Your word is a lamp for my feet,
a light for my path.
I make a solemn vow
to observe your righteous judgments.
I am very much afflicted, LORD;
give me life in accord with your word.
Psalm 119: 105-107
Is Sister Phyllis, right? Is the chaos of our age a privileged place to witness the action of the Spirit? To put her theory to the test, we invited seven JUST Words readers to share their wisdom for living balanced, meaningful, spiritual lives.
Each shares a different, simple, humble path that might help you, too, as you seek a more balanced and spiritually grounded life.
If you are you challenged to maintain your equilibrium and find yourself floundering, you could do worse than draw on these practices as inspiration for your own spiritual journey.
Our gratitude to these wise persons, who say, in so many words: Pause. Do what you can do. Put your day in God’s hands. Serve others. Pay attention. Be consistent with the small things. Count on family. See all people as Jesus. Trust Jesus’ promises. May their wisdom be light for your own path.
Pause, and do what you can do: The wisdom of Matt Pryer
By Dave Sanders
Matt Pryer is wise beyond his 36 years. Since December 2021 he has worked on the maintenance team at Sacred Heart Convent, arriving there already in sync with many of the values the sisters live by. A mechanic and metal artist who values work, patience, the beauty of art and nature, Matt sums up his overriding approach to just about everything with five words: “Do what you can do.”
He credits two older, recently deceased men—his friend Fred, and Dave, his first boss—with helping him develop his skills and teaching him to approach work and life with a calm patience. They also introduced him to welding, which sparked his creative side and led him to become a builder of off-road vehicles and a creator of metal art.
Matt’s sanctuary is a shop near Riverton, Ill., where he creates his art. When Matt is there he does not approach his creations as a job. Rather, he finds them a catalyst for the all-important pause that allows him to look inward and unleash feeling and mood. There are no deadlines, he says, and creating art brings balance to his life.
Matt also journals to clear his mind which keeps him from “chewing the same bite over and over,” he says. His wife Angela journals too, and they encourage each other to use this tool to stay focused and positive.
Dave is a Dominican Associate since 2019 and serves on the JUST Words editorial board.
“Serving God Gives Me Joy”
By Sister Mila Díaz Solano
Norma Cardenas is a Springfield Dominican Associate and is a maintenance worker at a public school in Buffalo, Ill.
This is what Norma said when asked what helps her live with hope in the midst of the chaos and difficulties that surrounds us.
“I love the kids. Serving God gives me joy. I do everything for the glory of God. My job is a blessing. So is my volunteer ministry through my parish community with families from Guatemala. Prayer helps me to live with hope at work and in my parish ministry.
“I do not plan my day, but commend it to God. Every day Jesus gives me an opportunity to be a better daughter of God. Every new day I say to God ‘Thank you for this new day. Today I’m going to work. But, if you have something else for me, I will do it with all my love. If you also need me somewhere else, I’ll go there.’ I pray to the Virgin Mary on the way to school. I pray the Angelus in the morning over the phone with my mom, and at noon I pray the Angelus again with my husband, when possible.
“In difficult times, when I feel that my faith is weakening, looking at the crucified—what he lived and suffered, what he did for us—this changes my perspective. I find myself so small before all the blessings that I receive. I feel He is alive! That allows me to pray for all the people who need prayers.”
“Servir a Dios me da alegría”
Norma Cardenas es asociada de las Hermanas Dominicas de Springfield desde hace 3 años. Ella trabaja en la limpieza en una escuela pública en Buffalo, Ill.
Al preguntarle qué es lo que le ayuda a vivir con esperanza en medio del caos y las dificultades que nos circunda, Norma respondió.
“Yo amo a los niños. Llevo trabajando 18 años en la escuela. Servir a Dios me da alegría y todo lo hago para gloria de Dios. Mi trabajo es una bendición. Tengo también contacto con otros niños pues como miembro de la parroquia apoyo a varias familias de Guatemala. La oración es lo que a mí me ayuda a vivir con esperanza, tanto en mi trabajo como en mi ministerio.
Yo no planeo mi día. Más bien, encomiendo mi día a Dios. Jesús me regala cada día la oportunidad para ser mejor hija de Dios. Cada nuevo día le digo a Dios ‘Gracias por este nuevo día. Hoy voy a trabajar. Pero si me muestras qué otra cosa tienes para mí, lo haré con todo mi amor. Si me necesitas además en otro lugar, allí iré’. Yo rezo en camino a la escuela a la Virgen María, rezo el ángelus por la mañana a través del teléfono con mi mamá y al mediodía rezo otra vez el ángelus con mi esposo, cuando es posible.
Mirar al crucificado, lo que vivió y sufrió, lo que hizo por nosotros tiende a cambiar mi perspectiva en momentos difíciles y cuando siento que mi fe se debilita. Me siento tan pequeña ante todas las bendiciones que yo recibo. ¡Lo siento vivo! Eso me permite rezar por todas las personas que necesitan oraciones.”
Sister Mila Díaz Solano is a member of the Dominican Sisters leadership team.
Turning it Over to God makes Life Fun
By Sister Beth Murphy and Mike Goldasich
When Kevin Breheny was 34 years old, a lunch conversation with an agnostic client led him to question his faith. After a year without answers from God he “balled God out” while on retreat. “I said ‘God, If I’m not going to get any help then I’m giving up’,” he recalls. “Maybe it’s all just a bunch of nonsense.”
Until it suddenly wasn’t.
That bitter cold day, after spending his prayer time yelling at God, he returned to his senses and turned again to prayer. “I’m sorry,” he said to God.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with me. Who am I to say that to you? If that is the way you want it to be then it’s the way you are going to have it, I apologize. I don’t know what’s gotten in to me.”
A series of “coincidences” later that day convinced Kevin of God’s presence and care, and brought home to him the reality of the Holy Spirit in the lives of those attentive to that Presence. The “God moments” of that day continue to fuel his faith. Every day since, Kevin says, he prays asking God, “What do you want me to do?” Then he just tries to pay attention. ‘‘It’s so much fun,” he insists. “After that (retreat experience) I didn’t have to figure out my life. I turned it over, gradually, to God.”
Kevin Breheny, husband of Sue, lifelong Catholic, and a parishioner at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, Decatur, Ill., is past president of First Mid Insurance Group.
Be Consistent in Small Things: A Key to a Grounded Life
By Betsy Vogt
When I was asked to write about my faith and prayer life within the everyday chaos of my life I thought, well, I have the chaos part down, but the faith and prayer? As I looked around at my family of six, though, I realized it didn’t have to be grand or spectacular. Being consistent in the small things, especially in the chaos, is what helps to have a faith-centered life.
God is in the small things for me: in prayers stuck to mirrors; mealtime and bed-time prayers; Christian radio, the rosary on my phone, and—at the end of the day—as I breathe deeply in “Jesus,” and out “I trust in you.” I keep a few rote prayers ready for when I need something and nothing comes to mind. The Memorare always help me recenter amidst the chaos.
I was taught as a child to recite a Hail Mary when I heard sirens. This is something I have taught my four boys. The lives of the saints help me in my faith journey as I have people to relate to in times of despair.
The biggest thing I have come to learn about staying grounded in the chaos is the necessity of community, whether that is through the Dominican Associates, helping with RCIA, or other families with whom I can share my faith. I’ve learned the importance of having others to lean on. Jesus, I trust in you.
Betsy has been a Dominican associate since 2020. She lives in Sherman with her husband and four boys.
Faith Comes from Family Tradition
By Jean Ann Miller
Sister Edwina Finnegan credits her family for keeping her grounded in faith.
“We would say the Rosary every day around the dinner table and I knew I wanted to be a sister while getting my Catholic K-12 education,” said Sister Edwina.
Since professing her vows in 1948 she has taught elementary education in 18 different locations and has enjoyed the experience that each one offered.
“Religious life is rich with adventure and relationships. One year I had 72 students in a second-grade classroom and I had no problems with the students or their parents,” she said reflecting on the past.
“One year I had five different Michael’s in my classroom, so I put each one of them in different rows,” she chuckled.
This year she celebrated her 75th profession anniversary and was proud of the support she received from her family.
“There were 42 relatives here; 19 of them were from 10 different states. It is something I will cherish,” she continued.
She says the key to her 95-year-old life is a daily regiment of exercises but has some concerns about the future while aging gracefully.
“I can see, and hear, and prayer comes easily because I have my mind. We have everything here from books, daily Mass and the companionship of other sisters,” she said. “We are truly blessed.”
Jean Ann is the Communication/Advancement Specialist for the Dominican Sisters.
Hold on to Wisdom: Josh Becker’s Toolbox
By Cynthia Callan
Josh Becker, a Springfield Dominican associate and parishioner at St. Agnes, Springfield, Ill., says he stays grounded in contemplation in his daily life seeing all people as Jesus. This reminds him daily of his faith and helps him walk intentionally with the people he serves as a licensed clinical social worker and therapist.
Today Josh says his middle-school self was always searching for truth. He questioned religion, and the answers he was receiving contradicted the spiritual answers he was seeking. A shift in his thinking occurred in high school when challenged by his teacher, Sister Theodora Stremlau, OP. Then, in 1989, Josh attended a healing service at the Marian shrine in Medjugorje which he said opened his eyes to see what God wanted, and not what he wanted.
After his father died in 2015, Josh experienced another shift, which helped him to realize what is important in life, the importance of meaningful conversation, and the necessity of giving his clients the validation they need to help them move forward.
Josh also says he has learned to hold on to wisdom from experiences which make an impact in his life. He appreciates being in a faith community that feeds him, being able to look at past challenging experiences, and being attentive to those times which have helped life fall into place, including meeting his wife. He believes there are no coincidences and “anytime is a good time for prayer.”
Though he said he did not really have a “toolbox” of spiritual practices to recommend to others, he clearly has one for himself!
Cynthia has been a Dominican associate since 2005. She lives in Springfield with her husband Bill.
“Help me to know you in other people’s faces”
By Sister Denise Glazik
Claudia Arevalo is one of the pillars of St. Malachy Parish in Rantoul. She helps care for the altar and altar linens, and on Friday’s brings Holy Communion to the elderly of the parish unable to leave their homes. “Something I will not give up for money or any reason,” she says about this volunteer parish ministry.
But you wouldn’t have been able to guess this would be the trajectory of her life by looking at her ori
gins as a child in Mexico. “Like a lot of people, I’ve had difficult times,” she explains. “My mom wasn’t one to go to church.” Claudia only made it to Mass regularly during the summers she spent with her grandparents, whom she calls the foundation of her faith.
Her adult faith is rooted in the experience of Cursillo, a formative retreat for adults she and her husband Ivan both value. Claudia’s secret to staying grounded in chaos is very simple and yet profound. She prays unfailingly for 15 minutes every morning and every evening. She serves God by serving the people she encounters every day and feels God present in and through them, and, she says, she believes in His promise. “That is what wakes me up every morning. The promise that I will be with Him one day. Being able to serve Him who feels me entirely makes me happy. I ask him ‘Hold me tight don’t let me escape, help me to be more like you. Help me to know you in other peoples’ faces.’”
Sister Denise is the Vocation Director for the Dominican Sisters.