These are some strange and unsettling times we are living in.
Are we open, closed or somewhere in the middle?
Do we wear a mask and or gloves or not?
We could not go to Mass (even enter Churches!) for 2 months, now we have Mass back in five days, but it will not look like what we are used to…
We keep our distance from other people, to “stay safe,” but inside we are slowly withering without enough human connection.
We wonder, when will things return to what they used to be?
When will churches and airports and schools and office buildings be full again? When will we hear the laughter and pure joy of children on playgrounds? When will we celebrate weddings with more than 10 people? When will we rush up to hug a good friend without asking “are you ok with hugging?”
Social distance, masks, plexiglass dividers, gloves, temperature readers…when will these words not be the dominant topic of conversation?
I have personal answers to these questions, but this is not the forum for that.
What has been running through my head a lot recently, and what helps me tremendously, is the Serenity Prayer.
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
I first learned this prayer in Alcoholics Anonymous almost 33 years ago, and it is one of the most beautiful and at the same time practical prayers I have ever learned. Many times, this prayer has kept me from making rash decisions, impulsive mistakes, and doing things I would later regret.
Let’s take a look at the meaning of each part of the prayer.
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change
In this first part of the prayer, we acknowledge who is in control and has things under control – God. Then we ask for His help in asking for serenity. What is serenity? Serenity is peace, restfulness, stillness. It is knowing that as Julian of Norwich said: “All will be well” and meaning it. Knowing that Divine Providence has everything worked out and we don’t have to fix everything. Yes, we have a role to play, we are not jellyfish to be blown about by the stormy waters, we are called to be active and engaged, but at the same time to trust and know that He is God and we are not. God said to St Catherine of Siena “I am He who Is, and you are she who is not.”
How do we attain this serenity? Prayer. The Christian life without daily prayer, daily conversation with God, is dry and brittle and easily breaks apart. A life lived with each day beginning with conversation and silent time with Our Lord is the way to serenity. So, begin a prayer life. (previous blog posts have talked about this and the book to read is Into the Deep by Dan Burke). Once our relationship with God deepens in prayer, we are able to trust Him because we Know Him. We know His ways, His teachings, His Love. Trust comes from knowing, trust leads to serenity, where we rest in the reality that God loves us, takes care of us, and has EVERYTHING under control. We don’t always understand His ways, because we are human and He is God, but we trust that He is holding everything in His Hands. Serenity is knowing that I don’t need to change everything, I just need to change myself – to be more like Jesus.
The Courage to change the things I can
So, what can I change? Me. The thing I can change is myself. How do I do that? Pray, get to know God, ask Him to show me what I need to work on, and what his mission is for me in this life. When we can live with this posture, we will experience serenity. The Church teaches that we are all called to Holiness, it’s a Universal Call. We are all called to Union with God – to be Saints. This call is beautiful, yet difficult. What does the path to Holiness look like? The apostolate group of which I am a member, Apostoli Viae, calls this the Paradigm of Ascent. Very briefly, the path begins with three things:
1. Regular participation in the Sacramental life – Mass and Confession
2. Daily Mental Prayer
To listen to podcasts where Dan Burke, author and founder of Apostoli Viae, explains the Paradigm of Ascent – click here.
Get started today on improving and deepening your relationship with God. This takes courage and perseverance. It takes courage to look honestly at our lives, see what we need to change, and take the steps to change. Ask God to give you the courage to assess where you are and if necessary make changes- to pray daily, to make the sacraments a priority in your life, to learn what it is to live mastering our passions and living a disciplined life – ascesis.
The cardinal virtue of courage, also called Fortitude, is doing the right thing, even when it’s hard, and it helps us overcome dangers, obstacles, and fear.
“To have courage, it is absolutely essential to first have your priorities straight. A man who pursues a lesser good at the expense of a greater good is not brave, but stupid. It is stupid to exchange a dollar for a penny, and it is of no profit to a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul. Courage is about ordering your loves and fears so that you fear most the loss of what is truly most valuable. Only then will you be able to overcome lesser fears in carrying out what is right. Pray then to the Holy Spirit for His gift of the "Fear of the Lord," which allows us to fear the loss of His love before all else.” (Holy Family School of Faith – www.schooloffaith.com)
The courage to change the things I can, means to ask God for the grace to amend my life and my actions to place Him first, to love Him more, and then take that love out into the world. I can change things within my sphere, with the people I know and interact with, and in the broader world, by the way I live. But I cannot change you, or other people, or Church leaders, or government officials. I can be the Light in the world, and the Light changes everything.
The Wisdom to Know the Difference
Learning the difference between what I can change and what I cannot change takes time and practice and turning our minds to God more often. If we ask Him for direction and try to discern His Will in the decisions we make each day, we will acquire over time, the wisdom to know what is ours to take on, or what to leave to God. When we rest in the sure knowledge of God’s love for us and in His Divine Providence and we ask the Holy Spirit to guide us in our daily lives as we make decisions and plan, then we will be granted the wisdom to know what we can do and we cannot do, what we are called to do and what we are not called to do, what we can change and what we cannot change. And as our relationship with God deepens and interior lives grow, the peace, the serenity that comes from God alone, will help us to navigate storms of all shapes and sizes, from daily dilemmas to pandemics, with a “settledness,” a resting in the surety of Divine Love and hope for Eternal Life with the love of our lives – Jesus Christ.