Advent Suggestions for Discerners

The blog on the Daughters of Saint Paul website for young women who are discerning with us is running lovely series of posts for Advent that I thought you might find helpful. 

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Discernment Prayer to the Holy Spirit

Photo by Sunyu on Unsplash

Last year at a special meeting in Rome on the apostolic mysticism of our congregation the Daughters of Saint Paul (#MediaNuns), several of the presenters stressed how important it is to be obedient to the inspirations and work of the Holy Spirit. Gradually, this focus on listening and obedience to the Spirit, as well as surrender into the hands of the Most Holy Trinity, has become a key point in my daily prayer, reflections, and examens. This a passage from the document that summarized our two-week meeting captures it well. (Note that all the quotations in the passage are from our Founder, Blessed James Alberione, from one of the key texts he wrote about Pauline Spirituality, Donec formetur Christus in vobis [That Christ Be Formed in You.])

“…It is necessary to detach ourselves from a voluntaristic or moralistic approach to the spiritual-apostolic journey and entrust ourselves to the love of the Father, who, through the Spirit, forms Christ Jesus in us. It is the Trinity that carries out this work of conforming the life of the believer to Christ, to the glory of the Father and for the growth of the Kingdom of God.
As it was for Paul, surrender to God is essential in our journey of adherence to the dead and risen Christ (cf. Ga. 4:19), a process that our Founder loved to call “Christification.” It is up to us to be docile to the inspirations of the Spirit” so that:

* our mind, activated by Jesus Truth, adopts “the thoughts and judgments of Jesus,” in particular his mentality, his way of viewing the various realities and situations of life, so that our thinking will be based more and more on the Gospel (DF 65);

* our will; moved by Jesus Way, detaches itself from selfish choices and does what is pleasing to the Father: “May your will replace my will” (DF 40);

* our heart, in communion with Jesus Life, nourishes the same feelings as his heart: love, mercy…so that this love will become a “fire” that reaches those far away and those thirsting for the truth: “Replace my love for God, for my neighbor and for myself, with your love” (DF 40).” – You Conquered Me as You Conquered Saul Internal Document of the Daughters of Saint Paul, 2017

 

In keeping with that focus, a good friend and I were talking about our favorite prayers to the Holy Spirit, and she shared this video of the famous advice and prayer to the Holy Spirit written by Cardinal Mercier. It is powerful advice and a powerfully beautiful prayer.

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.

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

A Movie and a Very Special Novena for Holy Week 2018!

Years ago, I dreamed about someone making a powerful film about Saint Paul, my favorite saint. Years later, I dreamed about writing a feature film script about my patron saint. So I was prepared for disappointment when I had the opportunity to screen an early version of the movie releasing in theaters this weekend: Paul Apostle of Christ. One of the film’s producers was a bit hesitant when I told him this before the screening. (After all, if you were making a film about someone, wouldn’t you want his daughters to approve?)

I have to say the movie was not what I expected. And not what I would have written. 

But I wasn’t disappointed, not a bit!  

One reason I’m posting about it here is not just because I love Saint Paul (you can see my other reasons for you going to see the film here), but because:

  • Saint Paul writes about the Holy Spirit and discernment in his letters often
  • In the Acts of the Apostles, St. Luke writes about St. Paul being attentive to the guidance of the Spirit, especially during his missionary journeys
  • In Saint Paul’s first genuine encounter with Christ, he becomes so receptive to Christ that he immediately asks, “What shall I do, Lord?” He receives his mission at the same moment that he discovers who Jesus Christ really is.
  • Saint Paul could be called “the Apostle of Love,” for the many beautiful passages he wrote about God’s love for us, and God’s love within us. (See his famous passages in Romans 8 and 1 Corinthians 13.) Love lies at the heart of any discernment
  • and… I have many more reasons, but I’ll stop here!

We sisters like the film so much that we have been hosting pre-screenings at theaters around the country. Then, a good friend suggested that we ask Sony for film clips to create a beautiful online Cinema Novena that audiences around the world can pray through Holy Week, as a follow-up to the film, as another way to get to know the heart of Saint Paul (and thus to come to know the heart of Christ). 

Join us for this beautiful 9 days of prayer, each with:

  • a clip from the film, Paul Apostle of Christ
  • a passage from the Letters of “The Apostle” (as all the Fathers of the Church call Saint Paul)
  • a reflection by one of our sisters on the passage and the film
  • a prayer
  • a closing quote from the Letters of Saint Paul, read by actor James Faulkner, who portrays Saint Paul in the film

1. Click here to find the showing of PAUL, APOSTLE OF CHRIST nearest you.

2. Sign up today for the Cinema Novena: PAUL, APOSTLE OF CHRIST, and for nine days you will receive a daily email with the theme and a link to the film clip, Scripture passage, reflection, and prayer.

3. As you pray with the #MediaNuns , share the Cinema Novena with someone you love, and make your and their Holy Week a time to ponder how the love of Christ for us can transform our lives.

The world is in such desperate need of the way of love that Christ showed us and that Paul faithfully lived. Join your intentions with ours, and especially pray that the beauty of this film–in the power of  the love of Christ, the humility of the apostle Paul, the brotherhood and profound friendship between Luke and Paul–will transform hearts and minds so that we can become, with St. Paul, Christ’s love in the world.

Wishing you a blessed Holy Week. 

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.)

 

New Discernment @ the Movies Guide: Moana!

The lovely family animated film Moana is very entertaining, but it immediately struck the sisters in my community with its theme of discernment.

It was a no-brainer to put together another Discernment @ the Movies guide, but this time I had the joy of working with Sr. Christina Wegendt, FSP, with whom I often discuss the deeper themes of popular movies. I have put the text of the guide below; later this week I will put it up as a PDF.

DISCERNMENT @ THE MOVIES

Moana

Set in ancient Polynesian islands and mythology, Moana is the story of the teenaged daughter of a chieftain who has forbidden his people to sail beyond the reef into the wide ocean. Yet from her childhood, Moana feels a deep connection to the ocean, encouraged by her grandmother’s stories.

Moana struggles between the demands of her parents and her own inner longings. When she discovers that the islands are dying, she believes that the cause is found in her grandmother’s stories: the demigod Maui stole and then lost the heart of the goddess Te Fiti, who created the islands. To save her people and her world, Moana “goes out into the deep” to find Maui and convince him to return Te Fiti’s heart.

Before you watch the film, read the following Scripture passage:

Luke 5: 2-11

[Jesus] saw two boats there alongside the lake; the fishermen had disembarked and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, he asked him to put out a short distance from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. After he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” Simon said in reply, “Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing, but at your command I will lower the nets.” When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish and their nets were tearing. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come to help them. They came and filled both boats so that they were in danger of sinking. When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus and said, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” For astonishment at the catch of fish they had made seized him and all those with him, and likewise James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were partners of Simon. Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” When they brought their boats to the shore, they left everything and followed him.*

Discernment Key to Watching the Film

As you watch the film, pay attention to: the themes of identity and listening, and how they shape Moana’s understanding of her call

After Watching the Film

You may wish to bring the following questions to prayer, reflection, or discussion in a group:

  1. What is your favorite moment of the film? How did it touch you and why? 
  2. In discerning how she was called to lead her people, Moana listened to many voices: those of her parents, her grandmother as a wise spiritual elder, the community, and the ocean. Late in the film, she is discovers that one of the most important voices to listen to is “the voice inside.”How does God speak to you? How can you nurture a deeper listening to more easily hear God in your life?
  3. In stepping out in faith to follow their calls, both Moana and Saint Peter wrestle with doubts. What doubts do you wrestle with in seeking to follow God’s call for you?  How does Jesus’ call to “put out into the deep” resonate in your heart? 
  4. The film is filled with beautiful imagery of creation, and the ocean is an important character.  In the Bible, the image of water can represent the life of God in us—the Holy Spirit at work in us. What does the film’s imagery of the ocean evoke in you? 
  5. Stepping out in faith caused both Moana and Saint Peter to come to more truly “know who they are.” Do you see ways the Lord has helped you grow in self-knowledge through moments of acting with faith in him? 
  6. Once they took a leap of faith and grew in self-knowledge, both Moana and Peter discover their mission. Jesus wants to take you on this same journey to discover your own unique mission in the kingdom of God! He said to Peter: Do not be afraid. What might the Lord be saying in your heart as you seek to follow him more closely?

Prayerful Follow-up

Pray with one of the Church’s traditional, eloquent hymns to the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus promised would be with us and guide us.

Come, Holy Ghost, Creator, come
from thy bright heav’nly throne;
come, take possession of our souls,
and make them all thine own…

Concluding Prayer:

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful
and enkindle in us the fire of your love.
Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created.
And You shall renew the face of the earth.

O God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy his consolations, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Los Angeles Retreat on God’s Love for the New Year on Jan 7

Thank you for your patience with me as I return from my trip to Illinois and catch up with a few urgent projects. For the beginning of the New Year, I will be in Los Angeles for meetings with our sisters, and I am taking that opportunity to offer a retreat day at our Pauline Book & Media Center in Culver City, CA, on Saturday, January 7th. Retreat will be followed by Mass at our chapel at 4 PM.

A day of retreat is a wonderful way to re-discover and rejoice in the gift of God’s love and to allow his love to transform us. Abiding in his love enables us to discern God’s will for us in this new year, and once again align our will with God’s. If you live in the Los Angeles area, this is a marvelous way to start the year.

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