The Little Way makes holiness accessible to us despite our weaknesses and our ordinariness. It is a way of trust and love. This fresh application of the Gospel message is the legacy of the Little Flower. She lived the Little Way as it sprang from her heart, then left it to the Church she loved.As we deal with family, friends, neighbors, employers, co-workers, teachers, and especially those who are difficult, we can each do the “little.” Even in encounters with strangers, we can do the little, in love, for Jesus. The Little Way is manageable, not overwhelming. It is a means by which any one of us can become a saint.That is not to say that St. Thérèse’s Little Way is easy! To love in each moment may not mean we achieve a desired outcome or response. There are times when loving is a heroic act of the will. It may simply mean that we make every effort to give our best in that moment. Then we offer those moments to God in a childlike spirit of trust and abandonment. We make this offering with confidence, knowing that He sees our hearts and our intentions. We entrust all of our small efforts to the Lord, believing that He receives them as our Heavenly Father.
Let’s face it: fighting distraction during Mass is a difficult task for just about everyone.
After all, we’re human. We live in a fast-paced world. We have so many things bouncing around in our minds that we bring into Mass, not including the distractions we’re bombarded with after we sit in our pew.
And if we have children with us—multiply the distractions by ten.
It takes almost an heroic effort to prevent our minds from wandering away from the most important thing happening in our world in that moment: Jesus Christ coming to us in the Flesh.
But it IS possible to limit some of our distractions at Mass. All we need is a little thoughtful preparation.
Here are some simple-yet-practical tips.
1. Turn off music streaming and the car radio on the way to Mass.
One of the best ways to mentally prepare for Mass is to begin before you arrive. Start clearing out your distractions in advance by spending your drive-time to the church in silence. Turn off the car radio, silence your phone, and avoid superfluous conversation if you have family or friends in the car with you. Leave any important conversations for after Mass. Consciously make your transition from the secular to the sacred. Let that silence sink in.
2. Get to Mass at least 10 minutes early.
It’s very important to get to Mass a little early—rather than rushing in and looking for a seat while Mass is already beginning.
By clearing out your mind on the way to Mass and making room for silence, you have already taken steps to prepare yourself for prayer. Deepen that preparation by spending at least a few minutes in quiet prayer before Mass begins. Remind yourself that you are now in the presence of God and that you are about to receive Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, and thank Him for this gift of grace. This will help to settle you down and keep you attentive.
More time is better but a few minutes is better than none at all. This may take practice, but over time you can develop the habit.
3. Sit closer to the front.
Another good reason to get to Mass a bit early is to get a free seat in one of the front pews. If all that is in front of you is the altar, it is much easier to stay focused on what is happening there. You will also be less distracted by what is happening in the pews around you.
4. Keep your hands folded in prayer.
Posture is very important to prayer. Let your body remind you of what your heart and mind should be doing by keeping your hands reverently folded.
There is a reason why we teach this to kids! Try it, and you’ll probably find that it helps lessen your distractions.
5. Fully participate in the Mass.
Mass is not an event for spectators. Participate! Say all the prayers and sing all the songs. If it helps, follow along with each part of the Mass using a Missal.
Where does this Sunday fall in the liturgical calendar? How is the Old Testament reading connected to the New Testament reading? How does the Responsorial Psalm connect both?
If you are engaging in all of this, it is a rewarding occupation for the mind, and God will undoubtedly assist you to better grasp and understand His sacred truths.
6. Bring back those wandering thoughts.
Mass is the place where heaven meets earth. Each time you are distracted, bring your mind back to where you are, even if you have to do this 100 times from start to finish. As instructed by St. Francis de Sales:
“If the heart wanders or is distracted, bring it back to the point quite gently and replace it tenderly in its Master’s presence. And even if you did nothing during the whole of your hour but bring your heart back and place it again in Our Lord’s presence, though it went away every time you brought it back, your hour would be very well employed.”
7. Intentionally add your intentions and sacrifices to the prayers of the Mass.
Two things that you can bring with you to every Mass are the special intentions that you’re praying for, and the personal sacrifices that you’re uniting to Christ’s one great sacrifice. Both come together as you “offer it up” at Mass. At the point before the Consecration when the priest says, “Pray brethren, that my sacrifice AND YOURS may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father,” consciously think of what these things are for you.
8. Memorize the Anima Christi Prayer.
The Anima Christi is a beautiful Communion prayer dating back to the Middle Ages. Pray these words very slowly as a meditation to keep your mind focused on what Christ is doing in your soul at your reception of every Holy Communion. Do this enough times and you’ll have it memorized.
9. Ask for help—from your guardian angel!
If you want help overcoming distractions away at Mass, just ask! Your guardian angel is with you to help you with things like this. Humbly ask your angel—who is adoring Christ along with you—to assist you in staying attentive and praying well.
What do you think of this list? If you have other tips for curbing distractions during Mass, please share in the comments below!
Is it possible to experience peace, and live it spiritually, when things in your life seem to be imploding?
Yes. Not only can you remain in peace yourself, you can bring it to others—regardless of your circumstances.
Sacred Scripture repeatedly calls us to be at peace. Here is one particular verse:
And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body. And be thankful.
Such interior peace does not depend on the absence of conflict, strife, or suffering. It is completely unrelated to the events taking place in our lives. It exists at such a deep and soulful level—an otherworldly level—that it remains untouched by whatever swirls around us.
Yes, in the midst of our greatest sufferings, we can still have this peace of soul, this biblical peace. It is a peace that we come to know, over time, as we learn to entrust every circumstance of our lives to the Lord.
Every. Single. One.
Suffering Is Not Wasted
Have you ever heard the saying “God uses everything”? I have recognized and lived this truth many times in my life, but perhaps most powerfully in the last five years—for it is in these last five years that Our Lord has begun to teach me so much more about His peace.
It all began when one of my children was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. The shock and fear of that moment—and the many shocks that followed—are something I can’t describe, but anyone who has gone through moments like these can understand.
The last five years have been difficult, at times threatening our peace in every way imaginable. Yet we are still persevering, and still hoping, as our daughter continues to struggle with a disease that doctors say is incurable.
Sometimes peace comes so naturally; sometimes it comes moment by moment. But I know it is there for me, and I rest in it every day of my life. I see it growing from faith and hope and from the charity of wonderful prayer warriors, who sustain and accompany my family during this time.
Here are six things that I have found necessary for finding and keeping interior peace:
1. Know what (and Who) peace truly is.
The peace with which God wants to fill our hearts is not strictly found in a weekend getaway, a stroll on the beach, or a day off from a difficult schedule. Those getaways are indeed important—they encourage us to enter into an atmosphere of serenity, which makes it easier for us to seek interior silence and to hear His voice. When we seek to establish peace and organization in our home, for example, the more interior soul-level peace we can experience. Calm surroundings help us focus on Him, not on life’s difficulties.
At the same time, we should not confuse a peaceful atmosphere with the peace God wants to give us. This peace—which only He can give—is a fruit of the Holy Spirit.
Now this gift does not mean that we will be entirely calm and serene all the time, or that we will never experience emotions brought about by weariness, sadness, grief, fear, or anxiety. At the same time, we should not assume that because our emotions get the best of us, we are incapable of the supernatural gift of peace—or that we do not have it at all.
We will, at times, be fearful and anxious. It is part of our human nature. The key is to be vigilant over our emotions and refuse to let them carry us away. We must offer them to God when things are challenging, and directly ask Him for His peace. Because peace is not a thing. It is a person. Jesus Christ. Only through intimacy with Him will we ever truly find it.
2. Defend your daily peace if you want biblical peace.
We must do everything we can to defend our daily peace—every day—unceasingly. Some of the “noise of the world” is inevitable. We cannot escape it. It is part of living in this age. But it’s important to recognize that we are actually choosing some of this noise for ourselves!
It does not please the Lord if we are so busy running around, helping everyone, and doing everything, that we are frantic all day long with no time to seek or acknowledge Him. It doesn’t delight Him if we become so overwrought by the problems of our loved ones that we don’t remember to give these problems to Him and rest securely in that.
Prudent choices about how far to extend ourselves, and when to detach ourselves, are important to keeping our peace. We are called to charity, selflessness, and generosity, but if we overextend that without prudence, we are responsible for giving away our own peace.
A quiet mind is essential to finding and keeping your peace. Look at the things you choose to prioritize during your day. If time with Christ isn’t one of them, what can you set aside in favor of more quiet time to rest in Him? How will we find Him if we are not actively looking for Him by clearing space (in our hearts, minds, and calendars) to meet Him?
Time in prayerful communion with God is the best kind of quiet. If that is missing from your life, start today. Sit quietly for ten minutes, talking to Him, thanking and praising Him, and asking for His peace. That is a beginning.
Make time for things that calm your mind. Disconnect from what fills it with “noise.”
3. Recall what He has done in the past so that you can keep trusting Him with the future.
Psalm 77:1 says, “I will recall the deeds of the Lord; yes, recall your wonders of old.”
In order to have peace, we must practice trusting God, over and over again, until it becomes natural and constant for us. We know how much He loves us, and how much He desires for us. He gave everything in order to demonstrate that love.
The Lord is particularly glorified when we entrust everything to Him in the midst of a disorienting and debilitating situation. We do not have to know the mind of God or understand why He permits something in order to entrust Him with our cares. Seeing our trust and obedience in the face of devastating uncertainty gives great glory to God. It allows Him to open a portal to us for greater grace and peace.
Trust does not come naturally to most of us. Relinquishing everything to Christ is an act of the will. We cannot perfect this disposition without willing ourselves to surrender everything to Him over and over again, constantly, until it becomes second nature.
When you are tempted to try and take back what you have given to the Lord, remember His works throughout salvation history; throughout your own life; and throughout the lives of your loved ones. What He has done before, He can do again, and then some. His power is unlimited, as is His mercy and love.
4. Live a life of praise.
Try praising God for every “little miracle,” even as you are praying for greater things. The little things can be as seemingly insignificant: a beautiful day, a patch of flowers seen on a walk, an unexpected visit from a friend.
Many times as we are suffering, the little things allow us to live a life of praise for—and glory in—our good God. Sometimes the big prayers remain unanswered, only to be addressed in His timing—but there are always little things that we can praise Him for.
Praise is a mantle of protection against the enemy. It prevents the evil one from getting a foothold on us. Remember, the devil wants to take away our hope. Without it we are laid bare as the most vulnerable prey to his tactics.
Sacred Scripture tells us that praise—which demonstrates hope—is a spiritual weapon in our arsenal.
On the mouths of children and infants, you have found praise to foil your enemy, to silence the foe and the rebel.
In the beginning, it may feel forced and unnatural, but focus on finding things for which to praise God. Praise Him as constantly as you can, interiorly and even aloud.
5. Stay in the present moment.
Don’t get too far ahead. God gave us wisdom and knowledge, but only a finite amount of both. There’s a reason for that. He is God and we are not. He has already suffered for us, in order to make suffering redemptive and own it all. In this way, He shows us that He wants to be our peace.
Don’t give away your peace to your own imagination by getting too far ahead of yourself. You will be worrying about things that may not materialize and ruining this moment with the anxieties of the next. Stay in this present moment, live in it, and seek Him in it.
Trust Him as He stretches and readies you along the way, so that He has time to prepare you for what comes next. Don’t seek what’s ahead before He has made you ready. He will lift the veil on the future a little at a time. Take comfort in that and don’t rush into things He has not yet prepared you to receive.
There are graces to be found in the smallest things if we are living in the moment. Worries and anxieties bind us if we are jumping into the future—at the expense of the graces in this moment, and peace in the next.
6. Have an expectant faith.
Even when you are frightened by the things in life that you can see, believe that God is with you. Believe that His will is perfect for you. Believe that He wants only what is best for you. Do not doubt God’s desire to bless you.
We glorify Him all the more when we have an expectant faith. It feeds our sense of hope and trust. These things lead us to interior peace even in the darkest circumstances. If we truly believe in His infinite love for us and His desire for us in heaven, we can live in the expectant faith that Jesus calls us to in Sacred Scripture.
So let us confidently approach the throne of grace…
But how can we have an expectant faith when situations are truly devastating?
This is a question I have wrestled with over time. In these crises, we must go back to what we know, because there is so much that is unknowable to us in this life.
The Apostle Paul understood this well:
Therefore we are not discouraged; rather, though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond comparison, as we look not to what is seen, but to what is unseen; for what is seen is transitory, but what is unseen is eternal.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18
Are you experiencing great sufferings that seem insurmountable? The Beatitudes are Jesus’ promises for some of life’s most tragic situations. In each beatitude, His eternal promises bring graces in which we can trust and believe. His promises are the promises of heaven, not necessarily this of earthly life. As Christians, however, we know that these are the grandest, most incredible, and most important of all His promises.
It takes trust and strength of will to “see” eternally and wait for the Lord to bring graces from something tragic. But He has promised to accompany us with His mercy and love, so we must believe that, in time—if we stay faithful—graces will follow even the most devastating trials.
Peace is not simply a serene atmosphere that allows for temporary relief from anxieties. It is not merely a “state of mind” or a period of rest and tranquility. Those types of peace are transitory.
Peace is the person of Christ, in His permanence and love. He’s waiting for you to entrust everything to Him. Keep giving Him your cares and trusting in His promises, both here and in eternity, and you will find the peace and healing your soul craves.
May the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way…
2 Thessalonians 3:16
What are some examples of practices that bring greater peace into your life?
What are some things that steal your daily peace or prevent you from feeling biblical peace?
Have you experienced a difficult situation that you consciously gave to God? What were the resulting graces and blessings?
While I have great love and admiration for all the saints, I have a very special relationship with St. Joseph, my spiritual father. He is one of the most beloved saints in the Catholic Church. His principle feast day, March 19, is a solemnity—a feast of the very highest rank. We also celebrate a secondary feast day under his title “St. Joseph the Worker” on May 1st.
St. Joseph is, for me, a spiritual father; a protector and provider; an intimate companion; a pattern for a life hidden in Christ and cloaked in docility. His divine call by God the Father was a great and mysterious grace that cannot be easily reduced to a list of specific qualities; there would not be enough space to contain them. Such is the generosity of God when He asks something tremendous of His beloved children. St. Joseph is so special to me that I took his name for my Carmelite name when I became a Secular Discalced Carmelite.
He was the earthly father of Jesus, the spouse of the Blessed Virgin, and the patron saint of fathers, workers, immigrants, the Universal Church, the “domestic” church, and a happy death. He is also recognized as “The Terror of Demons.” He has numerous titles and patronages, and his intercession is very powerful.
It is impossible to list all the wonders and virtues of my beloved spiritual father, but here are some of the most beautiful qualities of St. Joseph:
1. He showed supreme generosity in the gift of self.
God gave full possession of Himself to Joseph in divine generosity, and in return, Joseph gave himself fully to God.
Before his young wife came to live with him, she was found to be with child. As he was processing this shocking news, the Angel of the Lord appeared to him, telling him not to be afraid to take Mary into his home as his wife.
What incredible confusion and unworthiness he must have felt after the Angel told him the child was the Messiah, the long-awaited Savior of his people. Imagine how unworthy he found himself to be as the leader of the Holy Family. Yet Joseph was devout; he was just. He gave himself fully and completely to the designs of God.
2. He exercised humility within his God-given authority.
Despite the confusion about this topic in our culture today, there is a hierarchy of love that prevails in family life. A husband and father has a very particular spiritual authority in his family. God has intended for that authority to extend to daily life as he guides, guards, and protects his wife and children, and provides for their needs as the head of the family.
God the Father gave St. Joseph authority over Mary and the Divine Child. His angel appeared to Joseph in dreams to inform and guide him—the angel did not appear to Our Lady after the Annunciation, nor to Christ, the Infant God. Joseph’s God-given role was to be a true spouse and father to Our Lady and to Jesus; he was the leader of their family. God did not disrupt this order, even under these circumstances, because He Himself designed it that way.
Joseph may have felt ill-equipped in his humanity, but because God chose him for this role, the Lord enriched Joseph with the gifts appropriate to his paternity and to every other task and duty entrusted to him. For his part, Joseph put his entire life at the service of Love.
3. He lived a deep interior life.
The same silence that characterizes the life of St. Joseph also reveals the deep union between the contemplative and active life in this beloved saint. The Gospels announce what Joseph did. They do not present a single word of what he said. All that he did in the Gospels evidences a spirit of deep contemplation. God would not have subjected Himself to the authority and care of someone who was not seeking to know Him in holiness and to live in His law. For these reasons we know that St. Joseph was a holy man who sought the face of God in prayer.
He lived life in communion with Jesus, in His very presence within the Holy Family. As surely as this Presence sanctifies us here and now in the Eucharist, bringing forth grace within us, it sanctified and edified Joseph throughout his daily life, profoundly deepening the grace within him. And St. Joseph’s fatherly love surely had an influence on Jesus as His human nature grew in grace and maturity.
The supposed tension between the active life and the interior life finds a perfect balance in St. Joseph. The Lord worked powerfully within him—his great love for God was both the source and the impulse for his interior life.
4. He had amazing faith and obedience in the face of great mystery.
Joseph believed and obeyed. His incredible faith and trust in God enabled him to surrender his own plans, dreams, and assumptions about his life in order to take on a fatherhood he had never expected and a mystery he’d never imagined—all for love of God, the Messiah, and the Jewish people who had awaited the coming of the Messiah for generations.
With unquestionable trust and belief, he took Mary into his home under extraordinary circumstances. He took his wife and child into Egypt in the middle of the night to escape a murderous King. He took them out of Egypt when the Angel of the Lord appeared with news that it was safe to return home.
He did not falter or hesitate. He trusted, knowing that he was at the service of God, Our Lady, and the Christ Child. In each of these instances, he stepped symbolically into darkness. He walked in mystery, embracing it, in obedience and faith.
5. He is the patron and protector of the “domestic church” and the Universal Church.
As a Jewish father, Joseph would have led the prayers at home every day. He would have taken Mary and Jesus to the temple to worship. He would have taught Jesus in His human nature.
The Holy Family is a model for every Catholic family. As head of the Holy Family, St. Joseph is also the patron and guardian of every “domestic” church. The domestic church is the collective spiritual life within every Christian family. It is the primary place of formation, instruction in prayer, and the teaching of virtues, ethics, and moral values. It is the school of love, and a place where that love nurtures Christian maturity of thought. It is the fertile ground where all vocations are seeded.
Joseph is also the patron of the Universal Church. Because we have become God’s sons and daughters through baptism, the earthly father of Jesus has become our spiritual father, just as Mary is our spiritual mother. Just as Our Lady looks down upon us from heaven, so too St. Joseph is watching over Christ’s Mystical Body on earth as its patron.
Go to St. Joseph for help for your family and for the Universal Church.
6. He is the patron of a happy death.
St. Joseph is the companion of many faithful Catholics at the end of their life in this world. Pious tradition holds that he died in the arms of Jesus and Mary, after serving them devotedly as father and husband.
Who better to usher us into eternity than St. Joseph, the head of the Holy Family, who died in the arms of Jesus and Mary? We should have recourse to him at the hour of our own death and at the deaths of our loved ones.
St. Joseph is a model for all faithful Catholics to live each day immersed in God.
As the protector and guardian of Our Lady and Our Lord, St. Joseph encourages us to stand up for the teachings of the Church and to defend our Faith against the assaults of the world. As the Most Chaste Spouse of the Blessed Virgin, he is a sign of contradiction in a culture that disdains modesty and purity. As the patron of the domestic and Universal Churches, he will intercede in the restoration and healing that will renew our families, our Church and our culture. As the patron of a happy death, he will be with you, in your final hour of need, to comfort you, protect you, and intercede for you before His Most Beloved Son.
He is a precious spiritual companion who will not fail you. In all of your needs, go to St. Joseph.
St. Joseph, pray for us.
The Earliest Known Prayer to St. Joseph (Circa 50 A.D.)
O St. Joseph, whose protection is so great, so strong, so prompt before the throne of God, I place in you all my interests and desires.
O St. Joseph, do assist me by your powerful intercession and obtain for me from your divine son all spiritual blessings through Jesus Christ, our Lord; so that having engaged here below your heavenly power, I may offer my thanksgiving and homage to the most loving of Fathers.
O St. Joseph, I never tire of contemplating you, and Jesus asleep in your arms. I dare not approach while he reposes near your heart. Press Him in my name and kiss his fine head for me, and ask him to return the kiss when I draw my dying breath. St. Joseph, patron of departing souls, pray for us. Amen.
At Mass and other liturgical services, priests and altar servers swing censers that send clouds ofincense wafting through the air.
Everything in Catholic liturgies symbolizes a theological truth—nothing is superfluous or “just for show.”
So what does incense symbolize?
What Incense Symbolizes in Christian Liturgy
The smoke of incense is symbolic of sanctification and purification. It also symbolizes the prayers of the faithful. It is an outward sign of spiritual realities, which is why it has its place in Christian liturgy.
These two purposes reveal a deeper truth: that prayer itself purifies and sanctifies us, making us worthy of worshiping God in heaven for all eternity with the angels and saints.https://www.youtube.com/embed/M8zZE_HJd2g?feature=oembedThis video shows the world-famous giant thurible from St. James Cathedral (Santiago de Compostela) in Spain.
Many Bible commentators show how the Tabernacle in the Old Testament is a pattern of human beings as temples or dwelling places of the Holy Spirit. Before we can dwell with God in eternity, there is need for our purification and sanctification—the removal of sin. One of the ways this happens is through prayer.
This spiritual meaning is evident in the wisdom books of the Old Testament, in which prayer is connected with purification, making our prayer a sweet aroma rising up to God:
Let my prayer be counted as incense before thee, and the lifting up of my hands as an evening sacrifice! —Psalm 141:2
Listen to me, O you holy sons, and bud like a rose growing by a stream of water; send forth fragrance like frankincense, and put forth blossoms like a lily. Scatter the fragrance, and sing a hymn of praise; bless the Lord for all his works. —Sirach 39: 13-14
Incense in the Old Testament
Incense has been used in Christian liturgy from its earliest days. In fact, it continued the Jewish tradition that came before it—a tradition that was commanded by God Himself and recorded in Sacred Scripture.
For example, God commanded Moses to make an Altar of Incense for worship in the Tabernacle:
You shall make an altar to burn incense upon; of acacia wood shall you make it . . . And Aaron shall burn fragrant incense on it; every morning when he dresses the lamps he shall burn it, and when Aaron sets up the lamps in the evening, he shall burn it, a perpetual incense before the Lord throughout your generations. —Exodus 30:1-10
God also gave instruction on how the incense should be made through a “holy recipe”:
And the Lord said to Moses, “Take sweet spices, stacte, and onycha, and galbanum, sweet spices with pure frankincense (of each shall there be an equal part), and make an incense blended as by the perfumer, seasoned with salt, pure and holy; and you shall beat some of it very small, and put part of it before the testimony in the tent of meeting where I shall meet with you; it shall be for you most holy. And the incense which you shall make according to its composition, you shall not make for yourselves; it shall be for you holy to the Lord. Whoever makes any like it to use as perfume shall be cut off from his people.” —Exodus 30:34-38
From these passages and others, we can infer that incense was part of a ritual cleansing and purification of the sacred space of the Tabernacle, making it a worthy place for the worship of God according to His divine terms. In fact, frankincense—mentioned frequently in the Bible—is now known to have antiseptic and disinfectant properties.
God gave these specific instructions to Moses because the worship of God by Israel in His earthly Tabernacle was a pattern of the worship of God by the angels in His heavenly throne; that is, worship on earth was intended to be united with the worship taking place in heaven.
Incense in the New Testament
The New Testament also records the use of incense. Frankincense was one of the precious gifts brought by the Three Kings to the Baby Jesus—a sign of His role as priest in addition to His roles as prophet and king.
In his apocalyptic visions of heaven, St. John the Apostle recorded that he saw incense being used at God’s heavenly throne:
And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders, I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth; and he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and with golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. —Revelation 5:6-8
In the above passage, incense is identified with the prayers of the saints.
In the passage below, incense is added to the prayers of the saints by an angel, highlighting the mediation of the angels in our worship of God:
And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer; and he was given much incense to mingle with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar before the throne; and the smoke of the incense rose with the prayers of the saints from the hand of the angel before God. —Revelation 8:3-4
Incense Calls Us to Prayer
When we see incense at Mass, it reminds us of heaven; indeed, it should remind us that our worship of God in the Christian liturgy is divine in origin. Incense also reminds us to that our prayer rises to God like the smoke from the censer, purifying our worship of Him, and allowing the Holy Spirit to work in us and make us holy.
The usage of incense adds a sense of solemnity and mystery to the Mass. The visual imagery of the smoke and the smell remind us of the transcendence of the Mass which links heaven with earth, and allow us to enter into the presence of God. —Father William Saunders
The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass transcends space and time, while the use of incense helps the worshiper to enter into this eternal reality through the use of the external senses.
That is why incense—fragrant to the senses and visually compelling for the mind and heart—is such a powerful liturgical gift.
From long experience I have learned that there is nothing like holy water to put devils to flight and prevent them from coming back again. They also flee from the Cross, but return; so holy water must have great virtue. For my own part, whenever I take it, my soul feels a particular and most notable consolation.
St. Teresa of Avila
St. Teresa’s words should remind us of the importance of holy water. Every Catholic knows—at least partially—how to use holy water: we dip our fingers in the font and bless ourselves as we enter the Church. Ideally, we are supposed to recall our baptism and our baptismal promises, including our renunciation of Satan and disdaining sin.
But we often forget this, and take holy water for granted most of the time. If we use it regularly, this is an easy trap to fall into. But we shouldn’t let ourselves remain numb to holy water’s efficacy.
Holy Water Is Powerful
We must remember that—through a priest—holy water is blessed by God in virtue of Christ’s baptism. The Catholic Church possesses enormous power in being able to impart sacramental grace—and holy water as a sacramental receives its power through the prayer and authority of the Church.
The rite of blessing that a priest says over to make it holy contains prayers of exorcism. It can banish demons, heal the sick, and send unwarranted grace upon us—yet most of the time we cross ourselves with this water without even thinking about how holy it really is.
The fact of the matter is that holy water is a powerful sacramental and we ought to use it daily. To prevent us from using it without thinking, we should consciously find ways to use it more. Holy water can be used to bless people, places, and things that are used by humans in their goal of glorifying God with their lives.
Here is a list of eight ways to use holy water in your everyday life:
1. Bless Yourself
This suggestion is obvious, but if we are only blessing ourselves with holy water on Sunday, then aren’t we missing out on the rest of the week? You can never have too much grace or blessing in your life. Use holy water daily. Keeping a holy water font in the home is a great idea so that you, your family, and guests can be blessed in the comings and goings from your home. Keep the font right by the front door to ensure you never leave home without it.
2. Bless Your House
If you haven’t taken the time to bless your house with holy water, then no time is better than the present. Your home is the domestic Church and is in need of spiritual protection. You can sprinkle holy water in your home yourself, or have a priest formally bless your home using holy water as part of the house blessing ceremony.
3. Bless Your Family
Use holy water to pray and make the Sign of the Cross over your spouse and children before they go to sleep at night. Bonding the family to each other and to God in this way is a great family tradition to adopt. Keep a holy water bottle by the bedside for this purpose.
4. Bless Your Work Space
If you work outside of the home, sprinkling your work space with holy water is a great idea, not only for spiritual protection on the work front, but also as to sanctify your daily work for the glory of God.
5. Bless Your Car
The car is probably the most dangerous place where you spend a significant amount of time each day. Never underestimate the power of holy water applied to your vehicle to keep you safe from harm’s way, when used in faith and trust in God. In fact, you can also have a priest bless your car with holy water.
6. Bless Your Garden
It was a common practice in the Middle Ages for people to sprinkle their vegetable gardens with holy water. In times when people were very dependent on crops for their livelihood, lack of rain or early frosts could be devastating. Using holy water to bless and sanctify the plants that would be used for the family’s sustenance showed their reliance on God’s grace.
7. Bless the Sick
If you know of any sick friends or family, then blessing them with holy water probably counts as a corporeal and a spiritual work of mercy. If you visit the sick in a hospital or nursing home, bless their living space with holy water and leave a holy water bottle with them as a comfort in their time of need.
8. Bless Your Pets
Many parishes on the feast of St. Francis of Assisi have a rite of blessing for pets. Pets are loved companions for individuals and families and often provide a great service to them, and even these can be blessed with holy water because all creation has the end of giving glory to God. This also applies to livestock and farm animals that provide labor, livelihood, and nourishment to humans.
Praying with Holy Water
Here’s a simple prayer to say when using holy water, especially for when your blessing yourself with the Sign of the Cross:
“By this holy water and by Your Precious Blood, wash away all my sins, O Lord. Amen.”
This is just a suggestion, of course. There is no “correct” prayer to pray when using holy water, other than making the Sign of the Cross and saying the words aloud: “In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” You can also pray an Our Father or even the St. Michael Prayer when using holy water. Keep in mind that holy water has already been blessed by the prayers of the priest. Its power is based on the authority of the Church—and thus of Christ. You don’t need to add anything!
How Do You Use Holy Water?
Holy water is one of those beautiful gifts (and weapons) from God to keep us sanctified and holy in our daily lives and to keep the things we regularly use sanctified and holy. (Some parents even use holy water to bless things their children regularly use such as bicycles and school books.) If we stop and think about what a generous gift holy water is, we will use it more frequently, thoughtfully, and gratefully!
St. Thérèse of Lisieux, popularly known as “The Little Flower,” is the third woman to be declared a Doctor of the Church.
She is best known for her “Little Way.” This is a spirituality that seeks to sanctity daily life by doing each and every thing—no matter how small or seemingly insignificant—with great love.
Thérèse is, arguably, the most beloved modern saint; her writings are powerful lessons on how to love God with one’s whole heart in the humble routine of daily life. She teaches us how to suffer in Him, with Him, and through Him, with great love.
Here are ten quotes from St. Thérèse on how to sanctify the “little things” in life.
1. For the Glory of God
“The faith and confidence of yours which never wavers will one day have their reward–a glorious one. Be quite sure that God will bless you and that the depths of your suffering will be matched by the consolation reserved for you.”
2. Through the Grace of God
“Jesus said: ‘If ever a man is rich, gifts will be made to Him, and his riches will abound.’ For every grace I made good use of, He gave me many more.”
3. Holy Communion
“Our Lord does not come down from Heaven every day to lie in a golden ciborium. He comes to find another heaven which is infinitely dearer to Him—the heaven of our souls.”
4. Through Mortification
“When I speak of mortification, I don’t mean the kind the kind of penance practiced by saints. There are great souls who practice every sort of mortification from childhood, but I am not like any of them. All I did was to break my self-will, check a hasty reply, and do little kindnesses without making a fuss about them—and lots of similar things.”
5. Run After Jesus
“Since Jesus has gone to Heaven, I can follow Him only by the traces He has left. But how radiant and how fragrant these traces are! I have only to glance at the Holy Gospels and at once I breathe the fragrance of His life and know which way to run.”
6. Proving Our Love
“‘For if you love those who love you, what reward have you?’ [Matthew 5:46] Do not even sinners love those that love them? It is not enough to love. We must prove that we do. We naturally like to please a friend, but that is not charity, for so do sinners.”
7. True Holiness
“Holiness is not a matter of any one particular method of spirituality: it is a disposition of the heart that makes us small and humble within the arms of God, aware of our weaknesses, but almost rashly confident in His Fatherly goodness.”
8. Put Confidence In His Mercy
“O Jesus, I feel that if You found a soul feebler than mine—though that’s impossible—You would delight in heaping even greater favors on it, if it abandoned itself with supreme confidence to Your infinite mercy.”
9. Persevere in Prayer
“For me, prayer means launching out from the heart toward God; a cry of grateful love from the crest of joy or the trough of despair: it is a vast supernatural force that opens out my heart and binds me close to Jesus.”
10. Helping Souls
“All my strength lies in prayer and sacrifice. They are invincible weapons, and I know, by experience, that they can soften the heart much better than words.”
These excerpts by St. Thérèse were taken from the book Mornings with Saint Thérèse. This hardcover collection of 120 readings by St. Thérèse will help you get to know the pure, simple girl whom Pope St. Pius X called “the greatest saint of modern times.”
Going to Confession is one of the greatest sources of grace available to us in our Catholic faith. In this Sacrament, the Holy Spirit continues to work in us through conversion and forgiveness. We are enabled to grow in self-knowledge and humility. We begin to see our selfish habits with greater clarity, making it possible for us to correct them and root out sin. We purify our consciences, strengthen our wills, receive the grace to resist temptation, and advance in the spiritual life.
For these reasons—and many others—the Catholic Church takes this sacrament very seriously. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) asks faithful Catholics in the United States to go to Confession at least once during Lent and once during Advent, but good priests and spiritual directors recommend a minimum of once a month. If we only go to Confession once a year (or less!) we will miss out on profound graces, and lose track of many transgressions—making it harder for us to recognize our patterns of sin.
The saints, of course, recommended frequent confession. St. Francis de Sales, St. John Vianney, St. Padre Pio, and Pope St. John Paul II are among those who suggested going as often as possible. Pope St. John Paul II and St. Padre Pio went at least weekly to confession.
Even if a room is closed, it is necessary to dust it after a week.
St. Padre Pio of Pietrelcina
Jesus spoke candidly to St. Faustina about Confession. She recorded His words in her Diary, and we’d like to share some of His words with you. These are comforting and beautiful words from Christ about the significance of Confession in the Catholic life. You can find them all in The Diary of St. Faustina: Divine Mercy in My Soul.
What Jesus told St. Faustina About Confession
Tell souls where they are to look for solace; that is, in the Tribunal of Mercy (the Sacrament of Confession). There the greatest miracles take place [and] are incessantly repeated. To avail oneself of this miracle, it is not necessary to go on a great pilgrimage or to carry out some external ceremony; it suffices to come with faith to the feet of My representative and to reveal to him one’s misery, and the miracle of Divine Mercy will be fully demonstrated. Were a soul like a decaying corpse so that from a human standpoint, there would be no [hope of] restoration and everything would already be lost, it is not so with God. The miracle of Divine Mercy restores that soul in full. Oh, how miserable are those who do not take advantage of the miracle of God’s mercy! You will call out in vain, but it will be too late.
Jesus to St. Faustina (Diary, 1448)
Daughter, when you go to confession, to this fountain of My mercy, the Blood and Water which came forth from My Heart always flows down upon your soul and ennobles it. Every time you go to confession, immerse yourself in My mercy, with great trust, so that I may pour the bounty of My grace upon your soul. When you approach the confessional, know this, that I Myself am waiting there for you. I am only hidden by the priest, but I myself act in your soul. Here the misery of the soul meets the God of mercy. Tell souls that from this fount of mercy souls draw graces solely with the vessel of trust. If their trust is great, there is no limit to My generosity. The torrents of grace inundate humble souls. The proud remain always in poverty and misery, because My grace turns away from them to humble souls.
Jesus to St. Faustina (Diary, 1602)
My daughter, just as you prepare in My presence, so also you make your confession before Me. The person of the priest is, for Me, only a screen. Never analyse what sort of a priest it is that I am making use of; open your soul in confession as you would to Me, and I will fill it with My light.
Jesus to St. Faustina (Diary, 1725)
The flames of mercy are burning me. I desire to pour them out upon human souls. Oh, what pain they cause Me when they do not want to accept them!
Jesus to St. Faustina (Diary, 1074)
So, Why Do We Still Need Reminding?
If each of us sat beneath a crucifix and meditated intently on the greatest act of mercy and love the world has ever known we would, perhaps, run straight to Confession. Not out of fear of hell, but out of such great love for Jesus, who washed away our sins in His own blood.
But the world has always pulled away from the cross. Meditating on the Crucified Redeemer is not common in the world. It is not even something most people would seek to do or understand. Once again, as in ancient history, we have forsaken the cross—we have, like Adam and Eve, chosen the forbidden tree and its fruits.
We don’t want to be told “Thou shalt not.” We want to do as we please. The world has fully accommodated us by tempting us with great allure and then absolving us with all kinds of excuses.
Yet Holy Mother Church loves her children so completely that she wants us to abide by the moral absolutes given to us by God. The Church is the firm but quiet voice entreating us to resist the noise of the world. She invites us to Confession at least once a year, but we really should go more frequently. Making use of the sacrament regularly—monthly or even more often—is commonly recommended as a path to peace, healing, pardon, and spiritual growth.
Persisting in sin and not working to eradicate it from our lives removes us from the Merciful Heart of God, which is our true home. It also separates us from communion with the Body of Christ. But the rays of His Divine Mercy call us back to His Heart and to communion with one another. We return there by way of the Confessional.
In the Diary of St. Faustina, Jesus implores sinners to come to the font of His mercy, so that He might pour out unimaginable graces upon us all. Through His Passion, Christ brought redemption to a fallen world. Through the healing power of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, He brings it—over and over again—to your heart and mine.
Confession is important to our spiritual progress in any liturgical season or any season of our lives. It is especially powerful during Lent. Reconciliation and the Lenten season go hand-in-hand. Since Lent is a season of reflection and repentance, Confession is one of the greatest means to enter deeply into this penitential season.
In the wisdom of the Church, the season of Lent exists not only for reflection and repentance, but to build up the body of Christ in anticipation of Easter. What better way to enter into the true spirit of these forty days—and prepare for Easter—than by going to the cross in Confession, casting off our sins, and rising again with Christ?
Through the sacramental ministry of the Church, we receive the grace to be more like our Redeemer. Make it a priority to go to Jesus in Confession regularly. Ask for the forgiveness He wants to give so generously. Receive His merciful and unconditional love. Restore your bond with the Lord, the Body of Christ, and the Church.
Be healed and set free, to rise again in Him.
A Prayer for the Courage to Return to Confession
Lord, You know how much I need You. You know my sinful nature and my weaknesses. You know my sincere but imperfect desire to love You and others better. I know that I cannot return to the grace of God except through You and Your sacrifice on the Cross, and through the font of grace that is Confession.
In Your Passion, You did not put limits on Your love. Help me to give You everything, even the ugliness of my sins, as I return to You in Confession. Help me never to despair because Your Divine Mercy and Your infinite love are my greatest hope and treasure. Help me see this as an opportunity to love You, grow in my love for You, and offer all my love to You.
I place my trust in Your infinite love and mercy, and I ask You for the courage to help me return to the Sacrament of Confession. Jesus, I trust in You. Amen.
Humility is the mother of all virtues; purity, charity and obedience. It is in being humble that our love becomes real, devoted and ardent. If you are humble nothing will touch you, neither praise nor disgrace, because you know what you are. If you are blamed you will not be discouraged. If they call you a saint you will not put yourself on a pedestal.
St. Teresa of Calcutta
As we can see from this thought-provoking quote, Mother Teresa doesn’t see humility as the world sees it. The world sees it as blind self-neglect or a degrading regard for oneself. In contrast, her life shows us that she was a champion for the precious, God-given dignity of every single person.
Her definition of humility stresses the down-to-earth, unattached nature of true humility. In practicing it, we have a clarity of sight that allows us to not be consumed by the standards and judgments of the world, whether those judgments place us in a positive or negative light.
Here is her counter-cultural, inspiring, and challenging Humility List.
Mother Teresa’s Humility List
1. Speak as little as possible about yourself.
2. Keep busy with your own affairs and not those of others.
3. Avoid curiosity.
4. Do not interfere in the affairs of others.
5. Accept small irritations with good humor.
6. Do not dwell on the faults of others.
7. Accept censures even if unmerited.
8. Give in to the will of others.
9. Accept insults and injuries.
10. Accept contempt, being forgotten and disregarded.
11. Be courteous and delicate even when provoked by someone.
12. Do not seek to be admired and loved.
13. Do not protect yourself behind your own dignity.
14. Give in, in discussions, even when you are right.
15. Choose always the more difficult task.
Taking a Closer Look
At first glance, Mother Teresa’s “Humility List” appears to be a startling and even extreme guide to living the virtue of humility.
However, if we look at the list with eyes of faith and thoughtful discernment, we’ll see that it is not “extreme”—it simply requires those two things: faith and discernment.
Faith. These guidelines are not for the faint of heart or the weak-willed! They are challenging, and require the grace of God to sustain us and increase our stamina when we wish to fall back into our deep-rooted, prideful ways. So take heart—if God wishes us to live the virtues (which He does, of course) then we must trust that He will provide us with the means to fulfill His will.
Discernment. Some of the points on the list can be taken to an unhealthy extreme: “Accept insults and injuries…” “Do not interfere in the affairs of others…” In some serious cases, it may end up being the virtuous response is to do the opposite of what she’s saying! Just remember that Mother Teresa’s list is not meant to be applied to situations in which we encounter immoral or unlawful behavior. Here is another clarification: when she says “Avoid curiosity,” she is not saying “Don’t be interested in others.” She wants us to avoid idle curiosity, which can lead us to sin. This list is for our daily sanctification.
We invite you to take this list to prayer, and ask Our Lord and St. Mother Teresa to help you see how to make these important points a part of your daily growth in virtue!
Learn to be humble by doing all the humble work and doing it for Jesus. You cannot learn humility from books; you learn it by accepting humiliations. Humiliations are not meant to torture us; they are gifts from God. These little humiliations—if we accept them with joy—will help us to be holy, to have a meek and humble heart like Jesus.
With Lent comes fasting—and fasting is, for most of us, the most challenging part of the Lenten season.
It’s not easy to persevere in our sacrifices and intensified prayer. But disciplining our appetite is especially difficult. Physical appetites are strong and we’re weak!
We don’t have to let our failures get us down, however. We can petition God for His grace, seek inspiration through the writings of the saints and theologians of the Church, and try again.
The truth is, fasting has an irreplaceable role in the spiritual life. It brings about powerful spiritual growth. Jesus Himself told us that some demons could only be driven out by prayer and fasting (Mark 9:29). And yet fasting is something that we modern Catholics tend to struggle with.
If we understand why fasting is so important, our will to do it can be strengthened.
So, why is it important?
Three Reasons Why We Fast According to St. Thomas Aquinas
The glorious St. Thomas Aquinas gives us three important reasons for fasting from his Summa Theologica.
He begins by reminding us what defines a virtuous act:
An act is virtuous through being directed by reason to some virtuous good. Now this is consistent with fasting, because fasting is practiced for a threefold purpose.
And here are his three reasons:
1. To conquer lust.
First,in order to bridle the lusts of the flesh, wherefore the Apostle says (2 Corinthians 6:5-6): “In fasting, in chastity,” since fasting is the guardian of chastity. For…lust is cooled by abstinence in meat and drink.
St. Thomas Aquinas
In other words, denying ourselves food and drink helps us to control our other appetites and passions. Practicing self-denial in one area helps us practice temperance in all areas.
2. To help our minds rise above material things and contemplate heavenly realities.
Secondly, we have recourse to fasting in order that the mind may arise more freely to the contemplation of heavenly things: hence it is related of Daniel (Daniel 10) that he received a revelation from God after fasting for three weeks.
St. Thomas Aquinas
When we are not concerned with food and drink, or lulled into comfort by the effects of a good meal, we can more readily focus our entire attention on God.
3. To atone for our sins.
Thirdly, in order to satisfy for sins: wherefore it is written (Joel 2:12): “Be converted to Me with all your heart, in fasting and in weeping and in mourning.” The same is declared by Augustine in a sermon: “Fasting cleanses the soul, raises the mind, subjects one’s flesh to the spirit, renders the heart contrite and humble, scatters the clouds of concupiscence, quenches the fire of lust, kindles the true light of chastity.”
St. Thomas Aquinas
There are few better ways to offer repentance for our sins than by fasting. We take on discomfort and the pangs of hunger and give it all to Our Lord in sorrow for the ways in which we have turned against Him.
Of course we need good, healthy food, and delicious food can be an incredible blessing and enjoyment. We should enjoy it!
But at times it is good to free ourselves from our bodily appetites and offer them to God in prayer and repentance. The penitential seasons of Lent and Advent are set aside for this by Holy Mother Church,
As we move toward Lent, will you make fasting a key part of your Lenten plan?
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