Are You In… Or Out?

Were you one of the cool kids at school?

I wasn’t, not until the very end of my high school career when I earned some respect by being dramatically anti-cool (which comes to me quite naturally!) and having people say things like, “you’re always reading something interesting.” But before that? At my small Catholic boarding school there was definitely a group of Mean Girls, and they had me in their sights.

I didn’t care about the Mean Girls. I overheard some of their conversations and they were completely vapid. But what I did care about was the sense of exclusion. Of being told I wasn’t good enough. Of there being this fabulous secret I wasn’t allowed to participate in.

I’ve grown up since then, but I’m not convinced the world has. We still set a lot of store (and waste a lot of energy) figuring out who’s in and who’s out. Who has the right to the secret, and who doesn’t. Who gets to be “in” and who sits alone and unwanted.

At one point, this custom of including some people in our “tribe” (as one word sociologists use to describe the some-are-in-and-some-are-out delineations) served humanity well. Resources were extremely limited and preference was given to humans who met certain criteria: the strongest, the smartest, the most likely to bear children… the ones the tribe needed most. Once that early circle could be enlarged, it was enlarged only by admitting those with whom members of the original group felt some affinity. Initially this meant only family members. Eventually, as human settlements grew, it came to include those who felt the most familiar to the tribal group: who looked, talked, acted like them.

This tribalism served a purpose in Israel’s history. When you are a nation in diaspora, you must have ways of identifying each other, of ensuring the survival of your race or religion—in other words, of your community. There are strict laws that must be followed in every area of life: what can be eaten, how animals are to be slaughtered, what women can wear, who one can do business with. Losing those laws would mean losing your identity.

And then along came Jesus and messed it all up.

Today’s readings practically sing off the page, don’t they? They speak of hope, of a new way of being in the world, of something bright and sparking and fresh. Isaiah foretells this new world even as he foretold so much more about Christ’s coming: “The foreigners who join themselves to the Lord (…), them I will bring to my holy mountain and make joyful in my house of prayer.” Wait—foreigners? Saint Paul, for his part,  is very specific about wanting to open up the Church to “make my race jealous and thus save some of them.” Wait—allow everyone in?

And Saint Matthew tells us where this is all leading. Because Jesus is not only the Son of God, he is also a product of his culture—of his tribal identity. And in this scene he initially tries to stick to the rules and boundaries of that identity. “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel,” he tells the Canaanite who seeks his help.

She is having none of it. She knows he is bigger than that. She argues. He demurs. She insists. And Jesus sees where this is going. “O woman,” he says, almost in wonder, “great is your faith!”

Every word of these readings sings out one beautiful grace: inclusion. The old ways of tribalism worked for a while, but that time is over. We are entering a new time, the time of the Kingdom, the time of Christ, when all things—including relationships—are made new. When followers of Jesus can be anyone, from any tribe, from any race, speaking any language. There is but one requirement: to have faith.

I don’t think we today can understand just how earth-shattering that was, a sea-change in the way humanity understood its relationship with God and with each other. For centuries the old tribalism, the clear ways of excluding “others” and welcoming only “one’s own,” were part of life—but now humanity was being called to a new life, one where there is neither male nor female, Jew nor Greek, but where all were part of one new vibrant caring community: the community of faith.

This is the antithesis of the Mean Girls. It is the antithesis of anyone who excludes others based on a false sense of belonging, whether that’s to a tribe, a nation, a political party, a gender, a race. What history has taught us, over and over again, is that tribalism doesn’t work for the world, not in the long run, yet even today we cling to it because at some level keeping “us” safe seems to mean keeping “them” out.

Today’s reading assure us of one thing: we can do better. We are very specifically called to do better. We are called to spread the Good News to everyone, no matter whether they look like us, or speak like us, or think like us.

If the whole world is good enough for Jesus to love, then why isn’t it good enough for us?

We live in a time of uncertainty. Our economic future is bleak; thousands of people are dying every day of a virus we’re only beginning to understand; homelessness, unemployment, a lack of adequate health care all plague us. It is in many ways a time of crisis. It’s easy to stay there, in that state of fear, and to look for people to blame for it.

Or we can choose the Gospel. Choose freedom over fear. Choose Christ over greed. That’s the only requirement: making that choice, living out that choice.

It’s one the Mean Girls never made. But we can do it… can’t we?

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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

Finding Rest in Hope

I’m having a pretty easy plague season.

I read the news and I know that out there are people who are very sick, who are dying or who have died, who have recently lost someone close to them. I know that out there are people whose life-work has been put on hold or disappeared altogether. I know that out there are people who worry about how they will feed their children.

And here I am, having a pretty easy time of it. What I do for a living is sit in a room and write; that hasn’t changed. I live in a county that has managed to keep its COVID numbers down because, by and large, residents maintain distance, wear masks, wash their hands. I personally know only a handful of people who have gotten sick, and only one person who has died. I feel guilty even writing about this pandemic because it hasn’t affected me in the myriad ways it’s affecting others.

And yet I’m tired. I’m tired of the precautions we have to take when we go anywhere. I’m tired of standing in a carefully distanced line at the grocery store. I’m tired of prefacing all my emails with hopes the person I’m addressing is okay. I’m tired of not being able to get together with friends for a trivia night or go to the theatre or occasionally eat out. These are not serious problems, and I’m actually quite embarrassed whenever I even think them, much less share them, but that doesn’t make them any less real. And I believe there are a lot of other people feeling the same thing.

The weariness we’re all feeling isn’t just because of the inconveniences of our daily lives in this “new normal;” it’s deeper. Bone-deeper. Soul-deeper. How much pain can we continue to bear seeing on the nightly news? How many more deaths today? When will this be over? Why are people suffering? Where is God?

And, right on time, all three of today’s readings answer those questions. “Salvation,” Isaiah reminds us, “we have not achieved for the earth.”

But your dead shall live, their corpses shall rise
Awake and sing, you who live in the dust
for your dew is a dew of light…

As Isaiah knew him, God didn’t fit into the picture of utter injustice and misery rampant in eighth-century Israel. To God, as Isaiah knew him, persons mattered. God is making a very concrete promise to his people: there is something beyond your suffering, beyond living in the dust of pain and uncertainty. Hold on. Something else is on the horizon.

Psalm 102 is known as a prayer of the afflicted—a reasonably good description of what people are experiencing today. Earlier in the passage, the psalmist talks about going through a crisis, one that’s mental, physical, social, and spiritual. We know how he feels!

But now, in these later verses, he reveals how the story will end. We are going to experience—are experiencing—those same mental, physical, social, and spiritual trials. But that isn’t all. Like the psalmist, we have to rely on God’s word, and that word tells us this is not forever.

And then the words of Isaiah and the words of the psalmist make way for the words of Jesus, which show where his predecessors were going all that time, where their promises were leading: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,” he says, “and I will give you rest.”

That’s it. It’s that simple. Not simplistic, like magazine articles that promise 6 Ways to Feel Better or How to Relieve Your Weariness in 3 Days. Jesus is simply offering himself as the universal solution to everything that hurts, troubles, or burdens us. To all our weariness, our pain, our anger, our suffering. “I will give you rest.”

The only rest we can find, the only rest that matters is the rest of hope. This isn’t the frivolous idea of hope we express when we say we hope tomorrow will be sunny or we’re hopeful the Red Sox will win; this is a hope that is deeper, that is in fact one of the virtues. I recently had a conversation with Kris Frank, author of a book on hope and inner-city youth minister not unacquainted with people’s pain, and he told me that “it’s natural at times like this to react by going to one extreme or the other. But the problem with extremes is that, while they allow you to get through, in the process you’re putting aside everyone’s pain and suffering. So what I’m saying is that it’s in the middle of these extremes that you’ll always find virtue. Hope isn’t about either ignoring or wallowing: it’s about knowing that things are not okay, but we will be okay. Things have a remedy, and that remedy is Jesus.”

This is the hope that Jesus is extending to us today: that we can rest in the hope of Christ. And that’s what I’m holding on to as I put on my mask and grab my hand sanitizer for a trip to the supermarket. Isaiah gives me hope. The psalmist gives me hope. And Jesus promises me rest.

That helps me with my plague season. I hope it helps you with yours.

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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

This is the Person I am Called to Love

One of the gifts of middle age (there has to be some compensation for entering the heavy-maintenance years, after all!) is the gift of perspective. My needs and wants—and the ability to discern which is which—have shifted, and I’ve become wiser about them and the place they have in my life.

I’ve never been exactly a fashionista, but all the same when I moved to a smaller home and had to do some thinning-out of my possessions, I was shocked at how many articles of clothing I owned. Four green sweaters, really? Five different pairs of boots? Or let’s talk about books: do I really need to own every single book I’ve ever read and loved? How about the kitchen: when was the last time I used those three different appliances that all do the same thing?

That voice of wisdom was one of the voices inside my head. But there was another voice, too, one that was running scared: what will I do without them? Who will I be without these things? I felt that somehow there was some security in ownership, that the mere fact of having these possessions rooted and grounded me. For a long time those two voices were warring inside me. It was a dialogue, but I wasn’t ever sure exactly which side was winning.

And that brings us to today’s readings. Whenever I read the Old Testament in general, honestly, it’s sometimes with a little scorn. What was it with these Israelites, anyway, that they were always turning from God to worship at some other altar? A gold calf? What’s that about? It always seemed so far removed from my own experience that I put it down to cultural differences and moved on.

Not a good idea.

In today’s first reading, we open with a confrontation: King Ahab of Israel has murdered a fellow called Naboth and taken possession of Naboth’s vineyard, and the prophet Elijah comes to tell the king that God is unhappy with the situation. Ahab has become “completely abominable by following idols.”

I’ve studied enough history to know that in many—if not most—ancient cultures, what Ahab did wasn’t out of the ordinary. You kill someone, you get their stuff. But as God continued to gradually reveal himself through time, his people were slowly coming around to deeper and more complex concepts of justice and fairness. This wasn’t about the way things have always been done; this was about finding a new way, a way where you can’t just kill someone and take what they have. It’s still an ideal that isn’t always followed.

Ahab, we note, also followed idols. We’re not told which kind, we’re just told it was wrong. God had to come first.

I’m not substituting my possessions for idols here; obviously I never believed any of my green sweaters was more important than God. But in feeling I had the right to ownership of all these things, in letting myself be in some obscure way be defined by what I owned, wasn’t I in a way worshipping myself? Saying my needs, my security, my tastes come first?

I’m starting to think so.

The Bible is the story of God gradually revealing himself to his people—we see more and more of him through his encounters with Noah, with Abraham, with Moses, on up through his most complete revelation of himself in Christ. And in today’s Gospel, Jesus seizes on this revelation of a new way of thinking, a new way of being, when he says, it’s not enough to love people who love you back, it’s not enough to love people who are just like you. You have to love everybody. You have the love the people you feel at home with and the people who challenge your comfort levels. All of them, all the time.

In the past weeks, we’ve all been challenged. By people who think and feel and look different from us. These times have made us confront and question our own beliefs and assumptions. We’re getting into passionate conversations about everything from whether or not to wear a mask in public to whether every person, regardless of the color of their skin, should have the same rights. And I can hear Jesus, standing next to me when I get into an argument with someone whose opinion doesn’t coincide with mine: this is the person you are called to love.

This is the person I am called to love.

I managed in the end to sort through my stuff. I ended up giving most of it away. These days I live in a cottage that measures 317 square feet, and I inhabit it comfortably. I’m learning that there’s no security in ownership, whether it’s of possessions or a false sense of privilege.

And, every day, I’m praying to grow in love… of everyone.

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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

Christ in our Midst

I used to live in the city, and would often stop at red lights where homeless persons sometimes aggregated, asking for help. (I can only imagine how now much their numbers will have multiplied today in view of the current economy). I always kept one-dollar bills folded up and at hand to give to them, and I gave to every person I saw. I know—I always knew—that some of them would use the money for things I didn’t want them to use it for, but that was fine: I was giving them a gift, not a bribe. A gift means there are no strings attached. Life is the gift that God has given us, and he lets us make of it what we will: we’re free to, as Richard Bach once wrote, “write lies, or nonsense, or to tear the pages.” So I always gave. And there was always that thought in the back of my mind: any one of these people could be Christ in disguise.

In fact, when one day the light changed before I could hand something to the man with the cardboard sign and I drove on, I couldn’t get him out of my mind. All I could hear were the words of St. Matthew: “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me.”

I turned the car around and went back.

Was it Jesus I gave money to? God reveals himself to us in many ways—and, sometimes, in ways we miss, or almost miss. God is relentless in pursuing us. God is love and, as love, he wants us to know and recognize him, take pleasure and joy in his presence.

The Hebrew Bible shows us that God revealed himself to his chosen people slowly, over time. Throughout our lifetime, also slowly and sometimes in strange ways, God continues to reveal himself to us.

Today’s readings are all about God revealing himself in surprising places (and to surprising people). Philip was minding his own business when the angel told him to go out and address the Ethiopian traveling down the road. This was an important personage—essentially the head of the queen’­s treasury department—and a lesser man than Philip might have been daunted. Seeing the traveler reading from Scripture, Philip went one further and challenged him as to whether or not he understood what he was reading, offering to explain the passage. Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter… “Who could this be?” demanded the Ethiopian. “Who is the prophet referring to?” Philip told him about Jesus, and the Ethiopian, overcome, requested baptism immediately. Would you expect God’s messenger to be someone who stops you on the road and asks you whether or not you know what you’re doing?

In the Gospel, it’s Jesus who is revealing who he is—and not just who he is, but who sent him. Most of the people surrounding Jesus accepted his authority: he was a rabbi, a teacher; he was a prophet; he was clearly a man of God. But now they’re looking at him with fresh eyes: he is not just a man of God, but he is God, God Incarnate, and he is promising eternal life. Would you expect God’s Son to be a man who looks just like everybody else?

God is constantly doing the unexpected, surprising us over and over again with his message of love and these promises of life. In graced moments, the presence of God shines crystal-clear in the midst of the world. In inviting us to be part of the community of faith, Christ draws in the whole world, even those (perhaps especially those) on whom the world has turned its back.

One of my favorite authors, C.S. Lewis, writes that “there are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. It is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.” As God reveals himself to us, he is also constantly revealing himself in us. All of us.

The twentieth-century mystic Caryll Houselander  says that “if we see everyone in our life as ‘another Christ,’ we shall treat everyone with the reverence and objectivity that must grow into love (…) once that is understood we can never again feel completely frustrated by anyone, or lose the serenity of our minds by nursing a grievance.”

God is constantly revealing himself and his love, not to people but through them. All we have to do is notice.

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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 Much is Enough?

I might as well start with an admission: I love English muffins. Give me a toasted English muffin, and I’m happy to put anything on it—honey, cheese, peanut butter, jam, avocado… I’m just happy. English muffins are generally both plentiful and inexpensive, and for years I’ve never given much thought to them as a preference. They just were.

And then the pandemic struck, and the bread aisle at my local supermarket was suddenly denuded; a swarm of locusts couldn’t have done a better job of wiping it out. A couple of packets of hot dog rolls and some suspicious-looking flatbreads were all that were left. I went home with other groceries, of course. I wasn’t close to starving. But I kept going to the refrigerator and reaching for those English muffins and feeling unsatisfied and even bereft when there were none.

Of course, it’s all just a matter of perspective, and if nothing else the pandemic has brought that understanding home to us, too. I might not have my food of choice; but I have enough food. In my community, in your community, throughout the world, there are people who don’t have enough. Children who will go to sleep tonight hungry. Beside that, my preference for English muffins seems a small, entitled thing.

But I think it’s significant that it’s bread I’m missing, the lack of bread that makes my life so incomplete. I was already thinking about that when I opened my missal to today’s Gospel reading, and there it was again. Bread.

Bread is such a basic part of life. Bread represents the most basic of human needs. It’s a fundamental part of the diets of nearly every world culture. It provides nourishment, sustenance, and vitality. “Give us this day our daily bread,” we are taught to pray. Why? Because we need it.

Perhaps because of its ubiquity, bread symbolizes our need of sustenance, and so it’s not surprising to find it featuring regularly in Scripture. There are at least seven words referencing bread in the Hebrew-language version of the Old Testament, and three Greek words referring to it in the New Testament. Mentioned at least 492 times in the original languages of the Bible, it is easy to see how important this food was to everyday life.

From the very beginning, God has longed to feed us, care for us, and lift us up to eternal life with him, and he has constantly been at work to fulfill his longing.

Food, and eating food, especially bread, is a theme the New Testament returns to again and again. When Jesus says in today’s Gospel, “I am the bread of life,” it isn’t just a figure of speech. Jesus meant the words literally. At the Last Supper the night before he died, he held bread in his hands and said to his friends, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians 11:24). When Jesus called himself the bread of life, his listeners no doubt thought of Moses. Through Moses, God sent down manna, bread from heaven that fed the chosen people for 40 years before they reached the promised land. Jesus explained, “Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die” (John 6:49-51).

In feeding hungry people, Jesus recognized the emptiness inside them: not just the emptiness in their bodies, but in their hearts and souls and spirits. And today, more than two thousand years later, we’re still starving.

One of the many things about Christianity I value is its incarnational aspect. Not only did God become human, he blessed the world through his association with earthly things. He performed his first miracle with wine. He wrote words in the dirt. And he valued bread, the work of human hands. When one day Jesus was teaching in a remote and solitary place and it got late, he multiplied five small loaves of bread into enough to feed five thousand hungry people. Again and again we see him coming back to bread.

In an interview with a French Catholic publication, Mother Teresa once said, “The spiritual poverty of the western world is much greater than the physical poverty of our people. You, in the west, have millions of people who suffer such terrible loneliness and emptiness. They feel unloved and unwanted. These people are not hungry in the physical sense, but they are in another way. They know they need something more than money, yet they don’t know what it is. What they are missing, really, is a living relationship with God.”

So our souls need him. He is the very food our souls crave. Anyone apart from Christ remains famished and dying. Anything else is just empty calories—junk food. He is the answer to end all our spiritual cravings. He is enough.

I keep coming back to that concept in my thoughts and reflections and prayers, the concept of enough. I used to think of it as not particularly positive. Enough doesn’t sound like what I want; I want more! I want perfection! I want exactly what I want, when I want it! Yet more and more in these days of scarcity and fear, of uncertainty and pain, I’ve come to value the concept of “enough.” Enough isn’t second-best. It isn’t oh-well-better-luck-next-time. It is enough.

We don’t have the world we want. We have lost things we thought we couldn’t live without—jobs, a sense of security, friends and loved ones. We are using food banks and soup kitchens and the kindness of strangers for the bread our bodies need. It’s not perfect. It’s not what we’re accustomed to. But it’s enough.

And one place where we really do have enough is in our invitation to the Banquet of the Lamb, in sharing the true bread of life. We are all invited to be taught, to be fed, and to be one with him, and because of this privilege, we have to be sensitized to the needs of others. At the meals Jesus hosted, there were no guest lists. None was necessary, because everyone was invited. In our sharing of the bread of life, we are called to follow his lead in welcoming everyone to his table—and to our own.

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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

Keeping the Brazier Warm

For most of my life, I never thought much about fishing. I knew I enjoyed eating fish, but I never wondered how they were caught or who caught them. If I gave fishing any time in my head at all, it would have been to imagine a lazy summer afternoon, a line in a river, and a good long wait.

Then I moved to a small town on Cape Cod and—well, you can’t exactly escape thoughts about the ocean when you’re in a place called Land’s End, can you? And my town has a long and rich connection to the sea; once a whaling capital, it transformed into a Portuguese fishing village that, in its heyday, featured forty bustling wharves along the harbor. That’s changed now, of course; the commercial fishing fleet, which once numbered hundreds of vessels, is now down to little more than twenty. But it is still here, and people still make their living that way and believe me when I tell you that it’s absolutely nothing like throwing a line in a river on a hot day in July. 

What fishermen do is hard, and it’s dangerous. If the winds are high and flinging sleet against exposed skin and the temperature hasn’t reached freezing in ten days, they go out. If they’re running a fever and are worried about the sound the motor was making last week, they go out. If they haven’t had a vacation in years and their families want to take off for the weekend, they go out.

Today’s Gospel reading is unusual in many ways, but not, I think, in its portrayal of fishermen. 

I’m imagining the aftermath of the events of Holy Week and Easter. When someone important to us dies, it feels like the earth stands still, doesn’t it? The day after my mother died, I couldn’t believe I had to keep doing all the same things. How could I eat? How could I sleep? How could I go to work? How could I do all the ordinary things in a world that no longer had her in it? There’s a period of shock, a liminal time between Life With Them and Life Without Them.

But then, inevitably and necessarily, life does resume. The world doesn’t stop. You have to pay rent; you have to eat; you have to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

And that’s where we come upon the disciples. The shock of the crucifixion and the resurrection has worn off, and they have to get back to real life. Life would be different, of course; the three years they’d spent with Jesus, his death and resurrection, would change the world. But not yet. First, they have to find their footing in this new reality, and Peter has an immediate solution: go back home and go out fishing. That’s Peter’s normal.

Because that’s another thing about fishermen, the sea is where they feel they belong, where they’re most comfortable. Their first impulse is to find the waves.

So this group of disciples heads out to fish. To clear their heads. They go back out as if nothing happened. And that’s precisely what does happen: nothing. No fish. It’s not difficult to imagine their frustration as they’re heading back to shore.

Jesus stands there, waiting. His closest friends don’t recognize him, yet when he speaks, extraordinarily, Peter and the others obey a stranger who orders them to do something that makes no sense. 

In my experience, no one can tell a fisherman what to do. The desperately hard lives they lead give them utter self-reliance. It seems to me, in reading this story, that there was something amazing about Jesus, something that deeply affected Peter and the others even when they didn’t recognize him as their Risen Lord. They knew without yet knowing.

The symbolism is there, of course: we’re familiar with what happens next; this passage precedes the one in which Jesus exhorts them to go out and become fishers of men. 

But what strikes me here is the kindness of Jesus. He waits for them to come to shore, the brazier warm, already cooking breakfast for the tired and disheartened men. We—as individuals and as the Church—are called to see Christ in everyone we encounter, and to give Christ to the world. How else can we do that, but through acts of kindness? Jesus’ kindness challenges me, makes me wonder if that’s what I do if I do enough. I know how hard many people’s lives are, the rough seas we all encounter, the poor catches. Do I imitate Christ? Do I keep the brazier warm for others? 

At a time when acts of kindness are so desperately needed in the world, when our particular rough seas and poor catch take the form of a virus and the loss of work, loss of closeness with others, loss of income, loss of security; at this particular time, keeping that brazier warm—sewing masks, donating to food banks, checking in on others via telephone—is the best way to be Jesus to the world. 

Fishermen are determined to go out, no matter what the weather or the circumstances. We can borrow that same determination to show up for our brothers and sisters, to see Christ in them, and to be Christ to them. Keep that brazier warm.

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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

Looking for Love in all the Wrong Places

I did something difficult this past week: I wrote my will. (Yes, of course, I should have done it ages ago; let’s take that as read.) While I am naturally hoping it won’t come into play in the near future, the truth is I have a significantly increased chance of dying now than I had a month ago. Hence the will.

Not, mind you, that I own a lot. My mortgage company and I co-own my cottage. I have a cat. That’s pretty much it—I thought. And then I got to the page where it discussed intellectual property, and I think I actually exclaimed “whoa!” out loud.

I have intellectual property. I write mystery novels. Not the Great American Novel, not even an ephemeral bestseller or two; but still, I write novels that, I am told, make for satisfying entertainment. On one hand, this doesn’t matter much, since there aren’t torrents of money coming in from them. On the other hand, who do I name as literary executor? Who is the person I trust with all my aspirations and dreams, my mistakes and my successes, my old outdated articles and my not-yet-published potential masterpieces?

Who do I trust?

It’s impossible to reflect on Scripture without seeing it through the lens of the present moment. It’s impossible to hear the word of the Lord and not also hear it echoing through our own lives and our own experiences. So, like everyone reading this, I am aware of the challenges of living and thinking—of everything I do, in fact—in the midst of a global pandemic. How can that not influence how we hear God’s voice? Every Biblical writer looked around themselves and said, “Look at the world! What are you doing? What am I doing?” It’s a cry for the ages.

And we find ourselves taking it up anew today.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is telling us who he is. He emphasizes how the Jews are looking for the meaning of life in the wrong places. Their thinking cannot make the connection between what they know and who they see before them; they lack that light. And the reality that shines through this reading—and to some extent also through the previous readings, the passage from Exodus and the psalm—is that we persist in looking for meaning in the wrong places. It’s the ongoing story of humanity.

Who do we trust? In Exodus and Psalm 106, we trusted a golden calf. In the Gospel, we trust in the things that point toward Jesus—the words of Scripture, the life of Moses, the appearance of John the Baptist—rather than in Jesus himself.

There’s a country song that bemoans the singer’s tendency to be “looking for love in all the wrong places.” Isn’t that what we do when we’re looking everywhere but at God? We look at the divisions and issues in the Church and we accuse God of not taking better care of us. We create pollution in our streams and earth and ask God why he allows children in those polluted areas to die. We listen to the promises of politicians and follow them even when it means moving away from our faith. Why are we looking everywhere but to Christ?

That’s how I resolved my dilemma, by the way. I asked myself where I should be looking. I looked at the people closest to me and asked myself, who loves my work? And once I asked the right question, the answer became immediately clear; I knew right away who it should be. Who I could trust. I had broken the issue down to its most basic reality, stripped it of all the extraneous “stuff” I’d put there. I finally asked the right question, looked in the right direction.

If we ask the question, who loves me? then our answer becomes clear, too. In the words of another song, “Jesus loves me, this I know.” Who do I trust? This I know.

It’s so easy in a time of chaos to let fear take the wheel. Fear makes us turn away from the right questions and the right road. Fear sows divisions and hatred among us; it helps us make bad decisions and turn to the darkness. We have to experience fear, but we don’t have to stay there. We can write our wills. We can take health and safety precautions. We can turn away from the golden calf, stop looking for love in all the wrong places, and instead rest in the love of the Lord.

This I know.

An optional prayer over the people from today’s Mass seems a fitting prayer for a time of pandemic:

O God, protector of all who hope in you,
bless your people, keep them safe,
defend them, prepare them,
that, free from sin and safe from the enemy,
they may persevere always in your love.
Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

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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

What Would Elisha Do?

We’re probably all dealing with some of the same situations and the same emotions as each other right now. Crowds filling supermarkets and stocking up on bottled water and toilet paper. Yet another bulletin telling us what to do to “flatten the curve” of COVID-19 (though I do have to ask why Comcast needed to send me some advice—the cable company now has doctors on staff?). It’s easy to fall into panic mode as a potentially deadly pandemic grips the globe.

And just on cue, we have today’s reading from the Second Book of Kings. If ever there were a time when the horizon of Scriptural text meets the horizon of today, it is this! Today God is giving us for our consideration a story of a disease suffered and cured, and a story of borders and boundaries.

“This delightfully pesky story,” writes Biblical scholar Samuel Giere, “of the healing of Naaman the Aramean by Elisha the prophet of Israel is a story of border-crossings, whereby the Lord works in mysterious ways—unwelcome by anyone, ancient or modern, who wants the Lord to observe humanity’s boundaries, and welcome by those finding themselves at the margins or on the outside.”

I live on Cape Cod, separated from the mainland by two aging bridges. As I write this, there have not yet been any confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in this county. And while it is prudent to take the prescribed precautions—and we are—there’s no need to come to blows over who gets the last packet of frozen vegetables at the supermarket, as a friend of mine observed. Truly situations like this bring out both the best and the worst in human nature.

The thing is, we who live here count on those bridges. We refer to travel to the mainland as “going over the bridge,” and it’s done, frankly, as little as possible. We have the Cape Cod Canal between us and, in a sense, the rest of the world. We live in a place that is desolate and lonely half of the year, and overrun with visitors the other half, and we’ve consequently developed a strong understanding, even with value judgments aside, of “us” as being quite separate from “them.”

It’s a dangerous way to look at life.

Let’s step back a moment and look at what’s happening in this story. Naaman is a powerful foreigner, commanding the army of Israel’s enemy Aram. Naaman also has leprosy, and clearly wants to be cured. The captive Israelite slave girl is pivotal in this story of healing: she has come to serve Naaman’s wife, but breaks out of the silence of slavery to direct Naaman to the healing power of the Lord, the God of Israel, by way of Israel’s prophet.

Aram is willing to try anything to see Naaman cured, but rather than approach the prophet, as the Israelite slave counseled, he does the politically expedient thing and instead sends a message—with a hefty bribe—to the king instead: equal speaking to equal in a currency they both understand. But the letter drives Israel’s king into mourning, for he knows that God alone can give life. Elisha hears of the king’s distress and takes over: “Let him come to me and find out that there is a prophet in Israel.”

Elisha sends word to Naaman of a simple cure: go and wash in the Jordan, you will be cleansed. Instead of being grateful, Naaman is furious. He likes neither the simplicity nor the locality of the prophet’s cure. Just… wash myself? In the Jordan? That’s it? I could have done that at home and spared myself the trip! But calmed by his servant, he follows Elisha’s prescription and is restored. (Do you notice that this story is filled with “lowly” people—the slave girl and the servant—who are more open to God’s voice than is the commander of the army or the king of the country?)

There are a whole lot of boundaries being broken down here, and that makes it, truly, a story for our time. The more we think of the world in terms of “us” and “them,” it then becomes a dangerously small step to “us” versus “them.” We look to borders and boundaries to protect us from a virus that heeds neither, when we should be expanding our sense of “us” to include everyone. We are all, in essence, on the Ark. It’s a good time to think about getting along with everyone on board.

God doesn’t see boundaries. God touches us in the simplest and most direct of ways. “My father,” said Naaman’s servant, “if the prophet had told you to do something extraordinary, would you not have done it?” We’re all looking for the miracle cure, the razzmatazz, the glitter. We want a big red pill we can take to make this scary situation go away. But it is in simplicity and sharing that we’re going to get through it.

What would Elisha say to our time, to our need for healing? What would Elisha do?

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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

The Road Begins Here

As I’ve probably shared here before, I live in a very small town that has a very big housing problem: second-home owners, seasonal rentals, and gentrification mean that it’s an increasingly expensive place to live. So over the past 10 years I’ve had to downsize my living arrangements more than once.

The first time, I’ll admit, was horrible. (I literally had a room full of books!) I was giving away things I believed had deep meaning to me, things I believed I would miss, things I believed I had to have in order to be me. I was asking difficult questions about what I needed—versus what I merely wanted. I’ve downsized twice since then, and the good news is it gets easier each time.

Maybe I’m finally getting to where I require less stuff in my life. Or perhaps it’s just I’m figuring out there are things that hold far more importance than “stuff.”

I think it’s so wonderfully appropriate that we have today’s gospel reading right at the beginning of Lent. Right here, right at the beginning, when we’re just out of Ash Wednesday, Jesus is clearly and unambiguously telling us the central events of his passion, death, and resurrection—the whole story, in just two verses. The road, he is saying, begins here. From now on, you’re going to have to make changes. Make sacrifices. Do things you don’t want to do. If you want to be part of Jesus’ project to save humanity, it’s going to include a lot of hard things, and it’s probably best to start down this road unencumbered.

If we want to follow Jesus, then there’s a price to be paid. He is willing to pay the price for us, even dying for us; but there’s a cost on our end, as well. We have crosses to take up and carry, pale imitations of his walk to Calvary carrying the instrument of his own torture and death.

The gospel is unequivocal: suffering and self-displacement are the hallmarks of a disciple. The road begins here, the road to being a follower of Jesus, the road to our own death and resurrection as well as his. And the first thing we have to do is give up all that stuff we thought we needed.

There’s a lot in life worth hoarding, but Jesus willingly turns his back on all of it. Why should we do any differently?

De-cluttering has become a fashionable activity, with suggestions arriving daily in our inboxes about how to do more with less. They tell us to use our motor vehicles less and our legs more; how empty surfaces are more appealing than piles of paper; that no one really needs all those pairs of shoes.

But not hoarding goes beyond the things we keep in our homes; it’s about the things we keep in our hearts. Jesus has chosen the way of the cross. He doesn’t hoard his life, even though at the end of the day our lives are all we have to keep or to give. And in this passage, he’s telling us exactly what it is we shouldn’t be hoarding: our selves. We are called not to hoard our lives, but to live generously.

To deny my own self, to reach a point where I am no longer the most important thing in the world, to be happy to listen instead of talking, to accept without resentment the challenges and troubles that come to me through time or circumstances—this is what it means to stop hoarding. That’s an especially troubling thought at the beginning of Lent, when giving up chocolate seems the most demanding thing in the world.

“What profit is there for one to gain the whole world, yet lose or forfeit himself?” What does it matter what I own, how much money I make, what kind of car I drive, indeed how many books I have in my library, if those things are what define me?

This Lent, Jesus is inviting us all to explore what our own individual crosses look like. How they can be the part of the way to redemption, the way to resurrection, the way to the Kingdom. To de-clutter our hearts and our souls and our minds so there’s more space for what he asks of us—sacrifice, generosity of spirit and action, hospitality, sharing, goodness of life, even suffering. This Lent, he’s looking tosee whether we’re willing to do it.

The road begins here.

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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

The Circus Won’t Be Coming To Town

Recently my small town got very involved in a major brouhaha.

We’re a tourist destination, and most people meet their financial obligations by working in the summertime and then trying to live on what they made for the balance of the year. It’s tricky. It’s also important for us to have continued reasons for tourists to keep coming here, and that’s especially true this year, because it’s the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the Mayflower, and we’re bracing for more people than ever.

Cirque du Soleil is a traveling show offering a unique take on the circus arts: animal-free, striking, dramatic, beautiful, and reflective, it features outrageous costumes, magical lighting, and original music. The organization receives 3,000 requests a year to produce customized shows, of which they only accept twelve worldwide. Some individuals in my town proposed that Cirque produce a show specifically for the 2020 summer celebration, and a long process of negotiations began. They were done perforce under nondisclosure terms, and as the time to announce the show drew near, a reporter overheard something about it and wrote a highly inaccurate scare piece in the local newspaper. Too many people! It will overwhelm the town! It will take away from the artists who already perform here! We’ve never done it before!

The town was in an uproar, fiercely divided over the issue. The producers issued a press release explaining the legalities of why it hadn’t yet been publicized and showing that it would in fact be the jewel of the festival season—but it was too late. Another misleading article was published, and the inevitable happened. Cirque will not be coming.

I’ve been feeling sad about that decision, not only for the lost opportunity but also because it showed how we let fear and ignorance take the driver’s seat in our lives; and then I read today’s Gospel and realized that human nature is exactly the same today as it was in Jesus’ time. I don’t know whether to be relieved or disheartened!

He ordered them not to tell anyone. But the more he ordered them not to, the more they proclaimed it.”

We all want to be the first ones to know a secret. From childhood, when we taunt each other with “I know something you don’t know” (best when done in a singsong voice), through the cherished tale-tattling of our adolescence, and finally into adulthood, when being “in the know” indicates access, power, prestige: we want to be first to share the news. Who wants to be the last person in the office to hear that Rosemary was fired? Who wants to learn their best friend in the Mommy Club is seeing a counselor and told with everybody else?

Maybe I’m being too harsh here. Maybe when Jesus admonished people to not talk about his miracles, they disobeyed out of love for their fellow sufferers, so that more people might flock to him, more miraculous cures could happen. Could be. But I don’t think so. I’ve seen too much of “I really shouldn’t tell you this, but…” to think their motives were entirely selfless and pure.

Jesus had good reasons for asking for discretion. He didn’t want people coming to him exclusively for healing; he wanted them to come to him in faith. He was fulfilling his life’s plan and needed to keep the Messianic secret until the end, until his resurrection. But whether or not he had good reasons, the point is that he made the admonishment, and the man he’d healed disobeyed. He just couldn’t help himself. He had to break the news, be the important one, the bearer of the secret.

And when that happens, it always ends badly.

In my example, one could wish the reporter who uncovered the story had done due diligence before printing her piece. It was biased and distorted (and one has to wonder how biased and distorted the cured man’s sharing of his news was, as well!), and perhaps most importantly, she saw her sharing as giving her prestige. Thank goodness for her, she broke the news, she saved everything. And never mind who got hurt in the process.

We all get hurt in the process. We’re supposed to be “the least of these,” but we puff ourselves up and want to be the ones who have all the good stuff, the gossip, the details. “But the more he ordered them not to, the more they proclaimed it.”

And the circus won’t be coming to town.

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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

What Keeps You Up At Night?

Three o’clock. That’s when they usually come, the gremlins that wake me from my sleep and dance around my bed, reminding me of all the things I don’t want to think about. Three o’clock in the morning, and the beautiful wide world has shrunk to this small room and all the voices from my past echoing off its walls.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not a terrible person, not in the great scheme of things. I’ve never murdered or stolen or done any of the offenses that society judges as dire; but then again, I have a different judge, don’t I? And at three o’clock, the judgment is pretty grim.

I have on occasion not only hurt someone, but hurt them deliberately. I have failed to listen, to reach out, to be as compassionate as I’m called to be. I’ve missed opportunities to bring the Good News of Christ to someone when those opportunities have presented themselves. I’ve been selfish, vain, and short-sighted. Most of the time I balance all this with the times I have been kind, have gone out of my way to help others, have taken a stand. But not at three o’clock. Only the bad memories, the failures, the transgressions appear at three o’clock.

When I looked up today’s readings, I winced. Oh, no: the story of David and Bathsheba and Uriah. I don’t like this story. I want God’s chosen leader to be a good man, a man I can admire and respect, a man of principle and conscience, and instead I see someone willing to kill another human being just so he can essentially take that man’s wife. I’ll write about the Gospel instead, I decided; the parable of the mustard seed is far easier to get behind.

But as I thought about it, I realized God has so much to teach us through this story, and maybe if I’m a little less judgmental I might be able to listen to it—and hear something. The lesson starts in the first few lines: the spring has come, and it’s time to go to war. David’s whole past has been military, ever since as a teenager he killed a giant of a man and secured his fame; but this spring, instead of leading his troops, he sends them out without him. Maybe he was feeling lazy. Maybe it doesn’t matter what he was feeling. I’m the king; I can do whatever I like. But leading his men was his responsibility, and one of the first steps we take away from God is when we shrug off our responsibilities. It’s been said that 80% of life is just showing up, and this spring, David didn’t show up. My middle-of-the-night gremlins are quick to remind me of all the times I haven’t shown up, too. Made excuses; made rationalizations. I’m tired; I’m busy; I can do whatever I like. So far, this story is hitting very close to home.

Despite having been cautioned against it in Deuteronomy, David has also catered to his more carnal side. After a teenage marriage that failed, he started marrying—and also not marrying—quite a substantial number of women. So it’s little surprise that when he watches Bathsheba taking advantage of the coolness of the evening to bathe, he decides he wants her, too; and what the king wants, the king gets.

I’ve also indulged some of my whims. Money that could have gone to help people in dire need has been spent on things I wanted: books, clothing, gadgets, oh and did I mention books? I didn’t need any of it; but I catered to my desires anyway. Don’t be so quick to judge David, the gremlins whisper.

Bathsheba didn’t have much recourse. She’s often cast as a temptress, but it’s hard for me to see her at fault here. The king sends for you; you go. There were a number of possible solutions to this problem that wouldn’t have involved killing anyone, but David’s first thought is to send Uriah into battle—the battle he himself couldn’t be bothered to fight—and make sure he’s killed.

He went for the easiest, most immediate solution. He didn’t take time to think about it, pray about it, get advice. And it’s times like that when my impulses have gotten me into trouble, too. When I’ve panicked and looked for the quick and easy way out. When thoughtful consideration and prayer would have shown me a better solution.

Today’s reading ends with Uriah’s murder. But the untold part of the story, I think, is the most important: David finally got it. He realized the magnitude of what he’d been doing. He became estranged from God and depressed. He later wrote three psalms describing those months out of fellowship with God: Psalms 32, 38 and 51. Read them, and you’ll realize how deeply he got it. He, too, had gremlins haunting him at night.

That brings us to the happy certainty of forgiveness. David will finally acknowledge his sin. His spirit was broken; his heart was contrite. And as a result, he will hear the sweetest, most beautiful, most reassuring, most encouraging words known to humanity: “The Lord has removed your sin” (2 Sam. 12:13).

My gremlins are still there, because I’m a lot slower to forgive myself than God is. I remember once going to confession; at the end, the priest said, “You’re all set.” I loved that phrase and remind myself of it when memories and sadness and fear keep me up at night. You’re all set; the Lord has removed your sin.

 And I pray to be able to take God at his word. To tell the gremlins: You can go away now.

Like everything else in life, that’s a work in progress.

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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 Quickly We Forget

It’s pretty much a truism that many (if not most) people are quicker to ask for something than they are to be grateful for that thing once it’s given to them. This is nowhere more apparent than in our prayer lives. A good friend of mine sends me an email at the beginning of each month: “What are the prayer intentions I can help you with this month?” And it’s only relatively recently I realized my response, most of the time, was to ask her to join my prayers of petition.

I’ve been painfully—no pun intended, at least not completely—aware of that lack of balance over the past month. Less than a week before Christmas, I fell and broke my arm, a compound fracture that required several hours of surgery and involved more physical pain than I’ve ever had to endure. I spent a lot of sleepless nights, moaning about how much it hurt and asking God to alleviate the pain. “Please, please, please… just one night. Just one day. Just one hour. Please make it go away.”

Eventually I listened to myself, was suitably chastised, and changed my prayer. “Please help me endure it. Please make me stronger.” Steps in the right direction, for sure, but still a request, a plea, still that pesky “please do something for me.”

When we want something, we want it with our whole being. Sometimes we can’t see anything beyond it. This is apparent in daily life: sometimes we see individuals in single-minded pursuit of power, or wealth, or fame; sometimes we see them begging for a cure for a child’s illness, or for forgiveness from someone they’ve wronged, or for a good death. Whatever it is we want, whether the aim is selfish or altruistic, that desire for “something” is somehow stitched into human DNA; only the saints seem able to overcome it.

Once we get whatever it was we wanted so badly, though, it becomes less of an obsession. We’re on to the next big thing. We forget how much we wanted what we prayed for.

Looking through the lens of my own situation, I do compare this desire—and what happens when it is slaked—to pain. As time has passed, my pain has indeed lessened, to the point where now it’s difficult to remember just how excruciating those December nights were. How I begged God for help. And I know I haven’t thanked him enough for this gradual deliverance—certainly not nearly as often as I petitioned him to make it go away.

In today’s Gospel, Mark tells the story of a leper who asks Jesus to deliver him from his disease. I have to think that wasn’t the first time this man asked for deliverance. Perhaps, like me, he lay awake at night, aware only of his sickness and how he wanted God to make it go away. Perhaps he, too, begged, “please… please… please.”

He reaches out to Jesus and is cured. He gets what he wanted.

 The man now can resume the daily life his disease denied him. He can get back to normal. He returns to his village; he shows his priest proof of his cure; he offers initial thanks. But at some level, he has forgotten, already, how absolutely awful it was. He has forgotten what Jesus did for him—at no small personal risk, which we realize as the story unfolds. The man has forgotten the pain of being ostracized, the wounds on his body, the isolation and the fear. And now that he’s back in the social round, despite Jesus having sternly cautioned him not to, he shares his story—with the inevitable result of curtailing Jesus’ ability to move freely and carry on his ministry.

I don’t think this man had evil intentions, or that he wanted to purposely thwart Jesus in any way. I think he was thoughtless, careless, forgetful.

As am I.

Today is my birthday, and I have a great deal to celebrate, a great deal to be grateful for. I had an excellent surgeon. I now have moderately long stretches of time when I am relatively pain-free. I will eventually, like the man in Mark’s story, be able to resume my life much as it was before my fall. Through the grace of God, I will in fact get what I begged him for with such fervor.

But I don’t want to forget the pain. I don’t want to forget the fear, and the sense of helplessness, and the nights I wanted to die because it hurt so much. They’re already receding, and I don’t want them to. I want to remember them so I can offer thanks as much as I once cried out for help. I want to remember them so I can heed Jesus’ words about how to move forward with my life, and not just run off and do whatever I please because I’ve forgotten.

When my friend emails me in a couple of weeks and asks for my prayer intentions for February, this time around I will have a different response. I want her to echo my gratitude. And I will be doing my very best in the meantime… to not forget.

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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