Friday, December 19, 2014

The Thrill of Hope

One of my favorite lines from the Christmas hymn "O Holy Night" is: "the thrill of hope, a weary world rejoices..." This year I find myself reflecting with gratitude on the hope that the Incarnation of our Lord brought 2000+ years ago to all humanity and brings to me and you and all of our loved ones today - the hope of eternal life.  After all the cookies are eaten, and gifts are unwrapped, and the memories of the festive celebrations are images on our photos and in our minds, what remains is the hope that is at the heart of our Christmas celebrations.

In Jesus' birth, death, and resurrection, we have the hope of freedom from the slavery of sin, the promise of the peace of the Kingdom, and the pledge of eternal glory in the life to come. What greater gift is there than that. What greater cause for rejoicing than this truth! Let us all ask the Holy Spirit to allow us to experience this "thrill of hope" that the Nativity of the Lord brings in a new and deeper way this year.

Because there is only so much multi-tasking I can handle without sacrificing my own peace and sanity, I'll be jumping off the grid for a few weeks and will return to blogging on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord - January 15, 2015. Please sign up for new posts so you don't miss anything when I return - I have some ideas for a series on the Blessed Mother entitled: Love Beyond all Telling as well as a book club to study Father Lawrence Lovasik's The Hidden Power of Kindness: A Practical Handbook for Souls Who Dare to Transform the World, One Deed at a Time and more.  In the meantime, I pray that you and your families enjoy a blessed Christmas season.

Enjoy this powerful video of Josh Groban's stirring rendition of O Holy Night, set to scenes from the Nativity Story. Have a tissue handy! 

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Sunday, November 30, 2014

New (Liturgical) Year's Resolutions

Happy New Year! 

No - I haven't mis-scheduled a blog post. On the first Sunday of Advent, the Church marks the first day of a new Liturgical year.  As with the celebration of the new calendar year each January, the new Church year is a time of new beginnings, of fresh starts, and of renewed purpose.

It is with good reason that the church chooses a penitential season to begin each new year. Advent, contrary to what every blaring cyber-Monday commercial and glittering fully-decorated Christmas trees at the local Mall would have you believe, is a season of interior preparation, not merely for the infant Jesus' birth into history which we celebrate on Christmas, but for the Lord's second coming in glory and for our own personal judgment which comes at our deaths. Like the other penitential season in the Church's calendar - Lent, it is a time of interior purification and renewal - preparing our hearts and souls to more fully live in union with God in this life in order to enjoy eternal happiness with him in the next. What better way to start off a New Year!

Here are seven ideas for New (Liturgical) Year's resolutions:

1. Go to Daily Mass one extra day per week. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, quoting Lumen Gentium, describes the Eucharist as "the source and suumit of the Christian life" and states that "the Church strongly encourages the faithful to receive the holy Eucharist on Sundays and feast days, or more often still, even daily." If you are not already a Daily Mass attendee, resolve to attend just one more Mass each week.

2. Add a new prayer to your prayer routine.  For me, this year, I am planning to embrace the discipline of doing Morning prayer and Evening prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours each day. However, there are so many ways of incorporating more prayer in your life: Daily Mass, the Rosary, the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, the Noon-time  Angelus- the list is endless. Make a commitment today that will be achievable - even if the only commitment you are able to make is to pray one single Our Father each day.

3. Read the scriptures. The Bible is the living word of God and spending just 10 minutes a day reading it will change your life. If you are new to reading the Bible - begin with the Gospel of John and commit to reading for 10 minutes. If you are already a regular scripture-reader, pick a book that you are not as familiar with and begin reading it. More ambitious? Check out this daily reading plan which will help you read the entire Bible in one year.

4. Begin a spiritual journal. Keeping a spiritual journal has been one of the most fruitful practices I have ever adopted. I journal my prayers, struggles, scriptures or quotes that have inspired me, petitions, thanksgiving for blessings and more. My journal is a concrete expression of my prayer time and provides a great tool for being honest in my prayer time. Reflecting upon my completed journals allows me to see how the Lord has moved in my life over a period of time. Looking for more tips about journaling?  Read 7 Lessons From Keeping a Spiritual Journal, grab a notebook and pen and being your love letter to the Lord this year!

5. Forgive. Holding a grudge? Resenting someone who has hurt you? Angry and upset about the way your parents/husband/children/friends/boss/etc. treat you? Holding on to unforgiveness is hurting only one person - you.  This New Year - resolve to forgive those who have hurt you. Spend some time in prayer and ask the Lord for the grace to extend forgiveness.  Remember that Jesus forgave from the Cross- it is difficult to withhold forgiveness when you meditate on the crucifixion scene. A great way to start is to write a letter to the person who has hurt you (you don't have to actually send it). In the letter, be specific about what you are forgiving that person for. When you have completed the letter, place the person in the Lord's hands and let them go.

6. Go to confession. Confession is tough stuff - it is not easy to sit before another person and plainly state, without excuses, all your failings, weaknesses and shortcomings. I spent 20 long, dark years away from Confession and can personally attest that it is an incredibly powerful Sacrament and the grace that is available through it to bring healing, freedom and wholeness is immeasurable. Do not be afraid to go to confession. If you have been away from the Sacrament for awhile, ask a friend to go with you. Find a priest that you think you would be comfortable with and explain that you are unfamiliar/uncomfortable/uneasy or just plain afraid - he can help with the mechanics of the Sacrament. Ask the Holy Spirit to bring to mind your sins and then jump in with both feet. You will be relieved, elated, and joyful afterwards. Don't wait - the Lord's mercy is the most amazing gift!

7. Make friends with a saint. Ever been asked by a non-Catholic: "Why do you pray to a statue?"  The Communion of Saints is a gift and a mystery that have nothing to do with praying to statues and everything to do with being part of a family that spans the boundaries of time and space. The saints are role models for living lives according to God's plan and powerful intercessors before the throne of the Lord in heaven. This year, resolve to learn about one new saint in a deep way - read their writings, watch videos about their lives, strive to identify and imitate their heroic virtue, and pray to them for their intercession.

Share some of your New Liturgical Year's Resolutions below!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

5 Ways to Grow in Gratitude

As we look forward to the annual celebration of Thanksgiving, I'm participating in "Worth Revisiting Wednesday" over at Theology is a Verb and Reconciled to You by sharing this post on growing in the virtue of gratitude. If you have ever watched at toddler, you will quickly conclude that gratitude is not an innate response that flows off the tongue with ease. Gratitude, like all virtues, needs to be practiced - built like a muscle through constant use and discipline.

"Blow, blow thou winter wind, thou art not so unkind as man's ingratitude." The past several years, our winters here in the Northeast have been particularly harsh. In the midst of those long, cold, snowy winter days,  Shakespeare's words have taken on a whole new meaning. That winter wind is nasty. Yet, Shakespeare suggests, its bitter bite is not as wicked as man's ingratitude. Ingratitude, it seems, has been a problem for people forever - rearing its ugly head long before Shakespeare penned those famous words. I would submit that a underlying temptation towards ingratitude was one of the reasons for Adam and Eve's fall. If they had been truly grateful for all the Lord had blessed them with, they would have not sought after the one thing that they couldn't have. Their ingratitude fueled their pride which ultimately caused them to succumb to the temptation of the devil.

In Luke's Gospel, we read the story of the ten lepers who were cleansed by Jesus and find that only one returns to thank him for his healing. Jesus' response to the one leper who returned to thank him was "Stand up and go. Your faith has saved you." (Luke 17 (11-19) Here we see another connection - this time between faith and gratitude. It was that one leper's faith and humility that compelled him to return with gratitude. Through his faith, he was able to acknowledge Jesus' power to heal him and thank and praise him for it.

Gratitude is more than simply saying "Thank you." It is an attitude by which we recognize that we are not capable of self-sufficiency - that we cannot provide for ourselves everything that we need or desire. When we show our gratitude to God we are responding to him in faith.  In gratitude, we acknowledge that He is the creator and we are his creatures - dependent upon him for our very existence.  In expressing gratitude to other people we also grant that they have given to us something that we did not already possess. Gratitude demands humility on our part and growing in gratitude is essential for overcoming our own pride.

The season of Advent is a penitential season and offers us an opportunity to take stock of our lives and examine how well (or poorly) we are practicing gratitude.  I'd like to offer five ideas for growing in gratitude this Advent.

  1. Begin the day with gratitude.  Before your feet hit the floor (or before you grab your iPhone off the nightstand) thank the Lord for the gift of a new day and for all the ways he will bless you in that day ahead. The simple act of acknowledging God's goodness before you perform any other activity of the day sets a tone of gratitude for the entire day ahead.
  2. Pray the Psalms. The Psalms are beautiful prayers of praise, thanksgiving, lamentation, wonder and awe over who God is and what he has done. Even those Psalms that are not specifically Psalms of thanksgiving can inspire an attitude of gratitude. You can simply begin praying one Psalm a day or, if you are so moved, pray the Liturgy of the Hours which incorporates several Psalms at each hour. (My favorites are Psalm 40 and 139) 
  3. Pray grace before you begin any new activity.  We very routinely pray grace before meals, but praying a prayer of blessing and thanksgiving to God before beginning any new activity is a way to grow in awareness of God's providential care and the practice of gratitude. GK Chesterton says "You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink."  
  4. End the day with a gratitude journal.  Designate a notebook or journal to be used as your gratitude journal. At the end of each day, write a list of at least two things that you are grateful for that day. Some days it may be difficult to find even one thing to be grateful for. On days like this, thank God that you lived to see another day. On other days you may fill pages. This journal will be a source of encouragement for years to come.  
  5. Write a "thank you" note.  That's right - a handwritten, pen and paper, put a stamp on it, genuine old-fashioned thank you note. Better yet - write several. Develop a habit of writing thank you notes when someone has done something for you - however small.  Try and be as specific as possible in your note about what you are thanking the person for and what impact it has had on your life. Remember, gratitude takes humility and at first, these notes may seem awkward and challenging to write.  However, if you persist, not only will you grow in gratitude, but the persons receiving your notes will be blessed and encouraged as well. 

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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Saints Quotes on Gratitude

As we look ahead to the celebration of Thanksgiving, here are five powerful quotes from the Saints on gratitude. What struck me the most about these quotes is that taken together they provide a broad picture of the "attitude of gratitude" which we should have towards the Lord. Our gratitude should be expressed in prayer, for God's mercy, his goodness and the blessings of the past. It should be lived out in both the joy-filled times in our lives and in the struggles as well. Finally, our gratitude should lead us to live radically for Jesus - to the point, as St. Ignatius bluntly states, of being considered a fool.

Have you thanked the Lord today? 





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Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Novermber Daybook: A Snapshot into My Life

Outside My Window...
Fall foliage is fully present in my neighborhood. Fall is my favorite season and I am always amazed at the beauty of the colors. This photo was taken at the end of my street. Just gorgeous!

I am thankful...
For the road trip we took with our Pastor and a few families from our parish this past weekend to the Catholic Underground in NYC.  The Catholic Underground is an apostolate of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal. The Underground is a Eucharistic Holy Hour accompanied by the melodic chanting of the friars. During the Holy Hour, the lights of the church are shut off and the Monstrance is illuminated by spotlight and candles. It was such a powerful night of prayer and worship of our Lord Jesus. Truly a glimpse of heaven. The congregation was comprised primarily of young adults - what a witness and a joy to see a church packed to capacity on a Saturday night in the middle of NYC! Here's a picture of the sanctuary of the church immediately prior to the Holy Hour.

I am thinking...
Of ideas to celebrate Advent with my family. The past few years I have missed the boat during Advent and have gotten swept up in the Christmas shopping/cooking/party frenzy. I have woken up on Christmas morning feeling unprepared, spiritually, for this great celebration, and burnt out from all the busyness of the month of December. Each year, I have resolved to do better the following year, but so far that has not happened. This year, I am once again determined to fully enter into the Advent season and am on the lookout for ways that my family can grow together during this holy season of waiting and preparation.

I am reading...
Everyday Meditations by Blessed John Henry Newman. Honestly, I am blown away by this book and the deep, thoughtful and heartfelt meditations it contains. My Spiritual Director recently introduced me to Cardinal Newman via his episcopal motto: Cor ad Cor Loquitur, which means "heart speaks to heart" and I have been hooked on his writings ever since. The book contains 50 short (3-4 pages each) meditations from the Cardinal's personal writings. These are not sermons, or intellectual discourses, but rather, deep heart-to-heart conversations with the Lord. They are so intense that I often find that I can't read more than a few paragraphs at a time. The book is a real treasure -I highly recommend it!

I am praying...
For the grace and the strength to stick to living out St. Josemarie Escriva's Heroic Minute every day. We recently completed the 14 Day "Heroic Minute" Challenge - click here if you are interested in taking the challenge - but as St. Escriva points out: "To begin is easy, to persevere is sanctity." The challenge made me realize that any growth in virtue in my life needs to be fueled by a ton of prayer and is really impossible without God's grace and mercy.

I am looking forward to...
A date night with my hubby this Friday! It is getting so much harder to have a private conversation now that the kids are getting older - it will be such a blessing to get out together and have fun and talk freely.  Of course, I am certain that the majority of our conversation will be centered on the kids!

A few plans for the rest of the month....
  • Thanksgiving Dinner with my family - our last one in my childhood home before my parents move in the new year. We are looking forward to having them live a few miles away from us, but saying goodbye to my childhood home is a bittersweet experience. 
  • Writing an exegesis paper on an Old Testament scripture for a course I am taking. This is not an easy task and I am honestly overwhelmed by the prospect of it. If you could spare a few prayers for me it would be much appreciated. 
  • Running an Advent Lighthouse Catholic Media giveway. I am planning to giveaway 5 CD's of talks for Advent and Christmas. Opportunities to enter to win will begin on Sunday November 16 and the drawing will be held on Saturday November 22. Stop back and visit! 

A favorite quote for today...
At the Catholic Underground, the Franciscan Friar who was leading worship spoke of this scripture verse in a way I had never considered before. He said that the "perfect love" isn't our love for God, but rather, God's love for us, which is always perfect and unconditional. His reflections have given me a whole new perspective on this passage and I have been meditating upon it ever since. What an awesome gift is the Lord's perfect love.

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Saturday, November 1, 2014

Testimonies From the Heroic Minute Challenge

Many, many thanks to all who participated in the 14 Day "Heroic Minute" Challenge. I'd like to share with you some testimonies from people's experience with the challenge. God truly cannot be outdone in generosity. When we set our minds to knowing, loving and serving him from the moment our eyes first open in the morning, he truly does respond by showering us with grace, strength and blessing. Hearing the testimonies, struggles and victories of others has been a great source of witness and inspiration for me and I hope they will be for you too!

From Charisse T: "'Just as man cannot live in the flesh unless he is born in the flesh, even so a man cannot have the spiritual life of grace unless he is born again spiritually.'  St. Thomas Aquinas  I've done this heroic minute thing before.  I read some of St. Josemaria Escriva's writings a few months ago, taped a Miraculous Mary medal to my snooze button, and committed.  5:30am on the dot every morning for about three weeks.  Work out, prayer, breakfast, and my day was off to the kind of start I wanted.  Then, whammo!  Something happened.  Nursing baby, teething toddler, late nights, and I fell back into my old, snooze button hitting habits.  So when Saints365 posed the Heroic Minute Challenge, I knew it was time to reclaim my mornings, but in a different way.  I don't feel proud of myself anymore, for I know how quickly I can fall.  Rather, I am grateful for each morning of opportunity that God gives me.  I've realized that, as a busy mom of five, my heroic minute sometimes means popping right out of bed and heading out the door for a run, but sometimes it means staying in bed long enough to nurse the baby first.  Sometimes my heroic minute is at 10:30 at night, when I choose to go to bed with hope-filled expectations for the new day, instead of staying up late to avoid the drudgery of living the next day with despair and pessimism.  And sometimes my heroic minute is when I offer my failure to get up at the appointed time to God, with full confidence in His infinite mercy.  The heroic minute is a chance to be "born again spiritually."  As I've made better choices at bedtime and waking time, I've strengthened my will to make better choices throughout my day.  Less facebook, more prayer.  Less unnecessary "chores", more quality time with my kids.  More disciplined and efficient housekeeping, more peaceful home.  I gave God one minute, but He gave me back so many more.  One small act of the will is all it takes to open the floodgates of God's grace!"
Visit Charisse at her blog "Paving the Path to Purity" or like Paving the Path to Purity on Facebook. 

From Debbie R: "Your challenge to put the Lord and prayer time first in my day has been both a motivation and an encouragement to me. Although I am at a different stage in life, the struggle is still the same in many ways. When my prayer time is not disciplined, often my exercise and healthy eating struggles also. I feel like I am catching up all day and squeezing the Lord in; like I’m not ready for the day.  Your struggles mirrored mine; the perfect day, the less than perfect for a good reason, the total failure day. It reminded me that each day is a new beginning, a chance to begin again, to adjust rather than quit, the reminder of the proper order of the day and importance of priorities. You confirmed some of my own experiences on my prayer life, as well as offering new ideas for encouragement through scripture and prayerful reading. Just because I am newly retired and have the time now, it doesn’t always translate to doing what we should do. The timing of this for me was just perfect and much needed!  All teachers appreciate the “value of struggling”. Another reminder I needed myself. Reflecting on my successes, attempts and failures also led to some additional insights for improvement. We know we need Catholic community on our journey and your online blog is another way to get it!"

From Michele G: The "Heroic Minute" challenge has been such a blessing for me  From challenging me to get up earlier on these crisp cool Fall mornings, to keeping prayer at the very start of the day, to keeping any distractions from detouring me. Instead of reading the newspaper, I turned to my Bible and gave the Lord my "first fruits" of the day and was spiritually fed and blessed every time! How beautiful when the Lord led me to Sirach 6:14: "A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter. He that has found one has found a treasure." The Heroic Minute also helped me focus on how precious time is and by spending time wisely, we are truly reminded of how we do "store up our treasures" for ourselves for here on Earth and for our Eternity. Praise God from whom all good blessings flow!

From Terry R:  "A couple of years ago I got into the habit of doing just that, I wake up most mornings and usually get right down on my knees and begin the day by surrendering it to the Lord. I ask him to open my eyes and ears, heart and mind to his Holy and divine will. I tell him that I trust in him and everything that He has in store for me that day (both trials and tribulations) I ask him to help me to shine with His that I may help to glorify His kingdom here on earth. Ever since I started doing this, I have noticed a radical change in my life...especially when it comes to accepting the days little challenges...I find it easier to stay focused on the Lord and I take comfort in both the good and the bad. That one little minute with the Lord at the beginning of the day is nothing short of a miracle, and why wouldn't it be. Its the Lord himself who said "Seek and you shall find, Knock and the door will be opened to you" It really is as simple as a one minute conversation with the Lord every morning. Praise be to God, now and forever!"

Interested in taking the Challenge? - Click here to read daily entries in the 14 Day Heroic Minute Challenge! 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Scriptures For the Morning

As we enter into the home stretch of the 14 Day "Heroic Minute" Challenge, here are five of my favorite scripture verses related to the morning. In contemplating these it seems that there is a few consistent themes among them:
  • Our morning should begin with praise and thanksgiving to God. This seems straightforward - the very fact that we are alive to see another day is reason enough to praise God! Yet, more often than I care to admit, my day begins with something far more mundane than praise. The opening antiphon for the Liturgy of the Hours, to be recited first thing in the morning, comes from Psalm 51 and reads: "Lord open my lips and my mouth shall declare your praise." Over the course of this challenge I have begun reciting that phrase as soon as I shut off my alarm clock. 
  • The Lord's mercy is available to us each morning. I take such comfort in this! With God, there is always an opportunity to begin again. Each brand new day brings with it a fresh start - another chance to grow closer to the Lord, to overcome our weaknesses, and live out the God's commandment of loving Him and our neighbors. If it is one message which has come across loud and clear during this challenge it is that I am greatly in need of God's mercy and assistance - especially first thing in the morning. 
  • Because of God's abundant mercy, we can be confident in placing our trust in him at the beginning of each day. This trust will provide us with the grace we need to face whatever comes our way during the day.
For the remainder of the Heroic Minute challenge, I would encourage you to select one of these scripture verses that really speaks to your heart. Meditate on it, journal about it and ask the Lord to speak personally to you through it. 

Please share your own favorite Scriptures in the comments box below! 

Interested in taking the challenge? Click here to find out more information...






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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Overcoming Discouragement Through the Stations of the Cross

Lately, I have been feeling discouraged about my spiritual life and all the areas of my heart that I still have not yet fully surrendered to the Lord. My prayer life has seen better days and I am desperately in need of a good confession, but seem to be doing my level best to avoid any and all opportunities to avail myself of one. The most humiliating part of all is that I am teaching a class on the virtues at my children's co-op and that has just served to highlight just how un-virtuous some of my day to day behavior really is - a fact that my 10 year old, who is in the class, is quick to point out....

The truth is, giving into the temptation to throw a daily pity-party complete with long sighs and lots of woe-is-me's is not an attitude that is likely to lift our discouragement any time soon.  I stress to my children every day that if they used the time they spent whining about doing their school work in actually doing their schoolwork they would be shocked at how quickly the work got done.

Why don't I take my own advice?

When I find myself in these times of dryness and discouragement, The Stations of the Cross is my "go-to" devotion.  There is something very comforting to me in knowing that Jesus himself fell not once, but three times under the weight of the cross. The fact that he was able, and willing, to struggle to rise again after each fall - knowing that what awaited him was crucifixion, is a great witness to the power of His love for me, and for all of us.  In moments of discouragement, I find myself lingering over these three Stations in particular; begging the Lord for the grace to imitate him and lift my face out of the dust of the ground to rise and begin the struggle again. This prayer, for the Ninth Station in Archbishop Fulton J Sheen's The Way of the Cross has touched my heart in a deep way.
Many times, dear Jesus I promised you,
after having fallen to temptation
by the flesh and the world,
that I would never fall again.
Your third fall, dear Jesus,
is a witness that I have fallen
by the snares of the devil.
But by rising again,
you have given me another reason to hope.
You have taught me that there are
two kins of people I can be:
a person who falls down and stays down,
or a person who falls but gets up again.
By this, your third fall,
you purchased for me the grace
of rising again each time I fall.
The devil would give up the world
to make me his own.
You gave up your very life
to keep me for yourself,
to show me that I am worth saving.

My flesh is indeed weak, but the grace and power that flows from the Lord's crucified body is enough for me.

What prayers, scriptures or other devotions have helped you overcome discouragement?  Please share them in the comments box below! 

Monday, October 6, 2014

October Daybook: A Snapshot Into My Life

Outside My Window
It is a crisp fall day with the wind blowing the leaves off the trees in a steady stream of falling color. Autumn is my favorite time of year and I am grateful for the beautiful scenery that the Lord paints during this season.  

I am thankful...
...that my son has recently had the opportunity to begin Altar Serving at our parish. What an honor and privilege it is for him and a joy to watch for my husband and I. Serving at the altar has given him a new and deeper reverence and understanding of the Mass.

A dear friend and mother of a the seminarian who trained my son shared this video with me  - it is a much watch for all Altar Servers and gives a moving display of the great dignity of their role in the Mass. 

I am going... the Adoration Chapel this afternoon for some much needed time in the presence of the Lord. If you have never spent time in prayer in front of the Blessed Sacrament, I invite you to do so.  St. John Vianney says:
"Our Lord is hidden in the Blessed Sacrament, waiting for us to come and visit him....See how good he is! If he had appeared before us now in all his glory, we should not have dared to approach him; but he hides himself like one in prison, saying: "You do not see me, but that does not matter; ask me for all you want..."
I am reading...
...The Consuming Fire: A Christian Guide to the Old Testament by Father Michael Duggan.  This is a text for an Old Testament Scripture class that I am currently taken and I am loving every one of it's massive 688 pages. 

I am learning...
...about the Old Testament and how the experiences, struggles, sins, and victories of the Israelites have so much to teach us today. I have to admit, except for a few favorite verses and a handful of Psalms, before taking this class I had about a second grade knowledge of the Old Testament - you know, Jonah was the guy who got swallowed by the whale; David killed the giant; and Samson had a really bad hair day...

Through the course and Father Duggan's book, as well as reading the OT from beginning to end (an exercise I highly recommend) I am learning the importance of knowing how the Lord has operated in the lives of his people since the beginning of Creation. The Old Testament's narratives were often written to remind the Israelites of the fact that what God has done for their ancestors, he will do for them too. It is so easy for me to look at whatever problem I am facing today and panic. I have come to realize through the Old Testament, that what I need to be doing is reflecting on how God has seen me through problems in the past and he will continue to do so in the present and the future, provided that I remain faithful to him. All of God's word is a living word, with as much relevance and meaning for us today as it was when it was written thousands of years ago.  How great is our God! 

I am praying...
...for a multitude of people and intentions. However, the foremost on my list is for protection for my family and all families. The family seems to be under unprecedented attack and I pray that the Lord will pour out the grace of fortitude and perseverance for all families trying to live holy lives in a challenging, often anti-Christian world. 

I am looking forward to...
spending the weekend with my family celebrating my brother's birthday. My brother is a diocesan priest - if you get a minute, please say a prayer for him and for all priests that the Lord would protect them as fearlessly and tirelessly proclaim the Gospel to a world which badly needs to hear the Good News.  

A favorite quote for today...

A few plans for the rest of the week:
  • Putting away summer clothes and getting out fall/winter ones.  (Yes, even the flip-flops)
  • Attending our parish's Christ Life program - an 8 week evangelization program designed to bring the attendees to a personal encounter with Jesus. My husband and I have been blessed to serve on the core-team for the program.  It is really a joy to watch people's faith come alive as the Lord touches their hearts. 
  • Taking my kids to the zoo with our homeschool co-op and to the local hayride/corn maze. I am amazed that at 12 and 10 years old they are still super excited about these trips and I am looking forward to spending some time outdoors enjoying the beautiful fall days! 
A peek inside my day:
Our classroom.

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Tuesday, July 1, 2014

"Frozen" and the Lie of False Freedom

Before we even begin here, I get that Frozen is sooooo "yesterday's news", but my 9 year old daughter's chorale group just performed "Let it Go" at a recent concert and, having been  torutured, ahem, treated to my children belting it out at the top of their lungs for several weeks now, I must confess that I have some major gripes with that song.

Let me just state for the record: I loved Frozen. I bawled like a baby watching it and the instant it ended I called my sister and blubbered how much I loved her over the phone. A week later, I watched it with my sister and we both sobbed together and hugged each other as our baffled husbands shook their heads and poured themselves another glass of wine. It is a great movie about the bond of sisterhood and climaxes with a wonderful message about the healing power of self-sacrificing love.

My gripe is with the song "Let It Go" and the erroneous message it sends - erroneous, that is, if your live out a Catholic, Gospel world view -  which, as you probably have surmised by the title of this blog, I do. If you subscribe to the "I'm Every Woman" world view of determined individualism, well, then, I guess you have a new anthem in "Let it Go".

Let it Go is not a song about empowerment and freedom - it is a song driven out of fear and culminating in isolation and destruction - a recipe for slavery. 

Here's a quick synopsis (for the two of you who have not yet seen the movie):
  • Elsa has lived with a gripping fear, exacerbated by her parent's mishandling of their daughter's powers, since she accidentally hurt her sister Anna when they were children. 
  • This fear has resulted in her powers being kept secret from everyone, including her own sister. 
  • When the years of pent up fear, isolation and guilt finally explode in Elsa - she makes the mistake of doing what so many of us would do in the same situation - she runs away. 
  • In the act of escaping from Arandale, Elsa does not free herself (although she does build for herself quite a spectacular ice-castle) but merely trades one form of isolation for another. She is equally as trapped in the ice-castle of her own creation, as she was in the castle at Arandale.
  • It is only through the love and forgiveness of the community that Elsa is truly set free and is finally able to use her gifts for good. 

 Our faith and the teachings of the Lord Jesus give us quite a different perspective from the message of Elsa's "freedom" expressed in the mantras of "Let it Go".  Here's a few key points:

Secrets Destroy
Right from the beginning of the movie, we see the destructive and demeaning power of the secret. The entire castle is shut down and the world is shut out all because of the fear of the secret of Elsa's powers being revealed. Indeed, the secret has driven a wedge between the two sisters, Anna and Elsa. As for Elsa herself, she is slowly being destroyed from the inside out by this secret and the pressure of keeping it.

The Scriptures teach us to live as children of the light. In Mark's Gospel, Jesus says:  "For there is nothing hidden, except to be made visible; nothing is secret except to come to the light."  (Mark 4:22) . It is the enemy of our souls who operates in darkness and secrets - causing the secrets we keep to mushroom into crippling fears. In Christ, there is no such thing as a secret. Even our worst sins and failings need to be brought into His light. Why? So that they may be healed and we may be set free from their debilitating effects. 

Forgiveness Needs to Happen, Quickly
Part of the disconnect between Anna and Elsa exists in the fact that Elsa has never received Anna's forgiveness for hurting her and she has never forgiven herself. Unforgiveness is a powerful source of division, especially in families. We can see by the love in Anna's heart, that she would have been more than willing to offer forgiveness to Elsa, had Elsa asked.  In fact, because of the secret, Anna does not even know the source of the division between herself and Elsa, whom she loves dearly and misses terribly. Receiving Anna's forgiveness would have been a potent remedy for many of Elsa's fears.

Like Elsa, there may be many times where we hurt those we love, even inadvertently. It is often tempting, whether our of guilt, embarrassment, or pride to cut that person out of our lives rather than attempt to repair the relationship. Doing so, however, leads to more confusion and resentment on both sides. Had Elsa and Anna had an honest conversation, and extended and received forgiveness quickly, things would have been quite different in their relationship. In the context of mutual forgiveness and love, it is likely that Elsa's fears would never have had the opportunity to get a stronghold in her heart. (Of course, healthy, stable relationships don't make for particularly good Disney movies.....) 

The Past is Never in the Past
Unlike the song loudly proclaims, the past never remains in the past. The past events of our lives have an impact on our present - either for good or for bad. When the memories of  the less pleasant events of our past (and we all have them) rear their ugly heads, we need to address them in the light and love of Jesus Christ, who is able to heal the wounds of our past.

Suppressing the past, wishing it were different, or pretending it didn't happen - no matter how loudly you sing the words -  will not change the negative effects of the past. The truth about the past, brought to light in the safety of the healing and merciful love of Jesus will. 

Being A Good Girl is Good
Due to the weakness of Elsa's parents, she had a misguided impression of what it meant to be a good girl. For her, goodness meant living in fear and isolation and restricting a part of herself that she didn't fully understand.  She rejected this notion of goodness as soon as she could. Can you blame her? Who would want to be a "good girl" under those circumstances?

For the Christian, being good is good, because all goodness comes from God. Pope John Paul II, in his encyclical Veritatis Splendor, says "Only God can answer the question about the good, because he is the Good." (art. 12) He goes on to say: "God, who alone is good, knows perfectly what is good for man, and by virtue of his very love proposes this good to man in the commandments." (art 35)

God gives us his Commandments out of love - not to cramp our style or suppress our freedom, as Elsa's parents did to her. Conversely, we obey his Commandments out of love for him and in response to his love, not out of fear. It is only through this understanding that we can come to live in the joy and freedom that truly being "good" brings - the joy of living out God's loving plan for our lives. 

Isolation is Not the Answer
Isolation stinks - just ask anyone who is lonely and they will tell you that isolation is one of the worst forms of human suffering. Why? Because we were not meant to live in isolation, but to live in communion with one another and with the Lord. In Genesis, we hear the Lord declare: "It is not good for man to be alone."(Gen 2:18) We need the love and support of others to help us make our way in life, no matter how unappealing the idea may seem at times (let's face it - human relationships are not exactly easy-peasy).

Elsa did not solve any of her problems in her dramatic escape to the sparkling, gorgeous, frozen castle of isolation she created for herself - she merely traded an isolation imposed on her for one which she imposed on herself. Sure, her new life had its appeal - at least for a time. I mean, she got to be herself, she had a brand new-do and a fabulous dress - who wouldn't love that?  It didn't take long, however, to realize that a life devoid of love is no life at all.

Ultimately, it was experience of Anna's saving "act of true love" which broke the chains of the isolation that resided, primarily, in Elsa's heart. and led to her re-introduction into the full life of the community of Arandale.  The movie ends, with Elsa freely sharing her gifts within the context of the community and it is there that we witness her living in true joy and freedom.

Ok, alright - you are probably groaning in exasperation by now - "It's just a MOVIE, for crying out loud!" True, it is just a movie -  and "Let it Go" is a moving, catchy song, one which every little girl I know seems to be incessantly singing. Its musical appeal makes it even more imperative that we guide our children to think critically about the words they are singing an the scenes they are watching. 
I have had many conversations with my children about Frozen (and other movies we watch) and how it stands up to our Catholic world - view. These conversations, I believe, are an essential part of guiding my children to live in this world, without being of this world.

What are your thoughts about Frozen or any other children's movies?  

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Quotes From St. Josemarie Escriva

The church celebrates the feast of St. Josemarie Escriva, founder of Opus Dei, on June 26. His classic book, The Way: The Essential Classic of Opus Dei's Founder, has sold over 4.5 million copies since it was originally published in 1939. This book is a treasury of spiritual wisdom, drawn from the saint's own personal letters and conversations. Organized into categories, the book is filled with bite-sized nuggets which challenge readers in every state of life to grow in personal holiness.

If you are looking for ways to grow in your spiritual life, pick up a copy of St. Escriva's book today and read, meditate on and implement just one exhortation per day. It will change your life! 

The quotes below are some of my favorites and have directly impacted my own spiritual growth.

I try, many times unsuccessfully, to live out this quote - rising without hitting the snooze button at a fixed time each day.  On days that I am successful at this, I have truly won "the first skirmish of the day", as St. Josemarie Escriva promises.  It is a game-changer to have that victory!

As an avid reader, this quote has long been a favorite of mine, and one I have reflected on before.  I can only pray that my own spiritual reading will make me a saint!  Check out some of my favorite Catholic books here. 

This quote really resonates with me - it is so easy for me to be deceived by my own thoughts, emotions and wishes. I have been abundantly blessed to have many wise and trusted mature Catholic friends and a Spiritual Director who I rely on for spiritual advice, especially in tough times. 

This quote reminds me of one of my all-time favorite Scripture passages: "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in all circumstances give thanks." (1 Thess 5:16-17).  Easy to say - a little more challenging to do, but I have experienced tremendous blessings in my life when I have learned to rejoice in the Lord when things are not going so well....

Could it really be this simple? Concentrating on the little things.. Not procrastinating...  Why oh why do I over-complicate things?  

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Monday, June 23, 2014

Overcoming Careless Words

Pope Francis has not minced words when it comes to the sin of gossip, speaking about its perils on multiple occasions:
  •  In one homily he likened the act of gossip to Judas' betrayal of the Lord, saying that when we gossip about someone we are turning them into a "commodity" and selling them for 30 pieces of silver, which is the pleasure or other gain we receive through the gossip. 
  • On another occasion, he warned that slander is a grave sin which "wants to destroy God's work and is spawned by something very nasty... by hatred." 
  • Finally, in a separate homily, he explains that the consequence of gossip is to "transform our communities as well as our family into ‘hell’ . 
The Pope cautions that none of us are exempt from this sin and that he himself is tempted by it each day.

YIKES! It gets worse...If you think the Pope's words are tough - read these words of the Lord, who doesn't limit his warnings to gossip, but rather casts a much broader net to include "every careless word".

OUCH! Meditating on this Scripture brings to mind a barrage of images of myself in a variety of life situations where I have let loose with careless words including:
  • a snippy, unkind remark made to my husband 
  • an exasperated "Why can't you guys just be quiet for one.single.minute!" shout at my children
  • a brusque "I'm really busy Mom- gottta go..." followed by a quick hang-up to my Mom
  • a snarky comment made to a friend about a mutual acquaintance's perceived fault
  • and the insidious, "I don't mean to gossip, but....." followed by a "charitable" discussion of someone else's life which is frankly, none of my beeswax...
The idea of rendering an account of each and every one of these situations to the Lord leaves me with a sick feeling in my stomach, especially considering the fact that the above examples are not exactly one-hit wonders, but more closely resemble a record with its needle stuck...(and yes, I am dating myself...)

Don't worry. I have no intention in this blog post to leave myself, or you, my readers, wallowing in the depths of despair and considering drastic measures such as fasting on all speech for the next 30 days, weeks, years in order to overcome the careless words in our lives. Fortunately, the Scriptures, the wisdom of the saints, and our Holy Father offer a treasury of wisdom to help overcome the vice of careless speech.

Fill Your Fruit Basket
Every time I confess the sin of losing patience and the subsequent careless words that seem to inevitably follow, my confessor reminds me that that it is not patience that I am lacking - what I truly need is more of the Holy Spirit, whose presence in our lives bears the abundant fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal 5:22-23). When our fruit basket is full, what flows out from our heart and our mouths is careful speech, rather than careless words - speech that reflects the life of the Holy Spirit within us. The key is to keep that basket full, and the only way for us to do that is through constant surrender to the Holy Spirit in our lives and quick repentance when our words fall short.

Respond Instead of React
The fruit of the Holy Spirit, particularly that of self-control, helps us to cultivate the habit of stopping and listening before we rush into speaking. My wise confessor has reminded me on countless occasions that it is better to respond, than to react. Taking a pause, and uttering a quick prayer to the Holy Spirit before reacting immediately to situations or conversations is a great way to think through our responses. A well-thought out response is much less likely to involve careless words than a knee-jerk reaction is.

Pope Francis points us directly to prayer and the Holy Spirit, through whom we receive the grace to live out a new life of gentleness which "makes room for others." This virtue of gentleness is what we need to cultivate in order to overcome the vice of gossip. He encourages us with these words:
"If with the grace of the Spirit, we succeed in never gossiping, it will be a great and beautiful step ahead and will do everyone good. Let us ask the Lord to show us and the world the beauty and fullness of this new life, of being born of the Spirit, of treating each other with kindness, with respect. Let us ask for this grace for us all."

*I found the quote from St. Arsenius in a great book by Father Joseph Esper entitled Saintly Solutions to Life's Common Problems: From Anger, Boredom, and Temptation to Gluttony, Gossip, and Greed - please note than any purchases made by clicking through this link will result in my domestic church receiving a small commission which we greatly appreciate!    

Friday, June 20, 2014

7 Ways to Grow in Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus

The month of June is traditionally devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, with the feast of the Sacred Heart celebrated at the end of the Octave of Corpus Christi, 19 days after Pentecost. I have childhood memories of the various images of the Sacred Heart which adorned many friends and family member's homes in the Italian - immigrant neighborhood in which I grew up. It wasn't till I was an adult that I became interested in the history of the devotion, and eventually, we had our home enthroned to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. I am by no means an expert on the devotion to the Sacred Heart, so writing this post has been both a reflection of things I have already done to grow in this devotion and a list of things I hope to do.

1. Learn
In order to for any devotion to bear good fruit, it is essential that we know the history and significance of the devotion. Catholics have long been accused of entering into dubious and suspicious devotional practices. Understanding our own beautiful tradition of devotions and entering into them with the proper dispositions does much for our own spiritual growth and guards against turning a devotional practice into something superstitious.

Here are a few links to help learn more about the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus:

Catholic Encyclopedia: Devotion to the Sacred Heart
The Sacred Heart Institute has a wide variety of resources (CD's videos, etc) to help you and your family learn.

Three Papal Encyclical's on the Devotion to the Sacred Heart
Pope Leo XIII: Annum Sacrum (1899)
Pope Pius XI Miserentissimus Redemptor: (1928)
Pope Pius XII: Haurietis Aqua (1956)

Father James Kubicki, SJ's book  A Heart on Fire: Rediscovering Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus provides a fresh, contemporary and readable look into this traditional devotion. Citing lyrics to Bruce Springsteen and U2 songs, and acknowledging that not everyone may share a love for the various artistic depictions of the Sacred Heart, Fr. Kubicki gets to the "heart" (no pun intended) of this devotion and its relevancy for all generations.

2. Pray

Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is not about a devotion to a thing, but about a love-relationship with a person, Jesus Christ.  In order to grow in devotion to the Lord's Sacred Heart, we need to grow in communication and relationship with the Lord himself. The primary means of this growth is through prayer. EWTN's page devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary is a great resource for daily prayers, Acts of Consecration, the Morning Offering and Novena prayers.

A word of caution - as you begin to pray these prayers, do so slowly, allowing the words and the image of Jesus' heart, which suffered out of love for each of us, to soak into your own heart. We would never expect a speedy, rote, perfunctory conversation with our spouse or child to adequately express our love for them; likewise, we should savor our prayers in order that they may authentic expressions of our love for Jesus.

3. First Friday Devotions
During one of our Lord's appearances to St. Margaret Mary Aloquoque, he instructed her in the following words:
"I promise you in the excessive mercy of my Heart that its all-powerful love will grant to all those who receive Holy Communion on nine first Fridays of consecutive months the grace of final repentance; they will not die under my displeasure or without receiving their sacraments, my divine Heart making itself their assured refuge at the last moment."
This Novena of Holy Communions, celebrated on the First Friday of the Month should be done in order to make reparation for those who wound the Lord's Sacred Heart through ingratitude and irreverence towards his true presence in the Eucharist. Like all prayers and devotions, this special novena is not a "get out of jail free card" but is to be part of a  life that is already pleasing to the Lord, with the special goal of increasing our own love for Jesus and our gratitude for his infinite love for us.

4. Home Enthronement
Our family was blessed to be part of a parish community where the Pastor was deeply devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and had wonderful memories of his own family's home being enthroned to the Sacred Heart when he was a child. He encouraged all parish families to have their homes enthroned and established a team of people to assist with the preparations, both spiritual and temporal, for the enthronement ceremony.

Our own home was enthroned to the Sacred Heart when our children were 2 and 4 years old.  The ceremony, which occurred in our home and was presided over by our parish priest, included a house blessing, scripture readings and finally the enthronement of the image of our Lord's Sacred Heart in a prominent place above our mantle.  We all recited a prayer of consecration and signed our names to the pledge, solemnly acknowledging that Jesus was the King of our family and ruler of our home. A quote from the Sacred Heart Institute sums up the spirit of the home enthronement:
"The  Enthronement... is somewhat more than a merely transitory act, or a beautiful ceremony.  It is and should be a permanent state of life, an every day recognition of all the rights of Christ the King, by every member of the family.  As a ceremony, it is a social and solemn recognition by the family of the divine royalty of the loving Heart of Jesus. "
5. Meditate on the 12 Promises
Jesus made 12 promises to St. Margaret Mary that he would grant to souls who devoted themselves to his Sacred Heart. Meditating on these promises highlights the depths of God's love for us and the desire he has for our salvation and the perfection of our souls.

6. Watch
Watch Dr. Mark Miravalle, professor of Theology at Franciscan University of Steubenville, explain the Devotion to the Sacred Heart and the 12 Promises of the Sacred Heart in this short video.

7. Teach Your Children
Some of the earliest notes I received from my children included hand-drawn lopsided hearts accompanied by professions of love and lots of xoxoxo's. Children seem to be naturally drawn to images of hearts and messages of love, making the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus a perfect opportunity to share the love of our Lord with our children.

This Pinterest board has a wide variety of idea, crafts, projects, recipes and more to help kids of all ages celebrate the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Read related posts here:
31 Ways to Grow in Devotion to Mary

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