February 2006, the first time I walked into a room full of women gathered to study God's word together - not only with a bible but along with a book! The book, The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren - would begin a remarkable transformation of my faith life. Although, I only stayed with that first group for three years, recognizing the blessing of coming together on a weekly basis, now, in a very unlikely role, I am the host!
Family Clean vs Company Clean
Although initially overwhelmed at the idea of hosting or even leading a group, the blessing it had been in my life was too great to let the fear keep me from providing this opportunity to others. The first real issue - the family vs company clean status of my home on any given day. My busy schedule and self confessed laziness made the idea of having a spotless home every week - daunting to say the least. Then came my fear of not knowing enough to be 'in charge', and lastly, what if no one wanted to come or I wasn't able to maintain a friendly environment. Sadly, I had seen friendships strained when faith belief's collide. All valid concerns but none insurmountable.
A quickly learned, true friends are cool with family clean (as long as they are not sticking to floor or furniture, and you've wiped down the bathroom things are cool), they weren't coming to see what I knew but to grow in relationship with Christ, and lastly, all you can do is treat people with love and respect. Over the years as I have held small group book / bible studies at the parish, other people's homes and yes, even in my own dining room! While there may arise a difference here and there, we've managed to avoid fist-a-cuffs, so I can safely say all my fears have been completely unfounded!
So let me share my top 5 confidence boosters that I hope will inspire you to invite friends and soon to be friends to encounter God and a life of faith in a whole new way!!
Guess What. You DO NOT need to know all the answers!! If you need to look something up - do it. If you need to check with your Pastor and get back to the group - do it! A facilitator is not a teacher - while you may have skills in that area, it is not necessary. As Joshua says, DO not be afraid, be bold and courageous, and as Nike says, Just Do It!
When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been ill for a long time, he said to him,
Being Sick Stinks
There are so many ways we can be sick — physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually. We even use the word to refer to being fed up with something. Most people do not wish to or like to be sick. As a working mother, I am often heard saying that old cliche, “I don’t have time to be sick.”
As a “germaphobe”, I take my dislike for being ‘out of commission’ with any type of ailment to a whole new level. Some, primarily my dear hubby, have even implied my fear teeters on neurotic. I can't really argue that. The irony is, for a very long period of my life, I would have welcomed illness because it gave me a valid excuse to give into my insecurities and fears. I would have happily taken a day or two on the couch with my tissues, soup and favorite book, instead of facing the world. Sick was sometimes convenient and sometimes comforting because nothing was expected of me in that condition.
When We Are Ready to be Well
It would seem obvious that the man in today’s Gospel did not wish to remain unwell, if he was laying so close to this place that promised him healing. Though, he does seem to have a few excuses as why he hasn’t taken advantage of this cure for the last 38 years. As I contemplated why he had not simply asked another to person to help him or devised a way to get in a better position for receiving the healing, I thought of that fearful time in my life. That time when change seemed almost as overwhelming and scary as remaining in my current condition. I remembered how my pride prevented me from reaching out to anyone for help, not wanting to blow my ‘I have it altogether’ image.
How hard it can be to enlist another person’s assistance, especially when it means admitting — out loud — that you cannot help yourself. How frightening this step can be, especially when you wonder if you’ll be turned down or disappointed by that person after you have muster the strength to ask. Will they, like Jesus, be willing to risk everything, to be God’s instrument of saving grace?
When I finally reached the point I knew it was time to be well. I also knew it was time to turn to Jesus. I returned tothe Sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist (both in Mass and inAdoration). As the days passed, I began to feel nudge of the Spirit in my heart asking me, “Do you want to be well?” Answering “yes”, had to first came with the recognition that the healing was coming from Him (in whatever form He choose to send it) and made it possible to finally accept it.
“Immediately the man became well, took up his mat, and walked.”
All Rights Reserved, Allison Gingras 2017
First Appeared on April 1, 2014 on CatholicLane.com
The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God. As it is written in Isaiah the prophet: Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way. A voice of one crying out in the desert: "Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths." John the Baptist appeared in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. People of the whole Judean countryside and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins. John was clothed in camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist. He fed on locusts and wild honey. And this is what he proclaimed: "One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."
I was debating how to begin this reflection and thought I could maybe talk about John’s fashion sense, camel hair suits and leather belts...no not that.
Then I thought how about talking about John’s diet, locusts and wild honey...no, never mind on second thought scratch that too.
Then I got it, I’ll start the reflection with a quick geometry lesson before we get into it because it’s fairly clear that God used math in nature during his great creation, if you don’t believe that look up the Fibonacci sequence and then take a look flowers or pine cones or better yet do a Google search of the Fibonacci sequence in nature. Anyways, in mathematics, the Euclidean distance or Euclidean metric is the "ordinary" straight-line distance between two points in Euclidean space. Don’t worry, I didn’t know what that meant either, I had to look it up! What this basically means is that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.
During this second week of Advent I’d like for us to imagine that those two points are you and Heaven. Our goal, when we are finished with this finite earth should be to seek Heaven for eternity. When you look forwards down your path can you see Heaven? How straight is your path towards Heaven? What things are on your path getting in the way? How are we preparing the way for the Lord, Jesus in our lives? Where are we on the path towards Heaven? Well that’s a lot of questions!
Let’s take a moment to go all the way back to the Garden of Eden for the first question God asked Adam after they ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. That question was simply “Where are you?” We need to meditate on that same question, “where are we?”, where are we on our journey towards God, where are we on our journey towards that ultimate Heavenly goal?
Prepare Your Way
Ok, finish meditating later, now back to the Gospel. It’s been about 400 years since the people have heard from the last prophet Malachi and Mark introduces this oddly dressed prophet with a strange diet using the words of Isaiah the prophet “Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way” and here he is, out in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. John the Baptist got it, the Baptist knew where he was on his journey. He knew he wasn’t fit to even stoop to loosen the thongs of Jesus’ sandals, a service customarily done by a slave. John’s clothing of camel hair and a belt would have been reminiscent of Elijah and his preaching was about the one person coming along soon that was mightier than he was. We read how John had many followers who were going to him from the whole Judean countryside and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized in the Jordan River while acknowledging their sins. John had many followers yet he remained humble knowing his true Heavenly calling was to point to Jesus. In the Gospel of John, the Baptist proclaims one of my favorite lines: “He must increase; I must decrease”. John the Baptist got it and we can get it too!
The Catechism of the Catholic Church commands us to be like John when it states in paragraph 1270 "Reborn as sons of God, [the baptized] must profess before men the faith they have received from God through the Church" and participate in the apostolic and missionary activity of the People of God.”
Our lives must be like John the Baptist such that all that we say and do should point to Jesus. An example of this from my past, actually a learning moment from my past where I wasn't doing this. We cannot leave Jesus in the car when we go into the office for the day, he needs to come along with us! I was made well aware of this about ten years ago when the person who has been sitting across from me for many years found out that I was a practicing Catholic and stated “Oh, I didn’t even know you were religious”. His words struck me to the core! Clearly I had my work cut out for me. I have straightened my line between myself and Heaven a lot since then. I do bring Jesus to the office with me almost all the time. I think I can see something bright on the horizon but I have a long way to go and a lot more straightening to do! In what areas does your path to Heaven need straightening and how will you go about repairing that path? Worst case; if your road seems like a dead end get to confession now!
I’d like to end with a quote I found from St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori:
"All would wish to be saved and to enjoy the glory of paradise; but to gain heaven, it is necessary to walk in the straight road that leads to eternal bliss. This road is the observance of the divine commandments. Hence, in his preaching, the Baptist exclaimed: Make straight the way of the Lord."
Contributed by Kevin Gingras, All Rights Reserved 2017
My 2018 Saint Posse
A few years ago I realized at the end of the year, that I seemed to turn toward the same saints each day for intercession. I also noticed that my group of heavenly friends also tended to shift from year to year. New saints were added as I discovered them in my spiritual reading, as well as, different seasons of my life seem to draw me to special intercessors.
I dubbed them my saint posse and created the hashtag: #SaintPosse
Who is in your 2018 Saint Posse???
Can you name all of the Saints in Mine?
Hint: Some of my Posse includes a Venerable and two Blesseds #OnTheirWay
What Do Serving God and Exercise Have in Common?
When introducing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy in her book, Blessed Are You, author Melanie Rigney writes, “Both types can come free and easy … or hard and challenging” (Franciscan Media, 2016, p. 66). This immediately made me think of the healthy benefits of exercise. I can stroll around the park with the kids, or I can strap on the boxing gloves and go a round with the punching bag.
As I read in Melanie’s chapter on mercy, which included Sts. Teresa of Calcutta, Maria Karlowska, and Frances Xavier Cabrini, she brought an important question to mind. How do I approach the responsibility of showing mercy to others in my own life? She did not mean just the common decency we’re called to extend to each other in day to day living with others. But the “words into action, called to be a saint” kind of mercy.
The Works of Mercy remind us that mercy is much more than forgiveness. In totality, these works encourage us to live beyond ourselves. Though we may not all be called to the streets of India, as Saint Teresa of Calcutta was, we are responsible to care for the poorest of the poor—spiritually and physically.
Free and Easy Prayer
Take for instance praying for the living and the dead. There is a straightforward way to accomplish this work of mercy such as offering the intentions for others during prayer. One of my favorite “free and easy” praying for others actions involves Facebook and Adoration. Before my Eucharistic Holy Hours, I will post on Facebook an image of the Eucharist in a Monstrance and the words “Can I pray for you?” The response this post garners humbles and amazes me. I typically receive 100 or more likes and/or comments indicating a request for prayer. Then, when I am sitting in the chapel before Jesus in the Eucharist, praying for each person and their intention by name, I am overcome with a profound sense of hope and peace. Though the requests often break my heart, I would still place this act in the easy act of mercy category.
That Time I Arrived Bearing "Christmas Jesus"
A few years ago, after completing a novena to St. Ann for help with a serious financial matter, I felt a spiritual nudge to give back in charity for great blessings received in an answer to this prayer. After a time of prayer, I was inspired to rejoin the ministry of bringing Holy Communion to the homebound. My pastor was happy to have my help—but it would require me to attend the 8 a.m. Mass and rearrange my work schedule. Sacrifice? I didn’t see that coming; I thought it would be at my leisure and on my time. These were inconvenient sacrifices but the “hard and challenging” was yet to come in a most unexpected way.
First, you have to know I am extremely germophobic. Just weeks into this new ministry, I arrived at my assigned assisted-living location and was greeted by a giant note taped to the door, “ENTER AT YOUR OWN RISK. STOMACH BUG EPIDEMIC.”
The situation was made more difficult because in my hand wasn’t regular Communion but Christmas Communion. How could I not bring them Jesus for Christmas? Christmas was just days away when I was expected to host our family Christmas celebration. It felt selfish to walk into the building and risk getting sick, or worse, exposing my entire family to the bug. Yet, I was holding “Christmas Jesus” and I knew my new friends were looking forward to receiving Communion, which made it seem selfish to walk away.
As my spiritual director always says, “If you are going to trust God, then you need to trust God!” The hard and challenging aspect of this valuable work was trusting God regarding my health for the sake of serving others. When we step out in faith to serve God’s people, we, in essence, become Christ in the world. Even the simplest of tasks can come with obstacles and difficulties; our spiritual muscles are strengthened when we forge through despite them. As in my exercise analogy, the workout that is harder takes more determination and effort. And let’s be honest, the harder workout will produce the greater benefit, too.
In case you are wondering, I did go into the building that morning, and I did not get sick. The smell of Lysol wafting heavily in the air gave me a bit of confidence, but the joy on the face of the first woman quickly told me I made the right choice. I next visited a sweet couple, who had been married for over seventy years. When I was preparing to leave, the wife said, “Jesus will bless you for your kindness.”
Reflecting on that special Christmas, regardless of whether I had become ill or not, the Lord had indeed abundantly blessed me. Abandoning my fears and mustering up my courage to walk through those electronic doors that Christmas elevated my trust in God to a whole new level. The reinforced trust generated in that experience would become the greatest gift I received that year.
Copyright Allison Gingras, 2018
First appeared onCatholic Writers Guild Blog, Nov. 2017