I Know My Sheep

Our practice is to attend 8:30 Sunday Mass but sometimes that doesn’t work out. One Monday after such a time, I ran into my priest and he asked where we were the preceding day. “I know my sheep,” he said with a smile. I knew he wasn’t chastising me. He cares about his parishioners. It feels good to be noticed and known. And missed.

I love the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. St Therese of Lisieux encourages us to be childlike in our love and trust of Jesus but I often feel more like a sheep than a child. Sheep aren’t really the brain trusts of the barnyard. Left alone, they become overly wooly. Their vision is impaired as is their movement. Recall Baarack, the Australian sheep found with over 75 pounds of wool weighing him down. 

This is a metaphor for the spiritual life. Left alone, my gaze shifts away from Jesus. When I am not diligent in prayer, when I wait too long between confessions, it becomes harder and harder to remember where I should be focusing my vision. It’s easy to get caught up in the issues being played out in the news or on social media. I find I am less patient, less charitable, and less nice. Instead of trying to see Christ in those around me, I see the negatives. My eyes become clouded with the wool of sin.  

I also find I am bearing the weight of my sins and stress.  In times of consolation, I can skip through my busy day of interruptions and tasks, and still feel good. I am energized by my life. Again, when I lose my habit of prayer, the stressors of life grow like uncontrolled wool and weigh me down. Everything is harder. I want to sleep.

Jesus is the shepherd who takes care of me. When I drag my wooly, weighted-down self to him, he shears off the sin and shows me the light again. I know his voice and he never ceases calling me to him. He is waiting patiently to help me. He desires to keep me safe. When I surrender to him, he sleeps at the gate of the sheepfold, protecting me from the wolves prowling outside. 

Jesus came so that we “may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). What a wonderful message! As we journey through this life, we have a shepherd who came for the express purpose of bringing us salvation and abundance. We know his voice. We know he wants us to follow him. It is hard and brings its own set of challenges in a world that has turned away from God, but we may be assured that our shepherd will always be there guiding, protecting, and shearing away the excess that gets in our way.

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Merridith Frediani loves words and is delighted by good sentences. She also loves Lake Michigan, dahlias, the first sip of hot coffee in the morning, millennials, and playing Sheepshead with her husband and three kids. She writes for Catholic Mom, Diocesan.com, and her local Catholic Herald. Her first book Draw Close to Jesus: A Woman’s Guide to Adoration is available at Our Sunday Visitor and Amazon. You can learn more at merridithfrediani.com.

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God Will Save You

There are four poignant verses in the story of Susanna that exemplify the battle between good and evil. The two elders saw Susanna’s beauty, and treating her as an object instead of a person, they “suppressed their consciences; they would not allow their eyes to look to heaven, and did not keep in mind just judgments.” (Dn 13:9)The temptation to sin was so great they pushed aside their moral compass. They made a choice to turn from God and they paid for it with their lives. Evil won in their case. How often do we make a conscious choice away from God, knowing that what we are doing is wrong?

Susanna, on the other hand, never turned her gaze from God. She knew that to acquiesce to their threats would be safest but would also be allowing herself to enter into sin. In fighting against them, she was opening herself to punishment as it was the word of  two elders against hers. In a culture where women were not valued, this was sure to lead to her death. But so great was her love for God, she was willing to risk it all. “Yet it is better for me to fall into your power without guilt than to sin before the Lord.” (Dn 13: 23) How often do we choose God over what is easy or safe?

She prayed to God and trusted him. When she was in front of the assembly being accused of adultery in a land where the punishment for adultery is death, she called out to God who knows what is true and what is hidden. In front of her accusers, her family, and her husband she spoke the truth. How often do we trust that if we speak truth, God will take care of us?

“The Lord heard her prayer.” (Dn 13:44) He always does. Our God is good and powerful and faithful. No matter how dire the situation, we can know that he is with us, he hears us, and he never abandons us. 

Her faith saved her. In front of all the people, Daniel proved the elders were lying and Susanna was set free. Her faith also helped others because they saw that it was God’s work they witnessed and “The whole assembly cried aloud, blessing God who saves those who hope in him.” (Dan 13:60)

There is evil in the world. We are tempted on a daily basis. It is up to us to choose to keep our eyes on God or to succumb to the temptations. It is also up to us to trust that God will be with us in that choice and his grace will lead us through. The Lord will hear our prayers and we can rejoice and praise him because he will save us. 

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Merridith Frediani loves words and is delighted by good sentences. She also loves Lake Michigan, dahlias, the first sip of hot coffee in the morning, millennials, and playing Sheepshead with her husband and three kids. She writes for Catholic Mom, Diocesan.com, and her local Catholic Herald. Her first book Draw Close to Jesus: A Woman’s Guide to Adoration is available at Our Sunday Visitor and Amazon. You can learn more at merridithfrediani.com.

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Our Mountaintop Experiences

Last summer I attended a Theology of the Body course and had a mountaintop experience. A diverse group of people from around the world came together to learn about St. John Paul II’s teaching and in the span of five days we grew to love each other. Each person I met was amazing, joyful, and in love with Jesus. It was a foretaste of heaven. 

It was a mountaintop much like the one Peter, James, and John were on. It was there they caught a glimpse of what was to come and enthusiastically Peter suggested they build booths for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. Peter wanted to set up camp and stay but that was not what Jesus had in mind. Jesus brought them down from the mountain because there was still work to do. It wasn’t time yet. 

I think God offers us these experiences to give us hope in the goodness he has in store for us. Whether it’s a conference, a time of prayer or even a time with loved ones where we are sure of his presence, I believe God offers us this to buoy us up. And even though like Peter, we desire to stay and soak it in, it’s not time yet. 

Those amazing experiences inspire and feed us and now is the time to share them. Share a time when Jesus reached down and touched you, a time when it felt real. There’s someone who needs to hear it. Those moments are good and beautiful and not just for us alone. Don’t stay on the mountain. Come down and do the work. It’s not time to stay yet, but soon it will be. 

What story of an experience with Jesus can you share?

Jesus, please give me the opportunity to share a story about my experience with you and give me the words you desire someone else to hear. 

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Merridith Frediani loves words and is delighted by good sentences. She also loves Lake Michigan, dahlias, the first sip of hot coffee in the morning, millennials, and playing Sheepshead with her husband and three kids. She writes for Catholic Mom, Diocesan.com, and her local Catholic Herald. Her first book Draw Close to Jesus: A Woman’s Guide to Adoration is available at Our Sunday Visitor and Amazon. You can learn more at merridithfrediani.com.

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Whoever Is Ashamed Of Me

Being ashamed of someone implies a familial relationship, a deep level of caring.  We can get mad at people in whom we have no emotional investment.  Being ashamed is reserved for those for whom we love. 

In today’s Gospel, Jesus reveals that he will be ashamed of whoever is ashamed of him. How painful to see that shame on his face. I want to avoid doing anything that would lead to it but I find sometimes I am ashamed.

 I am ashamed of him when I am too embarrassed to give thanks for my food when in a restaurant.

I am ashamed when I implicitly agree with something wrong because I don’t want to be seen as a weirdo.

I am ashamed when I don’t tell people how profoundly my life has changed for the better because of his love.

I am ashamed when I don’t defend the teachings of the Church as Truth.

It is what I refrain from  doing or saying because I am still too concerned with what others think. The only one whose opinion matters is the Lord’s.

I need to be ok with being judged by strangers, and given today’s faithless and sinful generation, probably mocked or criticized or called names. In this divisive time, secular society has decided what we can and cannot believe and say. Even if we quietly live our Catholic faith, we experience the judgment. As my husband and I went through a deepening of our faith over the past six years or so, we have grown closer to Jesus and farther from some friends. We know that our decision to embrace our Catholicity has turned them off. We don’t preach or condemn but we also don’t hide decisions we have made for ourselves and our family. 

But more and more just living our faith is not enough. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older but I fear for our society. We ran into some neighbors who were telling us how diverse our old block had become but when they described the Orthodox Jewish family as part of a cult, we realized that diversity only applies to lifestyle not religious beliefs. 

I do not ever want Jesus to be ashamed of me – he died to save my soul – so words need to be used. I pray for the courage to use those words and not be ashamed of our Savior.

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Merridith Frediani loves words and is delighted by good sentences. She also loves Lake Michigan, dahlias, the first sip of hot coffee in the morning, millennials, and playing Sheepshead with her husband and three kids. She writes for Catholic Mom, Diocesan.com, and her local Catholic Herald. Her first book Draw Close to Jesus: A Woman’s Guide to Adoration is available at Our Sunday Visitor and Amazon. You can learn more at merridithfrediani.com.

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You Are God’s Beloved Child

While admiring photos of a friend’s daughter I thought that how she feels – the pride, love, and joy –  is how God feels about us. Our love for our own children is mirrored in the love of God for us as his beloved children.

I remember my own children as toddlers. Toddlers are uncivilized, irrational, emotional bundles of messiness and dirty diapers and even though I wondered if they would ever be decent enough to be let loose in the world, I loved them deeply. No matter how often they did the same naughty thing, when they said something hurtful to me, or just exasperated me with their childishness, I never didn’t forgive them. I always longed to be in communion with them. 

This is how God feels about us only infinitely more. He sees us doing stupid stuff, hurting each other, and being disrespectful to him. He also sees our goodness. He sees how we strive and when we turn our gaze toward him and ask for forgiveness he welcomes us back with joy because we are his children. 

God said of Jesus, “This is my beloved Son.” Jesus hadn’t begun his public ministry yet. He hadn’t healed anyone or driven out any demons but God loved him and was pleased. No matter how messy you are or were or will be, you can always, always run to God’s waiting arms like a toddler running to her mother. He will be delighted to have you there. He’s waiting.

Imagine God saying the same of you just as you would of your own child. Be bold and insert your name.

“This is my beloved son/daughter ______ with whom I am pleased.”

God, thank you for creating me to be your beloved child. Help me to rest in your love today. 

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Merridith Frediani loves words and is delighted by good sentences. She also loves Lake Michigan, dahlias, the first sip of hot coffee in the morning, millennials, and playing Sheepshead with her husband and three kids. She writes for Catholic Mom, Diocesan.com, and her local Catholic Herald. Her first book Draw Close to Jesus: A Woman’s Guide to Adoration is available at Our Sunday Visitor and Amazon. You can learn more at merridithfrediani.com.

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Jesus is Born!

In preparing for Christmas in Italy, a family will assemble an intricate, detailed Nativity Scene called a presepe.  This custom was started by our beloved St. Francis of Assisi on Christmas Eve in 1223.  The presepe goes beyond a mere stable to include a landscape of the village and hillsides.  In addition to Mary, Joseph, assorted shepherds and wise kings who have often arrived too early, are villagers going about their daily chores.  The ordinary life of ordinary people is depicted.  What is not immediately part of the display is the Christ child.  In true Catholic tradition, the baby Jesus does not arrive until his appointed time at Christmas.

One tradition is to hide the babe somewhere in the village.  Viewers are tasked with trying to find him, a subtle reminder that Jesus can be anywhere, even in the mundane and prosaic.  The presepe is also a remembrance that our Lord was born without pomp.  The greatest thing to happen to the human race occurred quietly one night. The next day, all but a handful of people went about their daily life with no change.  Men and women labored.  Children played.  No one knew that the Son of God was in their midst and the world was going to change.

The Son of God is still in our midst.  Men and women still labor. Children still play. Now we celebrate each year.  As we search the presepe for the Christ child we also slow down and search the world for him.  He is present in the people we encounter and the tasks we complete.  Like a snowfall, Jesus brings beauty and unexpected joy.  He softens the harshness of our lives.  He connects us to others.  Everything is the same but so much better.  He comes during the darkest time of the year and brings us hope and light.

If we still our minds and hearts, if we step back from the hustle, if we just pause and breathe, we will find him quietly beckoning to us, inviting us in.

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Merridith Frediani loves words and is delighted by good sentences. She also loves Lake Michigan, dahlias, the first sip of hot coffee in the morning, millennials, and playing Sheepshead with her husband and three kids. She writes for Catholic Mom, Diocesan.com, and her local Catholic Herald. Her first book Draw Close to Jesus: A Woman’s Guide to Adoration is available at Our Sunday Visitor and Amazon. You can learn more at merridithfrediani.com.

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Happy New Year!

Happy New Year! Today is the first day of the new Liturgical Year as well as the first Sunday of Advent. Today we begin our watch. Today we begin to prepare for the birth of our Lord.

The days are short and dark now and for those who live in the northern part of the country they are cold. There’s a beautiful purposefulness in this. The darkness we experience is a reminder of the darkness in the world before Christ was born. The prophet Jeremiah writes during the time the people of Israel and Judah were exiled. The tribes were scattered throughout Babylon and Assyria, taken from their homeland, living with strangers in a strange land. The times were dark and they were far from God. 

But Jeremiah writes with hope. He tells of God fulfilling his promise to the houses of Israel to save them. Jeremiah is prophesying the coming of Jesus, the one who will rescue them from the darkness. They were in a period of waiting just as we too enter a period of waiting during these dark months. 

It can’t be a coincidence that the shortest day of the year – December 21 – is just four days before the birth of Christ, our light. The days will be getting longer as we celebrate his birth. We remember that Jesus came so that we may live. He brought light to the world. 

So we begin this time with a spirit of watchfulness as Jesus commands in the Gospel. He is referring to end times but the attitude required of us is the same. We are reminded that this world is fleeting. This time on earth may be dark. It may have trials and it may be frustrating, but it isn’t permanent. 

Jesus is coming to save us and in the end we can be with him in heaven where the light of God will envelop us in pure love and joy. 

Keep watch this Advent. Start this new year watching and waiting for our Lord and believing in Jeremiah’s words that he is coming to lead us out of the darkness and into the light of his – and our- Father. 

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Merridith Frediani loves words and is delighted by good sentences. She also loves Lake Michigan, dahlias, the first sip of hot coffee in the morning, millennials, and playing Sheepshead with her husband and three kids. She writes for Catholic Mom, Diocesan.com, and her local Catholic Herald. Her first book Draw Close to Jesus: A Woman’s Guide to Adoration is available at Our Sunday Visitor and Amazon. You can learn more at merridithfrediani.com.

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Our True Identity

One of my daughter’s friends announced that she is non-binary, changing her name to Shawn, and using they/them pronouns. In response to questions she said she is more comfortable with these words in identifying who she feels she is. 

How did we get here?

In the beginning, God created Adam and Eve. They lived happily in the garden until the evil one got involved and cast seeds of doubt. God told them that if they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil they would die. Satan invited them to doubt the truth of God’s words and death entered in.. 

“But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die. For God knows that when you eat it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Gen 3:4-5)

Satan is at it again. This time he is sowing seeds of doubt about our identity. The creation story tells us we are made male and female. This is our identity. The gender fluidity movement says that’s a lie – our gender is what we say it is not what God says it is.

He whispers, “You aren’t a female just because your biology is female. You are what you think you are. You are what feels comfortable.” 

In today’s Gospel we hear about who we really are. Our identity is as a fellow citizen with the holy ones. We are members of God’s household. The truth of who we are, our true identity, is that we are His. We are his sons and daughters. We are male and female parts of a large family spanning time and space. We are part of something built upon and held together by Jesus Christ. We are a place where the Spirit dwells.

When we embrace our place as children of God we come to see the beauty of our created bodies and we value that creation. We don’t pick our gender, we are blessed with our gender. Our gender is how we generate new life and God chooses whether we do that generating by creating seed or growing the new life inside us. It’s one or the other and we can look at our bodies to figure out which it is. 

Today we are reminded: we are not strangers to God. We belong to him. Our identity is as his children. We are not what the world says we are. We may not even be what we think we are. The truth is that we are who God says we are – beautiful children who belong to him. If we stay close to him, he will reveal more to us and we won’t have to listen to any lies.

Claim your place in his household. Number yourself with the holy ones. Stand firm upon his foundation and let his spirit dwell within you. 

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Merridith Frediani loves words and is delighted by good sentences. She also loves Lake Michigan, dahlias, the first sip of hot coffee in the morning, millennials, and playing Sheepshead with her husband and three kids. She writes for Catholic Mom, Diocesan.com, and her local Catholic Herald. Her first book Draw Close to Jesus: A Woman’s Guide to Adoration is available at Our Sunday Visitor and Amazon. You can learn more at merridithfrediani.com.

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Living Righteously

In today’s reading from 1 Peter for the memorial of St. Wenceslaus, we hear about righteousness and suffering. “Righteous” is a tricky word. It’s associated with surfers and the ‘70s and, in my mind, has an air of insincerity as if someone is acting righteous more for applause than because it’s the right thing to do. 

Merriam Webster defines it differently – “acting in accord with divine or moral law” – and it’s that definition that makes the Biblical use of it make sense. Paul warns Peter that righteousness may lead to suffering but that’s okay. The one who suffers for doing good is blessed. This can be hard to hear. We’d like to think that if we do good we will be rewarded with good – as if there is some sort of karmic bank into which we make deposits and withdrawals. If we treat others well, we will be treated well.

It’s not like that though. The reality, especially in today’s combative culture, is that being righteous – acting in accord with divine law – is going to bring some suffering. It may not be big. It may not be public mockery or losing a job. It will most likely come from people we know and love and it may be small comments or little jabs.

Pursuing holiness comes with a cost. In choosing to follow Christ’s teachings, we are choosing to live differently from the majority of people around us. As much as people can be inspired by being around someone who pursues goodness, people can also find fault with it. If you’re a regular Sunday Mass attendee, you may have heard comments from people about how “holy” and “good” you are. If you leave work early to go to adoration, someone may say something slightly snide. When it’s a stranger, we let it roll; when it’s a friend, it hurts. 

If you prioritize your faith and your relationship with Jesus, people will have comments and opinions and you may suffer. Today’s culture is not righteous, so when we try to live those values, it is brought to our attention how others feel.

But St. Paul tells us we will be blessed and because of that we can rejoice. It’s hard to hear the comments or see the looks that cross people’s faces but if it means we are doing the righteous thing then we can rest with Jesus in that. 

In the end, the only one whose opinion matters is God’s and he will be generous in his blessings. 

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Merridith Frediani loves words and is delighted by good sentences. She also loves Lake Michigan, dahlias, the first sip of hot coffee in the morning, millennials, and playing Sheepshead with her husband and three kids. She writes for Catholic Mom, Diocesan.com, and her local Catholic Herald. Her first book Draw Close to Jesus: A Woman’s Guide to Adoration is available at Our Sunday Visitor and Amazon. You can learn more at merridithfrediani.com.

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First Fruit

Imagine “nothing.” In the beginning there was nothing. From nothing God brought into existence everything. When I try to imagine what nothing is, I envision complete darkness, but even darkness is something.  Nothing is not a thing. This is what God started with and from it he created, he willed into existence, all that we see and know – from the molten core of the earth to the stars in the galaxy; from dirt to trees to rivers to animals. All of it came from the God of lights, the unchanging Creator. 

We read today that every perfect gift comes from God and we know from Genesis that everything God created is good. The sand, the rocks, the clouds and the elephants are good. The lions, bees, cows, and plants are good. God’s imagination is boundless and it is all good.

Take a moment to recognize all God created and then reflect on your place in it. Not only are you good by virtue of being a creature of God, but you, according to James, are a first fruit of God’s creation. The first fruit is the fruit of the harvest offered to God in thanksgiving. It’s the best and it’s offered in recognition that God deserves the best. 

Here, James is positing that humans are the first fruits of creation – the best. This includes all of us. By his will he created you just as you are and you are a first fruit. It’s hard to remember this. It’s easy to find fault with ourselves. When I look in the mirror I see what’s wrong more often than what’s right. When I reflect on my actions, I see where I could have done better instead of what I did well. I forget that by nature of being willed by God that I am good. He made me as I am and he loves me as I am. To tell myself otherwise is an insult to the One who made me because he only makes good.

I am a first fruit. As are you. We are good. We are loved. We are enough. 

Why?

Because God made us that way.

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Merridith Frediani loves words and is delighted by good sentences. She also loves Lake Michigan, dahlias, the first sip of hot coffee in the morning, millennials, and playing Sheepshead with her husband and three kids. She writes for Catholic Mom, Diocesan.com, and her local Catholic Herald. Her first book Draw Close to Jesus: A Woman’s Guide to Adoration is available at Our Sunday Visitor and Amazon. You can learn more at merridithfrediani.com.

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Giving it All

It is good for me to remind myself, when I get mired down in the daily mess of life, that my time on earth is transitory. In the entirety of my existence, beginning with conception and continuing forever, life on earth is a tiny blip. It feels huge but it is a mere speck. That’s hard to imagine being bound by time as we are. Never ending eternity, whether in heaven or hell, is impossible to grasp. 

It is good to remember this truth though because it helps to more rightly frame time on earth. In today’s Gospel we hear of two instances of a man selling all he has with joy in pursuit of the kingdom of heaven. I ask myself if I am willing to not just sell all I have, but give all I have because I think that is what Jesus asks of us – give all we have, surrender all we are to the Father. Giving it all and doing it joyfully feels big. 

Am I able to do this? Is there something I value so much that would be hard to give? Do I trust that I’ll still have what I need? 

Several years ago I gave God permission to do what he wanted with my life. It felt at first as if I made a mistake because I was stripped of what I thought was his will. I believe that initially I was doing his will because it led me to a place where I could give him this permission but what he allowed to happen confused me. I ended up giving it all – or as much as I could. At first there was no joy but our God is a patient and gentle teacher and he showed me how to find joy in a place where I had no control, just a lot of uncertainty. 

In going from a rowboat, rowing against the waves to a sailboat powered by the Holy Spirit, I learned that giving it all can be done joyfully. And I learned that while my life’s purpose is to get to heaven, I am not pursuing God as much as God is pursuing me. 

So I’m not alone with nothing, rather I’m growing in communion with the perfect friend – Jesus. I’ve received a hundred times more than I gave. It’s true that God is never outdone in generosity and what he had in store was more than I dreamed. 

Giving God permission may feel scary, but in doing so, we make space for him and we become filled with his grace. The more we give, the more he comes crashing in. And he is greater than a field of treasure or a pearl of great price – he is the glory of the universe, the almighty God and he is so good. 

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Merridith Frediani’s perfect day includes prayer, writing, unrushed morning coffee, reading, tending to dahlias, and playing Sheepshead with her husband and three kids.  She loves finding God in the silly and ordinary.  She writes for Ascension Press, Catholic Mom, and her local Catholic Herald in Milwaukee. Her first book Draw Close to Jesus: A Woman’s Guide to Eucharistic Adoration is expected to be released summer 2021. You can reach her at merridith.frediani@gmail.com

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Be Like Abram

There’s a detail in today’s First Reading that was brought to my attention several years ago which changed the way I see this story now. Abram was questioning God’s plan. God came to him promising rewards and Abram wondered what good the rewards would be since he had no son to pass them down to. He was concerned his inheritance would go to his servant. 

God’s response was to take him outside and tell him to count the stars – that’s how many descendants he would have. This had to have been rather hard for Abram to believe because he and his wife Sarai were old and unable to conceive a child. But Abram put his faith in the Lord. He trusted that while it seemed impossible, if God said it would be so, then it would.

He then followed God’s direction to sacrifice some animals and here’s the detail in verse 12 that is important: “As the sun was about to set….” Then in verse 17, we read “When the sun had set and it was dark.” 

When God took Abram outside and asked him to number the stars, it was daytime! There’s just one star in the sky in the day and it’s the sun. Abram saw that one star and he believed it would be sufficient. He believed that despite his lack of children so far and counting just one star, God would keep his promise of many descendants.

We can pray for trust like his. We can ask for the grace to be patient and wait, believing that God will keep his promise. Even if something seems too small, God can make it great. Maybe, like me, you wonder how you can help make this sad, broken world a place where God is glorified. What can I, just one person, do? 

I can begin by trusting God. Trusting he has a plan and even if I can’t see all of it, it will come to fruition. Today, I can do one thing to help make this world better. I can love one person a little more. I can shift my gaze from myself to others and lastly to Jesus. I can have faith that by looking at what is in front of me today and trusting God, all will be well.

Even if it seems like it can’t possibly be enough, it can be. Just ask Abram how it turned out for him.

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Merridith Frediani’s perfect day includes prayer, writing, unrushed morning coffee, reading, tending to dahlias, and playing Sheepshead with her husband and three kids.  She loves finding God in the silly and ordinary.  She writes for Ascension Press, Catholic Mom, and her local Catholic Herald in Milwaukee. Her first book Draw Close to Jesus: A Woman’s Guide to Eucharistic Adoration is expected to be released summer 2021. You can reach her at merridith.frediani@gmail.com

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