Getting new clothes for Easter was a childhood delight in a couple of ways. First of all, it meant I had something brand new rather than my sisters’ hand-me-downs. Secondly, it heralded the start of spring and the concurrent emergence of pastel colors and filmy fabrics. Never mind that snow is more prevalent in Denver on Easter than it is on Christmas. Come blizzard or balminess, I was determined to wear my new clothes, no matter what the weather. My favorite Easter garb was not a dress but a coat. It was warm and soft, and its buttery color reflected the day in perfect measure. I felt like I was wrapped in a beam of sunlight. What better image for Easter Sunday?
I will always consider myself richly blessed to have been first taught about the RCIA by the late Father James Dunning. He brought to life the way baptisms took place for the earliest Christians. I recall his dramatic re-enactment of a catechumen shedding his or her old clothes and being led into a baptismal pool. After being baptized the neophyte stepped, dripping wet, back out of the pool and was wrapped in a white linen garment. It’s such an evocative image of the passage from Galatians: “…All of you who were baptized into Christhave clothed yourselves with Christ.” (Galatians 3:27)
I wore my yellow coat until it no longer fit. I wonder if those long-ago Christians did the same – at least when they gathered for the Eucharist with the members of their new community. Wearing an outward sign of one’s immersion into Easter hope and life in Christ seems fitting, in more ways than one!
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There are many signs and symbols of new life that surround us at Easter. By opening ourselves to discovery, we become better attuned to recognizing these signs as we make our way through one of the church's most sacred seasons. It is a time to pay attention, a time to be still, a time to be immersed in the wonder of God's love and the closeness of Christ's presence. It is the season to celebrate new life.
By staying alert to the life emerging around us and symbolized in the rich traditions of the church, we discover a deeper appreciation of the life within us. Download a Prayer for Easter Eyes and use it in your home or parish to celebrate this joyous season.
My fascination with Abraham Lincoln started at a young age. I pulled a hefty tome about his assassination off my parent’s bookshelf while in fourth grade and immediately immersed myself in the story. Now I am engaged in another lengthy account, this time about Lincoln’s remarkable talent in working with an array of disparate personalities and over-inflated egos. His integrity while working with a “team of rivals” was, as author Doris Kearnes Goodwin notes, one of his greatest strengths. Since synonyms for integrity include honor and truthfulness, the moniker “Honest Abe” fit him perfectly.
It’s tempting to view such integrity, particularly among politicians, as a thing of the past. With access to instant news and a wider sphere of people able to add their two cents’ worth of tweets and posts, maintaining a handle on the truth is getting trickier. The press in Lincoln’s day was none too genteel, however, and opinions, disagreements, and caustic criticism were rife. Lincoln coped by keeping his own ego in check, and by relying heavily on the grace of humor. It’s a great formula for integrity stemming from a vital sense of perspective.
The educator and writer, Parker Palmer, once observed that leaders of any sort have the capacity to either shed light or to cast a shadow on their followers. It’s as true of a pastor or principal as it is a president. Integrity is about shedding light through honor, trustworthiness, and the commitment to doing our inner work. The latter is especially important, Parker notes, in an extroverted world in which image and “personality” take center stage. Integrity may not be a glitzy virtue, but is certainly one that never goes out of style.
Engage your class or family in a discussion about a person who models integrity. What is it about that person that inspires respect and warrants admiration?
Download my Prayer for Integrity and use it in your home or parish.
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The Easter season is one in which the Church celebrates the fifty days from Easter Sunday to Pentecost as one continuous feast day. The celebration of the Easter season encompasses the Ascension (the return of Jesus Christ to his Father in heaven) and Pentecost itself.
The signs of new life in Christ surround us throughout the year, but they take particular meaning during the Easter season. Taking part in this Discovering the New Life of Easter event will allow participants to identify ways to discover signs of the new life of Christ enfolded within their daily experiences and surroundings.
Use our Easter handouts (pictured above) to implement the full multigenerational event in your parish or school, or as a standalone activity for students and their families.
“Amazing Grace.” Google these words and 142,000,000 results pop up! This beloved hymn has inspired movies, plays, television shows, and a musical, books and essays, prayers and reflections, and even a perfume. What is it about this simple tune and lyric that so moves and enraptures us? Its origins are certainly compelling. Wikipedia describes the song as John Newton’s “spiritual autobiography” and it does read like a confession. Grace saving “a wretch like me” is a cry for mercy that continues to echo through time.
I love the word “grace.” As a child I pictured it as a milky white substance that cleaned away the stain of sin. This came, no doubt, from old Baltimore Catechism images of the soul as a milk bottle with varying levels of sanctifying grace displacing my various sins. Over time, however, the image has expanded. Thus, like the song I “hear” grace and feel its profound effects in my life. The writer, Anne Lamott, describes it as “a ribbon of mountain air that manages to get through the cracks.” Breathing grace makes it even more potent. Rather than rising and falling according to our behavior patterns, grace surrounds us, able to penetrate every pore and vessel. As the song notes, it is only through being cracked and broken that we understand its redemptive nature and profound ability to heal and restore life. As I continue to work on my own spiritual autobiography, I can name many times in which grace has “…brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.”
Engage your class or family in a discussion about the place of grace in your lives. Invite each person to share a way in which they have felt, seen, touched, or tasted God’s goodness through grace.
Download my Reflection on Amazing Grace and use it in your home or parish.
“Forgive and forget.” Anyone who has labored with a massive load of hurt and injury understand how difficult this advice is. How does one forget sustained abuse, genocide, or the denial of one’s very humanity? Survivors of the Nazi holocaust counsel against forgetting, lest we humans engage in something equally as horrific.
The singer/songwriter, Michelle Shocked, has altered the formula slightly. “I forgive to forget,” she writes. In a radio interview several years ago, she explained how the origin of her song stretched back to childhood. On a recurring basis, her mother would take her to church and plunk her down in the front row. When it came time for public confession, young Michelle would be spotlighted as the cause of her mother’s sin and shame because of her out-of-wedlock status. It’s a story of cruelty made all the more heartbreaking by a mother’s rejection of her own child. Shocked’s response, made years later, was to forgive in order to forget the undeserved shame placed upon her. By forgiving her mother, she could move on and find relief from old and torturous memories.
In my work as a spiritual director, I often hear similar stories. It has reframed my understanding of forgiveness and given me a new appreciation of the empowerment it offers. Rather than making ourselves punching bags for the neuroses of others, we forgive in order to release the power someone has to keep hurting, harming, or shaming us over and over again. No wonder that Jesus counseled unlimited forgiveness.
The root of the word forgive means “to let go, to give back, to cease to harbor.” By forgiving to forget we find better ways to channel our emotional energy. Lent is an especially appropriate time for forgiving. Doing so brings us in touch with the self-emptying that comprises part of the season’s intent. When we let go, we discover a way to find rest and respite from our judgments and resentments. Theologian Lewis Smedes notes that a healed memory is not a deleted one. Instead we are given a new way to remember by changing past hurts into a hopeful future.
Talk to your class or group about the importance of forgiveness in the Gospel. How can you make the practice of forgiveness more intentional during Lent?
Download my Prayer for Forgiveness and share it with your class or group.
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I am still decompressing after a lengthy trip to the East Coast. Traveling for ten days and offering seven presentations in four states was, needless to say, a bit taxing. Upon reflection, however, I view the entire experience as blessed. Much of this was due to the service I received along the way. Friends and colleagues shuttled me from place to place and made sure I was fed and housed in comfortable fashion. Taxi drivers, housekeepers, flight attendants, and waitresses eased the discomforts of the road with their friendly and helpful service. One hotel clerk added perhaps the sweetest touch of all. “When you are here, you are family,” she told me.
I realize that not all travel plans go so smoothly. In some ways, however, I think I was attuned to the service I received because the trip was so long and complicated. The only way to see it through with any degree of sanity was to stay present to the moment. This opened me in surprising ways to the many acts of service people perform each day as part of their jobs as well as out of simple courtesy. Each encounter is an opportunity to open ourselves to what Sister Katherine Howard calls “…the prophetic word of God [coming] to touch and heal us through simple people and the ordinary, unremarkable, quiet events of life.”(Not by Bread Alone)
In a few weeks we will gather for the lovely celebration that marks the start of the Triduum. On Holy Thursday, the ritual of foot-washing reminds us of the call to service modeled by Jesus. I am grateful to have been a recipient of such humble service through the course of my travels. My hope is that it will inspire me to not only be mindful of the daily acts of service I receive from friends and strangers each day, but to respond in kind.
Talk to your class or group about the virtue of service. Invite them to name the ways they have been served by others over the past twenty-four hours. The results might surprise them.
With Lent now past the half-way point, review your intentions and practices. As a way to help, download my Soul-Nourishing Practice for Lent and share it with your class or group.
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I admit to having a bit of trouble with the practice of abstaining from meat on Fridays during Lent. I don’t really find it much of a sacrifice. As a child I remember when my brother, Ted, came upon me savoring a tuna fish sandwich on a Friday afternoon. An avid steak-lover who had reached an age in which he had to adhere to the Lenten rules, he was appalled at my choice. Nonetheless, the roast beef sitting in the fridge had little appeal for me.
Over the years, the fasting I find meaningful has shifted. It’s also become more challenging. Fasting from negativity and judgment of others. Abstaining from self-righteousness and pity parties. These intentional fasts for the soul start, like most Lenten practices, with good intent. They become trickier as the weeks wear on or I come across a trigger that sets them off track. It’s much easier to forgo a hamburger.
This year, in addition to traditional Lenten fasting, I am abstaining from anxiety. With a pressing number of writing deadlines looming and other projects cluttering my desk, I find myself wakeful at 2:00 a.m. trying to figure out how to balance all of it. There are my children, both of whom are adjusting to new locations and finding the search for employment disheartening and demoralizing. Abstaining from the urge to fly to their immediate aid takes some doing. And then, of course, there is the strife in the Ukraine, global warming, and any number of disturbing news stories, making the anxiety list never-ending. I came across a great quote by the late, great Erma Bombeck the other day. “Worry is like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do but won’t get you anywhere.” I draw upon the image each time I slip into nail-biting mode. It draws to mind another wonderful reminder; “…Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?” (Matthew 6:27)
The point of fasting as a spiritual practice is not to simply “offer it up”. It is also to find deeper union with God in the sacrifice. The self-emptying that comes with the practice opens space within us for something richer and ultimately more important. “…Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you as well.” (Matthew 6:33) In this light, I hope my fast from anxiety will not only provide a decent night’s sleep, but also a lovelier vision of all God is doing for me, my family, and the entire world.
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On March 17, people all over the world celebrate Saint Patrick with parades, parties, and the wearing of green.
Patrick was born in Scotland. When he was about fourteen years old, he was captured and brought to Ireland. As a slave, he was forced to take care of sheep. Patrick prayed often during his captivity. The people of Ireland at this time were not Christian. Patrick learned about their beliefs and practices.
When Patrick was twenty years old, he escaped from slavery and returned home. He never forgot the people of Ireland and wanted to return to teach them about Christianity. Patrick began studying for the priesthood and was eventually ordained a bishop. He was then sent by the Pope to Ireland as a missionary.
There are many legends about Saint Patrick. One such legend has it that he used a shamrock, a plant growing in Ireland, to explain the Blessed Trinity. Just as the shamrock has one stem with three parts, there are three distinct Persons in one God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Because of this, the shamrock is the traditional symbol of Ireland.
Download my Saint Patrick’s Day Prayer and use it with your family or class. Then talk about the ways Christ is present in your lives.
As the winter Olympic Games in Sochi were wrapping up, the television network played its requisite montage of memorable moments. Skiers, snowboarders, and skeleton-racers soared to new heights and speeds. Then there were the “agony of defeat” moments, none more poignant than U.S. figure skater, Jeremy Abbott, who crashed into the boards during his short program. In obvious pain, he got up and, encouraged by the cheering audience, finished his routine. He garnered no medals for his efforts, but looked elated by his personal triumph.
The other day I watched my husband walk slowly up the hill to our house after another of his lengthy training runs. It was a bitterly cold day but he ran anyway. Over the years I have been both baffled and impressed by his initiative. The only way he maintains such a rigorous routine is by, in his words, “ignoring how he feels.” This isn’t about his physical needs. He monitors injuries with great care. Rather, it’s about his mental state. If he doesn’t “feel” like running, he does so anyway. This seems to be the secret to good self-discipline.
Poor as I am with sports metaphors, I have used Ron’s mantra to encourage those trying to engage in a spiritual discipline. With Lent now underway, it’s a good reminder of the kind of initiative needed to move through six weeks of “penance, prayer, and almsgiving” – the three traditional practices of the season. Ignoring how we feel when the weeks wear on is probably the only way to keep from giving up entirely or backsliding into the dreaded spiritual malaise called acedia. Saint Paul had his own sports analogy for the discipline required of a Christian: “…This one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14) Whether it’s running a mental marathon or simply trying to recover from a painful fall, pressing on toward the goal is what spiritual initiative is all about.
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