Whoever Follows God’s Commands Loves Him

In today’s Gospel, Jesus told His disciples: “Whoever has My commandments and observes them is the one who loves Me. Whoever loves Me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him.” 

This is so very true! If we love God, we will follow His commandments—without hesitation and without complaint. For without God, we have nothing. And we can do nothing.

Yes, we may be able to be happy for a short period. We may have good fortune. Things may go well for a time. But if we don’t have God, if we don’t love Him, if we don’t follow His commands, we ultimately have nothing.

The goal of our lives is to spend eternity with God. Everything we do on earth should lead us down that path. If not, we are doing something wrong. It may feel right for a short time, but it will not actually be right.

He is the vine, and we are the branches. We grow through His goodness. And we must then take that goodness and allow it to bear fruit in our own lives as we spread His word. In other words, in all that we do, we must use the blessings He has given us to bring others to Him.

How do we do that? According to the Church, there are 12 fruits of the Holy Spirit. These are the “observable behaviors of people who have allowed the grace of the Holy Spirit to be effective in them.” These include charity, generosity, joy, gentleness, peace, faithfulness, patience, modesty, kindness, self-control, goodness, and chastity.

These characteristics are the fruits of a life rooted in Christ and that grow from His love and goodness. We just need to allow them to flow from us. 

All of these fruits are important, of course, but I think right now the most important are peace, charity, and faithfulness, for when we live a life filled with those three tenets, the others will naturally flow.

So let us think of the things we can do in our daily lives to produce these fruits in our families, in our communities, and at work. Let us spend today thinking about our actions and remember this: Before we act, let us ask ourselves whether these actions demonstrate that we are following God’s commandments. Let us also ask ourselves if God would be proud of the action we’re about to take. If not, that should tell us something.

When we live a life rooted in following God’s laws and commands, we will not only grow in holiness, but we will help others grow as well. And that is what God wants of us.

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Susan Ciancio has a BA in psychology and a BA in sociology from the University of Notre Dame, with an MA in liberal studies from Indiana University. For the past 19 years, she has worked as a professional editor and writer, editing both fiction and nonfiction books, magazine articles, blogs, educational lessons, professional materials and website content. Thirteen of those years have been in the pro-life sector. Currently Susan freelances and writes weekly for HLI, edits for American Life League, and is the executive editor of Celebrate Life Magazine. She also serves as executive editor for the Culture of Life Studies Program—an educational nonprofit program for K-12 students. You can reach her at slochner0.wixsite.com/website.

Feature Image Credit: Susana Saldivar B, https://www.cathopic.com/photo/15952-welcome-home-my-daughter

Obey God’s Laws, Not Man’s

In today’s First Reading, we see Peter and the Apostle’s response when they are brought before the Sanhedrin, who had warned them to stop teaching in Jesus’ name. They said: “We must obey God rather than men. The God of our ancestors raised Jesus, though you had Him killed by hanging Him on a tree.”

The sad events of Good Friday are still fresh in our minds, but we know that Christ triumphed on Easter Sunday. He allowed Himself to be tortured, beaten, bloodied, and killed to save us. And then He rose from the dead to prove that He is God.

It is our job as His children to live our lives in such a way that we thank Him every day for this sacrifice. How do we do that? We follow His laws, not man’s laws. 

As we look around the world today, we see that many in government have strayed far from God’s laws and have attempted to create laws and a society that not only deny the humanity of some people but that go directly against the very commands given to us by God. Chief among them is the 5th Commandment that teaches that we must not kill our fellow human beings.

Yet every day we see people doing the exact opposite. Indeed, we see people screaming for the right to do so. Chief among these desires are the “rights” to kill babies before they are born and the “rights” to take a human being’s life if that person is sick or nearing death. 

The first is referred to a woman’s “right,” while the second is called “death with dignity.”

But make no mistake: A woman never has the right to take the life of a baby growing inside her body. From the time that baby is first created, he is a unique human being. He is not part of her body. 

And regardless of a person’s ability or whether he is nearing the end of his life, he does not lose dignity. Dignity is given to us by God. It does not dimmish, and it can never be taken away. 

We all have the right to life, and as children of God, we must work every day to protect that right to life in our fellow human beings. We must speak and teach about that right to life, and we must vote for the people who will uphold that right to life. 

That is what Peter and the other Apostles meant when they said that we must obey God rather than man.

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Susan Ciancio has a BA in psychology and a BA in sociology from the University of Notre Dame, with an MA in liberal studies from Indiana University. For the past 17 years, she has worked as a professional editor and writer, editing both fiction and nonfiction books, magazine articles, blogs, educational lessons, professional materials and website content. Eleven of those years have been in the pro-life sector. Currently Susan freelances and writes weekly for HLI, edits for American Life League, and is the editor of Celebrate Life Magazine. She also serves as executive editor for the Culture of Life Studies Program-an educational nonprofit program for K-12 students.

Feature Image Credit: amorsanto, https://www.cathopic.com/photo/8953-devocion

Christ Is Truly Present

Today is Palm Sunday. In the Gospel, we read about the Last Supper and the institution of the Eucharist. At the table, Christ took the bread, raised it, and said to His Apostles: “This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me.” And then He took the cup, saying: “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you.”

This was not the only time Christ said something like this to His followers. In the Gospel of John, He told them: “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.”

As Catholics, we believe in transubstantiation—that through the priest, God really does send a miracle at every Mass. The bread and wine become the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ.

Christ did not say that He wanted the bread and wine to just be mere symbols of Him. He told us that they are His body and blood. He told us that He is the living bread. In fact, His birth in Bethlehem foreshadowed this, as the name Bethlehem literally means house of bread.

It is an awesome privilege and blessing that we, as Catholics, can receive Him every single day—if we are free of mortal sin.

Yet, a 2019 Pew Research survey tells us that just one-third of Catholics believe in the real presence of Christ. Why is this? It’s because they have not been properly catechized.

So what are we to do? First, we understand and believe. Second, we teach—our children, our families, our friends, and our fellow parishioners. We must all take it upon ourselves to speak up and defend Christ in the Eucharist.

Christ gives Himself to us to nourish and renew us, but we must be worthy of this wonderful gift. How do we make ourselves worthy? We must be free of all mortal sin. This isn’t a suggestion. This is part of our Catechism, which teaches: “Anyone aware of having sinned mortally must not receive Communion without having received absolution in the sacrament of penance.”  

Anyone who has committed a mortal sin and who has not sought forgiveness in the confessional should not present himself for Communion until he has been to confession. This is so because God has given us the most phenomenal gift imaginable—Himself. 

So, today, as we think about that Last Supper and Christ’s sacrifice, let us not only thank Him for that sacrifice but for the gift of Himself in the Eucharist at every Mass. 

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Susan Ciancio has a BA in psychology and a BA in sociology from the University of Notre Dame, with an MA in liberal studies from Indiana University. For the past 17 years, she has worked as a professional editor and writer, editing both fiction and nonfiction books, magazine articles, blogs, educational lessons, professional materials and website content. Eleven of those years have been in the pro-life sector. Currently Susan freelances and writes weekly for HLI, edits for American Life League, and is the editor of Celebrate Life Magazine. She also serves as executive editor for the Culture of Life Studies Program-an educational nonprofit program for K-12 students.

Feature Image Credit: emiliogb, https://www.cathopic.com/photo/17727-jesus-doble-entrega

Do You Want to Be Well?

In today’s Gospel reading, we see Jesus heal a man who had been sick for 38 years. To the man, Jesus asked, “Do you want to be well?” And when the man answered in the affirmative, Jesus told him to pick up his mat and walk.

We often wish everything could be that easy for us when we pray. We want Christ to give us that yes, to tell us that we will be healed, that our ailments will go away, or that our prayers will be answered. But sometimes that just isn’t the case. 

Sometimes we hear a no from God—and no is a difficult word to hear, especially when it’s the answer to a prayer we so desperately desire. That no can be heartbreaking. It can be devastating. That no can lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation. It may even lead to the person wondering if God cares about him. How many times have you heard people say that God didn’t answer their prayers so He must not exist? They mistakenly believe that He didn’t answer them, when in fact He just said no. Because of this, they begin to lose faith.

Instead of becoming firmer in their resolve, instead of trying to determine the reason for the no, and instead of trusting in God’s goodness, many people dismiss Him. They feel rejected by Him, so they reject Him.

But when God does say no, we must have hope that He is following that up with “Trust Me. I have something even better planned.” This trust leads us to understand that, no matter what, He is also telling us, “Do not worry; I am right here with you through this. I’ve got you, and I will never let go.”

We may never understand why God has said no to the things we pray for, especially if—in our eyes—those desperate prayers are for good and holy things. So we pray more, we talk to God, we ask for understanding and guidance, and we allow His will to be done. We ask for His protection against a world that wants us to believe that He doesn’t exist and against people who chip away at our faith telling us that “a good God wouldn’t allow bad things to happen to good people.”

We ask for the fortitude to understand the difference between God’s perfect will and God’s permissive will. We ask to feel at peace with His decision, knowing that someday we will find clarity.

And we ask for help in understanding that God will make us well, just as He did with the man who had been sick for 38 years; it may just not be in the time or the way that we had hoped or thought. 

But rest assured, when we follow God’s laws, remain faithful to Him, and put our trust in Him, He will make us well. 

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Susan Ciancio has a BA in psychology and a BA in sociology from the University of Notre Dame, with an MA in liberal studies from Indiana University. For the past 17 years, she has worked as a professional editor and writer, editing both fiction and nonfiction books, magazine articles, blogs, educational lessons, professional materials and website content. Eleven of those years have been in the pro-life sector. Currently Susan freelances and writes weekly for HLI, edits for American Life League, and is the editor of Celebrate Life Magazine. She also serves as executive editor for the Culture of Life Studies Program-an educational nonprofit program for K-12 students.

Feature Image Credit: amorsanto, https://www.cathopic.com/photo/3759-charla-con-dios

Be Opened!

In today’s Gospel, Mark tells the story of Jesus healing the man who was deaf and had a speech impediment. Jesus put His fingers in the man’s ear, put spit on his tongue, and looked up to heaven saying: “Be opened.” The man could then hear and speak without the impediment.

Metaphorically, we are a lot like the man who could not hear and didn’t speak well. When it comes to the word of God and teaching others about God, we often have difficulty listening and speaking.

God only asks for one hour a week, but we know that we cannot build a relationship with Him in just 1/168 of the week. Imagine telling your children or your significant other that you want to just spend one hour each week with them. I suspect they would feel cast aside or unimportant. Now stand in front of a crucifix, look at Christ, and tell Him He only deserves one hour a week. It hurts to do that, doesn’t it?

If we really want to get to know God better, we must talk to Him and learn about Him every day.

We can make it easy to include Him in our daily lives, but it does take a little effort to find the way that suits our life the best. Additionally, it takes some determination to put away the phones, to shut out the outside world, and to really reflect on those two words we want to hear from Christ: “Be opened!”

So take some time today to decide how you want to start improving your relationship with Christ. Do you like to read about Him? Do you want someone to read to you or talk to you about Him—like in a podcast? Do you want to watch videos? Do you want to just spend quiet time in prayer? Do you want to do something different every day?

There’s so much we can do to praise God, to acknowledge His presence, and then to welcome Him into our daily lives. 

With Lent fast approaching, we may have already thought about how we will prepare, but let us not wait until then to transform our spiritual life. Let us make a life change that will last way beyond Lent. 

From this point on, give God 20 minutes of your day. Open your heart, open your mind, and open your life to Him. And rejoice that He is calling you and saying: “Be opened!”

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Susan Ciancio has a BA in psychology and a BA in sociology from the University of Notre Dame, with an MA in liberal studies from Indiana University. For the past 17 years, she has worked as a professional editor and writer, editing both fiction and nonfiction books, magazine articles, blogs, educational lessons, professional materials and website content. Eleven of those years have been in the pro-life sector. Currently Susan freelances and writes weekly for HLI, edits for American Life League, and is the editor of Celebrate Life Magazine. She also serves as executive editor for the Culture of Life Studies Program-an educational nonprofit program for K-12 students.

Feature Image Credit: Angelo Senchuke, LC, https://www.cathopic.com/photo/11583-alabado-sea-mi-creador

A Year Acceptable to the Lord

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus went into the synagogue and read this passage from Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”

He then looked at all those who sat listening to Him and proclaimed: “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Wow! We hear that and we feel excited. But the people listening then were astounded—so astounded that they became furious. They drove Him from the temple believing He had committed blasphemy. But we know that He did not. We know that Jesus was the fulfillment of all the promises in the Old Testament. 

As Christ said, He was sent to “proclaim liberty to captives.” We desperately need this liberty, for we are all ensnared and held captive by something of this world—our jobs, our friend groups, social media, the news, even our phones. We allow these things to take the place of Jesus in our hearts and minds. We allow these things to fill us, and often they fill us with anger, resentment, anxiety, sadness, or more. 

But Jesus is here—and has always been here—to free us from the chains that come with these things. He doesn’t just fill us, as these things do, He brings us joy, peace, love, and harmony.

Nothing of this world can do that. Sure, many can bring happiness, but happiness is fleeting. Happiness doesn’t last. But a joy in Christ lasts. 

So let us take time to reflect on how we spend our days. Where is our focus? Are we spending so much time watching the news, playing on our phones, or scrolling through social media that Christ becomes secondary in our lives? Are we letting the world fill us with an anger that threatens to destroy the joy we have? 

Because of sin, our world is broken. This should—and often does—bring us sadness, but it’s a sadness we must not dwell upon. Instead, we must turn this sadness into an awareness that only loving and God-centered actions can effect the change we need in this world.

So, as we begin this new year, let us allow God to liberate us from our captivity and truly make this a year acceptable to the Lord. 

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Susan Ciancio has a BA in psychology and a BA in sociology from the University of Notre Dame, with an MA in liberal studies from Indiana University. For the past 17 years, she has worked as a professional editor and writer, editing both fiction and nonfiction books, magazine articles, blogs, educational lessons, professional materials and website content. Eleven of those years have been in the pro-life sector. Currently Susan freelances and writes weekly for HLI, edits for American Life League, and is the editor of Celebrate Life Magazine. She also serves as executive editor for the Culture of Life Studies Program-an educational nonprofit program for K-12 students.

Feature Image Credit: Luis Ca, https://www.cathopic.com/photo/2094-un-solo-dios

We Need Christ as Our Shepherd

Today’s Gospel reading tells the story of Jesus preaching to the masses and multiplying the loaves and fish. It begins: “When Jesus saw the vast crowd, His heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd; and He began to teach them many things.” 

How often do we feel like sheep without a shepherd? It’s easy to feel that way when things go wrong in life or when we choose to do our will rather than God’s will. We lose direction and feel like we’re floundering. But we know that God is our shepherd; He is always there for us. We simply need to seek Him.

God is our spiritual Father; He leads us. So we must follow His example and lead our children or the children in our lives. We must act in the spirit of God here on earth and teach our children what He would have taught—just as He did the day He multiplied the loaves and fish.

But talking to kids today can often be extremely difficult. If they’re not playing video games, they’ve got their nose stuck in a phone watching Tik Tok or sending Snapchats. They’re just like the sheep without a shepherd—unless we become a shepherd in Christ’s footsteps.

How do we do that? It’s not always easy, but it’s necessary.

Engaging them is key. Start by having a phone-free dinner or a phone-free game night. Sit together and talk about their day. Ask what’s going on in school. Ask their opinion about current events, about sports, or about anything you think they’ll discuss. Tell them about your day, even if you’ve had problems or difficulties. Allowing them to watch you work through problems is integral and can help them develop techniques to work through their own problems. 

Use Christ as your inspiration. Never forget that He is there for you, and make sure that your kids know that you—and God—are always there for them. Become the shepherd of your family. If you don’t, then social media or their peers will. 

Psalm 23 teaches: “The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack.”

Let us ponder this Psalm and hold its words in our hearts, as we remember God’s infinite love and mercy, and as we extend that love and mercy to our own children.

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Susan Ciancio has a BA in psychology and a BA in sociology from the University of Notre Dame, with an MA in liberal studies from Indiana University. For the past 17 years, she has worked as a professional editor and writer, editing both fiction and nonfiction books, magazine articles, blogs, educational lessons, professional materials and website content. Eleven of those years have been in the pro-life sector. Currently Susan freelances and writes weekly for HLI, edits for American Life League, and is the editor of Celebrate Life Magazine. She also serves as executive editor for the Culture of Life Studies Program-an educational nonprofit program for K-12 students.

Feature Image Credit: José A. Soto De La O, https://www.cathopic.com/photo/26306-jesus-buen-pastor

Radiate Joy

In the First Reading today, John tells us: “Do not love the world or the things of the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. . . . The world and its enticement are passing away. But whoever does the will of God remains forever.”

This is a great reminder, especially as we just finished with a holiday that’s very much focused on things. 

It’s great to receive gifts. They make us feel special, loved, valued, and important. Giving gifts is even better because we can make someone else feel special, loved, valued, and important. 

But there’s so much more to life and to our world. The happiness that things bring is fleeting. The joy we get from a life of faith never goes away. So let us always strive to remember that things come and go, but Christ is always there with us, even when we can’t see or feel Him. 

And there will be times when the things of this world get in the way of us seeing God or feeling His presence. The devil makes sure of that. It doesn’t have to be bad things or times when we feel alone. We can fail to see God during the good times too.

We tend to forget that all we have comes from God. Our families, our friends, our homes, our possessions, our abilities—all those are gifts from a heavenly Father who loves us immensely. Do we thank Him for those gifts? Do we acknowledge His goodness in giving us so many wonderful things? How many of us actually took time this Christmas to slow down, think about Christ’s birth, and wish Him a happy birthday? Or did we get so caught up in our world and in the craziness of the season that we only sort of remembered why we celebrate?

God wants us to remember Him during the good times and the bad. He wants us to wake up with a prayer, fill our days with prayer and good deeds for others, and go to bed thanking Him for another day and asking ourselves if we glorified Him in all we did.

Do we do that? If not, let us start today! It’s never too late to change our priorities. It’s never too late to allow the Word of God to fill our lives and our hearts. 

A new year is coming; let us ring it in with a renewed sense of joy in the Lord. When we do so, we will realize the difference between joy and happiness. And we will understand that, while happiness waxes and wanes with our circumstances, joy in Christ never wanes. It becomes more radiant with each passing day.

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Susan Ciancio has a BA in psychology and a BA in sociology from the University of Notre Dame, with an MA in liberal studies from Indiana University. For the past 17 years, she has worked as a professional editor and writer, editing both fiction and nonfiction books, magazine articles, blogs, educational lessons, professional materials and website content. Eleven of those years have been in the pro-life sector. Currently Susan freelances and writes weekly for HLI, edits for American Life League, and is the editor of Celebrate Life Magazine. She also serves as executive editor for the Culture of Life Studies Program-an educational nonprofit program for K-12 students.

Feature Image Credit: Cathopic, https://www.cathopic.com/photo/5318-dicha-naturaleza

Our Fiat to God

In today’s Gospel, as we celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, we are reminded of Mary’s obedience to God. After the Angel Gabriel appeared to her and told her she would be the mother of God, Mary said: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”

Her fiat—her yes—should be a lesson to us all.

Mary said yes because she trusted in the Lord. Trust in the Lord means that we don’t spend time fretting about the things in life we have no control over. As St. Padre Pio said, “Pray, hope, and don’t worry.” We pray. We tell God what we need and what we want, and we do our best to work toward that goal if it’s something we can do. Then we have hope. 

But hope isn’t just a wish. Hope means that we understand that Christ walks with us through our trials, that He carries us in times of extreme difficulty, and that He will never leave us. And then we put the situation in God’s hands. When we have done all we can do, we trust that His will will be done. Giving up that control and giving up that worry are hard things to do. But, as we say in the Our Father, “Thy will be done.” 

Trust is telling God that we are okay with whatever He decides and that, if it’s the opposite of what we wanted, we understand that He will help us through it. 

Mary understood this. She trusted in God, and she told Him yes even though she was very likely confused. 

Giving our fiat to God and living our daily lives with a trust in Him like Mary’s can be really difficult at times. Sometimes we just don’t understand what God is trying to do with our lives. We feel hurt, lonely, isolated, rejected, or confused, and we begin to lose hope. Maybe we even begin to feel worthless. 

That is when trust is of vital importance. When we trust that God walks those difficult times with us, we become stronger. When we talk to God in prayer, we strengthen our relationship. When we surrender to Him, we feel at peace.

Just as Mary understood that she was a beloved daughter of God, so must we, for we are all beloved sons and daughters of God. And we must have faith that He wants what’s best for us. 

So, today, let us ask for Mary’s help and intercession as we grow in faith. Let us ask her to help us say yes to God—no matter what He asks of us. When we do so, we will discover the unbelievable fruits of this trust.

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Susan Ciancio has a BA in psychology and a BA in sociology from the University of Notre Dame, with an MA in liberal studies from Indiana University. For the past 17 years, she has worked as a professional editor and writer, editing both fiction and nonfiction books, magazine articles, blogs, educational lessons, professional materials and website content. Eleven of those years have been in the pro-life sector. Currently Susan freelances and writes weekly for HLI, edits for American Life League, and is the editor of Celebrate Life Magazine. She also serves as executive editor for the Culture of Life Studies Program-an educational nonprofit program for K-12 students.

Feature Image Credit: GonzaloGY, https://www.cathopic.com/photo/853-estatua-maria-rezando

Praise and Exalt Him

In today’s Psalm, we hear the phrase “praise and exalt Him above all forever.” 

Our lives can get pretty busy. From work, to family, to running a household, to everything we need to do on a daily basis, we often forget to spend time with God and praise and exalt Him. And sometimes, even if we don’t intend to, we put other things above Him. 

What would our lives look like if we followed the words of that Psalm every single day? We would undoubtedly feel more joy. We would feel at peace. Our relationship with Christ would be stronger. And we would grow spiritually.

So how do we implement this Psalm in our lives? 

First, we must pray. Prayer is not something we should do just before bed or at Mass. In order for it to be an integral part of our lives, prayer must be something we do many times throughout the day. We wake up, and we pray. We see something beautiful, and we say a prayer of thanks. We look at our children, our spouse, or a friend, and we thank God for blessing our lives with them. We encounter something irritating or bothersome, and we say a prayer thanking God for being there with us. We suffer, and we offer it up for others, giving praise to God even during the difficult times. When we make praising God a regular part of our day—even for just a few minutes here and there—we will see our attitude change. We will feel happier. And, in turn, we will act happier.

Next, we must continually learn about our faith. We can listen to Catholic podcasts, read books, study Scripture, go to Bible study classes, or watch religious programming. No matter which combination of these we do, our lives will become richer, we will feel closer to God, and our relationship with Him will be strengthened.

In addition, we must surround ourselves with people who exude the joy of Christ. And we must strive to be more like them. Maybe this is a friend, a parent, or a grandparent. Choose someone you want to emulate, and then examine how they act and what they do. Then follow in their footsteps. For me, this is my mom. She has a quiet joy about her—a peace. She proudly stands up for what she believes in, she never stops learning, and she is one of the kindest people I know. Choosing one special person to emulate will make your life richer and will help you focus on praising God more frequently.  

God wants to be close to us. He loves us more than we can ever know. That is why we must put Him first—always and everywhere. 

When we surround ourselves with holy people, when we pray, and when we continually learn about our faith, we can’t help but glorify God in all we do.

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Susan Ciancio has a BA in psychology and a BA in sociology from the University of Notre Dame, with an MA in liberal studies from Indiana University. For the past 17 years, she has worked as a professional editor and writer, editing both fiction and nonfiction books, magazine articles, blogs, educational lessons, professional materials and website content. Eleven of those years have been in the pro-life sector. Currently Susan freelances and writes weekly for HLI, edits for American Life League, and is the editor of Celebrate Life Magazine. She also serves as executive editor for the Culture of Life Studies Program-an educational nonprofit program for K-12 students.

Feature Image Credit: Jornada Mundial de la Juventud, https://www.cathopic.com/photo/13057-rosario-mano

An Examination of Blessings

In today’s gospel, Luke tells the story of Jesus healing ten lepers. All the lepers walk away, and only one returns to thank Him. Jesus says to him, “Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?”

Imagine being given such a gift and not thanking God for it!

We’re sometimes like the other nine lepers, aren’t we? God has given us so many gifts that we can’t even count them. Our gifts come in varying sizes. Some are tiny, some are huge, and some are in between. Yet we often get so bogged down in our daily lives that we go off and do things and forget to “return” to thank God for all He has given us. 

As we approach Thanksgiving and Advent, let us try something new. Just as we do an examination of conscience before confession, let us do a daily examination of blessings. Maybe we do this every morning, during an afternoon break, or before bed. Or better yet, maybe we keep a notepad nearby and jot down ideas throughout the day. But the point is to focus on the many, many blessings God has given us—and then to simply say “thank You, Lord.”

And as we focus on our blessings, let us also examine our difficulties and thank God for them too, for we can ask Him to help us use them for good. If we let them, our sufferings can turn into blessings. We can use them to grow closer to God. We can use them to grow spiritually or emotionally. We can offer up our sufferings for someone else to lessen his suffering. 

When we open ourselves up to goodness, a whole world of possibilities is available.

And when we do so, our attitude starts to change. We are no longer greedy and seeking “wants” but appreciative that God has taken care of our needs. We no longer see trials and tribulations as things that make us angry or bitter, but as ways to strengthen our relationship with God, as we work together—as a team—to create good.

My parents have a painting that hangs in their kitchen that features an older man praying over a dinner that consists of a simple loaf of bread and some soup. The caption reads: “In everything, give thanks.”

Let that be the principle we live by—today and every day.

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Susan Ciancio has a BA in psychology and a BA in sociology from the University of Notre Dame, with an MA in liberal studies from Indiana University. For the past 17 years, she has worked as a professional editor and writer, editing both fiction and nonfiction books, magazine articles, blogs, educational lessons, professional materials and website content. Eleven of those years have been in the pro-life sector. Currently Susan freelances and writes weekly for HLI, edits for American Life League, and is the editor of Celebrate Life Magazine. She also serves as executive editor for the Culture of Life Studies Program-an educational nonprofit program for K-12 students.

Feature Image Credit: Il ragazzo, https://www.cathopic.com/photo/13499-desde-manana-oyes-mi-voz

The Greatest Commandments

Today, in the Gospel of Mark, we read that the scribes asked Jesus which was the first, or most important, of the commandments. To this, Christ responded: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Love of God and love of our neighbors aren’t simply abstract thoughts or feelings. In order to truly love, we must show that love with our actions. That means that we put Christ first all day, every day. We wake up with a prayer on our lips. We ask God for His help when we need it, but we never forget to whisper prayers of joy, of thanks, or of happiness throughout the day as well. 

And part of showing our love for God is loving those we share the world with. We love our neighbor as we want to be loved. Our neighbors don’t just include the people we like. Our neighbors include every person we encounter. They’re the slow cashier at the grocery store. They’re the grumpy coworker in the next cubicle. They’re the irritable person down the street. 

God didn’t instruct us to be kind and love only our friends. That’s easy! He wants us to be kind to everyone. And when we do, we have the beautiful opportunity to change hearts and minds, to inspire, or to help someone feel important. Too often, people express their sadness or loneliness through negative actions. They’re grumpy or irritable because of something inside that really bothers them or because of the way they’ve been treated by others. It can be very difficult for them to break this cycle when people react to their negativity with negativity.

Sometimes, in order to make a change, people need just one person to treat them with kindness.

In To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch taught Scout an important lesson when he said that we never really understand someone until we “climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

Isn’t climbing into someone’s skin—seeing something from his point of view—putting love into action?

When we do this, we show people that they matter. 

As we approach the holidays and Advent, let us remember these two commandments, and let us reflect on the importance of loving others and treating them well. 

We all matter to God. We are all loved by God. And He calls us to help shine His love to others. 

So how will you put love into action today and every day?

Contact the author

Susan Ciancio has a BA in psychology and a BA in sociology from the University of Notre Dame, with an MA in liberal studies from Indiana University. For the past 17 years, she has worked as a professional editor and writer, editing both fiction and nonfiction books, magazine articles, blogs, educational lessons, professional materials and website content. Eleven of those years have been in the pro-life sector. Currently Susan freelances and writes weekly for HLI, edits for American Life League, and is the editor of Celebrate Life Magazine. She also serves as executive editor for the Culture of Life Studies Program-an educational nonprofit program for K-12 students.

Feature Image Credit: Victor Rocha, https://www.cathopic.com/photo/11514-paisaje-atardece-jesus