Wednesday, December 30, 2015

7 Catholic New Year's Resolutions

The New Year is upon us - and with its coming brings New Year's resolutions - we are all familiar with them; we have all made them; we have all broken them by January 7...The media is replete with lists of the most popular resolutions which can usually be broken down into three categories: losing, quitting, and saving - as in weight, smoking/drinking, and money. It is a rare exception that a New Year's Resolution involves our ultimate and final goal of this life - eternal happiness with the Lord in the next.  Don't get me wrong - I am not suggesting that you cease making the "losing, quitting, saving" resolutions - just that you consider adding a resolution or two that will impact your life for all eternity.

Here are 7 Catholic resolutions for the New Year to consider:

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 - even the Pope does it. 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.

Don't forget to ask for the Lord's grace and blessings as you embark on these resolutions - it is impossible to make spiritual progress on our own and the good news is that we have an arsenal of grace that the Lord desires to give to us to help us! 

Read related posts here:
What's the Big Deal About the Pope Going to Confession?
Why Do You Pray to a Statue?
The Angelus: Domestic Church Style
7 Lessons From Keeping a Spiritual Journal

Visit the lovely hosts of #WorthRevist: Elizabeth at Theology is a Verb
and Allison at Reconciled to You.

For more 7 Quick Takes Visit "This Ain't the Lyceum"

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Merry Christmas From Saints 365

I have always had a love/hate relationship with Christmas.  All the anticipation and preparation seems to be unwrapped, eaten and over in a flash and all that is left the day after Christmas is a mess of strewn gifts, bits of wrapping paper and indigestion. What should just be the beginning of the season of Christmas often leaves me with a vague sadness and a feeling that there must be something more....
The reality is that no worldly preparation for Christmas can ever exceed the meticulous preparation God the Father undertook to prepare the world for the gift of Jesus, born in the flesh.  For over two millennium the Lord prepared the hearts of the people of Israel to receive their Messiah, gradually revealing Himself, his love, and his plan for our salvation. 
The gift of our Lord and Savior is not something we can unwrap in an instance.  It is not a gift that we may use for a time and wear out or discard.  It is not a gift that brings disappointment.  The gift of Jesus' birth meets our deepest needs. 
As Saint John Paul II describes so perfectly, the gift of Jesus' birth meets all of our longings for "freedom and peace."  Rather than imposing an additional burden on us, Christmas offers us relief from the "burden of sin", the weight of which we all struggle under. Finally, the "Word made flesh" is the source of all of our hope. 
This Christmas, after the seven fishes are eaten, the gifts opened and the family gone home, what remains in my heart is a deep gratitude to the Lord for entering the mess of this world, of my world and the words that are on my lips are not ones of exhaustion and melancholy but the joyful song of the angels: "Glory to God in the Highest".
A blessed Christmas to all.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence

The headlines on the news scream disaster, struggle, violence, and hatred.  The world stage is filled with uncertainty and anxiety about the future. Innocent people are slaughtered mercilessly; politicians rage at each other, and even the church seems filled with discord and division. Temptations to fear and despair close in from every side.

I worry about the future. I worry about the world my children are growing up in. I wonder what type of society they will raise their own children in. I pray for our safety and our security. Most of all I pray for peace. 

This Christmas, I find that it is the hauntingly beautiful ancient hymn "Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence" that whispers peace and comfort into my anxious heart.

It's full lyrics read:

Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
And with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly minded,
For with blessing in His hand,
Christ our God to earth descendeth,
Our full homage to demand.
King of kings, yet born of Mary,
As of old on earth He stood,
Lord of lords, in human vesture,
In the body and the blood;
He will give to all the faithful
His own self for heavenly food.
Rank on rank the host of heaven
Spreads its vanguard on the way,
As the Light of light descendeth
From the realms of endless day,
That the powers of hell may vanish
As the darkness clears away.
At His feet the six wing├Ęd seraph,
Cherubim with sleepless eye,
Veil their faces to the presence,
As with ceaseless voice they cry:
Alleluia, Alleluia
Alleluia, Lord Most High!

In meditating upon this hymn, which dates back as early as the third century, I find myself comforted once again by the mystery of the Incarnation of the Lord - the mystery of Christmas. It is in this mystery that the Lord descends to become one of us, in order that "the power of hell may vanish".  The Holy Family is not alone in that cave in Bethlehem - they are surrounded by the hosts of angels who are prostrate before the King of Kings. Those same angels surround every altar at every Mass worshipping the Lord as he makes himself our "heavenly food". The Lord has not abandoned or forsaken us - he remains with us, truly  present in the Eucharist.

The opening stanza invites us to "keep silence and ponder nothing earthly minded." This Christmas, instead of focusing my attention on the wind and the waves which seem to threaten the world, I will instead turn my gaze in silence to the Lord who is really present in the Blessed Sacrament, as present as he was in the manger 2000 years ago.  It is in Him that I place my trust and it is with the angels that I will join my voice of worship and sing: "Alleluia Alleluia Alleluia, Lord Most High."

Click below for a  beautiful arrangement of this hymn:


Friday, December 18, 2015

7 Simple Ways to Share Christ This Christmas

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” With these memorable words, Charles Dickens has captured the sentiment of every enthusiastic Catholic evangelist regarding Christmas. On the one hand, Christmas is an evangelist’s dream – a time of joy and hope , with an abundance of opportunities to share the good news of Jesus Christ with a weary world. On the other hand, Christmas can be an evangelist’s worst nightmare – a time of stress and struggle, when it seems like the world in general and the people around one’s own dining room table in particular, are indifferent or openly hostile to all things related to Christ.

Here are seven simple tips for sharing Christ this Christmas with your family, friends, co-workers and even the guy who just cut you off in the parking lot on the way to Midnight Mass.

1.       Put the oxygen mask on yourself first.  In other words, don’t let the hustle and bustle of the season overwhelm you to the point that you shelve your own prayer life. In order to share our faith, we need to be living our faith in an active and intentional way. Be sure to pray daily, get to confession and Mass and spend time soaking in the Real Presence of Jesus in Eucharistic Adoration. Fortifying ourselves spiritually will give us the strength and the tools to fortify others.

2.       Smile.  Sounds too easy, right? Wrong.  A smile transmits the joy that we experience in our hearts.  A simple smile is a welcoming invitation.  Pope Francis speaks often of the joy of the Lord and the importance of radiating that joy to others.  He plainly stated in a homily on May 10, 2013:  “Sometimes these melancholic Christians' faces have more in common with pickled peppers than the joy of having a beautiful life.” This Christmas, let your smile bring the joy of the Christ to all those you meet.

3.       Let your Christmas card do the talking.  Take advantage of the lowly Christmas card and turn it into an evangelization tool.  Send a religious Christmas card which boldly states the reason for the season and include in it a handwritten, sincere note to the recipient.  In these days of text messages and Instagram posts, a handwritten note is a rarity and can be a great source of encouragement and joy for the recipient.  Pray a Hail Mary for each person as you write out your cards and let your note be an expression of your love and prayers.

4.       Bear wrongs patiently. One of the corporal works of mercy, bearing wrongs patiently  is sometimes the best way to be Christ-like in a challenging situation.  Christmas can be full of difficult people, operating under stressful circumstances.  Instead of letting emotions rule the day, ask the Holy Spirit for the grace to let both little and not so little wrongs  go.  Forgive the person from your heart and offer up any injustices you have experienced for the salvation of souls.

5.       Use “I” statements.  Your office Christmas party or family dinner is not the time to fine tune your preaching career or put the finishing touches on your latest theological treatise. Instead, the best way to share your faith is to share your testimony.  St. Peter tells us “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence.” (1Pet 3:15-6)  Share what the Lord is doing in your life in simple, “non-church” language.  Use “I” statements when you speak . For example “I was really touched at a Women’s Conference I just went to at my church” or “I felt so much peace this week after I went to confession.”  These first person statements can plant the seeds of faith in the person you are talking to without putting them on the defensive. 

6.       Serve others.  St. Paul tells us that in the Incarnation Jesus himself “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave” (Phil 2:7) One of the best ways to share Christ with others is to imitate him. Christmas provides lots of opportunities to serve others. Local nursing homes and soup kitchens are always looking for volunteers to help.  If time is short, consider making a donation of money or gifts to help those in need. Finally, don’t miss out on the opportunities in your own home to serve – doing household chores and the “work” of holiday celebrations with a cheerful disposition is a great demonstration of a servant’s heart – the heart of Christ.

7.       Extend an invitation. The power of a simple, personal invitation is greatly underestimated. This Christmas, plan to invite at least one person to go to Mass, Adoration or Confession with  you. Don’t be discouraged if you get turned down – that invitation will not be in vain, and that person may respond to you at a later date.

Finally, don’t stress out that you haven’t converted the world (or even grumpy Uncle Charlie) by the Epiphany. St. Paul in 1 Cor 3:6 tells us “I planted, Appolos watered, but God gave the growth.” All our prayers, acts of love, and witnesses to the Gospel  plant seeds in the hearts of the recipients.  How and when those seeds sprout is in the hands of the Lord himself and we can rest comfortably in that knowledge.
Most of all this Christmas, let us rejoice in the Lord for the gift of salvation that we celebrate!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

O Holy Night

O Holy Night is my favorite Christmas Carol. The lyrics are rich in meaning and so many of them have provided much thought for meditation and spiritual journaling. Here are five facts, images and inspirations from the song. (Feel free to pin and share the images!)

The book, Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas ,  provides some fascinating facts about the song, O Holy Night, including the fact that it was the very first song ever to be broadcast over the radio waves on Christmas Eve 1906, launching a completely new platform for music to be transmitted and enjoyed.  What an amazing experience it must have been to have heard this beautiful hymn on the air waves for the very first time.  Just another miracle of Christmas. Let us pray that all radio transmissions give glory to God the way the very first one did!


"Long lay the world in sin and error pining, till he appeared and the soul felt its worth." For many, Christmas can be a time of sorrow and loneliness - a time when the smiles and happiness of others can serve as a magnifying glass on one's own struggles. The promise that Christ brings with his incarnation is to show us our own worth.  It is only in Christ, that we can truly understand our dignity and value as the sons and daughters of the most high. John 3:16 reminds us that "God so loved the world that he sent is only son so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life." This Christmas, meditate on this verse from the song and allow the Lord to speak the truth of your soul's worth to you. 

"A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn." What promise this line from the song provides.  The hope that the incarnation of the Lord brings should give us a thrill!  In his birth, our weary world experiences the promise of salvation, redemption and the "freedom of the children of God" (Rom 8:21)  This Christmas, open your hearts to experience this "thrill of hope" in a new and powerful way.  Ask the Lord to reveal to you how his incarnation has changed not only the world but you personally.  


"Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother and in his name all oppression shall cease." In Luke 4:18, Jesus takes up the scroll of Isaiah and proclaims: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free." The Lord Jesus is still in the business of breaking the chains that bind us - chains of sin, unforgiveness, bitterness and addiction. If you are struggling with the chains in your life, I highly recommend Neal Lozano's book Unbound: A Practical Guide to Deliverance .


Josh Groban's rendition of O Holy Night is one of my personal favorite versions of the song and here it is set to video accompanied by images from the movie The Nativity Story.

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Monday, December 14, 2015

What Prayer Does Not Dare To Ask

A few Sundays ago, the opening prayer (known as the collect) really hit me between the eyes.  Ever have that experience?  It was as if the words of the prayer seemed louder and clearer than normal. They stopped me in my tracks and after Mass I googled them to read them again.  Here is what the prayer said:

So many parts of the prayer struck me, but in particular the lines "to pardon what conscience dreads and to give what prayer does not dare ask" touched my heart in a deep way.

What, exactly, does my conscience dread, I asked myself?  What makes approaching the confessional so challenging sometimes?  What am I afraid of?  Shame? Vulnerability? The truth that I am fallible, fallen and, most often, frustrated? 

What does my prayer dare not ask?  Why, in fact, if I place all my trust in the goodness and kindness of God the Father, am I still hesitant to ask for anything?  I watch my children confidently ask my husband for whatever they desire, no matter how outlandish the request and I long for that degree of trust in my relationship with the Lord. 

What is it in me that prefers to hang on to the false beatitude that says "blessed are they who ask for nothing for they will not be disappointed", instead of the true ones that demand full and unwavering surrender to the Lord?

I know I am not alone in these thoughts - my suspicion is that they are rather universal - after all, their sentiments have made it into the opening prayer of the entire Church.  My comfort comes in the reassurance provided by the opening lines of the prayer: "Almighty and ever living God, who in the abundance of your kindness surpass the merits and desires of those who entreat you..."

The Lord's generosity outmatches my hesitation.  His words speak gently into my stubborn silence.  His unconditional love surpasses my sin. He longs to give far more than I can ever hope to desire. 

For that greatness of mercy, I am grateful. 

Sunday, December 13, 2015

7 Reasons Why I Love Gaudete Sunday

The third Sunday of Advent is known as Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete Sunday takes its name from the first word of the Entrance Antiphon at Mass which proclaims:
"Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say rejoice!"

which reads in Latin as "Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete." (Sounds so cool in Latin doesn't it?)

Here are 7 reasons why I love Gaudete Sunday:

1. It's our family's personal feast day. Our last name is Gaudino - which derives from the Latin word gaudium which means joy, and so we feel a personal connection to Gaudete Sunday and the spirit of joy and rejoicing in the Lord which it exudes!

2. Everyone wears pink. Ok, alright, don't get huffy on me now - I know the technical, liturgical name for the color of the vestments the priest wears is rose, but pink by any other name is still pink!

3. It's a break from the penances of Advent. (Can anyone say unlimited dessert?). Advent is a penitential season, similar to that of Lent - a season of prayer, repentance, fasting and preparation. Like its counterpart Laudare Sunday in Lent, Gaudete Sunday offers us a respite from the rigors of the penitential season - a time to rejoice and celebrate!

4. It reminds us that joy can co-exist with struggle and suffering. Situated in the midst of a penitential season, Gaudete Sunday is a reminder that joy can be found even in the midst of struggle and pain. The Nativity of the Lord is a perfect example of this reality. To say that Jesus was born in less than desirable circumstances is an understatement. His was not the birth experience most of us Moms dream of. Yet, despite the dire surroundings, joy filled that manager in Bethlehem in a way that we can scarcely imagine. This Gaudete Sunday, ask the Lord for the grace to see beyond the struggles in your life to the joy that only He can bring.

5. The readings are full of joy. Listen to the words of the first reading from the book of Isaiah: "I exult for joy in the Lord, my soul rejoices in my God, for he has clothed me in the garments of salvation." What a powerful proclamation of the reality of saving power of Jesus! Say this passage out loud every morning for the remainder of Advent - let it's words seep into your heart and transform your life.

6. Christmas is getting closer!  Gaudete Sunday marks the beginning of the final preparations for Christmas - in my house the excitement in the air (especially in my children) is palpable. It is traditionally the day we put up our Christmas tree and begin wrapping gifts, baking cookies and gearing up towards the celebrations we will have with family and friends.

7. It's my birthday! Ok, so the way the church calendar works, Gaudete Sunday isn't always celebrated on my birthday, but this year it is!  Double blessings! Thank you Lord for the gift of life - help me to surrender that gift fully to you this year. May your light shine ever more brightly through my life in this year ahead.

For more quick takes head on over to This Ain't the Lyceum.
For more posts on celebrating the 3rd Week of Advent visit the Catholic Bloggers Network or Day by Day in Our World

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Quotes From St. Francis Xavier

On December 3, the Church celebrates the feast of St. Francis Xavier, patron saint of missionaries. St. Francis Xavier was a Jesuit missionary best known for the thousands of people he brought to conversion and Baptism in India and Japan. In a letter he wrote from the missionary fields in India, he described the amount of people he Baptized in vivid language:
"As to the numbers who become Christians, you may understand them from this, that it often happens to me to be hardly able to use my hands from the fatigue of baptizing: often in a single day I have baptized whole villages. Sometimes I have lost my voice and strength altogether with repeating again and again the Credo and the other forms."

Here's an interesting fact about St. Francis Xavier that I found in Saints for Young Readers for Every Day, Vol. 2: July-December : Pope Gregory XV canonized St. Francis Xavier in 1622 along with Ignatius of Loyola, Teresa of Avila, Philip Neri and Isidore the Farmer.  WOW!  What a lineup!  I can only imagine the graces that must have flowed at that Canonization. Thank you Lord for your saints!

The book also describes St. Francis Xavier's heroism and determination to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ using these powerful "tools": his gentle polite ways and his prayers. Double WOW!  There are lots of times I think that I don't have the right "tools" to spread the Gospel even in my small corner of the world. That fact is, we cannot underestimate the effectiveness our faith, virtue and prayers can have in any evangelization effort - even those that occur around our kitchen table! We too can be a powerful missionary like St. Francis Xavier if we, like him, abandon ourselves completely to the Lord with faithful, simplel trust.

Below are 5 quotes from St. Francis Xavier which touched me:

 As a parent, the wisdom of these words St. Francis Xavier's words really struck me - trying to correct my children when we are at odds with one another is an exercise in frustration and futility. It is far easier to calmly discuss behavior that needs to change when the environment is one of love, trust and peace.  
When trying to evangelize, no tool is more effective than that of personal witness.  Humbly sharing our own struggles which have been overcome by God's great love and mercy can soften even the hardest and most stubborn of hearts.  People can argue with points of doctrine, but no one can argue with a personal testimony!

These words, written in a letter by St. Francis Xavier, lament the lack of educated missionaries willing to use their gifts to teach the multitudes in India about Christ and the Christian faith. In the letter, St. Francis Xavier spoke of wanting to go to the Universities of Europe and challenge those in attendance as to what the purpose of all their learning was. I was so convicted by these words - which echo the Lord's words to use the gift and talents God has blessed us with in the service of the Gospel.

Powerful words about the primacy of our intention, motive and level of faith in the Lord when we come to serve him. 

These words were spoken by St. Francis Xavier immediately prior to his death, while gazing at a crucifix:

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