Gracefully by Sister Kate Holmstrom

Image from Freepik

Gracefully is written by Sister Kate Holmstrom, a Holy Child Sister, resident at a care home in Harrogate, who has just turned 85 years old.

Sister Kate has contributed a number of pieces to Growing Old Grace-fully.

Sister Kate introduces Gracefully as follows:

“Many sights, gestures or even sounds may be perceived as graceful. They resonate, perhaps, with an inner grace inhabiting a person – an open, positive attitude attuned to what is good, true, righteous, beautiful. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they are ready to welcome countless riches and enjoy life!”

Gracefully

Growing old gracefully. With grace. Ageing: a grace.
Graceful rhymes with grateful,
And gracefully sounds like: graciously.
Little girls dancing, gymnasts leaping and bounding,
Flying, seemingly without effort, defying gravity.
Why do graceful movements, or the clear song of a blackbird
Strike an almost physical chord of beauty within us?
A smile is a grace, irradiating a tired face
And gracing the recipient.

How is it that an ageing body can seem clumsy, ungainly
Even painful, to the one who inhabits it?
Yet the soul within can be stirring, growing, soaring forward
Borne up by the Spirit, the very breath of her Creator.
Hail Mary, full of grace, pray for us as we are now,
In this moment, (this Moment)
That the hour of our death may be grace-filled,
That final, gracious grace.

Online Event – Spirituality in Later Life

Growing Old Grace-fully is hosting six online sessions in 2024.

The first is Spirituality in Later Life: Praying Beyond Words, on Tuesday 14th May, 7:00-8:00pm with Fr Donal Lucey and Paula Shanks. 

The session, with reflections and music, is being led by Father Donal Lucey and Paula Shanks. Fr. Donal is a retired Catholic priest of the Leeds Diocese, he was latterly parish priest in Garforth and in Harrogate and is the Chaplain to Faith and Light. Paula has a background in teaching and is trained in Ignatian spiritual accompaniment.

The session will start at 7pm and finish at 8pm.

To reserve your place, please book a free ticket on Eventbrite here.  

Please do also share this with anyone you think may be interested in this session and the work of Growing Old Grace-fully. 

The next two online sessions will be on these dates:

Wednesday 12th June – 2:30-3:30pm
Thursday 18th July – 7:00-8:00pm

Best wishes,
Carol Burns
On behalf of the Trustees of Growing Old Grace-fully

Lent Resources 2024

Pope Francis Lent message 2024

In his message for Lent 2024, Pope Francis invites the faithful to “pause” for prayer and to assist our brothers and sisters in need, in order to change our own lives and the lives of our communities.

Cafod Lent resources 2024

CAFOD have a range of Lent resources including prayers, reflections and an interactive calendar.  Sign up to the calendar and receive daily Lent emails of prayer, reflection and practical actions, offering an opportunity to pause, reflect and pray as we prepare for Easter.

Independent Catholic News resources

Independent Catholic News have published a series of resources for Lent 2024, from books, to apps, online series, email reflections and activities to choose from – listed in alphabetical order.

Happy Christmas from Growing Old Grace-fully

Our advent journey’s end – and a new beginning

As we reach the end of Advent, we celebrate the joyous feast of Christmas.

It is a moment when we contemplate the mystery of the Incarnation, the divine becoming human, and the immense love of God manifest in the humblest of forms. In the midst of the festive decorations and the warmth of our gatherings, let us take a moment to turn our hearts toward prayer, seeking to deepen our understanding of the profound significance of this holy season.

As we pray during this Christmas season, let us ponder the miracle of the Nativity, where heaven touched earth in the form of a tiny child born in a humble manger. Christmas is a celebration of hope, peace, and love, encapsulated in the gift of God’s Son to humanity.

At this challenging time in human history and facing the challenges of our own lives, we celebrate that the darkness is pierced with the greatest light to shine for all humanity. The words of the angel to the shepherds echo through time, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people” (Luke 2:10).

In our prayers, let us express gratitude for the light that Jesus brought into the world—a light that dispels darkness and offers us the path to eternal life. May we find inspiration in the Holy Family, reflecting on the obedience of Mary, the courage of Joseph, and the vulnerability of the newborn King. As we exchange Christmas greetings, perhaps give and receive gifts and share meals with loved ones, let our prayers extend to those who are lonely, marginalised, or suffering, echoing the compassionate spirit of Christ.

This Christmas, may our hearts be filled with the true meaning of the season, and may our prayers unite us in a sense of shared joy and purpose. Let us open our hearts to receive the abundant blessings that flow from the manger in Bethlehem, embracing the transformative power of God’s love and mercy. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, we offer these prayers, entrusting ourselves to the grace of the Christ Child born on this holy night.

Growing Old Grace-fully, Christmas 2023

Here are three Christmas prayers:

God of Joy

Remind me to rejoice 
Wrapped up in my Christmas gifts 
Tied down in my debts 
I have forgotten   

God of peace, 
Remind me of your calm 
In my anxiety 
And in my haste 
I have forgotten   

God of all 
Remind me 
Of the true light of Christmas 
Of your gift shared

In my own wants 
And in my own needs 
I have forgotten 
Wrapped up  in my little world 
Remind me of your world 
God of joy, remind me 
To rejoice 

Amen.

Linda Jones/CAFOD

Unadorned King

In the star we see the cross;
Its points, the thorns,
The azure ring, his robe.
The light which shines on all
The arms which embrace all. 

And this despite their mockery,
Mock majesty, pageant pantomime and pomp.
All human conceptions of kingship
Border on the Vaudeville
Verge on the burlesque. 

Kings in a stable out of proportion
Distorted, like the body on the cross.
Our attempt to nail down
Divinity Racked and disjointed,
Still suffering our mock homage. 

Cast crowns, cast lots, cast off your
Tawdry kind of kingship –
So much dressing up –
Christ rides triumphant over cast-down cloaks
Every inch a king with none of the apparel. 

His crown, the star
The cross, his throne where he
Invests the cosmos with his gift of Love, unadorned.

Amen.

Sr Laurentia Johns OSB, Stanbrook Abbey

The Hope of Christmas

The hope of Christmas
God, our dayspring and our dawn,
We turn to you when we fear the dark
And all around us weep.
We pray you greet us with your shining light
That we may spread your warm embrace
And kindle the hope of Christmas
In all whose lives remain in shadow.
Come and be our strength
O Lord, our hope and our salvation.

Amen.

Annabel Shilson-Thomas/CAFOD

Prayers for Advent 2023

Journeying with Hope – Advent prayers

Advent, a season of anticipation and preparation, invites us to pause, reflect, and open our hearts to the profound mystery of Christ’s coming at Christmas.

In this special time, we find solace in the promise of hope, the light that pierces through the darkness, illuminating our path towards spiritual renewal and transformation.

At this difficult and distressing time in history, with so much conflict, we pray with the hope of Christ for peace and for justice as we reflect on the true message of Jesus’ birth in an dirty, drafty stable, far from home and material comforts.

As we are surrounded by commercial messages and the fake Christmas of the commercial world, we instead recall and reflect on the difficult, stressful and exhausting journey made by Mary and Joseph as we prepare for true Christmas.

As another year draws to an end, we also reflect on our own lives, our successes and failures, joys and sorrows, challenges and blessings and unite them all with this journey towards the first Christmas, towards hope, joy and the light of Christ.

Here are three Advent prayers to use during December as we prepare, reflect and above all, hope.

Adventus

With expectant waiting
we anticipate your coming.
Come close to us, Lord,
come very close.   

Come, Alpha and Omega,
who is from before the ages.
Come, Son of Joseph and Son of Mary,
who went down to Nazareth to be obedient to them.   

Come, Morning Star,
who named the stars.

Come, carpenter from Nazareth, 
who knows the smell of planed wood.

Come, Beloved Son of God,
who knows the heart of God.

Come, Son of Man,
who knows the hearts of God’s people.

Come, Lord of Life and Prince of Peace.
Come, Dayspring and Rising Sun.
Come, Wonderful Counsellor.
Come Emmanuel, God with us;
God very close to us.

Amen

Ged Johnson/CAFOD

Advent litany: Lord, we look to you

Compassionate God,

As we look to you for judgement, hold out your hand of compassion
that we may be chastened by your show of mercy and reach out to others in reconciliation.

Lord, we look to you
in whom we hope

As we contemplate our end, make us mindful of your promise of a new beginning
that we may share your promise of life and bring hope to those who sit in darkness.

Lord, we look to you
in whom we hope

As we remember Elizabeth in her barrenness, fill us with longing for the birth of a new creation
that we too may be surprised with joy and labour with those who seek to make all things new.

Lord, we look to you
in whom we hope

As John leapt in his mother’s womb, help us so to recognise Christ in friend and stranger
that we may respond in love and learn to serve our neighbour with generosity not judgement.

Lord, we look to you
in whom we hope

As Mary and Elizabeth sought each other, grant us the wisdom to recognise our needs
that we too may seek each other in solidarity and offer strength to the powerless.

Lord, we look to you
in whom we hope

As Mary proclaimed the salvation of the Lord, give us courage to stand alongside the downtrodden
that we may sing of their hopes and join hands to realise their dreams.

Lord, we look to you
in whom we hope
and whom we long to see.

Annabel Shilson-Thomas/CAFOD

God of hope

God of hope,
we cling to you,
for your renew the face of the earth.
Through the gift of your Son,
our Lord Jesus,
we follow you on the path of dawn.
Enlightened by your love and wisdom,
help us to lead each other
and all creatures
back to your open arms.
Amen.

Rachel McCarthy/CAFOD

A Psalm for those journeying together with dementia – by Hannah Stone, poet-theologian to the Leeds Church Institute

As we continue to celebrate the successful launch of the transformative book “Journeying Together” by Deacon Joseph Cortis and Pia Matthews, we’d like to highlight a special piece that was shared during the launch event in June – “A Psalm for Those Journeying Together with Dementia”. Penned with profound empathy and insight, this poem delicately captures the profound experiences of caregivers navigating the path of dementia. It is a poetic journey of love, resilience, and unwavering strength. Intricately tied to the narratives explored in “Journeying Together”, this Psalm elevates the book’s essential message of shared struggle and enduring spirit. Witness its heartfelt recitation in our attached video link, or delve into the text for a quiet, personal reflection below.

Lord, you have searched for me and know me as I am.  
If I feel lost, you can find me, still.  
You understand the thoughts of my heart  
even when words escape from me. 
You perceive the way I have in mind  
when my friends cannot see the road ahead.  
You pick up the fragments of my desires,  
provide loving hands to weave these threads  
into garments to protect me.  
Even if I forget to praise you, your faithfulness  
feeds me; you remember my history, 
and share all my discoveries.

Lord, you search with us, and know how we long  
to make smooth the path for our companions, 
sweeping away the obstacles that trip them up. 
When we are bruised and feel broken,  
you soothe us with your wounded hands; 
when our heads ache and spin,  
you lift from them your crown of thorns.  
When loneliness closes us in, 
your presence opens new doors. When we stumble, 
you are there to steady our steps.  
The knowledge of you shines on our high spirits,  
and brightens our lowest moments.  

Lord, you will always know your sheep and search for them, 
the ram, the yearling, the ewe, and lead us  
to the fold, safe from the wolves of the world. 
You will place your laughter in our mouths,  
even as our eyes shed your tears.  
You nourish us at your table, 
and refresh our thirsty souls with grace. 
We are yoked with you in a trinity of care –  
needed, given, received. 
All the day long, you walk with us,  
and when the night closes in, and darkness falls  
there you are, beside us, our place of rest. 

Hannah Stone, poet-theologian to Leeds Church Institute , June 2023 

A Reflection and Prayer for Pentecost: By Carol Burns

pentecost

Pentecost is a remarkable occasion that holds profound meaning for believers around the world. It encompasses a multitude of themes – a time of renewal, new beginnings, and the courage bestowed upon the first Christian community. In the book of Acts, we witness how Pentecost invigorated the apostles, inspiring them to continue the important work of Jesus.

Described vividly in Acts, the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles in the form of flames of fire and a powerful wind. To better grasp the significance of this divine event, individuals living with dementia were asked to describe the characteristics of wind and fire. Their responses were remarkably insightful:

Uncontrollable. Powerful. Sometimes strong, sometimes gentle. Necessary for life. Always moving things. Always changing.

These descriptions strikingly align with the essence of the Holy Spirit, revealing its dynamic and transformative nature.

However, this year, my thoughts were drawn to the words of Peter as he addressed the crowds, referencing the words of the Prophet Joel (Acts 2:17):

“In the last days,” God says, “I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your young will see visions. Your elders will dream dreams.”

These prophetic words echo the profound truth that the outpouring of God’s Spirit during Pentecost is a resounding declaration that God does not abandon individuals in their old age or forsake them when they are frail and weak. On the contrary, God’s Spirit is poured out on all, irrespective of age or station in life.

This revelation presents a compelling challenge to all of us. It reminds us that we are one community, where young and old can collaborate and contribute in their unique ways. Each generation possesses invaluable insights and gifts that, when shared, foster unity, understanding, and progress.

Let us embrace the teachings of Pentecost, recognising that we are all interconnected in God’s divine plan. As we come together, drawing from the wisdom of the older generation and the vision of the young, we can forge a path towards renewal, revitalisation, and a future brimming with hope.

May Pentecost serve as a constant reminder that we are bound together by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Together, we can create a harmonious symphony, where every voice is heard, valued, and celebrated, leading us towards a world where love, compassion, and understanding prevail.

Carol Burns
Chair, Growing Old Grace-fully

A Prayer at Pentecost

Come Holy Spirit, 
enter our silences.

Come Holy Spirit,
into the depths of our longing.

Come Holy Spirit,
our friend and our lover.

Come Holy Spirit, 
unmask our pretending

Come Holy Spirit, 
sustain our weakness. 

Come Holy Spirit, 
redeem our creation. 

Enter our trusting, 
enter our fearing, 
enter our letting go, 
enter our holding back. 

Flood our barren spaces, 
make fertile our deserts within. 
Break us and heal us, 
liberator of our desires .

Come Holy Spirit. 
Embrace us and free us. 

Amen 

(Neil Thew 1990 from “Bread of Tomorrow”, edited by Janet Morley)

Resources for Lent 2023 featuring the Pope’s Lenten message and Cafod

The Pope’s Message for Lent 2023

“Our Lenten Journey is ‘Synodal'” Click the link to the Pope’s Message For Lent 2023.

Cafod Lenten Resources

Cafod has published a wealth of resources for Lent including reflections on the stations of the cross and many other prayers and resources.

Lenten Webinars

The Tablet is hosting a series of webinars on the three pillars of Lent; fasting, prayer and almsgiving. To register for attendance, click the link below.

Pray with us: Prayers from various authors and a reading from Joan Chittister

God of Hope

God of hope,
we cling to you,
for your renew the face of the earth. 

Through the gift of your Son,
our Lord Jesus,
we follow you on the path of dawn.

Enlightened by your love and wisdom,
help us to lead each other
and all creatures
back to your open arms.
Amen.

Rachel McCarthy/CAFOD

Adventus

With expectant waiting
we anticipate your coming.
Come close to us, Lord,
come very close.   

Come, Alpha and Omega,
who is from before the ages.
Come, Son of Joseph and Son of Mary,
who went down to Nazareth to be obedient to them.   

Come, Morning Star,
who named the stars.
Come, carpenter from Nazareth, 
who knows the smell of planed wood.   

Come, Beloved Son of God,
who knows the heart of God.
Come, Son of Man,
who knows the hearts of God’s people. 

Come, Lord of Life and Prince of Peace.
Come, Dayspring and Rising Sun.
Come, Wonderful Counsellor.
Come Emmanuel, God with us;
God very close to us.   

Amen. 

Ged Johnson/CAFOD

Litany of Advent litany: Lord, we look to you of Nazareth

Compassionate God,

As we look to you for judgement, hold out your hand of compassion
that we may be chastened by your show of mercy and reach out to others in reconciliation.

Lord, we look to you
in whom we hope

As we contemplate our end, make us mindful of your promise of a new beginning
that we may share your promise of life and bring hope to those who sit in darkness.

Lord, we look to you
in whom we hope

As we remember Elizabeth in her barrenness, fill us with longing for the birth of a new creation
that we too may be surprised with joy and labour with those who seek to make all things new.

Lord, we look to you
in whom we hope

As John leapt in his mother’s womb, help us so to recognise Christ in friend and stranger
that we may respond in love and learn to serve our neighbour with generosity not judgement.

Lord, we look to you
in whom we hope

As Mary and Elizabeth sought each other, grant us the wisdom to recognise our needs
that we too may seek each other in solidarity and offer strength to the powerless.

Lord, we look to you
in whom we hope

As Mary proclaimed the salvation of the Lord, give us courage to stand alongside the downtrodden
that we may sing of their hopes and join hands to realise their dreams.

Lord, we look to you
in whom we hope
and whom we long to see.

Annabel Shilson-Thomas/CAFOD

Litany of Mary of Nazareth

Glory to you, God of our Creator … Breath into us
new life, new meaning.
Glory to you, God our Savior … Lead us
in the way of peace and justice.
Glory to you, God, healing Spirit … Transform us
to empower others.

Mary, wellspring of peace ………. Be our guide,
Model of strength
Model of gentleness
Model of trust
Model of courage
Model of patience
Model of risk
Model of openness
Model of perseverance

Mother of the liberator ………. Pray for us.
Mother of the homeless
Mother of the dying
Mother of the nonviolent
Widowed mother
Unwed mother
Mother of political prisoner
Mother of the condemned
Mother of an executed criminal

Oppressed woman ………. Lead us to life.
Liberator of the oppressed
Marginalized woman
Comforter of the afflicted
Cause of our joy
Sign of contradiction
Breaker of bondage
Political refugee
Seeker of sanctuary
First disciple
Sharer in Christ’s ministry
Participant in Christ’s passion
Seeker of God’s will
Witness to Christ’s resurrection

Woman of mercy ………. Empower us.
Woman of faith
Woman of contemplation
Woman of vision
Woman of wisdom and understanding
Woman of grace and truth
Woman, pregnant with hope
Woman, centered in God

Mary, Queen of Peace, we entrust our lives to you.
Shelter us from war, hatred and oppression.
Teach us to live in peace, to educate ourselves for peace.
Inspire us to act justly, to revere all God has made.
Root peace firmly in our hearts and in our world.
Amen.

From: The Fire of Peace: A Prayer Book
Compiled and edited by Mary Lou Kownacki, OSB
Pax Christi USA

Reading: God’s Call to Mary by Joan Chittister

To entitle the call of God to Mary the ‘annunciation’ is, at best, misleading. Somehow or another,‘annunciation’ just doesn’t say it. ‘Cataclysm’, perhaps. ‘Prophecy,’ maybe. But ‘Annunciation. Never.
This, after all was no routine summons. This was an earth shattering, life-changing, revolutionary call.
This was what happens when life is completely turned around, when the house burns down or the job disappears, or the stock market crashes. This was the kind of moment that called for that same kind of
strength and faith and character. And Mary, the woman, though ‘deeply disturbed’ had more than enough of it all. She felt the truth of who she was within her. More than that, she felt the truth of who God is. Mary knew that God’s favour was indeed with her and that was enough to lead her on.
It doesn’t hurt to remember, at times in which extraordinary witness, extraordinary faith, extraordinary commitment are required of us, that God’s favour is there with us too, to sustain the stress of bringing
justice and love to birth and turning the world around – when neither the neighbourhood nor the nation want that to happen.

A reflection for Advent by Pippa Bonner

This year the season of Advent is as long as it possibly can be with the first Sunday of Advent starting on November 27th. Now in the second week of Advent, we continue to prepare for the appearance of Jesus as a tiny baby born in very challenging circumstances. His mother gave birth away from her home town, far from her home and familiar surroundings. Some of her family may have still felt ambivalent about the nature of Mary’s pregnancy. Has Joseph begun to understand it? The Messiah is born in very humble circumstances, soon to become a Refugee.

This year we remember all those born and living in challenging circumstances, born in areas of conflict, like the Holy Land today. This year war is raging in Ukraine, and conflicts around the world are shown daily on our televisions. We remember all who are refugees who are escaping conflict and persecution.

We pray that the hope and joy of Christmas will also be experienced in these difficult times.

Advent is a time of acknowledging paradox. A time of hope and celebration amidst personal and world difficulty, bereavement, illness and loss.

At Growing Old Grace-fully we celebrate the role, gifts and experience of older people. Joseph is traditionally described as an older man. Mary and Jesus must have benefited from his life experience. The Shepherds and Magi may have been mixed age groups: older Shepherds guiding and overseeing the younger ones. It is likely the Magi had a lifetime of study and experience. We know that the Holy Family travelled to Jerusalem to present Jesus in the Temple. They were met by the elderly Simeon and Anna who had been awaiting the Messiah. Let us celebrate them all!

We remember all older people, locally and around the world. Some who are among family and friends, and others who are alone, those fearing food and heating prices, and all who are juggling the blessings and difficulties of older age. Many of us are dealing with the push and pull of life: happy and sad memories of experience and life itself. And if we believe we no longer have a place or sense of agency in life these words of Pope Francis might be encouraging:

“Of one thing I am certain – every human being reveals something of God …a spark of divine light shines from each one of us…every human being has been taken up into the heart of God, conferring on them an infinite divinity.”

The coming of Christ is the joyful, welcoming of the Messiah. And we also know that the incarnate Christ dies and is resurrected for us. My eight year old granddaughter has expressed this paradox (unprompted by me), in her home made Christmas card to me this year. Inside a cheery, snowy, animal card she has drawn a crucified Christ with the heading ” Jesus dies for our sins. ” Behind the cross is Father Christmas and his reindeer and sleigh, and happy Christmas wishes and love from her to me. She has captured the joy and sadness we experience during this season of the Church year.

However, Advent culminates with Christmas. We live with the hope and happiness of Christmas. May you all feel the hope and blessings of Christmas!

Here is part of Joyce Rupp’s “A Christmas Blessing.”

May you give and receive love generously. May this love echo in your heart like the joy of church bells on a clear December day….

May the hope of this sacred season settle in your soul. May it be a foundation of courage for you when times of distress occupy your inner land….

May you daily open the gift of your life and be grateful for the hidden treasures it contains…

May you keep your eye on the Star within you and trust this Luminescent Presence to guide and direct you each day….

May you go often to the Bethlehem of your heart and visit the One who offers you peace. May you bring this peace into our world.”

May you all feel the hope and happiness of Christmas and a blessed New Year!

Pippa Bonner