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Rule of Life, Quarantine Edition

For the past couple of years, it’s become something of an annual tradition for me to share about my ongoing efforts to craft and keep a rule of life. Since our lives are always changing, it makes sense that this is something that gets adapted as we face different transitions and obstacles to overcome. If you would be interested in looking at past years, you can find them here (2019, 2018) as well as my initial post on how to create a rule of life (here). Today, I wanted to share about how that’s been going so far in 2020, which has definitely been impacted by recent events.

Mornings

I begin my mornings “in the usual way” (as Fr. Timothy Gallagher might say), with a prayer of gratitude in my own words, thanking God for the present day and all that is to be in it, good and bad, and ask for His help, that by my actions, He might be glorified, and my soul further sanctified. This transitions into my morning offering prayer (the Brown Scapular prayer). Usually after this, unless I’ve taken a brief break, I’ve transitioned to my favorite chair where I keep some of my Bible resources and begin other prayers.

This is a new change from last year, but over the past couple of weeks, I’ve begun by reading a bible verse of the day, and offering a prayer for the holy souls in Purgatory. Following this, I now pray a morning Rosary (5 decades) with the closing prayers. I am working on trying to memorize things as I go, like how to pray the “Apostle’s Creed”, or the “Hail, Holy Queen”, from memory. It’s a work in progress. When the rosary is finished, at the advice of a confessor, I have been praying the “Litany of Humility”, and because this felt incomplete, I wrap it up with the “Fatima Prayer” and an “Our Father”.

Most of my good intentions for prayers during the course of the day were completely abandoned unfortunately. That isn’t to say that I don’t pray during the day. I do. But they aren’t structured prayers like these typically. With intercessory prayers, they tend to be whenever it’s needed — either at the point I am reminded of a person or situation to pray for, or, if I’ve decided to pray for everyone at once, then at that point.

Sacramentals

Lately, with the stay-at home orders, there’s been a lot more time for Adoration, which has been something I’ve been trying to do on a weekly basis, or as frequently as is offered and my schedule allows. With the churches closed for the physical sacraments, these fleeting opportunities are ones I cherish. And our regular activities being suspended, it’s been a creative exercise in finding ways to still keep a sense of normalcy with everything going on.

For example, it’s been two months (here at least) since we’ve been able to participate in mass in person. I am very grateful for the live-streaming masses available from pretty much everywhere, but it’s just not the same. I also found the opportunity to go to Confession once during that time, which has been of great help (even with the social distancing requirements in place). And this isn’t a sacrament, but, additionally, my Bible study group has switched to using an online video conferencing system during this time, so that’s been an amazing way to keep in touch with spiritual friends and still discuss the Word of God together.

Evenings

All of my best-laid plans for evening prayer have gone more or less out the window. I still have a few bedtime prayers I say, as a way to end the day with the Lord. One of the things I’d been exploring was doing an evening examen, and that hasn’t happened at all. With the stay-at-home orders in place for the past two months, it’s really disrupted the daily rhythm of my life, and I find I’m going to bed later, and sleeping in longer, and not necessarily an improved change overall.

Other Matters

It’s been a time for introspection, prayer, and for processing a lot of emotions right now, and if I’m being quite honest here, I suspect that perhaps I’m not entirely alone in this. For those of you reading in a similar frame of mind, I’d like to encourage you to try and keep your heart tender to God speaking, and to be willing to act in obedience on His Word.

Cherish hope.

God has not abandoned us.

The Church will triumph in the end.

All evil is subject to God, who is still in control, and the mysteries of how He works are beyond our comprehension.

God bless you all.

Keeping a Prayer Journal

In the times past that I’ve had the most self-discipline when it came to an active prayer life, if I’m honest, it was because I kept a prayer journal. My cheap spiral-bound notebooks (lay-flat binding is a ‘must-have’ feature for me) became a home for daily check-ins as I recorded whether I’d remembered to prayed, what Bible passages I’d read, and record a few paragraphs, sometimes pages even, of conversations with God.

Creating a structured system, in effect, helped me during those periods to establish a rhythm of daily life and the focus to know WHAT I was going to do, and WHEN I was going to do it. Sitting in my chair, I had my journal and a pen, the Bible (in whatever translation I was presently reading), and a few spiritual books — books of prayer, books on the lives of the saints, devotionals, a catechism.

Lest you get the wrong idea, I am not saying that it’s a clinical habit, boiled down to a list of checked boxes. Far from it. But I have found that, at least for me, having some kind of structure does help with consistency, as a kind of personal accountability.

Most recently, I have started a new journal system, using an Erin Condren Petite Planner. It’s essentially their brand’s version of a traveler’s notebook, and this has been my go-to for keeping track of whatever needs to be done on a daily basis. One of the things I’ve found helpful is to portion off a book just for perennial reference items, like recurring lists, and a booklet of prayers. These are all handwritten in, and then referred to on a daily basis, or as the applicable situation which calls for that prayer arises.

What I really like about creating your own book of prayers (within a journal), is not only are you cultivating a reference section of prayers that you’ve found to be deeply personal to you, but, you’re more likely to use them because of the time (and hand cramping, ouch!) involved in scribing them in. Also, there’s something to be said for the act of physically writing something down as an aid to helping you memorize things, so, I definitely recommend that technique — yep, just like you’re back in school.

Otherwise, what I try to do is include the current date, and have a mental idea (if it isn’t written down already) of what the focus of the prayer time for that session is, and usually, I try to keep track of any intentions that I’m aware of (people that have asked me to pray, or world situations that cause me anxiety, or things closer to home I want to talk to God about). I personally find it helpful to not only pray, but to spend time reading God’s Word, because He definitely has spoken through the scriptures. It’s also helpful to meditate on what you are reading or praying about, and really focus in on that present moment, and on God, and LISTEN.

Image from Pexels.

If you’ve guessed that I write about all of those things too, you’re absolutely correct. A prayer journal can be as short or as long as you choose for it to be. But the writing down of things, especially those revelations from God, are the very stuff that builds your life. After doing journaling for a number of years, sometimes I go back to past periods of my life and re-read journal entries, and it’s amazing (sometimes heartbreaking) to see where I was then as opposed to now.

If you find this an interesting subject, I’d love to hear from you. Got a question about keeping your own prayer journal? Leave a comment. Keeping one already? I’d love to hear what you’ve found helpful. Have you written about prayer journaling on your own blog or website? Feel free to share a link — I’d love to read about it. I hope you found something helpful in today’s post. God bless you.

Thank You

Recently, a few people have been contacting me about this blog, and expressing a desire to pray more, or speaking of finding enjoyment or encouragement from these notes. You’ve no idea how blessed I am to hear from you all. Thank you. Comments are always open on my blog posts — if it’s your first time commenting, there is an approval process, which means I basically just scan the comment to make sure it isn’t inappropriate by most community website standards, and it gets approved.

This is a small community but one I am grateful for, and if anything I’ve written is helpful, or that you have questions about, or that might be applicable to your own experience, I’d love to hear about it. So, please consider leaving a comment sometime, and let’s grow closer to Christ, together. Thank you again!

Everything Feels Unfamiliar and Uncertain Right Now

When Mary and Joseph were in Bethlehem, looking for a place to stay, surely for anyone else, that would have been a time when fear was a temptation. Her birth was imminent; surely God would not want His own Son to be born in an open field? They were faced with an imminent situation totally outside of their control, and throwing themselves upon the mercy of strangers, but it seemed like there was no mercy to be found.

Until finally, they were told about the cavern, not even fit for men, only good enough for livestock. But that is where they found themselves, in a situation completely outside of what they would likely have ever chosen for themselves — how could THIS be the will of the Father? And yet, when they placed themselves in the Father’s care, they found they were led to exactly where they were supposed to be all along — perfectly centered within His divine plan.

There’s no way that Joseph could have foreseen the humblest of places being the birthplace of his adopted son, or that the wonder of the universe would choose such a lowly place for His birth, without any acclaim from man, but that’s exactly what He chose. There’s a wonderful verse about how if men don’t praise God, that He will cause even the rocks to cry out. Instead, His angels appeared, proclaiming the good news of Christ’s birth to shepherds, and to kings. Christ was born for the lowly and the mighty, Jewish and Gentile. And He is forever worthy of praise.

Are you finding yourself in a situation where events seem like they are progressing and are unstoppable, like a woman in labor? Are you experiencing anxiety or fear over God’s provision, and whether you can find your needs met when doors seem to keep shutting in your face? Turn to God, trust in God, and be led by God. Allow Him to guide you to that unexpected place where you will be perfectly cradled in His will for your life. From the outside appearance, it may not appear to be what you’d ever have willingly chosen for yourself, but if God is in it, then there’s nowhere else you should be right now.

The Divine Mercy Novena

In 2020, I participated in my first novena — the Divine Mercy novena. Today was the final day. A novena, for the unfamiliar, is a nine-day period leading up to a feast day in the Catholic Church, in which you say the same prayer (or set of prayers) for various intentions.

In the Catholic Church, Divine Mercy Sunday falls on the Sunday immediately after Easter, so the novena begins on Good Friday each year, and concludes on the Saturday before Divine Mercy Sunday. The feast finds its origins in the life and writings of St. Maria Faustina Kowalska (1905-1938), who purported to have conversations with Jesus, and her life’s mission was basically the propagation of this devotion to the Divine Mercy.

Photo from Pexels.

St. Faustina had a vision of Jesus with blood and water flowing from his heart and a painting was commissioned that is still venerated. I’ve blogged before about the chaplet of Divine Mercy (here), so if you’re interested in specifics, definitely check that link out. What I’d like to share for a few minutes were my impressions of the novena and what I’d do differently, or recommend for first-timers, so if that sounds of interest, I hope you’ll keep reading.

General Impressions:

I’ll be honest, here. I’m not one of those Catholics that prays the Rosary every day, so sitting down for a while to pray the chaplet of Divine Mercy, took a chunk of time and adjustment. Even with the added optional prayers, if I’m not mistaken, it’s still shorter than saying a full set of mysteries (of the Rosary). And even rushing through the prayers, it was still a good 20+ minutes of my day that I wasn’t spending answering emails, scrolling through social media, or reading.

For me, I found it easiest to do it at the most quiet part of my day (mornings). This also helped me be consistent about getting it ‘out of the way’ before the day got away from me. Beyond the repetition of the prayers, I wish there was more of a meditative aspect as I wasn’t entirely clear where to direct my thoughts. Instead, I tried to focus on Jesus, and on the group of intentions for that day. That didn’t always work though, and it’s a humbling reminder that I’m human, same as everybody else.

This nine-day period has been a time of increased spiritual attack. On Good Friday-Holy Saturday, while I slept, a demon visited me in my sleep and began speaking vile profanities against the LORD. I could not pick out a word or phrase, only the sense in my spirit that this was its intent. Having been to the Sacrament of Reconciliation a few days prior, I hoped that I was still in a state of grace, and I rebuked it, and immediately it was gone.

That demonic visitation began a period of various trials in my day-to-day life that challenged me, humbled me, and left me depressed, stressed, and afraid, as so many uncertainties and fears were snowballing, and I flung myself headlong onto Christ’s divine mercy. I wish I could transition here and say that the miraculous happened and all my worries and fears vanished at once. But they didn’t. Sometimes, the act of praying daily was a comfort. Some days, I could sense God’s peace descending. Other days, the cares and anxieties just made that peace seem fleeting, like a bird unable to land on a tree branch, thrashing in a fierce storm.

I can tell you that I felt my interior life has begun to change. I was more honest. To myself, more than anyone. I let go, a little, of my constant desire for perfection, recognizing that only God is perfect. And I think He’s shown me that I can get through more than I think I can, if I’m only willing to lean on Him absolutely. Because in His power, nothing is impossible.

But that starts with learning to show mercy at home. If we cannot learn to forgive ourselves, how can we ever hope to forgive others? I suspect that the lessons will not cease tomorrow, but I will need to find new ways to challenge myself to keep reaching higher in my climb with Christ.

If we compare a novena to a spiritual exercise, I would caution you to pray and discern whether you are meant to give this a try, in the same way you might consult with a physician before embarking on a new exercise regimen or diet. The great Physician knows exactly what you need, and He’ll never steer you wrong. If you decide some year to attempt this novena for yourself, keep reading for a handful of tips I’ve compiled from what I’ve found useful in my own journey. God bless you.

5 Tips For Participating in a Novena:

– Join an email list so you get the prayers and reminders sent to your inbox each day. For this novena, I joined for free at praymorenovenas.com.

– Decide to pray at the same time each day, and keep to that schedule.

– Swipe/delete your email reminder only AFTER you’ve completed it that day. This way, it’ll remind you each time you check your email.

– You may find it helpful to set up a prayer reminder. If you’re using the MyParish app, you’ll find the chaplet of Divine Mercy under the “Prayers” section, and you can set up phone notifications.

– Use a five-decade (or “Dominican” rosary). The chaplet has five decades in it, like your standard rosary. This might be a no-brainer, but I used a pocket rosary (single-decade) and it took extra effort just to remember which set I was on at any given time, which pulls you away from the prayers.