The following letter originally was sent last January to members of Friends of Food for the Journey, which you can learn more about here.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

It’s a new year! When we think of new, we usually apply that word to a new dress, suit, shoes, new car, phone, furniture, house, office, church . . . (add your own examples). But when Scripture uses the word new, it has an infinitely deeper meaning. New means “never having been seen before.” God makes all things new. He doesn’t just spruce something up or modify or create a new model of some sort. When God creates, the fruit of that creation is something never having been seen before.

So listen to these words in Revelation 21, as written by St. John:

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband; and I heard a great voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold the dwelling of God is with men.  He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning or crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’

And He who sat upon the throne said, ‘Behold I make all things new.’ Also He said, ‘Write this for these words are trustworthy and true.’ And He said to me, ‘It is done. I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water without price from the fountain of the water of life. He who conquers shall have this heritage and I will be his God and He shall be my son.'”

Remember, we are quoting here the living word of God! This Word has power to give you new vision, understanding, courage, and hope for your own life and those of your loved ones. What God has prepared for us, even our deepest longings cannot conceive—the life, joy, and eternal happiness God has prepared for those who love Him. God wants eternal union with His sons and daughters; that is God’s desire for you—that you live forever with Him! Ask God to help you grasp the reality!

When what I wrote above becomes a conscious framework not only for your daily activities, but also for your deeper goals in life—and when you consciously begin to train your mind and heart to always see the wider picture—you will begin to be rooted in the truth. As Scripture tells us, the truth sets you free—free not to listen to the lies that our culture tells us are the “truth.”

The devil is the father of lies, and he tries to entice you away from the One who is the Truth. His lies may tell you that you are a loser, ugly, a failure, not loveable, dumb, etc.—add whatever phrases that go around in your own mind. The reality is that you are God’s beloved son, beloved daughter.

Each of us is created with different physical features, different strengths, weaknesses, and different gifts—each of us is created to show forth a particular aspect of the beauty and wisdom, the love and the mercy that is God. We are truly God’s children and each of us is made in His image and likeness. How does God wish to reveal Himself through you?

Start by thinking of one strength, quality, or gift you have, and then simply ask God to show you how He wants to reveal Himself through the gift or quality He has given you. Every day in your own personal time of prayer, ask God to show you, and then wait patiently. God will show you. Whether you are fifteen, thirty, sixty, or ninety, all of us at different times in life need to go “back” and ask Him to show us how He wants to use us at this time for the sake of our own salvation and that of others.

I want to share a story I heard some years ago—a true one: A young man, about sixteen, had a very serious handicap. He could not articulate his thoughts without great struggle on any subject. You can imagine his frustration and humiliation. He was hired at a local grocery store as a bagger. The store was in trouble financially, but they hired him. He was able to do the job he was given, but one night he said to his dad that everyone seemed to be discouraged at the store. He wanted to be able to do something to help, but he did not know what it could be. A few days earlier, he had been trying to put quotes he liked on paper with some simple design work. His father suggested that those kind of notes were uplifting, and the young man thought that maybe he could share them.

For the next week or so, as he bagged groceries, the young man dropped one of the quote cards in each bag, never saying a word about it. Several weeks later, the manager was surprised to see more people than usual coming into his store. He was even more surprised to see that that young bagger’s line was the longest. Seeking to help, he tried to move people to other lines, so they could be more quickly served. When no one moved, the manager asked why, and they showed him some of the cards that they had received in their bags of groceries. “Coming in to this store,” some said, “has brought such a bright spot into my day.” “I come as often as I can,” said another, “just to get one of his cards.”

That young man was using his life, in spite of his handicap, to bring life to people. Incidentally, he also helped the financial situation of the grocery store.

God has a call and a purpose for your life—each of you—but the busyness of life can sometimes blot that reality out of your consciousness. That is where Scripture—read daily and prayed about—can bring clarity to your own mind and heart about who you really are, who God created you to be, and how you can put the gifts He gives you to work for the sake of others.

Think about these things I have written. Ask yourself how your life fits (or doesn’t fit) into this framework. Ponder, and pray, but don’t be discouraged. God created you for a purpose, and He will show you how to live out that purpose. So let’s begin:

For the month of January, the first thing we need to do is to make some decisions:

  1. Take time daily to ponder the passage I gave you: Revelation 21.  Read the chapter; understand the meaning of the word NEW in Scripture.
  2. Pay attention to Hebrews 4:11-16: “Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, that no one fall by the same sort of disobedience. For the word of God is living, active, sharper than any two edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.  And before Him no creature is hidden, but all are opened and laid bare to the eyes of him with whom we have to do. Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses but one who in every respect, has been tempted as we are, yet without sinning. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
  1. Make sure you set aside a half-hour a day (to begin with) to read the Scripture, and to reflect with God about what the day holds for you. Ask for His wisdom, and then sometime later in the day, come back to the Lord and review your day with Him. (I will share more on this later, but get into the habit of spending time with Him in the morning and evening—the emphasis on time should be the morning, but at least ten minutes at the end of the day is important as well, to take a little inventory.) When you do this regularly you will be amazed at the fruit in your own soul.
  1. I would suggest that you begin looking at certain publishers online for recommendations on books that could be inspiring and encouraging for you in your own journey. Don’t just read for the sake of reading. Again, ask the Lord to lead you to the lives of saints that would be inspiring to you in your own relationship with God. Ask for publishers’ catalogs, and reflect on what might be most helpful before you buy.
    1. a) Ignatius Press, an outstanding Catholic Publisher.
    2. b) Our Sunday Visitor (This is a weekly paper that is very good; they  also publish a number of books that could be very helpful in your walk with the Lord.)
    3. c) Franciscan Media has published a number of books that I have written over the years, as well as books from a number of other good authors.
    4. d) I’d also recommend Sophia Press. It publishes some new books, but also reprints great classics from the lives of the saints.

Anything I write here about making a schedule has to take into account your state in life. Be realistic. Sometimes people with a sick child or spouse can’t find five minutes a day to be alone. Just say to the Lord: Here’s my day and my responsibilities; will you show me how on most days I could get ten minutes to be quiet with You? (That is merely an example; suit it to your own situation.) If that is a sincere need (not an excuse), then God will know that and you will receive graces just by turning to Him in your heart and then trying to do your best to serve Him in that day.

I’ll talk more in future messages about building a personal relationship with God. But, for now, take the questions I asked, ponder them, and then we’ll take the next step, next month.

Lastly, I know that many of you are in different “stages” in building your relationship with God. Over the coming months, I hope to highlight some of the goals and pitfalls we often face and how He uses them all to bring us closer to Himself.

Thank you for your support. I thank God for you and for the opportunity to share these reflections with you!

God bless you,

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Sr. Ann Shields