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Amy M. Ink Slingers

Planning for the Unexpected

Plan for the Unexpected

“Jesus replied, ‘No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.’” -Luke 9:62

           As we enter the second week of 2017, I am finding I’m having trouble getting myself into the present.  I’m stuck looking back at 2016.  It was a year of medical problems for our family.  We had four different people in the hospital, two surgeries, two broken bones (different children).  It was a year full of physical therapy for our oldest as he tried to recover, then prepare for surgery, then heal from surgery, and recover once more.  And it was also a year of great joy as we welcomed our youngest in May.
            Two of the hospitalizations were planned (the birth of our daughter).  One of the two surgeries was scheduled months ahead, and we were well-prepared to deal with the recovery process it involved (our son’s surgery).  The other surgery seemed to come out of nowhere.  My husband became sick, was admitted, and had surgery within 48 hours.  It was a whirlwind.
            The preparation for the first surgery didn’t make it less scary than the second.  One way wasn’t better than the other, in my opinion.  We called on faith and prayers in both situations.  I can’t say I felt God’s presence more in one surgery than the other.  He was there in both, in the people helping us with our other children and in the peace that only He can give in our hearts.
            Four years ago, my husband lost his mom the day after Thanksgiving.  She had been in the hospital for over a month and had been sick for many years.  When she passed away, he was at her side.  It was sad, and we miss her.  However, we felt she was at peace.
            Six weeks later, on the feast of the Epiphany, we returned home from church to a phone call from a local police department.  They had been called to do a well-check on my husband’s aunt.  She had died suddenly overnight.  His mom and aunt were twins, but his aunt seemed to be in much better health.  We didn’t expect that phone call at all, and the grieving process was much different.
            As 2016 drew to a close, we lost our two furry pets.  Our cat was 18, and we were seeing signs of decline, so we tried to prepare ourselves.  Then, Christmas night our younger dog started acting sick.  By the middle of the night, we were aware that it was serious.  We started to get dressed to take him to the emergency vet, but he died before we left the house.  We were devastated.  Less than a week later, our cat passed away.Planning for the Unexpected
            In each of these situations, there was a planned and an unexpected.  Looking back at each, preparing and planning helped, but no amount of control would make it easier.
            The more life throws at me, the more I try to control my circumstances.  I need to do x, y, and z by a certain time in order to consider the day “successful.”  Pulling in tighter, circling the wagons, so to speak, doesn’t help build trust, increase faith.  Knowing my son was going to have surgery and six extra months of physical therapy didn’t guarantee he would be ok.  He is still relearning how to run, waiting to be able to jump, only halfway through his therapy time.  My husband’s surgery happened before I could worry about it or try to control the outcome.  He needed surgery and needed it now.  It wasn’t a time for debate.  It was in God’s hands from the beginning.
            Losing our pets so close together brought back a lot of the time when we lost my husband’s mom and aunt so close together and also at the holidays.  I feel like I’m getting somewhat lost in the past, dwelling on what has happened and how it affected us.  How can we control situations better in the future?  How can we keep ourselves and those we love from being hurt?
            Dwelling on the past isn’t what Jesus wants for me, for us.  He wants us to go forward, living each day for Him and in His will for our lives, striving to be with Him one day in heaven.  That day may be years from now and expected or may come suddenly.  It’s up to us to be ready for the unknown, not by guessing what could happen but by trusting in the One who knows how everything turns out and only wants the best for us.
            At the beginning of 2016, the events and situations in which we found ourselves as the year unfolded had never crossed our radar.  As much as we planned and thought about the future, these things still caught us off-guard.  Yet God was still there in our midst.  He was still the Guiding Light.  We needed to stay in His shadow and let Him navigate us through the storms.  Once we let go of the helm and let Him take over, He will shelter us in the rain.

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” -Jeremiah 29:11

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Faith Formation Ink Slingers Kerri Prayer

Lectio Divina: Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time (2016)

thirtieth-sunday-in-ordinary-timeBefore we begin this week’s lectio divina practice, please have this Sunday’s Gospel reading in front of you. For each of the four sections below, you will want to prayerfully read the Gospel passage before reading the section. For a quick review of lectio divina, please see this page from St. Meinrad Archabbey.

I recommend always starting with a prayer, I prefer a prayer to the Holy Spirit, but anything you are comfortable with will work.

READ

This is the first time you are hearing this reading. Take your time as you read it and make note of any word (or phrase) that catches your attention. Say that word (or phrase) out loud and listen to it. Say it again if you need to. If you have more than one word allow sufficient time between them for you to contemplate each one.

If you are doing this with a group, share your word (or phrase) but only that. No additional commentary is needed.

REFLECT: What is God saying to you?

“Those convinced of their own righteousness” and “humbled.” This phrase and this word are the two things that stayed in my head when I read this passage. All I can think of when I roll these words around in my head is our current political environment in this country. Humility is something I am not seeing from the two main contenders for the Office of the President. Instead they both seem to reflect the very people this passage says that Jesus is talking to, “those who were convinced of their own righteousness.” And as a matter of fact, I feel like there is a lot of this going around these days. Not just in matters of politics, but I think social media has in many ways caused us to forget that we should not exalt ourselves, that humility is a virtue.

To be humble does not come naturally to many of us. As humans we often have a desire to be recognized, especially when we perform good deeds. But we also want our opinions heard and when we are convinced that our opinions are the only way to go, humility goes out the window. This Sunday’s passage has God telling us to forget all that other stuff and be humble, don’t worry about recognition or rewards, that stuff doesn’t matter.

As a mother, I know I have a chance to be humbled daily. Changing diapers, running errands, washing dishes, cleaning toilets, driving kids to activities, making lunches and dinners, and any number of tasks I do on a daily basis are all chances to act with a humble spirit. I don’t get a promotion for doing a good job (unless you count grandparenthood, but that’s still a long way off for me). I could get annoyed if my husband comes home and doesn’t notice that I finally got around to organizing some mess or cleaning some part of the house that I would rather ignore or even that the children are still alive; instead, a humble heart just takes delight in knowing that I am caring for my family, plain and simple. Phew!! That is a hard one day in and day out. I fail often at this. That’s why I like Scripture passages like this. It’s a good kick in the pants. Work with a humble heart here in this life and our reward is in the next life.

RESPOND: What do you want to say to God?

My Lord and my God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

This is often my prayer when I first enter the adoration chapel at my parish and often during the consecration during Mass. It’s basically the same prayer as that of the tax collector in this Gospel reading. I should try to repeat it to myself on a regular basis throughout the day. It’s a good reminder that I am nothing without God and that I need his mercy. Oh how I need your mercy, Lord!!

REST

Clear your mind and read the passage a fourth and final time. Then just rest in the Word.

YOUR TURN

Share in the comments, what do you feel God is saying to you in this passage? How would you respond to him? You can also join the conversation on the Catholic Sistas’ Instagram account, but I’d love to hear your thoughts here too.

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Ink Slingers

Witness to Confirmation

witness-to-confirmationThis weekend’s Confirmation Mass began with a bit of excitement and a late start. Our bishop came pealing into the parking lot from a Fairbanks priest’s funeral with just minutes to spare, but he processed into church cool and composed. I imagine it has happened before in his sixteen years here, with all the necessary airplane rides. He began his homily with a joke, always a good way to start, quipping that since he was late, his exposition of the Scriptures would be short!

And the Scripture readings were ideal for this sacrament being conferred, mostly upon teenagers.

Listen to the angst in Habakkuk: “How long O Lord? I cry for help but you do not listen! I cry out to you, ‘Violence’, but you do not intervene. Why must I look at ruin? Then the Lord answered me and said, ‘Write down the vision clearly upon the tablets…for the vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment, and will not be late (1:2-3; 2:2-3).”

Then we sang this poetry from Psalm 95: “Come let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord our God our Maker. For he is our God and we are the people of his pasture. If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts (6-8).”

The epistle was from Paul to a young minister Timothy, and was exactly what the teens needed to hear: “Beloved, I remind you to stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands. For God did not give us a sprit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control. So do not be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord, nor of me, a prisoner for his sake; but bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God. Take as your norm the sound words that you heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Guard this rich trust with the help of the Holy Spirit that dwells within us (II Timothy 1:6-8,13-14).”

And the Gospel we rose to hear, perfectly answered the ensuing questions about faith and service as they move on as newly confirmed by the Holy Spirit: “Lord, increase our faith. The Lord replied, ‘If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would tell this mulberry tree to be and planted in the sea and it would obey you … So should it be with you. When you have done all you have been commanded, say, We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty’ (Luke 17:5-10).”

Sacraments celebrate the salvation story using the goodness of creation. God proclaimed it all “Good” and even took upon himself human flesh, revealing that the things of earth are not obstacles to God, but are windows to Heaven. The wonder of creation enables us to glimpse the superabundance of God. We use the stuff of earth just as Jesus did –water, fire, oil, bread, wine, ashes, branches– to be drawn closer to him and to sing with the world, “Bless the Lord, you waters; bless the Lord, sun and moon; bless the Lord, all you winds; bless the Lord, mountains and hills … (This is a lengthy passage from Daniel 3, calling on every part of the earth to bless the Lord; it’s a treat to read!).

For Confirmation, the laying on of hands and annointing with oil are used as God is asked for the grace and courage of the Holy Spirit to boldly confess Christ. It is the flowering of Baptismal grace, the stirring into flame the gifts of God that Paul told Timothy was his by the imposition of his hands. We see it in the very beginning of Christianity, in the books of Acts. There are several instances (8:14-17; 9:17; 19:6) where an apostle laid hands on someone already baptized, to be filled or sealed with the Holy Spirit. Hebrews 6:1-2 lays out the walk of a Christian: “Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrines of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, with instruction about baptism, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.” The candidates for Confirmation stood before the church, no longer children learning the elementary doctrines, but ready to go on to maturity in their faith. Our bishop placed his hand on their heads, called them by name, and said, “Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit,” to which each one answered, “Amen.” And then, “The Lord be with you” was answered with, “And with your spirit.” 

I was happy to witness the sacrament and to pray for them. I look forward to next year, when one of mine will stand before our church ready to move on to her own mature faith. The Mass closed with this blessing for everyone:

“The Holy Spirit came down upon the disciples and set their hearts on fire with love; may he bless you, keep you one in faith and love, and bring you to the joy of God’s kingdom.”

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Ink Slingers Mary P. Prayer Sacred Scripture

12 Scripture Verses for Difficult Moments

bible2

It’s an unfortunate fact that many Catholics are ignorant of Scripture. We recognize that private interpretation of Scripture is not the arbiter of truth, and that memorizing isolated verses has the potential to leave us ignorant of important context. But then we sometimes fail to properly use Scripture reading and memorization in our spiritual lives. Although we have the Church to teach us truth, based on both Scripture and Tradition, we still need to read and pray with Scripture to increase our knowledge and holiness.

Familiarity with Scripture can be source of comfort and strength in difficult moments. It can feel impossible sometimes to find the words to pray, or to to quiet our minds to listen for God’s voice. Having verses of Scripture ready for meditating on or simply repeating as a prayer unto themselves can keep fear, stress, and anxiety from consuming us. I confess that I’m not very good at intentionally praying with Scripture (in good times or in bad). But, God often will remind me of a familiar Scripture verse that will give me perspective and strength. Here are some of my favorite verses and the situations in which they are helpful to recall. 

When I feel like like a weakling or a failure:
  • “My grace is sufficient for you, my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
  • “I have strength for everything through him who empowers me” (Philippians 4:13).

In my life as a wife and mother, I often feel like I am too weak, too inept, too tired, too sinful, etc. to do what needs to be done (or at least to do it well). I frequently feel like I’ve failed at the tasks set before me, sometimes before I’ve even begun to do them. It helps to remember that we aren’t supposed to feel capable on our own. We are supposed to lean on God and trust that his grace will carry us through. 

When I’m worried, anxious, or fearful:
  • Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not more important than they? Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?” (Matthew 6:26-27)
  •  “Cast all your worries on [God] because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7)
  • “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guards your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7). 

scripture birdsI tend to be a worrier. It’s a product of my melancholic temperament, I think. I need frequent reminders that God is in charge. He’s handling the things that are too big for me to handle. I must work at not losing sight of the fact that God is taking care of me and my family. Yes, I should work diligently at the work that God has called us to do. But I shouldn’t be consumed by worry about the future as if I am solely responsible for it. This goes for finances, my children’s education, parenting difficulties, etc.

When I’m overwhelmed by current events and the state of the world:
  • “In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world” (John 16:33). 
  • “Be still and know that I am God!” (Psalm 46:11).

There is so much going on in the world, and the Church, today that causes the faithful to worry and grieve. Both our secular and religious leaders have disappointed and failed us at times. Our religious liberty continues to erode as the dictatorship of relativism becomes more powerful. Especially with regard to the looming presidential election, I often am tempted toward hopelessness. I can keep things in perspective by remembering that the victory of evil is only temporary, and God has already won the final battle.

When God is calling me to do something challenging or scary:
  • “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). 

This is of course Mary’s response to the angel Gabriel at the Annunciation. Thinking about Mary’s unhesitating “yes” reminds me how we are to respond to God’s call. It helps give me the courage to say “yes” as she did.  

  • “…not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).

These are the words that Jesus prays in the Garden of Gethsemane on Holy Thursday. If I want to be like Jesus, I must make his prayer my own. I must submit myself to God’s perfect will regardless of what I might want.

When I’m feeling sorry for myself and wondering “why me?”:
  • “Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance” (James 1:2)
  • “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). 

Scripture tells us that being a follower of Jesus means sacrificing and suffering. As difficult as it is, our response to that suffering should be joy at the prospect of being strengthened and sanctified by it. Recalling these verses helps me to fight against the message of the world that suffering should be resisted and resented.  

When I am tempted by doubts:
  • “I believe Lord, help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). 

We all struggle with our faith at different points in our lives. Sometimes when I think about all the incredible claims of Catholicism, I become fearful that they aren’t really true. There are also times when I intellectually assent to a doctrine, such as Transubstantiation, but am having a hard time believing in my heart. In these moments, I make the words of the above verse my prayer, which helps to quiet those doubts.

These were just some examples of difficulties I have faced often in my life, and some of the verses that have brought me comfort. But the depth, beauty, and applicability of Scripture goes so far beyond what I can illustrate in a blog post. Writing this post has been a reminder to me to make Scripture reading a bigger part of my life, and I hope it inspires my readers to do the same. After all, St. Jerome tells us that ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.

Leave a comment with your favorite Scripture verses and the situations in your life to which you like to apply them. 

scripture verses

 

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Bible Faith Formation Ink Slingers Michelle Sacred Scripture Spiritual Growth

The Importance of Friendship

The Importance of Friendship
The Importance of FriendshipThere have been many times in my life that I have felt like I was a ship at sea struggling against the storm, wondering where land and safety might be. The storm raging around me, I was lost. The waves crashing again and again, I was in danger of sinking. Had it not been for the lighthouse upon the shore I may have never found my way to safety.

I believe that God puts people in our paths at just the right time. They are lighthouses to help guide us and lead us to safe shores. Friends can help ground us, help save our sanity, help us see the good in life, and help carry us through the most difficult times of our lives. While there are many in our world who believe they must stay guarded at all times, there are others who know and understand the beauty of developing and cherishing deep friendships.

I would dare to say that most of us have at least one person we call a friend, some of us have even more people we call friends. But do we truly believe that friendship is important? Do we only acknowledge our friends when we need something or do we make time for them even when it seems we don’t have much time to spare?

The Importance of FriendshipFriendship is important. Christ knew this well. We remember in the story of Mary and Martha that Jesus corrected Martha who was angry with Mary for simply sitting at Jesus’ feet and was not helping her with the preparations. Jesus simply says, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42)

How often do we neglect our friendships because we have too many other things to do?

We read later that Lazarus, Mary and Martha’s brother, also a friend of Jesus, had died. Jesus didn’t go immediately to him when He found out that Lazarus was ill. He didn’t go immediately so that His followers could believe in Him when they witnessed Him raise Lazarus from the dead. While Christ knew what was going to happen, as He asked Mary where they had taken Lazarus, something astounding happens… the Scriptures tell us, “Jesus wept.” (John 11:35)

The Importance of FriendshipChrist, who knew that His friend would be raised from the dead, was overcome with emotion and wept. Did He weep because His friend had died? Did He weep for those who mourned Lazarus? Did He weep for all of us? Perhaps it’s not important why Christ wept but rather it is important that He was there for those He loved and He showed true, deep emotion. His mere presence brought hope, but I imagine His gift of emotion {of love} helped others understand the true value of friendship.

How often do we hide our love and guard our emotions, unwilling to show our true hearts and souls to our friends, and unwilling to be completely there for them in their darkest hour?

It is only later in John15 that we come to understand Christ’s true teaching about the importance of friendship. He tells us, “Greater love has no one than this that one lay down his life for his friends.” While His friends could not understand the gravity of the teaching, Jesus knew that He would model this type of love and friendship by laying down His life for all of us. Soon the entire world would come to understand what true friendship was.

This is a difficult teaching to accept. What does it mean? Are we each called to die for our friends? Maybe the situation will arise that we will be called to make this ultimate sacrifice, but more than likely we will never be asked to do so. Instead, perhaps we are being called to “die to self” and to put others’ needs ahead of our own. We are being called to voluntarily serve one another. We are asked to set aside our selfish desires to be there heart and soul for our friends, especially in their darkest hours.

How often do we fail to die to ourselves so that our friends may live?

Friendship is important. Christ showed us not only how to be a friend but what is expected of us as friends. When we treat our friends well, when we place their lives above our own, we show that we value Jesus’ friendship. It is important that we choose our friends wisely and that we treat our friends well. Our friendships have the ability to help us heal; help us find the safety of the shore, and help lead us to Christ.

Are you neglecting your friendships? If so, today is a wonderful day to begin anew and to reconnect. What is holding you back?

When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares. ~Henri Nouwen