Learning About “Sacramental” Living

Sr. Anne Marie Walsh, SOLT*,  came to Holy Trinity recently and was the guest speaker for the annual woman’s retreat put on by The Daughters of Isabella. The topic for the retreat was Having a Sacramental Vision of the World.

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I wasn’t sure what to make of this topic. Somewhat recalling the definition of a sacrament from the Baltimore Catechism (clear back in the 70s), I briefly thought this topic didn’t make sense. I was taught that a Sacrament is an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace. A “sacramental” is a sacred sign which bears a certain resemblance to the sacraments.

I still wasn’t convinced I understood the subject.

Sister eloquently began her talk by explaining that everything in life has meaning and can be related to Christ.

I agreed.

She said she would provide 7 aspects of sacramental living to convey her point. I was good with that because anything that can be explained with 7 bullet points seemed organized and easy for me to understand. I hope you agree!

Sr. Anne Marie’s first point was that everything in life has meaning. St. Ignatius of Loyola described it this way:  “All the things in this world are gifts of God, created for us, to be the means by which we can come to know Him better, love Him more surely, and serve Him more faithfully.”

St. John Paul believed that every encounter was providential. He stated, “As soon as I meet people, I pray for them.” The outward sign of me praying for those God puts in my path is sacramental. That made sense.

Sister’s second point was that Christ is at the heart of the sacramental life. Is Christ our measure of reality or is Reality TV our measure of reality? I love this example because many years ago The Bachelor used to be my measure of falling in love. I’m so glad I can now say “used to be” as in the past tense.

The third point is that our bodies are sacramental. What our body does affects our soul. Are we using our bodies as temples unto the Lord or are we carelessly giving away our love and affections to whoever comes our way? Do we believe that deliberately getting drunk or eating too much is fun or is it an abuse of the body we were given?

Her fourth point — meals are sacramental. Mealtime is an icon, or a sign, of nourishment. Earthly bread nourishes and sustains our bodies. Christ, the heavenly bread, nourishes and sustains our souls. How can we make our meals more meaningful? Simply praying a blessing before a meal can call us into communion with Christ.

The fifth point: the poor among us are sacramentals. Many, many times throughout the Bible, Jesus teaches us that it is our responsibility to take care of the poor. Can we find a family living in a Third World Country who needs as little as $30 a month from us or is that not even on our radar?

Time is sacramental. This was her sixth point. Is the time we have on earth “our time” or God’s time? Do we care? Is the way we spend our time on earth important to the life we will live in heaven? Do we fully understand when we hear “God’s timing is not our timing”? Does it effect the way we react to our situations in life?

The final point was that the world is an enchanted place because of this reality of sacramental living. Typically, we think of an enchanted place as only being found in Disneyland; however, with the eyes of Christ, we can see our own world sacramentally.

The world of Christ is captivating when we realize simple things like the power of prayer, our Guardian Angels, the Trinity, the Eucharist and all that our faith has to offer. When we put on this vision, and think about The Mystery, we can begin to see the miracles.

It makes sense. Having a sacramental vision of the world creates in me a heart of love and a heart of thankfulness. Knowing and accepting that everything has meaning — even my heartaches in life — helps me to know God is in control.

 

Help me, O Lord, to have a sacramental vision of Your world. Please give me the graces I need to see Your place in my life. Show me Your Son in the people I meet. Help me to care for Your poor —even when I see myself as poor. Teach me to make good use of my time. Make known to me the enchantment of this life when all I see is boredom in the day-to-day tasks of living. I ask all these things through Christ Our Lord. Amen. 

* Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity

 

Having a Spiritual Director

A few years ago, I found myself smack dab in “mid life” gasping for air. I couldn’t breath. The reality that my 20-year marriage had ended left me shocked. It was as if I had been run over by a truck — a big mud truckjeep-1318706_1280. Confused and unable to think clearly, I sought help from my parish priest.

The loss of my marriage was the initial reason I sought spiritual direction. Obviously, I needed professional counseling, which I received, but I also needed someone to guide me under the rule of the divine. Left to my own human feelings and sinfulness, I was headed on a path to destruction— in the opposite direction from union with God. I was headed out the door with a wrecking ball!

Spiritual direction is defined as being under the guidance of one who is trained in Scripture and Catholic doctrine and helps you become aware, or “awaken” you, to the spiritual relationship you have with God. In my case, I initially thought God was absent; however, that was not true. God was there, and had been all along; I was not listening. I was too absorbed in my own life, my home and what I wanted to do.

My first spiritual director was my parish priest. I came to my first appointment full of anger, hurt and sin. Because of my situation, he met with me more frequently than under normal circumstances. But eventually, we would meet once a month for an hour. His role was to direct me to the workings of the Holy Spirit in my life. As I would learn, prayer would become essential for me to move forward.

In spiritual direction, I was looking at my relationship with Christ. This was most helpful to me for I wanted to dwell on what I saw as “character flaws” in my husband. There was no need for that. I had my own character flaws to deal with and I spent time in direction learning how to change myself. I learned how to deepen my relationship with Christ. I would learn how to be humble and patient — characteristics of Christ, not me — which took a spiritually mature person to teach me.

After many months in direction, my parish priest was transferred to a new city and a new parish. By this time, I knew spiritual direction was mandatory for me if I was to grow spiritually through my loss. I had grown to love the peace which came with prayer and silence — something my priest encouraged for me.

My second spiritual director, and the one I still see today, is a woman in my parish trained in spiritual mentorship. I have met with her monthly for over three years now. She has maneuvered with me through my life experiences of the death of my mother, the end of my marriage and a bout with cancer. Her gentle guidance, and sometimes rebuke, has been indescribable because it has brought peace to my life.

I will admit, we’ve had some tough topics to conquer — forgiveness, honesty, and taking a look at that “wooden beam in my own eyes” (Matthew 7:3). My spiritual director is good for me because she points me to the truth. Without her guidance and prayer, I hesitate to think where my life in Christ might be. I envision I would be stuck under that muddy tire.

My life today is not what I had dreamed, but it is “my life” in Christ. Without spiritual direction, I feel I could have become a bitter, old lady. Instead, I am a woman seeking the heart of Christ, a woman with compassion for others who are hurting. The road is not always smooth, but what does Christ tell us? How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life (Matthew 7:14).

Silence on Retreat

I recently attended a 7-day spirituality retreat offered through the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas. The week was filled with study, prayer, daily Mass, spiritual direction, a movie and many meals. There were 100 other men and women from around the United States on this retreat with me. The priests and sisters from the Apostles of the Interior Life, the archdiocese School of Faith team and the Holy Spirit lead us during the week.

Day 6 was a day of silence. No talking! During that day, I wrote these thoughts as I was reflecting on what had occurred while on retreat. I will share my insights with you.


 

Now, I come to a place of rest. A day of silence. A time and space to sit and reflect with Our Lord on what has transpired in me. It is starting to sink in that God is asking me to be an instrument of His love. He is calling me to continue loving His Son and allowing His Son to love me so I can love others. The emotions are real, they are deep and, as is typical for me, there are tears.

Mark 6:30-32 The apostles gathered together with Jesus and reported all they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.”

I’ve tried to meet each person attending this session. This is the third time in a year we’ve been together for a 7-day stretch. I’m sure I’ve not met everyone, but each person I’ve met has touched me in a different way. What amazes me about this process is how the Holy Spirit takes my first impression and shows me how I am judgmental. When I am allowed to sit and get to know one of God’s children on a personal level, all of my first impressions are proven wrong.

We have studied the lost art of having meaningful conversations this week. There is no small talk about the weather, our clothing or our children. We are asked to go to that next level of deeper conversation. During this time, a friend disclosed her marriage problems. She knows of my divorce and that God has provided strength. I am able to assure her that God hears prayer and he works for our good.

At breakfast, a man discussed the reality of his life. “How have you handled your wife living in a nursing home and being left to raise your 6 children?” I asked him. My heart softens as I hear him tell me how all 6 of his children do their own laundry. I discover the strength God has given him to endure. Before he spoke, however, I only saw his round, soft belly, his bald head and the t-shirt he was wearing. But through his words of courage, I saw his heart. Jesus shows me how much He loves this man.

During one of my daily breaks, I checked my emails. I had an email from my family practice doctor. A recent CAT revealed several cysts on my kidney. The doctor tells me I need to go see a nephrologist. My health issues continue and I’m determined my suffering will not be wasted. I believe in redemptive suffering.

It was a wonderful week. The great “take away” for me is the importance of silence. If I allow no time in my day to silently reflect, how can I know which way God is leading me? How can I hear his voice? How can I rest? I’m convinced silence is a must in my life.

Enter Through the Narrow Door

Will I see my mother, grandmother, classmates and neighbors in heaven? Will they know me and recognize me as the person I was here on earth? I often wonder what my mom is doing in heaven right now. Did she know that her family celebrated her one-year anniversary of being received into heaven? Did she know we had a party and invited her family and friends to eat the foods that she used to serve us?

Some of her friends told stories about her at her party. They told about the time she went gambling and forgot to pencil in her eyebrows. She had to stop at Wal-mart, buy an eyebrow pencil and  draw in her eyebrows before she could go blow her money! She would carry “bubba teeth” in her purse in case she wanted to put them in before going into a restaurant. She was a talented pianist and would play for her friends at parties so they could sing their favorite songs.

These are thoughts I’ve had over the past year as I’ve learned to live without my mom being here on earth. I still feel her presence and think of her often. There are days that I think about calling her, but suddenly remember she is no longer here.

There are some verses in the book of Luke that reference our time of death. Luke 13:24-25 tells us that we should “make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.'”

When it is my time to die, I want Jesus to let me in. I want to be united with Him and all those I’ve known on earth. Losing my mother last July and then going through cancer myself always brings my own mortality to the front of my mind. I want to be part of that big feast that is referred to in Luke 13:28-29. I want to meet those who have gone before me and spend eternity with Christ and with them.

Matthew 7:13-14
“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”