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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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Worth Revisiting Wednesday: 7 Lessons From Pope Francis

Today the Holy Father, Pope Francis, celebrates his 78th birthday and in honor of that celebration, I'm joining up with Theology is a Verb and Reconciled to You for their Worth Revisiting Wednesday link-ups.  Head on over to visit them and be inspired by the awesome posts you read over there!  I loveboth Elizabeth and Allison's blogs and am always enriched by their writings - truly kindred spirits of mine.
This post was originally posted on March 14, 2014 in celebration of Pope Francis' one-year anniversary as Holy Father.
You are never above asking for prayer.

The very first lesson I learned from Pope Francis occurred just minutes after he appeared on the balcony on the day of his election. In a demonstration of utter humility, the new Pope asked the crowds for their prayers and then bowed his head and received those prayers. This was not a rhetorical question on his part. He both needed and sincerely desired the prayers of the people now entrusted to his care. As a Mom, I am often tempted to think that I need to have all the answers - to have it all together in front of my children. The reality that Pope Francis drove home to me in that moment, is that there is no one on this earth who is too exalted to need the prayers of others, even those of whom they have been chosen to lead. 

It's all about encountering Jesus.
Over and over again during this past year, Pope Francis has stressed the importance of "encountering" Jesus. In the encyclical Lumen Fidei, the Pope writes "Faith is born of an encounter with the living God who calls us and reveals his love..." When asked what Christmas meant to him his answer was: "It is about an encounter with Jesus".  In a homily in September 2013 the Pope explained how this encounter takes place. "Know Jesus with the mind - the study of the Catechism: know Jesus with the heart - in prayer, in dialogue with Him. This helps us a good bit, but it is not enough. There is a third way to know Jesus: it is by following Him. Go with Him, walk with Him.” 

Keeping these three elements of encountering Jesus in balance is essential, but not always easy.  As a theology student, I spend a good deal of time studying about Jesus and the matters of faith. I have learned the hard way that if I devote all my time to study and neglect time in prayer and that active "walking" with the Lord that I become "disconnected" from Jesus.  How do I know this? I miss his presence. I feel an unrest within my heart. I long again for that intimacy with him. It is only in that encounter that my heart is satisfied. 

Celebrate your Baptism.
In an address to his Wednesday audience, the Pope did something a little unconventional - he gave an assignment to them: "And do not forget your homework today: find out, ask for the date of your Baptism. As I know my birthday, I should know my Baptism day, because it is a feast day." He went on to explain why he was asking everyone to celebrate the date of their Baptism: "The danger of not knowing is that we can lose awareness of what the Lord has done in us, the memory of the gift we have received. Thus, we end up considering it only as an event that took place in the past – and not by our own will but by that of our parents – and that it has no impact on the present. We must reawaken the memory of our Baptism. We are called to live out our Baptism every day as the present reality of our lives."

Ever the dutiful student, I took his assignment to heart and for the first time since that day, I celebrated my Baptism this year. Guess what?  The Pope is RIGHT!  Through seeking out the date of my Baptism and actually celebrating it - the reality of my Baptism is something that has come alive to me as never before. Thank you Pope Francis for homework! 

Be comfortable being uncomfortable.
I'm a bit of a control freak. And like most good control freaks, I don't like relinquishing the reins of my life to anyone. I have found in my spiritual journey, however, that the Holy Spirit often has different plans than I do. 

"The Holy Spirit can make people uncomfortable", Pope Francis said. "Newness always makes us a bit fearful, because we feel more secure if we are the ones who build, program and plan our lives in accordance with our own ideas, our own comfort, our own preferences."

The Holy Spirit has made me uncomfortable on more occasions that I care to count. Each time, yielding to that discomfort is a challenge. When I initially read the Holy Father's words I felt led to answer again the persistent question in my heart - Do I want to be comfortable? Or do I want to be docile? In fact, answering these questions needs to occur on a daily - even hour by hour basis. Through the gift of free will, I know that the Holy Spirit will never impose his plans for my life on me, but rather, he waits for my freely given "Yes". Yet, I also recognize that I cannot give up that desire for comfort and control without his help. And so my daily prayer is: "Lord, help me to trust the Holy Spirit  - help me to be comfortable being uncomfortable."

Embrace the grace of shame.
Pope Francis has spoke often during the past year about the Sacrament of Reconcilation - encouraging the faithful to frequent the sacrament.  He even tweeted about Confession calling the sacrament a "priviledged place of encountering Christ."

In my own life I have run the gamut of experiences with Confession, from joyfully frequenting the sacrament as a young child, to being absent from it for 20 years, to returning to it in an immature way, to finally seeing it as that privileged encounter with Christ that the Holy Father talks about. My prayer before Confession is often for the gift of honesty and transparency. In light of that prayer I truly appreciated the Pope's challenge to be as direct as possible in the sacrament - something that I find can be very daunting. "And we always have the tendency to hide the reality of our failings. But there is something beautiful: when we confess our sins as they are in the presence of God, we always feel that grace of shame. Being ashamed in the sight of God is a grace. It is a grace: ‘I am ashamed of myself."

I have never considered shame to be a grace. Yet, I know from my own experience, that it has been the times when I have directly and concretely confessed my most shameful sins that I have been able to experience the healing power of the Lord through the Sacrament of Confession most profoundly.  Thank you Papa, for teaching me that shame laid before Jesus' merciful love is a grace indeed.  

See the person before us.
Pope Francis seems to have a gift to be able to zero in on the person standing before him.  Video clip after video clip show him fully engaged with whomever he is speaking with at the time, no matter what is going on around him. It is evident that in that particular moment, that individual has his undivided attention. More than just paying attention to what they are saying, the Holy Father truly "sees" that person as they are - in the fullness of their dignity as a son or daughter of God.  

In the busyness of everyday life, I often fall into the trap of getting things done at the expense of really "seeing" the people I interact with. After a year of watching the beauty of these special moments with the Holy Father, I pray that I may imitate his ability to be fully present to the people that the Lord places before me and to see them as he sees them.  

It is a joy to be a Christian.
If I had to describe the greatest lesson I have learned from Pope Francis this past year I would sum it up in one small word: JOY! Not only does the Holy Father preach joy, he provides an example for the entire world of joy of being a disciple of Jesus Christ. In one short year, Pope Francis has captured the attention of the entire world by radiating "The Joy of the Gospel".

"The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew."

Read the following related posts:
"What's the Big Deal About the Pope Going to Confession"
Pope Francis' Do's and Don'ts of Mercy
Overcoming Careless Words

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Friday, December 5, 2014

Will the Real Santa Claus Please Stand Up?

Ever hear the expression "Truth is stranger than fiction"? When it comes to the lives of the saints, I would propose a few twists on that axiom:
  • Heroic virtue is stronger than superhero powers.
  • Eternal life is greater than worldly success.
  • Truth is more compelling than legend.
The Church celebrates the feast of St. Nicholas on December 6. Perhaps no other saint's life in the history of the Church has been more superseded by a legend than his. When most people think of St. Nicholas, the image they have is of a jolly, white-bearded Santa Claus shimmying his way down the chimney, with a large sack of toys slung over his back. The fact is that St. Nicholas' life of deep faith in Jesus, heroic defense of the truth (did you know that St. Nicholas was an outspoken defender against Arius and the Arian heresy at the Council of Nicea in 325AD?), and a heart filled with charity and generosity paints a far more interesting and abiding role model than Coca-Cola's image of Santa ever could

Learn more about this unique saint's life, death, and powerful stories of his intercession and celebrate the real Santa Claus with your family this year. Here are a few resources to check out.

1.The Legend of Saint Nicholas by Benedictine Monk Anselm Grun is a beautifully illustrated story for children of all ages about St. Nicholas. The book recounts his life and miracles attributed to his intercession. It would make a great addition to any Advent Book Basket.

2. For teens and adults looking to delve more deeply into the life of St. Nicholas, check out Wonderworker: The True Story of How St. Nicholas Became Santa Claus by Msgr. Vincent Yzermans. Msgr. Yzermans wrote this book for his great -nephew Nicholas. In it, he describes not only the life of St. Nicholas and the many miracles attributed to his intercession - he also describes the evolution of the modern Santa Claus. 

Msgr Yzermans includes this thought-provoking quote, from Robin Crichton, in the afterword of the book, in a letter written to his grand-nephew. As we celebrate the Feast of St. Nicholas it is worth pondering the message about this one-of-a-kind saint that we wish to transmit to our children. 
"Santa Claus is faced with an identity crisis. He is schizophrenic. Which of all his multiple personalities will triumph in Christmases to come? Generations after generations of families have introduced their children to the legends, in one guise or another. Santa has survived for over 1700 years. Now he has reached perhaps the biggest crisis of his career and, as in his past, so his future will be a reflection of the values of the society which we in ou turn create for the generations to come." 
3. The Saint Nicholas Center is a terrific resource chock full of all things related to St. Nicholas, including: history, how different cultural traditions have developed, games, recipes and other activities for the entire family!

Please note that this post contains Amazon affiliate links - which means that if you click through the link and make a purchase - my domestic church will receive a small commission. Woo-hoo! We greatly appreciate it!

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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Sunday, November 16, 2014

Lighthouse Catholic Media Advent Giveaway

Looking for way to enhance your celebration of Advent this year? I am very excited to be hosting a Lighthouse Catholic Media Advent giveaway! . Here's how it all goes..

I will be giving away one Lighthouse Catholic Media* bundle - which includes the following 5 CD's:
  • "A Journey Through Advent - Liturgical Cycle B" by Fr. Robert Barron
  • "Prepare the Way of the King" by Dr. Scott Hahn
  • "The Mystery of Christmas" by Fr. Larry Richards
  • "The True Meaning of Christmas" by Archbishop Fulton J Sheen
  • "Glory to the Newborn King" Christmas Carols by Lindsey Todd

The giveaway will be starting on Sunday November 16 and will be open for entries to be placed until Sunday November 23 at 12:00AM EST.  You can enter to win by participating in all or some of the entry options below.  I would appreciate any help in promoting this giveway from you - so if you could share it on your social media sites that would be great!  (there are entries available for sharing on a blog, Twitter and Google+)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 *Read more about Lighthouse Catholic Media here.... I work part-time as a Lighthouse Catholic Media account manger - and receive a commission on any purchases you make through the above link. Woo-hoo! Our domestic church greatly appreciates the extra money!

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Friday, November 14, 2014

Front Row With Francis: An Alphabet For Clerics

Head on over to check out my latest post in Catholic Lane's weekly series "Front Row With Francis" which provides reflections on the Holy Father's weekly audiences. 

This week, Pope Francis, drawing on St. Paul's letters to Timothy and Titus, reflected on the qualities necessary for Bishops, priests and deacons to bear credible witness to the Gospel. The Holy Father's words gave me time to reflect on the many holy priests I have met whose lives have dramatically impacted my spiritual growth. Often, it has not been their words, but their very "human actions" - actions of self-sacrifice, kindness, discipline and order, of "grace under pressure" that have provided the greatest witness and example of a life lived for Christ. I am so grateful for their lived-out example and I pray that the Lord will bless them in time and eternity for all they have done to lead souls to him.

Click below to read my entire post and share it with your friends. Don't forget to say a special prayer for our Bishops, priests and deacons today!

Front Row With Francis: An Alphabet For Clerics

Read More Related Posts Here:
Front Row With Francis: On Baptism
Front Row With Francis: The Path To Unity

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.

For more Daybooks please visit The Simple Woman's Daybook

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through any of the Amazon or Lighthouse links, my domestic church will receive a small commission.
Woo-hoo! We greatly appreciate the support!

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...






Stop by and visit Call Her Happy for more Five Favorites! 

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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Friday, October 3, 2014

Front Row With Francis: Charisms in the Church

Head on over to check out my latest post in Catholic Lane's weekly series "Front Row With Francis" which provides reflections on the Holy Father's weekly audiences. This week, the Pope reflected on the charisms, their definition and our use of them to build up the Church.  The Holy Father's words personally challenged me and have led me to examine my own heart and life to see whether I am truly grateful for all the gifts that God has given me and if I am using them as he designed - to build up his Body, the Church.  

Front Row With Francis: Charisms in the Church

While preparing to write this post - I came upon this powerful quote from Pope Benedict XVI challenging the young people present at World Youth Day in Sydney!  What a different world we would live in if every Baptized Catholic lived out our Holy Fathers' (both of them) words. 

Read More Related Posts Here:
Front Row With Francis: On Baptism
Front Row With Francis: The Path To Unity

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?