Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut
Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Anna Jones

Though it’s been four summers since I left the school year rotation, every time the leaves are back on the trees and the temperatures rise, I still feel a sense of anticipation, like I’m ready for the next exciting thing to happen.

spiritual fitness jones july aug17

Summer used to mean going to camp, a new job or internship or, at the very least, a break from the normal routine of the school year. Now, summer just means I make iced coffee before work instead of hot coffee and worry a little bit more about the frizz in my hair that has to look professional because I’m still going to work. The same work. The same job that I had months ago when I was bundled in a winter coat.

I guess I haven’t fully lost what summer used to mean because that anticipation still gnaws at me a little when the seasons change and I think about where I am and why things aren’t changing in my life in concert with the seasons. Perhaps it’s a millennial thing, where I constantly question the meaning of my life in regard to my career. Am I fulfilled enough? Am I making a big enough difference in the world?

Am I just a product of an instant-gratification generation that’s prone to wanting to change jobs every five minutes because we can’t sit still long enough in the life we have?

Perhaps.But that’s where prayer comes in. Discernment is a scary word to me, but when I think it might be time to start deciding on a next move or another big change I want to make in my life, I think about and question why I want those changes, and then I pray. If there’s a goal out there that I can’t wait to grasp, I keep working, and I pray.The prayer at right refers to people like me, apparently one of those quite naturally impatient people, and that’s why I find it so soothing. It calls me out on that right away, and reminds me why trust and patience are virtues worth practicing. Maybe it will do that for you, too. What I also enjoy about this prayer is that it still calls me to be an active participant in this process. I am not asked to sit by and wait for God to take care of everything. I am called to work hard and to think. And, most importantly, I am called to trust.


PRAYER OF TEILHARD DE CHARDIN

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.

We are quite naturally impatient in everything

to reach the end without delay.

We should like to skip the intermediate stages.

We are impatient of being on the way

to something unknown, something new.

Yet it is the law of all progress that it is made

by passing through some stages of instability

and that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you.

Your ideas mature gradually. Let them grow.

Let them shape themselves without undue haste. Do not try to force them on

as though you could be today what time

— that is to say, grace —

and circumstance

s— acting on your own good will — 

will make you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new Spirit

gradually forming in you will be.

Give our Lord the benefit of believing

that his hand is leading you,

and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself

in suspense and incomplete.

Above all, trust in the slow work of God, 

our loving vine-dresser. Amen.

Anna Jones is a writer who lives in New Haven. She and her husband are members of the St. Thomas More Chapel and Center Community at Yale University.

HART0617 round6 Page 08 Image 0001“Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it for love.”

This quote, from St. Thérèse of Lisieux, is written in blue ink on a small square of paper at my desk at work. I tacked it up a few months ago, next to another quote that I had heard on the radio around the same time as I read that: “The grass is always greener where you water it.”

I’ll leave that second quote for another column.

Before reading about St. Thérèse of Lisieux, I had never really felt any kind of connection with any saints. I was actually asked recently who my favorite saint was by someone teaching a religion class for young kids, and I didn’t have a good answer. Granted, much of that is my fault for not being terribly educated about our many saints — other than the saint I chose for confirmation, St. Angela Merici, founder of the Ursuline order — but some of it is also feeling a great distance between them and myself. How can I be as virtuous or brave as the great martyrs of our faith history? I’m not holy enough to perform miracles.

But that’s what I love most about St. Thérèse of Lisieux. Her way, “the little way,” is an inspiration I can grab onto in my own search for holiness and hopefully my ultimate journey to heaven.

I pulled that quote on my desk from The Way of Trust and Love, a retreat guide written by Father Jacques Philippe that leads the reader through St. Thérèse of Lisieux’s writings chapter by chapter each night, exploring the ways she tried to live out God’s call to holiness in her very short life. It’s a goal she said is achievable to all because God does not present challenges we cannot meet.

She chose the little way.

“So I have always stayed little, having no other occupation than that of picking flowers, the flowers of love and sacrifice, and offering them to God for his pleasure,” she wrote.

Never at any point when reading about this young woman, who has been recognized as a saint even though she only lived to age 24, did I feel intimidated by her or her strides toward holiness. I should have been, probably, given her intense spirituality for such a young woman and knowing I have a long way to go before reaching that myself. She did become a nun at 15.

Rather, I found her little way so inspiring — albeit more difficult than it sounds — and something I wanted to think more about every day. Hence, the quote made it onto the desk divider at work.

Perhaps my favorite part about St. Thérèse of Lisieux’s little way is her recognition that we are not perfect and that we will make mistakes on the journey to holiness, but if we stay humble (or little) we won’t have as far to fall.

“[Being little] means not being discouraged by our faults, because children often fall over, but they are so little they don’t hurt themselves badly.”

Anna Jones is a writer who lives in New Haven. She and her husband are members of the St. Thomas More Chapel and Center Community at Yale University.

jones bible may17 web

Have you ever quoted the Gospel to someone outside the halls of your church? Have you ever wondered aloud in a conversation how Jesus would react to what you were talking about?

My husband often says we haven’t really learned something unless we can repeat it to someone else. Have you felt that you had really learned a message from the Gospel enough to repeat it and use it effectively in conversation?

I have to admit that, many months ago, if I had asked myself those questions, the answer would have been a firm no. Despite the fact that many of my friends and family share my faith, we often aren’t talking about what Jesus might think about our jobs, our relationships or our feelings on the current state of politics. It’s awkward to start suddenly talking about Jesus. It can make me self-conscious to suddenly bring up something I heard in the Gospel that week. And bringing such things up to people who aren’t regular churchgoers? Forget about it.

Lately, though, I have been a little braver when it comes to trying, when applicable, to bring the Gospel into my conversations with others. My intent is not to shove Scripture or my faith into anyone’s face, or appear more holy than I am. But doing it is also a way of reminding myself of Jesus’ teachings in my everyday life, so that I might more fully live out the Gospel, not just preach it.

Take, for example, a recent conversation with my twin sister. She expressed her nervousness and worry over the future as her husband applies for medical school residencies. This residency could take them anywhere and she is worried about starting over somewhere new. As she shared her fears, I was reminded of Matthew’s Gospel 6:24-34, where Jesus tells us to let go of our anxieties and trust that God will provide. Specifically in that conversation, I quoted, “Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life? ... Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself.” My sister is not particularly religious, so I knew it was a risk sharing those words with her, but, to my pleasure and surprise, she was open to it, and thanked me for sharing the passage.

Can you take time this month to find a passage, word or phrase from the Gospel that you can use to assuage fears of a friend or bring hope or solace to a family member? Speech doesn’t always result in action, so this challenge is twofold. Can you then take bits of your own medicine and use those same words to help yourself?

Because I used the phrases from Matthew’s Gospel to help calm down my sister and, on several other occasions, to help nervous or anxious friends, I have more readily thought of them when my own worries set in. Whether these concerns are as mundane as what to make for dinner or something much bigger, such as what will happen to our lives when my husband graduates from graduate school, I now more quickly think of those two lines from Matthew’s Gospel. They bring me peace and comfort in those worrisome times, just as I hope they did for my sister and friends. Quoting phrases of the Gospel to others has helped me to remember them more when I need them myself, and I can more readily allow tomorrow to take care of itself.

Anna Jones is a writer who lives in New Haven. She and her husband are members of the St. Thomas More Chapel and Center Community at Yale University.

jones giving haiti 79641 web

Father Emmanuel Byaruhanga used to ride his bicycle close to 30 miles each way to a trading center to sell bananas to pay for his school fees. Born and raised in rural western Uganda, Father Emmanuel said that children in his parents’ parish still fetch drinking water from a stream that animals drink from and defecate near.

Sometimes, he said, when children are thirsty enough, they don’t bother bringing the water back to their school or home to boil it.

Maybe you’ve heard a story like this before, or perhaps you are aware that this is reality for some children in the world. Maybe you thought about children like this when you dropped coins into your Rice Bowl from Catholic Relief Services in the last few days.

Will you think about these children again before Lent next year?

It’s always inspiring to meet people like Father Emmanuel, who have stared down all of the obstacles in their way and made something of themselves. He is now a doctoral student in Nairobi, Kenya, and he dreams of working in educational administration and planning, he said.

But I was also incredibly inspired by the people in whose living room we were sitting when I met Father Emmanuel: Jane Holler and Dan Marecki of Milford. The couple, members of St. Gabriel Parish, have helped sponsor six water projects in western Uganda through their nonprofit, Uganda Farmers, Inc. While Father Emmanuel works with Jane and Dan as their eyes on the ground in the areas where water pumps are being put in, it’s due to the passion and fundraising efforts of Jane and Dan that clean water is now freely flowing to so many people.

And while the couple have changed the lives of countless people in rural Uganda with these water projects, including the latest water pump that was installed at a medical center, they said over and over again that they are the lucky ones.

“We’ve received more blessings from the people we’ve met than what we have given them,” Dan told me, adding that they have visited the country a number of times to see the finished projects. “It would have been absolutely impossible to be involved with something like this except for the grace of God,” he said.

Being involved in this work has renewed their faith, Dan told me. My favorite phrase from our conversation was when he said, “The love of God flows through us to 8,000 miles away.”

As Lent comes to end, I want to think more about ways I can be more like Jane and Dan, and not just be satisfied with dropping a dollar in the basket on Sundays or my spare change in a Rice Bowl 40 days a year. While I may not find myself in a position to found a nonprofit at this point in my life, I can follow Jane and Dan’s example of action.

Earlier this year, I wrote about making spiritual resolutions at the beginning of a New Year to accompany my desires to be fit, eat healthier or pick up new hobbies or skills in 2017. After meeting Jane, Dan and Father Emmanuel, I know I want giving back to be a part of my spiritual resolutions this year, too. I can support the mission of Ugandan Farmers by running in their annual 5K fundraiser; I can find out what volunteer opportunities are available in my church; I can listen to God’s call for me to do more for my community.

Jane and Dan’s journey down this road to founding Uganda Farmers, Inc. began with a conversation with a visiting priest. How will God speak to me this year and call me to action? How will God call you?

ANNA JONES is a writer who lives in New Haven. She and her husband are members of the St. Thomas More Chapel and Center Community at Yale University.

SPIRITUAL FITNESS

jones taking notes 2 webIt’s the stray cough from your neighbor or the crying baby in the back row. Sometimes, it’s the fidgeting toddler in front of you or the couple whispering two seats over.

We’ve all been there: distracted at Mass.

Whether it’s the fault of another congregant or the incessant nagging of your grocery list in your head, we have all experienced moments of distraction during Mass, especially during the homily. Full disclosure, I thought of this column idea during the homily at Mass this week.

When I first became aware of just how distracted I had become, my husband Matt suggested a trick he had learned in his divinity school studies at Yale. He said rather than fighting the distraction, follow the distracted line of thought, pray about it and resolve it. For example, if it’s a grocery list that your mind is making, take a moment and pray in gratitude for being able to afford groceries and resolve to come back to the list at another time. If it’s worrying about cleaning the kitchen before an evening dinner party, take a moment to pray in thanksgiving for being able to host said dinner party and for the friendship of your guests.

This follow-the-distraction-in-prayer trick certainly works, and I’ve found it to be helpful to acknowledge my distractions and quickly move past them in Mass. But author Matthew Kelly also gave me another idea that I find just as useful, if not more so, especially during a homily. When I remember — this week I did not — I slip a small notebook and pen into my purse and quietly slip it out after the Gospel reading and I take notes.

As a newspaper reporter, I’m rather quick at taking notes, but I don’t spend the entire sermon scribbling away as I would during an interview or at a press conference. Rather, during homilies, I just write down key points or phrases that really jump out at me while the priest is talking. I don’t need to remember the football joke, but it is nice to jot down the true gems that I want to remember throughout the week.

This practice, albeit a little strange, has actually helped me walk away with — and better remember — themes from homilies and the Gospels. When I remember my notebook, I’m more likely to remember what was talked about during Mass and think about it more often during the week.

In early December, I was reminded by a visiting priest to St. Thomas More in New Haven that true joy comes from God and we are called to relish God’s blessings and not be too focused on ourselves. The visiting priest from New Britain gave us homework: try to make other people happy and joyful in God’s grace. That’s quite an assignment, but writing it down helped me to think more about pointing out God’s blessings, rather than focusing on negativity in conversations with friends and family during the week. I think without my notebook, and the act of writing down that assignment, I wouldn’t have remembered the assignment past Communion.

It’s a habit I’m still learning, but I’ve brought a notebook often enough to miss it when I forget it at this point. And I’m hoping to continue the practice throughout this new year. After all, if I’m only in Mass one hour a week, shouldn’t I make the most of it?

ANNA JONES is a writer who lives in New Haven. She and her husband are members of the St. Thomas More Chapel and Center Community at Yale University.