Fearlessly Faithful

I had the awesome privilege to hang with some 400 Catholic women a couple of weeks ago in Cleveland for their First Annual Cleveland Catholic Women’s Conference called Fearlessly Faithful.

I knew several women who were part of the team that brought this conference together and being from the CLE, I was excited to support it, even before I knew who was going to be there, where it would be held, and who would be speaking.

It was well worth the 2 hour and 45 minute drive for some sisterhood time, a time of rest and to be fed spiritually, and to hear from some amazing speakers.

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The day was emceed by Brooke Taylor, who has an awesome podcast called Good Things Radio. She’s a speaker, writer, radio personality and super Mom. I love listening to her show as she interviews guests from all different states of life – religious, ordained, single, married, husbands and wives, authors, etc. She’s been hosting pilgrimages to the Holy Land for a couple of years and hosts a women’s retreat called Arise, which I am very stoked to attend for the first time next year in June. (Ladies, if you’re interested, I think there are still some spots left —> Click here to read more about it and purchase a ticket).

The first speaker of the day was Mary Bielski whom I did NOT manage to get a photo opp with nor did I get a chance to speak with her to meet her, but, alas, it’s a #FirstWorldCatholicProblem.  I had heard her name from some of my Theology of the Body friends years ago as a popular national speaker and youth minister. So I was really excited to hear what she had to say.  Her talk was called Fearlessly His and it was all about our identity. It wasn’t your typical, “Hey ladies, you’re a beloved daughter of God, dontchaknow?” She went deep, she got personal, she got raw and it was really good to dive deep into these waters.

She also talked about the Model of Identity, which is SO needed today in our culture which is clearly having an identity crisis. This 3 step model looks like this:

  1. Relationship – We come to know each other in an interpersonal relationship. We don’t look inward to “find ourselves,” we look up.
  2. Identity – Jesus received His identity from the Father. We received our identity from Him.
  3. Mission – He was sent to live it out right after His Father identified Him as His beloved Son. We are sent on mission as well.

Mary pointed out that today, in our culture, the model is reversed:

  1. We move/take action
  2. We declare our identity
  3. We try to form relationships

Another way to say it is: “I do, I have, I am.”

It’s very much an American thing to identity someone by what they do for a living instead of who they ARE; a beloved child of God.

The Good news is that we have been rescued, we’ve been adopted and we have the power that comes from the Father to rebuke the lies that the world feeds us.

She also said something that was very similar to something I had recently read in my Women’s bible study and that was this:

Jesus didn’t come to make bad women better. He came to make dead women fully alive again. 

I think I want to put that on a t-shirt.

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The second speaker was Fr. Pat Schultz and there’s no need to even try to summarize his awesome talk entitled Fearlessly Forgiven and Restored because he recorded it (YAY for technology!) and you can listen to it here:

Fr. Pat’s talk was similar to Mary’s in that he really wanted us to know that God is saying to us: “You are a beauty to be revealed.” We were encouraged to expose and silence the voice of the accuser, to unleash love no matter our state in life, to nurture life and live out our feminine genius whenever possible. Beautiful and inspiring! I would encourage you to explore Fr. Pat’s Vimeo channel to hear his homilies and other talks as well. They are stellar.

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The final talk was from Laura Mary Phelps. I did miss the first part of her talk, entitled Fearlessly Sent, but I did manage to catch the bulk of it. She had encouraged us to check out one of my FAVORITE books called “Into Your Hands Father”  by Wilfred Stinnison. It’s all about doing the will of the Father and how to know IF you are doing that, because, let’s face it, it’s difficult to discern if we’re really doing what God the Father wills for us or following our own selfish desires. I have half of that book highlighted – it’s THAT good.

I also loved her point about suffering and how it’s not written in the Bible anywhere, “This too shall pass.” That’s something we say to one another in difficult and challenging times of trial and suffering, but it’s not really…true.

An actual scripture to cling to is 2 Corinthians 4:17 which says:

“For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,” which Laura “translated” into: “The suffering you’re in now is necessary to get you to the place of awesomeness that’s coming.” 

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In between speakers was what I considered probably the BEST part of any Catholic Conference and that’s Adoration and Confession as well as Praise and Worship.  I think 17 priests from around the diocese made themselves available to over 400 women who wanted confession, while we were divided into groups to sit in front of Jesus while the lovely and talented Taylor Tripodi blessed us with her beautiful voice and musical gifts.

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To wrap up, I wanted to share this I Declare card that I received at a Holy Hour for women at my parish over a year ago and I’ve kept it in my Bible ever since and refer to it daily. It’s from the women’s Bible study Walking With Purpose and the image is from the chapel in Magdala of the hemorrhaging woman called “Encounter.”

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Those declaration statements are so powerful when we not only pray with them, but we need to actually believe them and take hold of them in order to live these truths out in our daily lives. Because speaking from experience, we have a lot of women (and men) believing the lies. The lies of “You’re not good enough, you’re afraid, you’re weak, you’re not pretty enough, you’ll never belong…” etc.

These declarative statements are the antidote to those lies. I would encourage any woman struggling with her identity to pray with these often.

When we trust in God’s providence, when we believe that God is a good Father, and when we are receptive to what the Holy Spirit is telling us about the truth of our identity in Christ, that’s when we can live truly Fearlessly Faithful.

Until next time…be blessed!

Doing the will of the Father – St. Cyprian

I read this in the Liturgy of the Hours that I pray every morning and came across this last week. I wanted to share it for several reasons:

  1. If I blog about it, that means I can easily refer back to it. It certainly beats writing this on post-it notes
  2. It’s a long “checklist” that I’m pretty sure I’m not doing 100% but would like to.
  3. I’ve been wanting to write about something for a few weeks that would strike the heart of everyone, not just a select few and this appears to be something we can all strive for.

So here goes!

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The following is from a treatise on the Lord’s Prayer by Saint Cyprian, bishop and martyr.

All Christ did, all he taught, was the will of God. 

  • Humility in our daily lives
  • an unwavering faith
  • a moral sense of modesty in conversation
  • justice in acts
  • mercy in deed
  • discipline
  • refusal to harm others
  • a readiness to suffer harm
  • peaceableness with our brothers
  • a whole-hearted love of the Lord
  • loving in him what is of the Father
  • fearing him because he is God
  • preferring nothing to him who preferred nothing to us
  • clinging tenaciously to his love
  • standing by his cross with loyalty and courage whenever there is any conflict involving his honor and his name
  • manifesting in our speech the constancy of our profession and under torture confidence for the fight
  • and in dying the endurance for which we will be crowned

This is what it means to wish to be a coheir with Christ, to keep God’s command; this is what it means to do the will of the Father.”

St. Cyprian, pray for us!

Love vs. Lust – Fulfilling Our Desires

Is there anything more annoying than people who have a blog but don’t blog a darn thing for several months?

Yes, that would be me. Quite a bit has happened since the last time I posted. I’m not quite sure what is accounting for the lull of writing from me, but perhaps it’s due to the fact that I’m a better speaker and talker than a writer. At least when it comes to storytelling.

And that’s where today’s post comes in: I was asked to present a talk on Theology of the Body to the young adult group in my Archdiocese of Detroit for their Theology on Tap series last month. I was ecstatic to be asked and enthusiastically prepped a talk on Love vs. Lust – Fulfilling our Desires.

It seemed to be the best topic for me to present on given that I think all people, but especially single young adults, can relate to the misunderstanding of what exactly is authentic love. There is a lot of confusion today about what passes for love. So this talk aimed at clearing up those misconceptions ,as well as explaining what our faith teaches us about real love, how lust is using someone and treating them as an object, as well as what we can do as Catholic Christians to avoid falling into the trap of lust.

I did record it (audio only) in an effort to critique myself. I edited out the Q&A at the end as well as a chunk in the beginning and it *still* turned out to be quite long.

So I edited out all of my flubs and flaws, took out a really great story at the end, and managed to edit it down to just under 28 minutes.

So how would you like to spend your time in purgatory? Long and drawn out but really entertaining? Here’s the long version:

Or quick and relatively painless and gets to the point? Here’s the short version:

Overall, I’m pleased with how I did despite my obvious fast-talking – although those “young kids” today, none of them said I talked too fast. For anyone under 30, I talk at their regular speed, no joke.

I am hoping to do more talks similar to this and even have another opportunity to speak coming up at a Women’s Lenten Retreat next month about finding beauty in your relationship with Christ.

As more of these talks come up, I do hope to have them recorded and shared on here since the purpose of the blog was and remains an effort to educate, inform and inspire folks to learn Theology of the Body.

+JMJ

Holidays, Mass, and Memories

The holidays are here and that means it’s time for me to write about my most favorite subject ever – My mama! 🙂

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So holidays for my Mom and my family were simply the best. My Mom could be described as “Festive to the Extreme.” To give you an idea, she decorated our house for Fourth of July and Memorial Day and Labor Day with little flags everywhere. I mean, lets face it, most people will celebrate by enjoying the day off work but my Mom would get out her flags and put them in the potted plants outside and in the yard, she’d get on her Flag sweatshirt and grab her Flag Tote bag and would just LIVE for stuff like that.

Christmas was always a bit over the top, and Mom just made it really special. Her last Christmas was no exception. In fact, we considered it a miracle (and looking back, I think Mom just WILLED herself to get enough of her strength back) to be released from the hospital in time to celebrate Christmas.

One of my last memories of that final Christmas was walking down the stairs to the kitchen and stopping on the landing halfway, to just take in the smell of baked cookies and her famous sweet bread baking in the oven and thinking, “This is the last time this house will smell like this. It won’t be the same anymore. I’ll never hear her fiddling in the kitchen, I’ll never hear her playing her favorite Christmas CD’s, I’ll never see her smiling to present her bread.” And I don’t remember crying or anything, but I remember just inhaling that smell before I walked all the way downstairs into the kitchen. And just saying to myself,

“Damn. That was it. This won’t ever be this again.”

And you know what? That first Christmas was really rough. I won’t say it was awful but it was really hard. We tried to decorate the house like she would have but I had zero desire to even put up the tree or anything.

One day in the fall of the year that she passed, I think around Thanksgiving, I just decided to pick up her digital camera and see what was on it.

And the first picture I see is of the interior of our house…at Christmas…the year before. And then another. And another. And another. She took about 20 photos of the entire house with the Christmas decorations because she knew we wouldn’t know how to decorate quite like her. It was basically a Tutorial of How To Do Christmas Like Mom.

I pretty much lost it and called my sister to tell her about Mom’s picture-by-picture guide and she came over and we began to unpack the boxes and started to decorate the house.

And we found a note in one of them. I can’t recall what it said, but something like “Take care of each other.” Mom wrote it apparently when she was feeling well, in remission. We thought “How neat! Mom left us notes!”

We kinda forgot about it until Christmas time and started to unpack those decorations and found..you guessed it – more notes! (I wrote about this whole thing in greater detail in a blog post here). <—Get the Kleenex ready if you start to read that one.

My point with today’s post was to give some sort of solidarity to those who are about to experience their “first” holiday post-loss of a loved one. The first holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, Mothers Day/Fathers Day, etc are not really…enjoyable.

I mean, let’s just be real  – they suck.

I hate that word, but it’s just so true. You’re always thinking about THEIR last holiday and how they looked, what they said, what they wore, what they made, where you went with them. And it’s just not the same. Nothing is ever the same.

And people will always try their hardest to make you feel better by saying, “Their memory lives on forever.”

Gag me.

That’s straight out of a Hallmark Channel Movie! So lame. Yeah yeah, their memory lives on. In our minds. Yes.

But that’s not good enough – we want our loved ones here in the flesh. I want to be able to hug my Mom right now, ya know? I can’t hug a memory. (I had the BEST dream about her the other day where I DID hug her and it was so great!)

I want to smell that bread again (IT’S THAT GOOD okay? Trust me, everyone RAVED about my Mom’s sweet bread. Thank God my sister bakes it now and it’s just as good although she’ll read this and say “No, it’s not as good as Mom’s. No one made it like Mom.”)

I want to hear her play her favorite Christmas music and hear her wrapping gifts and complaining that she had to scour the internet looking for that one obscure rare gift my brother always asked for every year, and couldn’t find (but she always found it! Sometimes at the last minute, but she did.)

I want to see her, in her recliner, reading her little devotional books, ask her how she’s feeling, and hear her voice and talk to her.

Last week we celebrated All Saints Day and All Souls Day. All Saints Day is a Holy Day of Obligation but All Souls Day is not. I feel like they both should be obligatory.  All Saints Day mass was exactly what I needed. The incense, the chanting, the lighting…it was incredible. All Souls Day had the same feel and although it’s a solemn mass and lots of tears are shed, the homily filled me with hope.

I LOVE going to the mass and feeling my Mom there with me.

After all, mass itself is heaven on earth. It’s where we encounter Jesus and it’s where we pray to the Saints and to Mary and it’s where I feel closest to my Mom and all of my relatives and friends who have passed on. They are where I want to be someday (hopefully not soon) but I know it’s where I’ll see her again and hear her laugh and see her smile and give her the biggest hug ever!

And when I’m on my knees in prayer after the Sanctus (the Holy Holy Holy…) I really try to envision all of the saints right there and my Mom too, hovered around the altar, kneeling with us before God on His throne.

I know it can be a chore and really tough to picture this when you’re at mass where there’s crying babies, fidgeting kids, people’s cell phones going off (come on people, it’s been 10 years can we please learn how to turn them off!?) or an off-key singer in the choir or just distracted by your random thoughts, but if you shut your eyes and just listen to the priest, you CAN do this.

Even if it’s just 10 seconds of being truly present at mass, it’s a game-changer. It may be the most peaceful moment you’ll have that day. And if you keep experiencing that peace, I would be willing to bet you’ll want to keep coming back to get those peaceful experiences again.

My prayers are with all of my friends and family members who are experiencing their “first” holidays without your favorite person in your life there with you this year. But you’ll see them again. And it won’t be from a memory.

It’ll be real. 

Can’t wait to see you again, Mom! Save a slice of that bread for me will ya? 😉

Priesthood Sunday – A Rosary for the Sanctification of Priests

Happy Priesthood Sunday!

I’m not sure how many people really “participate” in this occasion but I know for me, I send a quick text or email to the priests in my life who have been particularly influential in my spiritual life.

But you don’t need to be good friends or close to a priest to let them know that you care. You can simply pray for them. And I think, especially in light of this “Summer of Scandal,” our good priests could use our prayers now more than ever.

My parish is one the few that I know of that has dedicated a special page on their website to the Church abuse crisis and the McCarrick scandal. They have been updating the site with relevant articles and commentary and recently, they added this page –  Rosary for Sanctification of Priests.

I think it’s just a good way to show support for all of the clergy right now.

Another idea that I had was to pray for those priests who have been laicized due to abuse allegations. I think a lot of the times, we’d rather not think about these men as being worthy of our prayers or of our time do to the heinous nature of their actions. But, we simply can’t think that way. It’s times like this I remember that there is no sin too great for God’s mercy and forgiveness. I oftentimes just pray for these men to repent. That’s all we can ask. The rest is up to God. In a lot of cases, many of these men  are deceased, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pray for their souls.

My Archdiocese lists the name of every priest who has been removed from ministry or laicized. I made it a point to write down their names and pray for them by name. Maybe a good idea would be to find out if your diocese lists yours and do the same.

On this Priesthood Sunday, give thanks for the good priests (the majority of them are!) that you’ve encountered, and pray that more good young men will remain docile to the movements of the Holy Spirit and heed the call to the priesthood, if that be God’s will for them.

 

TOB and the Interior Life

A week ago today I set off for the Malvern Retreat House in Pennsylvania to take my 6th course with the Theology of the Body Institute called Theology of the Body and the Interior Life with Fr. Timothy Gallagher.

I had asked Christopher West in a Facebook Chat what to expect from this course, since I felt like I was one of the few Catholics in the world who had not heard of Fr. Tim before. His response was:

“Fr. Tim Gallagher is one of the foremost experts in the country on Ignatian spirituality, particularly what Ignatius called “the discernment of spirits.” It’s going to be a crash course on how to discern the interior movements of our lives — how to recognize the voice of the Lord and any contrary voices in our lives. This is essential for the journey of the interior life, which is essential for living TOB. I’ll be making those connections for the class in particular.”

I’m here to say, Fr. Tim exceeded my expectations and, together with Christopher teaching the TOB specific portion as well as another priest who spoke on the Examen Prayer, this was probably one of the most fruitful and enjoyable courses I’ve taken yet.

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For those unfamiliar with the TOB Institute and the courses that it offers, a little background:

All of the courses take place at retreat centers in Pennsylvania. They run from a Sunday evening until Friday afternoon. They consist of 30 hours of teaching and the rest of the time is filled with meals, mass, prayer and adoration.

That’s the *structure* of it but that’s nothing compared to what happens in your mind and your heart as digest all of this. Because it’s not data or information that you’re learning – it’s so much more deep than that. This is literally life-changing. And it’s because it speaks directly to our heart.

This one was specifically on Discernment of Spirits and the Spiritual Exercises from St. Ignatius of Loyola. For more information on it, I’d recommend Fr. Timothy’s website as well as the *main* website called Discerning Hearts. For those who are more auditory learners, you’ll appreciate this site since all you’ll have to do is click on one of the many podcasts that Fr. Tim has done to really help you understand the exercises.

While attempting to summarize all that we learned in one blog post would be futile, (I wouldn’t even know where to begin!) I would instead like to share the BEST news about this retreat/course based on my last post from just a month ago: My GoFundMe Campaign funded this whole course entirely!

For those that don’t know, I was having some anxiety about paying for this course. I only had 3 courses left to obtain the full TOB certification and after a ton of prayer, I decided to start a Go Fund Me, simply reaching out just once to friends/family via email and posting to social media two or three times. I felt VERY uneasy about this because it’s not in my nature to ask for help, especially financial.

Much to my surprise, within 10 days, most of the course was paid for. Within three days of starting the campaign, the Institute granted me a small scholarship to the class as well. I was shocked and humbled and I’m incredibly grateful! I couldn’t get over how good God was to me with this journey.

I realized on the morning I was due to leave for the course (getting a ride with friends so I didn’t even have to put those miles on my leased car!) I was finishing up the 54 Day Novena for Our Nation. The novena consists of a rosary each day for twenty-seven days in petition; then immediately a rosary each day for an additional twenty-seven days in thanksgiving, regardless of whether or not the request has been granted yet.

Well, my petition was for funding for my TOB class. And on the final day of the novena, I was thanking Mary for interceding for me and granting this request. I don’t think this is any sort of coincidence – it’s clearly an answered prayer.

While it remains to be seen how the rest of the funding will pan out for my final two courses, I remain hopeful that God will provide.

For those wanting more information on Theology of the Body, I have updated my “Resources”  page with books on TOB and others.

Other links:

TOB Institute

Christopher West/Cor Project

Theology of the Body – What is it?

 

 

 

 

 

Using my gift of gab for good.

“What am I supposed to do now? Just tell me what to do!”

This is the PG version of my prayer a few weeks ago on the Feast of the Assumption, as I sat in front of the tabernacle at a tiny chapel at my parish. I had just come from the noon mass and attempted to pray in larger day chapel where the Blessed Sacrament is exposed, but it wasn’t doing much for me. So I changed venues and went to this smaller chapel (nicknamed the closet chapel because it’s about the size of a walk-in closet).

Gratefully, no one was there. I say gratefully because I proceeded to kneel down and sob openly for about 20 minutes. I had read just a few lines from the PA Grand Jury report the night before and managed to avoid most of the worst headlines from it the next morning. But apparently, the gruesome details I did manage to read by accident the night before crept back into my mind. And I was devastated. And angry. And frustrated. And at a loss for what to do or what to even ASK the Lord in this situation.

Eventually, my feelings of anger turned into actual prayers:

“How can I turn this into something for YOU? What can I do to channel this into something that helps to heal your Church that is going through a major crisis right now?”

It’s basically the prayer we probably all should/do pray everyday: “Thy will be done.”

The answer I received was pretty quick and simple: “Keep going.” 

Keep going with what? With my discernment of my vocation? Keep sobbing in chapels?! Can you give me a bigger hint here, Lord?

But then it became obvious to me: What have I been doing for the past 3.5 years? What  am I good at? What excites me and where do I really thrive? To be honest, as awkward as it is for many people, I actually LOVE to talk about chastity and sex and marriage to complete strangers. 🙂 I know, who woulda thought?

And from the feedback I’ve received, especially this past year, apparently people are responding well to my speaking engagements. You can view one of them here for a talk I did called: Engage the Culture – The Catholic Response To the Sexualization Of the Culture. Unfortunately, you can’t quite see my powerpoint on the screen, but at least you can hear me.  There are more/will be more of these as they are posted on the OLGC channel.

So with that affirmation, I asked what I needed to continue on with my “TOBsessive” practices.

And quite frankly, I need the certification in order to speak well to this teaching from JP2, but most importantly, to be seen as a credible resource.

The great news is that I’m almost done with the certification process through the Theology of the Body Institute: I’m just 3 classes away!

The reality is that the classes are not cheap. I’ve been blessed to be able to take 5 of them without really doing too much damage to the bank account. But these last 3 will be a bit of a challenge.

So after more prayer and wise counsel from people I trust, I decided to ask for help with the finances by creating a GoFundMe page. Several other TOBsessives have done this as well and so I figured, why not give this a shot?

Full transparency: Each class is $1,175 and you can see the price for yourselves right here: http://tobinstitute.org/programs/courses/

If you cannot give financially, I simply ask for your prayers. I know God is faithful and He always provides. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for whatever you give. I promise you I will continue to use the knowledge I’ve obtained from the 5 courses I’ve already taken to promote the Catholic Church’s teachings on human sexuality and always to speak the truth in love. I have seen firsthand and experienced how the power of the Gospel works in everyday lives.

TOB changes lives because it changes hearts. I’m a living testament to that and I would love to give this gift of transformation to others, with God’s help, as best as I am able.

In Christ,

Michelle