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In the course of a day, a week, or a year, each of us is touched by God in ways too numerous to count and often too profound to explain. If we’re honest we might also admit that, as hopeful as we might be about God’s active presence in our lives, we’re often far too busy to notice it.
In A Catholic Woman’s Book of Days, I’ve tried to offer daily meditations that clear a spiritual space in which to recognize that Presence, no matter how busy the rest of life is. T?hese thoughts are rooted in my own experiences, but I hope that the moments on which I reflect and the questions that I ask are broad enough to include yours, too.
As we journey through this year together, may our hearts be enlivened by God’s constant grace, our spirits be freed in his mercy and love, and our whole beings grow more finely tuned to the Lord’s presence—within every sentence and page of the “book of days” called life.
But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.
The previous months had given Mary much to contemplate: her mysterious, God-given pregnancy; her aged cousin’s maternity; and the birth of her Son attended—marvelously—by angels.
The beginning of a new year is the natural time to reflect on the past. But let’s be careful to sift through these memories of joy and regret in the right way.
Reflecting on the past helps us discern God’s will and how we’ve responded to it. It can hurt, though, if our reflections become occasions for paralyzing regret or wishful nostalgia, both of which blind us to God’s presence in the here and now, in the limitless possibility of the brand-new year.
Lord, thank you for the past year of my life. Help me to grow in my awareness of your love in the present moment and not be discouraged by the past.
Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you.
—1 John 2:24
What is it you have heard from the beginning?
For many of us, childhood memories of religious formation are suffused with a sense of simple trust. Our parents, grandparents, and teachers told us that God created us, loves us, and takes care of us.
It’s good to remember that those who taught us to trust knew, as we do now, of suffering, pain, and shadows. These experiences may have raised questions, but they also, in the end, brought the answers of trust and faith they shared with us.
Lord, in this new year, give me the grace to live in response to the simple truth of your love and care for me.
O sing to the Lord a new song,
for he has done marvelous things.
The baby sits in the middle of his super-duper play saucer, propped upright by a towel around his middle, his feet dangling in the air. His eyes are wide open, and his head just can’t stop moving as his gaze darts from toy to toy.
Within seconds, he starts wailing. It’s all just too much. The wealth of amusing and developmentally helpful plastic objects has overwhelmed him with choices.
As the new year begins and we contemplate what we want to make of it, our reaction may be similar to the baby’s. Evidence of our faults surrounds us, and opportunities for growth and change overwhelm us. Which way should we go? What should come first?
The psalmist gives us a different idea. Instead of beginning with self-scrutiny, why not start this year with a new song: one of openhearted praise?
Lord, I thank you for my life and for the chance to grow that this new year brings.
When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?”
More times than I care to admit, I stride into a room or up the stairs with a great air of purpose and then come to a stop, bewildered. I haven’t a clue as to why I’m there.
What in the world was I looking for?
If Jesus were to stop us in the middle of our confident daily journeys from room to room, meeting to meeting, and goal to goal and ask us the question he poses to the disciples here, would we have an answer?
Lord, help me look at my life today and discern what it is I’m looking for.
Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
Philip said to him, “Come and see.”
Want to succeed? That’s easy. Gather up your stunning résumé, your magna cum laude degree, your stellar references, and your fabulous good looks.
Thank heaven that’s not what God is looking for.
Just run down the list of his choices. From the young (David, Jeremiah) to the awkward (Moses) to the reluctant (?just about everyone), hardly any of them have résumés that would impress.
Especially a carpenter’s son from that backwater called Nazareth.
To know that God works through those the world scorns should be a great comfort to us.
Lord, today I present myself, weakness and strength, wisdom and foolishness. Use me as I am to do your will.
I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you.
At the age of eight, my daughter developed a keen interest in whether the books she read were “true stories.” She was wondering if there might be something about a not-true story that made it less worthy of her time.
Imagine her joy when, after many tries, she held up a book, and I could finally tell her, “Yes. This is a true story. Her name really was Laura, and she really lived in a little house in a big wood.”
I feel the same way about faith as I listen to Luke begin his Gospel. In no uncertain terms, he tells me: The story I am about to tell you is the true story. This is the story worth living for.
Jesus, I open your story, seeking truth.
“For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.”
My oldest son once quit a job, which was okay since he hadn’t had a raise in two years. The problem was, he didn’t make sure he had another job before he left the first one.
“But Mom,” he protested to my protestations, “you always say it’s good to take risks.”
Jesus tells us that if our faith is but the size of a mustard seed, great things can happen. It’s not a call to take irrational risks but to listen to God’s voice, discern the truth he’s telling us, and follow, no matter how risky it may seem. It can be hard to tell the difference at times; but keeping the Lord, rather than our egos, fears, or needs, at the center of our response keeps us on course.
Jesus, nourish the seed of faith you have planted within me, and strengthen me to step forward in trust.
“For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’”
Ah, the fruit of persistence.
The judge in Jesus’ parable has been worn down by a very bold woman, indeed. She goes before the judge herself, in a culture in which a woman would normally have a male relative speak for her. And she doesn’t give up until the arrogant judge, who says he doesn’t even fear God, relents.
Jesus isn’t saying that God needs to be pestered into hearing our prayers. He’s giving us the widow as an example of fearlessness. No matter what our need, he says, we should never be afraid to bring it before God.
Loving God, I come to you with my every need, no matter how small it seems.
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Most of us have at least one baptism story up our sleeves. We remember babies crying, being startled, or just wondering about the oil and the water, the strange fingers marking them with crosses. It was that last moment that invariably got my children going, by the way.
At the root, though, every baptism story is a story about a beginning. It’s the beginning of our life in Christ, the beginning of our journey with Jesus, the beloved Son of God.
Jesus, help me grow in the graces I received in my baptism.
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
Who—or what—is in charge of your life?
When Jesus speaks, as he often does, of the kingdom of God, he’s talking about God’s reign: over the whole earth and in each of our lives. He’s talking about letting God be our standard and our judge, and not allowing anything or anyone else to be in charge of our choices, our self-understanding, or our view of the world.
Repentance is the other word today. What false and useless allegiances do I need to repent of? What worldly standards and voices need to be tossed so I can make room for God’s rule in my heart?
Loving God, I turn to you alone as my strength and my guide.
When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.
For many years, I taught religion in Catholic high schools. As you can imagine, plenty of class time was devoted to moral issues.
Torn between a world that told students to live one way and not worry about it, and a faith tradition that told them that the world’s way would give them plenty to worry about, the students often asked of the call to discipleship “Why?”
You could give lots of complicated answers to that question, and believe me, I often did. But then one day, I ditched the high concepts, turned to them, and just said, “Why not?”
Jesus is calling. Jesus wants us to follow. Why not?
Lord Jesus, give me the courage to step forward in faith and follow you.
That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons.
I’ve been hacking and coughing for a couple of weeks now, and my husband is after me to go to the doctor. “Oh no,” I say. “I’ll be fine.”
My older sons, away at college, are regularly afflicted with those run-down college-student colds. I tell them to go to the clinic. “No time,” they say. “I’ll be fine.”
Why do we do this? Is it pride? Is it some misplaced sense of self-sufficiency? If the means of healing are right here, why do we turn away?
Most of us walk around harboring different kinds of pain and sickness of soul and body. Are we hiding them, hoping they’ll just go away? Or can we put our pride and fear aside, lay those hurts at the feet of Jesus, and let him touch us, heal us, and make us whole?
Loving Jesus, I give you my pain and hurt, trusting in your healing touch.
They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff.
Growing up, I heard a lot about Jesus in Catholic school. We talked about his teachings on love and forgiveness. We made collages about the Beatitudes and sang songs about peace. We learned a lot of good, very true things.
Which somehow left us unprepared for passages like today’s. Luke tells us that at the beginning of his ministry, Jesus preached at the Nazareth synagogue. At first, his fellow townspeople are amazed and speak “highly” of him. But then, only a few verses later, they are running him out of town and hoping to throw him off the top of a hill.
How? Why? People don’t generally try to grievously hurt gentle teachers who speak about love. Perhaps there is more to Jesus than I thought. Perhaps I should listen and let Jesus surprise me.
Jesus, open my eyes and heart to all that you are.
Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near.
The world today is full of seekers.
To be honest, I would probably still be seeking were it not for Jesus. Thinking about God in the abstract gets me nowhere. There is both too much to think about and not enough, and hardly anything firm and solid to grasp, at least for me.
Where is God found? In Jesus.
And this is nothing but a gift. Wondering what God is like? Seeking him? Look to Jesus. Wondering what life after death holds? Look to Jesus. Seeking a sure, undeniable contact with the love of God? Seek no further: Jesus is present in Eucharist, in reconciliation—in all of word and sacrament. As a gift.
Loving God, when I seek, turn my steps toward Christ.
“And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.”
With computers these days, you can’t put the newest software into an old machine, or else the whole thing just shuts down.
It could happen, too, in my spiritual life. If today I decide to incorporate some new spiritual practice into my days—more daily Mass, the rosary, more Scripture reading, meditation—but everything else remains exactly the same, it might not go well.
If I commit to pray more, even as I ignore my destructive habits and sins, I’m trying to pour new wine into an old skin. I hope that in time, one might affect the other, that my increased prayer will open my eyes and heart to what I need to change in my life; but in order for that to happen, I need to be ready to get not just new wine but a new wineskin as well.
Lord, give me the courage to let go of old, destructive parts of my life.
“Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much.”
I remember when my daughter told her first lie.
She was about two, and I walked into the living room to see black marker scribbles all over the front of my desk.
“Who did this?” I asked.
Without skipping a beat, little Katie said, “Chris”—her older brother. Only two years old. Can you believe it?
So with a sad, resigned sigh, I started the task of teaching honesty in this slight matter to this very little girl.
Jesus reminds me of the importance of small things today. We start small when we teach the virtues to children. The same truth applies to us, no matter how we’ve grown. Our small steps in faithfulness strengthen us for the long journey we are traveling.
Loving God, be with me as I discern your will, in matters large and small.
Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.
Back in the third century, a man went out into the Egyptian desert to fight. His armor? Nothing but prayer.
St. Anthony embraced a life of asceticism, not for its own sake but to become more like Christ. Out there alone, with only the most negligible food, clothing, and shelter, he was indeed besieged—the stories that have come down to us are full of vivid demons doing all they can to tempt him from his call. But, armed with God’s strength, he won his battle.
What’s my armor? Is it God—or do I think something else can protect me?
Lord God, strengthen me today, so that I may stand firm in your truth and love.
We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands.
—1 John 1:1
I glanced through the big window that faced the backyard, looking for my daughter in the twilight. It didn’t take long to find her. Katie lay flat on her back on top of a blanket of snow, motionless but for her hands, which she was moving slowly in front of her face, entranced it seemed, by the contrast of the white flakes falling lightly on her maroon gloves.
It was the first time she’d seen snow. She’d intended to make a snow angel, but the wonder of it all—perfect, white crystals softly falling from the sky—got the best of her, and for that moment at least, all she could do was lie in it.
God is like that. We can know about him, read about him, and even think abstract thoughts about him. But do we know how close he really is, that he is waiting for us to stretch out, be surrounded, and wonder at the touch of his love?
Heavenly Father, I open my heart to your presence.
Make me to know your ways, O Lord;
teach me your paths.
I adore the Internet. As a confirmed library rat, the reality of having so much information literally at my fingertips makes me almost giddy at times.
But lately, years into the Internet revolution, with scores of television channels blasting news at me around the clock, with megabookstores offering me any volume I could ever want, I’m starting to wonder: Do I really know anything?
In the rush to get more and more information, where has wisdom gone? I sometimes think I would be better off if, instead of having hundreds of sources grabbing my attention for minutes at a time, I had only one book to contemplate all day, all week, all month.
In the din, am I able to hear God as he speaks?
Lord, in the silence, I listen to your voice.
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.
—1 John 4:18
Love may drive out fear, but some of us have to take John’s challenge from the other direction first. We have to stop being afraid in order to make room for love.
Think of how fear paralyzes us. We can say the words “I love you,” but what are those words about if, as we say them, we harbor fearful thoughts: “Does he really love me?” “If I let my true self come out, surely he won’t love me.” “Is this going to last?”
How can love flourish, hemmed in by doubts and fears?
Our love for God might be exactly the same. Loving faith—handing our lives over to God in complete trust—can’t happen when we fearfully hold back part of ourselves. We might fear punishment, or we might fear the way a God-centered life will change us. Either way, it’s fear, and it drives out perfect love.
Can we love fearlessly?
Lord, I put my fears aside today and open my heart to you in trust.
And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”
I once asked the mother of a couple of students of mine who seemed particularly well adjusted what her secret was.
She said, “I think it might be because I’ve raised them knowing that they don’t belong to me. I see them as my brothers in Christ, not just my sons.”
In the many years since, I’ve thought about this woman’s words quite often. Our children are not our possessions, the objects of our control, and neither are any of our other relations. Each of them are beloved of God and are on their own journey to God, with God.
I may have parents, children, a spouse, and friends. But the foundation of these relationships is our bond in Christ.
Jesus, help me love others as you do—as brothers and sisters dear to your heart.
Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands.
We have an ultrasound image of one of our sons, taken when he was about five months in the womb. His face can be seen very clearly, and it’s exactly the same face that pops out of bed now, three years later, demanding pancakes and “shar-shage”for breakfast.
What’s most astonishing about the image, though, is the way the folds of the womb envelop and wrap around this tiny one. The shadows and curves give the distinct impression that this little boy is being nestled in the palm of a hand.
So have we all been nestled—since conception and even before, as the psalmist sings in Psalm 139. No human being is an accident or unwanted, for every human being is formed by God, loved and treasured, our names written lovingly on the palm of his hand.
Creator God, thank you for the gift of life.
He began to teach them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: “Listen! A sower went out to sow.”
Here is where Jesus’ preaching begins—with parables. And this parable of seeds and soil is the first one he tells.
I’m wondering about the soil of my own heart. I’d like to think it’s fertile and receptive, but is it?
And do I really want it to be?
Lord, dispel my fear of being truly open to your word.
Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts.
A long while back, I was at a particularly unhappy place in my life. I was at Mass, presenting all this before God, feeling as if I was living in a cave with a closed-off entrance and no exit.
Then, as I rose to go to communion, a voice flashed through my consciousness, clearly not my own. “I understand.”
That was it. No easy solutions, no road map. Just “I understand.”
As I received him in Eucharist, I knew this was enough.
Loving Father, I rest in your understanding presence.
Conversion of St. Paul
Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
Not yet knocked from a horse, I’ve been converted nonetheless.
In getting my attention and turning my heart, God has used my children more often than not. I started having them early, and for that I am grateful. Through their dependence, I was converted to love as the most important way to spend my time on earth. Through their independence, I was converted to respect for God’s workings in the uniqueness of every human heart.
Lord, thank you for the moments of conversion in my life.
Those who had seen what had happened to the demoniac and to the swine reported it. Then they began to beg Jesus to leave their neighborhood.
This story never fails to startle me at some level. Jesus has just driven out unclean spirits from a man who lived among the tombs in his torment. Jesus drove the spirits into pigs, which have run off a cliff. The townspeople hear of it and arrive to find the formerly possessed man in his right mind, quietly sitting.
Then the townspeople turn and beg Jesus to leave.
How strange. Who wouldn’t prefer life to death? Who could witness the power of God and then turn from it, begging for life to go back to normal?
Jesus, open my heart to the fullness of life.
You know no God but me,
and besides me there is no savior.
A little loyalty can go a long way, I’ve discovered.
He is about three years old, and still, my little son will have only me for comfort. When he’s frightened or hurt, there can be a dozen other people in the room, all related to him, all of whom have been the objects of his affection, but only I will do for holding, comforting, and wiping away tears.
It’s flattering, but forgive me if at times—like in the middle of preparing dinner or when I’m about to step into the shower—someone else would do.
I wonder. Do I have the same attitude toward God as my son has toward me? When I am hurt or seeking meaning, do I always think of going to God first?
Loving Father, I give you what hurts, knowing you will comfort me.
St. Thomas Aquinas
Therefore I prayed, and understanding was given me;
I called on God, and the spirit of wisdom came to me.
I grew up a faculty brat, on various college cam-
puses. I have known many people with many degrees. All are smart, but only some have been wise.
In the midst of writing his Summa Theologiae, St. Thomas Aquinas had a mystical experience during Mass. He never finished the works and said, “All that I have written seems to me like straw compared to what has been revealed to me.”
We’ve been given rational minds by God, to be used, obviously. But it’s worth considering: Are my smarts getting in the way of my wisdom?
Seat of wisdom, bring light to my heart.
As it is, there are many members, yet one body.
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable.
—1 Corinthians 12:20–22
One Sunday, my teenaged son sat along with the rest of us in the pew, waiting for the collection basket to come our way.
The usher thrust the basket down our pew, past all the adults, then snatched it back before it even reached my son, who was practically waving his dollar bills in the air.
The usher, I suppose, couldn’t imagine that a teenager could have anything to offer.
Lord, teach me to value the gifts of all those who work to build your kingdom.
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal.”
A few years ago, we went to Graceland and, among other things, saw Elvis Presley’s grave, a heavily decorated monument marking the spot.
That same summer, we also happened to visit some other graves (not that we’re morbid or anything). We had difficulty finding every one of them because their markers were indistinguishable from the other flat stones surrounding them: the great Catholic writers Flannery O’Connor in Georgia and Walker Percy in Louisiana, and then in Kentucky, Thomas Merton, buried, among the other monks, under his monastic name, Fr. Louis.
The contrast was startling, in death, as it was in life. Where is your treasure? And what does it buy?
Lord, help me discern where my treasure and my heart lie.
He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.”
One of my teenaged sons was observing his baby brother, who was fussing, as babies sometimes do.
“What’s wrong with him?” he asked.
“He’s tired,” I answered.
“Then why doesn’t he just go to sleep?” my son inquired, consistent with his always logical frame of mind.
When I’m frazzled, rushing, and worried, Jesus is here. Why don’t I just relax and rest in him?
Jesus, I give you my struggles and my tensions. Help me rest in you.