The word “novena” is a derivative of the Latin novem, which means nine. In its basic definition, a novena is a nine-day period of private or public prayer. Its purpose is to obtain special graces, to plead special favors, or to present special petitions. The novena has traditionally been associated with a sense of neediness or urgency. Continue reading What Is a Novena?
No matter what country we are in, or what culture we live in, a universal image comes to mind when the word “angel” is spoken. Looking back through human history, as evidenced by our art, architecture, literature, and even the names of our children, we can see the influence of the belief in angels. Continue reading Angels – What the Catholic Faith Believes vs. Angels in Popular Culture
Let Go and Let God!
Man, that sounds so easy, right? Just let go!
It just doesn’t work that smoothly for me.
This summer I had the opportunity to do a high ropes course, and at the end, they would hook our safety harness into a little zip line and we’d float to the ground. All we had to do was step off the platform.
Just step off… don’t over think it.
I botched it every time. The first time my left foot refused to leave the platform, so while my right foot stepped off, the weight of my body followed, but the toes of my left foot were awkwardly dragged off the platform. It was like Buddy the Elf on an escalator, only in reverse.
The second time, I forgot to put my feet down and landed flat on my butt, taking out the guy on the ground out with me.
The third time I leapt off the platform instead of stepping gently. That didn’t end well either.
The problem was, every instinct I had was looking at the ground 20 feet below and refused to let my muscles follow the very simple instructions of “Simply step off the platform.” I saw other people do it and float easily and safely to the ground.
The same has happened when I ponder the phrase “Let go and let God.” I’ve seen it work out for other people, but to subject myself totally to God’s will and trust Him for everything my family and I need? That’s a mighty high platform to step off of.
Putting it Into Practice
I have been praying for a long time for guidance on a major life decision. I knew what I wanted the answer to be, but I wanted it to be easy, without risk, and a safe, happy choice for all involved.
I had been contemplating for a very long time leaving my job as an accountant that provides a roof, groceries and Catholic school tuition – a job for a company overflowing in creativity, lead by a devoted Catholic man, and filled with my closest friends and longtime mentors, none of whom I wanted to disappoint or upset. Leave that job and step into entrepreneurship full time; seeing how far I could go with DiscountCatholicProducts.com.
At every turn, the answer to my inquiring prayers was “Yep. Do it.” Then I would back away from the ledge and think to myself “Nah. That is not what that meant.”
And again I would pray … “Is this the path You meant for me?” and the response would come: “Yes.”
I keep botching it, all because this whole “Let go and let God” thing seems harder than it has to be.
Oddly, I can look back at numerous times in my life where trusting in Him worked out – maybe not right away, sometimes taking even years. But He has never failed me. So why is it so hard to trust?
Stepping off the Ledge
Finally today was the day I mustered up just enough trust. I broached the topic with my boss and mentor of six years. It’s a scary first step and I doubt the trip to the bottom will be smooth and I’m not guaranteed to land on my feet.
What “Let go and let God” is not is a promise for an easy life and that things won’t get difficult. Just because I don’t want to take the trash out, doesn’t mean I am not the tool God choose to take that trash out. He gave me legs, hands, and muscle power enough to take the trash out.
Same for my career situation. Praying to win the lottery isn’t going to cut it. God gave me talents and a touch of chutzpah. It’s a long row to hoe, and it’s not my place to question God, or even give Him the side eye. This is the work He wants me to be doing. It doesn’t mean it’s not scary.
Relevant Bible Verse:
Cast your care upon the LORD, who will give you support. He will never allow the righteous to stumble. ~Psalms 55:22
Do you have tips for me? How do I get that last toe on my left foot to take the leap? What stories do you have of letting go and letting God?
I’ve started and stopped writing this blog post many times. At first it was just supposed to be informational and light; but the further I dug, the more frustrated I became. I thought I had a pretty good handle on Sacramentals, but I was wrong.
The more definitions of “sacramental” I found, the more frustrated I grew. I felt like I was getting farther and farther away from understanding what they actually were and how they fit into our Catholic faith.
According to the Catechism (CCC #1667) Sacramentals “are sacred signs which bear a resemblance to the sacraments. They signify effects, particularly of a spiritual nature, which are obtained through the intercession of the Church. By them men are disposed to receive the chief effect of the sacraments, and various occasions in life are rendered holy.”
Ummm… I still didn’t quite get it.
And because I, as a person who works with rosaries, scapulars, and all things Catholic objects all day long, felt confused, I guessed that there were others out there in the same boat: You know they exist, they help in prayer life, but it just never felt super important to have a solid understanding of what a sacramental is or isn’t.
In light of this, I’ve been reading up! And here’s what I’ve found.
Sacrament vs Sacramental
As Jesus instituted the Seven Sacraments, the Church has instituted sacramentals.
The clearest definition I’ve found comes from Julie Dortch Cragon: “Sacramentals are items, actions, and blessings that remind us to be faithful, to pray, to love one another and to be grateful to our God.”
While Sacraments are signs and instruments of God’s grace, the role of Sacramentals is to magnify the grace of the sacraments. They show us what is holy and “draw us into a deeper devotion and prayer.” (Cragon’s Amazing Graces – The Blessings of Sacramentals)
Below are examples of Sacramentals under their 3 different forms – Actions, Blessings and Items. These are by no means comprehensive, but I find that examples help me understand the abstract better.
A few weeks back I had written about crossing our head, lips and heart before the Gospel at Mass. This is a sacramental. It reminds us to be witnesses to God’s Word.
A few more actions:
The Sign of the Cross
Ringing the bells during the liturgy of the Eucharist
Sprinkling Holy Water
Prayers, scripture and the accompanying gestures are used to bless tools, people and experiences like pilgrimages and quinceañeras.
The clergy are not the only one able to bestow blessings (although they are certainly needed for blessing that call for a little more fire power. “[T]he more a blessing concerns ecclesial and sacramental life, the more is its administration reserved to the ordained ministry (bishops, priests, or deacons” (CCC 1669)
In baptism we laypeople are called to bless. Even a step farther, Luke 6:28 tells us to ‘Bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” So be liberal with spreading those blessings!
Blessed items, beyond rosaries and scapulars, are considered sacramentals when they are blessed and are used to sanctify ourselves.
The Catechism (1670) tells us that the list of items that can become sacraments is boundless. “There is scarcely any proper use of material things which cannot be thus directed toward the sanctification of men and the praise of God.”
A few more common sacramental items include:
Sacramentals in your life
We often talk about bringing more prayer into our lives. Using sacramentals helps us on this quest. Creating habits around them like crossing ourselves when we wake up in the morning, enrolling in a scapular, or keeping a bottle of holy water handy all serve us in completing the meaning of our lives: Get to Heaven.
“The soul who blesses will prosper, whoever satisfies others will also be satisfied.” Proverbs 11:25
When you have the perfect Catholic devotion, it is present in everything you do.
The beautiful fall weather has started and I keep trying to find excuses to be outside. Last night I attacked the thistles in my yard until the dark and mosquitoes chased me inside. Throughout my task, Anna Nuzzo‘s rendition of the Divine Mercy Chaplet kept going through my mind – my devotional earworm. I would find myself half-way through a decade, the prayers subconsciously counted off on my gloved fingers.
I did not seek out a devotion, but the Divine Mercy found me. I picked up a pamphlet one day and that was that. I was sold and haven’t missed a day of praying the chaplet since. It’s the first habit I’ve ever picked up so effortlessly.
The overwhelm of choice
Every day here at Discount Catholic Products I am surrounded by an innumerable selection of devotional tools. To just pick a devotion from the multitudes would be a daunting task for anyone. We humans when faced with too many choices usually default to no choice for fear of being wrong.
Granted, there is no “wrong” when choosing a devotion, but making any choice triggers Fear of Missing Out. Think of the last time you had to order from a menu and couldn’t decide between 2 or 3 entrees. Just like ordering 3 entrees leads to discomfort, regret and a large bill, having too many devotions leads to mechanical prayer, frustration and overwhelm while trying to “just get ’em all done.”
What is a devotion?
Catholic Devotions are ways of showing love for the Holy Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), the Blessed Virgin Mary and the angels and saints. It’s not a single prayer, or a check mark that you “completed it”; a devotion is an ongoing consciousness of your dedication to offering everything you have and do. It is keeping the devotion top of mind throughout every day, and bringing your spiritual life into your every day life.
Why a devotion?
The USCCB points out that while the Liturgy is the center of the life of the Church, the time between attending mass should be filled with prayer as well. This is where devotions come in. “Popular devotional practices play a crucial role in helping to foster ceaseless prayer…. Popular devotional practices do not replace the liturgical life of the Church; rather, they extend it into daily life.”
To Begin a Devotion
So start with one. Simplicity in devotion is best.
Which one? Start with this list from the Knights of Columbus or these Eucharistic devotions from Loyola Press. Catholic devotions are too many to list, a sample being the rosary, litanies, saints, novenas, scapulars, Seven Sorrows, consecration, and chaplets. Don’t let the plethora of devotions detract you, though. Pick the first one that calls to you and do a little research, and pray about it.
Choose whichever devotion that
- Helps you meditate on the life, passion, death and resurrection of Christ;
- Brings you closer to the Church; and
- You know you can be faithful to and build a habit around.
A devotion is a means to an end. If the focus you chose is not helping you fill your heart with love for God and and your fellow man, try something different.
And this is my prayer: that your love may increase ever more and more in knowledge and every kind of perception. Phil 1:9
Tell us: What is your devotion and how/why did you pick it?
Everywhere I turn these days I seem to encounter athletes. One of my friends did a half IronMan this last weekend, we’re in the middle of the Olympics, and I recently learned about Sister Madonna Buder, about whom Nike recently made a great commercial.
Sr. Madonna’s story is fantastic. She has completed over 40 IronMan competitions – for the uninitiated the race includes a 2.4 mile swim, a marathon run, and 112 bike ride, for a total of 140.62 miles in under 17 hours. Oh… and she’s 86.
It’s all very intimidating or inspiring… I can’t decide which one. I’m not a complete couch potato – I play on a few rec leagues, but what these people can physically accomplish is amazing. It makes me want to go out and run a mile.
My mom always said that I shouldn’t use the word hate. So I won’t.
I very strongly dislike running. VERY strongly.
I love mowing the lawn. I have a super old Dixon lawn mower and for 2 and half hours every weekend I get to mow the lawn. It’s very mesmerizing.
What do these two thing have in common? They are great times for prayer.
I’m particularly fond of the Divine Mercy Chaplet (I found the one sung by Angelina on Google Play is my favorite) when I’m mowing. It is such a powerful prayer and when sung, it adds time for me to meditate on each iteration of “For the sake of His Sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.” It’s beautiful and moving and very personally meaningful.
Then there’s running. Did I tell you how I feel about running? Well that hasn’t changed in the last 4 paragraphs. I don’t like to do it.
However, prayer is a great tool for my mental game when I run. It not only keeps my mind busy, but it also helps me keep tempo and sets milestones for marking my run. (Tip – Rosary Rings work really well for this.)
The man who teaches the adult education classes at my church swims as he prays the rosary. He says he can spend an entire half hour on a single mystery. That is inspiring.
So with rosary ring securely around my finger, I run. I run the rosary. And the results are a slightly better soccer game, physical well-being and an inner satisfaction that can only come from the grace of God.
This week my sweet daughter Joy is taking the helm. She was pretty stoked about World Youth Day and wanted to lend her voice to the conversation. I also think she may be missing school just a little bit.
So Joy, darling, take it away:
Going into every spiritual retreat, whether that be SEARCH, Totus Tuus, or a diocese youth conference, expectations arise and are, more frequently than not, met. There is also the rare occasion where an event that I didn’t participate in had an effect on my spiritual life.
I experienced that previously this year on the March for Life, where I had many friends get stuck on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, and I was able to see their effect on the world, a world which had, earlier, chosen to ignore the large number of buses from across the United States to peacefully protest.
I was blessed enough to experience the same world-wide feeling of unity reading about World Youth Day. The gathering, starting in 1984 by Saint John Paul II with 300,000 responsive youth has grown to hundreds of thousands of young people from all over the world to gather to hear Pope Francis’s message of hope: “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy” (Matthew 5:7).
The amount of people that are still open to God’s love continues to prove Saint John Paul II’s questions to still be true: “Who claimed that today’s youth has lost their sense of values? Is it really true that they cannot be counted on?”
This year Pope Francis focused on the idea of mercy, encouraging the young people of the world to not be afraid to trust in mercy and in the hope of a better future. He said “People may judge you to be dreamers because you believe in a new humanity, (…) one that refuses to see borders as barriers and can cherish its own traditions without being self-centered or small-minded.”
It was in this way that Pope Francis encouraged the young generation to guide the world into being better by being merciful. It was in the number of youth responding that encourages hope in a more merciful world.
For me this means that I can live with less fear because God’s mercy is in my future. So any pain from today is temporary. There’s a happily-ever-after.
So that means I can contribute to the revolution without fear. I can go to daily Mass during the summer, or go early on Sunday to pray the rosary or Divine Mercy chaplet. I can make the revolution grow by inviting my friends to come with me, knowing that any pain of rejection or judgement would be temporary.
JPII started a revolution to last for centuries. The symbol of the Youth Day Cross, symbolizing the love of Christ for humanity, entrusted to the youth, gives hope in mercy, starting with little acts. How can you start the revolution for mercy this week?
The last day of prayer of the Divine Mercy Novena is dedicated to “Lukewarm hearts.”
And sometimes I worry that it’s referring to me.
It comes and goes, stays for different lengths of time – days or months. There doesn’t seem to be any rhythm or particular trigger. It just appears on my heart without warning. A prayer desert.
A prayer desert for me is when I’m just not “feeling it” when I pray. My prayers feel rote, my imagination wanders, and there’s a lack of connection. And it’s miserable.
Mother Theresa famously had a thirst for God that she couldn’t quench.
Can you relate? If so, here are a few tools I use to find an oasis in the desert.
- Recognize where you are, and where you want to be. And tell God. And keep telling Him. James 4:8 says “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” Be explicit in what you are experiencing.
- Go to confession/Adoration/Mass – Immerse yourself in spiritual experiences offered by the Church.
- Try a different form of prayer – The rosary, pick a novena, Lectio Divina, sing, silence, read the Psalms.
- Adult religious education classes/bible study – I love the adult education at my church because it not only gives me a chance to ask [dumb] questions, but I can surround myself with other people who are yearning to learn more. If your parish doesn’t offer classes, perhaps a nearby parish does.
- Get out of your comfort zone and serve. Soup kitchen, litter cleanup, retirement home, Big Brothers Big Sisters. Put yourself in situations to see Jesus in other people.
- Rinse and repeat – just do it. If worse comes to worse, slog it out. Don’t give up!
Have you ever had this experience? What do you do?
One of the most difficult classes I took in college was Honors Religion. One concept that we discussed for weeks was “the numinous” – holy spaces – or more specifically – What is it about certain spaces that give them an aura of “holy”?
This discussion has stuck with me and gets dug up in my brain every time I encounter a place that rings the bell of “numinous” just so. Blue Cloud Abbey outside of Marvin, SD was one of those places.
Blue Cloud was founded in 1950 by a group of 40 Benedictine monks.
The monastery was a self-sustaining community with the mission of ministering to Native American tribes. Over the years, the brothers also successfully managed a popular retreat center for groups and individuals.
So a few years ago when the monks were shuttering the Abbey and relocating to different monasteries across the United States, it came as a particularly devastating blow.
Not only had we spent every Christmas Eve night well into Christmas morning (about 1:30 AM) at Blue Cloud, but we had seen the innards of the Abbey and the handiwork of the monks.
The Abbey had a smell to it, and sound quality that I’ve never experienced anywhere else. The long stone hall with the beautiful stained glass held my attention through hours of masses even as a very small child. The long lines of monks processing in before mass and singing hymns that echoed off the walls made of solid, massive, smooth stones – the effect was something so holy, and so tranquil that it has stayed with me all these years.
After Sunday Mass, we would all file down to the large dining room in the basement. I was mesmerized by the honey dippers in wooden bowls of honey – from bees on the grounds of the abbey and cared for by bee-keeping monks. We helped ourselves to cookies and juice, and while the adults talked we went exploring. We rolled down the grassy hills, stared in awe at the native art, and perused the gift shop at length until we knew the inventory by heart.
When I was older I discovered a treasury of fabrics and notions in a workroom where priests’ vestments were made by the monks. They kept cattle and gardens. The grounds were vast and supported the monks in their ministry.
So when news came that the monks could no longer support themselves and care for the grounds due to their aging population, the fact that they were selling Blue Cloud Abbey came as devastating news.
After what felt like years on the market (perhaps it was) a group of Catholic families banded together to buy the Abbey.
What a relief! They have methodically and painstakingly restored little bits of the Abbey at a time. And while the church has been decommissioned, the space maintains it’s numinous quality. The beautiful stained glass has been retained.
And while they are not allowed to call the facility Blue Cloud Abbey, The Abbey of the Hills has become a retreat center, concert hall, outdoor recreation center and so much more.
I am so proud of my 6th grade teacher, Mrs. Rausch, and the other people who breathed life back into the Abbey. I am so grateful for the sacrifices they have made to do it.
So if for any reason you are in northeast South Dakota, or your looking for an excuse or a retreat, please consider visiting the Abbey of the Hills.
What about you? What is a numinous space in your life that has somehow gone through a transformation, but retained its holy quality?
Enrich your prayer life with a deep selection of Chaplets. This encyclopedia book lists over 170 chaplets and Rosaries with prayers.
My husband will confirm that I’m not the most outgoing person. I get nervous in rooms full of strangers. The idea of introducing myself to people and starting a conversation from scratch gives me the heeby-jeebies. (Oddly, I love public speaking… but that’s beside the point.)
Pentecost is this Sunday and when I place myself in the position of the apostles in that house where the Holy Spirit filled them, those same feelings creep over me. I recognize that we are all called to evangelize… and that scares me. I think of all the ways that I am not following this call.
The Pentecost was a huge beginning for the apostles. Speaking in tongues they left for foreign lands to evangelize. Holy cow! Seriously! The transformation from timidity to strength and and faith was immediate. The gift of fortitude helped them to follow this calling.
[The seven gifts] make the soul capable of taking in the special lights and inspirations He sends in a much higher way than what is had in ordinary graces. We do not notice much of any effects from these Gifts until we have advanced rather far in the spiritual life, for great docility and purity of heart are needed. (EWTN)
It’s good to remind myself of these gifts. In case you need a refresher as well:
- Wisdom – desire to contemplate God and good things from Him
- Understanding – allows us to understand our Catholic faith
- Knowledge – guides us through life and helps understand God
- Counsel – guides what actions we should take
- Fortitude – strength to follow through through Counsel
- Piety – desire to worship and serve God
- Fear of the Lord – desire not to sin or offend God, acknowledge our dependence on Him
The trick is, that once these gifts are given to us, we need use them and hone them. In order for these gifts to be at their full potential in our lives, we need to keep growing in our spiritual lives.
And that’s where it gets tricky for me. When I’m feeling short on fortitude, it’s my own doing. I’m reminded of my need for the God in my life and all the ways I’m failing to abide in Him.
That’s why Pentecost makes me nervous. I could be doing SO MUCH BETTER.
This week I’m praying for counsel and fortitude. It is sometimes a long leap between the “should do” from Counsel to the “do it” of fortitude.
What gift of the Holy Spirit do you most identify with? Which do you wish was stronger? Comment below.
Novena to the Holy Spirit
Seven Swans Swimming Ornament (Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit)
Holy Spirit Chaplet