CHALLENGES TO STAYING POSITIVE

Smiling & Frowning Man

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My last two posts focused on becoming aware of our thoughts and feelings, and releasing the negative to focus on the positive, so that we can discover our heart’s true yearnings. In this post, I want to talk about something that, although unpleasant, is often part of the journey towards changing our thought patterns and fulfilling our goals.  This post is based on some of my personal experiences, in the hope that it will help you when you encounter something similar. So here goes:

Several years ago, I had been formulating a new set of goals that focused on several areas of my life. I was, of course, keeping watch on my thoughts and feelings so that I could remain positive. No human being can think and feel positive 100% of the time, but if we can raise the percentage to at least 51% positive vs. negative (the higher the % the better), we will see significant changes in our lives. I was very excited about my goals, and I was utilizing many of the processes for manifesting them with the Law of Attraction. This, I believe, is simply a matter of demonstrating unwavering faith in order to cooperate, or co-create, with the Divine to bring about the best circumstances for our particular life journey in accordance with the Divine plan.

Unfortunately, shortly afterwards most of the goals I had been carefully considering and planning came under fire and began to look as though they would completely fall apart. I won’t bore you with a lot of personal details, but here in a nutshell is what happened: First, an online friend, who in the past had been upbeat and positive but lately had become increasingly pessimistic, unloaded a lot of negativity and self-righteous criticism on my efforts to be positive and optimistic. This was hurtful and deflated some of my enthusiasm, despite the fact that I knew I shouldn’t let it. Then, a particular event caused my husband to get cold feet again about a relocation goal which had just been starting to get his support. Some of my efforts concerning other goals seemed to meet with indifference and lack of results (imagine cricket chirping sounds here). All in all, my confidence was badly shaken, leaving me feeling adrift, directionless, and discouraged about my goals. I was finding it extremely difficult to remain positive and hopeful.

Meanwhile, through another set of circumstances, a goal that I had not been focusing on suddenly came to the forefront. Although I did not feel receptive to it at first, I soon found myself becoming excited about that goal again, much to my surprise. So at least this was a positive development. But still, I must admit that all these circumstances threw me for a loop. They caused me to rethink my goals, putting some of them on hold, changing my strategy on others, and focusing on some I previously had not been considering. Of course, hindsight is 20/20, and with the distance of several years, in many ways I now can see the wisdom of this upheaval in my plans. But at the time, it felt devastating. 

I know that I am not alone in this experience. I have heard often about this sort of thing happening to other people when they begin making positive changes in their lives and pursuing their dreams. In fact, it had happened to me before, regarding goals I had set in the past, so it should not have come as a complete surprise when it happened again. Sometimes I did attain those goals eventually, and in other cases those goals were replaced with other, better ones.

So, since I have been thinking a lot about this turn of events in my own life, I thought it would be helpful to explore why things like this might happen just when we have set our goals and started to work seriously towards them. So here are six possible reasons to consider, whenever your goals seem to be falling apart:

  1. Course Correction: Whenever I set goals, I always pray that what I am pursuing is in keeping with the Divine plan for my life. It’s never wise to doggedly and blindly pursue goals without seeking guidance. This is because we often can end up unhappy when some of our goals may not turn out to be what we expected and instead cause trouble and regret. I totally trust that God always leads me in the right direction, provided I keep an open mind and heart. So when setbacks and disappointments rear their ugly heads, I seriously consider whether Divine guidance is correcting my course and showing me that what I am pursuing is not a true goal and not beneficial to me in the long run. 
  2. Cosmic Shake-Up: Whenever we set a goal, if it is in keeping with the Divine Plan, things will be set in motion to bring it about for us. Because of this, sometimes it means that for a while everything might be in chaos. But if we stay open and trusting, we will discern whether there is something we need to do differently in pursuit of our goals. Sometimes we just need to wait a bit for “the dust to settle,” and we will see our way clear again.
  3. Test of our Determination: How committed are we to our goals? Can we stay the course, even when other people tear down our beliefs and aspirations, even when it seems that everything is falling apart, and we feel we don’t have what it takes to succeed at our goals? Sometimes setbacks are a way of testing our determination.
  4. Test of our Trust and Faith in the Divine: Even though we say that we want to do God’s will and don’t want any goal that is not in our best interest or for the highest good of all concerned, it’s human nature to hope deep-down that God’s will is the same as our own. So it’s only natural that when a goal appears to be crumbling, we will feel deeply disappointed, maybe even bitter and angry. But it’s important to not immediately give up on all of our goals. We need to continue to put our faith in Divine guidance and do our best to keep an open mind, trusting that if a particular goal is not meant to be, then something better will take its place.
  5. Divine Detour: Almost all of our goals do, out of necessity, involve other people and circumstances. Because human beings have free will, sometimes they might be disinclined or unable to do their part in what is needed to allow our plans to succeed. It also can be that another person’s involvement or cooperation in our goal would not be in their best interest. This does not always mean that our goals won’t manifest, but it may mean that a detour or delay is necessary. Think of it like your GPS recalculating your route when you come across a road that’s closed.
  6. Things in Our Life are Out of Balance: Sometimes we can develop tunnel vision about our goals and, in the process, ignore or put on the back burner other goals, gifts and areas of our life that are actually important for us to focus on right now. I suspect that this is what happened to me that time several years ago. I trust that there was a good reason why I was called upon to resurrect a particular goal that had been dormant in my life for the previous couple of years. I have now included this goal in my plans. I have been pleasantly surprised at how much I’m enjoying including it in my life again, even though at first I was reluctant, even resentful about it.
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The six reasons just outlined are often why we experience setbacks, even complete chaos and confusion, when we set goals and make the decision to effect positive change in our lives. Although these “roadblocks” are disturbing and discouraging, it’s important to stay determined to remain positive and keep our minds and hearts open to where our path may lead, even if we can’t see very far ahead right now. There is a quote I love that particularly applies to times like these: “We don’t know what our future holds, but we know Who holds our future.”

Releasing Negative Thoughts & Feelings

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Photo by Nine Köpfer on Unsplash
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My previous posts (“Time to Wake Up” and “Identifying Habitual Thought Patterns”) addressed the subject of negative thinking and how it can set us up for failure at what we want to be, do, or have in life. It can keep attracting the same bad situations and adversely affect how we act and react to the world around us. We explored a number of common negative thoughts, so that we could identify the areas in which we seem to have the most trouble. In this way, we are “waking up” spiritually and mentally, by recognizing the numerous negative thoughts we have on a daily basis.  If you did not see this list, please read my last post, “Identifying Habitual Thought Patterns” or listen to the audio version: https://anchor.fm/edlspirituality/episodes/IDENTIFYING-HABITUAL-THOUGHT-PATTERNS-e1svc1s

This post will explore in simple steps how to begin to change your circumstances for the better, and how to cooperate with our Creator to bring more joy, peace and abundance into your life.

Turning Negative Thoughts Around

Once we’ve identified some of our negative thought patterns, how do we turn things around? Most negativity is an expression of what we hate, fear, and want to avoid — in other words, all the things we DON’T want! Thoughts are energy, and because “like attracts like,” constantly dwelling on what we don’t want will keep bringing what we don’t want into our lives. The subconscious mind accepts everything you tell it, whether good or bad, positive or negative. For instance, if you keep thinking, “I don’t want to be poor,” “I hate being poor,” “I have no money and no prospects,” or “I need to get out of debt,” you are still focusing on poverty and debt, and probably fearing it, which is subconsciously setting you up to fall prey to more circumstances, people, and bad decisions that will keep you poor and in debt! The negative energy you are emitting will draw those negative circumstances and people to you.

To bring about change, we need to focus on what we love and yearn for, rather than what we don’t love and don’t want. Think of it this way: Supposing you went with a group of friends to an all-you-can-eat buffet. You go down the buffet table, looking at all the varieties of food, and every time you see a food that you dislike and would never want to eat, you add it to your plate. By the time you get to the end of the buffet, your dish is filled with food you can’t stand. You pay for it and go sit at the table with your friends. You sit there, not eating, feeling hungry and miserable, while your friends are heartily eating and enjoying their food.

Now you’re probably thinking, “Who the heck would do that?” Well, we do exactly that every time we waste our valuable energy by thinking and talking about what we DON’T want out of life! The friends who are enjoying their meal represent the people who focus their thoughts and energies on the things they truly want and to which they aspire — the people who love their lives and feel happy and satisfied. Meanwhile, you look on and wonder why you are so miserable. Would it help you to resent and envy them because they are enjoying their food and you’re not? No, because you chose the food yourself!

This life is a precious treasure — God’s gift to you. Your power to co-create with God the kind of life you truly want is part of this gift. Why would you waste it on things you don’t want? Why would you expend your precious time and energy perpetuating a life that is unsatisfying to you?

Remember, a random negative thought or two will not bring a host of bad things upon you. There is a time delay between our thoughts and their consequences, and positive thoughts are a great deal stronger than negative ones. That’s the good news. The bad news, though, is that sustained or habitual negative thoughts, especially when accompanied by strong emotion, will eventually attract negative things into your life. Like the food you chose at the buffet, the currency of your thoughts and feelings is capable of bringing both good and bad things to you. It’s a matter of which ones you choose.

As St. Paul wrote in his letter to the Philippians: “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute; if there is any excellence, and if anything is worthy of praise, dwell on these things.”

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Photo (without text) by Ravi Pinisetti on Unsplash

Because we have tens of thousands of thoughts a day, it is impossible to monitor each one. But an easy way to identify your predominant thoughts is to tune into your feelings, because your feelings are the result of your thoughts. Are you feeling negative emotions, such as boredom, irritability, disappointment, anger, worry, depression, hatred, envy, guilt or fear? Or are you feeling positive emotions like love, gratitude, joy, excitement, enthusiasm, hope, satisfaction?

Don’t feel guilty or afraid because you are experiencing a negative emotion or thinking a negative thought, as that is just adding more negativity! We don’t want to deny our negative emotions and pretend they don’t exist, because they often serve to point out areas in our lives that need our attention. Also, it’s natural to feel negative emotions at particular crisis points in our lives, i.e., loss of a job, end of a relationship, death of a loved one, etc. If this is the case, you must allow yourself to experience the emotions, and seek help if necessary. We’re also not talking here about serious mental or emotional illnesses, for which one needs to be under medical supervision, but rather the typical thoughts and emotions that most of us experience on a regular basis. However, even if you are going through a life crisis or suffering from a mental illness, you can still apply these principles in addition to any other help you may be receiving.

Self-awareness is the key

Once you are aware of why you are feeling a particular way, you can understand what your emotions are telling you and what changes you can make to improve your circumstances. This then allows you to achieve mastery of your conscious thoughts. One way to do this is to practice a simple form of meditation. Don’t let the word “meditation” scare you. I don’t mean that you need to sit in Lotus Position for two hours every day and chant “Om” (although this is perfectly fine if you want to do it)! The objective is simply to quiet your conscious mind for a while. You need only a few minutes, and the following practice is very simple and will become even easier with time:

  • Set a timer for 10 minutes. Sit comfortably in a quiet room. Turn off all electronic devices and ask to not be disturbed. Begin to focus on your breathing and/or picture a blank movie screen in your mind.
  • As you sit there, thoughts will naturally bubble up. Just “watch” the thoughts. Don’t get involved with them; just witness them, and then turn your mind gently but firmly back to your breathing or to the blank movie screen.
  • If the thought that comes up is negative, acknowledge that you had a negative thought. Do not try to resist it, because resistance means you are focused on it with powerful emotion, which only will make it stronger. Just release it without judgement or guilt.
  • Continue this way until the timer goes off.

Make an effort to do this every day, or at least several times a week. You will find that you feel more relaxed and focused after this, and may want to do it for longer periods. Eventually you will reach a point where the intruding thoughts will decrease, and you will experience longer periods of peace as your mind lets go of its constant chatter.

How to Deal with Persistent Negative Thoughts

If you are feeling particularly sad, angry, depressed or fearful, and these same thoughts stubbornly keep recurring, you can use the following, more in-depth exercise to get to the root of your feelings and release them:

  • As in the previous exercise, sit in a quiet place where you will not be disturbed, with all electronic devices turned off or in another room. Focus on your breathing until you become more relaxed.
  • Ask yourself why you are feeling unhappy, and express the reason out loud, i.e., “I am afraid that I won’t find another job,” or “I’m sad and lonely because my love life is terrible right now,” or “I’m depressed because I’m not feeling well.”
  • Once you have identified the emotion and its cause, don’t try to resist it or force it to go away. “Fighting” an emotion — like “fighting” an illness — usually doesn’t work, since it involves negative emotions like anger, resentment or resistance, which actually can attract more negativity to you and make the condition worse.
  • Face the negative emotion and ask it what it might be trying to teach you. Let it speak to you, without forcing it or censoring it. Learn from what it is telling you. For instance, if you are depressed because you’re sick, the reason you might hear when you ask this question is that your life was out of balance. You were stressed, rushing around, not taking time to relax, not eating and sleeping right. The illness was your body’s way of telling you to slow down and take better care of it, to bring your life into a better balance of mind, body and spirit.
  • Now, ask yourself if there are actionable steps you can take at the present time to help ease this negative emotion. Just writing down some small actions you can implement right away is a very effective way to ease the tension and stress you’re feeling. You can follow-up after your meditation session by doing some research for additional ideas. Eventually, you can build upon these small successes, until you begin to see a measurable improvement in your situation and your mood.
  • From now on, reframe your fears and negative statements into positive affirmations. For example, “I have a career that pays well and is personally fulfilling to me;” “I have many positive, loving, and uplifting relationships in my life;” “I feel healthy and whole in body, mind and spirit.” In other words, you are stating what you love and aspire to, rather than focusing on what the less-than-ideal situation might be at the current moment.
  • At the end of your meditation session, thank your subconscious mind for giving you the reasons and the suggestions. Tell it that you will heed the lesson, and that you no longer need to experience the negative emotions. You can picture yourself letting go of the emotion in any way you like: i.e., blowing it away like dandelion fluff, releasing it as a balloon, or watching it wash away like sand in an ocean wave. Once you learn the lessons that your negative emotion is trying to teach you, it will no longer have a strong hold on you. You will be able to release it and move on.

Once again, do not worry or become anxious about having negative thoughts, as this will attract more negative thoughts to you. We all have numerous negative thoughts occurring throughout each day, but they become a problem only when we dwell upon them and repeat them often or infuse them with strong emotion. Instead, say to yourself, “All my negative thoughts are weak, while my positive thoughts are very powerful!”

Simply by having read this post and the last one, you have become much more aware of any negative thought patterns you have. Congratulations! From now on, you will not be on “automatic pilot,” reacting in the same old way to everything that happens in your life. You now will be aware of your reactions (your thoughts) in each situation and can take action on them! Now you are in the driver’s seat of your mind, rather than a helpless and clueless passenger!

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Photo (w/o text) by ANDRIK ↟ LANGFIELD ↟ PETRIDES on Unsplash

The simple forms of meditation practice given here are an excellent way to become more observant of your thoughts and feelings in order to learn to control them. Meditation has tremendous benefits for mind, body and spirit. There are many excellent books, blogs, and videos about meditation if you would like to explore this practice in more depth.

In the words of Charles Haanel, New Thought author who lived from 1866 to 1949: “Be careful of your moods and feelings, for there is an unbroken connection between your feelings and your visible world.”

Next time: How to deal with challenges to staying positive.

Identifying Habitual Thought Patterns

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My last blog post, “Time to Wake Up,” addressed how what we think consciously and believe subconsciously affects how we act and react to the world around us, and how our thoughts can directly influence our future. This principle, nowadays called “The Law of Attraction (LOA),” has actually been around for thousands of years and can be found in the Bible and many other spiritual texts and teachings. So it is important that we first identify our habitual thought patterns, to see which ones are serving us and which might be holding us back from achieving the sort of life we would like to have.

Following is a series of questions to help you in this thought identification process.

Do you often say or think any of the following:

  • I’m too ___ (tired, sick, achy, weak, old, young, fat, ugly, stupid, etc.)
  • I’ll never be able to _____ (fill in the blank)
  • I’m not ______(fill in the blank)
  • I’m a bad sleeper
  • I can’t relax…I can’t concentrate…I can’t lose weight…I can’t get up early…I can’t _______ (fill in the blank)
  • I’m always late / I’m always running behind schedule
  • I never have any money
  • I’ll never get out of debt
  • I’m never at the right place at the right time
  • It’s all the fault of my dysfunctional parents/family…my bad childhood…the traits I inherited from my parents, etc.
  • I’m just a victim of ______.
  • I have no control over what happens to me
  • I never get a break
  • It’s Murphy’s Law
  • I just look at food and gain weight
  • I’m getting…(old, fat, sick, worn out, forgetful, poorer)
  • I’ve only got a few more years left
  • I’m not ____ enough (i.e., smart, attractive, thin, talented, skilled, educated, rich) — or:  I don’t have enough ______ (brains, education, looks, money, ability, luck, talent, etc.)
  • Something that good can never happen to me
  • I’d never be so lucky
  • I never win anything
  • Other people get everything, and I get nothing
  • This is just my luck (or) I never have any luck
  • I hate that person
  • I look horrible in everything I put on
  • I never take a good picture
  • I’ll never have enough ____ (money, time, ability, health, etc.)
  • I’m so afraid of _____ 
  • I really dread _______
  • I’m not feeling well – it’s probably cancer
  • I will probably get (name the disease), because it runs in my family (or because so many people get it).
  • I live in constant fear of getting (this disease).
  • I HATE (cancer, diabetes, asthma – or any disease)
  • We must FIGHT cancer (or other disease or problem)
  • Getting old sucks
  • I’m getting senile
  • I just can’t lose weight
  • I can’t cope with this
  • What if _____ (imagining something bad and then worrying about it)
  • I always have too much work
  • I hate my job and I’ll never get a better one
  • I don’t have enough to give to or share with anyone else
  • I’ll never forgive _____ (fill in name(s))
  • I’m too…(old, tired, busy, far gone)…to care about my looks or my health anymore
  • Everyone gets (fat, sick, high blood pressure, diabetes, memory loss) as they age.
  • I’m just falling apart
  • It’s hopeless
  • I never get good weather on my vacations or when I plan something

Do you often:

  • Gossip or complain about someone, or join in gossip/complaining about someone?
  • Try to instigate trouble and bad feeling among others?
  • Argue over and/or ridicule someone’s political or spiritual opinions?
  • End a friendship or become estranged from a family member because of differing political or spiritual beliefs?
  • Feel you have nothing to be thankful for?
  • Compare yourself negatively to other people?
  • Make nasty, snide or critical comments or cruel jokes in person or on social media?
  • Refuse to buy something you really wanted or needed, even though you have more than enough money to afford it, because you’re afraid to spend any money?
  • Make self-deprecating comments or denials when someone compliments you?
  • Criticize someone, and/or try to make someone else do things your way?
  • Harbor resentment or bitterness towards someone? Keep thinking about how to get even? Wish bad things on them?
  • Respond instantly with anger to someone else’s words or actions?
  • Try to control and “fix” other people’s lives rather than letting them learn from their experiences in their own way?
  • Frequently make or share self-deprecating remarks or jokes about being stupid, fat, old, forgetful, or other negative things?
  • Forward emails or share social media posts encouraging hatred against anyone or anything (political figures, celebrities, certain races, ethnic groups, religions, etc.)?
  • Say, “I HATE____” (fill in the blanks)?
  • Talk at length and frequently about your illnesses or someone else’s?
  • Feel envy towards someone? Withhold a compliment from someone because you secretly envy them?
  • Try to take something/someone away from a person because you think you deserve it more? Try to turn others against someone because you’re jealous?
  • Constantly worry about your loved ones and what could happen to them, or about losing your partner, your money, your health, etc.?
Photo by Keira Burton at Pexels

Okay, so you probably identified with at least several – and maybe a lot – of these. Some of them might rarely or never pertain to you, while others are fairly frequent. If so, welcome to the human race! We ALL think, say or do these things from time to time. A fleeting thought or occasional slip-up won’t have a significant effect on your life or your future. If, however, you habitually think, do or say any of them, and if the thoughts carry a strong emotional charge, you are setting yourself up to attract exactly what you say you hate, fear and don’t want! This is because our subconscious mind believes everything we tell it, whether it’s true, false, good or bad. It is merely responding to our conscious thoughts, words and actions, like an obedient, cooperative child. It doesn’t analyze whether the thoughts are good or bad for you, positive or negative. Analyzing and choosing are the domain of the conscious mind; the subconscious just accepts what we tell it.

Consequently, with our negative thoughts we will attract, or subconsciously be attracted to, just the circumstances and people that we want so much to avoid! Also, fighting against something negative is never as effective as striving instead to bring about a positive result. For example, instead of hating and “fighting” a disease, it’s better instead to think wellness and health, and do whatever we can to promote these positive qualities. Mother Teresa, now St. Teresa of Calcutta, was quoted as saying:“I was once asked why I don’t participate in anti-war demonstrations. I said that I will never do that, but as soon as you have a pro-peace rally, I’ll be there.”

Negative thinking also will block any good things that God wants to send us. Nothing is forced on us by God, who respects and honors our free will. Negative thinking is like keeping your hands behind your back when someone offers you a gift. You cannot accept the gift unless your hands are open to receive it.

LOA experts recommend that we shift our positive thoughts to at least 51% over the negative ones. Even this 1% over the halfway mark could be enough to dramatically change one’s life. I believe that the more we can shift our thoughts from the negative to the positive, the quicker and more dramatic the change will be!

Legend says that in the Buddha’s travels, he encountered a man who was awed by his peaceful, radiant persona. The man asked, “My friend, what are you? Are you a celestial being? Are you a god? A magician? A wizard?” The Buddha replied, “No. I am awake.”

Jesus told His followers that if they had faith “the size of a mustard seed” they could move mountains. He also told them that, with enough faith and belief, they could do all the things that He had done, and even greater things.

Photo by Marcos Paulo Prado on Unsplash

We cannot even begin to improve our lives unless we become awake and aware of the negative thoughts and lack of faith we harbor on a daily basis. Otherwise, we walk around in a perpetual state of “automatic pilot” and unconsciousness. Once you become aware, you will begin to notice any instances in which you are thinking or speaking negatively. You also will be shocked and dismayed at all the negativity you will notice around you from other people! In upcoming posts we’ll examine these negative thoughts and attitudes and explore ways to bring about positive change and achieve our goals and dreams.

Have a positively wonderful day! 

Time to Wake Up!

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No, we’re not talking here about setting your alarm clock.  You’re probably thinking, “Obviously, I’m already awake, or I wouldn’t be reading this right now!” You might not be actually sleeping, but as we start a brand-new year, it’s time to ask yourself: Are you fully awake and aware of the life you are creating for yourself at this very moment?

How do you create your life and your future? You do it through the thoughts and feelings that you hold in your mind consistently over a period of time. We have tens of thousands of thoughts a day, but many of them are random and fleeting and don’t have much impact. What does matter, though, are our dominant thoughts — the ones we dwell on consistently, the habitual thought patterns we follow on a regular basis. Those thoughts of today are what draw the events, situations, and people that will form our tomorrow.

What we don’t realize is that what we think consciously and believe subconsciously affects how we act and react to the world around us. It sends out a signal that in turn has an effect on other people, drawing those of like mind to us. This is great if our thoughts are positive and constructive – who doesn’t want to be surrounded by people and situations that lift our spirits, encourage and inspire us to be our best selves? But what if our thoughts are sad, gloomy, bitter, angry, fearful or anxious – do we really want to draw people to us who will just perpetuate this negativity? Please don’t invite me to that party!

Our thoughts also influence our future, because when we are steeped in negativity, we do not make wise choices or take constructive action. We are too reactive, act too hastily without sufficient reflection, respond to others with negativity, try to control or manipulate people, or force events and situations in such a way as to sabotage our own goals and progress.

There is a lot of buzz in recent years about the Law of Attraction (LOA), which is based on the theory that “like attracts like.” Personally, I firmly believe in this law because I have seen it manifest over and over in my own life – for both good and bad, depending on the way I was thinking, feeling and acting at the time. Although the LOA has become very popular nowadays, it has been written about for the last 100+ years by various “New Thought” authors, and these principles actually have been around in one form or another for thousands of years. They form a part of virtually every major religion, and are mentioned by many great thinkers and spiritual leaders and in many religious texts, including the Judeo-Christian Bible and the teachings of Buddha. They may not have called it “the Law of Attraction,” as that is a relatively new term, but in principle they were teaching the same truths.  We may have heard their words hundreds of times, but just never truly understood or “got it” on a deep, basic level. 

Utilizing the Law of Attraction is just another phrase for unwavering faith in Divine Power to manifest those things to which we aspire. Although many modern LOA proponents use the term “the Universe,” I prefer to use the “G” word — God — or Divine Power, instead of “Universe.” This is because I believe that God is the supreme intelligence that created all things, and the Universe is simply a creation through which God works, using the power of love. But it doesn’t matter what you call it, and you don’t have to be a particularly religious person to utilize it; it is only necessary to have an open mind and to believe in a Power greater than yourself, a Power which is the Source of everything and the loving Force that is present within you and everything else in the Universe. You can refer to this Power by any name that resonates with you.

Even those who are not of a spiritual or metaphysical mindset would likely agree that our subconscious beliefs affect the way we act and appear to others, and that they definitely have an impact on our own bodies and mental/physical health. Many medical professionals today acknowledge the mind-body connection. 

Many people who are proponents of LOA talk about using it to acquire weath and success. Although there is nothing wrong with wanting material things — as long as we don’t put them above everything else — I believe that the LOA’s greatest power lies in allowing us to open ourselves the the gifts God wants to bestow upon us, but which our negativity and feelings of unworthiness prevent us from receiving, or even requesting.  As it says in James 4:2: “You don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it.”

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Image courtesy of kittijaroon at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

This is the first article of several that I’ll be posting periodically over the next several months, which will explore in simple steps how to change your life for the better, how to experience more joy, happiness, serenity and abundance. The first step is “waking up” by becoming aware of the quality of our thoughts. Awareness is the beginning of changing things for the better, because if we walk around unconscious of what we’re doing, we will never change.

The next post of this series will present some questions to help you identify your own habitual thought patterns. 

 

From Setbacks to Success: Finishing the Race – Pt. 2

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The first post of this two-part series examined how perception and attitude shape our experiences whenever we encounter obstacles to achieving our goals, and how keeping an open mind and asking for Divine guidance can keep us from giving up. Once you have quieted your mind and prayed for guidance, reflecting on the following 10 questions can help you gain a clearer perspective on your situation and turn your setback into success:

  1. Am I on the right path? If a goal is unrealistic, incompatible with your soul’s deeper purpose, your talents and abilities, or potentially harmful to you or others, the obstacles you encounter might be a way of detouring you to another, better goal. Consider constructive criticism and feedback about your goals from people whose judgment you trust. Don’t seek the opinion of people who might be envious and not want to see you succeed, because they will only discourage you, undermine your confidence and give you false advice. Conversely, people too close to you might not want to rain on your parade, or their feelings for you might cloud their own judgment. But an honest and objective third party might see things you’re missing because you’re too emotionally involved.
  1. Am I using the right tactics? Sometimes the goal is appropriate, but the approach is wrong. If you consistently meet with opposition and failure, it could mean a change in strategy is necessary. Brainstorm to see how many new tactics you can come up with, and then begin to implement them one by one until you hit the right formula. Look to the example of others who have accomplished what you want to do and try to emulate their process to the best of your ability.
  1. Is my timing off? The worthiest goals and the cleverest strategy will not succeed if the timing is wrong. Anxious to reach our destination, we sometimes rush ahead without adequate thought or preparation. When plans stagnate, it’s tempting to try to force results before the time is right, often with disastrous consequences. I have committed some of my worst mistakes when I tried to make something happen that wasn’t ready or able to happen. If you’ve given something your best effort but still encounter a setback, if it seems as though everywhere you turn you come up against a brick wall with no discernible way out, a waiting period might be necessary to allow the right people and circumstances into your life to help you achieve your goal when the time is right.
  1. What motivates me? Selfishness, greed, revenge, jealousy, egotism, or a desire for excessive power can spoil even the most worthy goals. Obstacles and setbacks can force us to examine our motives and determine whether they conform to the highest standards. When we have the wrong motives, even if we succeed we may destroy relationships, hurt other people, and even jeopardize our own soul in the process. As a result, although we might achieve our goal, we ultimately will not feel fulfilled.
  1. Do I need more education, expertise, or experience? If you are unable to compete successfully in your field of endeavor, it might mean you need to sharpen your skills, increase your knowledge, or obtain more practical experience before you can attain your goal. Take classes, or find a mentor or role model who is successful in the field you are pursuing to help you. Read books by and about people who have done what you would like to do. Search the internet for articles, webinars, podcasts and videos that will give you more information. It’s amazing how many people will launch themselves toward a goal about which they know nothing and have never bothered to do any research! Adopt as your motto the old saying, “Knowledge is power.”
  1. Is this setback necessary for my personal and spiritual growth? Obstacles, failure, and stagnation are not only inevitable, but essential to the soul’s development. Growth occurs by overcoming obstacles, not by sailing through life without challenges. No creature is capable of constant productivity. God uses our dormant times to nourish us on a deep level, enabling us to draw upon new sources of strength and ability. The Roman poet Horace said, “Adversity has the effect of eliciting talent, which in prosperous circumstances would have lain dormant.”
  1. Am I encountering resistance because I am undertaking something important? It’s a known fact that often when we are about to embark on an endeavor that will do a lot of good and help a lot of people, we will encounter obstacles and misfortune, at the beginning and also at various points along the way. Whether you believe in evil forces or attribute it to your own subconscious resistance, these setbacks are a supreme test of your faith and determination to carry on with your high ideals and goals despite the opposition you’re encountering.
  1. Does someone need my help? Our plans are sometimes halted simply because our spouse, children, parents, siblings, friends or neighbors need our attention. Christ often interrupted his preaching and teaching in order to serve people’s practical needs of food, healing, and comfort. This doesn’t mean putting our lives on hold indefinitely or using other people’s needs as an excuse to shirk other responsibilities. But we can rest assured that the time we take from our own plans to show love and caring to someone will never be wasted. It may even open doors to helpful contacts and new opportunities.
  1. Do I need more trust, detachment, or acceptance? Having initiative and determination to make our dreams come true is essential, but we also need the detachment and discernment to know when to let go. All situations, whether perceived as good or bad, are temporary. When we trust God, we know that if we don’t get what we want, it’s because God wants to give us something better. God is not the denier of good things, but the source of them. “When you call me, when you pray to me, I will listen to you. When you look for me, you will find me. Yes, when you seek me with all your heart, you will find me with you… And I will change your lot” (Jeremiah 29, 11-14).
  1. Is the effort more important than the result? There is a saying, “Some goals are so worthy, it’s glorious even to fail.” The growth we achieve through our efforts will benefit us, regardless of the visible outcome.

Whenever you experience failure or frustration, remember that everyone who has ever done anything worthwhile has met with obstacles. “I am not discouraged,” said Thomas Edison, “because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.” Edison’s teachers thought he was stupid, and he was fired from his first two jobs. It is a well-known fact that Edison conducted hundreds, even thousands, of failed experiments before successfully inventing the light bulb.

One of my favorite people of all time, Walt Disney, was fired in 1919 from a job at a newspaper because the editor said he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas.”

Oh, yeah — if you’re wondering whatever happened to our writer friends who couldn’t sell their stories: They finally found a small publishing house on the verge of bankruptcy that was willing to take a chance on their book. And Chicken Soup for the Soul by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen became what Time magazine called “a publishing phenomenon.” To date they have sold over 500 million copies worldwide, with more than 250 titles in 43 languages, and has evolved into a socially conscious company that combines storytelling with making the world a better place.

If you do research into the lives of famous people from all walks of life, you will discover stories of failure, frustration, and opposition of all kinds. What makes these people extraordinary is their persistence and determination to achieve their goals in the face of all odds. So, if you currently are experiencing obstacles and setbacks, cheer up — you’re in excellent company!

Finishing the Race: From Setbacks to Success – Pt. 1

Marathon with quote from 2 Timothy 4:7

Part 1 of a 2-Part Series

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In 1990, two men collaborated on a collection of inspirational stories. They were sure they had a winner, but in the first month alone thirty-three New York publishers turned them down. “No one buys short stories,” they were told, “and your title stinks!” Even their agent dropped them; yet they refused to give up. But after 140 rejections, they seemed to be up against a brick wall. No one wanted what they had to offer.

At one time or another, we all face obstacles, setbacks, and failures. Whenever we make changes in our life or embark on a new venture, we meet resistance from outside sources and from within ourselves. Friends and family may question our goals, or maybe we are inwardly fearful of what lies ahead. Random events beyond our control can also disrupt our plans. Confidence fails; doubt and discouragement replace our initial feelings of hope and excitement. But obstacles are a natural part of progress. If we realize this from the beginning, we can gain insight into the possible causes, and learn from our experiences. We can find the courage to press on instead of giving up.

Few people experience as many obstacles as did St. Paul. He was shipwrecked, beaten with rods, whipped, stoned, suffered many sleepless nights, hunger, thirst, cold and exposure. On top of that, he experienced constant anxiety about the early churches who looked to him for leadership. In Damascus, the governor guarded the city so Paul could be arrested. He writes, “…but I was lowered in a basket through a window in the wall and escaped…” Now that’s persistence!

Undaunted by the innumerable obstacles he faced, Paul continued writing and encouraging the early Church even from prison. In his second letter to Timothy he wrote, “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.”

Your Perceptions

Events in themselves are not necessarily good or bad. It’s our perception of the situation that labels it, our reaction to it that determines the ultimate effect it will have on our life. “The pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; the optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty,” said Winston Churchill.

When our plans go awry, the human tendency is to react with fear, despair, or anger. We are angry with ourselves for our perceived failure, with other people for getting in our way, or with God for letting us down. But doors are opening even while we think everything is hopeless; changes are occurring during even the darkest times. We cannot see this, because our earthly perspective is limited to our present circumstances. It’s only in hindsight that we understand how each piece in the puzzle of our lives is essential to the entire picture.

Your Attitude

The late comedian Flip Wilson had a character named Geraldine, who used to flaunt her charms with the announcement, “What you see is what you get!” Similarly, what we see when we envision our future is often what we get. Lacking self-confidence, doubting God’s care, and obsessing about everything that could go wrong, set us up for failure.

Equally impractical is the blind optimism that stubbornly clings to unreasonable goals and pie-in-the-sky dreams. People with a well-balanced attitude set realistic goals and focus on success, while still leaving the door open to God’s surprises. They’re confident that nothing happens that God cannot use for good. They know they are guided, even when they can’t see the road ahead or feel God’s presence

 Make Room for Abba

Jesus referred to God  as “Abba,” which translates into “Daddy.” If we think of God as our loving Father (“Daddy”), it stands to reason that He would want only the best for us. Set goals and make plans, but leave them open-ended. Remember, God might have an even better idea, so stay open to it! “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Jesus asked the crowd during his Sermon on the Mount, Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” If God is our loving Daddy, we can trust that He will give us the very best!

“If you are discouraged, it is a sign of pride, because it shows you trust in your own power,” said Mother Teresa of Calcutta. “Your self-sufficiency, your selfishness, and your intellectual pride, will inhibit [God’s] coming to live in your heart, because God cannot fill what is already full.”

After Christ ascended to heaven, the apostles didn’t know what their next step should be. During this dormant time, they had to wait for God’s direction. “…They went to the upper room where they were staying…[and] devoted themselves with one accord to prayer…” (Acts 2:13-14). For 10 days, they waited and listened prayerfully for God’s answer, which manifested at Pentecost with the coming of the Holy Spirit.

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Every one of us has experienced frustrating times when despite all our efforts, nothing moves forward. You leave voicemail messages, send emails, texts, post something important on social media, etc., but no one responds. You launch a new venture, but the people you counted on to support it are strangely absent, whether through thoughtlessness, self-absorption, or because they’re dealing with personal problems. Your new business seemed off to a great start, but now the phone is silent and no one seems to know you exist. Just as you seem to be advancing toward a goal, you’re hit with illness, a family crisis, or financial problems, and all progress comes to a screeching halt.

During times of stagnation or frustration, surrender your anxiety to a Power greater than your own. Quiet your thoughts and listen with an open mind to what your inner wisdom might be telling you. Gradually, guidance will emerge out of a seemingly hopeless situation.

In Part 2, we’ll examine 10 steps you can take to help turn your setbacks into success. (You’ll also find out what happened to the two authors who couldn’t sell their book!)

Catherine Laboure´: Saint of the Miraculous Medal – Part 4

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Madonna of the Medal — illustration by the author

The visionaries who followed Catherine Laboure´ into the Marian Age would be at the center of the attention surrounding the phenomena of their apparitions (i.e., St. Bernadette of Lourdes, the three children of Fatima), but not Catherine. She adamantly insisted to Fr. Aladel that Our Lady had told her to “speak only to her confessor” about the visions. Catherine would not budge from this position for 46 years. We can well imagine the sense of excitement and intrigue in the convent when the news leaked out that one of the Sisters had been privileged to see the Blessed Virgin. The endless conjecture, the sly questions intended to unearth the seer in their midst, could well have tripped up Catherine, but she was more than equal to the task of protecting her secret. Over time, she became quite adept at deflecting suspicion, and probably even enjoyed this challenge to her cleverness and wit.

There is no doubt that the humility, discretion, and courage it took for Catherine to keep her secret until shortly before her death in 1876 were of such a heroic nature that it remains one of the most significant acts of her life. She truly is a role model for those who lead hidden but fruitful lives in God’s service. At Catherine’s Beatification service, Pope Pius XI said with dry humor, “To think of keeping a secret for 46 years — and this by a woman, and a Sister!”

Not that Catherine adopted a standoffish attitude to protect herself. Quite the contrary — although she had a quiet nature, she was lively and even merry as a novice, spending many happy hours with the other Sisters during recreation. There is little doubt, however, that keeping her secret was the right thing for her particular soul, as she was shy and did not like the limelight.  For her, obscurity was the road to sanctity. She knew she was only an instrument of God’s grace, and that her visions were a gift to the world and not for herself alone.

Catherine’s life in the years after the great Apparitions of 1830 is beautifully summarized in the words of her dear friend, Sr. Sejole: “Later on, when they speak of her who saw the Blessed Virgin, you will be happy to have known this beautiful soul, living such an ordinary life and keeping herself hidden behind her duties.”

Like all of us, Catherine had her own particular faults to overcome. Throughout her life she was given to flashes of temper and a sharp tongue. She also had a very strong will, which is obvious in the way she overcame so many obstacles in the early years of her life. But once the mission of the Medal was accomplished, Catherine’s life took on a different tone. Now she had to live in complete submission to her superiors, who were sometimes unreasonable, even wrong, in their judgment. Yet because of her vow of obedience, Catherine had to conquer her natural impulse to do things her own way.

For instance, although Catherine had been the very competent mistress of her father’s household from a young age, she was now often forced to accept a superior’s way of doing things, despite the fact that Catherine was far more capable than her superiors of the task at hand.  Having strong ideas herself about how things should be done, she often found it difficult being contradicted. But she rose above this by developing the virtues of patience and humility to the extent that she was able to graciously defer to the other Sister and be charitable to her above and beyond what was required.

Although Catherine took her vow of poverty so seriously that upon her death the Sr. Servant was shocked to find so few belongings in Catherine’s possession, she was generous in her consideration of others. One day, she saw a Sister return from laundry duty with her habit soaking wet. Concerned that the Sister should not become chilled, Catherine went hastily to the Superior to get some warm flannel so the Sister could change her clothes.

Catherine’s superiors definitely recognized her extraordinary capabilities and common sense, because in 1836, at the age of 30, she was given the important position of being in charge of the elderly men at Enghien and running the little farm attached to the Hospice. Catherine loved this because it reminded her of her childhood on the Laboure´ farm, and she enjoyed feeding the chickens and milking the cows. Though not officially given the title, she was Assistant Superior of both the Hospice d’Enghien and the nearby House of Charity of Reuilly, which shared a common Superior and chapel.

For the next 10 years, Catherine’s daily routine remained virtually unchanged. She cared for the aged residents in her charge — irascible and difficult as some of them were — with unflinching devotion, patience, compassion, and kindness. She already had experience dealing with these sorts of men at her brother’s restaurant, and it must have occurred to Catherine that the time she had spent as a waitress had served a Divine purpose after all, in preparing her to deal with the men at Enghien. As she had done for most of her life, Catherine served meals, mended clothes, nursed the sick, comforted the dying, and kept everyone content and everything running smoothly. For those who are caregivers to the elderly, Catherine serves as a shining example and steadfast source of help and inspiration.

Catherine followed St. Vincent’s own counsel that no religious exercise, not even Mass, should come before the needs of the sick or poor. She was so devoted to her charges that she would turn down invitations to festivals and other diversions, saying, “These are good for the young Sisters, but I have to care for my old men.” She always took time out, however, for spiritual conferences and retreats, knowing she needed these to feed and sustain her soul.

She insisted that “her old men” receive the best of food in generous quantities. On her feast day, one of the men stood up at the end of the meal and announced, “Sr. Catherine, you are very good to us, and at table you always ask,  ‘Have you had enough?’ “ Yet she did not spoil her charges — she ruled the house with a firm but loving hand. Some of the old men would return drunk after their weekly day out. Catherine would put them promptly to bed, carrying away their clothes and hiding them for the next three days, and these men would not be allowed their next day out. But when another Sister once reproached her for not being stern enough with a particular offender, Catherine replied, “I can’t help it. I keep seeing Christ in him.” She did, however, dutifully reprimand him the next morning.

The one virtue that seemed to shine most brightly in Catherine was her purity. Her sister Tonine once said of Catherine, “she did not know evil.” Many who knew her believe that it was because of her extraordinary chastity that Mary chose her to be the recipient of the apparitions. Thus, the greatest trial Catherine faced was caring for those men in her charge whom she knew to be impure. Revulsion would engulf her, and it took a supreme effort of will, made possible by prayer, for her to see Christ in even the foulest of her charges. In this way, she was able to control her feelings and care for them with tenderness and compassion. With great charm and grace she was able to melt the hearts of even the most hardened sinners.

Even though she had entered the religious life, Catherine never lost her deep love of family and warmly welcomed the frequent visits of her brothers and their families, who lived in Paris. Tonine married in 1858 and also moved nearby, renewing with Catherine the close sisterly relationship they had shared in earlier years. When Tonine later died after a long and painful illness, Catherine was at her bedside. Catherine was also able to be at the deathbed of her brother Jacques, lovingly placing a Miraculous Medal around his neck. 

At the request of Fr. Aladel, in 1841 Catherine wrote out her first complete account of the apparitions. She also entreated Fr. Aladel to have an altar built on the spot of the apparitions and to have a commemorative statue made of Our Lady with the globe in her hands (the first phase of the Apparition of Nov. 27), to be placed on the altar. Although Fr. Aladel made a tentative start on this matter, he did not follow through, much to Catherine’s perpetual dismay.

In 1842, the dramatic and well-publicized conversion, attributed to the Miraculous Medal, of Alphonse Rattisbonne, a vehemently anti-Catholic banker, resulted in Rome’s official recognition of the Medal. There is no doubt that the Apparition of 1830 and the subsequent outpouring of devotion to the Immaculate Conception because of the Medal, had a great bearing on the solemn declaration by Pope Pius IX in 1854 of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception.  When in 1858 news reached Catherine about the apparition of Our Lady to Bernadette Soubirous at Lourdes, she exclaimed, “You see, it is our own Blessed Mother, the Immaculate!”

Although Catherine had told Fr. Aladel in 1830 that the Blessed Virgin wished to establish a Confraternity of Children of Mary, he did not act on this until 1835, when he petitioned Rome about it. In 1847, the Children of Mary was officially established, soon spreading worldwide. Although for reasons of secrecy Catherine did not connect herself with the Confraternity, she welcomed and encouraged each new member of the Children of Mary in Reuilly. Always concerned with the souls of the young, she often spent time with the neighborhood children.

In 1860, 37-yr.-old Sr. Jeanne Dufes became Superior of Reuilly and Enghien. Because she and Catherine were alike in many ways — practical, capable, but stubborn and quick-tempered — there was a natural antipathy between them from the start. But, as Sr. Dufes herself was to later admit, Catherine was able to conquer her flashes of temper immediately, while Sr. Dufes had to struggle long and hard with hers. Because there was always the suspicion among the community that Catherine was the Sister of the Apparitions, Sr. Dufes may have felt it her duty to keep Catherine humble. Sr. Dufes did not dislike Catherine, but usually neglected her, treating her with indifference and little appreciation. She often reprimanded Catherine unfairly for trivialities, even in front of the other Sisters. Yet Catherine always held her tongue, remaining humble and obedient which, given her natural tendencies, required great strength of character.

On April 25, 1865, the 35th anniversary of Catherine’s first vision of St. Vincent’s heart, Fr. Aladel died of a stroke, and Fr. Etienne succeeded him as Catherine’s confessor. Five years later, France once again suffered terribly from yet another change in government following the Franco-Prussian War. Our Lady’s prediction in 1830 of the horrors that would occur “in 40 years” now came to pass, and the houses of Reuilly and Enghien were caught in the thick of it. But once again they were protected, as Our Lady had promised.

When peace returned to France, peace settled also upon Catherine’s soul in these, her final, years. She no longer had to dread the dire events prophesied by Our Lady, as she had for the past 40 years. Her country and her religious community had come through it safely. Catherine was now growing old and her body was beginning to wear down. Although she certainly did not fear death, and no doubt looked forward to seeing the Virgin again in the next life, she did not have the great desire for death that some other saints had. Despite severe arthritis of the knees, asthma, and cardiovascular disease, she carried out all her duties to the best of her ability, knowing in her wise way that this was all God expected of anyone. But gradually, her Superiors eased her workload and assigned assistants to her, some of whom, ironically, caused Catherine more trouble than the work itself had. One lay helper, being mentally unstable, was so difficult that Catherine was the only one who would tolerate her. Despite the woman’s cruel attitude toward her, Catherine refused to have her dismissed, because she knew the woman would not find employment anywhere else.

In 1874, Catherine was relieved of her position as Custodian, and Sr. Tanguy was chosen to succeed her, receiving the title of Assistant Superior of Reuilly and Enghien — a title Catherine had never been granted, despite having done the job for 38 years. This was hard for Catherine, especially since she did not particularly like Sr. Tanguy. Catherine, however, not only practiced charity toward her, but when asked her feelings about Sr. Tanguy’s appointment, she replied, “Our Superiors have spoken, and that should be sufficient for us to receive Sr. Tanguy as an angel from heaven.”

In May of 1876, perhaps realizing that she had not much longer to live, Catherine decided to make a last attempt to have the statue of “Our Lady of the Globe” made. Her failure to accomplish this task all those years was one of the greatest crosses of her life. But now she needed the help of both Fr. Bore, current Superior General of the Community, and of Sister Superior Dufes. This meant that Catherine had to break her silence of 46 years and reveal to them her identity as the Sister of the Apparitions. She did this after praying and receiving Our Lady’s permission.

Sr. Dufes set the wheels in motion by hiring a sculptor, Froc Robert, to begin work on the statue. Not surprisingly, upon seeing the finished plaster model, Catherine exclaimed in disappointment, “Ah — the Blessed Virgin was much more beautiful than that!” Nevertheless, Catherine had finally accomplished her one remaining mission, and now she told everyone that she would not live to see the New Year. Despite their disbelief, she insisted with a smile, “You will see!” Throughout her religious life, Catherine had predicted many events which later came to pass, but oddly enough, none of her fellow nuns seemed to recognize the significance of this extraordinary gift.

As the year wore on, she became sicker and weaker. Although she still went out occasionally, she found herself confined to bed with increasing frequency. It was at this time that Fr. Chevalier, her new confessor, requested that Catherine write once again a full account of her visions. This last account agreed in every detail with the accounts of 1841 and 1846.

On Dec. 31, 1876, Catherine was feeling well enough to receive a visit from her niece Marie, during which she gave Marie a Miraculous Medal — the last of her supply of the original ones. When Marie left, she told Catherine she would stop by in the morning to wish her a Happy New Year, but Catherine replied, “I shall not be here.” Shortly after 6:00 p.m., she took a turn for the worse. The Sisters gathered around her to say the prayers for the dying, and at 7:00 p.m., Catherine Laboure´ went peacefully to join her beloved Heavenly Mother.

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At supper that evening, Sr. Dufes read to the enthralled Community Catherine’s account of the Visions. The exciting news that Catherine had indeed been the Sister of the Apparitions (as many had suspected) soon spread beyond the convent to the whole city. Catherine’s funeral was held on Jan. 3, 1877, and she was laid to rest in a vault beneath the chapel at Reuilly, as she herself had predicted several weeks earlier. A few days after the funeral, the first cure attributed to Catherine Laboure´ occurred. A 10-yr.-old boy, who had been paralyzed since birth, was totally restored to health after touching Catherine’s tomb.

In 1895, a petition was submitted to Rome for a feast day in honor of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, and shortly thereafter the Cause for the Beatification of Sr. Catherine Laboure´ was also begun. After a long period of research into Catherine’s life, she was beatified on May 28, 1933. As is customary, at this time the body of Blessed Catherine was exhumed. It was found to be as fresh and incorrupt as on the day she was buried.

Catherine Laboure´ was canonized on July 17, 1947. At the close of the ceremony, Pope Pius XII said of her:

“Favored though she was with visions and celestial delights, she did not advertise herself to seek worldly fame, but took herself merely for the handmaid of God and preferred to remain unknown and to be reputed as nothing. And thus, desiring only the glory of God and of His Mother, she went meekly about the ordinary, and even the unpleasant, tasks that were assigned to her….And while she worked away, never idle but always busy and cheerful, her heart never lost sight of heavenly things: indeed she saw God uninterruptedly in all things and all things in God.”

***

Author’s Note: I have always had a particular interest in and devotion to Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, having attended church and school as a child in the parish of that name (nicknamed “OLMM”) in Ridgewood, NY. I now live near Philadelphia, where the Shrine of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal has its home in Germantown. It seems that Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal is never far from me! Although I had learned the story of the Miraculous Medal as a child from the nuns who taught at OLMM school, I didn’t know much about St. Catherine Laboure, to whom the medal was first revealed. Always fascinated by mystics and visionaries, I wanted to find out more about her, and that’s how I came to write this series. I hope you found it interesting.

Catherine Laboure´: Saint of the Miraculous Medal – Part 3

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(The first two parts of this series covered the childhood of Catherine (“Zoe”) Laboure´, her entrance into the order of the Sisters of Charity, and her first visions. Part 3 describes the visions of the Blessed Virgin Mary that revealed her mission to bring the “Miraculous Medal” into existence.)

Part 3: The Miraculous Medal

By November of 1830, the unrest in Paris was over, and Louis Philippe had taken the throne. On Nov. 27, eve of the First Sunday of Advent, Catherine was in the chapel with the other sisters for evening meditation, when she again heard the swish of a silk dress. Looking up, she saw a vision of the Queen of Heaven dressed all in white, standing on a globe and holding a golden ball in her hands. Her fingers were covered with rings whose stones sparkled with brilliant light that poured from them all the way down to her feet. She was radiant “in all her perfect beauty,” as Catherine later described it. Catherine heard the words, “The ball which you see represents the whole world, especially France, and each person in particular. These rays symbolize the graces I shed upon those who ask for them. The gems from which rays do not fall are the graces for which souls forget to ask.”

Then the vision changed. The ball vanished, and Mary’s arms swept downward, the rays cascading to the globe on which she still stood, her foot crushing the head of a serpent. The globe had the year “1830” inscribed upon it. The Virgin wore a blue mantle over a white dress, with a white veil draped back over her shoulders. An oval formed around the vision like a frame, and written in gold letters within it were the words: “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.”

The voice said, “Have a medal struck after this model. All who wear it will receive great graces; they should wear it around the neck….” The apparition reversed, and Catherine saw a large M surmounted by a bar and a cross, with the Hearts of Jesus and Mary beneath it, one crowned with thorns, the other pierced by a sword (symbolic of the prophecy of Simeon, when he told Mary, “a sword shall pierce your own heart, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.” Luke 2:35). Twelve stars encircled the whole thing. The vision then faded, but would be repeated five more times over the next year.

Catherine told Fr. Aladel about the latest apparitions and the request to have a medal struck. As with her other visions, he did not accord it much importance. Each time the vision was repeated, poor Catherine was compelled once again to approach Fr. Aladel about it. These were extremely unpleasant encounters for Catherine, often involving verbal battles between her and Fr. Aladel. The other Sisters would see Catherine approach the confessional trembling with fear, then hear the sound of raised voices issuing from within.

Although Catherine was never disobedient or rebellious, and would cease the discussion at Fr. Aladel’s order, she was not to be dissuaded from the mission she believed God had entrusted to her. While honoring her vow of obedience, she nonetheless possessed a strong will and a spirited tongue, and doggedly pursued her mission.  There is no doubt that, as Our Lady had warned, Catherine suffered much during this period, even to the extent of telling the Virgin that she “had better appear to someone else, since no one will believe me.” Only Our Lady’s promise of God’s grace sustained Catherine and made it possible for her to persevere.

In fairness to Fr. Aladel, his was not an easy task, either. He needed to determine if Sister Catherine’s visions were genuine and whether it would be prudent to act on them. But eventually, as he came to know Catherine better, he realized that by her very nature it was unlikely that she was inventing it all. He knew that she was good and pious, and he did not doubt the sincerity of her belief that she had seen these things. He also realized that of herself she did not possess the intellectual ability nor the imagination to fabricate such a story with all its lavish detail. Then, too, was the fact that her reported prophecies had indeed come true. Furthermore, he had given his promise to Catherine early on that her identity not be revealed, which placed all the responsibility for carrying out heaven’s orders on his shoulders alone.

Meanwhile, the end of Catherine’s novitiate was fast approaching, when she could possibly be assigned to a far-away post. Somehow, Fr. Aladel managed to use his influence to ensure that Catherine was assigned to the Hospice d’Enghien at Reuilly, where he was the regular confessor. This, of course, was necessary because of his role as Catherine’s spiritual advisor in the matter of her visions. The Hospice had been founded as a retirement home for the old men who in earlier years had served the royal family. Sr. Catherine’s duty would now be to care for these aged residents.

vision-of-mm-2Shortly after her arrival at Enghien, while visiting the chapel at the Motherhouse, Catherine saw Our Lady again. The apparition took the same form as it had on Nov. 27, but on this occasion Our Lady informed Catherine, “You will see me no more, but you will hear my voice in your prayers.”  In the following weeks, during her prayers Catherine heard the frequent urging of Our Lady that the medal be struck. When Catherine complained that Fr. Aladel did not believe her, Our Lady replied, “Never mind. He is my servant and would fear to displease me.”

No doubt it was these words reported back to Fr. Aladel that finally spurred him to action.  His love for Mary and his fear of angering her overcame the lingering doubts he had about Catherine’s visions. Indeed, Our Lady seemed to have great confidence in him, as he also would later be spiritual advisor to Sr. Justine Bisqueyburu, to whom the Green Scapular was manifested in 1840, and would be responsible for its production and distribution.

In January 1832, his good friend, Fr. Etienne, had an appointment with Archbishop de Quelen and asked Fr. Aladel to accompany him. After Fr. Etienne’s meeting, Fr. Aladel took this opportunity to tell the Archbishop about the visions and Our Lady’s request for a medal. After much careful questioning, the Archbishop, who was especially devoted to the Immaculate Conception, consented. On June 30, 1832, the first 2,000 Medals of the Immaculate Conception were delivered. Catherine, upon receiving her share of medals, said, “Now it must be propagated!” She was to keep a few of these first Medals until the end of her life (one of them can be seen at the Miraculous Medal Art Museum in Germantown, PA).

As the saying goes, the rest is history: The Medal’s rapid spread throughout France and the world, and its astonishing impact as a sacramental was rivaled only by the Rosary. So many healings, conversions, and wonders sprang from it that it soon became known as “the Miraculous Medal.”

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Front & Back of a  Medal of the Immaculate Conception (“Miraculous Medal”)

Catherine’s great mission was accomplished; and the ecstasy of the heavenly visions, as well as the despair and frustration of trying to convince Fr. Aladel to act on them, was over. Now Catherine would embark on the final, and longest, phase of her earthly journey: the hidden life of obscurity as she settled into the ordinary routine that was to be her destiny for 46 years.

(In Part 4: Catherine’s Hidden Life & Final Years on Earth)

 

Catherine Laboure´: Saint of the Miraculous Medal-Part 2

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Sr. Catherine  Laboure as a Daughter of Charity. 

To read Part 1, click here: https://everydaylifespirituality.com/2022/11/21/catherine-laboure-saint-of-the-miraculous-medal/

Part 2: The First Visions & Catherine’s Mission

On January 22, 1830, 24-yr.-old Zoe Laboure´ embarked upon her religious life at the Hospice de la Charite in Chatillon. For three months she worked and studied as a postulant with such diligence and dedication that she impressed everyone who knew her. Sr. Sejole described her as “a soul of surpassing candor and purity.” Under Sr. Sejole’s instruction, Zoe rapidly progressed with her reading and writing. Her sister, Marie Louise, now Mother Superior of the Sisters of Charity at Castelsarrasin, continued to write encouraging letters, which Zoe deeply appreciated.

In April of 1830, Zoe entered the Motherhouse of the Sisters of Charity to begin her novitiate. She would now be known as Sister Catherine Laboure.´ Not for her the doubt, confusion, and homesickness of the typical novice! She had struggled for so long to reach this point, she now described herself as so happy she felt that she was “no longer on the earth.”

On April 25, shortly after Catherine’s arrival, a solemn ceremony took place in which the holy relics of St. Vincent de Paul were moved from the Motherhouse, where they had been hidden since the French Revolution, to a new cathedral built in his honor. This occasion was followed by a solemn novena to St. Vincent. One evening, at the end of the novena service, Catherine was privileged with a vision of the heart of St. Vincent, which appeared above a little shrine containing a relic in the chapel. She saw it again on the next two evenings.

In the vision of the first night, the heart appeared white, symbolizing peace and union for the two communities of the priests and sisters of St. Vincent. The second evening, the heart was dark red, which Catherine believed portended a change in government. For the first time, Catherine heard an interior voice, which said, “The heart of St. Vincent is deeply afflicted at the sorrows that will befall France.” The third night, the heart was bright red, and the voice told her that because of the intercession of Mary, the two religious communities would not perish in the coming trouble, and that they would go on to “reanimate the Faith.”

Now Catherine found herself with a dilemma: Here she was, barely a month into her novitiate, faced with the formidable task of telling her new confessor, Fr. Jean Aladel, whom she had only spoken to once before, about her visions! Though apprehensive at the prospect, she could not deny the interior insistence to tell him everything.

Thirty-year-old Fr. Jean Aladel, though a holy, prudent, and capable man, was also a hard taskmaster, cold and aloof in temperament. He and Catherine would clash often in the coming years. During the first revelation of Catherine’s visions, he urged her to remain calm and to forget about them, something which Catherine found difficult to do. In fact, she soon was given the grace of seeing the visible presence of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, a phenomenon that lasted during the entire term of her novitiate.

On June 6, Trinity Sunday, she had a vision of Christ the King during the Gospel at Mass (the first saint to have such a vision in modern times). Suddenly, Christ’s royal robes, ornaments, and even the cross He held, fell to the ground. With sadness, Catherine intuitively knew that a change in the government of France was imminent. She dutifully reported this latest apparition to Fr. Aladel, who as usual advised her to put it out of her mind. This created great conflict within Catherine’s soul, as she was torn between the heavenly favors being bestowed on her, and obedience to her spiritual advisor, who was dismissing them as so much nonsense. Yet all the while, Catherine was being prepared for her great life mission. Her deep devotion to Mary, the years of spiritual development and sanctity, were all about to culminate in the high point of Catherine’s life.

On the evening of July 18, 1830, Catherine was tired from all the happy preparations the nuns had made for the next day’s celebration of the Feast of St. Vincent. Yet, a strange excitement and sense of expectancy prevented her from sleeping. Holding in her hand the small piece of St. Vincent’s surplice that each Sister had received that day as a relic, she fervently prayed to this great saint that she would receive what had long been her heart’s fondest wish: to see the Blessed Virgin. In an impulsive act of faith and devotion, she tore the tiny relic in two and swallowed half of it. Then, as peace and serenity flowed over her, Catherine drifted off to sleep with the thought, “Tonight I shall see the Blessed Virgin.”

About two hours later, she was awakened by a soft voice calling her name, and opened her eyes to see a little boy of radiant beauty standing by her bed, holding a lit candle. “Come to the chapel,” he whispered. “The Blessed Virgin awaits you.” Sensing Catherine’s fear of being discovered, he assured her that everyone was asleep. Catherine hastily jumped out of bed, donned her habit, and followed the child through the hall and down the stairs to the first-floor chapel.  She was amazed to see every lamp lit along the way, although they met no one.

Reaching the heavy, locked door of the chapel, the child touched it, and it swung wide open. Every chandelier and candle — even the altar candles — was burning brightly. “Like a midnight Mass,” Catherine thought. She followed the boy into the sanctuary, where he stopped next to the chair the Director used when giving conferences to the Sisters. Catherine knelt down. A few minutes later, the child announced, “Here is the Blessed Virgin!” Catherine heard a sound like the rustling of silk, and saw a lady descend the altar steps and sit in the Director’s chair. She looked at Catherine, waiting. Catherine stood in confusion and doubt, but again the child answered her thoughts and said,  “This is the Blessed Virgin.” Catherine knelt at Our Lady’s knee, resting her hands in Mary’s lap — a privilege that no other seer has ever been granted — and looked up into Mary’s eyes. Catherine would always recall this as the sweetest moment of her life.

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“My child,” Our Lady said, “the good God wishes to charge you with a mission.” But rather than reveal the mission immediately, Mother Mary instead spoke to Catherine of personal things, of God’s plans for her life, of trials she would face and how to deal with them. She told Catherine that God would give her the strength and wisdom to overcome any obstacles she would face in the fulfillment of her special mission, and that she would always know what God wanted of her.

Then Our Lady grew sad as she told Catherine of the many hardships that would befall France in the years ahead. At times Mary wept and spoke in halting phrases. But she reassured Catherine, “Come to the foot of the altar. There graces will be shed upon all who ask for them.”  She also promised Catherine that the Vincentian Fathers and Sisters of Charity would have the special protection of God, with St. Vincent and Mary herself always with them, granting them many graces. During this intensely personal audience with Our Lady — which lasted nearly two hours and is unique in the history of Marian apparitions — Catherine spoke freely, confiding in Mary and asking questions. Then suddenly, Our Lady faded and was gone. 

Catherine followed the child back to her room, where he also disappeared. Catherine went back to bed, where she lay awake until morning, reliving every detail of this incredible experience. At her first opportunity, she told Fr. Aladel about the vision and all of Mary’s predictions.

A week later, on July 27, 1830, a revolution erupted in the streets of Paris, and King Charles was overthrown, fulfilling the prophecy of Our Lady’s words, as well as Catherine’s earlier visions. Intense persecution of the Church and clergy followed, but through it all the Vincentian Fathers and the Sisters of Charity were spared, as Our Lady had promised.

Despite his previous misgivings, Fr. Aladel was now faced with the fact that everything Sister Catherine had foretold as a result of her visions had happened. For Catherine, also, these terrible events served as proof to her of the reality of her experiences. She wondered about her “mission,” when it would happen, and when she would see Mother Mary again.

Coming in Part 3: The Miraculous Medal

Previous Posts in this series:

Part 1: Zoe – “A Good Village Girl”

Catherine Laboure: Saint of the Miraculous Medal-Part 1

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Part 1: Zoe, “A Good Village Girl”

Although most Catholics, and some non-Catholics, are familiar with the Miraculous Medal and its origin, few know much about St. Catherine Laboure´ (pronounced in English “Lab-oo-ray”), the woman to whom the medal was first manifested by the Blessed Virgin Mary. This is not surprising, however, when one considers the personality of Catherine herself and the humility and restraint that characterized her entire life. Yet, she is the woman whose visions ushered in what Pope Paul VI called “the Marian Age,” and she was privileged to enjoy the longest audience with Our Lady of any visionary.

Born on May 2, 1806 in Fain-les-moutiers, France, to Pierre and Madeline Laboure, she was baptized Catherine, but was rarely called by that name. Instead, she was nicknamed “Zoe” after a locally popular saint on whose feast day she was born. The Laboures were a hard-working family who lived comfortably, if not luxuriously, in a spacious house on a large and prosperous farm. Zoe’s father, Pierre, had entered the seminary in his teens, but later changed his mind and became a farmer instead. Though devout, he was a silent, gruff perfectionist who ruled the family with an iron hand. By contrast, Madeline Louise Gontard was from a cultured, respected family and was genteel and saintly. She bore 17 children, 10 of whom survived their first year.

Zoe possessed the best characteristics of each parent: Pierre’s strong will and capability, and Madeline’s gentle, pious nature. Zoe was very close with her mother, their shared deep piety and love of God creating a strong bond between them. But on October 9, 1815, when Zoe was only 9, her mother died of unknown causes at the age of 42. Shortly thereafter, little Zoe climbed up on a chair and took down the family statue of the Blessed Virgin. Hugging it close to her, she whispered, “Now, dear Blessed Mother, you will be my mother!” The deep, loving, close relationship with her heavenly Mother had begun, and would grow and endure for the rest of Zoe’s long and extraordinary life.

In 1816, Pierre’s sister Marguerite and her husband, Antoine Jeanrot, who owned a vinegar distillery in St. Remy, offered to take in Zoe and her younger sister Tonine. Aunt Marguerite and Uncle Antoine were kind and charitable, and the girls were very happy there.  During the two years she lived with them, Zoe continued to grow spiritually and nurture her devotion to Mother Mary. In St. Remy she had plenty of opportunity for spiritual growth. The village had a resident priest, so she was able to attend more services than she had back home. In church, Zoe didn’t fidget and grow distracted like the other children. Kneeling with her hands joined in prayer, she gazed at the altar with a rapt devotion far beyond her years. Her cousin Claudine was amazed at Zoe’s devotion in church and sought to imitate her. “What a pleasure it is to watch Zoe in church,” she often remarked. “How alert she is when she prays!”

Young Zoe was a natural leader and peacemaker among her playmates, yet she was never bossy or arrogant. Though not a pretty child, she was sweet and pleasant. When teased, she would laugh and shrug it off, never taking revenge or feeling sorry for herself. On feast days, the children had the rare treat of candy, which in those days was made at home and considered a luxury. Yet on several occasions, Zoe gave her own share to the poor children, who otherwise would never enjoy such a treat. 

Although Zoe had a rich spiritual life, she was sorely lacking in formal education. This is strange, because her mother had been a schoolteacher, her father had pursued graduate studies at the seminary, and her seven oldest siblings had all received a good education. But God used the limited circumstances of Zoe’s life to bring about His perfect plans. From an early age, she aspired to a religious vocation. During her childhood, she did not receive any formal spiritual direction, and was unable to study spiritual matters through books because she had never been taught to read. But because of her constant, deep communion with God, it is obvious that He guided her in the absence of human teachers.

After a couple of years, Zoe’s Aunt Marguerite became increasingly involved in the Jeanrot’s successful distillery business, and Zoe’s oldest sister, Marie-Louise, was preparing to leave home to join the Daughters of Charity. So Pierre decided to bring Zoe and Tonine back home so that Zoe, now 12, could take over Marie-Louise’s task of running the large household. It was a formidable responsibility for such a young girl to care for the household, which consisted of Zoe’s father, sister, and several brothers — one of whom was an invalid — as well as the dozen hired farm hands who had to be fed. Although she was assisted by one servant, Pierre made it clear from the beginning that to Zoe alone fell the duty of ordering the household. All day long, she made beds, washed dishes, did laundry, ironing, sewing and mending, cooked meals, and carried food out to the workers in the fields at midday. Zoe’s favorite household chore was feeding the hundreds of pigeons in the Laboure´ dovecote. The birds loved her and would swirl around her as she laughingly scattered grain on the ground for them.   

On January 25, 1918, Zoe received First Holy Communion in the village church. This event served to deepen and strengthen her devotion and virtue, and from that point on Zoe became, in the words of her sister Tonine, “entirely mystic.” Every day she attended 6:00 a.m. Mass, which meant a half-hour walk in all kinds of weather and often in darkness, to get to the church in Fain, as there was no daily Mass in her own village church. Throughout the day she would go to a corner and take a few moments to commune with God. She sometimes slipped across the street to the village church for the Stations of the Cross (one of her favorite devotions) or a quick prayer in her preferred spot in front of a painting of the Annunciation. In the evening she would return to church to end her busy day in quiet reflection.

Zoe often visited her sick neighbors, a harbinger of the work she would later do as a Daughter of Charity. She fasted every Friday and Saturday, despite the objections of her family. This is one of the first indications of her iron will and determination when she believed herself to be directed by God. Zoe instinctively understood her need for prayer and self-denial. It was as if deep in her soul she knew she was preparing for a great mission.

One night in 1824, Zoe dreamed that she was attending Mass in the village church. The elderly priest saying Mass turned and looked deeply into her eyes. Zoe blushed and looked away, because the old priest’s eyes were so compelling. After Mass, he turned towards the sacristy and motioned to Zoe to follow. Frightened, she turned and ran from the church. On her way home, she stopped to visit a sick woman of the village. Entering the sickroom, she again encountered the old priest. She backed away in fright, but he said to her, “You do well to visit the sick, my child. You flee from me now, but one day you will be glad to come to me!” With these words, Zoe suddenly awakened; but now, instead of fear, she felt a great sense of peace and joy. She was puzzled by the strange dream, however, and would not discover its significance for several years. 

Shortly after this dream, Zoe received the first of several marriage proposals from young men of the district. She was now 20 years old, and although not beautiful, she was pleasant-looking, strong, well-built, nicely groomed, sweet and innocent. Wisdom and kindness shone out of her large, solemn, cornflower-blue eyes, her best feature. She was extremely capable and already highly skilled in the running of a country home — all desirable qualities for a future wife and mother. Zoe’s father was very pleased and tried to persuade her to accept one of the proposals, but since she had plans for the religious life, Zoe naturally turned them all down.

At age 22, feeling that she had fulfilled her responsibility to her family, and knowing that Tonine was quite capable of taking over, she told Pierre of her desire to enter a convent.  Surprisingly, he refused to give his consent. At this time, Zoe’s brother Charles, who lived in Paris and had recently lost his wife, wrote to Pierre that he desperately needed help running his successful restaurant. Pierre felt that this was a perfect opportunity to dissuade Zoe from the religious life. Living in Paris for a while and tasting its delights would show her what she would miss by shutting herself from the world in a convent! After much strong persuasion, Zoe finally agreed to go to Paris. Although she could have run away to a convent and would probably have been accepted, obedience and respect for her father kept her from acting on her own wishes.

The Paris of 1828 was a sparkling, exciting city, a world of art and culture far removed from the sleepy villages where Zoe had spent her early life. Charles’ bistro, however, was a humble establishment, frequented mostly by rough workmen who talked, joked, and quarreled raucously, loudly calling for service from their waitress, Zoe. Not by nature a timid person, she was unafraid of them; nonetheless, she found their vulgarity and bold advances offensive. Her decisive firmness in dealing with them earned her the eventual respect of the clientele, who recognized her goodness and altered their crude manners somewhat in her presence. Without a doubt, this was the lowest point in Zoe’s life. Charles sympathized with his sister’s feelings and tried to shield her as much as possible from any unpleasantness. But as the months wore on, Zoe’s patience was wearing thin and giving way to panic at the prospect of being trapped in her seemingly hopeless situation.

At this point, her brother Hubert’s wife, Jeanne, persuaded Zoe’s father to let Zoe live with them in Chatillon, where Jeanne conducted a boarding school for wealthy young ladies. Although Pierre consented, Zoe did not fit into this environment much better than she did at Charles’ restaurant. Being a 23-year-old, unschooled, simple country girl, she was totally out of place among her refined, fashionable, well-educated and much younger schoolmates. 

A few weeks after her arrival in Chatillon, while visiting the Sr. Superior at the Hospice, Zoe noticed a portrait of a priest on the wall of the parlor. With shock, she recognized him as the same man who had appeared in her dream four years earlier! Upon inquiry, she was told that he was St. Vincent de Paul, founder of the Daughters of Charity. Her confessor, upon hearing of this, told Zoe, “St. Vincent de Paul calls you! He wishes you to be a Daughter of Charity.”

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St. Vincent de Paul, founder of the Daughters of Charity

Now that Zoe’s vocation seemed clear, she set about dealing with the obstacles in her way — namely, gaining the consent of her father and that of the Sr. Superior of the Hospice. Again, Zoe enlisted the aid of Jeanne, who because of her similarity to her cousin, Zoe’s mother, was a great favorite of Pierre’s. Somehow Jeanne convinced him to allow Zoe to enter the convent. He did, however, extract a petty revenge by denying Zoe her dowry. Though this must have hurt Zoe tremendously, she never at any time spoke ill of her father. Fortunately for Zoe, Hubert and Jeanne generously assured her that they would supply the dowry she needed to enter the convent.

Now Zoe had to convince the Daughters of Charity to accept her as a postulant. To all outward appearances, Zoe had little to offer them. She was illiterate and her personality was of the shy, calm, silent type that was often misconstrued as cold and apathetic. But the Assistant Superior, Sr. Francoise Victoire Sejole, who would later become Zoe’s closest friend in the religious life, had gotten to know Zoe well, because Zoe often accompanied her on calls to the sick poor. Sr. Sejole saw past outward appearances to the beauty and depths of Zoe’s soul. She convinced the Sr. Superior Josephine Cany that Zoe was “a good village girl, the kind St. Vincent loved,” and offered to teach Zoe everything she required to enter the seminary in Paris. Sr. Cany agreed, and at last Zoe was free to follow the path God had laid out before her so many years ago.

(Coming up in Part 2: The Visions & Catherine’s Mission)