I recently came back from a summer vacation to England and Scotland. Whenever friends and family have asked about my favorite part of the trip, I always say the Scottish Highlands and English Lake District. The beauty of the tall mountains with peaks hidden in the clouds and covered in the brightest green foliage takes your breath away. Peering up at these magnificent stone crags with my head tilted back to face the sky, I couldn’t help but mutter a continuous, “Wow!” The first thought that entered my head was the lyric from the song “Shoulders” by the Christian band For King and Country: I look up to the mountains / Does my strength come from the mountains? / No, my strength comes from God / Who made heaven, and earth, and the mountains.
The entirety of my trip, I saw God in simple things – a sunny day without rain, swans and ducks swimming in ponds, the architecture of a beautiful church, sheep and cows grazing in fields, fellow tourists greeting me with a funny story and smile. It took a plane ride across the Atlantic for me to become refreshed and remember to purposefully think about God’s presence in all things, no matter how ordinary the moment may be. After my trip, I thought about several ways in which I can continue to find God in everyday life.
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When I was young, I thought that strength was something you could only have from going to the gym and building muscle. I used to see people who were physically strong and think to myself, “Wow I want to be strong like they are!” Later, I realized that strength comes in many different forms and physical strength is only one of them. There are three forms of strength I have noticed that I would like to unwrap and reflect on: physical strength intellectual strength, and spiritual strength.
Our society likes the idea of being strong. Many build their bodies to withstand enormous force, pressure, and endurance. There are contests for strong people, strength is applauded in sports, and generally those who are stronger win out and become the victor. Strength to some people is building muscle, but it can also be about the power of thought and intellectual strength. Lifelong academics, philosophers, theologians, and other great minds spend their lives thinking, keeping their brains agile and “in good shape.” These are the ones who can create, invent, and solve the world’s problems because of perseverance in learning.
After considering these two forms of strength, let’s think about one more that I’ve intentionally left for the end: spiritual strength. This one is a big part of my life because I have faith in God’s plan for my life, trust in his mercy, and have learned what I can from the Psalms. One Psalm that rings true for me when things are difficult is Psalm 28: Praise be to the Lord, for he has heard my cry for mercy. The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him.
From this perspective of faith, my own spirituality can blossom. I can find strength in the Lord who answers my prayers, knows my heart’s desires, and will always know what is best for me. In my own life, I have experienced trials and hardships that channeled thoughts and feelings into becoming stronger within. I learned to stay positive and seek God’s help when times were tough. This spiritual strength has also helped me to grow in compassion.
One way I am still growing in strength is through daily reflection. A prayer I use with my class is called an Examen, a prayer that St. Ignatius of Loyola encouraged. The Examen involves looking at things that went well, things that went wrong, analyzing the day on the whole, speaking to God, and asking for his strength to take on the next day and grow. Here’s an Examen that provides three minutes of quiet reflection and is quick for my busy schedule, but meaningful and thought-provoking as well.
Where does my strength come from? A compliment. The Psalms. Quiet reflection. A long run. Peaceful music. Adoration in a quiet chapel. A good night’s sleep. Eating well. A good book. The Eucharist. We all have our own strengths and weaknesses, and varying degrees of each. Where is this strength found for you? How do you build strength? When we are aware of Christ’s presence in our lives, we are strengthened by knowing we can always improve and be better tomorrow. So I challenge you now, to build your prayer muscles and become spiritually fit.
Start here, with Psalm 121:
I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip— he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord watches over you— the Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all harm— he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.
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In my 2nd grade class, the students are preparing to celebrate First Eucharist. They are busy learning all they can about their Catholic faith, the parts of the Mass, prayers and responses, forgiveness and preparing their hearts, and most of all: about the Eucharist itself. They are beginning to understand the purpose behind the Mass and why we say certain responses and kneel or genuflect at particular times. My class was recently interviewed by a couple of 8th graders about expectations they have for receiving First Communion. Some responses were priceless, such as:
“I’m nervous to forget to say, AMEN” and “I’m afraid to drop the host.”
There were more practical answers such as: “I am excited to eat in church” and “I’m nervous to have 5,000 eyes on me!”
My students are still learning, and during this time of preparation, I want to be sure they understand how they can reach intimacy with Christ in the Eucharist.
With the Easter Triduum beginning on Thursday at the Last Supper, there is no better time than now to focus on the Eucharist. In both the Gospel of Luke and the Gospel of Matthew, we learn about the Last Supper Jesus had with his disciples. Luke 22:19 says, “And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.’” In Matthew 26:27-29, the Lord says something similar when he blesses the cup saying, “...and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” We learn and believe that in this highest moment of Mass, in transubstantiation, the bread and wine transform into the Body and Blood of Christ. As I teach my students about the Eucharist, this consecration is the pinnacle moment that they must learn about and understand.The consecration in the context of the Last Supper is something we can all look forward to on Thursday.
As Lent draws to a close and the Triduum begins, how prepared are we? My class’s preparation includes the preparation of their hearts through reconciliation. We go to confession as a class at the beginning of Lent, relieving ourselves of the pain and sins we have weighing us down. As we draw nearer to Easter, it is through this penance that we can see God more clearly, grow in intimacy with him, and be ready to receive Christ in the Eucharist. I invite you to consider going to confession before Easter.
Although my 2nd graders will continue to learn about their faith and the Eucharist throughout their whole lives, my hope is to prepare them well-enough to make their First Communion as meaningful as possible. Part of this preparation is encouraging personal prayer for these youngsters. As a class, we are beginning to use more and more prayers for specific times in the day. We pray in gratitude or practice intercession.
Loyola Press offers an Ignatian Examen for reflection each day that has a variety of topics and purposes. They are all calming and peaceful, with background music and an ending prayer.
The Hail Mary, the Our Father, or the Glory Be help us learn more about how Jesus taught us to pray and other traditional Catholic prayers to know by heart.
We also have personal prayer, taking quiet time to talk to God and ask him for help or to give strength to someone in pain.
Finally, we will be learning a Communion prayer as we get closer to April and May to prepare the class to receive Christ for the first time.
My Communion Prayer
Dear God, I know that You give me many gifts.
The gift of Your Son, Jesus Christ in Holy Communion
is the greatest of all. How can I ever thank You
enough for this special gift?
At Mass we are called to be like Jesus, by loving
and serving one another in the world.
As I become more like Him, please continue to
help me. Show me the places and ways that
I can bring Your love, kindness, and peace
in my family,
in my neighborhood,
in my community,
with my friends.
(Moment of silent reflection)
Teaching 2nd grade religion has taught me more about my faith than I ever thought was possible. Now, I urge you to use these last few days of Lent and the Triduum to use prayer and penance to grow in closeness to God through the Eucharist. Like one of my students said, “I can’t wait to get communion because then I’m totally part of Mass and I don’t have to just be blessed with my arms crossed.”