would learn again what true holiness really is. If we only had eyes to see the simplicity of the saints, the extraordinary ordinariness of holiness, the practical good humor and humility of the truly grace filled ones…

“It is the little way that leads to salvation. Not the way of pride and pleasure and power. Not the way of wealth and the world. Not the way of ego and ambition.

“Only the way of the cross. When are we going to learn this?”

I hope that all of you know of someone in your life who fits this description. I am honor to know two and feel greatly honored that God has given me these people in my life. Truly He has lavished his blessings on me and I hope I am a constant blessing to them.

Who do you know in your life that teaches you holiness? Please leave a comment and share with us.

I am grateful to the author of this piece on Fr. Corapi, Patti Maguire Amstrong. She reminds me that prayer is certainly the best path to holiness, and to remember Fr. Corapi in our prayers will help us in our journey.

Lay down your burden

Tuesday, July 5th, 2011

“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

I just loved the homily given on Sunday by our pastor, Monsignor Mike Foley. He shared a true and compelling story of how he applied the above verses from the gospel reading to his own life.

Several years ago, Monsignor Mike was pastor to the largest parish in our diocese, St. Ann’s in Milford, MA. With approximately 3500+ families in the parish, St. Ann’s at one time had 5 priests to serve. Back in the early 2000′s, the death of a pastor caused the bishop to effectively “shuffle the deck”, redistributing pastors and promoting an associate to pastor to fill the various needs of the diocese. Monsignor was at the bottom of the deck. In the end, he was left alone at St. Ann’s without even the help of a deacon because the deacon was sick. He would not be able to get extra help for at least 3 months. On top of everything else, it was during the height of the sexual abuse scandal which rocked Boston and surrounding communities.

Monsignor knew he was in trouble. He described the various ways he could have reacted:

  • Get angry with the bishop
  • Work himself to death
  • Or turn to the Lord in prayer

He decided to turn the Lord in prayer. At at time when one would think more hours would need to be devoted to work, Monsignor Mike took 2 extra hours (together) out of his day to spend time with the Lord in prayer. He confessed his need and allowed the Lord to give him rest. He took the will of God (His yoke) on his shoulders, surrendering his own will for what he thought ought to be done, and surrendering the will and expectations of others.

In the end,  God showed him how to prioritize his work, helping Monsignor in his decision making, and ultimately, remaking the vision of the parish.

Monsignor Mike really shared from his heart. At one point, standing in front of the altar, he pointed back to the gospel book stating, ” I know that it works to allow God to carry your burden. I’ve lived it!”

All the while I’m marveling at the fact that this holy priest would spend 2 solid hours in prayer. As always, he, in essence, fertilized the desire already in me to deepen my prayer. It’s so helpful when God sets before you such wonderful examples like Monsignor Mike. We at St. Luke the Evangelist in Westboro, MA are so fortunate!

Why does love chase away fear?

Friday, March 25th, 2011

In praying the Sorrowful Mysteries of the rosary this morning, a thought struck me while praying the first mystery: The Agony in the Garden: why was Jesus afraid and what did it mean?

Jesus was the Christ, co-equal with the Father and the Holy Spirit – how could he know fear? But Jesus was also man and we all know fear. As a man, Jesus knew fear and anxiety in that garden that was so intense that He sweated blood and begged the Father to allow what was coming to pass.

It made me wonder: did Jesus as a man know the separation from the Father that all humanity knows, brought on by the fall of Adam and Eve? And because of that separation, did He then turn into Himself, thus coming face to face with the terrors that awaited Him? And by turning everything over to God (“not my will but Yours”) and thus turning away from Himself, is that what opened Jesus to the grace needed to face His most terrible hours with such courage?

Is fear then, self-centered, while love and trust is other-centered?

In remembering the many times I used to wake up at 4 in the morning, worrying endlessly about so many things, it certainly was all about me! I felt trapped inside of myself when that type of anxiety would grip me. Only when the sun came up and I got out of bed was I able to put a little distance between myself and my fear. When that happened, the fear would shrink and fade. The monster in the closet would disappear when a little perspective came into view.

I remember many years ago I read a book about a fire in a Boston nightclub that scared me so much I didn’t close my eyes the entire night. I broke out in a sweat and my stomach hurt. This fear was so deep that I refused to go out to restaurants. I wouldn’t go to our town library or work there for fear I would see that book. Sometimes I would see local news coverage of the event, citing some anniversary, and it would ruin my whole day. The fear was palpable, and it kept growing.

Finally I confessed my fear to my then-boyfriend-now husband. I had to pray on it for a long time, rocking back and forth in the bathroom crying until I got up the nerve to name it to someone else. After I confessed it, the fear went away – the monster in the closet was gone. I stepped away from myself, trusted God, and let it go.

I knew years later I had been successful because another terrible nightclub fire occurred in 2003 in Warwick, RI. This time, instead of running away from it, I faced it head on. It was hard, but it prevented the monster from rising up again.

Jesus faced His fear and turned it over to His loving Father. He turned away from himself and towards the Father. He could only do that because of his love and trust for the Father. And he was able to face his own monster, a real monster, and do it with grace.

Love chases away fear because love focuses on the other, not on the self. That turning away from self allows trust to happen.

Jesus tells us that fear is useless and to replace it with trust. Trust becomes easier as I come to know Jesus more intimately and fall more deeply in love with Him. Love is perfected over a lifetime and perfect love drives out all fear.

Letting Go of Fear

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

(The Red Room website was calling for articles about letting go in honor of Lent so I submitted this post. This isn’t really about Lent, but it is about letting go, and it shows that it doesn’t have to be swift and painful for it to work. God is gracious and merciful).

I profess to have faith in God and as such, am supposed to trust in God. But when it came to the family finances, I never seemed to be able to find that pool of trust.

My husband and I are talented at many things, but managing money is not one of them. Even though my husband works as a financial analyst, he has no interest in using those talents to balance our checkbook. I am quite motivated, but often have to add up the numbers more than once on the calculator to get the right answer.

As a result, we always seemed to be in financial trouble, and this caused me a lot of stress. It would usually play out in the wee hours of the morning, the dreaded 4 o’clock hour: waking up, stomach hurting and palms sweaty over the big monster in the closet. Somehow that monster always shrank when the sun would rise and I’d get up for the day. The monster may not have been physically present, but the fear was very real.

I prayed to God about our finances. First it was, “Please send us extra money get through the month.” Then it was, “Please teach us how to handle our money.” I wanted a miracle, I wanted to win the lottery. But that’s not how God works.

Finally, a few years ago, something broke and it came about because of a purchase: the purchase of a tandem kayak.

We had moved into an area full of lakes, streams and ponds, and my husband kept bugging me to use the credit card and purchase a kayak. I have abhorrence for credit cards and kept saying no, but finally to keep the peace, I gave in. It turned out to be a momentous decision.

Some husbands and wives should never work together and that was us – just too competitive, each of us always wanting to come out on top. Yet, when the kayak came, that all changed. Very naturally we took our places – he handled the physical end of the boat (how to put it up on the car, how to carry it, etc.) and he graciously allowed me to sit up in the front to determine where we would paddle to. The smooth silence of the water complemented by the beautiful hot summer days made for blissfully peaceful trips down lazy rivers and streams. We’d drift and look at birds, run our hands through the warm water, stop to go fishing, all the while talking to each other in soft voices. In the kayak, I could let go of everything that was bothering me.

Winter came and the kayak was put away but I longed for that peace and harmony to continue, especially when I’d wake up at 4am worrying about money. That’s when God went to work, slowly changing me, pouring His grace upon me like a light mist falling on fallow ground, until that ground became soft and bore fruit. He used the imagery of the kayak trip to teach me about floating down His river of grace, all the while letting go and letting Him steer. Slowly I shed the worries that burdened me and turned them over to Him, letting them flow downstream. I began to sleep through the night and let the sun wake me up in the morning rather than the monster in the closet.

I learned how to let go of my fear. I learned how to trust. The good and gentle God took me by the hand, used something that was so sweet and delicious to me and taught me how to trust. And I haven’t turned back since.

Submit, obey, surrender – are these really bad words?

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

Here are the readings for today.
Ephesians 5:21-33; Psalm 128:1-5; Luke 13:18-21

Here is the Divine Office – click on Office of Readings.

Submit. Obey. Surrender. These words appeared again and again in both the daily readings and the Divine Office, Office of Readings. Here are some examples:

Antiphons from the Divine Office (from Psalm 37):

  • Surrender to God, and he will do everything for you.
  • Turn away from evil, learn to do God’s will; the Lord will strengthen you if you obey him.
  • Wait for the Lord to lead, then follow in his way.

And today’s first reading from Ephesians is the famous (or infamous) passage about submission and specifically, wives submitting to their husbands:

Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord.
For the husband is head of his wife
just as Christ is head of the Church,
he himself the savior of the Body.
As the Church is subordinate to Christ,
so wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything.

Words like submit, obey and surrender are considered dirty words, especially in American society where rugged individualism, acquiring wealth and power, and making it to the top no matter what are of primary importance to so many. For women especially, these are fighting words (understandable since women have known oppression all over the world for so long, and so many still do).

What’s often missed, however,  is verse 21 which comes just before that section:

Brothers and sisters:
Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.

This here is the key. Submit, obey and surrender don’t have the same meanings when applied to God. As is so common in the Christian life, things are not as they appear. In the world these words bring to mind slavery, captivity, restraint, limitation, imprisonment or subjection. In the eyes of God, submit, obey and surrender actually mean true freedom.

If I am to be subordinate to the Lord, I must learn to trust Him. Trust is not learned overnight, especially if your trust has been betrayed by those you love. I need to be intimate relationship with God and pursue Him constantly. As that relationship grows, I find that my desire to be subordinate grows too because I learn to trust Him.

A few years ago, anxiety over our finances ruled my life. I would wake up at 4am and worry myself sick until it was time to get up. I would make myself physically sick because of worry. I also disrupted the lives of my family members because of that worry.

I pursued a relationship with God but did not understand at the time about subordinating myself to Him. He in his graciousness showed me how even when I didn’t directly ask for it. Slowly He transformed me and in time, I learned to let go of my worries; I stopped trying to control every aspect of my life. In return, I found a deep and lasting peace – freedom from my worry -  which I wouldn’t trade for the world.

When I had my worry replaced by His peace, my relationships with family members improved, especially with my husband. I began to learn what sacrificial love was and desired to practice it. We became subordinate to each other our of our love for Christ.

Submit, obey and surrender are no longer dirty words to me. God has transformed their meaning for me into something beautiful and very desirable.

Sharing in suffering and consolation – reflection on the Divine Office morning prayer, September 20

Monday, September 20th, 2010

I was struck today by the short reading included in the Divine Office morning prayer:

Praised be God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation! He comforts us in all our afflictions and thus enables us to comfort those who are in trouble, with the same consolation we have received from him. As we have shared much in the suffering of Christ, so through Christ do we share abundantly in his consolation.
2 Corinthians 1:3-4

I immediately thought of my dear friend whom I take communion to every Tuesday. She endures much suffering but freely shares how God consoles her through that suffering. It always amazes me how she is able to hang on, and not just hold on, but keep trying. She leads a life full of purpose even though she can do little physically.

Someone in her shoes could so easily become bitter and be blinded by the suffering. But my friend is open, looking for, asking, expecting God’s consolation. And because of that, she offers consolation to others. I know that is certainly true for me. Every week I learn something new from her which deepens my understanding of the faith. She says that I console her too – I do all I can.

I remember last year when my husband Rich was laid off. This was a second layoff for him but we opted to trust in God and support each other, and not allow worry to undo us. At that time, I felt so much consolation from God that I just had to share it, and that’s when I produced a limited podcast series called “How Can I Keep from Singing” as part of the  Marian Cenacle Rosary Podcast. In this series, I freely shared what was going on in my life and how I leaned on God, trusting Him to see us through. I knew there were a lot of people out there like us and I wanted to let people know that trusting in God does help. My husband didn’t land a job immediately – we were on unemployment for 4 months – and I’d be a liar if I said there were no bumps in the road along the way. But for some reason, God graced both of us tremendously with confidence and we remained calm and peaceful throughout the layoff.

2 Corinthians 21:3-4 is something I have truly lived and I can tell you, is possible for anyone so long as you don’t let your suffering blind you to God’s goodness. Surrendering your sorrow to God is essential – He must be allowed to lead the way.

Reflection on the Divine Office morning prayers for Sept. 6

Monday, September 6th, 2010

Sometimes I hurt inside thinking of all the people I know whose hearts have hardened like concrete against the Lord. They are good people, they just don’t want to know Him. I read this canticle from Isaiah and think of them:

Canticle — Isaiah 2:2-5
The mountain of the Lord’s dwelling towers above every mountain
All peoples shall come and worship in your presence (Revelation 15:4).

In days to come,
the mountain of the Lord’s house
shall be established as the highest mountain
and raised above the hills.

All nations shall stream toward it;
many peoples shall come and say:
“Come, let us climb the Lord’s mountain,
to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may instruct us in his ways,
and we may walk in his paths.”

For from Zion shall go forth instruction,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

He shall judge between the nations,
and impose terms on many peoples.
They shall beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks;
one nation shall not raise the sword against another,
nor shall they train for war again.

O house of Jacob, come,
let us walk in the light of the Lord!

But as I read through the morning prayers today I could feel the Lord saying to me that if my concern for those members of my family and my friends turns to anxiety and disturbs my peace, that this is not of Him. It shows that I don’t trust in His ultimate plan. It is not my job to save anyone, that is for Jesus to do! I have no power on my own.

I love to plan things, to fix things. My kids especially say that I never just listen, that I always have to offer advice. It’s a compulsive thing, wanting to fix everything.

But God wants me to lay aside that compulsion. Yes, I can fix some things, but I can’t fix everything. Why not leave it to the One who can?

The best thing I can do to help those who don’t know Him is to focus squarely on Him. This is why the Two Great Commandments start with “You shall the love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength.” I must let HIM do the work. My role is to follow the Lord as closely as I can and let His light shine through me. That light will attract those I love, not anything I can do. I can’t make that light shine through my actions. Only surrendering fully to the Lord will cause that light to shine.

My heart will still burn for my loved ones to know Him, but I must rest in the Lord, immerse myself in Him, and let Him shine His light through me. I must step aside.