Allison Gingras Ink Slingers Novenas Prayer

The Value of Novenas [and Remembering to Actually Pray Them]

The Value of a Gift 

Prayer is a powerful gift. Perhaps you have not thought of prayer in terms of a gift. The interesting thing about gifts is that in order for them to be useful, each needs to be:

  1. Received,
  2. Opened, and
  3. Used.

Leave one of those elements out, and the gift ceases to fulfill its purpose. It can not reach its full potential or intended benefit if all three criteria are not met.

If we are presented with a new book, cookware, or game, and put it in a drawer never to be touched again, the benefit intended from the article would never be realized. Additionally, we would clearly appear quite ungrateful. 

Take Great Aunt Louise’s itchy, multi-color, QVC sweater which seemed to be a questionable choice back in 1980; what purpose could this possibly have? Back then, even if it just meant wearing it when you visited, adorned out of love and respect for the care she took in choosing it for you, the sweater revealed your love and respect for her. Fast-forward 30 years, the striped-sweater becomes a sweet memory and the only gift you still recall receiving from her.

If it is important to be attentive to sweet Aunt Louise and her generous gifts, even if I am unsure of its value in my life, how much more should our response be to every good gift God offers, such as faith, grace, and of course, prayer? 

Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. ~James 1:17

For some of us, the struggle to pray comes from not knowing what to say. For others, the problem is to remember to pray. Whatever the request you need to bring to prayer, there is a novena (typically a nine-day prayer) to help you out. A novena is not only good for petitioning, but this form of prayer is also equally adequate for thanking, adoring, or contrition, which helps take care of the concern about what to say when we come to pray. I have included some strategies to help you to remember to recite these prayers each day.

Novenas to Put in Your Repertoire for Times of Need

Is your need immediate, can’t wait nine days to finish a prayer? How about Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta’s “Flying” or “Emergency” Novena? This novena consists of 9 Memorare prayers said, on the spot, in a row. Mother Teresa would always at a tenth in Thanksgiving knowing our Blessed Mother never fails to help her children, even if it was not as we expected, she knew Mary heard and brought her petition to Jesus. 

Maybe you have a little more time to bring this petition or prayer to the Lord, but maybe you’re not exactly able to wait nine days. How about a nine-hour novena? Two of my favorite nine-hour novenas are the Infant of Prague prayer and the Efficacious Sacred Heart Novena. Padre Pio said the latter each day for all the intentions entrusted to him. Recite the novena prayers once an hour (it doesn’t have to be on the top of the hour each time, just within that hour) for nine consecutive hours. I can attest to the power of these beautiful prayers. To help me remember to pray, I usually set the timer on my watch, phone, or Echo device.  

Perhaps, you have a little bit more time, but yet nine days seems like a long time to have a response to your prayers. I discovered the 5-day Novena to St Therese of Lisieux, which also includes a caveat to recite the novena prayers before 11 am each day. 

As you may know, St. Therese is known for sending a sign to the petitioner that their prayer has been heard and presented to the Lord. A word of caution, the rose sign does not necessarily mean God’s answer will be according to your plan but instead comes as an assurance she has presented them to the Lord) in the form of a rose. I have to share that I am kind of a stinker when it comes to praying to St. Therese. Skeptical by nature, I don’t just ask to receive any rose. I ask for a purple rose, a reformed ‘brat’ herself, she seems to get my struggle, and nearly always plays along. 

To help me remember each day of my novena, I turn to my email and calendar. I set reminders, including pop up notifications and emails. 

The Our Lady Undoer of Knots, prayer and novena, made more widely known by Pope Francis, can be said with or without a Rosary. Since the Rosary comes with 15 promises and graces galore, I do try to complete this version. The Rosary, for me, is an act of waging war against all the obstacles that fight to keep me from the peace Jesus has for me as I await his answer or the resolution of my situation or circumstance.

Regardless of which novena you choose or the timeline in which you pray, you can be assured, the Lord loves that you are using this invaluable gift. 

Ink Slingers

Learning to be a Pencil

I’ve done it for years. Decades, really. I’ve made lists. You know the kind— where you write down all the tasks you need to accomplish as a wife, mom, employee, homemaker, all of the above? I actually got pretty good at it over time. I use a business system to help me track and organize my various to-do’s. I create weekly and monthly goals that connect to my daily planner. And once, in a highly creative but mercifully short-lived phase, I color-coded my list according to priority. Yep, that’s me: A list-maker supreme.

So it only came naturally to me when I reverted to the Catholic faith five years ago to approach my spiritual growth in the same structured manner. Soon I found myself making a list of books I wanted to read, jotting down virtues I wanted to explore and develop, and later, noting elements of the faith I wanted to re-learn (better this time). And I made prayer intention lists— lots of prayer intention lists. But more recently I began penning things I thought the Holy Spirit was nudging me to explore— in particular, ways I could maybe help build the kingdom using the talents and gifts He’s given me.

Sometimes the spiritual list-making worked. I checked off several important milestones in my faith life and I felt like I had accomplished some significant goals. But then…

Lent 2018

Fast forward to this recent Lenten season. I specifically prayed for a spiritual breakthrough. I was feeling not quite stuck, really, but dulled. Quieted. Dutifully plodding along instead of on a spirited adventure with Christ. I had been looking for something “to-do,” but my lists offered no solutions. What do you want me to do next, Lord? This…or this…or this? I asked, oh-so-generously offering a few of my own ideas to the Creator of The Universe. Give me a sign, give me the word and I’ll put it on my list. I was clearly ready for a new assignment from God; all he had to do was answer, right?

He answered. And oh my, was it ever a breakthrough.

He told me to ditch my to-do list and just be a pencil.

This message evolved through the pages of my prayer journal one morning. I repeated my request for a breakthrough. And deep in my soul, I experienced a light-bulb moment, a Holy Spirit-fueled shift of perspective: Instead of asking for items to add to my list and check off, I need to throw out the paper altogether. I need to ask instead for greater softening of my heart and to let the Lord fully take over. To allow him to fill me to overflowing with his love and be my guiding force at all times and in all things. To cooperate, not control.

 I realized I had taken my ask-and-answer, to-do list mindset too far. I was more focused on results and not focused enough on my primary relationship with God and my role as his obedient follower. When I get so busy methodically planning in my head, I am not graciously receiving in my heart. It was time to give up my need to call the shots and instead become an instrument, like a pencil in His hand.

“I am a little pencil in the hand of a writing God who is sending a love letter to the world,” said Saint Teresa of Calcutta. It’s one of my favorite quotes; I have it posted above my desk. The deeper meaning of her words is just now starting to sink into my stubborn brain: If I let God love me fully and mold me and shape me as he desires, I too can be a fruitful pencil in his hand. Then I can stop worrying about what to write (figuratively and literally!). If I can learn to be a pencil, what I am to “write” will take care of itself. And through God’s hand, the result will be far more eloquent and beautiful than what I would have come up with on my own, that’s for sure.

Control vs Surrender

This whole idea of ditching control and just letting myself be his pencil amps up the need to trust him. This, not surprisingly, makes me nervous. It requires an unwavering commitment to total surrender, something I struggle with constantly (for proof of this glaring weakness, see the prior suggestion little old me made to the Creator of the Universe). But I know this is how you bear fruit and help build the kingdom. You have to yield to Him before you can yield for Him. He is the vine, we are the branches. Not the other way around! Apart from him, we can do nothing.

My Lenten season breakthrough comes down to this, dear Sistas: I need to work on being a better pencil.

Sounds like the perfect “to-do” for my Easter season, doesn’t it?

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Mother Teresa: A Lamp in the Darkness

st teresa of calcutta

“Thy word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. I have sworn an oath and confirmed it,
  to observe thy righteous ordinances. I am sorely afflicted; give me life, O Lord, according to thy word!-Psalm 119: 106-107

She founded a religious congregation. She served the poor with radical acts of Christian charity. She fought for the rights of the sick, the downtrodden and the unborn. She won the Nobel Peace Prize. And this week, she was canonized. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, a busy little ray of God’s light shining onto a jaded 20th century world.

But Mother Teresa’s achievements, however brilliant, are not what draw me to seek her intercession.  Instead, I find comfort and solace in what the holy nun did not achieve during her life on earth–a lasting spiritual peace or emotional experience of God.

During the same decades that Mother Teresa was changing the world with her presence, Christ was changing her with his seeming absence. With few instances of reprieve, her adult life, even until death, was marked by an extended period of agonizing spiritual dryness, the dark night of the soul. In 1957, she wrote:

“In the darkness . . . Lord, my God, who am I that you should forsake me?  The child of your love — and now become as the most hated one. The one — you have thrown away as unwanted — unloved. I call, I cling, I want, and there is no one to answer . . . Where I try to raise my thoughts to heaven, there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives and hurt my very soul.  Love — the word — it brings nothing.  I am told God lives in me — and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul.” (Source)

Mother Teresa wasn’t the only one who had difficulty understanding the meaning of this painful struggle. Once her critics got wind of it, they used it repeatedly in their attempts to discredit her. The famous atheist Christopher Hitchens, who had gone so far as to testify against the nun’s case for canonization, wrote in Newsweek in 2007: “I say it as calmly as I can—the Church should have had the elementary decency to let the earth lie lightly on this troubled and miserable lady, and not to invoke her long anguish to recruit the credulous to a blind faith in which she herself had long ceased to believe.”

So why exactly should we rejoice in a life that was so full of inner pain? Why take comfort in the struggle of another? Why canonize someone who could not feel the light of God in her own life, who was dogged by doubts and darkness?

I’m no Mother Teresa, but as a Catholic with depression, I can relate to the hurt and confusion apparent in her writings. I can sympathize with her short periods of solace and sunshine, followed by long times of inner darkness. I can appreciate what it feels like to keep going day after day, stumbling and striving to do your best for a God whom you cannot feel. And I take great hope in the Church’s brave declaration that Christ does not abandon those who cannot sense him emotionally.

St. Teresa of Calcutta is indisputably in heaven, and her example is a lamp to the feet of all of us who travel in mental and spiritual darkness. If we continue to fight, continue to keep going, continue to believe and confess and pray and work and love, we too can ultimately triumph by the light of Christ.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta, pray for us!

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A Personal Tribute to Mother Teresa: My Mystical Journey to Darjeeling

A Personal Tribute to Mother TeresaIt happened one morning during my High School English class when I was asked to select and write about my role model. Mother Teresa’s image with the iconic blue and white habit immediately came into my head. Looking around, I noticed that others were writing about Madonna, Sandra Day O’Conner, and Geraldine Ferraro, to name a few. And, I began to wonder why I had selected a woman so detached from this world living a life of self denial with a singular focus to care for the poorest of the poor. And so began my journey of self discovery.

Upon graduation from High School, I had no idea what I was going to “do” with my life. I knew college was the next logical step so I dispassionately applied, registered, and found myself choosing a major and was still puzzled by what I was going to “do” with my life, a quandary I heartily laugh at now. As a wife and mother of five with a counseling business, I never have to ask THAT question. Thank God!

I settled on a Fine Arts degree with a minor in English. And, upon graduation, I worked in retail stores to begin to tackle the student loans, all the while neither certain of my calling, nor how to identify a calling. I was lonely, lost, and confused for most of my 20’s. I now see this time as a gift that gives me gratitude for the challenges I now face. But at the time, it was painful.

I was living at home and my mother received a letter from a former elementary teacher of mine who was also a friend of my mother’s and a Dominican sister. She was on a temporary leave of absence to care for her ill family members and she made a detour to spend a few days with us. She was a petite bundle of joy and she made me feel like I was important and that I had “gifts” and she set me on my mission. After the visit, she sent me information on a particular discipline that she thought would be a perfect match for my interests and my “gifts,” which I neither saw nor appreciated.

What I didn’t realize, when I set out to explore and ultimately pursue this new discipline known as Art Therapy, was that I was being put on a path towards service to the poorest of the poor in my community. I had two habit wearing women devoted to Christ seemingly pointing me in the direction of service. And, I started to panic. Am I being called to the convent? My immediate reaction was, NO! And, I felt guilty. It took me years to understand that a calling is a message joyfully sent and joyfully received. A calling is not a life sentence. And, I knew in the quiet of my heart that I always wanted to be a wife and mother. So, perhaps what I was hearing was, as Mother Teresa said, a call within a call.

Upon graduation from graduate school, I was employed as a home based therapist. This is like boot camp for counselors. I thought, what have I gotten myself into?! I had to travel to parts of my city I didn’t know existed and wish I didn’t know about now. I entered homes that were filthy, smoke filled, and teeming with rodents and pests. I encountered people that I would never have met had I not set foot on this path. And, there I discovered my gifts. I had a high tolerance for this sort of chaotic mess. And, I could see ways to help, however small, to relieve some of the suffering; to quench His thirst, as Mother Teresa described. My heart began to break for what broke His heart. And, now that I had encountered these souls, I couldn’t rest until I was somehow able to help.

Shortly into my life as a home based therapist, I met the man of my dreams. He brought me joy and filled my life with experiences and people that my introverted self would never have experienced. My primary calling became evident and we married and set out to start a family. Through the gift of our sacramental marriage we experienced an inexplicable increase in zeal for our once lukewarm faith. And again, Mother Teresa helped to give me direction. If I wanted to help others and bring about world peace, I must “go home and love my family.” So, I had the great joy and freedom to stay at home with my children for just over 13 years.

But that persistent “call within a call” led me to seek opportunities over the years to continue my work with those suffering in my community. It was a challenge to balance this with family and I kept Mother Teresa’s words in my head, “charity begins at home.” My family always comes first. My husband fully supports this and recently encouraged me to start my own counseling business. I felt completely unprepared and lacking in the skills to do this. But, then I thought of Mother Teresa’s train ride from Calcutta to Darjeeling where she left the comfort and predictability of the convent and demonstrated courage, initiative, and tenacity in pursuing her call within a call. And, I did it.

I am forever grateful to God for giving her to me as an example of self denial and a life of service to others. Who knew that this could be the source of the greatest joys in my life? She continues to inspire me and when I am discouraged, I think of her and I find the strength to go on. I raise my morning cup of jo to this powerhouse of a woman. Saint Teresa, pray for us.

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Love Begins at Home

Love begins at home

There are some days I wonder how I am going to make it through. The kids are fighting, the house is a mess, the bills need to be paid but there isn’t enough money for everyone, and we have appointments and obligations that keep us on the move with no time to rest. Someone may have cut me off in traffic, at the store they don’t have what I need, and I’ve been on hold on an important call for an hour with no end in sight. On days like this I tend to get cranky. I snap at the kids, I snap at my husband, and sometimes I just give up altogether and hide out in my bedroom, ignoring everyone and everything.

It’s not a pretty sight.

washing clothesAnd then there are times that my day is going great but one of the kids spills his/her drink everywhere right after we have cleaned the kitchen and put a new tablecloth on the table. Or maybe several can’t find their shoes (again!) and it’s time head out the door to an appointment or perhaps even church. There are tears and fighting about who lost what and who should be in trouble because of it. Then again, maybe it’s that my husband needs me to stop what I am doing to help him find something that, had he put away yesterday, wouldn’t be lost today. At those times I am bound to lose my cool… ok, let’s be honest, it’s enough to drive me to yell or to say some rather not nice things.

Maybe you are like me and when you are irritated or perhaps the weight of the world is on your shoulders, the first people you take your frustrations out on is your family.

Why do we do that? Why do we often treat strangers better than those we love and those we are closest too? We would never think to yell and lose our minds at friends or even strangers and yet we easily snap at our little ones or our spouse who simply want to love us. It makes no sense.

I think we do this because we know they will continue to love us despite our failings and so we are willing to take our anger and frustration out on them. Our friends may leave us and strangers certainly won’t care if they ever see us again, but our family wants us to be close to us and because of this they are willing to endure our crazy ups and downs.

But should they have to endure this type of treatment?

Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta said, “Sometimes it is harder for us to smile at those who live with us, the immediate members of our families, than it is to smile at those who are not so close to us. Let us never forget: love begins at home.”

Love begins at home.

It sounds so simple.

It sounds so simple because it is so simple.

Mama and carolineGod blesses us with the people in our families for a reason. The spouse that is beside us- he or she is there to help us become a better person. The children He has given us, well, they are the greatest treasure we could ever hope to find. They also help mold us into the people He calls us to be. Our paths did not cross by chance. God knows what and who we need to help us become the best versions of ourselves. He knows the trials we need to face, the battles we need to fight, and He makes sure we are surrounded with just the right people to help us through it all.

When we think of our spouses and our children in this manner- God given gifts who are here to perfect us- it’s easy to see how our families deserve more than we often give them. They deserve our very best.

When we treat our families as second best, we are saying to God that we don’t appreciate the gifts He has given us. If we love others, but don’t love the most important people God has placed in our lives, how can we say we truly love? We can’t. If we want to love God, we must love our families.

Love must begin at home.

When we give our best to our families, we are able to love God more completely. When we love those whom God has given us, we also teach them to love. That love will multiply in ways we can never imagine. When love begins in our homes we not only affect our children and our spouses, we affect those outside of our homes too. When love is present in our homes it can’t help but to spill over into the rest of our lives and to everyone we encounter.

By loving our children and our spouses well we in turn can’t help but love others.

Love must begin at home. It must be nurtured and tended and treated with care. When we are tempted to take our frustrations out on our families we have to stop and think about the consequences of those actions. When we decide to love instead of yell, we all benefit.

We reap what we sow and if we sow anger, we will raise angry children. If we sow anger, our marriages will suffer. However, if we sow love, we will raise loving children and our marriages will flourish. The fruit of the harvest will be bountiful! When our homes overflow with love it is next to impossible not to want to share that love and joy with others!

Love begins at home but it doesn’t end there. The love that we nurture within our families has the power to change the world. If we could all fill our homes with love the world would never be the same.

love changes the world