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Getting past the ‘veil’ of judgment

One of the great joys—and occasional challenges—of being a writer is getting letters from readers via email, social media and even snail mail. Those messages often lift my spirits and encourage me to carry on with my writing when everything else tells me it’s time to pack it in. No matter how often I hear from readers, it is always an unexpected gift when I open up my computer and see a note from a stranger who was touched in some way by something I wrote.

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Remembering the Sisters who guided me on my path

The editor of the Albany diocesan newspaper came into my office recently and asked if I wanted to share a memory of an experience with a religious sister for National Catholic Sisters Week in March. My knee-jerk reaction was, “I don’t have any memories of religious sisters.” Not having gone to Catholic school, religious sisters were not part of my childhood. But then my mind jumped forward a few years and I said, “Wait. I do have a story.”

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Lent: Are you willing to be surprised by God?

Flannery O’Connor, the American Catholic southern gothic writer, once said, “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.”

That line has always resonated with me, but never more so than when I sit down to write reflections on Scripture readings, verses that can feel so familiar there seems nothing new to uncover. My latest book of reflections, Not by Bread Alone 2021: Daily Reflections for Lent (Liturgical Press), is my third book of Lenten meditations and prayers, and so the challenge is real — but realer still is the truth that lives within Scripture. Old passages can speak new hope to us at any particular moment of our lives if we are willing to open ourselves up to the work and words of the Spirit. Even the familiarity of Lent itself can turn a season of growth into a rote spiritual exercise if we are not prepared to be surprised by God, sometimes in uncomfortable ways.

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You Can’t Fail Lent

The column originally ran on Huffington Post in 2015, but it’s a favorite so here it is one more time, just in time:

Lent is one of those seasons that always begins with the best of intentions and rapidly goes downhill, at least that’s how it usually plays out for me. I plan to pray more, eat less, and find creative ways to make my favorite time in the Church year more meaningful. Unfortunately, the ashes hardly have time to settle into the wrinkles on my forehead before I’m feeling like I’ve already failed.

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You’ve always had the power, my dear, even without the ruby slippers. Time to use it.

With 2020 in our rearview mirror, most of us are hoping for a new year that looks nothing like the old year. As we struggled through past 10 months of pandemic, with one hit after another leaving us hanging on the ropes now and then, we set our eyes on the day when the clock would strike midnight, the calendar would flip, and we would have the chance to level the playing field.

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Commit to spiritual self-care this Advent

Advent in our modern world has long been behind the cultural eight ball. It’s a season of waiting in a world of instant gratification, a season of quiet anticipation in a world of noisy commercialism. But this year, in the midst of pandemic challenges and political worries the likes of which we have never experienced in our lifetime, it might just be a season of joyful opportunity in a world of stressful chaos.

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Only love can save the world

When I was leaving my gynecologist’s office recently, I exited the building with a younger couple leaving the same practice. I guessed that they likely were there for a pregnancy checkup and smiled at the memories of those days in my own life. As we all crossed the road, we arrived at the door to the parking garage simultaneous to a woman in a wheelchair who was being pushed by an aide. The woman, who had severe disabilities, was trying to communicate, or maybe she was in pain, and her cries were anguished and loud and continuous.

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Seeing every day as an opportunity

When I arrived at Pyramid Life Center in the Adirondack Mountains last month to lead a retreat, I was excited but nervous. As is always the case when I lead a group, I want to be sure I give participants what they need, the spiritual nourishment they’re craving. Most times when I wrap up, I’m a bit depleted from putting out so much spiritual energy over the course of a few days, but this time I was energized and uplifted, riding a spiritual high that was fed by the 30+ people who engaged in the retreat so fully they left me awed and humbled and inspired.

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You can change your mind, even about the big stuff

An upstate New York church recently asked me if I would do a Zoom talk for their parish book club, which had just finished reading “Walking Together,” my 2010 book on spiritual friendship. They sent me some questions in advance — challenging questions that forced me to sit in silent reflection and struggle with answers that would not be easy. I emailed the moderator and asked if the group was likely to be disappointed if my answers were very different from what they might expect. No, she said. Fire away.

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Accept. Adapt. Surrender. Trust.

Chiara, 15, walked into our family room after a socially distanced bike ride with a friend and wisely observed that just a couple of months ago wearing a mask seemed like such a burden, an unusual discomfort, but now it’s completely normal and not really a big deal at all. That was perfect timing on her part because I, too, had been pondering the ways we humans are able to adapt to challenging or different circumstances with relative ease (unless we’re just stubborn), and isn’t that a marvelous and miraculous thing.

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