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Catholic Family, Gospel

What to do When Times are Tough

Mark 12:28-34

I had a million questions for Jesus when my husband lost his job. “Are you friggin kidding me?!” “Why are you doing this to us?” “Don’t you see that we have a house, three kids, and I’m unemployed?” 

I’m good at questions, especially accusatory questions. During that really difficult season of our life I would sit in front of the crucifix in our kitchen, and a powerful river of questions streamed out of mouth right into Jesus’ face. Each episode left me weak and angry, making it harder to get through my daily obligations.

On one of these silently-screaming occasions, my oldest son came over from the living room where he was entranced by the TV and gave me a hug. It was a powerful hug for a five-year-old. Then he walked away.

That torrent of questions I sprayed at the cross came back to me in a wave of pure, uncomplicated, unconditional love.  The Lord spoke to me the words of the Shema, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord alone!” (Deut 6:4).

God broke through in that fundamental prayer, to proclaim the only answer to Every. Single. Question: Praise. That day, my son reminded me that our purpose is to live out the Gospel, even when it takes all our strength. God’s job is to be God.

I stopped spitting questions at God and praised him instead, whether it was with zeal, or a meek “I love you,” I focused on showing more love to my husband and kids, recalling that they, too, were in this boat with me.    

If you are in a difficult, angry, or even sorrowful season in this moment, and if all you can do is look at the crucifix and ask him, “But, why?”, try a simple switch from question to proclamation, “You are God.” Jesus will look at you and smile with his Precious face, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God, daughter.”

Amanda Alley


In Jewish tradition, the Shema is prayed during morning and evening prayer. It’s recited almost as a cleansing or centering prayer, similar to our Glory Be during the Liturgy of the Hours. Pray Deuteronomy 6:4 slowly. Remind yourself of this truth. Commit this verse to memory.

“Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone!”

Lent Devotional 2021
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If You’ve Ever Let Your Past Hold You Back

8 March 2021

Lk 4:24-30

              Jesus returned to Nazareth to bring good tidings to the poor, give liberty to captives, sight to the blind, and free the oppressed. (see Lk 4:18-19), yet he was rejected by his childhood neighbors, friends, teachers, and acquaintances from his hometown.

I had a friend who was a Methodist minister. His mother was the choir director at his childhood church, and when he was a child, he used to pile up the long, rectangular cushions from the pews and make a great mound below the choir loft. He and his friends would jump from the choir loft onto the cushions.

Shortly after his ordination, he was invited back to his childhood church to preach, and he was concerned. How could he return to the church of his childhood and preach to a crowd that knew all his mischief? If no prophet is accepted in his native place (Lk 4:24), then surely a young preacher wouldn’t be accepted in his childhood church, right?

 My friend had visions of being driven out of town, and being led to the brow of a hill (Lk 4:29). But that was fear speaking. In reality, the people who formed him through Sunday school and youth group were elated at his return.

Sometimes we feel tempted to let our past holds us back from doing good things in our future. We have to relinquish shame. Shame is not of God. God called Jesus back to Nazareth, and he went obediently. What will it take for you to get beyond wrongs of your past to live fully today?

Elizabeth Tomlin


You are More is a song by Tenth Avenue North. Consider the refrain:

You are more than the choices that you’ve made,
You are more than the sum of your past mistakes,
You are more than the problems you create,
You’ve been remade.

Lent Devotional 2021
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caregiver, Catholic Family, Dignity

Seeing the Gift

1 March 2021

Lk 6:36-38

This smiling young man in his First Communion suit turns twenty-one today. Eighteen of those years he and his sister Sarah spent with us, fifteen of them as “official family” since we adopted them in 2005. Like many children with hard pasts, they were a handful. More than once I wondered if God was granting my exasperated mother’s wish, “One day may the Lord give you a child. Just. Like. You.” 

Instead he gave me these two. Two frightened, skittish, love-resistant little monkeys whose difficult past made it hard for them to trust us, and even harder to trust themselves. Almost from the start, it was clear that these kids were nothing like us: In school they struggled to keep up with their classmates and make friends. This was new territory for my husband and me, who were always at the top of our classes and (in the case of my husband) could talk to anyone.

As the kids continued to struggle, our social circle narrowed; running the kids to doctors and counselors, and praying for peace in playgroups, it was hard to relax long enough for meaningful conversations. But somehow slowly, slowly we became a family, and these two little kids fulfilled their special calling, teaching me the wisdom of today’s Gospel: Be merciful. Stop judging. Stop condemning. Forgive. See the gift.

Some days seeing the gift isn’t easy through the snark and smartassery. Some days there are tears are tears of joy … and others, tears of frustration. Each day became a series of little good-byes as they asserted their independence and my husband and I anticipated our own … until my own mother’s decline presented yet another special gift: a chance to take care of her the way she took care of me. Now at last God is giving me a chance to be another kind of mother: a mother Just. Like. Her.

Heidi Hess Saxton


Lord, Help us to see the gifts in our lives. Amen.

Lent Devotional 2021
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Lent, Lent, Self Care

Yep, It’s Hard – Forgive Anyway

27 February 2021

Matthew 5:43-48

Have you ever been to Disneyland or Disneyworld? If so, you’ve likely climbed into a boat and sailed through the puppeteering land of It’s a Small World. If you’re anything like me, you’re humming the song in your head right now, and in three hours, you’ll still be humming it. Sorry about that…

Today’s Gospel contains a pretty famous line “love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” (Mt 5:44). But why? Well, we have to keep reading. “For he makes the sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and unjust” (Mt 5:45). Indeed, it is a small world, and we all reside in this same world. As much as it might chafe our human understanding of fairness and justice, God’s care extends to every person, whether friend or foe.

Forgiveness is hard, in part because sometimes we feel like when we forgive an injustice, we’re accepting the behavior or ratifying it. Our desire for justice may want to see another punished, or for the person who harmed us to feel the hurt that they caused. But that’s vengeance. Vengeance only increases the amount of evil in the world, and the world already has enough evil. Wouldn’t you agree?

In forgiving, we have to make peace with the fact that we may never understand those who persecute us or their motives. Our persecutors may never be sorry. But that’s really not our business. Remember that God alone “searches mind and heart,” (Rv2:23).

Forgiving is demanding work, and it doesn’t mean that you won’t bear the pain and wounds of past wrongs, but it does mean that you will unbind yourself from the person who wronged you and have the freedom to move on in life.


But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heaven Father, for he makes the sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and unjust. Mt 5:45

Lent Devotional 2021
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Lent, Lent, Mass Reflection, Self Care, Women's Ministry

What’s Wrong with the World Today

26 February 2021

Matthew 5:20-26

What’s wrong with the world today? Several decades ago, the London Times asked this question of essayists and orators – people who by that days’ standards were “influencers”. G. K. Chesterton, the famous writer, philosopher, and lay Catholic theologian, responded to the Times. He wrote:

Dear Sirs:

I am.

Sincerely yours,

G. K. Chesterton

Those are sage words even for the problems of today, and I’m carrying them with me during Lent. There’s a lot wrong in our world today, but righting the wrong starts with me. It begins with letting go of anger and being reconciled the people in my close circle. As today’s gospel shares, “if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gifts there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift” (Mt 5:23-24).

Turning the well-known verse of Matthew 7:3 into first-person, “Why do I notice the splinter in my brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in my own eye?” My small actions will not fix the whole world, but they might fix the little sliver that God gave me to toil within until my journey on this life is complete.

Elizabeth Tomlin


What’s wrong with the world today?

Lent Devotional 2021
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Pay Attention. There is Something Greater than Jonah

Luke 11:29-32

There is something greater than Jonah here. How often do I remember that at Mass, or in Adoration? If we believe that the Eucharist is the body, and blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus, we should be in total awe.

The creator of the entire universe has made himself present to us in a tiny piece of unleavened bread. A few months ago at Christmas, we celebrated the way he came to us as a vulnerable, helpless baby. Now, we prepare to celebrate his vulnerable, helpless, willing death. 

If anyone died for me today, I’d feel a sense of total unworthiness. I think of the way I am humbled when my husband gets me something I need or want, unasked. The way he provides for our children and me, our comfort and prosperity, without any request on our part sometimes makes me feel extremely guilty – Who am I, and what have I done to deserve this kind of selfless love?

Now, when I behold the sacrifice of the Mass, a participation in a moment out of time that happened once and for all, am I overcome with the same sense of unworthiness? Do I pause in awe, as I recite the words of the centurion, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should ender under my roof” (Mt 8:8)?

My husband, as much as I love him, is human after all. If I am occasionally in awe of his sacrifices for our family, how much more should I be amazed that Creator entered into our messy world to sacrifice his life for me?

Me ­­– the person who sometimes pretends I can’t hear my kids to avoid doing something for them that seems silly or unimportant. The person who lets careless words escape my lips, who has deafened herself to the cries of the lonely, hungry, and impoverished in my community and my world.

Maggie Phillips


Today’s gospel calls us to repent as the Ninevites did at the words of Jonah. Make an examination of conscience today. Pray an Act of Contrition.

Lent Devotional 2021
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