Mother Mary Paul
Mother Mary Paul wrote the following series of thought-provoking entries for a parish bulletin. We are strong advocates of "functional spirituality": spiritual guidance that is understandable, applicable, and attainable.
Turning the Tables to Grow in Virtue
In order to renew our mind in Christ and to grow in virtue we must do two things: first, pray for the grace, and second, do the work. God works with us; He requires our participation. I recently introduced the idea of grabbing a negative thought so as to stop it from leading to sin. I would like to expound on that a bit more.
Consider the invasive thought: “She is so annoying…What’s wrong with her?!” STOP…grab hold of the thought and put it in your hand (which, by the way, is what is called a “prophetic” gesture). Now pray: “Lord, what do you want me to know right now?” BE STILL, pay attention to what comes to mind: a voice in your mind or soul, a word, an image, a memory. Don’t dismiss what comes to you as your own fabrication. Trust the Lord to reveal what will edify you and bring grace into the situation. Maybe you receive a memory of your childhood when your mom was doing the same annoying thing and yelling at your dad, or perhaps you hear the Lord say: “She is My beloved daughter; what you do to her you do to Me.” (It will sound like your voice as He has no other voice to use!) You might see an image of her or hear a word that reveals a terrible suffering in her life….ask, wait, and see what the Lord does. He wants you to be holy more than you want to be holy!
Grabbing hold of powerful negative thoughts and feelings while quieting ourselves to engage in a prayer to save us from their influence is difficult! It takes grace, intentionality, fortitude, and practice. But as St Paul says: “…God did not give us a spirit of timidity (fear) but a spirit of power and love and self-control.” (2 Tim 1:7)
The next two steps involve switching from the defense to the offense. First, renounce whatever “spirit” you are dealing with, out loud, and in the name of Jesus (He has all the power) : “In the name of Jesus I renounce the spirit of: anger, resentment, fear, annoyance, etc.” Second, determine the virtue that is the opposite of the vice and begin to practice it. Eventually, the negative tendency will dissipate. Remember, the best defense is a good offense and… we are called to be holy! … “but as He who has called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy. (1 Peter 1: 15-16)”
A Simple Tool for Spiritual Warfare
The world is a training ground. Here we engage in numerous battles, seemingly without end. The battleground is our very self. The kingdom we fight for is eternal. We fight to win freedom from all that seeks to prevent us from living our eternity in union with God, for indeed, we will live forever, and we must decide where our forever will be.
I was reading from the Book of Maccabees at Morning Prayer. It is replete with battles. Judas Maccabeus rallies his people to fight to save their faith, families, and freedom. I’m always inspired by his courage and zeal. It is a compelling read. I pondered the battling for our souls and the consequences of not engaging in the struggle, of entering into sin. We often feel powerless, unaware of how to fight. We know that to sin is our free choice, but how do we prevent it? How do we hold our ground as holy ones of God, as saints, in the face of temptation?
My ‘go to’ is always to look for a tool. Sometimes, simply running away, as suggested by St Therese, is an easy and respectable solution. At other times, we need to engage. It is the continual engagement that renews our minds, strengthening our resolve. Let us consider ‘extreme annoyance at another’ as an example of a call to battle. The annoyance enters me and grips, it seems, my entire self. The tremendous energy of it is prompting me toward saying something nasty, arrogant, sarcastic, demeaning. The door to sin is opening…STOP! I do not want this. It is a suffering. Lord, I offer you this suffering. I choose to suffer rather than to sin. I place that annoyance in my hand. It sits there. I feel it. I don’t enjoy it. Yet, I am willing to experience it as a gift to my Lord. If we are willing to suffer, the influence of the devil upon our weakness is thwarted, for all he can do is cause suffering in order to lead us astray. I do NOT act on it. I say nothing negative or hurtful; rather I smile.
Being able to feel ‘bad’ and still choose the good is one of our most powerful tools. It is very lacking in the world. It is essential to learn how to carry both the pain and the joy of life simultaneously. That’s how life is. Our ancestors knew that; at least, my parents did, and showed me that it truly is the proper ordering of life. Let us ask the Holy Spirit to inspire in us an understanding of our power against sin as children of the Most Blessed and Almighty God!
Saints and Sinners
November begins by turning our focus toward saints and sinners. Most of us tend to associate ourselves with the latter, not daring to consider ourselves as saints. But our alignment can influence the unfolding of our lives in a way that perhaps we haven’t considered. How we think about ourselves matters.
St Paul refers to the baptized recipients of his letters as “saints,” those sanctified in Christ (1Cor1:2, 2 Cor1:1, Col 1:2, Eph1:1). He exhorts the faithful to “…think of yourself as being dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus (Rom 6:11),” and then goes on to explain this new life in Christ. So, the Baptized are dead to sin and sanctified in Christ. Through our Baptism we have been made the holy ones of God, and we are called to live out of that holiness as saints, that we might live for all eternity in and with God. That is the most important of ALL things for us, and it should awaken in us an exciting hope!
What does it mean to be a saint, to be holy? It is to follow the will of God, which is to be like His Son, Jesus, which is to love. When we sin, we turn away from love; but we are no longer slaves to sin (Rom 6). Sin is a choice.
Here is why how we think about ourselves matters…If I see myself as a sinner, then sin can easily become inevitable, ordinary, to be expected. I feel trapped in a repetitive cycle with no hope to escape. I believe myself unworthy, lowly, lacking in value. I step further and further away from God in repetitious sin and discouragement. If I see myself as a saint, as one sanctified in Christ, as aligned with God, and called to live out of the status of beloved child of the Heavenly Father, then I will begin to see my sins in a whole new light. They will become bigger and even more serious than I had thought, and I will grab hold of all my spiritual weapons and go powerfully forward for God, fighting the inclination to sin. And when I “forget who I am” and fall into sin I can come back to my Father and be forgiven and restored through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, filled with hope.
Do you think of yourself as someone made holy in Christ (saint) who falls, or as a sinner who occasionally does the right thing?
A Profound Mystery Demands a Response
The writings of Msgr. Romano Guardini have become an important and edifying part of our spiritual formation as Sisters. “Meditations before Mass,” published by Sophia Press, is a collection of 32 consecutive short talks that were presented by Msgr. Guardini prior to his Masses in order to instruct and inspire his flock in regard to the meaning and depth of the Divine Liturgy. These simple talks were deemed so helpful that they were subsequently published.
Yesterday I read about composure, about putting our whole heart, mind, soul and strength into a task or relationship, about being totally present to it. The great commandment to love God this way came to mind (Deut 6:5, Mt 22:37). Guardini explains that the Divine Liturgy is about this same kind of presence, for us and for God. God is present here, in the Eucharist, which is a great mystery indeed! He is not present in this way outside of the Eucharist. As much as many might think that they possess the totality of God in the surrounding beauty of nature, they simply do not.
This incredibly astounding presence of our God, body, blood, soul, and divinity, at Holy Mass in the Eucharist, demands a response from us, His creatures; a response of our presence, our totality- “with body, mind, and soul, with attention, reverence, and love.” Guardini expounds: “That is composure. Only he who is composed can have God’s presence within him and appear before Him to respond to His outpouring grace with adoration and love (p.28).” From here the good monsignor explains how our totality of presence, our composure, should translate into a position of “attentive listening” and an overall bearing that speaks of being in the Divine Presence.
As I meander through this wonderful text, I am struck by just how powerful the simple can actually be, and of how lacking in many of these simple things our overall culture has become. We can become so comfortable in our mannerisms from being in the outside world that we forget to stand straight and tall in the presence of Divine Majesty. The inside of the Church must be different from the outside. I invite you to invest in a copy and see if you, too, aren’t transformed by the awe of simplicity.
"Guard what has been entrusted to you..."
“For freedom Christ has set us free,” St Paul tells the Galatians (5:1). We saw last week how closely freedom and truth are aligned, recalling Jesus’ own words that He is Truth (Jn 14:6), and that this truth would set us free (Jn 8:31-32). As I was pondering how deeply truth, freedom, and Christ are interwoven, I encountered St Paul again, speaking to Timothy, “O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you. Avoid the godless chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge, for by professing it some have missed the mark as regards faith (1 Tim 6:20-21). I was deeply struck, picturing a tired St Paul, filled with Him Who is Love, Truth, Freedom, and Divine Knowledge Itself, desperately desiring that others come to know Jesus and to guard what He has revealed in Sacred Scripture and the dogmas and doctrines of His Holy Catholic Church through the power of His Most Holy Spirit.
St Paul’s exhortation gives me pause as I reflect on the many recent, disturbing events in our country and the world. I hear him saying, “O Mother Mary Paul, guard what has been entrusted to you…,” and I shudder at the power and expectation of this plea as it resonates deeply in my soul. I considered the small group of spiritually hungry Catholics who met last night in a local home seeking to discover just exactly what they have been entrusted to guard. I am sure that the Lord was smiling as so many of His Beloved gathered together in search of Him: Truth, Freedom, Knowledge, Love.
To each of us, St Paul passionately exhorts, “ O__________, guard what has been entrusted to you.” Let us pray, “Holy Spirit, come upon me. Anoint me with freedom in Christ.”
Renewal of our Minds, Part 2
Fr. David’s recent parish mission inspired me to continue exploration of renewal of the mind in Christ. I wrote recently of turning from negative thoughts to the goodness of God. I suspect that the determination and perseverance required became obvious to all who took this challenge to heart. Renewal is truly an ongoing and difficult work!
Another struggle within our minds is in regard to truth. We all seek it, but as we look around, we are continually faced with the lack of it, leaving us confused and fearful. Fear, like negativity, is a powerful source of distortion which opens the door to the influence of the evil one and seems to have gripped our culture. “Do not fear” is mentioned 365 times in the Bible, once for each day. Why?
Fear distorts our thinking: we fear the negative thoughts of others toward us, of suffering consequences for our actions, of not getting what we want, or of being a failure. Fear distorts truth and adds to the swirling confusion around us. In 5th grade Sr. Anita asked, “Do you think the Immaculate Conception is true?” I raised my hand and when called upon responded, “Truth is truth and will remain so regardless of what I think about it." This simple proclamation should propel us all forward to seek and find truth both in ourselves and in the surrounding world. Truth is not synonymous with our personal thoughts and opinions.
Jesus declared Himself to BE truth (Jn 14:6), and that this truth would set us free (Jn 8:31-32). How free are we?... How bound are we by our own fears, desires, needs, and opinions? To seek the Truth (Jesus), to speak the Truth (Jesus) in love without fear (1 Jn 4:18)…this is renewal of the mind in Christ. Let us go forward in Truth and turn from the fears that distort and bind the effects of His Divine Grace in our lives.
Negativity and the Renewal of our Minds
Sister Agnes and I engage in a lot of spiritual work and study since, of course, that is our job. We have found that the topic of negativity and renewal of the mind pops up quite often in the literature. After recently watching an interview with Fr. Chad Ripperger, a well-known exorcist, who explained why one would want to drop the negativity, I thought I would share a bit about it. St. Paul speaks a lot about renewing our mind in Christ and about negativity. It is an ancient vice.
In a nutshell, our negative thoughts open the “door” of our mind, providing plenty of room for the demons to enter in and proceed to distort our thoughts further. Before very long at all there is no room for God. The negativity is contrary to His very nature. The darkness cannot coexist with the light. It is the goal of the demon to alienate us from God.
When we become aware of a negative thought, any negative thought about ourselves or others, no matter how big or small, immediately turn to God’s goodness and thank and praise Him. Saying the words restores us in God, renews our mind, and drives away the demons. The darkness cannot coexist with the light. After a time, we find that our negative thoughts have greatly diminished, and we notice that we feel a lot better. How wonderful if we all would renew our minds in Christ!
Uniting our Sorrows to Our Lady
Let us pray for the grace and healing of Our Lord upon our country, remembering the trauma of September 11, 2001, and unite our sorrow to that of Our Blessed Lady. This is especially appropriate since September is dedicated to the Seven Sorrows of Mary. Holy Mother Church has chosen to venerate seven of her sorrows, although who could possibly quantify her tremendous sufferings?! In our own sufferings we can often feel isolated, confused, and even resentful.
Our Lady has promised great graces to those who ponder her Seven Sorrows. During this month let us unite our sufferings with Hers and teach our children to do the same. When feeling lost or out of place at school, work, or in the world in general, consider the flight of the Holy Family into Egypt. When a loved one is struggling with addictions or illness consider the meeting of Mary and Jesus on the Via Dolorosa. Union with Mary will lead to union with her Beloved Son and an all-encompassing peace beyond all understanding.
Prophecy of Simeon (Luke 2: 34,35)
Flight into Egypt (Mt 2: 13-14)
Loss of Child Jesus in the Temple (Lk 2: 34-35)
Meeting of Jesus and Mary on the way to Calvary
Crucifixion and Death of Jesus
Body of Jesus is removed from the Cross
Burial of Jesus
Consecration and the Holy Habit: Part 2
Dear Friends in Christ,
Consecration and the Holy Habit: part 2… Each particular piece of the Holy Habit is significant and is donned with a prayer.
Dress: Wedding gown: I rejoice heartily in the Lord, In my God is the joy of my soul; For he has clothed me with a robe of salvation, And wrapped me in a mantel of justice, Like a bride bedecked with her jewels ( Isaiah 61:10)
Collar: Surrender to God. Lord, lead me along the path that pleases you… Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me… (Mt 11:28-30 )
Belt: Chastity, fortitude, and obedience. Do not be afraid of them; the LORD your God himself will fight for you.” (Deut. 3:22) and Eph 6: 10-18: “…the belt of truth…”
Scapular: Protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary: Mother Mary, cover me with the mantel of your love and protection. Transform me into the likeness of your Son, Who is love and mercy itself.
Crucifix: Death to ourselves. Kiss the floor while saying: For you Lord, save souls, Jesus, I trust in You.
Veil: We belong only to the Lord: Jesus, You are my only love.
Rosary: Consecration to Jesus through Mary: O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to Thee.
Reflection: How do I clothe myself in Christ each day? Does what I wear witness to the sacredness of my body and reverence for Almighty God, especially in Church? What prayer can I offer as I dress each day?
Consecration and the Holy Habit: Part 1
Dear Friends in Christ,
Consecration and the Holy Habit: part 1…We have all been consecrated, or set aside, for God through our Baptism. We belong to Him and to Him alone. We are sacred! What is consecrated cannot be used for the mundane or profane, as it is ordered to the worship of God. Blessed objects, for example, cannot be used as door stops or tossed around. This applies to humans as well. Sin and mistreatment of our bodies profanes what has been rightly ordered for the worship of God and is sacred. Throughout the history of the Church those items set aside for God have been covered, for example: the altar with an altar cloth, the tabernacle with a veil, the chalice with a veil.
As Consecrated Religious we are set aside for God alone in our entirety, and so we, too, are covered is a particular way that speaks to the sacredness of our commitment. Our manner of covering is our Holy Habit. For us it is a wedding gown worn at all times. Each piece of the habit holds a special significance, and a particular prayer is said while putting it on. This week let us each ponder our own consecration and how we manifest our sacredness to the world.
What is the Religious Life? Part 2
Dear Friends in Christ,
Sisters can be seen coming and going around town and at Church. They seem to be always together and somewhat quiet and aloof. One might ask, “What do they do? What are they about?” The last fifty years have seen a decline in nuns /sisters. And since some sisters do not wear a distinctive habit, these are further obscured from the common eye. It’s therefore not surprising that questions arise.
In some ways a Religious Community of Sisters is similar to a family. Sisters spend time with one another in work and prayer. We share a common living space and schedule, along with meals, leisure activities, responsibilities, and values. We are a cohesive unit bonded together in shared love of one another and Christ, Our Lord.
Specifically, we have ways of being and doing that reflect our life commitment to Jesus Christ as Spouse, including how we engage with the world in business, entertainment, and daily interactions. We have times of prayer throughout the day, amounting to at least 6 hours, during which we do not answer the phone or door. We have an area of our home, “convent,” that is referred to as the “enclosure” or “cloister,” in which only the Sisters can be, much like the privacy of a family’s home which is available only to family members. We have times and places of silence, reserved for communication with the Lord alone. Although we are ‘in the world’, we strive to not be ‘of the world’, and thus we often tend toward a quiet day at the convent, where we are praying for the needs of our local community and the world.
What is the Religious Life?
Dear Friends in Christ,
Religious life has always retained a measure of mystery and intrigue. Those old enough to remember growing up with Sisters at the local school will probably recall having wondered about them. Since many still do wonder, and rightly so since so much of our life is hidden and we look very different from most people, I thought I would share a bit about religious life during the next few weeks, and perhaps you will be able to enter into this beautiful mystery.
At the foundation of Religious life is a vowed Consecration to God. We give our entire life, our very self, to Him and to Him alone. We leave behind family and friends, personal desires, accomplishments, money, ownership of property, even determining our own daily schedule, and make a total gift of self-sacrificing love to the Lord, Whom we take as Divine Spouse.
Almighty God, by the virtue of Justice, deserves from each one of us the love, honor, respect, and reverence which is His due. This is the “right order” of human life. Our vows of poverty, chastity and obedience take us a step further. We are bound by them to fulfill all that they require of us as expressed in our written Rule of Life, our Constitutions. It is as in marriage, when a husband and wife are bound by their vows to certain requirements of the Sacrament. It is no simple or haphazard agreement but a covenant with the Lord God Almighty that lasts, unlike a human marriage, into perpetuity. We will forever and always be Spouse of the Lord Jesus Christ!
Solemnity of Corpus Christi
The Heart of our dear Lord Jesus, wishing to forever remain with us, so loved us even beyond His passion, death and resurrection, as to abase and humiliate His divine majesty in His humble presence in the Eucharistic Host. Today we are privileged to process outside of the Church with our Eucharistic Jesus, presenting Him to the world, accompanied by all the hosts of Heaven, proclaiming our faith in heartfelt joy and adoration: Holy, Holy, Holy Lord, God of Hosts. Heaven and earth are FULL of your glory. Hosanna in the highest!
A prayer for today: Lord Jesus, I humbly walk behind You, aware of how unworthy I am to accompany You. I praise You and bless You. Thank you for loving me unconditionally, just as I am. Grant me the courage to proclaim You to each person I meet. Lord Jesus, make my heart like
unto Thine. Amen.
Spending Time with the Beloved
Dear friends in Christ…The celebration of Trinity Sunday is most particular, intentionally and specifically recognizing and contemplating the great mystery of the Trinity, three persons in one Most Holy God. As religious sisters we are consecrated to God through vows that last for all eternity, and thus our lives are to reflect a continual celebration of this mystery. It is a very special and significant experience of the bond of love. We are considered as ‘spouses of Christ,’ Who lifts us to the Father’s Heart, through the inspiration and action of the Holy Spirit.
Much of our time in religious life is given to prayer where we lift our minds and hearts to God, entering ever more deeply into closer union with our Beloved. We all want to spend time with those we love, most especially our spouses. It is how we draw closer to one another. As we settle into a new life here in Great Falls, Sister Agnes and I are slowly reclaiming our “Horarium,” our way, or schedule, of prayer. It offers a peaceful and life-giving rhythm, especially in contrast to the noise and busyness that surrounds us. It is important for everyone to set aside time to be with our Beloved Triune God, getting to know each person, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It is easy to establish a Horarium for yourselves and your families. Begin simply and add on as you start to develop a rhythm. Below is a general sample of ours.
6:00-8:00 Angelus, Divine Office of Readings, Holy Hour, Lauds (Morning Prayer)
8:30 Holy Mass (silent prayer 15 minutes before and after)
11:30- 11:50 Spiritual reading
11:50- 12:15 Angelus, Sext (Noon Prayer), Chaplet of Divine Mercy, Stations of Cross-Friday
4:00 -5:15 Holy Hour, Rosary, Angelus, Vespers (Evening Prayer)
7:50 PM Compline (Night Prayer) (Silence until breakfast )
30 minutes Scripture reading daily
Our prayer today: “Dear Father, help me to know You. Dear Lord Jesus, help me to know You. Dear Holy Spirit, help me to know You.” Ask, and then quietly listen as each person of the Trinity makes Himself known to you. We look forward to hearing about your new Horarium!
Striving for Silence and Stillness
Come Holy Spirit…come in the silence of our hearts, in the stillness of our minds! …Silence and stillness don’t seem to come naturally or easily to those of us living in populated areas. A friend recently shared that she had sold her house, left her job, and relocated to an isolated ranch. She needed to slow down, she said, as she could not hear God. As consecrated religious we pay particular attention to slowing down so as to spend time with our Beloved Spouse, listening attentively to the quiet voice of His Spirit within. This week we will spend this time in an isolated retreat center in the mountains of Montana.
St. Faustyna spoke of striving for silence and stillness in her soul and of hearing the Lord speak to her there. The sanctuary of our Church is a place of entrance into this sacred silence and stillness where God can not only speak to us but IS WITH US in His totality: body, blood, soul and divinity, in the most Holy Eucharist within the tabernacle. As one turns the corner and is confronted with the exquisite golden repository of our humble God, one can’t help but be struck with the thought of how very much we need these precious moments of silence and stillness, of how much it does matter that the inside of the Church is different from what we left behind on the outside.
On this most holy day of Pentecost let us prepare in silence and stillness, as did the Apostles, to receive the coming of our Lord’s Most Holy Spirit into our own hearts and souls, and may He anoint each one of us with the courage to proclaim His Kingdom to all we meet.