Monday, February 5, 2018

a life examined

For a long time I've had some inkling of the value of the examen prayer. Maybe going to confession on a regular basis made the need for it more obvious. Or just seeing it in the list of "musts" for a holier life. Putting it into practice has been something completely different, however.

I remember complaining to my confessor that praying the examen at night just wasn't working.  I would close my eyes to review my day, and that was that. There was no prayer happening, just sleep. His advice was to find the time of day that worked best for prayer. "When you ask God to reveal your faults to you, he's usually pretty good about that, even if it's the next morning," he said.

Last Lent - or maybe the Lent before - that morning examen was something I tried to be consistent at. It went pretty well ... Lent is a grace-filled time. I often used a journal on my iPad or my phone to journal the prayer.  It just seemed to be more secure.  I had a template that I cut and pasted so I could hit the main points - gratitude, reflection, contrition, and moving forward.  But eventually, it went by the wayside.  I had limited prayer time in the mornings and I chose to use it in other ways.

Last summer our parish was blessed with a new priest, and several of his homilies shortly after arriving focused on confession, which was a nudge to reconsider the need for that daily look back. Coincidentally at about the same time I came across an article or blog post that mentioned an Examen app! What an idea!  I came across 2 apps with promise. One by Loyala press had music and varied formats. The other, Examen Prayer,  had video explanations of the various steps and a journal. It was amazing and awesome. Until for whatever reason it just stopped working. The journal stopped saving. I uninstalled and reinstalled. Eventually for some unknown reason, it started working again. And then stopped.  Now it tells me I have to connect to wifi (which I have) and refuses to work at all. I've deleted and reinstalled.  It was really a helpful app to me when it worked, but I'm done with it. I do know that some type of journal is a must, at least for me.

Several months ago one of my friends asked a group of us if we "bullet journaled".  I'd never heard of it, and didn't pursue it any further.  Then about a month ago I came across an article entitled "WTF is a Bullet Journal.." and decided to look further.  (Be warned if you click on that link, in case the WTF is not enough of a warning...there is language in that article!)  But the information was clear and easy to understand. 

So I decided to give it a try.  I included some of the other aspects, like the year at a glance/future log and the month at a glance.  I've done a little bit of a daily list, but for purposes of this post, we'll just stick with the Examen - bullet journal style. 

I started off with Gratitude.  I made this page back & front of a single sheet.  By each date, I can list particular things that I am grateful for on that particular day.  Easy enough. 

The next page asks for a specific grace or favor.  God, grant me the grace to see as you see.  God, help me to see what you want me to see.  Grant me the grace to appreciate all life, to know that you are always with me, to desire mercy for all people, to be as patient with other people as you are with me, etc.  Sometimes that request comes from something else I've heard that day, other times it seems repetitious.   Again, the front and back of a page should be plenty for a month.

Then comes the meat and potatoes of the examen...a walk with the Lord through your day.  I can't bullet journal this, so I saved several blank pages.  This is where you lay out the good, the bad, and the ugly of the day.  When you were walking towards God and when you were headed in the other direction. Things that need more thought. Things you might have done differently. Things that worked well. Things that have made you nearly lose your mind! I think I talk with God as I write. Sometimes things I haven't thought of come to mind as I write. Or you might jot down what you want and then go back and talk it over with the Lord. 

The next page, which should be OK on a front and a back, is where you ask forgiveness for x, y, and z.  Sometimes I've had a day that's gone pretty well... no bodies on the floor of my classroom at the end of the day, no cursing at the idiots on the road, etc.  On those days, without specific items to list,  I just ask for forgiveness for whatever hurts I may have caused or good that I failed to do.  The beauty of this is that when it's time to go to confession, it's all right here!  Rip the page out, underline, highlight, look for patterns, whatever. 

Quick side story:  I aim for confession about once a month. This past Saturday, I was at a women's day of reflection at my parish that included the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  I had been to confession just a couple of weeks earlier, so I had zero intention of going on Saturday.  Until (a) we walked into church and our priest was standing there handing out Examination of Conscience pamphlets and (b) I opened up my journal and the past 2 weeks were there in black and white.  Even just a thing or two every day adds up! 

And finally to wrap it all up, is a statement, a resolution, of something that you will do tomorrow.  Just one thing.  And ideally, the following day's examen should include something of how you did with the resolution. 

So there's what works for me right now.  Oh, and I set a timer on my phone every night to tell me it's time to do this.  Otherwise, I conveniently forget or put it off until I'm falling asleep instead of praying. Your mileage, of course, may vary!  

Sunday, January 1, 2017

looking back on 2016

Judging by my Facebook newsfeed, 2016 might be the most maligned year since 2005, when Hurricane Katrina blew through.  It was a rough one for many.  But one of my high school classmates had posted a list of 10 things that were positive about 2016.  I made my own list and it's the jumping off point for this post.  So without further ado....2016....

1. For many years, I have wanted to make a silent retreat at a nearby retreat center.  Finally, in February, everything fell into place and I made it!  The weather was lovely and the experience was peaceful.  I didn't go with any nagging problems to be solved or any issues to be addressed.  I just wanted to open myself to the experience. 

2.  One day in April, I was on my way home from work.  It would have been my Granddad's 100th birthday.  I usually pray a Rosary on my way to work, but on this particular day, I was praying it on the way home, and I had offered it for my grandfather.  I was almost home when I pulled up behind this car.  It was a sweet reminder from the Good Lord that He is with us - even in the small things. Eight months have passed. I generally follow the same route home and same approximate time schedule every day, but have not seen this vehicle again.  

3.  In June, I boarded a plane and flew up to Philadelphia to visit my very best friend.  Once at the airport in Philadelphia, I got on a train and made my way northeast.  I had to change trains this time, but all went without a hitch.  It was a wonderful visit.  A great mix of conversation, prayer, quiet, and relaxation.  We watched the movie War Room over a couple of evenings... we tried our hand at painting...and we talked... it was excellent.  

4.  July found my little family in the car driving to Tampa to visit my stepson and his beautiful family.  We enjoyed our time and returned home a week later with 2 of the grandchildren who stayed for a few more weeks.  We don't live a very exciting life, and July in Louisiana is just too hot to do much, but hopefully they had fun.  One absolutely adored our evidenced by the number of pictures on my phone.

5.  The Year of Mercy!  See the previous post for details.  

6.  August was a busy month!  School started for all of us.  My oldest had been laid off from his job at a machine shop in May and decided to enroll at the local community college and major in Civil Surveying.  He liked it, and ended up making the Dean's list.  My youngest continued in Hospitality Management at the university.  He also worked as an Equipment Manager for the football team, which required a lot of hours.  His final grades were not as awesome as he wanted them, but he worked hard.  

7.  I continued my 30th year of teaching!  Where has the time gone??  This year one of my students' families "adopted" our class through a program that our local newspaper sponsors, and we were blessed with things (a gift card and boxed mixes) to make cooking more possible.  Later the same family was instrumental in helping us get a refrigerator through  I am blessed with awesome students, parents, and co-workers.  

8.  August, 2016, will best be known in Louisiana for water.  Lots of it.  Floodwaters.  For days and days and days of rain.  We had our first day of school, and then didn't return to school for over a week.  Livingston Parish was probably hardest hit, but Baton Rouge, Breaux Bridge, Lafayette, and Youngsville, also saw widespread damage.

It started off as just rain on the second day of school.
It was unremarkable, and most of us got up and started the day off like any other.
Many were already at school or on their way before the decision to cancel was made.

We got these warnings for days upon end.  

My Facebook feed was full of posts like this.
It was heartbreaking.  
The river overflowed not too far from my house.

This became a common sight once the floodwaters receded.

My brother who left his house thinking he would lose everything, was spared - by an inch or so.
You can see the water line near the top of the step and on the inside leg of the bench
...little pieces of debris left behind.

As quickly as it came, it left.

My sister was trapped in her house, surrounded by rising water.  She had several feet of water in a workshop and shed, but the house did not take on water.

My parents also had more water than they have seen in the 50 years they have lived in their home. At least one of their vehicles got wet, as did a shed and a utility room outside, but their house did not flood.  

The Cajun Navy were heroes as they rescued thousands of people from their homes when government agencies became too overwhelmed to keep up with the rescues.  And in the aftermath, the "Cajun Army" pitched in to help friends and neighbors with the clean up and demolition process. 
Kids from a nearby high school were part of the Cajun Army,
filling sandbags for neighborhood residents in anticipation of a levee breach.

9. My husband had the first of his two knee replacement surgeries.  He had put it off for years.  As I write this, we are 4 months post-op on his first surgery, and 6 weeks on his second.  He walked around the block yesterday, without a cane or walker.  He might get his life back!  

10.  At some point - probably before Thanksgiving - I hit a 25 pound weight loss milestone.  I haven't stayed there, but hopefully with the new year, I can resume that journey.  I have not been a poster child for strictly following the program - the weight loss would have happened much quicker if I had - but Weight Watchers has been helpful.

11.  Also in November, we elected a new president.  Whether you are happy or sad about the outcome, we are blessed to live in a country where we change leaders on a regular basis without bloodshed.  And thank goodness that election is over! 
Pretty sure our Blue Dog stickers were the coolest in the country!

12.  November and December passed in a flash.  Another knee replacement before Thanksgiving.  Work.  School.  Christmas.  Relaxation.  It is a good time to take stock of the blessings that we received during 2016 - both those that we welcomed and those that didn't seem like a blessing, but God uses to draw us closer to himself.  Happy New Year!  May 2017 bring you ever more deeply into the loving embrace of our Father.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

merciful like the father

The Jubilee Year of Mercy began in late 2015 and continues through late 2016.  Around the world, various sites have been declared Pilgrimage Sites and the faithful may obtain indulgences by visiting there and fulfilling certain conditions.  Without getting into all kinds of nitty gritty theology, if you want to know more, you can look up Fr. Champagne's "Mercy Minutes" on Facebook's Fete Dieu du Teche page or use Google.  I was kind of surprised to find out several years ago that indulgences are still around - after all the drama their abuse caused in the Middle Ages  -  but they are.

Entering through the Holy Doors can symbolize entering into Christ.  So, inspired by a friend who undertaken a similar local pilgrimage earlier this summer, I asked a group of Boy Scout mom friends if they would join me.  Our boys have grown up and gone down different paths, but we still enjoy each other's company.  One was busy, but the other two agreed.

We began our day at our local Cathedral.  As we arrived, we noticed other cars in the parking lot, and realized that today was the day that our diocese was ordaining 3 new priests.  People had already started to gather.  We located the stamp and ink pad to stamp the back of our booklet and then slipped into a pew near the back to pray.

Having received Your Mercy and forgiveness, we seek to pray for Your Mercy for others.  We lit our brothers and sisters up to You to be blessed and forgiven.  We call upon your Sacred Heart to fill them with Your boundless compassion.  We ask you to listen to their prayers, to inspire their hearts, to comfort their fears.  Assure them of Your love as we remember them to You. 

As we were leaving, I encountered a former co-worker from many years ago.She was there for the ordination...she had graduated with one of the men being ordained.  I remember long ago - maybe 15 years or more - a priest asking for prayers for this particular seminarian, who had just been diagnosed with leukemia.  She told me that he had not only fought leukemia, but had also lost both of his parents and had a heart transplant due the side effects of chemo.  Now in his 40's, God had continued to call him into His merciful heart.  His story in this video:  


For those who have sinned against others by selfishness or greed - who have become blinded by self-interest and allowed others to pay the price of their selfishness. 

We continued on to our next stop - Our Lady of Mercy.  We parked in the shade and entered the dimly lit church.  We located the stamp in the back, stamped our booklets, and knelt down to pray. 

For those who have sinned against others by prejudice and discrimination - who cling to graven images rather than bow before the dignity of  others.

After a few minutes there, we headed off to a Shrine to the Sacred Heart.  It was a good distance out of the way, but worth the trip.  None of us had ever been there before.  Probably none of us even knew of its existence.  

The miles passed and the conversation flowed.  Google Maps led the way.  To the middle of nowhere, it seemed.  

We located the Shrine easily enough. We opened the car door and a million a swarm of mosquitoes invaded the car.  But they weren't too hungry and left easily enough later on.  Our first priority was restroom facilities, and [mercifully] this location had them.  

We wandered around the outside of the Shrine.  It was so peaceful, with the sounds of nature.  There were outdoor Stations of the Cross, a basketball goal with a ball sitting....waiting.  The Blessed Mother, too, seemed to be waiting, inviting those who were burdened to come, sit, and reflect, so that she could lead them to her Son and His mercy.  Maybe it would be a nice retreat venue. 

We entered another Holy Door, signed in, stamped our books and knelt to pray.  

For those who have sinned against You, Lord by disrespecting Your creation: who regard Your precious gift as something to be exploited or destroyed.

The Shrine was built in the early 1980's.  It was the result of a dream that the priest assigned to the nearby church had while on retreat.  So many things fell into place for him to literally make the dream come true.  

The statue of the Sacred Heart had been offered to him by his physician.  The doctor's family had sold to the state a local hospital they had owned, and as such couldn't have a statue of the Sacred Heart in a publicly owned hospital.  The stained glass windows were offered to him by someone who had them in their shed.  They depicted Canadian martyrs and ironically the priest was Canadian.  The windows were over 200 years old.  

We lit candles at this location, but nearly all of the places we visited had candles. The lit candle symbolizes a way of extending prayers.  

We de-mosquitoe'd the car and continued our trek - back the way we had come to our next outdoor grotto to Our Lady of Lourdes.  

This location was a little harder to find.  We arrived at the church, but there was serious construction going on nearby.  Just as we were about to set out on foot to find the grotto, an angel of mercy in an SUV drove into the parking lot and pointed us towards the right direction.  She even showed us where to park and told us where to find the stamp for our booklets.  

Built by a husband in memory of his wife who had passed away from ALS in 2003, the brochure noted that they had faithfully prayed the Rosary every night and had received "innumerable graces". God's mercy.  The path had a marker for each of the 20 decades of the Rosary. 

We noted that it might be a quiet place to return to for prayer.  Maybe when it is cooler.  Note to self: October is the month of the Rosary, and it is cooler then.  

Soybean ? fields nearby.  It was quiet and peaceful.  We returned to the church parking lot since the stamp for the booklets was located inside the church. 

We prayed for a bit in the quiet coolness.  Maybe we gave thanks for God's merciful love in our lives and the lives of those close to us or maybe we prayed for good health or asked him to draw close to Him those who are wandering or any number of other things. 

For those who have sinned against You, Lord by offering the lives of others:  who see the human life as useless or expendable.  

We were starting to feel hungry, so we headed on towards our predetermined lunch destination. 

It was a fairly leisurely, delicious meal.  I'm pretty sure there wasn't a morsel of food left on any of our plates.  We split a slice of salted caramel cheesecake three ways.  Pure awesomeness!  Maybe we were merciful to our server when we left a tip.  

There had been a downpour while we ate lunch, and we stepped back out into the steamy summer day and headed for our next stop.  Another Our Lady of Mercy.  

We parked and entered through the doors.  We stamped our books, surveyed our surroundings and knelt to pray.  Maybe we said a prayer for those in our families who have passed away or for those in the world without enough to eat or for those who are struggling with their vocations in life.  

For those who have sinned against themselves by surrendering their truest identity:  who surrender their authentic self as Your child to the lure of addictions or the expectations of the world.

There is a Vietnamese community in this area.  Their heritage was recognized in one of the stained glass windows.  

There was also an icon of St. Maximilian Kolbe that was unlike anything I'd seen before.  

We journeyed on through sugarcane fields and beautiful oak trees to the oldest church parish in our area.  

They celebrated 250 years last year.  The current church building was built in 1836.    

It was after 3:00 and the 4:00 Mass crowd was starting to assemble.  We parked across the street and approached.  

We followed an older couple who were both walking with canes.  They, too, were on a pilgrimage. They had started at a church much further south and were making their second stop of the day.  An usher held the door open for us and welcomed us.  

We entered, stamped our books and looked around a bit.  There were quite a few things that caught our attention.  The pews still have doors on the ends, as they did in colonial days.  

There was a grotto on one side.  It was constructed by a freed slave in the late 1870's. The Stations of the Cross were massive and came from France in 1904. 

We settled into a pew for a bit and prayed as people arrived for Mass.  

For those who have sinned against themselves by tuning from freedom:  who choose to accept the bondages of sin, resentment, despair and rage by refusing Your invitation to Mercy. 

There was one more stop that we hoped to make on our journey and the hour was getting late.  We headed out.  Rain threatened.

We arrived at our final destination with 10 minutes to spare, but found that it had closed early due to the threatening weather.  A little disappointed, maybe, but it is local to us, so we can go another day.  All in all, a peaceful, relaxing day with a good mix of conversation and friendship, quiet and prayer. Time to be grateful for God's great mercy towards us and contemplate ways that we might be merciful like the Father.   

Merciful Father, You leave the ninety-nine in desperate search of the one.  You place the lost on Your own shoulders to secret away to greener pastures.  You kill the fatted calf to rejoice with the found. There is no limit to Your Mercy.  Your embrace leaves us breathless and forgiven.  Teach us to be instruments of Your Mercy in this Jubilee Year of Mercy.  

From Prayer of Pilgrims of Mercy
Diocese of Lafayette