There But For the Grace of God Go I

My mother was a very wise woman. She many times said to me “There but for the Grace of God go I.”

I always understood the gist of it, but I was an adult before I had a true understanding. But the reality is that I didn’t REALLY understand it until recently.

Working in a downtown church office, we’ve “seen it all”. We get people from every walk of life stopping in to see us. We can’t help everyone. I have a “service temperament” and that’s hard for me. I always want to help and fix. But I can’t. What I CAN do, though, is offer myself. I try to spend a few minutes with each person and restore some human dignity to them. Some just need to have someone not scoot them out the door for once! It’s really amazing sometimes how little it takes to give a person some encouragement.

Over the years, I have come to know many of our clients on a more personal level. One man (I’ll call him Tom) came in one day and was jubilant that he had just turned 62. He said he could now receive Social Security and get an apartment. He had been living on the street for over twenty years. I congratulated him and then was perplexed. Tom, I said, what did you do for your career that you now will receive enough to pay for an apartment? Especially since you haven’t worked in twenty years? Tom explained that he had been in the aerospace industry ever since he graduated from college. He had married and had the perfect life. The stress became too much after awhile. He got depressed and it went untreated. Eventually he lost he job and then lost his wife. With no means of support (financially or emotionally) he ended up on the street. He said this was what he needed at the time because he didn’t have obligations or commitments. He could regroup and heal. He shared that he was actually scared now to be taking on something so life-changing. I haven’t seen him in awhile, but I pray that Tom is adjusting to his new life.

My point in sharing Tom’s story is that it is a perfect example of “There but for the Grace of God go I.” Even if we don’t have it ALL—the perfect family, the perfect job, the pool in the back yard—we have many blessings, but it could take very little for everything to fall apart.

We need to be cognizant every day of how blessed we really are. And trust me, every cloud DOES have a silver lining. And when a door closes, a window opens. There are always lessons to be learned and opportunities are presented to us that we wouldn’t have paid attention to otherwise. My message here is twofold.

One: Pay attention to all you have been given. This includes your God-given talents and charisms and all the good you have received during your life. BE GRATEFUL. Express your gratitude to God.

Two: Consider supporting our Feed My People ministry at the parish. It is through this ministry that we help those on the street with sack lunches, bus passes, assistance with prescriptions. It also allows us to provide groceries each month to families with homes and cooking facilities.

If you don’t want to help through our parish’s program, find another. We are called, especially in this Extraordinary YEAR OF MERCY to reach out to others. Read through the Corporal Works of Mercy which are these kind acts by which we help our neighbors with their material and physical needs: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, visit the imprisoned, bury the dead. Ask God to give you direction. (Remember Intentional Prayer?) You will be amazed at the GRACE OF GOD that you will receive as well as those your efforts benefit.

PRAYER

When I ready myself to write Barbie’s Corner, I start by praying to the Holy Spirit to put the thoughts and words in my heart. Sometimes I find my own words and other times I am led to share the words of someone wise from a published source.

Over the course of the last few weeks, I have had many conversations and, as often happens, there have been two recurring themes.

The first is to “Let Go and Let God”. I have always been a planner and organizer and it brings me comfort to “have things in place” literally and figuratively. I’ve never been much of a New-Year’s-Resolutions kind of gal, but this year I asked God to put something on my heart that would help me be a better person for myself and for others. Be careful for what you ask. I realized it was time [in my words] to allow life to be more organic. I knew in my heart that God would not lead me astray and I could feel secure that, by trusting in His plan more freely, good things would happen.

This has been put to the test many times over (did I say MANY?) in the last few months. And every time I am challenged by this, I take a deep breath, say a prayer, and step back.

So very hard. But it’s getting a little easier each time.

Your challenge is probably something every different, but a very real challenge nonetheless. I think the secret is to involve God in the process. Every time. He’s not too busy for you. He’s there 24/7.

The second recurring theme is to Pray Intentionally. There are many kinds of prayer. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) says that “Prayer is the raising of one’s mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God.” CCC 2559. There is prayer of praise, intercessory prayer, prayer for forgiveness, thanksgiving.

I had the pleasure this week of meeting a new member of our parish family. When talking about the opportunities to lead a Life of Christian Stewardship, we discussed our parish ministries. I showed him a partial list of the active ministries in our parish and added that we have many more that are not listed. And I shared that some of our most fruitful ministries have come from the inspiration of a parishioner who has come to me with an idea and asked permission to pursue the possibilities. This is exactly how our Feed My People ministry came to be.

So very hard. But it’s getting a little easier each time.

Your challenge is probably something every different, but a very real challenge nonetheless. I think the secret is to involve God in the process. Every time. He’s not too busy for you. He’s there 24/7.

Less than a year after a visit by two very excited parishioners, we are serving 30 nutritious sack lunches every workday and distributing a “Pantry Pack” once a month to approximately 40 families with cooking facilities. What a blessing this has been to our parish and those we serve!

So, back to the new parishioner… When we first met, he shared that he wanted to give back to God through St. Mary’s. At the end of our meeting, I asked him to go home and pray INTENTIONALLY for God to put the answer/idea on his heart and that he’d be given clarity about how to be of service.

I trust completely (remember me… I’m being more organic now) that he’ll receive an answer. Might take awhile, but it’ll come.

I believe the answer, for me anyway, is to remember always that I’m not in this alone. I have been given the opportunity to do my best always for the Greater Glory of God. I’m no where close to perfect, but I know that God smiles on my efforts. And when I need direction or clarity (a lot!), I pray very intentionally. I have discovered that God has a sense of humor and likes riddles. So be sure to ask for clarity. Give it a try. I believe with hesitation that God will reward your trust.

 

Your Lenten Journey

Ash Wednesday is a special day of devotion for Catholics. Churches are packed like no other day except Christmas and Easter. Even though the Church does not designate Ash Wednesday as a holy day of obligation, Catholics flock to receive ashes. Along with this outward sign of the beginning of a season of penitence, we embrace the call to conversion that Ash Wednesday heralds. Christian stewards will greet Lent with the best of intentions. But sometimes, we reach Easter disappointed in our own efforts. Here are some suggestions for keeping us on task during this Lenten season:

Plan ahead. Give thought and prayer to what will most help you draw closer to Jesus during this special season. Write your intentions down, and review them often.

Keep it simple. Like those folks who sign up for gym memberships on Janu¬ary 1 and give up by January 15, sometimes we approach Lent with too many resolutions. Be realistic and don’t set yourself up for guilt.

Prayer, fasting and almsgiving are the pillars of Lent. Try to do one thing in each of these categories. Stretch yourself a bit and come up with something new and challenging.

Keep your eyes on Jesus. Coming closer to him through his passion and resurrection is our goal.

Prepare your home with Lenten reminders. If you have no crucifix in your living areas, place one there. If you have a crucifix, perhaps affix a spot of purple to it as a reminder of Lent. Find a special picture or holy card that speaks to you and display it.

Simplify something tangible in your daily life, like your closet or your schedule.

Take your family to the Stations of the Cross at least once. The devotion is held at St. Mary’s every Friday in Lent at 12:10 p.m.

Place a special candle on the dining room table, and when your family says grace each evening, encourage them to share the struggles and joys of their Lenten resolutions, or perhaps an act of kindness they did that day. This is a good activity for kids.

Receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation and encourage your family to do so. Our parish is hosting a Communal Penance Service with private confessions on Tuesday, February 23 at 6:30 p.m. In addition, several priests are available every Saturday morning at 8 a.m. to hear your confession.

Take five minutes every day during Lent and read a chapter in Rediscover Jesus. If possible, refer to the “Best Lent Ever” app as well.

Make it a point to prepare for and participate in the beautiful Triduum liturgies of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and even the Easter Vigil. Celebrate the completion of your Lenten exercises.

After Easter, reflect on your Lenten practices. Remember, God’s mercy to us is unlimited. It’s not all about what “we” did, but what God does within us.

ARE YOU READY FOR LENT?

The Season of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, February 10. That’s just 3 days from now! So now is an appropriate time to think about your Lenten Journey.

You will notice on the back page of this publication, I have printed all the liturgies, devotions and events that are being offered at St. Mary’s this Lenten Season.

Please take the time to read it over. Think about the various opportunities made available to you. Maybe you’ve never spent time in Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. You can sign up for a specific hour each week, or you can just drop in at any time the Chapel is open. Jesus is there in the Blessed Sacrament, just waiting for your visit. It’s like stopping in to see your best friend. You’re friends whether or not you see each other often, but isn’t it amazing when you get together and share a little of your precious time?

When was the last time you came to the Stations of the Cross? Or received the Sacrament of Reconciliation?

Catholics tend to think that Lent is all about giving up. “What are you giving up for Lent this year?” Soda, coffee, cigarettes, candy? There’s nothing wrong with making a sacrifice during these 40 days. After all, Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice for us. But what if, this year, right now, you look at Lent in a different way. Instead of “Sacrificial Living”, you think about “Sacrificial Giving”.

Sacrificial Giving is what some people call Giving ‘Til It Hurts. I don’t know that we are expected to hurt ourselves, but I do believe we are expected to go out of our comfort zone.

The principles of Stewardship challenge you to accept God’s gifts gratefully, cherish them and attend them in a responsible manner, share them in justice and love with others, and return them with increase to the Lord.

I would like to take that a step further and encourage you to give outside your comfort zone. Usually we give what is comfortable for us. Sure, we write a check each week to support the church, but could we dig a little deeper into our purses, pockets, and wallets. Could we give a little more generously to our parish, the church outside our parish (Annual Catholic Appeal of our Diocese), the world church, or any other charity of our choice?

This goes for time as well. Try to spend just a little more time reaching out to someone. It can be in a formal program, or it can just be by following the Corporal Works of Mercy (visit the sick, clothe the naked, feed the hungry…) Offer to pick up the newspaper or the mail for your neighbor who doesn’t get around well. How about picking up a loaf of bread for that neighbor next time you go to the store?

The Lenten Season would be an appropriate time to mentally review the promises you made with God in your Covenant. Did you resolve to add just a few minutes a day to your prayer time? (Or establish a prayer time.) Pray for a deeper understanding of the Stewardship Way of Life.

Were you planning to take advantage of more Adult Education opportunities? Read Catholic books and literature? Hopefully your picked up a copy of Rediscover Jesus this weekend and are ready to read the book. It is meant to be read as a daily devotional during Lent.

The parish made the book available to you to help in your Faith Journey and to help make your relationship with God stronger.

I encourage you to sign up for the “Best Lent Ever” at DynamicCatholic.com. It will provide you with a daily inspirational video to be used as a companion to the book.

Whatever you choose to do to observe Lent this year, don’t let it slip by unnoticed. Step outside your comfort zone and return your gifts to God with increase.

FAST & ABSTINENCE
There are five precepts of the Church that are set in the context of a moral life bound to and nourished by liturgical life. The obligatory character of these positive laws decreed by the pastoral authorities is meant to guarantee to the faithful the very necessary minimum in the spirit of prayer and moral effort, in the growth in love of God and neighbor. (CCC 2041)

The fourth precept tells us that “you shall observe the days of fasting and abstinence established by the Church”. (CCC 2043)

According to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the following is the direction on Fast and Abstinence during Lent:

Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are obligatory days of fasting and abstinence for Catholics. In addition, Fridays during Lent are obligatory days of abstinence. The norms for fasting are obligatory from age 18 until 59. When fasting, a person is permitted to eat one full meal which can be divided into two smaller meals. The norms concerning abstinence from meat are binding upon Catholic from age 14 onwards.