The Gift of a Public Faith

“Authentic Christianity is meant for the world and will always be a challenge to the corruption of the world.” – Bishop Robert Barron

rf

The past few weeks I’ve heard and experienced a very clear message from several public figures in the Catholic world: Faith wasn’t meant to be privatized. Christianity is not a privatized religion. It must be shared publicly in order to fight the resistance of the world.

I think now, more than ever, it seems we need more public displays of Christianity.

Why?

Well, not only to fight off evil, which is a good enough reason of course. But more to dispel the myths of who Christians are and what they look like and how they act. To clear up the confusion! Because I gotta tell you, there are a LOT of confused people out there who have a warped idea of who an authentic Christian is.

Due to the rise of secularism and people identifying as being either non-religious or just plain old “spiritual,” a common assumption is that we are all just like the group of Westboro Baptists. I was astounded to hear this!  Not only is this completely FALSE but it’s also disgusting and hurtful to be associated with this very very small group of individuals. In doing research for my post today I actually went to their website just to confirm that this group has nothing good to say and I was right. Sadly, they are all very misguided. They preach hate. Plain and simple. It was sickening and most of all, discouraging.

I thought to myself, “This is what non-Christians think of us? That among the 30,000 different denominations of Christianity, we are all associated with these people who preach nothing but hate and make it their duty to protest funerals?”

Isn’t this even more of a reason to publicly express our faith and what we believe, in love and with compassion? It won’t do us much good to retreat to our cozy homes or stay inside our churches and just keep our faith to ourselves.

So it starts with us; with me and you.

But where to begin?

The smallest acts can go a long way

Something as simple as saying grace before every meal, even when you’re someplace like a fast food place or a restaurant can go a long way.  How? Well, because you are being SEEN. Others notice that kind of thing. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said grace before eating a meal and have gotten just a simple smile from across the room from folks. Almost like a nod of approval or a just a simple gesture to show that they respect it. And it serves as a reminder to others that may have stopped practicing this ritual.

I read somewhere recently to always pray before eating a meal at a restaurant and make sure to pray before the waiter/waitress leaves the table after placing the order. That way, you take that moment to ask him/her if you can offer up any prayers for them, too!

It could be something like just bringing your Bible somewhere. Or the Magnificat or the Liturgy of the Hours. Plenty of people are nosy, I have found. They’ll strike up a conversation with you just about anywhere. (Unless it’s just a friendly Midwestern USA thing?)

Take for example, reading a book. Any place that’s public like a beach, or park or commuting on the bus or at the airport is a place where you find many people are reading while waiting for something. I’m always curious what people are reading so I have no problem just asking someone, “What book is that and is it any good?” Fr. Tom of the TOB Institute mentioned that he brought his Breviary with him on a fishing boat recently and it always gets the locals talking and asking him, “What’s that? Is that a Bible? You some kind of holy man or something?” It’s a great icebreaker.

I will give just one small example from my own life that I thought was interesting. It took place at the car dealership where I was getting my oil changed. Of all the places, I ended up evangelizing to the service guy!  He initiated the conversation by asking, “So is it Sister Michelle? I noticed that book in your car when I went to move it.” The book in question was called A Vowed Life that one of my dear friends loaned to me.

I laughed and said “Oh no, it’s most definitely not Sister Michelle.  But funny you should mention that because I’m actually discerning consecrated life, which is different than religious life.” So he proceeded to ask me all kinds of questions about that which was fantastic. Then I went to see my sales guy and he had heard from the service guy what we talked about and so then HE proceeded to ask me more questions about consecrated life and what that would look like, etc. So we had an awesome conversation about discerning one’s vocation. Both of these men had discerned married life so I explained how and why I discerned that married life is not my vocation and how I came to that conclusion. What a place to have this random encounter, at a car dealership of all places.

The point is that when out in public, and not just in the pew, we are being seen. We are being observed. Is our conduct in line with what our faith teaches us? Are our actions one of faith or one of what the culture tells us we should be doing? Are we going to let non-religious people stereotype us as “those hateful bigots?” Or are we going to stick up for what we believe while simultaneously preaching the love of Christ?

The public square is open. It’s up to us if we’re going to step into it and declare our faith to all who can hear.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Celebration That Never Ends

“Sport is a universal language that brings together peoples, and can help persons meet and overcome conflicts. Therefore, I encourage you to live the dimension of sports as the gymnasium of virtue in the full development of individuals and communities.” – Pope Francis

13523006_1073498959401305_8404079349648722331_o

It figures.

It figures that the one time my beloved city of Cleveland did something relevant and timely and AWESOME and RARE by winning a CHAMPIONSHIP, I was on a retreat.

Of course I was. Where else would I be?

In my quest to pursue the full certiication from the TOB Insititute, I decided it would be a great idea to take a week-long course for Theology of the Body in Pennsylvania. Day 1 of the retreat started the night of Game 7 of the Finals.

Great timing.

Now this may be starting out as a pity party for me, but hold on.

Yes, I missed out on high-fiving my family members and my friends who were watching the game at home or at bars or at watch parties. I missed seeing the team come home to thousands of people at the airport. I missed the million+ attended parade. I missed it all but there’s something to be said for social media at this point  – the pictures and videos I saw of all of this was a sufficient substitute for being there in person. I was never more proud of my city and fellow Clevelanders. And to completeley honest, I needed to stop idolizing sports. So this was actually a great way to detach from it and realize there is much more to life than sports.

But of course that didn’t stop me from watching the final 5 minutes of the game.:)

Those (very few) of us that watched the last moment of the game on our little mobile devices at the retreat center screamed and shouted and celebrated once that final buzzer sounded and the game was over. We remarked how it seemed like we were in disbelief. I know I was! I didn’t really celebrate until I saw about a minute or two of the team on the court. Then it became “real.” But even the next day, so many people remarked on how surreal it was. I myself even posted:

“Is this real life? Did this really happen? We WON something!?”

To the outsider, yes, it’s just sports. It’s entertainment. And those of us who are fans had nothing to do with the team winning this trophy. But when people, complete strangers, are crying and hugging each other and smiling and saying “We did it! We won!” you get this feeling in your heart that says, “We are united in this!” Even if it’s just for this one brief moment.

There are far more important things that will (and have) taken over the headlines in the week since the Cavs won this championship. I noticed one of my friends posted something on Facebook about how this world is so messed up (she used much more colorful language) when more people are celebrating the Cavs win than focusing on gun control in the wake of some recent violence in this country.

(Instead of responding directly I was inspired to write this post. So thank you for the inspiration, friend!)

Of course we should focus on preventing violence, ending terrorism, looking for cures for diseases, feeding the hungry, etc. The problems we have in this world are endless. But can we allow ourselves to celebrate for a brief moment?

Those that just want to despair and complain and lament that this country has its problems and we’re too busy celebrating a silly basketball game to take notice isn’t fair.

Where’s the allowance for joy to balance out all the evil being done in this world? Isn’t it nice, once in a while, to take a breather from the bad to relish in the good?

I think we can use the escape of sports entertainment to briefly take our minds into something “other worldly.” Some that feels like a dream, especially to the fans who live in the city that WINS.  Allow people to be joyful. Allow their smiles to bring back memories for you when you celebrated something with your favorite team or when you were with family or friends at a party, a wedding, a graduation, etc.

And here’s something you may not know: That dreamy feeling does last forever. But only in one place. It’s a place that puts a record breaking parade to shame. A place where the feeling of a championship win occurs every time someone enters there.  Some don’t believe it exists. But many of us do. And that’s what I live for. That feeling of never-ending bliss. That’s what keeps me going.

Dr. Bob Rice from Franciscan University at Steubenville wrote about this place that also served as inspiration for this post today:

Imagine this: You close your eyes for the last time on this earth, and when you open them again, you are in a different place. It is the most beautiful place you have ever seen. Before you is the finish line. As you head toward it, you see deceased family members calling your name and shouting for joy. You see angels and saints clapping and shouting louder and louder. Behind the finish line you see Jesus, with a huge smile and His arms outstretched. As you break through the finish line into his arms, all of creation erupts in song. He then puts you on a pedestal and, in front of all of creation, he places on your head the crown of life. It is the most incredible moment you will ever experience. And it will continue forever.

How beautiful is that?!?

I know not everyone believes. And it’s still hard for me sometimes to truly believe this, too.

But if there are people walking around just assuming there’s NOTHING at the end of life, well…what would be the point of all of this? What in the world are you living for if you don’t think there’s an endgame?

There’s gotta be an epilogue to this life.  That’s how I get through the depressing and dark times and awful headlines that I read every day.

I try my very hardest to live in the moment, knowing the ultimate celebration awaits us all. God-willing, I’ll see you there. And the best part?  EVERYONE GETS A TROPHY!!!

 

The Gift of: Wasted Time

monstrance1For the past 7 months I’ve been kind of sneaking around.

I’ve been lying to my friends on Saturday nights. They wouldn’t have noticed if you asked them because I normally don’t stay out past midnight on Saturdays, if I am out. (I’m old I know).

But if there’s an event or a get-together on a Saturday evening, I’m usually the first to head home as soon as the clock strikes midnight.

No one ever really questioned me or harassed me why I would leave “so early.”  But I never did speak up and say why, although I really wanted to. But there’s that little voice that would say: “Don’t bother. They won’t get it.”

But, I think my friends can handle it:

I get up at 3:45am on Sundays. Why? Because I signed up 7 months ago to be an Adorer at my local parish from 4am to 5am. An adorer is a person who volunteers to sit with the Blessed Sacrament (AKA, Jesus) so He is never alone.

Pretty comical to me that I actually chose 4am on a Sunday to do this. But I gotta say it’s kinda cool to have Jesus all to myself. Not that it’s supposed to be that way, but let’s face it, 4-5am on a Sunday is a bizarre time to be out and about.

Several parishes in the area have a 24 hour adoration chapel actually. (I’ve been to almost all of them, because I’m crazy like that) and all of them have the same request in the bulletin – Adorers are Needed!

So allow me to sell you on this:

You have this great opportunity to sit in a quiet space in front of Jesus for just an hour and pray or listen (preferably both). I normally say a Rosary, journal, or read some sort of spiritual book. Most chapels have a little “library” to borrow from if you don’t have anything to read. And trust me when I say they will have a rosary (or 20) to borrow as well.

In the past I’ve also brought my (gasp!) phone with me to read emails of prayer requests. I usually look at the person’s name and substitute their name for “us sinners” in the Hail Mary as I pray the Rosary. I’ve listened to homilies online, I’ve read prayers from my favorite saints. But much of the time, especially if it’s the 4am time slot, I’ll sit in silence. And because it’s 4am, it’s quiet outside too. So it’s probably the quietest time I’ll ever have. By the way, if you live in a loud household with pets and kids, you will LOVE the quiet and stillness of a chapel, I don’t care who you are. It’s a terrific break from the hustle and bustle of everyday life..

Another good suggestion, especially for visual folks –  Take the photo collage of the seminarians (I assume all dioceses print these out, right?) and look and read each name of the young man and say a prayer for him. It’s gotta be rough being in the seminary, wouldn’t you think?  All I know is they could definitely use some prayers. And since there are so many of them, this usually takes up a good chunk of the hour.

As someone who has spent probably more hours in front of the Blessed Sacrament than actual working hours or hours at the gym this past year, I can tell you there are some incredible things that happen to you as you sit in silence and meditate.

I’ve had emotional highs and the lowest of lows sitting there. I’ve laughed and smiled, and  I’ve cried my eyes out. And sometimes, yes, I feel nothing. (But only later to discover that my prayers were indeed answered).

I’ve had funny experiences and downright bizarre experiences. Especially at 4am.

Being a frequent adorer at various churches in the area, I can tell you which parish has the creakiest sounding roof and the church with the comfiest seats. I now know which chapel to avoid on a Sunday afternoon when the ice cream truck goes by outside while you’re trying to remember the words to the Apostle’s Creed but that darn jingle is echoing through the walls. I can tell you someone will most likely distract you with their snoring (it’s EASY to fall asleep) and their growling stomach (Fasting and prayer go together like PB and J).  I can tell you you’ll more than likely run into people who don’t abide by the “quiet” rule and proceed to pray in a loud whisper, making it really uncomfortable to hear their prayer requests. (Bring headphones!)

But the little distractions that can occur during your holy hour are actually helpful in that they force you to really call out His name to focus your attention back to prayer. And really, that’s the whole point. I read once from a Saint (can’t remember which) that even if you just sat in the chapel calling the name of Jesus for the whole hour, that would be sufficient and a completely suitable prayer! So what we might consider a “waste of time,” would actually be considered a very worthwhile prayer.

I suppose this is my plea for you to check out your neighborhood church my Catholic friends. Adoration is the best thing ever! Even if you don’t belong to the parish you can still volunteer to adore Him. I would suggest that even if you know you can only take that hour for a month and then you’ll be on vacation or whatnot, just sign up! The people in charge will be so grateful.

And Jesus will be thrilled to see you too!

 

 

The Gift of: Testimonials

Main-Image-2

My awesome friends at The Theology of the Body Institute recently shared my testimonial on their blog.

A huge honor and I’m so glad to see it has been shared several times over.

Give it a read here.

And give your single celibate friends a big hug afterwards.:)

 

The Gift of Chastity Talks and Teens

chastityproject

I had the awesome honor to give a chastity talk to a bunch of teens the other day.

It was very well received and sparked some really good conversation after it was over.

If there’s a parent out there that has no idea how to start the conversation with their own teenager, my chastity talk could be a good “starter” to get the talk going. Or at least it could serve as an outline or template, if you will.

Another great resource is ChastityProject.com. Tons of great books and DVD’s and CD’s and free stuff too. Their blog is one of the best out there as well.

Also, even if you’re not a teen or not a parent, you could probably learn a thing or two from this talk. Honestly, not too many people know Theology of the Body and were never told about the beauty of God’s design of our bodies and sexuality. So give it a read and I would be willing to bet you’ll learn something new.

*There’s a lot I didn’t type out here that I shared with the kids that made this talk part “witness” talk and part Catholic teaching. I went off script plenty of times which made it much more lively and interesting.


I was raised Catholic and went through 12 years of Catholic school but was never told and never knew the beauty of Gods design for sex and marriage. I never knew the WHY behind the reason sex is saved for marriage. In fact I just learned TOB last spring. And when I learned how God designed our bodies and how sex is this sacred and holy union, I was floored. And, the beautiful part was that I was also healed from my own wounds that I suffered from due to my misunderstanding of our faith and Catholic doctrine. That’s a whole other story for another time, but I hope this gives you a bit of an idea as to why I’m so passionate about this subject and why I was so eager to talk to you today.

Okay, let’s start with one little fun fact: The first chapter in the Catechism of the Catholic Church actually begins with the phrase The Desire for God. Many people don’t even know what the Catechism is let alone that it starts with these words. So besides a Bible, please harass your parents to get a copy of the Catechism for the whole family.

So this is where we need to start our discussion on sexuality and marriage – with the word Desire.

Why? Because once we understand the difference between our desire for God and our desire for earthly or worldly things, can we then figure out what role our desires play in our lives, especially when it comes to sexual desires.

“The desire for God is written in the human heart.” That’s what is written in the first chapter of the Catechism. It goes on to say “because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for.”

So to put that in simple terms –  we have this desire to be in communion with God, with the one who created us!

But unfortunately what may happen to us as we get older and grow up, is that we may not understand this DESIRE for God and we may end up rejecting God. Maybe either through sin or listening to the “outside” world and losing our faith perhaps along the way. Or maybe alot of us just end up giving in to sin so much that we don’t believe God will forgive us, so we hide from Him by avoiding mass and avoiding the sacrament of reconciliation and never talk about it.

One thing we never talk about are our sexual sins. Probably because they tend to make us feel ashamed or embarrassed and we don’t feel like we can talk to anyone on earth about how to overcome this, especially our parents right? Possibly the last place we want to go is to confession and talk to a priest about it too. So we find ourselves kind of lost,unsure of who to turn to or where to go. This happens quite a bit, even to practicing Catholics. This is why we must never forget our ultimate desire: To get to heaven to be with the One who created us.

 

We are all called to holiness, which is something I never learned or even believed at your age. In fact I didn’t believe that we are all called to holiness until recently! But trust me, God doesn’t tell us that we are destined to live in sin all our lives.

God represents to us what is Good, what is True and Beautiful.  We’ll get more into this in a minute. But first, I want to touch on the creation story for just a second so bear with me.

If we go back to the story of creation in Genesis, God made everything and declared it was “very good.” If there’s one thing you remember from the Creation story please remember that God looked at everything he made and declared it very good.  Everything – including US! Humans! And that includes our sexuality. Our sexuality is not BAD. It is very good.

But original sin distorts this concept, this thought that everything is good. Sin makes it really difficult to see what is good, or to choose what is good true and beautiful and we end up “missing the mark.”

Today, especially as a teenager, one of the biggest areas where we give in to temptation and where sin twists our desires for what is good and true and beautiful is our sexuality.

We tend to think we have just two options when it comes to our desires, especially those of a sexual nature: The first is to suppress: “This is bad that I’m having these lustful thoughts, therefore I am a bad person.” So we think we have to suppress these thoughts, pretending they don’t exist. OR the second option: what’s worse, is the opposite can happen and we don’t see them as bad, we see them as “no big deal,” or “everyone else is doing this,” and therefore we can easily fall into sinful ways without much of a second thought by ACTING on our desires.

 

But I’d say one of the more popular roads we take is we know, in our hearts, we were created for good. We all WANT to be holy people. We just don’t know how! We don’t know how to re-direct our desires for what is good true and holy.  Luckily, The Church actually gives us guidelines on how to do this- They’re called the 10 Commandments; maybe you’ve heard of them. But more than the 10 Commandments, we have Jesus who is our example of how to LOVE, not lust.

How do we “fight” sin and how do we “fight” lust? Well the answer isn’t very popular with our culture today – the answer is through purity. We have to grow in purity – When we grow in purity we see the truth about ourselves and others, we treat others with dignity and respect. Purity orders our passions and re-directs our desires for love and intimacy back to LOVE Himself – God.

 

HOW we do this is the challenging part. But we can pray for purity. And seriously, I never ever thought to pray for purity until recently. I never thought to pray for God to purify my thoughts and my words and my actions. Sexual wounds cut us deeply. When we are hurt sexually either through abuse, or giving away our virginity to someone prior to getting married, and giving in to temptation, or someone using us for sex and treating us like an object –  whatever the case may be: those wounds hurt us so badly and it can take a long time to heal, especially if we never address them.

But the great news is that we can pray to God about it. We can go to Adoration, we can kneel in front of the cross and ask Jesus for help. Because He understands our pain. The man understands pain. He WANTS us to go to Him because He is the Truth. When we develop a relationship with Him, it makes it much easier to grow in holiness.  So pray to him to purify your thoughts. He answers them.

In the beginning I mentioned God created us and said all that he created was very good. This means our bodies are good. Our sexuality is good. But do we really believe that? As a Personal Trainer I come across people all the time who don’t view their bodies as good. Some of them really hate their bodies and the way they look. But our bodies are GIFTS!

Think about it – how are we all here walking around and talking to each other right now? We are alive because of the sexual union that our parents engaged in. We don’t have to sit here and think about the image of our parents conceiving us. But the point is: God created us and therefore he created sex. Sex is also “very good.”

The secular world actually says the same thing, that sex is GOOD. But their version of good and ours is different. Today, our modern culture reduces and lowers sex to just an act. They say sex is good as long as it’s consensual, meaning two people want to have sex, let them. “Not married? No big deal. Not dating? Fine! Same gender? That’s okay too!” That’s not what we believe as Christians. These scenarios make a mockery of our faith and our belief of how God created us as male and female.

 

You know what else is misunderstood and twisted in our culture is LOVE. The term love is thought of as a feeling usually described with happiness and bliss and excitement. But the Church teaches us that love is so much more. God is Love. It’s not only a good feeling, it’s also a choice to make a gift of self to your beloved.

Our culture tends to think sex EQUALS Love. In other words, people say “If you love me you’ll have sex with me.” “If you love me you’ll sleep with me, etc.” But that’s not a sign of love at all. That’s a threat.

Love is sacrificial. Love means to will the good of the other – meaning you do what is best for your beloved. So no, it’s not a sign of love to threaten your partner to say “If you love me you’ll sleep with me.” The opposite would be true – To ABSTAIN from sex until marriage is a sign that someone loves you. Why? Because, for one thing, they understand you’re trying to be holy and get to heaven and they want to get their too! Abstaining from sex and practicing chastity is difficult and a sacrifice – but LOVE is sacrificial! Practicing Chastity is just another way to express love for someone. It means you know that staying pure and holy is more important than your own or your partners satisfaction.

On that note, let’s get into marriage and what the Church teaches us about what this couple promises to one another. Why IS marriage such a big deal? Why SHOULD sex be considered sacred and reserved for married people only? Well for one thing Marriage is a Sacrament, which I’m sure you all know.

The couple make certain promises or VOWS to one another. They are called to put the needs of each other ahead of their own. Again, just as we talked about a second ago – Love between spouses is also SACRIFICIAL.

Jesus on the cross is the ultimate example of love because He sacrificed and gave his very life for us so that we may live. And that’s how spouses are to love each other – they are to mirror Christ’s love for each other.

So they promise to love each other in the ways that Jesus loved us – Freely, Totally, Faithfully and Fruitfully. So this is the main point of my talk today – these 4 ways in which we love our spouses.

Freely – The couple that’s getting married choose, from their own will, to love each other. They aren’t forced into this marriage nor are pressured to love each other.

Total – They give all of themselves. Not just part of themselves, all of it. They hold nothing back. So in other words, they don’t say “Honey I love you with 65% of myself. The rest of me I dedicate to loving football or shopping or my job etc.” No they are in this 100%.

Faithful – they love each other exclusively until parted by death.

Fruitful -And this is a big one – Their marriage and relationship is life giving. This means they are open to giving life to children.

So when the couples says yes to these promises, this love allows the couple to know God’s perfect love more completely and their mutual love of each other as husband and wife is a witness to the world of God’s love.

The most profound way that the words of the wedding vows are realized is through the sexual union of the married couple. Every time they have sex, and this is something many young people today who are not married don’t realize – but this is another reason we say you have to wait until marriage to have sex – the couple is in a sense renewing their wedding vows!!

The married couple speaks with the language of their bodies when they have sex, “I choose to love you and only you, with all of me, for the rest of my life and I am open to our love creating a new life.” Pretty romantic right? I think so. If the sexual act is missing one of those promises of faithful, total, fruitful and free, it’s considered a distortion of love. And that’s what we are going to end this talk with – The Distortions of Sexuality and Love or the Counterfeits is another way of putting it.

Alright so now it’s time to talk about sexual sins – And how they don’t reflect this image of what is good true and beautiful and how they don’t reflect this self-giving love at all.

But before we get into this, if you’re ever talking about sin with anyone – I’m sure this isn’t dinner table or cafeteria table conversation – but trust me when I say these discussions will come up at some point in your life – we always have to be aware of mentioning God’s mercy. Always remember this: There is no sin too great for God’s mercy. This is why we have the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I avoided confession for over 23 years. I’ve known adults older than me that avoided it for much longer. The pain they are walking around with is heartbreaking. They never, and i include myself in there, we never knew believed God could forgive us for our sins. So we need to always remember, no sin is too great for his mercy.

Also, I just want to mention that I personally have struggled with everything I am about to discuss. And if you have questions or just want to talk about any of these things, I am available to chat anytime.

So right off the bat let’s start with the biggie – fornication – pre-marital sex. Fornication includes any sexual activity outside of marriage. So we all know that the Church teaches we can’t have sex before marriage. This is because every sexual act, as I just mentioned, as designed by God is called to be free total faithful and fruitful. If an unmarried couple has sex, it lacks a requirement of self-giving love and becomes distorted.

One by one let’s go over the 4 requirements to see how premarital sex measures up:

Is it free? Yes, okay it’s free if both people agree to it without any outside pressure

Is it total? No, you’re withholding the promise to stay faithful.

Is it faithful? No because the commitment is not until death do us part.

Is it open to life? This depends but chances are if you’re not married you’re using contraception.

So when we engage in sex before marriage this sends a message of: Well, I like you enough to have sex with you but I’m not ready to commit to you. I just want to use you and I am ok with being used by you in the process.

This is the mantra or slogan, if you will, of the hook-up culture. We all know what the hook up culture is? It’s this way of living that tells the lie, the counterfeit, that If we just hook up sexually with each other with no discussion of commitment and no strings attached, we’ll be happy with this. We use each other for self-gratification and we are free to leave one another for someone else when we get bored or want someone else. Not a good message. Complete distortion of the beauty of the sexual union between a man and woman in marriage.

Secondly, one of more challenging things that will most likely come up as you get older – Cohabitation. Living together before you’re married definitely SEEMS and LOOKS like not a big deal. But let’s look at our 4 requirement and see where it stands:

Is it free? Is it a free choice to live together? Sometimes yes sometimes no. Some people say they live together to save money before they get married. Maybe they do it because they are feeling pressure from each other or society or who knows?

Is it total? No. It’s often considered a test period. What an awful thought, by the way. We are not cars! We are not objects to be taken for a “test drive” before we make a commitment! Moving in together is like asking “Do I love you enough to live with and be burdened by your flaws?” It is not a total acceptance of the other. It is not a total gift of self.

Is it faithful? No. There is no commitment of til death do us part. One person can leave any time.

Is it open to life? Probably not, especially because the couple is not attempting to build a home together, remain faithful or give and receive each other completely and they are most likely contracepting.
Lastly, pornography and masturbation – I think it’s pretty obvious why the Church says this wrong. But I think this problem is probably much more serious today in the sense that pornography especially, is becoming an addiction that is ruining relationships and marriages. So this is something that we need to take seriously. Porn is harmful and research is proving it. There’s one thing we need to tell all young people: Porn does not show real sex, and porn is not real love. Pornography is a hollow counterfeit that resembles an outward appearance of a sexual relationship but is the furthest thing from real intimate relationships.

So how does it measure up to our 4 requirements:

Is it free? Yes or no. It could be a free choice to engage in it but it could also be an addiction like a drug where you may feel like you have no choice.

Is it total? No. Masturbation is all about self pleasure never self-gift. You’re never giving yourself to anyone.

Is it faithful? No commitment is made and there is no one to be committed to since it’s all about yourself.

Is it open to life? Obviously no.
We don’t talk about these things to shame you or make you feel bad about yourself. The sin of lust – having lustful thoughts and desires like we talked about in the beginning, is a serious thing but it shouldn’t make you feel bad to the point where you feel embarrassed to even discuss it. What would be terrible would be if we didn’t discuss it and you kept on being a slave to sin, a slave to lust. Especially when it comes to porn and masturbation – I mean – let me reiterate that it’s normal to have feelings of sexual desire. Remember we said God created sex and created US so it’s normal to feel like we want to have sex!  We have this desire for communion! But the answer is not to repress or shove these feelings down. The answer is also not to act on them and think if it feels good, I can do it! We need to learn how to redirect our desires for what is good, true and beautiful. We need to train ourselves to be saints. And we can LOOK to the Saints like St Augustine. Do you know that Augustine had mistresses and an illegitimate child?! The man is now a saint and one of the greatest! And what about Saint Mary Magdalene?  The saints give us hope! They struggled with chastity too! I promise if you start to read about them you’ll feel like you have a friend along the way on your journey to become saints yourself.

I’m praying for you all and I hope you’ll pray for me too!

 

 

 

The Gift of Woman: In Culture and Church

 

WGCC-Logo

For those who don’t know, there’s a gem in this little town of Steubenville Ohio called Franciscan University.

Okay so first off, I want to go back in time and attend there.

Secondly, since time travel is not an option, I am determined to have my nephews attend there. The oldest nephew is 13 so this gives me 4 solid years to work on him. Hey, I mean, he’s already seriously considering attending a Franciscan high school so, I don’t think this will be too great a task.

So why mention this university? Well, I recently had the privilege of attending an academic conference there called Woman: Gift in Culture and Church.

Now when most people hear “Steubenville” and “conference” they automatically think of one of these – a teen or young adult or adult conference. But this wasn’t one of those.

This conference was the brainchild of a young woman named Haley Ketschke, an education major. This Friday/Saturday conference was essentially her senior capstone project for the University’s Center for Leadership program.

Together with co-leaders Toni Brown and Marykate Heim, these young ladies put on an amazing and well-organized conference with 4 of the most prominent and popular theology speakers of our time giving their keynote addresses. I was just in awe from start to finish. To think that 3 students put on this conference was just amazing to me.

I don’t have the ability to dissect every session that I attended but I wanted to give a few quick snippets of wisdom that I learned while I was there.


Dr. Pia de Solenni

I attended her keynote called Women in the Body of Christ and in Society as well as one of her breakouts called Maternity and Its Impact on Society. 

Main talking points from both talks:

  • A relationship built and based on love and not one of power, is the goal.
  • No one questions their “rights” and “power” when their relationship is based in love
  • Adam and Eve were promised love but chose power. In effect they lost love and gained power.
  • Motherhood is not something you “do.” It’s who you ARE.
  • Jesus broke ground in several ways with women – Mary Magdalene as the Apostle to the Apostles. At the Last Supper the disciples were asked to do “women ‘s work.” The woman at the well was the only one who gets up and proclaims He is the Messiah. Everyone else questioned him.
  • “Helpmate” – a form of divine assistance; woman was created as a form of divine assistance to man. (Examples – Moses’ sister returning him back to his mother; Judith helping to liberate Israel)
  • “The future of the world depends upon women.” Pope Paul VI
  • Every woman is called to live in maternity – every part of her – spirituality, physicality, mentality
  • We know men and woman can do the same things; the question is about being and how that effects what we do; what does it mean to be a bride? The Church is the Bride of Christ
  • This all points to marriage of some kind. We have the gift of modeling bride- we have the ability of what it means to be Church.
  • We need to keep with the love story, not a story of power. We need to stop asking how we can have better roles in the Church of POWER. This is not what we were created for.
  • Here’s our challenge: How can men and women better live out their vocations outside the 4 walls of the Church?

Dr. Michael Waldstein

I attended his keynote called Where the Order of Love First Takes Root: Woman as Help

The poor guy had to talk after lunch, the most undesirable spot for any speaker anywhere in any venue. But he handled it like a champ and despite his soft spoken and soothing voice, I managed to understand and take a great interest in what he was saying. He gave a great presentation incorporating lines from John Paul II’s Mulieris Dignitatem (The Dignity of Women)  and this beautiful piece of art called Assumption of the Virgin by Titian. tizian_041

It was kind of like art history blended with theology. Really fascinating!

I also attended one of his breakouts called Why the Dominant Culture Opposes the Order of Love which was all about how we have gotten to this point in our culture. He discussed Sir Francis Bacon and Rene Descartes. He discussed this ambition for power over nature. It was a short talk in order for him to answer questions instead so we could focus on solutions. One of his answers to “How do we reverse these effects of how the culture has been heading?” was to find like-minded people and to “delight in goodness. See deeply the goodness in people, especially those who serve.”


Dr. William Newton

He was the first keynote speaker and his talk was titled:

Behold the Handmaid of the Lord: Exploring the Ecclesial Vocation of the Women 

Key points:

  • The Genius of Woman is not an IQ – it is a kind of intelligence. It allows a woman to read inwardly the heart of the a person
  • She sees the human dignity of each person, the value.
  • It’s written into us as women, like a charism.
  • The family is the most important job for a woman – to build Christendom in the household, this is the goal and it is always collaborative!
  • The mother has a more decisive role in bringing Christendom into her home – Why? Because she is essentially the home. Her womb being the original home.
  • Women evoke love, we kickstart the process of loving, softening a man’s heart.
  • If we are going to live our vocation we need to bring our femininity with us!

Dr. Newton’s breakout session I attended was titled:

Deaconesses in the Church: Why or Why Not?

My notes were super sloppy on this one but he presented both sides of this issue by asking two questions:

  1. Is there any compelling evidence in favor of deaconesses?
  2. Is there any compelling evidence against it?

After addressing these questions he asked if this was of ecclesial or divine origin? He also questions if we then include the deaconate in the Holy Orders.  If Canon Law says it IS a Holy Order, then is the Canon Law infallible?

The whole discussion was really interesting and although my notes are clear, I couldn’t obviously present his case right here. He concluded, in his own opinion, that there is no compelling evidence for deaconesses and strong evidence against it. But he also said the jury is still not out on this so don’t be surprised if we hear people debating this again soon.


Dr. Deborah Savage

I only heard her keynote talk called The Genius of Man and Woman: Complementarity as Mission

If I had a to pick a favorite, I would say this one was it for me. She had awesome anecdotes, she was very clear about what she was trying to communicate and she was funny!

Some key points:

  • Why did God create us male and female? We have a responsibility to answer this question in order to save the world and fix the culture
  • Creation story – Life forms were created from lower to higher. Women being created “second” to man is not accurate; we were created last! We are on our way up!
  • The word “helper” is not a servant or a slave – We are considered Divine Aid. We are help sent by God, someone who can help men to live.
  • Eve is not below Adam but she’s also not above him – she is NEXT to him.
  • Man knows things that woman does not – he has dominion over the animals. He likes to know how things work, what does it do, what is it for?
  • This is part of his masculine genius
  • He also knows woman is not an object and cannot treat her like the other “things” and animals. It’s a reciprocal relationship from the start
  • Woman Genius  – We are more naturally oriented towards persons
  • Woman sees herself in light of the other
  • The existence of living persons, either in the womb or walking around, cannot be forgotten while we frantically get tasks done
  • We are ordered toward authentic human flourishing
  • Why did the serpent tempt Eve if they are equal? Because she knows very little about the things of this world; she was at a disadvantage.
  • The serpent starts at the top! He knew if he could trick Eve, he could get to Adam
  • Adam failed Eve at the moment she needed his protection the most

There was a Q&A Panel discussion that I couldn’t stay for but I’m sure it was incredibly helpful and informative. It was to be audience-led and I’m willing to bet there were many questions that were addressed that I myself wanted to get answers to. But another conference for another time I suppose!

I will say I left the conference feeling hope for the future. Granted I was clearly one of the few non-students in attendance, it was really encouraging to see so many young people eager to learn how they as women (and men) can be a gift to our Church and how to turn our Culture around from one of death to one of life giving love!

 

The Gift of: Being a Witness

caravaggio_-_the_incredulity_of_saint_thomas

This past Sunday we celebrated Divine Mercy Sunday. And the Gospel was the story of St. Thomas and how he doubted that Jesus was risen from the dead.

So this got me thinking “What do mercy and the story of St. Thomas have in common?”

What I came up with was this: We have to show mercy to those who doubt us. Those who doubt our faith. Those who doubt the existence of Jesus, they doubt His love. They doubt not only His existence…they doubt His existence within us.

That’s probably why we take it personally (okay I take it personally, speaking for myself) when people say they are skeptics or doubters or unbelievers. It’s like they are saying they don’t believe in us. And we are sitting right in front of them and talking to them yet they say “I don’t believe.”

I’m actually quite hurt by four simple words – “I don’t believe you.”

It’s one thing for people to say they don’t believe in God. Okay, I get it. Well, actually I don’t get it but I’ll accept that you believe that.

But what I’ve noticed is that when you try to explain to a non-believer how God has shaped and completely changed your life only to hear them say they still don’t believe – that’s crushing and really devastating.

If I may be completely honest, this is what causes me sleepless nights. I know there’s doubters among us. And some of them I’m very close to. But they doubt any existence of God, causing a huge (and unspoken) rift in our friendship.

But then we come back to mercy. How would I begin to try to help untwist their “unbelief” while still showing them mercy?

I would need the same kind of reaction Jesus got from Thomas. I would need my Thomas’ to take notice and say, “Wow, this person went through something. This person lived through something. I might not relate to it directly but I believe they experienced something profound.”

There’s a name for this. It’s called being a witness.

We can all be a witness, actually.  One way to is through the spoken word, usually the most common and most popular, in my opinion.


 

I never heard a witness talk until 3 years ago on a young adult retreat. I hadn’t even been on a retreat since maybe 8th grade. I was long overdue.

The first witness speaker on this particular retreat had quite the story. She told an incredible story that although it wasn’t directly relate-able to my life, it was a human experience that all of us in that room found very moving. It was incredibly sad and touching and left not a dry eye among us after it was over.

I have since been on numerous retreats and made Renewal at my parish where I heard more witness talks. And just last fall I had the privilege of being one of those witness speakers.

I cannot even begin to tell you how healing it is to share your journey with others. With total strangers! It was scary at first, but I was SO ready to get back up and share it all over again as soon as I was finished. Ever since, I have felt a calling of sorts to speak my story.

I have gone back and forth with myself if I should share my story here but it really truly is best HEARD and not READ. (Reminds me of my Spiritual Director who gives such great homilies but was hesitant to share them on his blog for the same reason. “Homilies are meant to be heard, to be proclaimed, not read.”)

Another priest mentioned in a homily recently on the same topic of witness talks:

“I couldn’t help but think what a different place the world would be if each of us had the opportunity, the desire, the incentive to tell and share these stories of faith or be attentive to other’s stories. How God’s presence would be irrefutable, overwhelming and certain for those who don’t believe or struggle to see God near…This is the message we are called to live – with our words and in our actions – so that others who say, “Show me” will be able to exclaim, “We have seen the Lord!”


 

So the challenge is how can I, how can anyone for that matter, share their witness with others who are open to hearing it? We can’t just blurt it out. We can’t just tell people our messy problems and expect them to understand us better than ourselves. But what we can do is invite them in to our mess.  And they can see how Jesus cleans it up!

Because, you know, Jesus didn’t force Thomas to touch Him. He invited Thomas to touch His wounds. So…wouldn’t that suggest to us that we invite people into our mess?  Our brokenness? Our struggles?

I’m gonna go out on a limb and answer yep! (Finally after years of going to mass I think I’m finally getting this whole “applying the Gospel to your life” thing).

So consider this your formal invitation into my broken world.

Hopefully, if you ever have the chance to hear my witness story, you can say “Truly, the Lord has been at work in this woman’s life!”

From there, maybe you can find Him at work in your life too.