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! 

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!

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”

What’s Your Motivation?

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Give with open hands and open heart

Image courtesy of hyena reality at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

To listen to the audio version, click below:

In his book, The Healing Power of Doing Good, Allan Luks tells the story of a well-meaning, charitable woman who desperately wanted to help humankind. Although she was not famous like Mother Teresa, she spent much of her life working with the homeless and destitute. But as time went on, she became more and more fixated on the outcome of what she was doing. When she couldn’t permanently change the conditions that were causing such misery, she became increasingly angry and frustrated. Without realizing it, she had become focused on personal power. This attitude eventually destroyed both her physical and emotional health.

Why are some people able to accomplish so much good and elevate their souls to great heights, while others become bitter and disillusioned? The difference is in their motivation. To God, only the heart’s true intention is important. Heroic deeds, showy displays of pious devotion, and eloquent words, do not mean as much to God as one small gesture made out of genuine love.

Personal gratification is its own reward, and sometimes God allows it in order to encourage us. It’s natural to be happy when we receive gratitude for our service to others; it is human nature to want love and approval from other people. It’s also true that the very act of helping others brings with it a feeling of deep satisfaction and often lifts our own mood when we are feeling depressed or troubled. To enjoy these positive feelings does not mean that we are selfishly motivated.

But this alone is not the criteria by which we should judge which deeds are of the most value. We might envision ourselves accomplishing wonderful things that show us in the best possible light, but our most worthwhile achievements will not always be the ones that satisfy our ego or have an immediately apparent outcome. Rather, they might consist of things we consider insignificant.

When an actor is working on a scene, the director or drama coach will challenge the actor by asking, “What’s your motivation?” By analyzing what drives the character, the actor will understand the character’s motives and be able to portray him more believably. It might benefit us to take a cue from the actor and ask ourselves, “What’s my motivation?” before we embark on any undertaking. For me as a Christian, I must ask myself not only “What would Jesus do?” but “Why would Jesus do it?”

Here’s a checklist for determining your motivation (you have to be totally honest for it to work!):

  • Am I doing good works or helping someone so I can feel important and/or show everyone how virtuous I am? For some of us, this is often the true, secret motivation lurking behind the outward altruism. When our efforts become unrewarding and tedious, when it feels like work, when the gratitude and accolades stop coming (or never come at all), will we then simply move on to something more personally gratifying? If so, our only motivation was to please ourselves, not help others or honor God.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said: “We must not drift away from the humble works, because these are the works nobody will do. They are never too small. We are so small we look at things in a small way. Even if we do a small thing for somebody, God, being almighty, sees everything as great. For there are many people who can do big things. But there are very few people who will do the small things.”

  • Am I trying to force someone to be more like me? I heard Joel Osteen confess in one of his inspiring talks that he used to criticize his wife’s habits, until one day he realized he was trying to make her over to be more like himself, even though they had distinctly different ways of doing things. This got me to thinking that all of us probably are guilty of this at one time or another. We think that just because someone doesn’t do something “our way,” he/she must be defective and needs to be made over into a “mini-me.” God has purposely created people with different personalities and ways of doing things, for a good reason! If everyone were the same, the world would be totally unbalanced. And I don’t know about you, but if I’m honest about it, the thought of everyone being like me is more than a little scary!
  • Am I making someone dependent on me? A common source of confusion is the concept of helping people versus taking over their responsibility, making them rely too much on us, or enabling them to continue on a destructive course. Many people subconsciously derive satisfaction from controlling others and making them feel indebted or dependent in an unhealthy way. Parents often do this with their children, but this co-dependent situation can exist in any relationship. Our role is not to make people dependent on us, but to help them achieve the self-respect and personal growth that come only out of effort and hardship. We also need to remember that God might have a different path in mind for this person than what we think is the “right way.” Charity

    Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

  • Do I want to “save” someone? It’s important to realize that of our own power we cannot truly save anyone. Only God has the power to save a person, and although He might sometimes use us as instruments to accomplish this, God will not force Himself or His will on anyone. A person must want to be saved, must decide they sincerely want to overcome whatever is holding them back from spiritual development or a better, more productive life. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me” [Rev. 3:20]. God will not break down a locked door, and only the person needing help can turn that key, not us! We cannot take away anyone’s suffering or figure out the reasons for it. We cannot “save” anyone. We can only offer ourselves as channels of God’s healing and love, realizing that the person we are trying to help must do their own part to open to it. 
  • Do I fulfill my religious obligations only when I’m in the mood or only because I fear God’s punishment? True, it might be better to do it for those reasons than not at all, and we all have times when we’re less than enthusiastic about our prayer time or attending religious services as we know we should. However, it would benefit us spiritually much more if we recognized these things as opportunities to show love and gratitude to God and enrich our souls. Fulfilling our spiritual obligations when we’re not in the mood is probably even more pleasing to God, because it shows Him that we are putting Him before our own feelings.

People often say, “I don’t get anything out of going to church/synagogue.” This is true for everyone at one time or another. There are times you might just sit there and not feel attentive or uplifted at all. However, you might also find, as I often have, that once you are in a place of worship, the peace and quiet and sense of God’s presence will soothe you and lift your spirits more than you expected it would. But even if this doesn’t always happen, the point is not for us to get anything out of it but to give something to God. Remember that God is never outdone in generosity – if you give Him this little bit of time out of your busy week, He will repay you in blessings a hundredfold! Of course, if you are avoiding in-person religious services due to health or other valid reasons, this is a different matter. But we can still spend some “quality time” with God in other ways. The important thing is to honor God by setting aside some time out of our lives that is strictly for God alone.

  • Do I try to “bargain” with God? Sometimes we might promise God all sorts of things, and make the effort to do good works, in order to barter with God for favors (“I’ll do this for You if You give me what I want”). Then when we conclude that God did not keep “His end of the bargain,” we become bitter and disillusioned. Even if things do work out as we hoped, we often forget to keep our promises to God, or we drop our good works because we have gotten what we wanted. God does not bargain with us. He already knows what we really need (not just what we think we want) and the best possible outcome for any situation, not only for us but for others who might be involved.

God gives us blessings out of His infinite love for us, not because He is swayed by our impressive bargaining power! If God grants you a blessing and you want to do something for Him to show your gratitude, this is wonderful. But don’t dangle a carrot in front of God. He doesn’t need our carrots. Give from your heart; don’t give with strings attached.

  • Am I too focused on the outcome of my efforts? This is a tough one! We all want to know that our efforts meant something, that they had a positive effect. But not seeing results doesn’t mean our efforts were in vain or that God is displeased with our work. It simply means that the time is not yet right, or our efforts were thwarted by another person’s attitude or lack of openness. Sometimes, God has plans for our work or for another soul that do not conform to our own ideas. Having the right motives means that if God wills a different outcome, or if he doesn’t let us see successful results from our efforts, we will trust His better judgment and infinite wisdom. The only thing that matters to God is the effort we made and our intentions when we did it.

Our true worth is not measured by talent, intelligence, or worldly success, but by how much we love and how open we are to others. When we strive to be of service to God or to our fellow humans for God’s sake, rather than our own ulterior motives, our smallest actions take on a Divine magnificence, which shines through our words and actions as an inspiration to others. We all will leave this earth one day, and our deeds might be forgotten. But if our motives were pure, our actions will be glorified in eternity and our souls will be radiant reflections of God’s all-encompassing love. Our reward will far surpass our greatest efforts or any earthly satisfaction. This should be our primary motivation.

Again, quoting St. Teresa of Calcutta:

Mother Teresa-2

Staying Hopeful in a Troubled World

Staying Hopeful in a Troubled World, Sunset-Sunrise, mountains, trees.
“God is Love, and knows no other way to be.”

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Does this sometimes happen to you? You wake up in the morning, feeling hopeful and looking forward to your day. Then you switch on the TV or or check out your favorite online news source, and there it is: another war, terrorist attack, school shooting, or other heinous, senseless act of violence. Disturbing images of death, horror and destruction instantly transform your positive, optimistic mood into one of sorrow, disgust and fear. Even the commercials are depressing, constantly filling our minds with messages about terrible diseases, and drugs with horrific side effects. It’s as if they want to brainwash us into becoming sick by constantly suggesting it to us.

Terrifying questions and scenarios fill your mind: Where will the next attack happen? What if my loved ones or I are the next victims? Will there ever be peace on earth? Is it futile to plan, hope and dream about the future?  Do we even have a future? How can I stay hopeful when the world is such a mess?

During these troubled times, we are naturally concerned about our own country and the world. We wonder what we possibly can do to stay hopeful and to do our part to help. Excessive grief, fear and anxiety about the world’s troubles will keep us from functioning effectively. It’s important to maintain the right perspective so that we don’t become frightened and discouraged. Each one of us is on earth to fulfill a unique purpose, and unless we do, we will never feel peace, regardless of what is happening in the world. As we go about our day-to-day lives, we need to stay hopeful and open to God’s Light and love, grounding ourselves in prayer, reflection, meditation, and living our beliefs as authentically as possible.

In John 15:17-19, Jesus tells His apostles: “This I command you: love one another. If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own, but because you do not belong to the world, the world hates you.”

The world is not troubled because of God, but because it ignores what God is and how God wishes people to live. God is Love, and knows no other way to be.  If humankind truly understood this, it would open our eyes forever, and evil and hatred would cease to have any power in the world. But we will not be able to recognize God as long as we are too busy deciding what we think God should be, trying to force the Boundless and Unlimited to fit into our limited, human perception. Spontaneous glimpses of God occur when human beings are focused on one another instead of on themselves. If we wish to see God here on earth, we must seek God in one another. We must spread Divine Light and love wherever and whenever we can.

The world won’t be saved by violence or empty words, but by love and truth. Strictly human ideas of God give opinions, not truth, and result in discord and hatred.  Through troubled times, we must keep honoring Truth and giving it to others. God is truly recognized only when people stop fighting about who or what God is and instead aspire to the highest of all human endeavors: the simple ability to love. That’s all God wants of us. What we can do to help the world is love and work and stop dwelling on fear and anxiety. We can concentrate on only one thing at a time; if we fill our minds with Light, there will be no room for darkness and fear.

Inner peace is independent of what goes on around us. It’s like armor, shielding our souls from the evil and turmoil of the world, allowing us to stay positive, calm, and strong. Regardless of whether times are good or bad, we give our lives meaning by never losing sight of our high ideals or our purpose. If conflict appears to surround us, if we feel doubt and confusion about religious or political views and other issues, we shouldn’t dwell on these things until we lose all hope. Answering to the world instead of to our higher purpose will prevent us from living out God’s plan for our lives. We must not get discouraged or frightened when restless and misguided people threaten peace on earth. The world cannot destroy our inner peace unless we let it.

10 tips to stay positive and hopeful:

  1. When worry and sorrow threaten your peace of mind, take some time to quiet your mind. Learn how to meditate, even if for just a few minutes a day. Keep a journal in which you record your thoughts, fears, and prayers. Talk to God about your anxieties and concerns, then release them into God’s care. Above all, quiet your mind to hear God’s gentle whispers of reassurance within your soul.
  2. Don’t stay glued to news programs! Nowadays, news is available 24/7 in all its gory detail, and while you’re watching one horrible news story, there is a crawl at the bottom of the screen telling about still more depressing news. So it’s important to strictly limit the amount of time you spend absorbing all this negativity. Decide that you will spend a brief period of time every day catching up on important events. Set a time limit (i.e., 15 minutes) and stick to it. Then turn your attention to other, more productive, positive things and do not look at or read the news again until the following day.
  3. Read or listen to positive, motivating, spiritually-uplifting material. Copy in your journal any passages you read/hear that speak to your soul.
  4. Post some comforting quotes and/or scripture verses where they will constantly remind you that God is holding you with loving care, and ultimately all will be well.
  5. Listen to soothing and/or inspirational music. Classical music works particularly well in having a quieting effect on the mind.
  6. Spend time with loved ones — human and animal — and in activities that nurture your spirit and remind you that the world is still a beautiful place filled with much love and goodness.
  7. Physical activity reduces stress and restores equilibrium. Whether you enjoy walking in nature, working out at the gym, dancing, or doing yoga, moving your body will help relax and refresh your mind and spirit.
  8. Continue to plan, dream and set goals. “Where there’s life there’s hope” may be a cliche, but it’s true! Planning for our future keeps us hopeful and focused on the positive.
  9. Don’t underestimate the power of doing good right where you are. A man who was distraught and heartbroken over all the trouble in the world cried out to God, “Why don’t you send help?” God replied, “I did send help. I sent you!” The ripple effect is a reality; however, it works for both good and bad actions. Drop your pebble of love and kindness into the lake of your daily life, and the ripples will keep spreading outward. You may never see all the results during your earthly life, but trust that they are happening!
  10. The next time a frightening news report or act of violence disturbs your inner peace, stay hopeful by remembering God’s own promises:

“Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you. See, upon the palms of my hands I have written your name…”

[Isaiah 49:15-16]

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”

[Deuteronomy 31:6]
Isaiah 49:15-16
Upon the palms of my hands I have written your name
Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

PRAYER FOR PEACE IN THE WORLD

Heavenly Creator, human rights are precious in your Your sight, and we ask you to answer our prayers for freedom, justice, and peace for all the nations of the world. Give our military the power to stand firm against its attackers. Make them aware of their responsibility to represent our nation with honor, truth, spiritual fortitude and moral courage, that our freedom may endure and spread outward to touch others who desperately need to be free.

Honoring our nation should not take precedence over honoring You, so let our leaders be governed by Your will. You are not a God of violence, but of Light and love. Help others to see You this way, and not use Your name as an excuse to hurt their fellow humans. Give us Your gifts of strength and peace. Help us to see ourselves without the self-righteous arrogance that spurns those who are different, yet with enough self-respect to fight for what is right and just.

We pray that You will bring an end to hatred and evil, and grant us safe and fruitful times blessed by Your peace and love. Help our nation to recognize its great power to help and guide its fellow nations, yet keep us ever humble as children of Your great mercy and truth. Honoring Your will is the only road that leads to peace. Gently guide our steps on the path You have set before us. Amen.

Soldier in war

“Seventy Times Seven:” The Challenge of Forgiveness – Part 1

CoupleHavingArgument
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Are you having trouble forgiving someone?

Everyone deals with the challenge of forgiveness at one time or another.

Then Peter came to [Jesus] and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?”

 “No!” Jesus replied, “Seventy times seven!” [Matt. 18:21-22]

Forgiveness is an integral part of living a spiritually mature life, yet it is a complex and distressing issue for many of us, Christian and non-Christian alike. This two-part series will explore the challenge of forgiveness and present steps to help us in the process of forgiveness.   

What is forgiveness?

One big stumbling block is confusion over what forgiveness actually means. The dictionary defines it as “granting pardon without harboring resentment.” Forgiveness is an altruistic outpouring of love and compassion towards those who offend us. It does not mean ignoring or denying that we have been hurt; condoning, justifying, or making excuses for someone’s actions; nor does it mean that persons committing an offense should not be held accountable for their actions.

It’s normal to feel hurt, anger, fear, or betrayal when someone offends us. But when we dwell excessively upon the offense, nurse our wounded pride and focus on revenge, our hearts become hardened with the unforgiving emotions of bitterness, resentment, even hatred.  That’s why we must take steps to transform these destructive emotions into positive ones.

We need to realize that forgiveness does not mean we allow someone to continue hurting us through abusive relationships, perpetual irresponsibility and disregard for our feelings, or persistent behavior that is destructive to themselves and others. In such cases, we may need to avoid future emotional entanglements until and unless serious steps have been taken to resolve the problems. But we still can let go of our bitterness. Even after forgiving someone, the relationship and your feelings for the person may never be the same. Forgiveness involves non-possessive, “agape” love (charity), not necessarily an intimate, personal, or physically-demonstrative affection.

The degree of difficulty in granting forgiveness does not always depend upon the gravity of the offense. We may be able to forgive certain actions, yet struggle with others because they injure our feelings more deeply or trigger memories of past hurts. Some people are openly antagonistic towards us for no apparent reason.  This blow to our ego is hard to take. But being spiritually mature means learning to forgive those who do not or cannot love us back.

 Why should we forgive?

Forgiveness is a recurring theme throughout the Scriptures. In the Lord’s Prayer, Christians ask God to forgive us in the same way that we forgive others. Forgiveness is one of the most compelling lessons taught, and perhaps the most challenging.

Here are three reasons why forgiving others is important:

  • It blesses the person who offended us.
  • We have an obligation to forgive as we have been forgiven by God and by other people; for Christians, forgiveness follows Christ’s own example.
  • Forgiving others benefits us physically, mentally, and spiritually. Our emotions always turn back upon us. An unforgiving attitude makes peace of mind impossible, and some experts believe that harboring negative emotions like bitterness, resentment, and hatred for long periods of time can even lead to physical illness.

Steps Toward Forgiveness

Forgiveness is a process that can be broken down into manageable steps.  As with any important undertaking, adequate preparation is essential.

How to Prepare:

Step 1 – Pray for the gift of being able to forgive

Prayer softens the heart, opening it to receive God s grace. Also pray for the person(s) who hurt you. It’s difficult to stay angry with a person for whom you are praying. Here is a suggested prayer:

“Lord, I want to forgive ______, who has hurt me deeply, but I feel no forgiveness, compassion, or charity in my heart. Every time I try to forgive, I just get more frustrated. I don’t want to honor only my human feelings and continue to live with heartache over this, so I’m asking You to help me. Give me a little of Your great capacity for love and compassion. Help me to act with high-mindedness, not just human emotion. Place within my heart the determination to be selfless and forgiving.

Please bless this person I am trying to forgive, and heal any pain or bitterness that is in their heart. If it is Your will that I continue to have this person in my life, please heal our relationship and help us to work out our differences with mutual respect and charity. I promise that as You help me, I will help others; as You forgive me, I will forgive; as You believe in me, I will believe in the value of others; and as You love me, I will love others in return.  Lord, make me a soul who reflects Your Light. Amen.”

FoldedHandsonBible
Image courtesy of graur razvan ionut at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Step 2 – Seek inspiration:

Reading the Scriptures and other inspirational material can also open the mind and heart to forgiveness. Here are some relevant Scripture passages about God’s forgiveness of us, and our obligation to forgive others:

If You, Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?  But there is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared.

[Psalm 130:3-4]

For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.

[Jer. 31:34].

Where is another God like You, who pardons the sins of the survivors among his people? You cannot stay angry with your people forever, because you delight in showing mercy. Once again You will have compassion on us. You will trample our sins under Your feet and throw them into the depths of the ocean.

[Micah 7:18,19].

For if you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.

[Matt. 6:12].

Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing, you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but repay evil with good.

[Romans 12:19-21]. 

Step 3 – Make a conscious effort to begin the forgiveness process:

Don’t wait for a warm, fuzzy feeling towards your offender. You probably won’t feel like forgiving someone who has caused you pain, and it will take an act of will to take the first step.  If warm feelings toward the other person do happen, it will be the result of forgiveness, not vice versa.

(In Part 2, we’ll further examine the process of forgiveness as a series of steps, and explore some tips on how to follow through on your resolution to forgive.)

Forgive Note

                                                                          

The Instrument (30-second Reflection)

Piano with Title

I am but an instrument in the Master’s hands,
but that’s all right with me.
I am seeking praise for the Musician, not the instrument,
as if I were a piano being played on a concert stage by a virtuoso.

At the end of the concert, the applause and good reviews are for the pianist,
although the piano must be finely-tuned,
and the musician must have a good rapport with his instrument,
in order to produce beautiful music.

The instrument is important and serves a purpose in its own way; 
but without the musician, the instrument is silent — just a hunk of wood.
If the instrument is unsatisfactory, the musician can always get another; 
Pianos are numerous, but great musicians few.

Lord, make me a good instrument
through which You can produce your masterpieces and be praised!

© EverydayLifeSpirituality.com

Adversity’s Hidden Blessings

Consider It All Joy-Bird
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A legend tells how, once upon a time, birds had no wings and couldn’t fly. One day, God handed them each a pair of wings, which God instructed them to carry. It was grueling at first, because the wings were heavy and cumbersome. But the birds obediently carried the wings at their sides and struggled along. Gradually, the wings began to merge into the birds’ bodies. Their resilience in dealing with this adversity, which had seemed like a burden, soon freed the birds from their earthbound state and enabled them to experience the miracle of flight.

As the legend illustrates, God’s plan is always far greater in scope and better for us than anything we could imagine with our limited perspective. When we are too complacent, we can get lazy. Instead of seeking new opportunities for personal and spiritual growth, we cling to the job, routine, environment, and people that feel comfortable and safe. We are like children who fear the first day of school because it is a new and unfamiliar experience. But if children are to learn and mature, they need to trust and obey their parents, get an education, and face new challenges. Likewise, if we are to grow spiritually and reach our full potential, God has to “shake us up” a bit. This often involves adversity in the form of unwelcome changes, difficult situations, painful events, or the loss of someone or something we cherish. 

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