5 Tips for Spiritual Spring Cleaning

Posted on April 29, 2016 by - Vibrant Parish Toolkit

Spring is a time to start fresh after months of cold weather and short days. And with spring comes the annual ritual of spring-cleaning our homes from top to bottom in order to start anew.

But while we spend so many tireless hours making sure our physical homes are in order, what are we doing about our spiritual homes? Spiritual spring-cleaning is a way for us to deepen our relationship with God, grow our faith, and connect with our church community.

Here are 5 tips to help you put your spiritual house in order this spring:


Step One: Renew Your Mind – Take Out the Trash

RenewMany of us struggle with negative thoughts, sinful behaviors, and animosity towards our fellow man. Cleaning out this area of our lives can be the most difficult, but also the most rewarding.

As negative thoughts flood in, make an effort to replace them with positive thoughts, prayers, or Scripture passages that speak against them.

As we are tempted to be dragged into sin, ask God for the strength to resist and be willing to say “no” to people in your life that are enabling your sin. And if you do sin, do not allow it to overwhelm you or distract you from Jesus. Simply give it over to Him and start over.

And as we feel animosity towards our fellow man, remember Jesus’ call for us to love one another as ourselves. One of the best ways I’ve found to deal with this struggle is to pray for the person right in the moment—if I am continually praying for God to bless someone and to encourage them, I often find that my negative feelings start to fade away over time.

Step Two: Forgive those who have wronged you

ForgiveUnforgiveness and bitterness can completely weigh us down, overwhelm us, and prevent us from living a strong spiritual life. Jesus went so far as to say that if you are at church offering a gift to God and remember someone you need to forgive, that you are to leave the church and be reconciled to them.

Forgiveness is an extremely difficult thing to do, but it is also an extremely Christian thing to do, as we worship a Savior who forgave even those who put him to death, and who forgives us our sins and shortcomings. So keep Christ in your mind and let go because harboring that bitterness is only hurting you.

Pray for the person who has wronged you. Forgive them directly in person or over the phone if it safe to do so, remembering that you are releasing yourself and connecting to God by doing as He would do.


Step Three: Dust off your Bible

BibleThe Gospel of John tells us that Jesus is the Word of God, so what better place to encounter Him than in the pages of Scripture?

If you don’t regularly read your Bible, don’t allow guilt to stand in the way of getting started. Set small goals (like reading through the Gospel of John) and make new goals as you go along. Even if you can only spend a few minutes a day reading, God can redeem that time and use it to grow your faith

If you do read your Bible regularly already, set a goal to read a few more minutes a day or to read through the entire New Testament by the end of summer. Be intentional about what you read and always seek out new insights as God speaks to you through the Word.


Step Four: Connect with the Mass

MassThe Mass is the center of all things, bringing the love and sacrifice of Jesus Christ into the present moment, connecting us with the eternal every single week. Many of us miss out on the beauty and holiness of the Mass and the depper meaning behind the structure, prayers, rituals, and readings.

Make an effort this spring to connect with the beauties of the Mass, whether through participating in an RCIA class, through books and resources, or by sitting down with a priest or deacon and ask them to share.

This is one step that I promise will help you have an entirely new appreciation for the Mass and will open your spiritual eyes to how God works through every moment.


Step Five: Let prayer cleanse you

PrayerThe idea that we can come before the throne of God in prayer is beyond incredible. Establishing a healthy prayer life can transform our lives and keep us spiritually fresh throughout the year.

One of the keys to incorporating prayer into your daily life is to start small, setting aside a few minutes each day where you can be alone with God. Over time you can then build on that foundation.

Prayer can also be done anywhere—during your morning commute, with family and friends, while taking walks, etc. Another great place to pray is right in the house of God, so consider arriving for Mass a few minutes early each week and spending those moments in communion with God.

The Spirit that Leads to Truth

Posted on April 26, 2016 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, May 1, 2016, 6th Sunday of Easter

Consecration during an old-fashioned Catholic Mass in a 17th-century church.

During my years in the seminary, the faculty warned us against cherishing “a myopic nostalgia for a church you did not know.” To a seminarian in the 80s, “a church we did not know” referred to the church before the Second Vatican Council. For young men who grew up in the turbulence of the late 60s and early 70s with its liturgical and catechetical experimentation, the pre-conciliar church seemed like a simpler, more certain time. Every parish had a pastor, two curates, a convent, and a school. The surrounding culture supported church attendance and teaching. When conflict arose, it could always be settled by reference to the Summa. As far as seminary formation was concerned, it seemed that candidates to the priesthood needed only to learn Latin and familiarize themselves with the manuals to master each theological discipline. In a society and church that was changing, it could be tempting for us to fantasize about turning the clock back to life before priests exchanged their cassocks for ponchos and their tonsures for long sideburns.

It did not take me long to realize that it is not only seminarians who longed for a return to the Church’s “golden age.” Some Catholics pine for the centuries before the Protestant Reformation when the Church appeared to control all aspects of civic life. Other Christians desire to go back even further still to Jesus and the apostles before, in their minds, the influence of Greek culture obfuscated the simple Gospel message. It may be a common temptation for all of us to romanticize a “church we did not know” when Christianity seemed purer.

Of course, we know that no era of Christianity was free from conflict and division. Even in those first years after Pentecost when St. Luke boasts of a community in which “believers were of one heart and one mind keeping all things in common” (Acts 4:32), division soon flared up between Hebrew and Greek widows (Acts 6:1). In this Sunday’s first reading, we learn about the Church’s first heresy—that believers needed to be circumcised and to follow the law of Moses to attain salvation. These believers, commonly known as the Judaizers, probably looked back with nostalgia at the security and clarity of life under the law. Whatever the case, they wielded great influence even over Saint Peter who stopped eating with Gentiles to appease them, earning a stern rebuke from St. Paul (Gal 2:11-14). The early church leaders, rather than allowing the divisions to fester, gathered together in Jerusalem to make plain the teaching of salvation in Jesus Christ apart from the law. At the same time, they responded pastorally, making allowances for the dietary scruples of Jewish Christians. In such a way, they were able to hold fast to their teaching while taking into account the consciences of believers.

In this era of Christianity, we find ourselves in a similar circumstance as the apostles—seeking to proclaim the truth handed on to us by Jesus to a society in constant flux. In particular, we are experiencing this conflict in terms of the sanctity of marriage. How do we welcome those whose relationships and family circumstances fall short of the Gospel ideal? How do we bring healing into their relationships? How do we let them know that no matter what circumstances they find themselves in they can turn to us for help and not expect judgment or scolding? And how do we do all this without compromising Jesus’ teaching on the sanctity of marriage?

This Sunday’s first reading gives us some helpful clues. First of all, we get together and talk as the apostles did. This was Pope Francis’ hope for the Extraordinary Synod on the Family, which he called in 2014. As believers we have to be willing to dialogue with those who believe differently than we do or who find themselves in relationships that differ from the Church’s norms. Even more important than having a ready defense for Jesus’ teaching, we must have ears quick to listen to their anger, frustration, and hurt. When it becomes clear that we really care for them, then they may be open to listening to us.

Along with being willing to listen, we also must be willing to learn. Those who don’t go to church have much to teach us about how our society views marriage, family life, and relationships. Those insights can help us to understand our own convictions and to articulate them more convincingly. It can also help us to deal more pastorally with those who seek our help and to find creative ways to meet their spiritual needs.

Finally, we can trust that out of the conflict, the Holy Spirit will lead the Church to creative solutions, just as that first conflict between the Hebrew and Greek widows gave rise to the order of deacons. Before getting frustrated or falling back on nostalgia, suppose we first thank God for all the healing and wonders he will bring out of the present conflicts? Jesus promised in this Sunday’s Gospel, “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit … will teach you everything” (Jn 14:26). So we can trust that, in the end, we will have an even deeper grasp of the mysteries we confess and even more gentle and compassionate ways of inviting our culture to live up to them.

For us living through the upheaval and confusion of the Church in the early twenty-first century, it may be hard to believe that future Christians will look back at us with nostalgia. However, if we yield to the Holy Spirit and seek his peace rather than the peace the world gives, which is the fruit of indifference, appeasement, and surrender, we can reach pastoral solutions to our present day crises that will make our ancestors proud and perhaps even those who come after us envious. There has been no golden age of the church nor will there be until God brings the heavenly Jerusalem described in this Sunday’s second reading to fulfillment.

Douglas Sousa, STL


Heavenly Father
You have created each of us for this present day and time.
In your providence you have given us all we need
to bring your good news to the people of our generation.
May we look only to you for guidance
and not to our nostalgic notions of the past.
May we each pick up our cross and follow your Son,
who alone is the world’s salvation,
until that day when we hope to be gathered
with people of every race and tongue
in the heavenly Jerusalem.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.

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Video Reflection: Lost No More

Posted on April 25, 2016 by - Everyday Stewardship

I am traveling this week and have limited access to the Internet, so for the next 3 days I will be sharing with you videos that might be of use to you in your own personal reflection or in a parish/diocesan context. Today’s video is an Everyday Stewardship reflection that debuted last week on the International Catholic Stewardship Council website. Hopefully, God willing, it will be the first is several more short videos to come.

May you never find yourself lost, but if you someday find yourself going nowhere, remember God is always around the corner at somewhere.


The Gift of Beauty

Posted on April 22, 2016 by - Everyday Stewardship

Brother Mickey- WebI met Brother Mickey McGrath, OSFS, when I was in college. He was my art history teacher. He was pretty young then, so he was also strangely enough in my circle of friends.

It was great having him as a teacher, even if I wasn’t the best art history student. However, what I did learn from him was less about history and more about the power of creativity.

Brother Mickey doesn’t teach in a college setting anymore, but he does paint and draw much like we eat and drink: that is, constantly. He leads retreats dealing with aspects of art and creativity and is a speaker in heavy demand. But what strikes me the most about his life now is where he lives: Camden, New Jersey.

He lives in an area known for crime and poverty, in the most violent city in New Jersey. He creates beauty each day in an area that many find only ugliness. In the midst of tragedy and hate, he gives a witness of beauty and love.

It is easy to bring more beauty into that which is already beautiful. It is the using of God’s gifts and the decision to co-create with God in the face of the distortion and perversion of life that is more difficult. It is allowing God to use you to make things new.

What gifts have been given to you so that God can work through you to make all things new? Have you only used those gifts in a manner that was easy and cost very little of you? How wonderful is it that God should choose you to give such gifts! Don’t just show your gifts to those who already love you, but show them to those who need to see them the most. Through you and your gifts, those in need will see that indeed, God‘s dwelling is with the human race.

“Be who you are and be that well.”  – St. Francis de Sales

To see Brother Mickey’s artwork and event schedule, click here.

As Jesus Loved

Posted on April 18, 2016 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, April 24, 2016, 5th Sunday of Easter

Painting of Jesus paired with John 13:31a.

For those old enough to remember, there is a popular Beatles song released in 1967 called “All You Need Is Love.” The song quickly became popular and still holds some measure of popularity even today. The point of the song is as clear as its title suggests, all you need is love. The message is attractive and is often pointed to by many as an easy way to make the complicated, simple. If everyone would just love one another, what a different world this would be. Even those seeking a more Christian spiritual approach can add that “God is love” and that Jesus’ great commandment is focused around love of God, neighbor, and self. So, how wrong can we go in adopting this type of philosophy? It is really that straightforward; or, is it?

John’s Gospel this weekend even appears to reinforce the simplicity of this argument by alluding to Jesus’ new commandment. St. John tells us: “I [Jesus] give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” There you have it. John Lennon, St. John, the early Christian community, and Jesus all had the same idea in mind: all you need is love. If that is all that is really required, then why bother with the often complicated and weakly human institution of the church, sacraments, prayer, Sunday worship, and other practices?

If we carefully read what St. John wrote, there is a brief but often overlooked piece of Jesus’ teaching that turns the tables a bit. Jesus tells his disciples, “As I have loved you, so you should also love one another” [emphasis added]. Jesus points us and his followers to a particular type of love. We are called to love as Jesus loved. In theory and practice this is far different than many of our ways of “loving.” At its core, Jesus’ love is rooted in his relationship with his Father. Jesus’ love mirrors the love that the Father has for his children, which overflows with compassion and mercy. To love as Jesus loves means that I must work at establishing for myself the same type of relationship Jesus had with his Father. In fact, through baptism we all share in that very same relationship. I must also be willing to allow myself to be transformed into the very same divine image that consumed Jesus’ being. Therefore, Christian love is not just love in all of its forms. It is a particular type of agape love that abandons itself of self-interest and concern and focuses on the needs of the other. This higher love is not found every day and it is not easy to do. It is loving myself and others as God loves.

The world can distract us and color how we love. Sometimes our attempts at loving are really nothing more than backdoor attempts to legitimize our need to placate ourselves. In short, I love you not purely for your own benefit but for some benefit that can come back to me. While seemingly justifiable on the surface and not immediately harmful, it is not loving as Jesus loves. It is easy to get distracted from this type of love and become discouraged. The early Christians found this out as well. Our reading from the Acts of the Apostles shows Paul and Barnabas had to offer support to the disciples who were finding the road of true love difficult to tread. “They strengthened the spirits of the disciples and exhorted them to persevere in the faith, saying, ‘It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.’” In short, we need the support of the Christian community to do the work of the Gospel, to love as Jesus loves us. We cannot accomplish this work on our own. Inevitably, we will be blinded by our own concerns, needs, and biases and our ability to love as Jesus loves will be compromised.

In order to develop the same kind of relationship Jesus had with his Father that allows us to love as he loves, we need our Christian community. We need our leaders, the sacraments, and the greater institution of the Church (however imperfect), prayer, Sunday worship, and a deep spiritual life. We cannot do this on our own! The type of love required carries a divine power and is guided by Someone much greater than ourselves! This is why it is more imperative today than in days past to have local and global leaders who are not just administrators of the business of the Church and guardians of the faith and orthodoxy but also examples of what it means to love as Jesus loves. It is no wonder that Pope Francis insists that leaders leave their chanceries and rectories and go out and get dirty. We cannot expect people to come to us to receive the Gospel; the Gospel must be brought to them! We need to see in our leaders and indeed in the entire Christian community people who are striving to model Jesus’ relationship with the Father and seeking to be transformed into the very image of God. After all, is not the Eucharist meant to transform us into what we consume (St. Augustine, Confessions, VII, 10, 18)?

I believe that a profound understanding and embrace of this truth gave Pope Francis the impetus to have a frank conversation with Andrea Tornielli who penned the wonderful book, The Name of God Is Mercy, and then for Pope Francis to produce his latest apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love).

To love as Jesus loves requires much more than what popular songs and notions, romantic feelings or even common humanitarian bonds with our brothers and sisters suggest. It is a radical and true self-emptying that lives by a different and sometimes illusive logic than what makes worldly sense. It permeates not only how we treat each other in our daily affairs but how we respond to issues such as euthanasia, abortion, assisted suicide, immigration, and family life. In short, it motivates us beyond what we may want to do to what we are called to do. Following a call requires sacrifice.

Prayer and reflection are powerful tools that can help us love as Jesus loves. While our own needs and desires, concerns and anxieties certainly have a place in our approach to God, contemplating God for the sake of God and offering praise places our focus on him, lifts us from distractions, and helps us love as Jesus loves. Our psalm says it so beautifully. “The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness. The LORD is good to all and compassionate toward all his works… Your kingdom is a kingdom for all ages, and your dominion endures through all generations.”

We must remember that God not only created all that we see but recreates it as well. All is destined to one day be in Christ. The Book of Revelation reminds us: “‘He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away.’ The One who sat on the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’” Loving as Jesus loves positions us to be ministers or helpers in God’s reconciliation or recreation of the world. It calls us and those who witness what we do to see that something greater is yet to come, that the wisdom of the world is not rooted in God.

We need each other and we need the Gospel if we are going to love well. Even more, we need to share in that same relationship between Jesus and his Father and draw from that intimate wellspring of love and mercy. “I will praise your name forever, my king and my God” are words that can be found on our lips today and remain there for all eternity.

Rev. Mark S. Suslenko


The LORD is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in mercy.
The LORD is good to all,
compassionate toward all your works.
All your works give you thanks, LORD
and your faithful bless you.
They speak of the glory of your reign
and tell of your mighty works,
Making known to the sons of men your mighty acts,
the majestic glory of your rule.
Your reign is a reign for all ages,
your dominion for all generations.
The LORD is trustworthy in all his words,
and loving in all his works.

Psalm 145:8-13. Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.


LITURGICAL NOTE—Vigil of the Ascension
The revised Roman Missal contains a vigil Mass for the Ascension that can be used for evening Masses preceding the feast. This applies to both Wednesday, May 4 (for dioceses in which the Ascension is observed on Thursday as a holy day of obligation), and to Saturday, May 7 (most dioceses in the United States).

Pope Francis’ message for the 50th World Day of Communications—“Communication and Mercy: A Fruitful Encounter”—was released on January 24, the memorial of St. Francis of Sales, patron saint of communicators. The full text of the message can be viewed at: https://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/messages/communications/documents/papa-francesco_20160124_messaggio-comunicazioni-sociali.html.

The annual ICSC Atlanta Province Regional Stewardship Conference will be held on Saturday, April 30, 2016 at the Hilton Charlotte University Place in Charlotte, NC. For more information and to register, visit http://sestewardship.weconnect.com.

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Companions on the Journey

Posted on April 18, 2016 by - Everyday Stewardship

Catholic SaintsThere are many saints that would make excellent role models and patron saints for someone trying to live the stewardship way of life. There are also great examples of stewardship living among those not yet recognized by the Church as “saints.”

There are always those who say that it is so difficult to successfully lead a stewardship way of life, yet there are really so many good examples of people who have done just that.


Use Color to Organize Content & Engage More Readers

Posted on April 13, 2016 by - Vibrant Parish Toolkit

Screen Shot 2016-04-13 at 3.05.33 PM

Meet St. Bernard Parish in Wauwatosa, WI. Over the last year we worked with its business manager to rebrand the parish, creating a new logo,website, and Facebook banner. So now it is time to redesign the bulletin. So now it is time to redesign the bulletin.

Chris Meyer became the business manager at St. Bernard’s just a year ago. Having just moved to Wisconsin from Oregon in the same position, she was eager to make some changes in order to help reinvigorate the parish. After creating new brand identity, she set out to update all the parish communications. When we got to the bulletin she was determined to upgrade it to full color throughout the publication. St. Bernard’s is a small parish with limited resources but she felt strongly that the small expense to add color would help achieve her goals.

  • Applied new graphic banner inspired by a statue of St. Bernard in front of the parish.
  • Used newly created color palette.
  • Used cover art from Art & Media Portal’s new Vibrant Series.

Bright colors were used to organize content and make it easier for readers to find their info quickly. The bright reds, blue, greens, and yellows in the new color palette gave us an excellent range of color to work with. The new content structure allowed us to break up a lot of information into bite-sized chunks. Now, formerly long strings of information are found easily in their respective sections and set apart within the page.

  • Carries the new parish brandinginside to reinforce message.
  • Strong graphic treatment for calendar.
  • Organizes dates and helps parishes know where to find weekly events.
    • Inspirational graphics add reader appeal as well as integrate thoughtful messages into the bulletin. (Search “Inspirational” in Art & Media Portal to find inspirational quotes for all your communications.)
      • Formerly long strings of information are found easily and set apart on the page.
      • Bright colors were used to organize content and make it easier for readers to find their info quickly.
      • Flexibility was kept a priority, knowing a variety of information comes in all shapes, sizes, and priorities, and may change from week to week.
      • Original Bulletin

        Without the use of color, it was difficult for the parish to organize and highlight the week’s most important content.

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My Sheep Hear My Voice

Posted on April 13, 2016 by - Everyday Stewardship

When I was little I would always cling to the same routine each night before going to bed. I would say to my parents, “Good night.” They would respond, “Good night.” I then would say, “See you tomorrow, okay?” I would await their response of “see you tomorrow,” and if they did not respond, I would say it again louder, “See you tomorrow, okay?”

I somehow felt that if they did not assure me that I would see them tomorrow, it would possibly not happen. What would happen to me if I awoke and no one was there? It seems silly now, but as a small boy it was very serious.


Which Child Are You?

Posted on April 12, 2016 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, April 17, 2016, 4th Sunday of Easter

Family celebration.

Which child are you? It is that time of the year: Easter comes; the weather in the Northern Hemisphere begins to warm; school children anticipate summer vacation; families gather. Reunions and graduations, vacations and weddings—whatever the occasion, families and friends anticipate time together for months as they orchestrate arrivals, coordinate accommodations, and plan meals with one another. Family recipes are passed on to new generations; as new members join the family, they bring their traditions and tastes with them. Children bring hope, even as older members experience physical decline.

With the gatherings, come the stories. Grandchildren may roll their eyes as they hear the story of their grandparents’ meeting or the arrival of the first immigrant ancestors. A few children sneak away when the storytelling begins, finding the retelling of old stories tedious and boring. Yet most listen, and in time, they share the stories with their children, passing on the shared history as though the stories were their own. Truly, the stories are theirs, like the flesh and blood that they share, from generation to generation. In the best of times, the gathering draws members closer to one another, extending their bond beyond time and the physical limitation of earthly life through the power of memory and shared story. Occasionally, a difficult circumstance, disagreement, or misunderstanding separates family members from one another. Even though the stories are painful, they also have the potential to bring healing, as members share their memories and the hope of reconciliation.

While every celebration of the Eucharist includes a telling of the story of God’s family, this is true in a particular way during the Easter season. We hear the stories of the early Christian communities and how the Gospel was shared from town to town, in synagogues and among the Gentiles. We learn how some people heard and believed, while others refused to do so. They turned a deaf ear to the story and rejected the messengers, sometimes “with violent abuse,” as we hear in the Acts of the Apostles.

At times, we are like the children who patiently listen, even if we don’t fully comprehend what we are told. It is easy to hear the story of the early Christian communities and think to ourselves, “If I heard Peter or Paul speak, I would believe. I would not be one who refused to listen to the message of the risen Christ!” Yet, do we really hear the message and take it to heart, as though we are hearing the story of our family? Because that is what happens each time we celebrate the Liturgy of the Word—we hear the story of our family of faith, including times of division and disagreement as well as moments of joy, peace, and mercy.

Jesus tells us that the sheep hear his voice and follow him, the Good Shepherd. Again, we hear this Gospel story and nod in assent. Surely, we think, we want to be the sheep that hears and follows. But do we hear the voice of the Lord and follow? Do we take our relationship with Jesus and our faith, lived out as Catholic Christians, to heart in such a way that we act as Christ’s body in our daily interactions with others? This week, Pope Francis gave the Church his pastoral exhortation on the family, Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love). In it, he says, “All family life is a ‘shepherding’ in mercy. Each of us, by our love and care, leaves a mark on the life of others” (322). Not only, then, are we to be shepherded by Jesus, the Good Shepherd, we are called to be good shepherds ourselves, in our families, among friends, in our faith community. Do we live this way? Do we listen, learn, and follow as faith-filled children of God, or do we turn a deaf ear, like the child at the family gathering who sneaks away? Which child are you?

Leisa Anslinger


Good Shepherd, Risen Lord,
you call us to listen to your voice
and to follow you.
Help us to do this with open hearts,
to grow in your love and mercy
and to share that love and mercy.
In this Easter season, form us as people of joy,
certain that your love conquers death.
For you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit.
Now and forever. Amen.

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