Take a Spiritual “TRIP” this Advent Season!

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With the annual celebration of Thanksgiving, Christmas and Mardi Gras (for us down here in the New Orleans area) comes the joy of family gatherings and lots of together time. Today, however, with many of our loved ones living in various parts of the world, we often find ourselves traveling or awaiting the arrival of our sons, daughters, grandchildren, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. So you could say, in some ways, that traveling has become a kind of staple of the holiday season, one as familiar as Grandma’s ham, turkey, dressing and pecan pie. I guess this should come as no surprise, given the far distance that the original pilgrims and Holy Family had to travel on the days ushering in our modern day Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations. Likewise, the Mardi Gras Season, a “Fat Tuesday” celebration proceeding Ash Wednesday, begins on the Feast Day of the Epiphany (King’s Day), a day commemorating the arduous journey of three wise men to the small town of Bethlehem.

Join me, as we further explore the Christian understanding of a trip, pilgrimage, or journey towards the ultimate gathering of the people of God, as we learn to incorporate this hopeful anticipation into our every day prayer experience.

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In Ignatian spirituality, one based on the teachings of the Jesuit founder, Ignatius of Loyola, we learn about the importance of a daily examen (the spiritual reviewing of one’s day) as a means of discerning the movements of God in our life along with our corresponding response to His invitation. Do we cooperate with God’s will or block and/or intentionally reject this calling? Are we moving closer to or further away from God’s loving embrace. Do we feel joy or sorrow, peace or anxiety? Are we intimately aware of God’s presence and the gift of grace which often accompanies it? These kinds of questions warrant our daily prayerful consideration, as we review our day’s journey, desired destination, and overall sense of well-being.

To this end, I would like to propose an acronym which has helped me, my husband, and family better identify the hands of God in our lives, our subsequent response to His call, and our desired destination. This acronym, one which I learned from Jan and Loyd Tate at the New Orleans Spirituality Center, is “A-TRIP”.  My husband, Tom, and I first learned about this daily exercise when we attended a couple’s retreat about 8 months back. There, Jan and Loyd challenged each of us to take “A-TRIP” once a day as a couple.

How could we do this, we thought, especially given the craziness of our lives and the frequency of Tom’s business trips away from home? The answer was simple: keep our eyes focused on the gathering process and our desired destination – a peace filled home, here on earth and for all eternity with God. Once this answer became clear, our 5-10 minute shared prayer experience (A-TRIP) became a top priority, and often the highlight of our day. Not only did it draw us closer to God, but also closer to each other as a couple. Subsequently, we began incorporating this simple spiritual “trip” into our family prayer experience. The spiritual fruits of this exercise have proved abundant in both regards. It is intimately moving and, at times, inspirational to listen as a loved one shares his/her inner thoughts, desires, concerns, and/or vulnerabilities with God. Likewise, it is humbling to do the same.

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A-TRIP stands for:

A:  Adoration. Adoring the Lord is more than just loving Him. It is gazing into His face, being captivated with Who He is, and looking beyond what the Lord has or can do for us. When we meditate on how great God is, we become transformed into His likeness as we are face to face in adoration of Him. Adoration is a heart response and recognition that He is all we ever need. When we adore the Lord Our God, all life’s problems, seen from heaven’s perspectives, seem to dwarf in comparison.

“My God, I adore you for your bountiful majesty, your intimate love, and unending mercy.”

T: Thanksgiving. Feeling and expressing appreciation is good for us. Like any wise father, God wants us to learn to be thankful for all the gifts He has given to us. It is in our best interest to be reminded that everything we have is a gift from Him. Without gratefulness, we become arrogant and self-centered. We begin to believe that we have achieved everything on our own. Thankfulness keeps our hearts in right relationship with God, the ultimate giver of all good gifts.

“Lord, I thank you for the many gifts you have given me, for my husband, Tom, son, Joseph, and for the transformative power of your love on display in our family circumstances over the last several years.”

R: Repentance. Repentance represents a turning away from sin and a turning back to God. It alleviates our guilt while simultaneously cultivating a deep sense of joy in our unburdened heart. In the face of God’s unwarranted mercy, we rejoice and often feel compelled to share the good news about God’s boundless love with others! As we continue to examen our lives and our ongoing pattern of sin, we often gain a humble acceptance of our total dependency on Christ, both as a Savior and a King. By learning to surrender our lives to Christ, while simultaneously opening ourselves up to the grace of His Holy Spirit, we begin to grow in Christian virtue and personal holiness.

“Lord, I repent of my impatience and the harsh use of words in moments of conflict.”

I: Intercession. Intercession is prayer on behalf of another. It naturally arises from the instincts of the human heart, a heart filled with love and deep compassion for others. Intercession, however, is not merely prompted by our individual affections or interests,  but by our recognition of God’s individual and societal love and concern for mankind. As members of Christ’s Body, we are called to intercede for others, just as Christ does for His disciples, crucifiers, and each of us.

“Come, Holy Spirit, come. Make us a holy family founded on love. Fill our hearts with love and our home with joy. Transform our lives as a family and guide each of us towards the life vocation You deem most appropriate.”

P: Praise. Praise is the joyful recognition or remembering of all God has done for us. It is closely intertwined with thanksgiving as we offer back to God our appreciation for the mighty works He has done on our behalf. God is all powerful and worthy of our praise.

“God, I praise you for your intimate love, the life giving and self-sacrificial love demonstrated by Christ on the Cross. God, in You, I find my home, for You have created me for Yourself. I praise You for your miraculous plan of goodness for my life and Your tireless pursuit of my love in return.”

As you contemplate the spiritual meaning and ultimate intention of “A-TRIP”, I ask you to remember that we, as Christians, are a pilgriming people living our day to day lives as we try to find our way back home to God. In closing, I wish you and yours happy travels, especially during this Advent Season, and in each and every day which follows. Amen

To learn more about or purchase my new book, The Healing Eyes of Mercy. A Trinity of Love, please visit spiritualsafariguide.com.

Thank you and God Bless! Karen Schwaner Sheehy

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My Jesus, My Home.

Home is Where the Heart Is. I am sure you have heard this saying many times, but have you ever taken the time to contemplate its Christian implications? As we approach December 25th, the celebration marking the birth of Jesus in a rustic home away from home, let us pause to reflect upon its deeper meaning.

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The Christmas Creche or Nativity Scene. The scene of Christ’s birth in Bethlehem has been pictured and used in church services since the first century. The nativity scene we think of today finds its origin in Greccio, Italy, where St. Francis of Assisi set up the first live Christmas Creche on Christmas Eve, 1223.

According to Webster’s Dictionary, a home is one’s place of residence. To me this defines a house not a home. In regards to a home, I sense a deeper, more intimate meaning, one involving personal belongingness and happiness. The physical location of our house may change but the emotional constancy of our home usually travels with us. This emotional connotation, in my opinion, best reflects the nativity scene pictured above. There, in the small town of Bethlehem, Mary, Joseph and their new born Son, Jesus, found themselves far from their town of origin or house in Nazareth.

I can easily relate to the Holy Family’s experience as I recall my own son’s birth on Jan 6, 2001. It was two weeks before Christmas and my husband, Tom, and I had traveled to Daytona Beach, FL in anticipation of our son’s upcoming birth and adoption. Away from home, but not alone, we welcomed the birth of our only son, Joseph, three weeks later, on the Feast Day of the Epiphany. He was and is our greatest gift from God, more precious than gold, frankincense and myrrh. That special day, our family of three found a temporary home away from home in a Holiday Inn Express located two miles from the Daytona Speedway. Despite the noise and multiple distractions, our hearts were filled with love and gratitude. We were right where we longed to be. We were home.

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The Grotto (or cave) of the birth of Our Lord, located in the lower level of the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

About 8 years back, I had the privilege of going to the Holy Land and visiting the birthplace of Jesus in Bethlehem. As I walked in His footsteps, and those of His mother, Mary, I actually touched the very spots where Love was born; born in a stable in Bethlehem and perfected on the Cross in Jerusalem. Included in my pilgrimage was a visit to the ancient remains or foundation of Mary’s home in Nazareth, the largest city in the Northern District of Israel. In Nazareth, I not only saw the remains of Mary’s house but also the Grotto of the Annunciation. This cave, connected to the backside of Mary’s house, was where Mary gave her “fiat” or yes to God, “I am the servant of the Lord. Let it be done to me as you say,” (Luke 1:38).

Mary’s loving obedience, trust and joy, in the face of such confusion and fear, provides us with a deeper understanding of the meaning of home and an intimate peek into her Immaculate Heart. The Immaculate Heart of Mary is a name used to refer to the interior life of Mary, her joys and sorrows, her virtues and hidden perfections, but most of all, her virginal love for God the Father, maternal love for her Son, Jesus, and compassionate love for each of us. Near the Grotto and remains of Mary’s family house, I once again found a home, for there, my heart was filled with the love of my spiritual mother, Mary. There, in Nazareth, I found my spiritual home safely tucked away within the chambers of her Immaculate Heart.

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The Grotto of the Annunciation, located within the lower level of The Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth.

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The foundations of Mary’s house in the ancient town of Nazareth.

This past November, I traveled to Italy with Teresa Tomeo, Kelly Wahlquist and the women of WINE (Women In the New Evangelization), as we walked in the footsteps of many Catholic female Saints, including St. Claire, St. Katherine of Sienna, and St. Teresa of Calcutta. Perhaps my favorite of all our destinations was the small town of Loreto, located in the mid-western Italian province of Ancona. In this small town, we found the walls of Mary’s Nazarene House, the home where Mary raised her Son, Jesus.

How, you may ask, did Mary’s house from Nazareth find it’s way to Loreto, Italy? According to Church tradition, it was in 1221, during the Crusade time period, that this ancient domicile was transported by angels to Loreto. I have no trouble believing this story, for just as the angels announced the coming of the small babe, Jesus, in Bethlehem, so too, could the angels have transported Christ’s original house to the home country of His One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. A second rendition of this miraculous story tells of a royal family named, the Angels, who meticulously transported the Holy House of Mary to Loreto for safekeeping. The House of Mary is pictured below.

 

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Pictured above: The Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Holy House of Loreto, otherwise known as Mary’s House.

Our group spent over two hours in the Holy House that morning. It proved an unforgettable experience for me. Quietly, I leaned up against the very walls where Mary raised her Son, Jesus. I felt an overwhelming sense of peace. “This is my home,” I thought. “This is the place that I long to be, where I want to spend my time.”  Amidst the ancient walls of Jesus’ childhood home, I found spiritual warmth and safety. As I pondered these feelings in my heart, I suddenly found myself, once again, within the confines of Mary’s Immaculate Heart. There too, was my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, for Mary always points me toward’s her Son, Jesus. My home is with Jesus, deep within the confines of His Most Sacred Heart. He goes where I go. Present too was His mother, Mary, and her Immaculate Heart, for the two Hearts are bound together in love, the love of the Holy Spirit.

 

Yes, home is where the heart is, however, the question remains: Where is your heart this Christmas Season? Is it with the Lord and His Mother Mary? This is an appropriate question to ponder this Christmas Season, for as St. Augustine of Hippo says, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you, O God.”

“Home and Jesus! The two should be inseparable. Husband and wife need the clasp of that infinite love to keep their hearts true to each other. Parents need the guidance of that infinite wisdom and the power of that infinite strength to keep them patient and long-suffering and gentle and wise in the training of immortal souls,” (Albert Elliot Kittredge).

“It is to Jesus Christ we owe the truth, the tenderness, the purity, the warm affection, the holy aspiration, which go together in that endearing word – home; for it is He who has made obedience so beautiful, and affection so holy; it is He who has brought the Father’s home so near, and has taught us that love is of God.” (James Hamilton)

May the love of the Lord fill your home and your heart this Christmas Season. Amen

Please click on the link below to learn more about my non-for-profit company, The Healing Eyes of Mercy, make a donation for the people of Haiti, Rwanda, or the Holy Land, shop, or read about my upcoming book, The Healing Eyes of Mercy. A Trinity of Love. Thank you and God Bless!

http://www.spiritualsafariguide.com

 

 

Beauty, Exercise and Silence.

Five Days in the Arms of God: A Restful Retreat or Spiritual Boot Camp? 

What does a five day, personally directed retreat, at a Jesuit Spirituality Center, look and feel like? Join me on a spiritual safari as we explore Grand Coteau, a deeply Catholic region of southern Louisiana, in search of spiritual insight during this Advent Season.

Virtual Pilgrimage Location: The St. Charles Jesuit Spirituality Center in Grand Coteau.

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Two thousand years ago, Grand Coteau was situated on the west bank of the Mississippi River, near its entry point to the Gulf of Mexico. Built upon a sloping ridge, or “coteau”, this region is known today for its magnificent old oak trees and historically significant Catholic structures, including the Academy of the Sacred Heart, founded in 1821, St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church, built in 1886, and St. Charles College Jesuit Spirituality Center, founded in 1837. The latter was my home, from December 8th to the 14th, as I completed a five day, silent, spiritual retreat focused on hearing God’s voice through the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits.

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St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church, established in 1819, is the third oldest Catholic parish in the Archdiocese of Lafayette. The Jesuits came to serve in Grand Coteau and the surrounding area in 1837 and have been in service to the parish ever since.

 

St. Ignatius, a 16th-century Spanish priest and theologian, wrote the Spiritual Exercises to increase awareness of God’s presence in everyday life. For centuries, these Exercises were most commonly given as “long, 30-day retreats” in solitude and silence. In recent years, there has been a renewed emphasis on the Spiritual Exercises as a program for lay people. Therefore, today, the most common way of going through the Exercises is through the “retreat in daily life”, otherwise known as the 19th annotation. This alternative method, developed by St. Ignatius, involves a six to nine month program of daily prayer and meetings with a spiritual director. Other modern adaptations include the three, five, and eight day silent, directed retreats offered at the Jesuit Spirituality Center in Grand Coteau.

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St. Charles College, the site of the first Jesuit College in the south, became the Jesuit Novitiate in 1922 and Jesuit Spirituality Center in 1972. Today, priests, sisters and lay persons come for a three, five, eight, or thirty day private, directed retreat in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola.

Grounded in the conviction that God is active in our world, St. Ignatius understood that man’s relationship with God was through Jesus Christ. Therefore, his Exercises, divided into four sections or “weeks” of varying lengths, consist of meditations and contemplations on various Scriptural passages focusing on the major themes of sin, and Jesus’ life, Passion and Resurrection. After meditating, contemplating, and praying upon each assignment, the retreatant, accompanied by their spiritual director, attempts to understand how these various experiences or insights apply to God’s call in their life.

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The Ignatius Chapel, completed in 2008, is the intimate setting for the 4:45 pm daily Mass held at the Jesuit Spirituality Center.

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One of several beautiful statues on the grounds surrounding the Jesuit Spirituality Center. Pictured above: Mary, the Queen of Heaven and Earth, presenting her Child, Jesus, to the world.

So, there I was, surrounded by natural beauty, being enlightened by the Word of God, nourished by His Body and Blood, and guided by an Ignatian trained spiritual director. Sounds wonderful, right? But wait, did I fail to mention, the silence? Being an introvert, I expected the solitude and silence to be the least challenging aspect of my five day journey. Sure, walking through the Passion of Christ and looking upon my own sinfulness would certainly be painful, but the silence? Who knew? Going into the five day process, I was sure that the promised silence would simply be music to my ears. Boy, was I wrong! Although, the three to four hours of quiet meditation, self-reflection, and daily participation in the Mass, was heavenly bliss, the silence proved deafening. Five days of passing each other in the hallways, sitting silently in the communal dining hall, and avoiding eye contact or polite conversation, ironically, became my true “Way of the Cross” on this five day spiritual journey.

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Adjacent to the Jesuit Spirituality Center, I found a beautiful spiritual oasis in St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church. It’s superb collection of religious art, stained glass windows, paintings, statues, and continual presence of our Lord in its centrally located golden tabernacle, simply drew my heart, soul and, mind towards God.

Fortunately for me, and all Christians, the joy and hope of the Resurrection always follows the Cross! Thankfully, my persistent and earnest prayers, even in the midst of my silent struggles, helped magnify the saving presence of God in my life, for there, I found stillness of heart, mind and soul. Fed by the Word, Body, and Blood of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, I returned home with a renewed sense of focus and joyful anticipation of His coming during every Mass and at the end of time. So, as we celebrate this Advent Season and His celebrated coming at Christmas, I pray that we:

  • seek to quiet the noisiness in our lives,
  • face the struggles preventing us from seeking God’s love and guidance,
  • search for His voice in Sacred Scripture and silent prayer,
  • contemplate and meditate upon His personal instructions,
  • thankfully acknowledge His total gift of Self for our salvation,
  • strive to reflect His gift of unconditional love to others,
  • and finally, long for His coming during the celebration of the Mass and at the end of time. Come, Lord Jesus, Come and fill us with Your Holy Spirit until You come again, Amen.

Closing 3:00 p.m. prayer for Divine Mercy.

Eternal Father, I offer You, the Body and Blood, soul and divinity of Your Dearly Beloved Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins and the sins of the entire world.

For the sake of His Sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the entire world. (Repeat two more times).

Jesus, I trust in You.

Please click on the link below to learn more about my non-for-profit company, The Healing Eyes of Mercy, make a donation for the people of Haiti, Rwanda, or the Holy Land, shop, or read about my upcoming book, The Healing Eyes of Mercy. A Journey Towards the Light of God’s Love. Thank you and God Bless!

http://www.spiritualsafariguide.com