God wants us to slow down in Advent. Believe Him.

So many families seem to have it all together for Advent, don’t they? Christmas trees acquired and beautifully decorated; Advent wreaths lit while small children sing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel;” devotionals read while sipping a cup of hot coffee. Advent is planned, done and dusted, and now they just get to sit back and relax.

I’m sure this IS true for some families. But I strongly suspect that for the majority of people this is not the case. My haphazardly-decorated-by-children tree looks lovely on Instagram for morning prayer, but just out of frame is my desk overrun with homeschool books and endless piles of scrap paper. We’ve managed to light our Advent wreath each night so far, but I gave up on a Jesse Tree after the first day when I realized it was stressing me out trying to fit more into our short family dinner time. I’m already behind on Advent devotionals and my coffee is perennially cold.

It’s taken me years to reach a place where not Getting It Right by Day 3 isn’t an invitation to descend into despair and misplaced perfectionism. I realized something about Advent a couple years ago that absolutely blew my mind. Are you ready? Going slow in your decorations and preparations IS Advent. It’s baked into what God is calling us to in this season. God doesn’t want what we think is perfect; He wants US. He wants our hearts to begin to love Him even the tiniest bit as much as He loves us.

Going slow in your decorations and preparations IS Advent. It’s baked into what God is calling us to in this season.

I emphasize planning for Advent because that takes so much pressure off of our shoulders in terms of decision-making, but the sneaky reason I recommend planning in advance is because it removes that stress from your mind and your heart so that you can make room for God. We spend so much time and energy on how we think Advent should look and feel that we can lose track of the Advent that’s best for us right now. You may have the mental bandwidth and physical energy to lean into decorating and traditions, or you may be sick, exhausted, and/or burned out after an endless pandemic and never-ending routine changes.

So go slow this Advent. Feel free to put your tree up when you get to it, and decorate it over the course of a week. Haven’t started your Advent devotional and intensive prayer routine yet? Guess what? The Advent police won’t come from you, so it’s OK to catch up in Week 2 and scale back your prayer goals. Advent calendars still in storage on December 1? Your kids won’t mind bulk-eating chocolate and opening little cardboard doors once they’re available.

Here’s something revolutionary: If a new or existing Advent tradition/event/thing feels really, really hard right now you have my permission to…just not do it.

Here’s something revolutionary: If a new or existing Advent tradition/event/thing feels really, really hard right now you have my permission to…just not do it. This won’t be your last Advent (God willing), so there’s always next year. It’s also OK to admit that you only “want” to do something out of a sense of obligation to relatives or what “good Catholics” do, in which case there IS no obligation. The only obligations we have are to God, and all He wants is to spend some more time with you as you anticipate the birth of His Son. And that requires no Pinterest-worthy decorating.

Prayers for Thanksgiving

American Thanksgiving is a complicated holiday for me, and many others, as a Native American. Some Native families celebrate it while others do not. It is an annual reminder of the painful past between indigenous people and the Europeans who later came to inhabit their lands. My family has always celebrated Thanksgiving, but I was never under the illusion that it harkens back to a Kumbaya relationship between the Wampanoag people and the Pilgrims.

Thanksgiving is an opportunity to discuss the tribal nations that lived (and continue to live!) in New England, and in recent years I have seen more interest from families looking to learn and share about the indigenous people in the United States more broadly. As a Catholic, there are obvious points of tension between traditional tribal religions and the Catholic faith, but one notable overlap is the celebration of God’s creation in the natural world (I wrote about this recently on Live Today Well), and that is particularly relevant to the Thanksgiving holiday.

Today we have gathered and we see that the cycles of life continue. We have been given the duty to live in balance and harmony with each other and all living things. So now, we bring our minds together as one as we give greetings and thanks to each other as people.

Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address

If you’re looking for a resource to share with your children this year, I recommend Giving Thanks, a book written by fellow Mohawk author Chief Jake Swamp and illustrated by Cayuga/Tuscarora artist Erwin Printup, Jr. It’s a beautiful book that adapts the Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address for children, and would make a lovely read aloud on Thanksgiving day. There’s even a Teacher’s Guide for going deeper and stimulating discussion in the family.

The Thanksgiving Address is used by the Six Nations of the Haundenosaunee (Onondaga, Mohawk, Oneida, Seneca, Cayuga, and Tuscarora) to open and close social and traditional religious meetings, and can also be used as a daily sunrise prayer. It is an ancient practice of gratitude for all life. “Children learn that people everywhere are embraced as family. Our diversity, like all wonders of Nature, is truly a gift for which we are thankful.”

As referenced in my piece for Live Today Well, one of my favorite blends of my indigenous heritage with my Catholic faith is praying the Canticle of Daniel as part of the Liturgy of the Hours. It’s a little lengthy, but would make a beautiful incorporation into your Thanksgiving prayers.

Bless the Lord, all you works of the Lord.
Praise and exalt him above all forever.

Daniel 3:57

Office of the Dead

Hallowtide is upon us, and I, for one, am practically vibrating with excitement.

What is Hallowtide, you ask? It’s the ancient Christian custom of praying for the dead and celebrating the countless (named and unnamed) saints in Heaven over the course of three days: All Hallows Eve (aka Halloween), All Saints Day, and All Souls Day. It once had its own octave for the eight days of Allhallowtide, but that was discontinued in 1955. It’s a beautiful practice to focus your prayer on the dead during the Hallowtide triduum, and there’s a particularly intriguing option that the Church prescribes for November 2, All Souls Day: The Office of the Dead.

The Office of the Dead (it just SOUNDS spooky and special, doesn’t it?) is part of the Liturgy of the Hours, and is available for the faithful to pray all year (with exceptions, see below), but is mandatory for priests and religious to pray on All Souls Day. It is a combination of psalms, antiphons, readings, and prayers designed to be prayed for the souls of all the faithful departed. Everything calls back to the death of the physical body and the hope we have in the risen Christ. It’s haunting and beautiful, and a unique expression of our Catholic faith.

Laity have been encouraged to pray the Liturgy of the Hours (also referred to as the Divine Office) since the reforms of Vatican II. It can be a bit daunting to learn (there are a lot of rules and ambiguously-placed ribbons), but it is a rich treasure to tap into. Thankfully, there are free and easy-to-use versions available for those starting out, or for those who prefer praying with a digital resource instead of a physical book. Consider taking advantage of these in order to pray the Office of the Dead on November 2:

  • Download the iBreviary or Divine Office apps. You can also access the prayers at the Divine Office website
  • The Office of the Dead is available on Divine Office on November 2, whereas it is accessible in iBreviary any time of the year (click the prayer hands at the top of the app, then Prayers, then scroll down to Office of the Dead)
  • If you already own a breviary (either Christian Prayer or the four volume set of the Liturgy of the Hours) check the table of contents for where the Office of the Dead is located, typically near the back of the book

The Office is divided into seven “hours” of the day, with hours referring to occasions of prayer and not time spent praying. If you’re new to this, start with Morning and/or Evening Prayer, as those “hinge” hours are what the Church recommends for laypeople. Since we don’t live in religious communities we aren’t bound by the same rules as to when and how many hours to pray. Morning prayer is best in the early morning (to take full advantage of the sunrise vibes present in the psalms and antiphons for that hour), but honestly I’ve squeezed it in at 11:59am plenty of times. Evening Prayer is typically prayed anytime after 5pm. The apps do all the work for you in sorting out exactly what to pray in which order.

Want someone to pray with? I’ll be live on Instagram praying Morning and Evening prayer for all of Hallowtide, beginning with Evening Prayer on Halloween night. Let’s pray for the dead together!

For the Divine Office Nerds (Like Me)

There are some rules we need to follow around praying the Office of the Dead. It can also be prayed after the death of a loved one, for example, or on the anniversary of their death. According to the general instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours, however, it cannot be prayed on the following days:

  • Solemnities
  • Sundays
  • Feasts of the Lord
  • Weekdays of Lent and Holy Week
  • The octaves of Christmas and Easter
  • Weekdays from December 17-24

If you want to learn how to pray the Liturgy of the Hours and use it to incorporate daily prayer habits, then check out Everyday Holiness. It’s not open for enrollment currently, but get on the waiting list and you’ll be first to hear when it’s available again.

By Their Fruits You Will Know Them: Reflections on Indigenous Peoples’ Day

My family is Kanienʼkehá:ka (Mohawk), one of the six tribes that form the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy that stretches primarily between the northeastern United States and Canada. Native Americans make up 1% of the population of American Catholics, so you may not have encountered many (or any) of us. Americans tend to think that Native people live primarily on reservations, and thus they’re tucked away out of sight. In reality, 60% of Native Americans live in cities and towns (myself included) and not on reservations. While comprising a tiny percentage of American Catholics, 20% of Native Americans are Catholic, including many whose Catholic ancestry dates back to the earliest missions in the Americas. The very first Catholics in this country were indigenous.

Today is Indigenous Peoples’ Day where I live, and I’ve been thinking a lot about how we talk about indigenous people in the context of Catholicism. The conversation has begun to change, which is a welcome development, and I’ve seen many more Catholics willing to ask hard questions about the Church’s historical impact on Native people, as well as how we can engage more with this unique and diverse community. I’ve also seen extremely discouraging responses that denigrate an entire race of people. What are our responsibilities to Native Americans as fellow children of God, as followers of Christ?

“The first thing I heard was that they feel forgotten. And these are the first people to receive the Good News in the New World.”

Bishop James Wall of Gallup, NM

It is our responsibility to listen. The discovery this summer of thousands of unmarked graves at residential schools in Canada has heightened the pain of Native families on both sides of the border, for whom this information was not a revelation, but rather a confirmation of what happened to their children. It is important to listen to their stories and memories, to take on their pain, no matter how uncomfortable it is to hear. The natural instinct is to shut it out, to deflect responsibility from ancestors or institutions that played a role in stomping on the inherent dignity of others. To say “that was a long time ago,” or “I didn’t personally harm you.” This internal and external flinching can look like avoiding reflection on the topic, or goes so far as using words as weapons against native people in a highly unwelcoming and misguided representation of the Catholic faith.

Nowhere do I find this discourse more nakedly aggressive than in the annual swirl around the celebration of Columbus Day and Indigenous Peoples’ Day. I would like to share a selection of statements I have read on Twitter today, some from professed devout Catholics and other Christians:

  • “We don’t celebrate achievements anymore. We celebrate victimhood. That’s why they get the holiday and Columbus loses it.”
  • “To celebrate, I’m going to build a casino out of old whiskey bottles.”
  • “I thought they got rid of the Columbus Day holiday so they could celebrate Juneteenth without having an additional day off, so Indigenous People’s Day is extra not-real.”
  • “I’m happy that this land was conquered. It is an immeasurably better place now than it would have been had Europeans never showed up. I’m proud of our history and grateful. I will never apologize for it. I will celebrate our heroes and laugh in your face when you cry about it.”

My brothers and sisters in Christ, regardless of how you feel about the naming of federal and state holidays, this is not how God has called us to talk about each other. This is not “speaking truth.” Respectful dialogue is a dying art in this world, and we are each responsible for reversing that trend. This is critical not because we should be singing Kumbaya with each other and never disagreeing, but because this type of speech cuts at the very heart of Christianity. It makes a mockery of the greatest commandments to love God and to love our neighbors. It is insidious and endangers our souls. Are these truly the fruits of a Christ-centered life showing themselves to others?

First and foremost, everything has to be brought into the light. You can’t just sweep it under the rug and hope that time will heal it…We learned that with the sex abuse crisis too, that you can’t just say, ‘Ok well, get over it.’ That’s not the way of our Lord.

Bishop James Wall of Gallup, NM

Social media should not be used as a measuring stick for our society, but its influence pollutes the waters of our collective consciences, threatening the fibers of morality just as much as the latest political decision. Let’s start a movement to listen before we react, to love before we disparage. And, for the love of God, let’s think before we tweet.

Called to Radical Love: A Franciscan Journey

My journey towards joining the Secular Franciscan Order started out with a bang courtesy of the Holy Spirit (a story for another day). From that point onward I knew deep in my heart that I was meant to be spending time with a local Secular Franciscan fraternity, and that I very likely had a vocation brewing. I had a few concerns about Franciscan spirituality, however:

  1. St. Francis famously experienced a dramatic conversion of heart, in which he stripped naked in the public square in order to physically cast off his possessions and give himself over to a new life with God at the center. I, uh, rather liked my clothes, and didn’t care to make such a fuss
  2. Franciscans are all about minimalism, right? Does that mean I need to begin hating material possessions and never buy anything again? Do I have to get rid of all my stuff?
  3. Francis clearly felt strongly about renouncing his old life in order to embrace his calling. What if I’m not sure that I feel as strongly about doing the same?

I remember my formation leader holding back a smile as he began to talk me through my concerns. He told me that if I truly do have a vocation to the Secular Franciscan Order, one day I would look back at my written responses in those early months of Initial Formation and be amazed at how far I had come. He was right.

What I have come to see is that we’re all called to a conversion of heart. For some of us this happens suddenly and dramatically, and for others it is a much quieter, subtle process. But we are all called to draw nearer to Him our entire lives. Sometimes we will experience moments of epiphany (I’ve had a few of these “Holy Spirit moments” in my life so far), but largely our faith deepens (or stalls out) incrementally over the course of decades. We wake up one day and realize how much we’ve changed, even though at the time we didn’t see it happening.

The way Francis lived his life seemed extreme to me, and it was. Thank goodness he was extreme, because it mobilized a following and eventually started a movement that has come to be beloved by Catholics and non-believers alike. Francis “astounded and inspired the Church by taking the gospel literally—not in a narrow fundamentalist sense, but by actually following all that Jesus said and did, joyfully, without limit, and without a sense of self-importance.” I’d argue that we need Francis now more than ever. We need Christians that are radicalized by love and self-abandonment. Franciscans have a reputation for being warm and snuggly, strumming guitars and petting dogs. (Which is fair — have you ever seen a friar running the annual Blessing of the Animals in the church parking lot? He is living his best life.) But they are so much more than that.

During my five years of formation with the Secular Franciscans, I came to realize that minimalism was the least of the gifts I’d received by virtue of diving deep into Franciscan spirituality. I’ve made a lot of donation runs, but the way I live out my faith has been completely transformed. Francis has radicalized me with love and devotion to the poorest and most marginalized in our societies. My relationship with God has gone from one of polite and reverent attachment to two best friends getting along like a house on fire. Francis will sweet talk a wolf into not eating any more townspeople, but he will also make you uncomfortable. He will make you reexamine the way you treat your neighbors and, even worse, how you think about them.

I dare you not to become radicalized by the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, for example, searching police stations and morgues for the body of a local addict and prostitute who was also their close friend. She had no family and was not treated with dignity by the vast majority of people she encountered on the streets. And yet, the friars spent days searching for her body so that they could give her a funeral.

At the last police station, after the friars shared what they were doing and all of the different places they had looked, the police officer asked with deep interest, “Why are you doing this?” The friar answered, “Because she’s our sister, and she deserves it.”

Fr. Mark-Mary Ames, CFR. Habits for Holiness: Small Steps for Making Big Spiritual Progress. Ascension, 2021.

St. Francis challenges me daily, and often not in the ways that I expect. On this his feast day, I challenge YOU to allow God into your heart through the lens of Francis. Look for Him in the homeless shelter that your town is fighting against opening. See Him in the faces of asylum seekers and refugees fleeing their war torn countries for a chance to save the lives of their children. Hear Him as you lovingly wash and pack baby items from your home to donate to a local crisis pregnancy center, and know that He is with every mother staring with fear at a positive pregnancy test. He is everywhere, He just needs us to stop, listen, and lead with love.

“Francis! Everything you have loved and desired in the flesh it is your duty to despise and hate, if you wish to know my will. And when you have begun this, all that now seems sweet and lovely to you will become intolerable and bitter, but all that you used to avoid will turn itself to great sweetness and exceeding joy.”

A voice heard in prayer by St. Francis, Franciscan Media

A Very Special Feast Day: How Sts. Philomena and Clare Joined Forces

My childhood church featured beautiful, full-length stained glass windows. My family typically sat in the same area each week, and I grew to know the windows within view. The saints depicted in them became old friends I looked forward to seeing each week. One window was a particular source of fascination for me, and it was just out of view.

St. Philomena Icon © Cecilia Lawrence

I found St. Philomena while walking around church after Mass. She was absolutely stunning. Incomparably beautiful with her long brown hair and deep purple dress, palms in her hand and an anchor by her feet. I could have stared at her all day, but only had time for a brief moment each week as my family gathered our belongings to head home. Every Sunday I would crane my neck to catch a glimpse of her from our pew, but her window was near the front and behind a pole, so in order to see her I needed to physically pay her a visit.

There was little to be found about the life of Philomena at the time, and she remains a fairly mysterious figure to this day. I learned more about her as I grew older, and my fascination with her continued. My mother loves to tell the story of when I befriended a little girl at a hotel pool while traveling, and I told her my name was Philomena. I was so inspired by her witness of faith as a virgin martyr in the early Church. According to legend, “each time she was attacked [during her martyrdom], angels took to her side and healed her through prayer.” I eventually chose her as my Confirmation saint at age 16.

St. Clare of Assisi icon © Cecilia Lawrence

Flash forward to 2016, when I began spending time with the Secular Franciscans. I was initially intimidated by St. Francis’ extreme conversion story, in which the son of a wealthy merchant cast off his money, belongings, and even his clothes (it must’ve been QUITE a scene in the town square) as he broke with his old life and embraced Christian poverty.

I had somewhat of an easier time acclimating to St. Clare, although her story is no less dramatic. Here’s a little snippet:

“At 18, Clare escaped from her father’s home one night, was met on the road by friars carrying torches, and in the chapel received a rough woolen habit, exchanged her jeweled belt for a common rope with knots in it, and sacrificed her long tresses to Francis’ scissors. He placed her in a Benedictine convent, which her father and uncles immediately stormed in rage. Clare clung to the altar of the church, threw aside her veil to show her cropped hair, and remained adamant.”

Franciscan media

I made my perpetual profession to the Secular Franciscan Order this past July (on the feast of St. Benedict. He’s been after me lately, too), and Clare has become a source of inspiration. I am in awe of her fortitude, persistence, and fearlessness.

These two saints enchanted and impacted me in some of my most formative phases as a child, young adult, and grown woman. As your resident Liturgical Year Enthusiast, you can imagine my surprise at the realization last week that Philomena and Clare share the same feast day: August 11. I was glancing ahead at the calendar, and smiled as I looked forward to St. Clare’s upcoming feast. Then I noticed St. Philomena listed next to her, and I burst out laughing. It should not have taken me this many years to notice, but my goodness what a delight to know that these two have been scheming about me for quite some time.

Sts. Philamena and Clare, Ora Pro Nobis

Morning Has Broken (Toys): Finding Peace in Imperfect Routines

I longed to be a nun as a child. I was precocious and pious, and pictured religious life as it was depicted in The Sound of Music or Sister Act movies. I could pray and make rosaries all day? Sign me up! As I got older (and saw that I was called to the vocation of marriage) I sought to incorporate those elements of daily holiness that appealed to me from religious communities. My ideal day as a layperson was as follows:

6:00am: Rise easily, feeling well-rested. Devote at least an hour to praying the Divine Office, reading classic spiritual works, and talking to God. I would be joined in the quiet of the dawn by my purring cats and a steaming cup of tea.

7:30am: Get ready and commute to work. Listen to Catholic podcasts.

8:30am: Work productively with Gregorian chant in the background.

12:00pm: Attend daily mass

You get the drift, right? I found this utopia impossible to achieve, even as a young woman with only a husband and a few furry critters to care for. As a night owl, waking up early felt painful and pointless, even though I longed for uninterrupted time to spend with God. There wasn’t a daily mass close enough to my office so that I could go over my lunch break. By the time I got home from work and cooked dinner, all I wanted was to crash and watch a favorite show with my husband, not read my Bible or say a rosary without falling asleep.

And then I had children. Twin boys right out of the gate, then another boy five years later. Forget waking up pleasantly with the dawn; I was awakened by frantic little knocks on my bedroom door or fighting between brothers over shared toys. Even if I could somehow drag myself out of bed before the kids descended on me, there was no guarantee I’d get more than a few minutes of quiet before I heard the pitter patter of boisterous feet. Sometimes, even with the best of intentions to bounce out of bed with my alarm, they woke up early and I felt I’d failed at the day before it had even begun.

My mornings have a serious lack of what I was drawn to from the convent: structure, quiet, and the ability to give my full focus to God.

I stumbled upon something that worked for me, quite by accident, during Holy Week (my best Holy Spirit moments always seem to happen in the Lenten/Triduum season). I had resolved to wake up early to see the sunrise and pray that week, so I wrenched myself out of bed and onto the living room couch. I was still half-asleep and didn’t have the faculties to open a bible or finagle the ribbons in my breviary, so I pressed the Easy Button: I opened up the Hallow app and played one of their Holy Week praylists. I laid on the couch to listen and pray along with my eyes closed. It was just what I needed, and I felt the effects of a peaceful, God-centered start for the rest of my day: my cup was full, so I had more patience towards the kids, more brain cells for work, etc.

My youngest “helping” during morning prayer

The next day I quite literally did bounce out of bed, because I was so looking forward to repeating the experience. Eventually I came to realize that if I could fit two tiny things into my mornings it made a huge difference: Praying the Morning Offering (takes less than a minute!) after lighting a candle. That’s it. If I had the time and quiet to fit in more prayer (such as Lauds or the Office of Readings, maybe some bible study) then it was a delightful bonus. Sometimes a little one comes to “help” me extinguish my candle, or I’m blearily praying the Morning Offering as I stumble out of bed to respond to a child up at the crack of dawn.

And that’s OK, because I’ve still started my day by offering it to the Lord, no matter how imperfect that looks.

As a recovering perfectionist, this mindset shift has been transformative. I often fall into thinking that my prayer life should look how it would be in a convent. But I don’t live in a convent (no matter how much I entertain the idea of building myself a hermitage in the backyard), I live in a very noisy domestic monastery.

May we all have radiantly imperfect dawns.

Humbled by God’s Love: How the ‘Bible in a Year’ Podcast Has Changed Everything In Me

I love a fresh start. Each year I find many occasions that lend themselves to this feeling of “everything is new again!” such as the New Year in January and the start of a new school year in September. In December 2020 I was ready and eager for 2021, when I happened to spy a Facebook ad for a ‘Bible in a Year’ podcast from Ascension Presents. “What a lovely idea!” I thought. I dutifully printed out the reading plan and waited for January 1, assuming I’d likely be the only person I knew that was listening.

Oh, dear reader, how wrong I was. The ‘Bible in a Year’ podcast, featuring the charismatic and enthusiastic Fr. Mike Schmitz, has been an absolute blockbuster. It debuted at #1 on Apple Podcasts, (and that’s #1 of ALL podcasts, my friends, not just in the Christianity category), and has stayed consistently in the top 20 ever since. People are reading the Bible that have never made it past the book of Genesis in the past, and it is beautiful to see.

And so I begin listening to the podcast on January 1, full of optimism but also a bit of hubris. These early books will be easy peasy, I thought. I’ve read them before. Adam and Eve, Noah’s Ark, yadda yadda.

In episode 2, the podcast covers The Fall. In an initial read, it’s hard not to see God’s banishment of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden as punishment from an angry Old Testament God. Mankind’s subsequent pain and struggle associated with work and bringing forth life seems harsh for sneaking a bite of forbidden fruit, doesn’t it? This is how I’d always interpreted this allegory, along with a more mature understanding, as an adult, that Adam and Eve’s true sin wasn’t eating something God forbade, it was their abandonment of trusting Him. And then Fr. Mike hit me over the head with one of those oversized anvils that take out Wile E. Coyote.

“The truth of the matter is God doesn’t simply want us to believe in Him. That’s not the point. The point is not to believe in Him. The point is to belong to Him.”

Fr. Mike Schmitz

This was the beginning of my awakening to the radicalness of God’s love for His people. For ME. To willingly belong to someone is extraordinarily intimate, and requires a vulnerability that, truthfully, I’ve always struggled with. It was easier for me to imagine God as a vague, powerful being; to imagine Jesus’ miracles and mercy in a sort of beige “love your neighbors” sort of way. This idea of belonging tremendously challenged me. As a result, I’ve embarked upon 2021 feeling as though my faith life, which has always been relatively strong, has up-leveled. The ‘Bible in a Year’ podcast has unlocked scripture for me and it has changed everything about how I approach my faith.

“What we hear is the heartbreak of the Father in His voice, because He knows the plan He had for His children…That He would belong to them, and they would belong to Him, and they would be able to actually live their lives in peace and in joy and in the love of His presence. And in this moment the story reveals that they don’t get to. They have a different path they have to follow.”

Fr. Mike Schmitz

If God loves us this much, then how can we begin to return that love? It’s an impossible level to measure up to, of course, but how do we live our lives in a spirit of truly being God’s children? After Adam and Eve are banished from the Garden, Eve bears (and painfully labors, as a result of The Fall) two children, Cain and Abel. As they grow older, the two brothers begin making their regular offerings to God, but one brother seems to gain God’s favor over the other. Fr. Mike suggests that God accepted Abel’s offering of firstlings from his flock and rejected Cain’s offering from his harvest not because God is secretly carnivorous, but because Abel gave God his first and best work.

We can look at ourselves and say “what am I offering God? Do I give God the best or do I just give God whatever is left?” Because one offering is acceptable and gives glory to God, and the other offering might, in some ways, be meaningless. Not because it’s meaningless to God, per se, but because it was meaningless to us.

Fr. Mike Schmitz

To put this perspective of our lives, in what ways are we giving God whatever is left in our days? How often we realize we haven’t prayed today, or this week, or this year because we were “too busy.” Many a time has my prayer fallen by the wayside because I had planned to sneak a rosary in before bedtime but then fell asleep, or because I was waiting for the perfectly quiet moment (which never came) in which to say Morning Prayer. Our lives are measured by the way we live our days, and our days are too often full of other priorities and idols of the modern world. We make time for what is important to us, so what does that say about the time we make for God each day?

One small way I’ve been striving towards giving God my first fruits lately is by getting up before my children (a real cross to bear for this night owl), lighting a candle, and praying the Morning Offering. I’ve never started my days immediately connecting with God, and this small act has been a game changer for the time that I make for Him daily. I am on fire with love for God, a state which I find both exhilarating and deeply unsettling. Who is this woman I’m becoming? The jury is still out on that one, but I trust God’s will for my life in a way I had not thought was possible.

I have to sacrifice some of my time to spend with You [each day], to be in prayer. And I want to let that time that I sacrifice to You be not whatever’s left. I want that time to be the best. My first fruits.”

Fr. Mike Schmitz

How can you give God your first fruits today?