Seeing is Believing / Ver es Creer

I have a confession to make: I don’t notice things. I’ll have spent half an hour with someone, and they’ll finally ask, “So what do you think of my new glasses?” I never realized they were wearing new glasses—or a new haircut, or a new dress, or whatever the fairly obvious to anyone but me change might be. A friend of mine drives a very noticeable bright aqua Jeep, and she’ll say, “I drove right by you this morning and waved,” and of course, I had no idea. I’d like to think it’s because I’m constantly thinking deep thoughts, but I’m afraid that’s not the answer. I just don’t notice things.

Seeing is important. Seeing others, really seeing them, is an essential part of living in community. It enables us to transcend differences, to form bonds, to delight in shared values. And despite my apparent inability to notice the world around me, I always feel that the most traumatic loss of a sense would be the loss of sight. It’s difficult enough to navigate life with my eyes open; I can’t imagine doing it were they to be permanently closed.

And that’s where we start with today’s Gospel reading: with a blind man. You’ve probably noticed the number of blind people referenced in Scripture. There was little those afflicted could do by way of work, so most were reduced to begging. And so it was with Bartimaeus, who is on the roadside outside Jericho. He is poor, he is blind, and he is clearly a nuisance; when he learns that Jesus is passing and calls out, everyone around tells him to be quiet.

It’s a small story, but it’s worth taking a second look—noticing— what those storylines are. First, there’s the fact that this blind man, someone who clearly lived on the fringes of society, knew who Jesus was. He’s well-informed and attentive. He notices things. He notices the size of the crowd and knows what that means; and when he’s told who is passing, he knows exactly who Jesus is and what he can do.

Second, he is willing to claim his rights. He shouts; the good citizens around him try to hush him, but he shouts. He’s determined. He doesn’t let them tell him how he should behave. He doesn’t let them make decisions for him.

Third—and this is particularly interesting—Jesus asks him a question. “What do you want me to do for you?” Of course he wants to be cured! What else could he possibly want? But Jesus didn’t make any assumptions. He let the man choose. He showed this blind beggar the respect no one else had. He treated him as a valued human being and He cured him.

What do you want me to do for you? When we can ask that of others, instead of assuming we know best what someone else needs, then we too will be closer to Jesus, on that road to Jericho, and in our own modern lives. It really is all about noticing!

Quiero confesar algo: no me doy cuenta de las cosas. Habré pasado media hora con alguien y finalmente me preguntan: “¿Qué piensas de mis lentes nuevos?” Nunca me di cuenta que traían lentes nuevos, o un corte de cabello nuevo, o un vestido nuevo, o lo que sea el cambio bastante obvio para cualquier otro menos yo. Una amiga mía conduce un Jeep aguamarina brillante muy notable, y ella dice: “Pasé junto a ti esta mañana y te saludé”, y por supuesto, no tenía ni idea. Me gustaría pensar que es porque constantemente estoy pensando en pensamientos profundos, pero lastimosamente no es la razón. Simplemente no me doy cuenta de las cosas.

Ver es importante. Ver a los demás, realmente verlos, es una parte esencial de vivir en comunidad. Nos permite trascender las diferencias, formar coneciones, deleitarnos en los valores compartidos. Y a pesar de mi aparente incapacidad para notar el mundo que me rodea, siempre siento que la pérdida más traumática de un sentido sería perder la vista. Ya es bastante difícil navegar por la vida con los ojos abiertos; No puedo imaginar hacerlo si estuvieran cerrados permanentemente.

Y ahí es donde comenzamos con la lectura del Evangelio de hoy: con un ciego. Probablemente haya notado la cantidad de personas ciegas a las que se hace referencia en las Escrituras. Era poco lo que los afligidos podían hacer a modo de trabajo, por lo que la mayoría se vio reducido a mendigar. Y así fue con Bartimeo, que está al borde del camino a las afueras de Jericó. Es pobre, es ciego y claramente es una molestia; cuando se entera de que Jesús pasa y grita, todos a su alrededor le dicen que se calle.

Es una historia pequeña, pero vale la pena echarle un segundo vistazo y notar cuáles son los puntos principales. Primero, está el hecho de que este hombre ciego, alguien que claramente vivía al margen de la sociedad, sabía quién era Jesús. Está bien informado y atento. Se da cuenta de las cosas. Se da cuenta del tamaño de la multitud y sabe lo que eso significa; y cuando le dicen quién está pasando, sabe exactamente quién es Jesús y lo que puede hacer.

En segundo lugar, está dispuesto a reclamar sus derechos. Grita y los buenos ciudadanos que lo rodean tratan de silenciarlo, pero grita. Está decidido. No deja que le digan cómo debe comportarse. No deja que tomen decisiones por él.

Tercero, y esto es particularmente interesante, Jesús le hace una pregunta. “¿Qué quieres que haga por ti?” ¡Claro que quiere curarse! ¿Qué más podría querer? Pero Jesús no hizo ninguna suposición. Dejó que el hombre eligiera. Mostró a este mendigo ciego el respeto que nadie más tenía. Lo trató como a un ser humano valioso y luego lo curó.

¿Qué quieres que haga por ti? Cuando podamos pedir eso a los demás, en lugar de asumir que sabemos mejor lo que alguien más necesita, entonces también estaremos más cerca de Jesús, en ese camino a Jericó, y en nuestra propia vida moderna. ¡Realmente se trata de darse cuenta!

This reflection was reposted from Diocesan Archives. Author: Jeannette de Beauvoir

Feature Image Credit: Jon Tyson,

What Would Make You Sad?

I’ve been working with a client who is writing her memoir, and it’s got me thinking about the things we keep and the things we discard as we move through the different seasons of our lives. 

As I look at my own life and the lives of others around me, what I observe is how much value—both materialistic and sentimental—we place on things. Western culture encourages that valuation: we’re constantly exposed to ads telling us what stuff will make our lives better, longer, happier. 

Today’s Gospel offers a different vision.

A young man approaches Jesus and asks him how to get to heaven. He’s already doing everything he’s supposed to do, keeping the commandments, living a good life. For a lot of people, that would have been enough; but something in this young man was telling him there was more. Something was calling out to him.

He took his questions to Jesus, and Jesus gave him a very clear answer. It wasn’t the same answer he gave to Zacchaeus, who promised to give only half of his possessions to the poor, nor the same answer he gave others who asked to follow him. Jesus instead identified the one thing this man was not ready to give up–his possessions and the lifestyle they entailed. Jesus knew that was where the problem would lie.

Sometimes when we ask God a question, he gives us an answer we didn’t anticipate, and often, it’s one we don’t like. When Jesus challenges this good young man to let go of the material things he treasures, the fellow walks away, grieving. He had been hoping for a different answer. He’s saddened by the thought of giving up what’s most precious to him. 

And he can’t do it.

I live in a small cottage and keep my materialistic needs to a minimum. I don’t have clutter because I don’t have a lot of things. If God asked me to give up any (or even all) of those things, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. I could do it. 

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t other things I’d find very difficult indeed to give up, and I suspect you might feel the same. 

What I’m hearing in this story is a question: What would be the most difficult thing to give up if Jesus asked me to give it up? Is Jesus asking me, right now, to let go of something so I can be truly free to follow him? Are there attitudes I’m clinging to — grudges, resentments, self-pity, bitterness, judging others, laziness, insensitivity to others’ needs — that I don’t want to give up?

To follow Jesus, we need to shake off whatever binds us: wealth, esteem, comfort. Any “wealth” that I prioritize can be a block to freedom in following Christ. The man who met Jesus in this incident went away sad and unfulfilled, a sure sign that his possessions were possessing and imprisoning him. 

So I’m placing myself in this story today. I am telling Jesus that I keep the commandments, that I go to Mass, that I pray the rosary, and I ask him, “What else should I do?” And I’m almost holding my breath as I wait for the answer.

What answer would make me sad, because it would entail giving up more than I want to give up? 

What answer would make you sad?

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Jeannette de Beauvoir is a writer and editor with the digital department of Pauline Books & Media, working on projects as disparate as newsletters, book clubs, ebooks, and retreats that support the apostolate of the Daughters of St. Paul at

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Keeping it Simple

I often try to imagine what life was like in the early Church, in the first century, a Church still struggling to understand what it was meant to be, to become. My field of studies is the medieval Church, though that’s not where I go in my imagination—with its schisms and crusades and infighting, it’s not always a pleasant place to be! But the beginning, when everything was fresh and new and immediate and simple… that’s a place I like to visit.

Simple. There’s a word that the Church seems to have subsequently forgotten, right? But imagine for a moment what it was like in those times after the Spirit descended at Pentecost and the disciples formed house churches, modeling as they did Jesus’ own strategy when he sent his followers out into the places people live.

Throughout the book of Acts, every mention of a local Church or Church meeting, whether for worship or fellowship, is a reference to a Church meeting in a home. That’s easy for us to forget, with our pews and our stained glass and our organs. Most scholars agree that the early house Churches were rarely comprised of more than 15 or 20 people. (As many as 90 percent of townspeople lived in apartments—one or two rooms above or behind shops. Most apartments shared a public courtyard with adjoining units, and families cooked in the courtyards. Life happened in front of the neighbors. In first-world countries, it’s hard to imagine what the early Church experienced.)

So it was simple. In these dining-area courtyards, Christians assembled: to reenact the Eucharist, to pray, to plan evangelization, to teach, to baptize.

What distinguished them from us, their descendants, so many centuries later is, I think, their closeness to Jesus. Not everyone in these first small communities had known Jesus when he was alive, but some had. Others had parents or cousins or friends who had. His words were still fresh in their minds; theology hadn’t stepped in to distance them from what he had to say to them, from what he gave his infant Church.

What he gave them is what we read in today’s Gospel from St. Matthew, the practices known as the “three pillars” of the Church: prayer, fasting, and charity. 

There’s a reason they’re known as pillars. According to the dictionary, a pillar is “a person or thing regarded as reliably providing essential support for something.” Essential support. What the structure needs to stay intact.

What does the Church need to stay intact?

Jesus doesn’t simply gift his people with three pillars that will keep them strong and on the right path. He tells them very specifically how those pillars are to be used. When you give alms, he says, don’t make a big deal of it. Help people quietly; they’ll know, and so will God. You don’t need a street named after you or a civic award presented at a formal ceremony. 

When you pray, he continues, don’t make a big deal of it. Be quiet; be private. Don’t try to attract attention to your prayers; they’re not performance art.

And when you fast, he concludes, don’t make a big deal of it. Don’t call attention to yourself, don’t try to be holier-than-thou. God knows when you fast; and that’s pretty much the whole point of doing it, right?

You’ll notice that he isn’t saying “if you pray… if you give alms… if you fast.” These pillars of faith he’s gifting to the early Church are in fact a blueprint for how they are to live together in community. He is assuming that this is what his followers will do. He’s not concerned in telling them to pray, fast, and give alms: of course they’ll do those things! What he wants is for his followers, his new Church, to be very clear about its relationship to God and its relationship to the world. You do these things for closeness to the Trinity, not for societal approbation and rewards.

The Gospels have always struck me as keeping things pretty simple. Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself. Clothe the naked; feed the hungry; give to the poor. Pray always. Fast and give alms.

We live in a different world, of course. In a world where we don’t worship in each other’s homes. In a world of such staggering inequality that it’s difficult to see how almsgiving could change anything. In a world where our prayers often go unanswered. In a world where the Church’s requirements for fasting are hardly an inconvenience. We might yearn for a simpler time.

Yet we could keep it simple, if we tried. If we read Jesus’ words and applied them rigorously to our own lives and comportment and thought and faith. It wouldn’t be easy, but it could be…. Simple.

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Jeannette de Beauvoir is a writer and editor with the digital department of Pauline Books & Media, working on projects as disparate as newsletters, book clubs, ebooks, and retreats that support the apostolate of the Daughters of St. Paul at

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Starting Something New

Some years ago I became the legal guardian of an elderly woman who was showing early signs of dementia. We had known each other for some time, liked each other, and she had no family, so it made sense. And as time passed and the dementia increased, I helped juggle visiting nurses, health aides, and people to shop and clean for her.

But I did it from a distance. I had moved to Boston in order to work with the Daughters of St. Paul at Pauline Books and Media. I was thrilled to become part of the sisters’ media apostolate and to put my skills to good use—working for Jesus. It was a dream come true. I wanted to stay there forever.

Still, I had this obligation, this responsibility. And as time passed, it became clear to me that my elderly friend needed more—more support, more help, more presence. I struggled with it, struggled with God; surely he wanted me to stay where I was! But it became increasingly clear to me that this responsibility I’d taken on was bigger, more pressing, than my personal preferences and desires. 

I was thinking about that situation when I read today’s lessons. They are truly about being sent out into the world, sent somewhere one might prefer not to go, because it is the right thing to do.  

In the wake of Judas’ suicide and Jesus’ resurrection, a replacement for the former apostle had to be found in order to accomplish the Great Commission. One wonders how the “brothers” Paul talks about were feeling as Peter stood up and announced the need to fulfill the Scripture by appointing someone to take Judas’ place. These were people who had accompanied Jesus throughout his ministry, who knew him well: were they eager to be chosen? Or did they think about the magnitude of the task ahead and hope they wouldn’t be selected?

Two men were put forward for the task: the thrice-named “Judas called Barsabbas who was also known as Justus” and Matthias. The group prayed to be shown the way and eventually were led to select the latter. We’re not told how Matthias felt about this honor. Surely it was a blessing to be chosen as one of the Twelve… but, given the job ahead and the world in which they lived, it was a blessing that came at a cost. Probably not the life Matthias had imagined for himself moving forward.

In the Gospel reading, Jesus reminds us as he prays that we are not of this world, that we are here on a journey that has an ultimate destination. We may all be aware of keeping our eyes fixed on heaven, but Jesus is also reminding us we’re not there yet. The journey is still in progress. “As you sent me into the world, so I sent them into the world.” We still have places to go, commissions to fulfill.

In fact, we’re often asked to go places and do things we don’t want to do. But if we make our choices prayerfully, as did the disciples, we can be confident we’re taking the road God is asking us to take.

And sometimes closed doors aren’t… closed doors. As it turned out, I was able to fulfill my obligations to my elderly ward—even unto her death—and continue my work with the Daughters of St. Paul. We all prayed about the situation, and we were shown a way.

Going somewhere different, starting something new can be challenging and even fear-inspiring. But we’re never doing it alone. And that is—thank God—everything.

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Jeannette de Beauvoir is a writer and editor with the digital department of Pauline Books & Media, working on projects as disparate as newsletters, book clubs, ebooks, and retreats that support the apostolate of the Daughters of St. Paul at

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I Can Overcome

One of my earliest memories is of watching the news on television. It was the late 1960’s, and we had only three TV channels in those days—this was in France—and they were filled with images from America, white police officers turning water hoses and dogs on Black protesters in city streets. I wasn’t old enough to understand what it meant, and I cannot remember if my family even discussed the events we were watching unfold; I do remember the violence of the images, though, and they haunted my sleep.

Later, probably much later, when I learned about the history of the civil rights movement, I wondered at the courage of those people who’d put themselves in harm’s way for the sake of what was right. I hadn’t quite grasped the concept of sacrifice—despite what the nuns were teaching me in school!—and it seemed either very brave or very foolish to go into a situation knowing the outcome would most probably be violent. I was at the same time learning the history of the early Church, and my dreams were twisted—scenes of Christians in the Coliseum mixed with Black kids being beaten. It was a bad time.

I know a great deal more now about both these situations, but what I’ve retained from my childhood is the wonder at people willing—and in many cases eager—to put their lives on the line. 

I was reminded of that when I read today’s passage from the Acts of the Apostles. Gamaliel was a teacher of Paul and was a leading exponent of a more liberal and humane interpretation of the Law, and he was the voice of reason in this council. As soon as the apostles left, he addressed the assembly, warning council members not to be too hasty in their judgements. He gave two examples of leaders—Theudas and Judas the Galilean—who’d started rebellious movements and, in both cases, attracted quite a large following of supporters.

Both of these leaders died and, when they did, their movements fell apart. Gamaliel draws a conclusion from that: the revolts weren’t meant to succeed. And if this “Jesus movement” was left alone, it too might fall apart—after all, its leader, too, was dead. Leave these people alone, he counseled; if the movement is just another human endeavor, it will destroy itself, you don’t have to help it on its way. On the other hand, if it comes from God—well, there’s nothing you could do to destroy it anyway. 

While Gamaliel was persuasive, the Sanhedrin still for good measure wanted to have the last word, and they had the Apostles whipped—forty lashes minus one, according to Jewish law. It was without doubt a horrible experience. Yet Peter and his companions left the council rejoicing “that they were considered worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name.”

They were experiencing the blessedness Jesus had spoken of in the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

The message of the Gospel is clear. It is a message of love, of inclusion, of joy. It is also a message of sacrifice, of responsibility, and of suffering. Generations have been willing to be persecuted for righteousness’ sake: the Church calendar is filled with martyrs. As people continue to put their lives on the line for what they know to be right, I will continue to be both horrified and inspired—horrified by the cruelty of some, and inspired by the faith and fortitude of others. 

And while the civil-rights workers sang, “We shall overcome, the Lord will see us through,” I realize that in many smaller ways, I, too, can overcome. I can in my life’s situations stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves. I can in my life’s situations speak out against injustice, cruelty, and oppression. I can in my life’s situations live the Gospel as clearly and completely as possible.

I can learn from the past. I can overcome.

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Jeannette de Beauvoir is a writer and editor with the digital department of Pauline Books & Media, working on projects as disparate as newsletters, book clubs, ebooks, and retreats that support the apostolate of the Daughters of St. Paul at

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Striking a Balance

I am a child of two very disparate worlds.

My mother grew up in the American South, raised by staunchly Southern Baptist relatives, and she absorbed some odd practices: no drinking, no dancing, church services lasting for hours twice on Sundays. 

My father grew up Catholic in Angers, France, a medieval city with a cathedral dedicated to St. Maurice; his family had been part of the fabric of the city and of the cathedral for, literally, centuries.

It was an odd space in which to grow up, even after my mother’s conversion and my going to a Catholic school. Because every parent carries baggage their children must make sense of. Both my parents’ religious backgrounds came with rules. Sometimes the rules overlapped, and sometimes they diverged. For my father, it was about strict adherence to Catholic practices; for my mother, it was about behavior (no idleness, no activities without a moral purpose, no pleasure for the sake of pleasure).

When I was ten or eleven, I did what many girls of that age do: I fell in love with horses. My family had the means to indulge me, and I spent every free moment around stables. I started riding, getting good at it, competing in horse shows. And then an opportunity came along to be in a really significant show. On a Sunday.

My father shrugged it off. Sundays start with the vigil; all I had to do was go to Mass on Saturday evening. My mother was deeply shocked; she carried with her the indelible memory of sermons that lasted for hours, and we’d always as a family gone to Sunday Mass. 

They argued about it. And I was thinking of those arguments when I read today’s Gospel story, in which Jesus dared to cross the line, cross the boundaries, do something he wasn’t “supposed” to do—out of love and caring.  

There was good reason for the Jews, then and now, to keep the Sabbath. God had ordained it. It was a day of refreshment, of recollection, a day unlike the other six days in the week. A Jew himself, Jesus knew the value of such a practice and its connection to his Father.

So why did he heal on the Sabbath? He must have known he was crossing a line. He must have known his action would come back at him in some way.

What we can see clearly throughout Jesus’ life and ministry is a call to being genuine. His message was simple. Whereas the Hebrew Bible is filled with specifics—measurements, times, what is and isn’t acceptable—the New Testament is notable for its simplicity. Love your God and your neighbor. Return good for evil. Turn the other cheek. Feed the hungry. And it all comes back to one thing: love. Through love of humanity God sent his son. It’s all about love.

God’s laws were given to help people love him with all their hearts and minds, but centuries of history tend to create distortions. By Jesus’ time, religious leaders had turned the laws into a confusing mass of rules. The point of the rules—a loving relationship between God and humanity—had been lost. By example, then, Jesus is showing that the rule of keeping the Sabbath only makes sense insofar as we don’t lose that point, as long as it does not exclude love. The sick man needed love and help, right then, right there, not when it was more convenient. 

When Jesus talked about a new way of understanding God’s law, he was actually trying to bring people back to its original purpose. Jesus wasn’t challenging the law itself. It’s a matter of striking a balance—or, perhaps, of perspective. If the greatest law of all is to love, then taking risks to put that love into the fabric of our daily lives is what we’re called to do. He showed it was better on the Sabbath to help someone in need than it was to stand around looking holy.

Because it really is that simple. It’s about love.

I ended up going to that horse show, where I ignominiously fell off after the third fence. And my parents were both there to support me, having overcome their differences… out of love.

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Jeannette de Beauvoir is a writer and editor with the digital department of Pauline Books & Media, working on projects as disparate as newsletters, book clubs, ebooks, and retreats that support the apostolate of the Daughters of St. Paul at

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Are The Waters Rising?

There’s a moment that strikes at every parent’s heart: the moment where your kid does something wrong, thoughtless, selfish. We try and try and try to help our kids become caring, faithful, and positive human beings, and even so, at some point they’re inevitably going to decide to do something different. Turn away from what we’ve taught them. Sometimes they come back. Sometimes they don’t. But there’s always that lingering question in our minds—how could they have done that? Didn’t I give them everything? Didn’t I teach them better?

I don’t know about you, but that’s what I was thinking when I looked at today’s first reading: “When the Lord saw how great was man’s wickedness on earth (…) he regretted that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was grieved.”

Stop for a moment and re-read that. He regretted that he had made man on earth. Imagine being so hurt by your child’s actions that you regretted them being born! Even in this early stop on humanity’s journey with God, a journey that would reach its most revelatory and truest moment with the coming of Christ, God is first and foremost a father. He is looking at what his children are doing, and it is making him sad. How could they have done that? In commenting on this passage, Pope Francis said, “God the Father who loves us … is capable of getting angry.” However, “our God loves us with the heart; he does not love us with ideas.” Have you ever thought, Pope Francis asks us, that when “he disciplines us, like a good father, he disciplines us with his heart,” suffering from this more than we do? It’s really a special kind of intimacy, this relationship. But one with bitter consequences.

It seems to me that this story from Genesis is a cautionary tale. 

One way or another, the past year has felt pretty disastrous. And it’s been my sense that humans haven’t done a whole lot to make things any better; an impartial alien might look at the planet and wonder what on earth—pun intended—we’re doing to ourselves. Violence has broken out all over the world, not just in isolated pockets here and there. Most countries haven’t exactly covered themselves in glory in dealing with a pandemic that continues to take thousands of lives every day. And despite Pope Francis’ exhortations, we don’t seem to be taking the Gospel very seriously when it comes to dealing with the poor and vulnerable around us. I’ll be honest: I’ve despaired of humanity on many occasions over the past few years.

Yet the essential message of this story is one of hope. Yes, it’s an inspired and powerful message about judgment and grace, about God’s hatred of sin and his love for his creation. But it also points in a primordial way to the New Testament and to the real Hope of the world. This story gives us a promise that would come to pass centuries later: God’s promise never to destroy the earth again is fully realized in the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, where God takes the judgment for sin upon himself rather than humanity. Through the lens of Christ, the biblical flood story proclaims the marvelous news of God’s grace and love for his people.

And that’s what I’m hanging on to. God loves with his heart, as Pope Francis points out, not with ideas. When the ideas of humanity get to be too much to bear, there’s where I take comfort. In hope. In love. In God.

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Jeannette de Beauvoir is a writer and editor with the digital department of Pauline Books & Media, working on projects as disparate as newsletters, book clubs, ebooks, and retreats that support the apostolate of the Daughters of St. Paul at

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Take Care—No, Really

I live on Cape Cod, where many of the old ships’ captain’s houses have been converted into inns. A couple of years ago a friend of mine, who owned one of them, told me in some distress that things were getting out of hand and guests were noticing it. What things? I asked her. “Bad things,” she said, and outlined the problem: rooms where the temperature inexplicably dropped dramatically, a sense guests had of someone following just behind them in the corridors, objects moved around or disappearing, voices in the night. “I think it’s haunted,” Melissa said.

I went to my parish priest and asked what could be done. “Use the strongest prayer we have,” he answered. I waited, expecting some complicated esoteric blessing known only to the clergy. He saw my bafflement and said, gently, “the Our Father.”

The strongest prayer in Christendom—and one of the simplest. Given directly by Jesus. Who knew a thing or two about evil spirits.

In fact, the exorcism of an “unclean spirit” was Jesus’s first act of public ministry, as we see in today’s Gospel reading, the first chapter of St. Mark’s account of Christ’s life and times, showing that straight from the beginning of his ministry Jesus is on a collision course with evil. 

First-century culture had limitations in its understanding, and many believed the screaming of people who were ill were the screams of devils. We have a different approach and language now; still, the presence of evil remains strong. Evil has different ways of expressing itself, but it can enter people now just as it did then, manifested when a person falls prey to greed and violence. The abuse of children, the violence in a home, any exploitation of the innocent—aren’t they the effect of something bigger than just an individual’s weakness or sin? We can’t dismiss Scriptural exorcisms as cultural artifacts: they are one way of visualizing and understanding the presence of evil in the world… and of making it clear God is stronger.

Evil knew that Jesus came to destroy it. The unclean spirit recognized Jesus’ authority on this day in the synagogue even when the scribes didn’t, even when his own followers didn’t yet. Evil knew. 

I don’t think we should pray the Our Father lightly. I don’t think we should underestimate the power of evil in our world. I think we need to take care. Because evil is seductive; we don’t always see it coming. In The Screwtape Letters, the imagining of a correspondence between a senior devil and his young trainee in the art of corruption, C.S. Lewis points out that anger, lust, gluttony and other sins come neatly disguised. And it’s true: anger can be triggered when we don’t get what we want, or when someone “gets in our way.” Lust gets kicked into gear for other reasons like loneliness or hurt. Gluttony isn’t just about overeating; it’s demanding more and more and more—money, property, accolades, possessions. Evil encourages sin in many different ways. We should take care. We should take care all the time.

I don’t know how Melissa’s story ended. She and I duly visited each room at the inn and prayed the Our Father together, asking especially to be delivered from evil. Shortly after that, she went to manage a place on Nantucket and sold the inn on the Cape. It’s changed hands twice since then, and I often drive by its newest incarnation and wonder what is happening there, whether guests are still feeling a presence looking over their shoulder. 

I pray the Our Father that they’re not.

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Jeannette de Beauvoir is a writer and editor with the digital department of Pauline Books & Media, working on projects as disparate as newsletters, book clubs, ebooks, and retreats that support the apostolate of the Daughters of St. Paul at

Feature Image Credit: Vanesa Guerrero, rpm,

He Knows Me So Well

There’s an obscure moment in an equally obscure musical during which two women, both in love with the same man, sing a duet titled I Know Him So Well. Oddly enough, this is the song that’s been running through my head as I read today’s lessons—though with slightly changed lyrics. Not “I know him so well,” but, rather, “He knows me so well.”

I seem to spend a lot of time trying to do the right thing, and a lot more time, frankly, falling flat on my face. Every morning I start out with lofty resolutions about how I am going to move through my day in God’s presence, and every evening I do a brief Examen and find how many of those resolutions came to nothing. Do some spiritual reading? Um, nope, didn’t find time for that today. Follow through on my offer to help someone and actually, well, help them? Oops, that will have to be for tomorrow. Not think unkind thoughts about people with whom I disagree, but who are also children of God? Not even close. 

I despair, sometimes, of ever getting it right. And I wonder how it all seems to God, who started the day with me in my resolutions and promises and plans, and to whom I have to admit how much I failed. Failed, yet again, to be the “only Gospel my neighbor ever reads,” as St. Francis urges me. Failed, yet again, to put God first and myself second. Failed, failed, failed.

One of my favorite theologians, Frederich Buechner, writes, “To confess your sins to God is not to tell him anything he doesn’t already know. Until you confess them, however, they are the abyss between you. When you confess them, they become the bridge.” I think about that as I do my nightly Examen: he already knows everything I’m going to say to him. He already knows my failures.

And, as today’s readings assure me, knowing all that, he loves me anyway. St. Paul tells the Hebrews that “No creature is concealed from him, but everything is naked and exposed (…) For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses.” And St. Mark reminds us of Jesus sitting with people who are despised, with tax collectors, with sinners, and replies to objections: “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

And there it is. He knows me so well. He knows my weaknesses. He knows how often I fail—but he also knows how often I try. He has come to eat with me, to walk with me, to offer me love and friendship, even though he knows me so well. That is precisely why he is here. And why I need to keep trying. Keep resolving to walk more closely with him every morning; keep examining where I fell short and working out how to progress every evening. Keep doing the best I can. Understand in all the trying and failing and trying again that I am a beloved child of God.

And that he knows me so well.

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Jeannette de Beauvoir is a writer and editor with the digital department of Pauline Books & Media, working on projects as disparate as newsletters, book clubs, ebooks, and retreats that support the apostolate of the Daughters of St. Paul at

Feature Image Credit: Fortorech,

We Are Children of the Light

I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume I’m not the only person pleased to be approaching the end of 2020. It’s been a year filled with pain, with uncertainty, with despair, with fear… the list can go on and on, and none of it is pretty. You may be mourning loved ones who have died, adding a layer of grief to your normally festive preparations for Christmas. There are several people to whom I would usually be mailing gift packages this month. I have no gifts; the people aren’t there anymore to receive them.

It’s certainly the darkest year many of us have ever experienced; and yet I have to share that something happened a couple of weeks ago, something that changed my perspective on this season and its place in this terrible year. I’d been feeling a little “bah, humbug,” about everything, even the beautiful liturgical season of Advent, and hadn’t even bothered setting up my traditional Advent wreath. And then, on the Monday of the first week of Advent, I was sitting and working at my desk when the sun broke through the ever-present clouds outside—for I live on Cape Cod, and our winters are all about storms and wind—and a ray of light came in through the window and singled me out. Dazzling. Blinding. Bright. Warm, even.

And in that moment, in that light, I remembered where we are. In Advent. The season of promise, the season of new beginnings, the season of God-loves-you-so-much. Who was I, to consider my feelings and my experiences this one year more important, more significant than the mystery of the Incarnation? Something much bigger was going on here, something that dwarfed any human experience. It felt as though a spotlight had been turned on me, and a voice inside reminded me: don’t forget, I am with you always.

It wasn’t a road-to-Damascus event; the sun faded and I went back to my writing, seemingly unchanged by the experience. And yet those words kept echoing in the background of my daily tasks and activities. Don’t forget, I am with you always.

And a few days later, when I turned to today’s readings so I could prepare to write this meditation, I was struck by how much they reflected back to me that sudden understanding in that ray of sunlight. Isaiah, it’s not to be forgotten, was speaking to a people who’d had more than one iteration of our 2020 in their lives—and their parents’ lives, and their grandparent’s lives… these were people well-acquainted with fear and uncertainty and grief and despair. And Isaiah says to them, “Let justice descend, O heavens, like dew from above, like gentle rain let the skies drop it down. Let the earth open and salvation bud forth; let justice spring up!”

It’s a message that was sorely needed by the Israelites… and by us.

But there’s more. Listen as the psalmist adds his bit: “Near indeed is his salvation to those who fear him, glory dwelling in our land. Kindness and truth shall meet; justice and peace shall kiss. Truth shall spring out of the earth, and justice shall look down from heaven.”

Don’t forget, I am with you always. Like the people who first heard Isaiah’s words, we’re also weary, exhausted even, longing for the day when justice, wholeness, and truth are restored, when God’s people can live in peace and security. We long for God’s rule, when death, injustice, and pandemic are no more. Our troubles are real, but they’re not the whole story. These are dark days, yes; but God’s promise is of a light the darkness cannot overcome. “Near indeed is his salvation.”

A Christmas movie you may be familiar with is How The Grinch Stole Christmas. In the story, the love and witness of a little girl causes the evil Grinch’s heart to swell, and he comes to understand the Christmas spirit as love and generosity and joy. That shaft of sunlight illuminated more than my desk; it illuminated my heart, and reminded me of something I’ve been forgetting, immersed as I’ve been in the dread and depression that I’ve felt shrouding the world. The illumination? That we are children of the light. St. Paul himself told us: “Live as children of light—for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true” (Eph. 5:8-9).

Today’s Gospel underlines the point: “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.” Advent isn’t a season that tells us everything is fine; Advent tells us that the world is indeed in disarray. There is no escaping that reality; we wouldn’t need redemption otherwise. But Advent also tells us the rest of the story: God sees that disarray—and has willingly entered it, sent his Son to walk with us through it. To make us children of the light. Don’t forget, I am with you always.

Our world is broken; we are broken. We are longing for health. We are longing for justice. We are longing for wholeness. God knows. And this Advent, as every Advent, he walks beside us through our brokenness, and allows a ray of sunlight to dazzle us as he reveals exactly what we’ve been longing for: nothing less than the Savior of the world.

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Jeannette de Beauvoir is a writer and editor with the digital department of Pauline Books & Media, working on projects as disparate as newsletters, book clubs, ebooks, and retreats that support the apostolate of the Daughters of St. Paul at

Feature Image Credit: Carina,

What Have You Lost?

Even today, I can remember the conversation. I was probably eight years old, or somewhere thereabouts. My friends and I were discussing our attachments to our senses. Which would you rather be, blind or deaf? What would be worse, losing a hand or losing a foot? What’s the easiest thing to live without?  These were essential, deep, incredibly interesting questions to us as we explored together both our graces and our limitations.

I remember thinking I could squirm out of saying “blind” or “deaf” (which would somehow jinx me, for eight is a very superstitious age, filled with magical thinking in response to the uncomfortable discovery that one cannot control the world), and instead I hit on “taste.” There you go! I could manage perfectly well without taste. Being blind or deaf? That was too horrible to contemplate, so I didn’t.

Later on, when I was still in school, I met a girl who actually was blind. She wasn’t born that way; it was the result of some rare disease whose name I never knew. She kept asking her friends to describe what things looked like because, as she explained, she could visualize without vision. She had once had sight, and that gave her the ability to conceptualize her environment, to add color and light to what surrounded her in the present dark.

Tennyson may well have said ‘tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all, but I wasn’t buying it. I thought that would be the most terrible of things, to have been able once to see—and then to know you never would again. Better to have been born in darkness and treat it as normal than to constantly compare today’s reality to yesterday’s.

It was part of my growing up, my introduction to the complicated issue of loss.

I’ll be honest: I still cannot contemplate losing my sight. But I’ve lost so many other things, things equally important, a whole litany of them in the years that have unspooled since my schoolgirl days, that I can now at least have empathy and begin to imagine what it might be like. And when I do, the memory of all those other losses—along with the feelings attached to them—washes over me again.

I think today’s readings speak to us deeply of loss. The Church at Ephesus has “lost the love you had at first.” And of course in the Gospel we have the story of the blind man calling out to Jesus, and Jesus performing his last miracle, because he is even then on the way to Jerusalem, to Gethsemane, and to Calvary. The Church lost its love; the blind man lost his sight; Jesus was soon to lose his earthly life.

We who have survived 2020 (and I don’t use the word “survive” lightly) are well-acquainted with loss. The coronavirus has taken loved ones away, as well as—for many of us—our economic survival. Half of the United States counts the November elections as a loss. We’ve lost the ability to hug our friends, to shake hands with our colleagues, to leave the house without elaborate preparations. We’ve lost the illusion that our society is fair to everyone. Many have lost their homes, their jobs, their food security.

In the Revelation passage, we find John rebuking the Ephesians, despite enumerating everything they’re doing right: good works, labor, endurance, suffering, steadfastness. But for all of that, they’ve lost what seems to count more than all those great actions: their love.

I cannot believe there’s anyone who hasn’t been touched by loss this year. We too are laboring, we’re staying faithful, we’re hanging in there. All good things. But our losses haven’t brought us together—in fact, the more loss we experience, the more we seem to be blaming each other, turning our backs on our neighbors, blind to anything but our own selves. Like the Ephesians, we have “lost the love you had at first.”

Still, just as there was once a time when my blind friend could see, a time she could remember, we too can remember a time when we weren’t so divided. When we listened to each other. When we cared about each other. When we loved.

That memory alone isn’t enough to change anything. The blind man in the Gospel doesn’t just remember a time when he may have had sight—he wants to change. He asks for help. In fact, Jesus makes him ask for help, makes him speak aloud what is his most basic and best desire. In all our fluttering about, in all our lurching from one crisis to the next, have we taken the time to ask Jesus for help? To ask Jesus for the grace to see, not with our eyes, but with our hearts?

It’s hard to petition when one is blinded by anger.

With all that 2020 has flung at us, what have you lost that was precious to you? Why can’t we set the circumstances aside and try instead to comfort each other for our myriad losses? It feels like we’re afraid to turn to the Lord to ask him to restore us in some way that would give us life again. Turning to God when we are suffering loss is a great act of faith and trust.

Oh, and my eight-year-old assertion that I could live without taste? One of the many ironies of the coronavirus is losing that very sense. And as my friend Margo—who had the virus but fortunately recovered—tells me, losing taste makes the world a lot bleaker than one might think.

No loss is easy. I knew that at eight, and I know it now. But we can get through any loss. We just have to ask for help.

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Jeannette de Beauvoir is a writer and editor with the digital department of Pauline Books & Media, working on projects as disparate as newsletters, book clubs, ebooks, and retreats that support the apostolate of the Daughters of St. Paul at

How Everything Changes

I used to sleep well. So well, in fact, that I could enjoy an espresso after dinner and still nod off the moment I went to bed. I loved the rest; I loved the dreams. Going to sleep at night was a pleasurable experience.

That hasn’t happened for a long time.

This year, for the first time in my life, my doctor gave me a prescription for sleeping pills, because I felt that if I had to endure even just one more panic-filled night, I’d go quite mad.

It’s not an abnormal reaction to the year we’ve all been living. Sleeplessness is one of many disorders on the rise, and it’s easy to see why. The novel coronavirus has brought a degree of anxiety into the world matched only by other pandemics—or wars. We’re fearful on so many levels as the losses mount up: the loss of friends and family to a death we cannot properly process or even grieve, the loss of income, the loss of security, the loss of homes and livelihoods… We know that more and more children are going to bed hungry, that whole families have nowhere to live, that the death toll is mounting at an ever-increasing rate.

It’s not just not being able to sleep, either. Others are experiencing depression, anxiety disorders, hypervigilance. We’re afraid because of a sense of the world being totally out of control, the wildness and irrationality seeping into every aspect of our lives.

My academic work was primarily in religious history, and to some extent I draw comfort from knowing we’re not the first to experience these levels of anxiety and despair. The Hebrew Bible is filled with lamentations as generation after generation cried out to God. Wars. Slavery. Pandemics. Injustice. Why, why, why? I read the books of the prophets and they could well be speaking to our times.

And then we turn the page and open to the New Testament, and everything changes.

A child is born into poverty, his family forced to migrate into a foreign land. He grows up in relative obscurity, is mocked and despised, dies an agonizing death. This doesn’t sound like what anyone would call a successful life, does it? Yet that child became the savior of the world. Everything about Christianity turns past assumptions on their head.

The powerful? They count as nothing. The religious zealots? They are hypocrites. The riches of the world? They are as valuable as dust.

And the assumption that God is distant, unheeding, is gone forever as he gives his beloved son to save humanity from its own stupidity, folly, selfishness. The assumption that God is distant and unheeding is gone forever in the gift of the Holy Spirit, given so we need never again be alone. The assumption that God is distant and unheeding is gone forever in the promise of eternal union with him.

God is here, now, and will not abandon us, no matter how difficult our journey home to him might become. “Are not five sparrows sold for two small coins?” asks Jesus in today’s Gospel reading. “Yet not one of them has escaped the notice of God. Even the hairs of your head have all been counted. Do not be afraid. You are worth more than many sparrows.”

Do not be afraid. Words that cut through the pain of our present reality. Words that weave themselves into our troubled dreams. Words that echo in our hearts. Do not be afraid. God is with us. We are not in this terrible moment alone, no matter how isolated from others we may feel, because God is with us. God cares. God knows us and loves us and will never leave us.

And that changes everything.

We don’t know why our lives, our world, must be so painful and difficult now, but they are the lives and the world we have been called to live in. To journey through. To endure.

But we’re not in them alone. The promise is there, as new and fresh as when it was first made; the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the promise. God is with us.

Years ago a monk in a Vermont priory set the words of a collection of Scripture verses to music. This pandemic year, Catholic musicians gathered virtually to sing it again, and I invite you to listen to them today. And tomorrow. And for as many tomorrows as we need to remind ourselves…  that everything has changed.

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Jeannette de Beauvoir is a writer and editor with the digital department of Pauline Books & Media, working on projects as disparate as newsletters, book clubs, ebooks, and retreats that support the apostolate of the Daughters of St. Paul at