Meister Eckhart, the thirteenth-century German priest and mystic, famously wrote, “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is ‘thank you,’ it will be enough.” Today, as we gather with family and friends to say thank you in the grandest fashion, complete with far too much food and football, it’s a good time to take a closer look at where—or whether—that prayer makes its way into our lives the other 364 days of the year. Like the lepers in today’s Gospel, too often we are like the nine who did not bother to return and thank Jesus for their miraculous healing. We beg, we plead, we bargain, and then when life turns out as we had hoped—in big things and ways—we have already moved on to the next request, often without even pausing to utter those two small-but-powerful words: thank you.
Gratitude is a transformative practice. Put into daily rotation in our spiritual lives, it can remake us in all the best ways. When we are grateful for all that we have, not just in good times but all the time, we begin to see blessings where we hadn’t seen them before; we begin to live life from a place of abundance rather than a place of lack. Suddenly a walk through the grocery store or a drive to the office becomes an opportunity for grace, gratitude, and the awareness of God’s undeniable presence in the middle of our messy lives.
Mary DeTurris Poust, “Small-but-Powerful Words,” from the November 2022 issue of Give Us This Day, www.giveusthisday.org (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2022). Used with permission.
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It has been just about one year since I took the leap and gave notice to my full-time job as a Communications Director. It has been about 10 months since I packed up and vacated the gorgeous office I had at 40 North Main here in Albany. At the time, I knew I was taking a chance. And, with one more kid still needing to go to college, my whole family was taking a chance with me. There were months at the very start where work was slow and I started to worry, but kept telling my husband: “I really believe that if I just stick with this and invest the time and effort and money into my business, it’s all going to come together eventually.” But even as I said it, I prayed my gut instinct was right.
It took an incredible amount of faith — in guidance from the Spirit, in myself, in my experience as a writer and businesswoman, in my intuition. Today, I am here to tell you that following your dreams pays off, as long as you’re willing to risk and work hard. And even as I say that, I know there are no guarantees. Yesterday when I was walking on air due to a couple of nice turns of events, I recognized amid my giddiness that things can change on a dime. So I am basking in gratitude for this moment, even though I know there will inevitably be rough patches of one kind or another. Because, life.
If you are sitting on a dream, putting off your calling, waiting for the kids to move out, or retirement to arrive, or whatever the thing is that provides your ready-made excuse for putting off your truth, your purpose, I urge you to rethink your strategy. That doesn’t mean walking out of a job with no plans or prospects. That would be crazy. It does mean starting to take those incremental steps that will get you where you want to go.
Sign up for a class. Get up early and write, paint, practice, whatever it is you need to do. Make a plan. Do the work of your soul and eventually you will find you are exactly where you are meant to be. But everything leading up to that moment is part of the lesson. Take it all in — the good, the bad, the frustrating, the inexplicable. Sit with each thing, and try to figure out what you are supposed to learn from it. Then take all those lessons and jump into the future that is waiting for you to arrive.
This autumn has been a season of deep gratitude and growing awe. Whether it has to do with my age or my circumstances or a combination of both, I increasingly find myself in ever-widening circles of spiritual seekers — most of them women — who are not content to accept the status quo but are pushing boundaries and forging bonds to form friendships, ministries, tribes and communities that nourish and support their relationship with the Divine. Multiple times over the past two months I have found myself among these amazing women, and it seems somewhat miraculous to me, as though we each have an internal homing device that leads us to one another at precisely the right time.
Most recently I was asked to lead a retreat for moms at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in northern New Jersey. I marveled that so many young mothers — some with babies in carriers, others bringing little ones to the nursery — came out for the morning event. I remember how difficult it was to make time for spiritual pursuits when I was raising my three children. But these moms — with the help of their parish — were prioritizing their spiritual lives, which is good news for them and for all of us. When I met Linda, the woman who had founded the parish group 30 years ago, and Maureen, another soul sister I’d previously met only on social media, I felt as though I’d been welcomed into a spiritual sorority where we were already pledged to the One who defines our being. So much grace.
From there, I drove west to visit a friend I’d met almost 40 years ago, when we both worked for the Diocese of Metuchen, N.J. Dorothy, who had spent almost 30 years as a cloistered nun, was a laywoman running an evangelization office when I met her. Almost 30 years my senior, she became a dear friend and mentor. As we embraced after too many years between visits, it was as though no time had passed at all. Our visit was set to a holy rhythm. We prayed together before meals, said Night Prayer before bed, and went to Mass together in the morning. Dorothy is once again a Catholic sister, having renewed her vows, and I was blessed to be in her presence, to soak up her wisdom, to marvel at her absolute trust in the Lord, and to share so much laughter and joy. Grace upon grace.
I returned home from my road trip to a lunch outing with one long-time friend followed by a fall foliage hike the next day with another local soul sister. The day after that I taught one of my three weekly yoga classes and felt my heart filled to bursting with love for the students who have become friends. When I sit on my mat while they are in their final resting pose, breathing and making space for the still small voice, I sometimes look out and feel so much beautiful spiritual energy and love in that room that I am close to tears. Undeserved grace in unlikely places.
The more I think about it, the more I realize that these beautiful people who seem to surround me on all sides these days didn’t just arrive in my life suddenly. They have always been there. It’s just that I was only able to see and appreciate them when I was willing to poke through the cocoon I’d wrapped around myself and tentatively unfold the wings of grace that are ours for the asking.
The world can be a beautiful but difficult place; there is no need to go it alone. Jesus sent his disciples out two by two for a reason. We need each other. When we open ourselves up to that reality, we find grace and gratitude around every corner.
Where is grace hiding in plain sight in your life today? Take a risk. Spread your wings. Your tribe is waiting.
This column originally appeared in the Nov. 3, 2022, issue of The Evangelist.
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A few months back, my husband, Dennis, called me from work and said, “I have to tell you something that is going to make you cry.” He followed it immediately with assurances that nothing was wrong with any of our three children. Still, I was worried. He then told me that Catholic New York would cease operation, and, as he predicted, I cried—for so many reasons. Since 1984, CNY has been my “home” newspaper. I started there as an intern and over the years served as a reporter, managing editor and, for the past 21 years, as a monthly columnist. Add to that the fact that I met my husband at CNY and, well, you can see why it holds such a special place in my heart.
But my tears weren’t just for selfish reasons. I worried, of course, for the people who worked there, and what it would mean for their futures. And I worried about what it would mean for the people of the archdiocese and the ability of the Church to spread its message as only a Catholic newspaper can. As a member of the Catholic media for close to 40 years, I know first-hand how vital it is for the Church to be able to share its news, its teachings, and its many ministries without the slant—sometimes out of ignorance, other times out of malice—of the secular media, which often doesn’t have much interest in our stories unless they make for tantalizing sound bites and eye-catching headlines.
Of course, it doesn’t completely surprise me that print is fading. The younger generation simply doesn’t read print publications, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need our message. In fact, they need it more than ever. It’s up to the Church to make sure it has a relevant and evolving presence in the digital world.
Imagine a world where the only Catholic news you get is the kind reported by your local newspaper or TV station. How unbiased will that be? Where will you get not only stories on key Catholic issues and teachings but in-depth and accurate reporting on what the pope or cardinal is saying? Where will you get reprints of encyclicals and pastoral letters? Where will you get the feature stories about Catholics doing amazing things without anyone noticing—that is until a CNY reporter turns it into an award-winning story?
We need our Catholic press, not just because we want news but because we want to be inspired and educated, evangelized and evangelizing. Without CNY—and the national Catholic News Service, which will also cease operation in the coming weeks—our local Church will struggle to spread the Good News that is so prevalent among our people but so underreported among the secular media. I pray the new digital efforts by the archdiocese will be able to fill the void, but that is no small task. The folks at the helm and filling the pages of CNY have been at this for years, often decades—Catholic media is a vocation and a ministry, not just a job. Their wisdom and insights, experience and enthusiasm will not be easy to replace.
Change is never easy, and yet we know that without change we cannot possibly grow into who and what we are called and created to be. Last month in this space I wrote, “There is beauty even in the fading.” Now, as I struggle to write this final column, I have to admit that the sentiment may be lovely on paper, but it is hard to live, as is so often the case with difficult truths. Even so, we look to the future with hope, because that is who we are.
This column originally appeared in the Nov. 2, 2022, issue of Catholic New York.