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The Lenten Slump Challenge

It’s been awhile. Yes, I know. Life has been going along at its steady pace and then all of a sudden six months have gone by and I’m left standing here going, “Wasn’t it just Christmas? Wait, what season are we in–Lent?!”

And then comes the usual panicked question: “What am I going to do this year?!”

Fast forward two weeks into Lent, “I’m failing! Ugh, why am I such a spiritual lightweight? I can’t even go a whole day without chocolate?!”

If you’re like me, you begin to question why you chose your initial sacrifices. It sounded great at the time but now that you are into it, you realize you can’t do it all or have forgotten to integrate it into you life. For others, Lent snuck up on us too fast and we are still trying to figure out what we want to do.

Both of sides are in luck!

Because here is my Lenten Slump Challenge also known as the Senses Sacrifice. Pick one each week or use each of them to build ontop of each other!

Step 1: List out your five senses…

Step 2: Take a step back and look at your life. What are you most attached to right now? What small sacrifices can you make everyday? Mother Theresa and St. Therese always reminded us to do small things with great love. What little things can you offer up to Jesus? Here are a few ideas in case you get stumped:

Hearing:

-Maybe you are avid music lover: Maybe you can agree to only listening to Christian music on the radio or nothing at all.

-Like to talk a lot? Give up interrupting people when they are speaking for a week.

-Need a boost in your prayer life? Pay attention during the homily at Mass. Go to adoration without any aides (novels, books, journals etc) and just speak with the Lord and listen for His voice.

-Put away all electronic devices once you get home from work; seriously. No iPad, no computer, no phone. Hide the t.v. remote if you have to. Pretend it’s the 1940s and find something to do together as a family.

-Read. Read a spiritual book, read the Bible, read the life of a saint, read something that will bring you closer to God and if you have children–Read it aloud! Let them hear all the great spiritual stories!

Sight: This one can be hard in our day and age. Everything is geared to catch our eye!

-Maybe you can go a week without your favorite show. If not, the alternative would be to avoid turning on the t.v. just to ‘relax’ and ‘kill time’. Instead, take that time and read something!

-Maybe you can pull out that Catholic classic that has been gathering dust on the shelf for a couple of years. Maybe you can commit to reading the Bible every morning before/during breakfast and/or before you go to bed.

-Something a little out of the ordinary would be to take down your favorite poster or picture. It is something small but it is still something you can offer up to Jesus.

-If you can’t get off social media completely then limit it, say you can only get on Facebook once in the morning and once at night. Or make it a challenge to post something spiritual every day to challenge yourself but also those you are friends with. Use it as a platform for evangelization!

-Tape a prayer to your bathroom mirror, corner of your car windshield, the back of your laptop, anywhere your eyes focus on during the day. Fill your eyes with good and holy reminders.

Smell:

-Who doesn’t like to smell good? For this week, sacrifice using your favorite bodywash/lotion/perfume, etc.

-Don’t light your favorite candle.

-Don’t make your favorite food smell–that’s right, avoid making your favorite food aroma that when it hits you makes your mouth water and say, “Thank you God! I can’t wait to eat!”

If you’re looking more to do something than to give up something:

-Clean out your car every week regardless of its state.

-Wash your dish immediately after using it-don’t let it sit in the sink.

-If you have children, teach them how to clean (this can be laborious and may require some prayerful assistance for patience).

Taste:

This probably the most common thing given up for Lent so I’m going to go out on a limb here and put a twist on this beloved sacrifice.

-I have picky eaters in my family, so this sacrifice is inspired by them. Eat food that you don’t like or particularly crave. If I look in the fridge for lunch and see something I really want–choose something else to eat. Really want that cheeseburger? Eat the leftover meatloaf instead.

-Whenever food is presented to me at meal time, eat some of everything that is put on the table. It doesn’t have to be huge portions but it can be a sacrifice to take and eat a little of everything especially if there are things you absolutely don’t like.

-A lot of people give up chocolate for Lent. If you are like me and can’t give up chocolate completely…eat only one kind of chocolate the entirety of Lent, giving it up when you can. (This already has ruined my chocolate craving for this particular item.)

-Make Sunday meals special–No Leftovers on the Lord’s day!

-Ask a friend or family member if you can make a meal for them. Give the gift of food to others!

Touch:

This is a bit tougher one.

-I will not wear my favorite outfit (or better yet, I will give away my favorite outfit),

-Don’t sleep with a pillow. Or don’t sleep with your favorite blanket/sweatshirt/pajama pants.

-I was challenged once to walk for a week with a pebble in my shoe (talk about annoying) but it served its purpose. Take a lukewarm or cold shower once a week.

-When at Mass or adoration, don’t use the kneeler. Instead, kneel on the floor. If you pray at home, like a family rosary or your nightly prayers, kneel on the floor.

-Hug those you love.

Step 3: Pray. Start. Allow God to change you so that you can change the world!

When God’s Call is not Your Own…

I love the Church. She is a great mother which has led me deeper into the great mystery of faith.

Found on catholiccompany.com

Found on catholiccompany.com

If there is one thing that I have learned is that we must do God’s will.

Read the saints, there it is. They constantly submit to God’s will in their lives.

They see His hand in everything that happens in their day, good and bad.

In theology classrooms professors (hopefully) teach that we are here to know, love and serve God.

From pulpits around the world the message is spread that in order to advance spiritually we must humble ourselves to answer God’s call, to do His Will for by this we will be set free and become an amazing vessel of grace to spread His message throughout the world.

So True and So Good but also SO HARD!

Why is it so stinkin’ hard?! In the words of Tom Hanks in the move “A League of Their Own”, “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard then everyone would be doing it. Hard makes it great.”

Here’s the deal, I like to think that I’m not opposed to hard work. If I need to plant some seeds in a garden, I’m not afraid of getting down on my hands and knees and dig in the dirt. If I need to change a stinky diaper, I don’t even think twice about it. I grab the diaper, wipes and hold my breath for the 40 seconds it takes (depending on the disaster that awaits inside). I used to LOVE researching for papers. Sitting with ten books spread out in front of me until all hours of the morning, yes, please! That kind of hard I can do easily.

mother angelicaGod’s ‘hard’ is different.

God’s ‘hard’ stretches beyond my will. It pushes me to kneel instead of sit during the rosary. It means taking the times I can’t fast and replace it with another sacrifice i.e. eat a less favorite food as an offering.

You see, God knows what I like. He knows that I loved getting assigned 10 page research papers and secretly wished they were 20 pages instead. Instead, He tweaks my heart so that I have to reel in what I want to do.

I love teaching. I have always had a desire to dig in and pass on the faith to others. I finally got my taste of it this summer. And you know what, I want more. I have found my new 20 page research paper–it is teaching. There is one small obstacle.

I am a stay at home mom.

I love my kids and I am so elated to be their primary teacher. Yet, I struggle. I want to be ‘out there’. I want to be with others who are desperate to be fed. Who want to know about the Church but have no one to ask. I want to be there to answer their questions and learn with them. There are times I feel trapped in the walls of my home. My heart is split between the place my heart yearns to go and the place where God has placed me.

Then I remember, “If it wasn’t hard it wouldn’t be great.”

St. Terese of Liseaux is the patron of missionaries. She always desired to be a missionary. Yet, when she discerned her vocation, she knew God was calling her to be a Carmelite. A cloistered Carmelite. Once she entered the abbey doors she would never leave again. Which makes me wonder, did she ever feel trapped? A missionary trapped inside a Carmelite’s cloister?

As I read her story, I realized that St. Terese didn’t suppress her desire to be missionary. She found a way to be a Lincolnspiritual missionary. Instead of her feet doing the walking and her mouth doing the talking as a physical missionary, she wielded her prayers to fight for the souls of those both inside and outside of the monastery’s walls. That missionary spirit compelled her to serve those around her. She didn’t sit for hours yearning for a life she would never have, instead she shifted her focus to see the mission field that God wanted her to tend to. Her missionary field became the very home which God had called her to take vows in. Those she was to serve were those right around her. Amazingly enough, the diary which she wrote has now become a spiritual juggernaut for countless people around the world. This beautiful, simple, holy nun’s mission and ways of carrying it out have touched the lives of saints and sinners alike around the world for over a century.

I may not be St. Terese but I believe we all have that same call. God has put us in our very situations and places not to kill the desires of our hearts but to challenge them to become something more. My desire to teach I know is a call from God and though I may desire a greater platform on which to proclaim His truths, He has placed my feet in my home. It here that I must teach. Who knows, who I teach at home may change the world one day.

View from Behind the Pew

church doors

There are times when being in the back is a good thing.

You know, like when you’re at Sea World and the dolphins splash the crowds with water that goodness knows how many animals have done their business in since the beginning of the show. Or, when you’re at a hockey game the puck goes flying over the protective glass. Those are times I’m glad I’m not front and center.

But when it comes to Mass, I like being up front. I like being able to see everything unobstructed by others around me. Don’t get me wrong, I am happy that there are others at Mass. It is my lack of ability to focus that pushes me to the front and why I love it up there.

This last week, we went to church out of town. When my husband left to change our child’s diaper our second child began yelling for Dad. Grabbing him and flagging down my oldest we marched out to the back. Fortunately, the doors to the church were clear glass so I could still see Mass going on. I realized something while watching the Mass.

Seeing is great.

But hearing and seeing are an amazing duo of blessing.

As I bounced my little one from hip to hip, I strained to listen to the homily and catch all the prayers being said. Small mumbled blurps squeezed through the hinges of the doors to my straining ears. And even though I’ve been to Mass my entire life I still could only participate in about half of the prayers because I couldn’t hear where everyone else was at. it was then that frustration set in. All I wanted to do was go to Mass. To sing my heart out to God and praise Him as I know how. Instead, here I was, banished to the tundra of the back hallway of the church with my children struggling to understand why steam is coming out of their mother’s ears.

I have been told by countless people that, “God knows you are trying,” “You still get all the graces”, “God understands” “He sees you’re trying to train your kids” etc. It was as these phrases echoed in my ears that God gave me a new thought to meditate one: how many other parents throughout time have had the same struggles?

I mean, have you ever tried keeping a little one quiet in a magnificent cathedral whose ceilings were made to echo the praises of God to heaven and back?

How about the sermons of Jesus? How many people were chasing their kids in the back fields while he was giving the Sermon on the Mount. “What’s he saying? What are we supposed to do? Josiah, sit down! Jacob stop hitting your brother.”

Or how about that family who heard that Jesus was in town and gathered up all their gear to go out and hear Him speak only to make it one step out the door and have their newest bundle of joy fill their cloth diaper. By the time they changed the diaper, the next one was hungry. After you give him a snack his brother starts crying for some unknown reason, then they realized it is about time for his nap. Now the fork in the road. Do they go see Jesus or do they stay and let their child sleep? They throw caution to the wind and begin the journey. Finally, hours after Jesus was to speak, they trudge in just in time to grab some fish and a loaf of bread. “What did we miss?” the husband asks the wide eyed man next to him.

Then you have the families who were so exhausted after a journey to Jerusalem for the Passover feast with children that they were asleep before their heads hit the pillow. And to top it off, their baby sleeps through the night for the first time. The next day they wake up around noon, get something to eat and head out to the streets only to hear that Jesus has been crucified. “Wait, how long did we sleep?!”

Or how often were children crying during Jesus’ synagogue teachings, or when the apostles were preaching the gospel or during the first Masses. How many parents strained to hear, fought tooth and nail to be present, who pressed onward despite challenges and frustrations because they knew that it was important Jesus and childrenfor their children to be close to Jesus. I am sure many of them got the stink eye just as many of us do today for their efforts.

However, I have no doubt that Jesus knows that I am at Mass with my children just as He knew those parents were also there in the multitudes of people who first came to hear him speak the words of everlasting life. Yet, still, Jesus says, “Let the children come to me.” Let all who are weary let them come and I will give them food for the journey, I will give them rest, I will set their way. What a litany of blessings for parents!

So, as we stand outside the heart of the church with our loud and lively kiddos in hopes of returning to our lovely front pew, I have one thought to comfort me. Jesus is not restricted by the doors.

Just as the Upper Room, Jesus is not restricted by earthly things. He can pass through and reside with me, my husband and my children in the narthex. He is there offering His comfort and reassurance. He does in fact see the efforts, the desires of our hearts to fully participate with Him and to bring our children up in the faith.

He wants my children to be there. To have them there, is the most precious gift I can give Jesus and my children. And even though I may not be able to see and hear, I have to keep in mind the words of Jesus to Thomas, “Blessed are those who haven’t seen but believe.”

God is Stronger

I always thought when people talked about getting me to heaven it was going to be like having a little pep talk every day. Lots of, “You can do it!” “Thatta girl!” “Did you see how great you did just now?” and “Wow, you handled that better then you did last time.” “You’re doing great!”

Yeah.
No.
That lasts about 5 seconds with kids. Or when I am left to my own thoughts.

There are times in this life where I feel like I’m being crushed. Not by those who are against me–that one I anticipated–I am blindsided when it comes from those challenging me to live a more virtuous life. The ones who are supposed to be lifting me up are doing it in a different way than I thought it would happen. Instead of lifting me up higher with lofty praiseworthy quotes about my awesomeness, they have laid a divine banana peel at my feet. And as I step on this slippery bugger, I watch as my seemingly good world is flung around me. As I lie flat on my back I no longer see my awesomeness but the ugly underbelly of my faults. I feel the pain of what being a fallen human being means.

It means I want praise. I want others to walk in and say,

“Wow! You look great! And your house is so clean! Is that a Liturgically/Biblically/Feast day themed dinner I see? And your children, they are so well behaved. Is your oldest singing the Our Father in Latin? Then there’s you, you did not just have a baby. You look incredible! I wish I had your life!”

But reality prevents this. My kids are wonderful. But kids don’t know the necessary compliments to lift their mother’s heart in times of distress. (Though the ‘I love you Mom’ ‘You’re beautiful’ and ‘You’re the best teacher ever’ make my heart overflow with joy and happiness I know that a tantrum is only a short time away). Kids only only know how to dig deeper. To force me to find a deeper resolve, a deeper level of giving, a deeper source of sacrifice and a deeper well of love. Whether it is to stand up in the face of their insistence that they are in charge and that they only like Dad now I know I must be stronger.

pope francisMy heart needs to be stronger.

What is it that the Isaiah says, to ‘set his face as flint’. Yet, for me it would say, ‘her face was set as dry wood. One strike of a match and she would burn quickly.”

I know God is showing me my faults because I struggle with pride…a lot. I think that because I have a bachelors degree and a masters that teaching my own children should be a walk in the park. But the ugly truth is, I am afraid of not teaching them correctly, of failing them, of ruining their lives.

Fear and worry are painful things. Worrying about fear is even worse.

Instead of me teaching my kids about virtues, they are giving me a practicum in building virtue. They are teaching me that I am not perfect (despite all my justifications). That I have a lot of work to do to get to heaven. That I am weak. That I can’t do this on my own. And it is all true. With every tantrum I turn to the hidden chocolate cupboard. Hoping that the small dark chocolate and almonds will grant me one minute of reprieve.

But chocolate can only do so much.

Chocolate doesn’t strengthen my heart. It doesn’t give me the strength to face reality. When the bag is gone I’m left with one other alternative to draw strength from. God.

God is stronger than me.

He is stronger than my resolve.
He is stronger than my kids’ iron will.
He is stronger than my fears of failing.
He is stronger than my biggest weaknesses.

Yet, I fear going to Him. I know it makes no sense. Yet, God tends to be somewhat of a last resort. I mean, He’s busy and why would he want to help me with my kids? He’s got the world to deal with. In comparison, I should be able to handle a few toddlers. So, I figure I shouldn’t bother Him with my petty struggles. In fact, I would be stronger if I could show Him that I can do this on my own. I clean the house, do laundry, sustain the lives of my children and do lots of other things on my own. Why not this too?

This is craziness, I know. God is our loving Father and God is the one who tells us to “Be not afraid. I go before you always. Come, follow me and I will give you rest.” (Rest. *Sigh* Sweet Rest. What does that even look like anymore?) But He will also set me on fire, on fire for Him, for His love. The dry wood that I am is set to burn it just depends if I set it afire with my faults, failures and fears of if I let God set my heart ablaze with His love.

faithGod does this on purpose. He makes us face our fears head on. But not on our own. Instead, He leads us. With our hands in His, He steps in front of us like a Father teaching a toddler to walk.

He sets the goal.

He steps in front of the fears that we see in the future so that we see only His face. He is who I am striving towards. With Him my path is set. And I know no matter how many times I fail, he will be their with his nail scarred hands to help me up. To tell me, “Be not afraid. Lean on me. I will help you. You cannot do great things without me. Let me help you.” Then like Mother Angelica said, with “Faith is one foot on the ground, one foot in the air and a queasy feeling in the stomach.”

Lent: Day 1

I’m here. It’s cold and my will is starting to wane. My food supply holds no appeal to me at this time. The only thing I hear are the sweets in the cupboard taunting me. Already, I’m experiencing odd reflexes of my hands. I see a bowl of food and my hand lunges towards it. Sometimes I catch it mid-air, other times it nearly makes it to my mouth with the contraband food.

Hallucinations have set in. Everywhere I turn I see Twix and Snickers.

I hear the cries of the unused coffee pot on my counter.

The finger foods are plotting an invasion later.

I feel unusual shifts in my moods. I woke up with such hope for this season but now the winter frost has set in. I can’t take it anymore! Why did I give up chocolate?! Am I nuts?! And fasting between meals–my stomach groans at the very smell of my neighbor’s bacon and sausage breakfast.

I’m not sure when the next round of temptation will occur but it’s likely to get worse every Friday for the next forty days.

Facebook has never held so much appeal as a distraction as of now. If only I could access it more than once a day! Ugh! How will I know if I’m as hilariously funny and ridiculously good looking as I think I am if I can’t see how many ‘likes’ I’ve gotten?!

My mind doesn’t know what to do with itself. Less television, less internet, and there are these strange paper things that have been sitting on my shelves for ages. They have words all over them. Strange names adorn the by-lines like, “St. Maria Faustina”, “Dr. Edward Sri”, “Dr. Brant Pitre”, “St. Mary of Agreda”, “Pope St. John Paul the Great” and “Bible”. These names, I’ve heard them before. But it is becoming harder and harder to remember the last time I read something from them. These books also speak to me, I will keep you posted when I answer.

At Church, priests talk about ‘sacrifice’ ‘prayer’ ‘almsgiving’ and being joyful in sacrificing and drawing closer to Jesus. How can I do this when I have so many things to do? I mean, the time I did have is now consumed with dreams of bacon wrapped hotdogs served with a Mike’s hard lemonade and a large hot fudge sundae. They tell me to read, to pray, to accept this quietness that is now around me. Withdrawl is naturally difficult, it will take time to wean myself of the noise of life. Perhaps those heavy bound paper things will help me.

This strange blog page keeps appearing. I can’t help it, I have to write. When I do, I am oddly at peace. Perhaps this Lent won’t be so hard after all.

Pray for me and I will pray for you.

I can only hope to make it through the night of Lent to the light of Easter.
God be with you in your Lenten sacrifices,

~Veronica

Lent is hard.

Every year we give up certain pleasures under the guise of ‘sacrifice’. But does giving up chocolate really get me closer to heaven? At times, yes. Every sacrifice, big and small has an effect on our souls. A small sacrifice is like a pebble being dropped into a lake, a large is like a boulder. Lent is here not to annoy us or to make less chocoholics in the world for 40days. It is here to draw us deeper into God’s grace.

Like this past week’s Gospel, we see Jesus get into Simon’s boat and instruct him to go out into the deep. That is what Lent is about, God taking our boats out into the deep. The catch is, we have to be willing to let him in the boat. To tell us where to go. And to follow His guidance.

Sacrifice without a purpose is like a boat without a rudder.

If chocolate is a true addiction which harms you, your family and those around you, then by all means give it up. It is a means of distracting you from Jesus, absolutely, throw it out the window. But if you do, don’t walk around groaning and mourning the loss of your precious sacrifice.

What is the point of sacrifice? In life, it is often to show love. We give things up so others around us won’t have to.

Example: My son has been saving up for everything PAW Patrol. He earns money and he pays me for his newest item once he hits the set price. The price I set is at least half of what the item actually costs. I want to give him things but I want him to earn them. I love seeing his face light up when he earns something new or when I surprise him with a ‘raise’ because he has been such a good boy.

I give up the money I have saved to buy PAW patrol things that I know he probably won’t care about a year from now.

Why?

Because I love him, I love his little face, I love seeing him jump up and down and get so excited. I love the hugs, the broad smile and giddy laughter. I-love-him. I give up sleep for his baby sister, I give up my food to his little brother and I give up some of my material wants for him. Why? Because I love him. The sacrifices don’t seem so bad when I think about the person they are for.

This is no different then Lent. Why do we give things up or go out of our way to do more? Because we love Jesus. Period. If we love Jesus we will want to give more, lose more, pay more, etc. Because He is worth it.

So, no matter your chosen Lenten sacrifice, just make sure of one thing: You’re doing it for the one you love, for Jesus. Because no matter what you chose, you won’t be able to out do His Lenten sacrifice-the Cross. He gave His life for you. Give Him your twix, your coffee, your cigarette, your spare change, your unused clothes, your attentiveness, your extra prayers, your time. This Lent, get to know Jesus!

Someone else

I wish I could blow this picture up to take up the entire screen. This is the story of my life:

mother angelica

I recently went to confession and the priest asked me, “What do you think is at the root of your sins?” I knew instantly what it was. The answer lodged itself in my throat. I didn’t want to say it out loud. I was afraid that if I did the tears I had been struggling to hold back would break free. But the fact remained. The root of much of what holds me back spiritually is rooted in one little word. Failure.

God has given me great missions in this life i.e. being a wife and mother. Two of the highest callings He has to offer me. And I fail at them. Constantly. This concept is new to me. In school, I was one of those students who never really had to work hard. Most subjects came easy to me and those that did make me work were the ones I was most passionate about so I wanted to do the extra work.

Parenting isn’t a college course.

There is no textbook to reference or physical tests. Yet, day after day I fear that if God could hand me a grade on the amount of virtue gained by myself or imparted to others, the growth in knowledge of Him, the openness to the heavenly graces He has to offer in prayers and the sacraments, etc. my paper would have a big fat ‘F’ on it.

At the end of the day the moments of failure stick out as glaring beams in my spiritual eye.

I wasn’t patient.

I yelled at the kids…a lot.

I failed to impart more knowledge onto my kids.

I spent half my day putting away the same ten toys only to have them left on the floor because I got too tired at the end of the day to pick them up again.

Regardless of my intentions it was leftovers for dinner again.

I dreaded the painful demands of my children’s voices resorting in hiding in the bathroom for ten minutes.

I had mental fights with my husband before he ever came through the door.

Yes, yes, I used the t.v. as a babysitter to check Facebook and have some quiet.

No, the laundry isn’t done…or the dishes in the sink.

There are times I wonder if there is someone better out there, better equipped than myself to be in this state of life.

When I was younger this person was always my older and closest sister. As good as I thought I could do, she always managed to do better. You know that phrase ‘the grass is always greener on the other side?’ Yup, she was the other side of my fence. I would look longingly at her patch of grass and sigh. Why couldn’t I be more like her? Think like her? Look like her? Do what she does as well as she did it?

It came to one simple thought: I was not enough. Not good enough. Not smart enough. Not creative enough. These thoughts drove me to other things that I thought I could succeed in writing, theology, work, etc. Anything that seemed like I could have relatively easy success in to feel better about myself. But one by one each of these areas slipped through my fingers.

Deadlines passed, theological knowledge once vivid in my memory faded behind the story books of my children (I can’t tell you about all the Kings of Israel after the divide of the kingdom but I can recite Bubbles Bubbles on demand), and all the work I performed was not enough to receive the affirmation I desired that…drum roll please…that I was enough.

As I contemplated the graces of the sacrament on my drive home God’s heavenly dump truck ran smack into me.

“By what standards are you measuring your success?”

Boom.

In my mind I admitted to myself that I had given up success on the eternal level awhile ago. Always looking into other people’s spiritual fields I would see lush green lives full of joy and innocence in their love of the Lord. Whereas mine has been killed under the hot sun of self-scrutiny. The truth still remained, I was not enough. I had to make something of myself in order to be wanted, to be loved and to be a saint in God’s heavenly court.

I know I am not alone in this. Many in the Bible and the saints have thought that someone else would better fit the missions given them by God. Moses told God that Aaron would probably be a better mouthpiece and leader for God’s people. St. Juan Diego thought perhaps a nobleman would be a better messenger of Our Lady of Guadalupe’s messages. Even Mother Angelica wondered why God would choose her to fulfill His mission for a television network and religious order in the southern United States.

There is a gaping difference between these people and me. They, like me, were well aware of their weaknesses, ineptness and failures. This was not seen as a crippling blow to their missions. Instead, they persevered and come through the other side of holiness. Not on their own accord through God’s grace. In regular terms, they said, “God, if you want this to be done and me to do it then you are going to have your work cut out. Direct me and I will follow. Show me and I will go. Tell me and I will act.” They were completely reliant on the grace of God to overcome their weaknesses. And He did.

Now, it is my turn.

“You, dear young man, dear young woman, have you ever felt the gaze of everlasting love upon you, a gaze that looks beyond your sins, limitations and failings, and continues to have faith in you and to look upon your life with hope?…Do not be afraid to look into his eyes, full of infinite love for you. Open yourselves to his merciful gaze, so ready to forgive all your sins. A look from him can change your lives and heal the wounds of your souls. His eyes can quench the thirst that dwells deep in your young hearts, a thirst for love, for peace, for joy and for true happiness. Come to him and do not be afraid!” 

~Pope Francis September 2015

 

A Little Pick-Me-Up

“You of little faith. Why did you doubt?”

I recently saw this picture on Facebook and it was exactly what I needed to see.

by Yunsung Kim

by Yunsung Kim

Me being a mighty theologian automatically thought of Jim Gaffigan, the comedian. Classy, right? Gaffigan, in one of his routines talks about life with four kids. He describes it like this:

“Imagine you’re drowning and then someone hands you a baby.”

This. is. my. life. I love my kids more than I ever thought possible. But there are days. Days of stepped on toys, mounding laundry, spit up so volcanic that it calls for multiple garment changes, spilt milk on carpet, fights over trains, planes and the fact that one kid looked at a toy in the near vicinity of the other child, etc. There are days that I feel myself sinking beneath the responsibilities of motherhood.

Peter, who this picture’s perspective is really from, sank beneath the waves when he lost faith in Jesus (Matthew 14). “You of little faith,” Jesus says, “Why did you doubt?” What a dagger to the heart of St. Peter! Because of this people are quick to throw old Peter under the rutter. “What a weak man! He didn’t trust Jesus. As in, JESUS, the Son of God. As in the man he’s been following for three years?!”

Let’s give St. Peter a chance. This episode plays out in the middle of the Sea of Galilee, AT NIGHT, during a STORM. The apostles are busy trying to keep their boat on course during the storm. Suddenly, they see a figure moving across the waves and wonder if it is a ghost. Peter is the one who calls out to the figure.

“Lord, if it is you then tell me to come to you on the water!”

Boom!

Right there!

Freeze frame!

Read that again.

What does it tell us about Peter’s faith in Jesus?

Peter reveals that he has a sturdy faith by telling the Lord to call him. He does not simply yell, “Come up to this boat and prove to me that you are Jesus!” nor does he say, “Lord show me a sign that it is you and I will believe.”

Instead, like a man, he throws out a bold challenge. “Lord if it is you, tell me to come on the water”. First of all, sweet request. I hope if I’m ever presented with a chance to challenge the Lord in this way I can come up with something awesome like that. Second, it shows he is ready to test his faith in Jesus. He is ready to step out into the unknown. Into the storm. Into the night and meet his Lord. Not on a boat but on the firmness of hope and faith. His faith is sure and is ready for testing it, to make it better, to perfect it.

(Side note: hope has gotten a bad rap these days. Hope is never talked about in a way that is sure. It’s always in the context of “I hope this happens” “I hope I don’t break my leg” “I hope he does”, etc. It’s just shy of wishing on a star. But the hope of Christians is firm, it is meant to be walked on, to set beneath our feet and guide our path. It is sure.)

So, down climbs Peter and he walked on water.

Also important. Peter didn’t sink right away. Scripture doesn’t say, “Peter climbed out of the boat and sank like a rock.” or “Peter tripped on a wave and fell” or “Climbing out of the boat his feet instantly sank beneath the stormy waves”. Which means Peter didn’t have one of those “What in the world was I thinking?!” moments. He wasn’t scared or panicked as he placed his feet on the waves. If he had been he would have sunk right off the bat. Instead scripture says that he walked on the water. Peter’s faith buoyed him toward the Lord.

I think its important to note that Scripture doesn’t say how many steps Peter was able to take towards Jesus that night on sea. How far away was Jesus? Was he half a mile? Fifty feet? We don’t know. But we do know that Peter in fact made enough headway to be termed as walking on water.

So far so good. St. Peter has the faith to call to Jesus and to go out to him.

When does it falter, then? When he saw the storm around him. Felt the wind, saw the waves, etc. It was when the storms of the world built up around him that he took his eyes off of Jesus. Fear entered his heart.  Peter looked at the world around him with human eyes. Fear robbed him in an instant of the reality that he was WALKING ON WATER. 

It is interesting though, Jesus doesn’t calm the storm as we’ve seen in other places in the Gospel. He doesn’t give Peter, the future leader of His Church, a calm serene path to Himself. In fact, it seems like the opposite probably happened. Peter made the request to walk on water during the storm. If he wasn’t afraid then nor when he was climbing down onto the sea then something must have changed once he was out there.

Anyone who is chosen to be the Lord’s al-byit (his right hand man and holder of the keys to the kingdom until Jesus’ return. Read Isaiah 22:20-23 and Matthew 16:18-19; it is an office meant to be passed on until the return of the King), has to be able to stand firm and fearless in the darkness that this world possesses. In the midst of his fear his feet dive beneath the water’s surface.

Again, something interesting, Peter’ has time to yell out, “Lord save me!” before he’s consumed by the storm. I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure only a gasp of fear and a four letter word would have slipped out of my mouth in that moment. Instead, Peter uses what could be his last breath to call out for the Lord’s mercy.

Some may view this as a failure of faith on Peter’s part. Yet, I still think there is an incredible amount of merit in his actions even to the end. Yes, Peter sank. Yes, he let fear steal his heart from God, yet, in the end he implored God’s mercy to save him.  Epic save. This is a HUGE theological principle. Even when we fail and focus on our fears, Christ is still there when we call out to Him. His mercy endures forever.  He could have punished Peter, could have let him drown or at least stay down there for a few seconds to really scare him. But He didn’t. Instead, Scripture says He reaches out and catches Peter. There is a good chance that Peter’s head didn’t even get wet.

With all of this in context. The line of Jesus does not seem like a dagger to the heart but a gentle disappointment like that of a Father trying to teach His son to ride a bike without training wheels. “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” Then, Jesus does something that makes my heart happy. Matthew tells us that the two climbed into the boat.

I’m going to make a biblical assumption here (dangerous, I know)–but if Peter’s faith was shaken by the storm and the storm is still raging, I’m going to guess that he did not walk back to the boat on his own volition. Instead, having been caught by Jesus, is carried back to the boat in the arms of Christ. If that is true, I can’t imagine how uplifted Peter must have felt. Not only did Christ have mercy on him to save him from his fears and from death. Jesus pulls him into his arms and carries him back to the safety of the boat. It is said that the apostle John often laid his head on Jesus’ chest. But I’m going to guess that this may have been the only time that Peter was able to lay his head on the heart of the Jesus. And what a better scene then that? To be in the arms of your Lord in the midst of his storm with the beating of his heart as the calming echo in your soul as you walk together on the water toward the safe haven of the boat. Makes you think of heaven, doesn’t it?

So, as my footsteps seem to sink beneath the waves of work, toys, fears of the world and the relentless sense of failure, I can look at this picture and relate. Peter may not have made it beneath the waves but no matter how deep I am, I am never out of the reach of Christ who will come for me if only I call on His mercy. Then, Christ will cradle me in His arms and carry me through the storms of this life toward the safe haven of heaven.

Ero Cras

nativity

The nativity star in Jerusalem.

‘Tis the seasons of gifts. It is also the season of crazy people elbowing each other in the aisles of neighborhood stores trying to get the hottest deals of the season. I will admit, I have been one of those people. For years my family and I would sit around the table after Thanksgiving dinner and tear through the Black Friday ads. We would all make our lists and compare. Before we were in bed, we assigned who was going where, getting what, and where to meet afterward.

I lined up with my fellow bargain hunters and waited for hours in the cold. As opening crept closer, so did my footsteps toward the door. The excitement was palpable to even the most frozen people in line. We were just yards from the deals of the season.

Managers emerged to warn us shoppers about the dangers of running in the store and begged us not to run. Of course, these warnings were forgotten the instant the doors opened. Everyone barged through the doors of the store on a mission: to get the best deal.

I wonder what it would be like if the Church had a Black Friday special.

You know, something that would spur the excitement of the season for all people from the procrastinating pilgrims to the curious soul or the devotion junkie looking to grow in a new way. For those who, to the best of their abilities, tried to find their advent wreath in the mountain of Christmas decorations in the garage only to come up empty handed, hold your head high. For those who attempted to craft all the ornaments for a Jesse Tree but didn’t make it past Noah before the glitter spilled, kids cried and dinner burned. Do not fear! Hold on to hope, because there is a doorbuster around the corner that can save your Advent devotions! One last rush right before the doors of Christmas are opened and you dive head first into that season.

traditionalcatholicliving.com

traditionalcatholicliving.com

The ‘O Antiphons’ are a tradition which dates back to the very dawn of the Church. Known as the ‘Golden Nights’, the antiphons are taken from the Liturgy of the Hours and run from December 17th to December 23rd:

December 17: O Sapientia (Wisdom)
December 18: O Adonai (Lord and Ruler)
December 19: O Radix Jesse (Root of Jesse)
December 20: O Clavis David (Key of David)
December 21: O Oriens (Dawn of the East)
December 22: O Rex Gentium (King of the Gentiles)
December 23: O Emmanuel (God With Us)

Each day invokes another title for the Messiah from the prophet Isaiah. Yet on the last day, it may seem that the scavenger hunt is over for the deal of the season. However, like the great writer that He is, God tucked away a little message among the antiphons.

Like a door of an advent calendar opened each night, the antiphons provide the letters SARCORE. Which do not seem like much. However, when seen with eyes of a pilgrim who has reached his destination, the letters are transformed. They are not seen as a list from top to bottom but as a path from end to beginning. Glancing back down the path which led us to the ‘eve of the Eve’, the letters become something much more. ERO CRAS in Latin means “Tomorrow, I will Come”. It is a promise. A promise that the flood of grace will come barging out the doors of Christmas the following day and spill forth into the world. Let us rush towards the Incarnate God in these final days of Advent. With reckless abandon, may we thrust ourselves against the distractions of the secular season of Christmas and instead journey with the patriarchs of the past towards the promise of the Messiah.

For a prayer companion head over to: http://www.liturgies.net/Advent/prayers/oantiphons.htm

Seasons of the Heart

Fall

http://fineartamerica.com/featured/rakings-all-done-mike-martin.html

Some of the most glorious smells and tastes come with the season of Autumn. Apple Cider. Cinnamon scented everything. Pumpkin spiced cookies. The air outside turns from dense humid air to the crisp cool air that reinvigorates the soul and beckons one to curl up with a cup of something warm. Everything about Autumn invites us to find comfort in the richness of smells, tastes and comforts of the season.

While the world outside turns silently from lush green lawns of summer to the warm fields of Fall another change starts inside our homes. From the food on our table to the decorations hung on the fireplace or front door, our homes change with the passing seasons. The food on our table no longer holds the cool sweetness of juicy summer fruits. In their stead are large round pumpkins, squash and apples warmed to deliciousness and covered in cinnamon. The bright fun colors of summer transform to the warm rich colors of rust, orange and brown. The beautiful blossoms of spring have slowly and quietly into beautiful fruits of Fall.

The rhythm and path of our lives are very much like the changing leafs outside of our windows. Deeply rooted inside each one of us is the desire to embrace the warmth and richness of the things around us and bestow on it others. This should start with our spouse. Scripture tells us that there is a time for everything “For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

What season are you in with your spouse? Perhaps you are a young couple just starting out and bursting with excitement. You are full of cute uplifting notes for your spouse and doing all the little things you know he loves. Maybe you are embarking in the hot summer months of life with three little ones hanging off your arms like monkeys and are feeling overwhelmed by the laboring in the hot sun of life. Then again, maybe you are in the Autumn of life when your children are growing before your eyes into mature, well rounded, compassionate and God-loving adults. Or, you could be in a very difficult time in your marriage when things feel stagnant, hard and frozen. But with winter comes hope for the thaw and new growth.

 Found on allthingsblog56.blogspot.com

Found on allthingsblog56.blogspot.com

No matter the season of life, there is beauty to be found in the season of our marriage. Whether we are madly in love, steadily growing, indulging in the harvest of labors in the hot summer sun or chipping away at the frost of a love stagnant for a season, inside each one of us is a fire. Here we can curl up with a comforting blanket of peace, knowing that each season will bring forth growth and beauty beyond our hopes if we only have faith in the Lord and make the choice of loving the one chosen for us.

It is up to us to bring the inner warmth to our families. Women are the more inclined nurturers. As such, we are particularly inclined to know our spouses like the back of our hands. We know what buttons to push when, what he likes and what pleases him. In this time of beautiful change I challenge you to bring the warmth of the season into your marriage. Whether it is making the favorite dish of your spouse, leaving him small notes of appreciation or making sure to kiss him every night before going to sleep, make the effort for the small things. Most of all pray for your spouse. There is nothing more powerful than prayer to nurture our love. From the small glowing embers of prayer can come a great blaze as long as we fan the flames.

The Cross

HILL OF CROSSES in Lithuania

Hill of Crosses in Lithuania (If you have time, read about this hill at hillofcrosses.com)

Crucifixes. Whether you only have one that you received as a wedding gift or one over each doorway, the crucifix is a staple of the Catholic home. On September 14th we, as a Church, celebrate the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. Some among us may shrug our shoulders. After all, the Church likes to celebrate a lot of different feasts throughout the year. What about this feast is any different?

On many of the Church’s feast days we are mourning the loss of a person but also celebrating their entrance into their heavenly reward. The Church’s feasts are almost always centered around holy persons. There are only a select few that are based on other events or holy artifacts. On this feast, we celebrate the finding of something.

What does this feast offer us spiritually? It offers us the tangibility we long for when we seek God. The crucifix is not just a symbol. The Passion of Jesus is not just a story. This Cross which we exult is the one upon which the gates of heaven were opened, the powers of Hell defeated and the Kingdom of God established on the earth through the Church. His heavenly blood spilled down the bark of this earthly tree. With heaving breaths, He gained painful seconds of life. As He hung upon this Cross, He prayed for souls, He prayed for His persecutors, forgave sins, fulfilled prophecies and bestowed the Church with the gift of His Blessed Mother.

This Cross is not simply wood. It was chosen as an instrument which touched the wounds of the Incarnate God. Its very surface absorbed the blood of Christ into its inner fibers. Upon this Cross of Christ were the world’s sins and hopes nailed. Christ did not turn His face from the world; instead, He entrusted Himself

Found on catholiccompany.com

Found on catholiccompany.com

fully. The Incarnation leads to the Cross which ultimately leads to the Resurrection. Every mystery of the rosary we pray focuses around these truths. Every torture of His Passion was one more soul saved, one more sin forgiven, and one more step to defeating death forever.

Beneath this Cross knelt His Most Sorrowful Mother. Her heart tore deeply with each drop of His Precious Blood that was spilt and each painful breath He took. Like a true mother, she suffered along with her Son yet offered it all to God. With complete surrender, Our Lady looked on as another dagger pierced her heart. Though her suffering had been foreseen by Simeon the prophet, it did not dull her anguish. Yet still, she had two more daggers to bear in the taking down from the Cross and burying of her Son. The love of Our Lady is not a shallow cove but a deep pool of joy and sorrow. In her, the words of St. Paul ring most true, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 13:7)

So, why do we exalt the finding of a Cross? It is not for the sake of having some thing. It is for the sake of someone. It is for our sake that we have the physical relics of the Cross and the replicas in our homes. If there is a crucifix in our home, take time and kneel before it. Fix your gaze upon the downturned head of Jesus. Meditate on each of the wounds inflicted upon Our Lord. Allow yourself to be still in the presence of the crucifix. Speak to the Lord in His Passion and suffering. Offer to him something to alleviate His pain. Offer contrition for your sins. Pray for the salvation of your family. Pray in thanksgiving for the life he has provided.

On this feast, meditate on the Cross of Our Lord. May the words of St. Gemma resound in your heart, “It is not enough to look at the cross, or wear it, we must carry it in the depth of our heart.” Thank Him for the suffering He endured and for the events He has allowed us to venerate through the relics of His Most Sacred Cross. Take your place beneath your family’s crucifix or the one at your church. Give Him five minutes before or after Mass to be with Him, to thank Him, adore Him and praise Him.

(Article can also be found at Radiance + Grace online magazine)