Pray for vocations during this National Vocation Awareness Week!

This week, November 4-10, 2018, is National Vocation Awareness Week, with a special focus on discerning the call to priesthood, religious life and diaconate. In these difficult days for the Church, it can be especially hard for young people to discern whether God is calling them to dedicate themselves totally to building the kingdom of God. Please join this week in praying for the holy vocations that the Church and the world so desperately need.

If you are a young person discerning your vocation, check out Pope Francis’ Message for the World Day of Prayer for Vocations here. I think these short paragraphs in particular offer much-needed encouragement and insight:

God continues to “come down” to save our human family and to make us sharers in his mission. The Lord continues to call others to live with him and to follow him in a relationship of particular closeness. He continues to call others to serve him directly. If he lets us realize that he is calling us to consecrate ourselves totally to his kingdom, then we should have no fear! It is beautiful – and a great grace – to be completely and forever consecrated to God and the service of our brothers and sisters.

Today the Lord continues to call others to follow him. We should not wait to be perfect in order to respond with our generous “yes”, nor be fearful of our limitations and sins, but instead open our hearts to the voice of the Lord. To listen to that voice, to discern our personal mission in the Church and the world, and at last to live it in the today that God gives us.

May Mary Most Holy, who as a young woman living in obscurity heard, accepted and experienced the Word of God made flesh, protect us and accompany us always on our journey.

– Pope Francis, 2018 Message for World Day of Prayer for Vocations

 

The National Religious Vocation Conference put together this five-minute video that offers insights into various communities of consecrated life and discernment:

If you need inspiration in praying for vocations, check out this collection of  vocation prayers hosted on the USCCB site. There are over 40 prayers—more than enough prayers here to choose a different prayer for every day this week!

Autumn as a metaphor for the spiritual life

A few weeks ago at daily Mass, we had the beautiful reading from Ecclesiastes 3:1-11 about the seasons of life:

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance…   – Ecclesiastes 3:1-3

This reading from Ecclesiastes reminds us that God guides the events of our lives, and that there is a gift from God in every season, or time, that we live in. The very temporariness of the time we live and the transitions we undergo are a reminder of the timelessness of God and the longing for the eternal that God has put in our hearts. “God has made everything appropriate to its time, and has put the timeless into their hearts” (v. 11). This line is probably why I most often hear this passage read at funerals—and it is a great choice for a funeral Mass. And yet, this passage has so much wisdom to offer at other times, even as we journey through the seasons of nature.

The seasons of nature can be reflected in our spiritual life. Sometimes, when a great deal is going on in our lives, an “easy in” to reflecting on what is happening interiorly is to look at our spiritual life in this light of what season we are living.Perhaps as you read this—or another time today—you can take a few moments to reflect on what spiritual “season” or “moment” from Ecclesiastes 3 you most identify with at this time in your life.

* * *

I first started praying with the seasons of my heart years ago as a young religious. Recently, I was reminded of how helpful that can be by the last few pages of Parker Palmer’s lovely book on vocation, Let Your Life Speak.  (Palmer, who is a member of the Religious Society of Friends [Quaker], talks about failure as an important part of discernment: how failure can be a clear indication from God that we are meant to turn in another direction–or to see what has been in front of us all along.) Quoting Thomas Merton about “the hidden wholeness” in all visible things, Palmer speaks of autumn’s metaphor for our spiritual lives:

In the visible world of nature, a great truth is concealed in plain sight: diminishment and beauty, darkness and light, death and life are not opposites. They are held together in the paradox of “hidden wholeness.”

…Autumn constantly reminds me that my daily dyings are necessary precursors to new life.

– Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak, pp. 99-100

 

The bittersweet richness of autumn in nature has made it my favorite season, because it always seems to speak to wherever I am in the spiritual life. Autumn is a season where change is perhaps most striking in nature. Above all, autumn is a season for the strenuous work of reaping and harvesting, and for enjoying the fruits of the harvest.

All the aspects of the season of autumn are connected to the most stark result at its end:  the death or seeming-death of the natural world surrounding us, so much so that it changes from rich shades of green to a dull brownish-gray. What is so powerful about this aspect of autumn is that, if seen as part of the whole of all four seasons of the year, autumn also becomes a time of preparing for new life. Clearing the gardens and even planting the bulbs which will stay buried deep in the ground all through winter, but will burst through and blossom in the spring.

In our spiritual lives, we can be going through “autumn” when we are living a time of transition—with something ending and something else beginning. It is a time to recognize the gifts and graces that we have received—and their transitoriness gives a special intensity to our gratitude. The spiritual season of autumn can be a time for a fresh start, but it can also be a time of loss accompanied by grief and a sense of emptiness. It can be a time of hidden preparation for something that we cannot yet imagine. Spiritually, our season of autumn leads us to live in the spirit of the Cross—the daily “dying to self” that all Christians are called to.

We witness and benefit from this self-emptying love of Christ every time we participate at Mass. And we are called to daily share in the suffering and death of Jesus, the “dying to self” that means carrying the Cross entrusted to us. Following Christ means that we are called, in a way, to always live in the “spirit” of autumn—that generous, self-giving spirit that lets go—when it is time—to whatever is precious and to allow ourselves—like a brilliant maple leaf—to float to the ground, trusting in God’s loving care. For me, the beauty of the falling autumn leaves helps me to recognize the beauty of my living Jesus’ self-giving love: the dying-to-self kind of love. Even when it is painful. Even when I am tempted to cling to what I know I need to let go of. Even when I am terrified of letting go.

Because a really important aspect of following Christ is that we come to know and trust, on a deeper and deeper level, who God is for us: the God who always brings new life. Ecclesiastes 3 is a powerful reminder of who God is in our ever-changing lives: that God provides in each season for us, and that we are always—especially when we don’t feel like we are—cherished and being brought to resurrection. Truly praying this passage from Ecclesiastes is an act of trust, an act of surrender that God will be with us in every season.

Prayer Suggestion: Take some time to read and reflect on Ecclesiastes 3:1-11, and conclude your lectio by praying it as a canticle of surrender to God’s plan for your life.

Tips for following the Synod for Young People

We are just beginning Week 2 of the Synod. (It runs from Oct. 3-28.) The more I follow it, the more I have been enjoying the way the Synod is “modeling” community discernment for the Church.

The Synod offers insights that are helpful for anyone discerning how God might be calling them to serve, as the it highlights the needs of humanity across the globe.  Here are my current favorite sources for following the Synod. (If you are already following the Synod, please share below in the comments how you are following it, and what has impressed you!)

Archbishop Fisher’s Daily Blog of the Synod    This is the first place I check every day. Archbishop Fisher’s blog is accessible and offers real insight into what is happening there on a daily basis.

Synod 2018 on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram   The Synod’s official social media.

The Synod’s Official website (with the Instrumentum Laboris or Working Document)  If you wonder what IL is, or what “document” everyone is talking about, you can find it here. It’s a bit long for an easy read, but if you download the document and search for discernment (or any other topic you’re interested in), you will see what the small groups are referring to.

Salt + Light TV’s Frequent Synod Updates (including blogposts, 5 minute video updates, and longer TV shows). The link goes to the blog for yesterday, Oct. 9.

Catholic News Service offers fairly comprehensive coverage that offers more detail.

If you are a young person discerning your vocation, I would love to hear from you. Have you been following the Synod? Why or why not?  And if yes, have you gained any insights?

You can comment below, on my Facebook page, or email me.

Invitation To Explore Discernment…Together!

This month of August, 2018, I’ll be leading the spiritual accompaniment on My Sisters, an online community devoted to helping people meet Christ and experience his love in their daily life. Created by my community, the religious sisters of the Daughters of Saint Paul, My Sisters is a portable and accessible “sacred space” for asking the big questions, exploring the faith, and nurturing our identity as God’s beloved one, no matter where we are in our walk with the Lord.

The spiritual accompaniment every week includes:  a printable (downloadable) reflection guide, two live Facebook sessions—one session on Monday night at 7 PM EST and the second is a Thursday night Q & A/check-in for the week (also at 7 PM EST), occasional posts and polls in the group, and the opportunity to comment and share with other members of the group.

The reason I am letting you know about it is that, in great part, my sessions will be loosely based on the first part of this CoAuthor Your Life with God blog-which-is-becoming-a-book. If you have enjoyed the blog, would like to ask further questions, would like the book to include particular content, or simply want to explore discernment with a group of dedicated Catholics, you might want to join in for the month of August!

Belonging to My Sisters is a paid membership, but the first (trial) month is only $1, and after that the cost is $8.95/month. (This is our special low introductory offer, as the My Sisters community gets off the ground.)

I would love to have you join us! To find out more or to join, simply visit: https://MySisters.blog  You can also visit the public page on Facebook to see the reviews.

Best new discernment resource — from Pope Francis

As I mentioned in my last post, for various reasons I put aside much of the writing I was doing, but now I have the opportunity to pick it back up. I look forward to getting back to blogging here  about discernment regularly–not weekly, but probably  once or twice a month.

I will begin by highlighting some excellent new resources on discernment, and the first that I want to encourage you to look at more closely comes from Pope Francis himself!  If you haven’t read On the Call to Holiness in Today’s World yet, you are in for a treat. Not only does Pope Francis mention discernment frequently throughout the document (22 times), he concludes the document with a section on discernment (see Chapter 5, specifically, #s166-175).

The first mention of discernment is found on page 3 of the Vatican PDF of the document. Pope Francis is speaking of the “universal call to holiness,” which is specific and particular in the life of every person:

…With this Exhortation I would like to insist primarily on the call to holiness that the Lord addresses to each of us, the call that he also addresses, personally, to you: “Be holy, for I am holy” (Lev 11:44; cf. 1 Pet 1:16). The Second Vatican Council stated this clearly: “Strengthened by so many and such great means of salvation, all the faithful, whatever their condition or state, are called by the Lord – each in his or her own way – to that perfect holiness by which the Father himself is perfect”.[10]

11. “Each in his or her own way” the Council says. We should not grow discouraged before examples of holiness that appear unattainable. There are some testimonies that may prove helpful and inspiring, but that we are not meant to copy, for that could even lead us astray from the one specific path that the Lord has in mind for us. The important thing is that each believer discern his or her own path, that they bring out the very best of themselves, the most personal gifts that God has placed in their hearts (cf. 1 Cor 12:7), rather than hopelessly trying to imitate something not meant for them. We are all called to be witnesses, but there are many actual ways of bearing witness.[11] Indeed, when the great mystic, Saint John of the Cross, wrote his Spiritual Canticle, he preferred to avoid hard and fast rules for all. He explained that his verses were composed so that everyone could benefit from them “in his or her own way”.[12] For God’s life is communicated “to some in one way and to others in another”.[13] – from On the Call to Holiness in Today’s World

In Pope Francis’ eyes, discernment is very, very important because every person has a unique, personal relationship with God, and a unique, personal path to travel on this earth with their brothers and sisters towards God. The call to holiness has elements that are common to everyone, but it doesn’t look the same for everyone. On the contrary, to be holy, each of us must be attentively faithful to the unique core of who we are! And thus the importance of discernment, and why it is mentioned so often in this document.

For the next couple of posts, I’ll highlight and reflect on how Pope Francis speaks about discernment in this document. You can purchase a printed copy of On the Call to Holiness in Today’s World from our sisters here, or download it from the Vatican’s website here.

Feedback requested for the discernment blog relaunch!


Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

It has been a long time since I have blogged here regularly; I put aside a lot of my writing for the past couple of years.  As of mid-summer, I am gradually moving back into blogging here regularly. It might take a bit of effort for me to fit blogging consistently back into my schedule. Right now, it feels a bit  like coming out of a tunnel, as writing helps me to see and connect with myself and with the world in a unique way.

The blog itself might change direction a bit, but a lot of that depends on you. One of my biggest hopes for this blog is to be more interactive as a community—whether we can do that here, or perhaps on another social media platform. If you find this blog helpful and you would like to ask questions and share insights with me and with others who try to make discernment a way of life, please let me know! You can always contact me here with your questions or comments.  But this week, I’d be delighted if you would vote on what social media platform(s) you would like to use for an online discernment mini-retreat, a guided lectio divina, or a simple conversation about discernment.

 

Our blog re-launch will begin with prayer. Tomorrow evening, I begin my annual eight-day retreat, and I would be honored to pray for you and with you. If you would like to share your prayer intentions so that I can pray together with you by name and specifically with your intentions, leave a comment below, contact me here, or simply email me at SrMariePaulCurley @ gmail.com (just take out the spaces around the @ sign when you email me).

Know that whether or not you send in your intentions, if you are reading this, I will be praying for you during my retreat in a very special way. I am looking forward to seeing you here!

Why Don’t They Recognize Jesus?

Blessed Easter!

If you have ever gone to Mass during the Octave of Easter and listened to the various accounts of Jesus’ appearances after he rose from the dead, it’s striking: nobody recognizes Jesus!

I have heard all kinds of reasons given in sermons and books: No one expected him to rise from the dead (except his Mother, and we have no account of Jesus’ appearance to Mary, who would have recognized her Son no matter what!); the appearance of Jesus’ risen body was so different that they couldn’t tell it was him; they were so blinded by their grief and tears; they didn’t believe he could or would rise from the dead; they didn’t really look at Jesus when they were speaking to him, etc. Maybe it was some combination of all of these.

But really, it’s quite a mystery. Emotions must have been running high—at first over Jesus’ death, and then over the accounts of his Resurrection! But that still doesn’t explain why so many of the disciples didn’t recognize Jesus. Yet, these are wonderful Scripture passages to reflect on in the light of our current discernment. How many times we do not recognize the Provident hand of God guiding us until afterwards…maybe years later? Why do we struggle so hard to see God’s presence in our lives, to hear his invitations, to recognize his will for us?

I think the real question is, What interior blindness prevents us from recognizing the Lord in our current situation?

For me, I often find that it is my expectation of a situation or a person that prevents me from seeing how the Lord could be present when the situation turns out to be so utterly different than what I thought it would. To have expectations is not wrong; that is simply to be human. But to cling to my own expectations and not be able to let go of them—that blinds me to staying in the present moment and thus, to the Lord’s invitation to me.

Some of the obstacles to discerning the Lord’s presence that we see in this week’s Resurrection accounts are:

  • weeping, grief, loss
  • fear
  • the traumatic effects of witnessing their beloved Master’s torture and death
  • not looking
  • hopelessness/discouragement
  • doubt
  • disbelief
  • expectations of something different
  • lack of trust in others’ witness accounts
  • not listening earlier to Jesus’ words about rising from the dead
  • guilt (over denying Jesus)
  • distance
  • hardness of heart

To Bring To Prayer

Pray with one of this week’s Gospel readings in light of a person/situation/event in your life where you cannot discern the presence or will of the Lord. How does the Gospel passage you chose “speak” to why you cannot recognize the Lord?

MK 16:1-7 The angel tells the women “He is not here”

MT 28:8-15 Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene and “the other” Mary

JN 20:11-18 Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene

LK 24:13-35 Jesus appears to the disciples on the way to Emmaus

LK 24:35-48 Jesus appears to the disciples in the Upper Room

JN 21:1-14 Jesus appears to the disciples fishing

MK 16:9-15 Summary of the accounts of Jesus’ Resurrection

Sneak Peek of Online Lenten Retreat!

As I blogged about earlier this week, My Sisters is offering our FIRST online Lenten retreat entitled, Seeking God’s Will. I am so excited about being able to offer a retreat this way, as it can reach so many people! (I’m also looking forward to the feedback I will receive from those who make the retreat, so that the next one can be even more helpful!)

Sr. Mary Lea Hill launches the retreat with a mini-conference. Here is a sneak preview of how she makes a retreat sound do-able!

We just finished putting up the retreat Friday afternoon. If you’d like to make a retreat  this Lent, consider joining My Sisters. It is only $1 for the first trial month. You can find more information at: http://www.22s.com/mysisters or https://mysisters.blog/  

Fun (and Quick) Invitation to Join My Sisters

A fun invitation to join an online Catholic community online, hosted by the #MediaNuns:  My Sisters

My Sisters is an online community devoted to helping you meet Christ and experience his love in your daily life. Created by the religious sisters of the Daughters of Saint Paul, My Sisters is a portable and accessible “sacred space” for asking the big questions, exploring the faith, and nurturing your identity as God’s beloved one, no matter where you are in your walk with the Lord. Find out more at: http://www.mysisters.blog

 

Upcoming Lenten Retreat on Seeking God’s Will

It’s great to be slowly getting back to blogging! My first couple of blogposts will simply be to offer some resources for you as you continue to discern God’s call in your life. This first “resource” is very special: an online retreat on God’s will hosted by two other Daughters of Saint Paul and myself:

 

Retreats aren’t just for priests and sisters, but they are one of the best “perks” of my life as a sister. So I am delighted to invite you to join us at My Sisters’ very first online Lenten Retreat beginning on March 3rd, 2018: Seeking God’s Will Online Lenten Retreat.  The online retreat can be made at your own pace, according to your own schedule. I envision some people making the retreat in 3-4 hours, some people taking a full day for it, and others breaking the retreat into three or six parts, taking one part each day or each week.

A special bonus for members of My Sisters is the Facebook Live Spiritual Accompaniment sessions that I will be hosting on the evenings of Monday, March 5th, and again Thursday, March 8th, to deepen this theme of God’s will. Seeking God’s Will Online Lenten Retreat will eventually become available as a stand-alone retreat, but without a live accompaniment session.

God has a loving plan for each of us. But how do we come to know God’s will? How can know what God’s particular will is for us, here in this moment in our daily life?

Sister Mary Lea Hill, popular author (Prayer and You, Blessed Are the Stressed, Basic Catechism, The Church Rocks), is lovingly known by her readers as “the Crabby Mystic.” She has the knack for making the spiritual accessible, and she’ll start this powerful Lenten retreat by unpacking that mysterious term, “God’s will,” and how our happiness and God’s will are connected.

Sr. Marie Paul Curley, author, blogger, and film reviewer, delves into how we find God’s will, love, and presence when things get tough and life’s challenges become overwhelming.

Sr. Margaret Michael Gillis, FSP, is Vocation Director for the Daughters of St. Paul throughout the USA and Canada. In her work with young people discerning religious life, she has become somewhat of a “specialist” in discernment, and her insights and suggestions come from years of accompanying young women in their vocational discernments.

An engaging, popular speaker (enjoy her distinctive Staten Island accent!), she offers both practical and spiritual tips on how we can discover God’s will and receive the grace to follow God’s invitations–big and small–in our lives. 

An online, downloadable Retreat Guide is also available to help guide retreatants through the various movements of the retreat, offering reflections, guided prayer, a Holy Hour, and suggested takeaways to help you to bring the graces and insights you received during this retreat back into your daily life.


Into the Deep Retreats are designed to be spiritual experiences that you can make in the midst of your every day life, at your own pace. You can make this retreat as a true spiritual getaway by dedicating a whole day (or long half-day) to it. You can also break the retreat into three sessions—and make it over three days or three weeks. Or you can simply give your Lent a spiritual focus by going through each retreat element in the way that fits best into your day/life.

However and whenever you make this retreat, our prayers, and the prayers of all the sisters of our community, will accompany you.

My Sisters is an online community devoted to helping you meet Christ and experience his love in your daily life. Created by the religious sisters of the Daughters of Saint Paul, My Sisters is a portable and accessible “sacred space” for asking the big questions, exploring the faith, and nurturing your identity as God’s beloved one, no matter where you are in your walk with the Lord. (And it’s where I have been spending most of my time online lately.)