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.

 

The Prophetic Message of Humanae Vitae

It’s been 50 years this July 25th since Pope Paul VI released the Encyclical Letter Humanae Vitae (On Human Life).

There’s even a documentary about it that is being screened across the country.

There’s so much to be said about this prophetic letter, negative and positive. Most people talk today about the negative effects – how it caused such a rift between the Church, between priests and bishops who didn’t agree with the Pope’s message, between Catholic couples who ignored it altogether, between secularists who thought the Church was being old-fashioned and “should just get with the times.”

No matter what your feelings are on the Church, one cannot help but read the letter (it’s only 6 pages) and come to understand that, tragically, what Pope Paul VI predicted has come to fruition.

Section 17 of the document is the most “famous” for what the Pope saw as the notable and disastrous effects on society if birth control were to be embraced, namely – increased marital infidelity, a general lowering of moral standards, reducing women to mere objects, as well as the government and public authorities imposing their use on everyone.

Plenty of theologians and people smarter than I have written extensively on Humanae Vitae. I added a new section to the blog specifically for it.

As for me and this post, I just thought I’d offer some common sense logic as far as this document goes and express my thoughts on what I came to understand after reading it for the first time a few years ago.

First, a fun fact: Did you know that long before Pope Paul VI wrote HV, there already was a 100% guaranteed effective method of preventing pregnancies? It’s called abstinence.

Not the most glamorous word. Not a word that gets us very excited. It’s pretty blah, I admit. But maybe that’s because it’s not a virtue. It doesn’t take PRACTICE to be abstinent.

It DOES take practice to be chaste, though. And that challenge of practicing chastity, especially with someone we love and are deeply and completely devoted to, is difficult for people to adhere to. And I think, at least in my opinion, this is a key reason why so many folks became bitter and dissident from HV. They don’t like being told what to do.

And all they saw/heard when this document was released was “No.” But they never heard the WHY. They just heard a Rule and didn’t hear the love behind it. It’s really a pity because Pope Paul VI was just trying to do what the Church does – Mother us. Guide us. And protect us from going down a destructive and sinful path.

So let’s look at each of the main predictions and see how they match up to today’s reality:

  • Decline in morality and uptick in divorce

Last I checked, despite the controversy over the ACTUAL percentage, it looks like around 42-46% of marriages end in permanent separation or divorce.

Among some studies I found, many of them ask participants open ended question of why they got a divorce and infidelity was in many of the top 5 most common answers.

So what’s the link between infidelity and contraception? Well, I had never thought of it this way, but think about it – Men who cheat/women who cheat won’t do it if there’s a possibility of their spouse finding out, right? But how would they know? If the woman gets pregnant.

So where does the Pill come in to play here? Well, if a woman is taking a contraceptive that prevents her from becoming pregnant, you can clearly have an affair much more easily. And if she does become pregnant, she can always get an abortion and the “problem” goes away. And no one is the wiser.

What is argued from the pro-life Catholic perspective is that the Pill tells the man and the woman that sex is all about pleasure. We’ve eliminated the possible outcome of a pregnancy so we can just “have fun” with no consequences.

But that’s not pleasure – that’s USE. The man uses the woman for her body only. And the saddest part is hearing other women argue against this and say that this is crazy talk. But it’s not. It’s the truth. Maybe that’s not the INTENTION of the woman. Because of course, who the heck wants to be used and then discarded once the man gets tired of her? But this is exactly what the pill/contraceptives do.

Another way women are treated as objects is through exploitation in prostitution and human trafficking. According to Mary Leary of the Columbus School of Law at The Catholic University of America, sex trafficking and prostitution is a $40 million industry in D.C. alone.  “Women are seen as one-dimensional objects – commodities – to be bought and sold in this “modern-day slavery.”

And then you have women being used for their eggs through surrogacy, egg donation and in vitro fertilization.

Seriously though, what happened to our moral compass?  I try to think, for me, personally, how was I influenced as a youth/young adult? Who did I look to and who was I influenced by when it came to what was immoral vs moral? Of course, the Church. And the 10 commandments. But, I was also easily influenced by the culture. And when I think of the culture I think of tv and what was popular in those years. For me, when in high school and college, the biggest hit tv show that I think *most* of my generation watched was “Friends.”

Watching some of the repeats now on syndication, I am shocked at how much every single episode is literally about sex. Apparently someone with a lot of time on their hands counted 2,000 references in all of the episodes. And this was on NBC, this wasn’t HBO’s Sex and the City. This was one of the most popular sitcoms on TV in the 90’s-early 00’s.

And I would argue the quality of the tv shows on today haven’t gotten much better as far as morals. And let’s not get started on movies. Fifty Shades of Grey ring a bell?

I’m not about to blame the decline of morality on one tv show or one movie. It’s just that we have to admit at some point that things started to take a turn for the worse.

Abortion stats are widely known.For those that aren’t aware, we’re at just over 60 million unborn babies killed in the womb in the United States since Roe v Wade.

The stat on children born out of wedlock is staggering – about 2/5th’s of all births are to unmarried women. In the African American community it’s extremely high at 72%. 

I found the reason for this increase from an article particularly fascinating:

“The increased availability of contraception and abortion made shotgun weddings a thing of the past. Women who were willing to get an abortion or who reliably used contraception no longer found it necessary to condition sexual relations on a promise of marriage in the event of pregnancy. But women who wanted children, who did not want an abortion for moral or religious reasons, or who were unreliable in their use of contraception found themselves pressured to participate in premarital sexual relations without being able to exact a promise of marriage in case of pregnancy. These women feared, correctly, that if they refused sexual relations, they would risk losing their partners. Sexual activity without commitment was increasingly expected in premarital relationships.

That last sentence is particularly of interest. That’s the definition of the hook-up culture. Sex without commitment. It’s happening right now. It’s happening on college campuses at this very moment. And with the internet and online “dating” sites like Tinder and goodness knows what else (do we really want to know? I sure don’t) the hook up culture shows no signs of slowing down or stopping.

Keep in mind that quote above is from an article in 1996. I would argue things have only gotten worse in the past 20 years.

  • The lack of respect for women and treating them as objects

I’ve already covered this with the hook up culture and sex outside marriage (sex without commitment) but I would throw in the rampant use of online pornography and the now infamous #MeToo movement. 

  • Government would forcibly use contraception abortion and sterilization for population control.

In other words, if two people can control their own family population, what’s to stop the government from enforcing their own population control onto their countries?

The most glaring example of this was the Obama Administration and the HHS Mandate; forcing pro-life/religious organizations to provide their employees with contraceptives and abortifacients.


So what’s the Good News?

I think there’s a lot of hope for the future. I think many women, especially young women, are waking up to the fact that the sexual revolution sold them a bunch of lies. Freedom does not equal happiness and empowerment. There’s nothing empowering about raising a child alone because the father left and wasn’t ready to commit. There’s nothing empowering about taking a level 1 carcinogen that could possibly cause you to have a stroke. There’s nothing empowering about getting a ride to an abortion clinic to kill your unborn child. And there’s nothing empowering about waking up next to a man in bed after a one night stand. There’s nothing empowering about your spouse leaving you for someone else. There’s nothing empowering about finding out your infertile because you were on birth control for decades because your doctor told you as a teen that it would clear up your acne. And there’s nothing empowering about selling your body for money or drugs.

This is empowering? No, this is degrading. And women, and men, and children, all deserve better.

The answer to how the Church can fix this mess is still the one it’s always been and continues to be – Prayer. And speaking the truth in love. Women are speaking up. Mothers are speaking up. Priests and Bishops are speaking up.

Keep the conversation going.

Let’s not wait another 50 years before we speak up again.

 

 

Real vs Fake

The fake news finally got to me. The past two weeks seem to have been particularly awful with mainstream media and reporting and just “bad news” in general.

It finally got to be too much. I made a decision to try to cut back my intake of all the fake news (real news too) and made a goal for myself – No checking any social media sites once I am home from work.

It’s been almost a month and looking back, I was successful exactly 50% of the time. Not too bad, right? I kept my promise of not sharing or tweeting anything after I was home but I sometimes would fail at checking social media. On a few occasions, I didn’t even realize I failed until I found myself staring at my news feed; I had become THAT habitual about being on my phone after work.

But one day after work, I think I just had it with the news cycle in general and went to the adoration chapel to lament to God about all of this -He still loves me even when I whine and complain to Him 😉

And almost immediately I received a response:

“I’m real.”

Oh right.

That isn’t a piece of bread I’m staring at – that’s the real presence of my Lord and you know what? He’s real. And I can count on Him to give me nothing but truth and goodness and beauty.

Pope Francis attends the worldwide hour of Eucharistic adoration in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican

God is real.  And God doesn’t lie.  He can ONLY be authentic and real. He doesn’t know the meaning of the word “Fake.” That’s the Devil’s word. The Devil doesn’t have his own clay, so he twists and distorts what is sacred into something evil, something “fake,” something false, doing his best to pass it off as real.

And we fall for it a lot.

I know I certainly did.

So maybe it’s time to reclaim what is real and call out fake news, fake people, fake ideas and call them out when we see them.

And when the shouting and the screaming and the endless stream of bad news (fake AND real) gets to be too much, maybe retreating to one place where nothing but truth, goodness and beauty resides is the best medicine.

 

 

Overcome with Gratitude

So something random and interesting and really quite extraordinary happened to me yesterday (Sunday, Good Shepherd Sunday) morning.

I don’t know if it’s the fact that it was the first sunny day in who knows how long here in Michigan.

I don’t know if it was the fact that I was in a good mood to begin with.

I don’t know if it was the smell of clean clothes and clean countertops in my kitchen that I just sprayed as I cleaned my apartment and did the dishes and laundry. (Who doesn’t appreciate a clean dwelling space?)

But all of a sudden, as I was listening to a podcast from Bishop Robert Barron (of all people!) and folding laundry (of all things!), I had this overwhelming sense to drop to my knees and praise and thank God out loud.

This has simply never happened to me. The urge to thank Him was simply overpowering. I was just overcome with a mixture of joy and elation and gratitude, for about 10 minutes. I couldn’t get over it!

Maybe it was the fact that I had gotten up very early and just started to clean like a madwoman. I had incredible energy and had neglected to do my “typical” routine of sitting down on my couch, opening my LOH, or praying a rosary.

I almost feel like God was saying, “Umm…Hello!? Creator of the universe over here. Are you even going to acknowledge me, my daughter? What happened to thanking me first thing? The dishes can wait.”

So I went out on my balcony, because it was such a beautiful day, and I was literally watching birds chirp in the trees and prancing (jumping?) in the grass. And not a cloud in the sky. The only other sounds coming from the cars driving by on the street. And maybe my neighbor’s wind-chimes when the breeze picked up a little.

It was simply the most beautiful scene I could have envisioned on this Sunday morning. Truly a day that the Lord had made.

I came back inside and saw my Grateful Giving prayer card sitting on the table. I had been given this little card at a church function in Cleveland a couple years ago and kept it on my kitchen table and another copy in the visor in my car. A great prayer to pray on the way to work/school/etc:

God, Creator and Giver of all that is good,

we thank you for our many blessings.

Mindful of your generosity, we acknowledge

that all that we have is from you.

Daily, we offer you thanks and praise for

the beauty of the earth, our work, our family

and our loved ones.

In the dawning of a new day, you are with us.

In each dark hour you are here.

Blessed by your grace, we show gratitude to

You by sharing what we have.

By serving our brothers and sisters,

We serve You.

As you protect and guide us on our journey,

We, your disciples,

remain ever grateful for your constant love.

AMEN.

But wait, it gets better!

This morning, I read this in the Office of Readings:

“In a word, every blessing is showered upon us, both in this world and in the world to come. As we contemplate them even now, like a reflection in a mirror, it is as though we already possessed the good things our faith tells us that we shall one day enjoy. If this is the pledge, what will the perfection be? If these are the firstfruits, what will the full harvest be?

From the book On the Holy Spirit by St. Basil the Great

I’m pretty sure they call this an affirmation.

Because that’s what it felt like; a showering of blessings. And if I’m this overwhelmed by His goodness to little old me, how much more awesome is going to be when this is all perfected?!

As I sat on that balcony, I thought- I GET to clean!! I know it sounds so strange but how many people would DIE for the chance to have a roof over their heads to clean! Or a bed they get to sleep in. The ipad that I GET to listen to a podcast or a homily or watch a TV show or a movie, anytime I want. I GET to read all these books on my shelf, anytime I want. I GET to write on this computer for my little blog, anytime I want. I GET to text or call or email anyone in my family or my friends, anytime I want.

What gifts!!!

I get to live in the greatest country in the world where I am free to worship my Lord and Savior. I get to drive a car to a job that I get paid to fight for religious freedom and pro-life causes. And just a month ago I got to travel to the Middle East to walk in the footsteps of Jesus. I’m still in the shock and awe phase apparently.

Maybe I’ll come back to this post the next time I feel like complaining about my slow internet connection, or the price of gas going up, or when I burn my toast.

Thank you God for this little life of mine.

Holy Land Pilgrimage: Top 5 Moments

I was blessed to take a pilgrimage to the Holy Land from March 24th until April 2nd.  A trip of a lifetime!

It’s going to be next to impossible to describe everything I saw the “holy moments” that all took place and the awesome other pilgrims I met on this trip, but I’m going to do my best to summarize in one post my top favorite moments. Here we go:


1. Basilica of the Annunciation – Mary’s House:

From the outside and this little pitiful picture, it doesn’t look like much. But this is all you can really see from the walk on your way up to it. It wasn’t until I got back home that I saw what it looks like from afar: church-of-annunciation-muzio2

This was one of the sites we went to after arriving in Nazareth. And we arrived on March 25th, the Feast of the Annunciation! (Although this year, March 25th was Palm Sunday so it was moved to April 9th.) But, it didn’t really matter. It felt like divine intervention that we were there.

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This is the spot where the Angel Gabriel asked Mary to the most important question and her answer changed the entire world. Quite a lot to take in as we stood there.

The inscription on the altar reads: Verbum Caro Hic Factum Est =

“Here the Word became flesh”

Here. Right here!

Later on that night we were able to come back and spend an hour of silent prayer here. I prayed Evening Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours for the Feast of the Annunciation, as well as a rosary. It was easy to become emotional in that moment as the Annunciation has special meaning for me personally. But just, when you sit there and think, “A girl of 14 or 15 years of age was approached by an angel to bear the Son of God…” I just wanted to thank her for her YES. So that’s what my prayer became.

The upstairs/main part of the Basilica is beautiful, decorated every inch with mosaics and sculptures and paintings of Mary from several different countries, including this iron one from the USA:

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2. Basilica of Agony – Garden of Gethsemane

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Some fellow travelmates and I saw a holy hour advertised at the Garden of Gethsemane and the Basilica of Agony on Holy Thursday night. Well, it was not so much a holy hour as it was an hour of standing in the back of the church for an hour with 2,500 of my closest friends. Shoulder to shoulder. This was not for the claustrophobic!

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But what made this so special was that it was during the night of Holy Thursday, at 9pm. Most likely around the same time that Jesus was praying there in the Agony of the Garden, sweating blood.

I was sweating (because it was pretty warm and several people had to leave to go outside because it was just too darn crowded) I began to pray to the Lord to align this “suffering” with His. All I could see was what they projected on the huge screens but for the most part I could only stare straight ahead at the painting of Our Lord praying at the rock.

I couldn’t get my hands on of one of the programs, but from what I understood what was spoken in English, there were 3 Gospel readings and 3 Psalms, all of which were spoken and sung in several (I’ll guess at least a dozen) different languages. We then did Prayers of the Faithful and then chanted the Our Father in Latin to conclude.

While I wouldn’t say it was particularly enjoyable, I don’t think it was really supposed to be. The crowds didn’t make it a comfortable experience, but thinking about it afterwards, it was exactly what it was meant to be: It was prayerful. I was next to a French couple, I was in front of a German family, to the left of me was a Spanish family and directly in front of me was an Arab pair of men. And I think a few American’s sprinkled in there too! The point being, we were clearly there to be with our Lord, as He suffered and prayed in that garden knowing what was about to happen to him. What a time to be present there, despite the crowds!

Here is a brief video from the service as well as some photos from our official visit to the Garden of Gethsemane later on as a group during the daytime.

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The bedrock where it is believed Jesus prayed is the stone you see me praying as well as a miniature sculpture of Jesus kneeling in prayer.

IMG_1250.jpg This is outside the Basilica and just on the outskirts of the Garden. You cannot walk into the Garden of Gethsemane although I know there are people who have been able to spend the night or spend some time in prayer there. It’s most likely doable when you don’t have a large group.


3. Boat Ride on the Sea of Galilee

We made our way down towards the Sea of Galilee and into a boat that, without the motorized engine, would be very similar to the kind of boats Jesus and his disciples may have used to go fishing. After about a 10 minute “tour” and explanation of the landscape and surrounding area, the drivers shut off the engine and allowed us some quiet time just to contemplate this scene. I set my phone on the ledge and hit record, knowing this was a moment I would want to go back to again and again.

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Technology somehow doesn’t allow me to share the video of the sea to the blog so you’ll just have to take my word for it. 🙂


4. Church of the Nativity – Bethlehem

Preparing to see where Jesus was born was something I really wanted to focus on as we made the bus ride to Bethlehem. I was trying hard to just contemplate this momentous, universe-altering event in my mind. Similar to the Annunciation, I found it difficult to comprehend that I was on my way to see this spot where He was born. I had seen friends’ pictures from their trips here and I knew not to expect a giant chapel or a decked out manger. I knew it was a star in the floor and that it was cramped. 🙂

This is our group making our way down the stairs to the cave:

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I had asked one of our pilgrims to get a picture of me venerating the spot. This all took place in the span of about 10 seconds. Our guide was encouraging us to go two by two to make the line move a little faster. Of course, in my mind, I was thinking, “NO! Can I just have this one moment alone!?” But really, there’s no time to be selfish (and literally no space). It worked out completely perfect actually. As I wait for my travel-mate to send me that photo (he took it on a professional camera and I saw he got a great shot of me) I can share with you this photo I took of one of our pilgrims about to kneel down to see the spot. It’s impossible to get an up-close shot because, obviously, it’s in the ground. 29792704_10155440826477544_8312783687370828990_n

As we got back up from the spot, we noticed that hardly anyone else was down there (very rare!) So before another group made their way there, we gathered in the small space and sang the first verse of O Come All Ye Faithful.

Quite a few teary eyes as we sang this…Right here, where Jesus was born!!!


5. Visiting the Holy Sepulchre to see the Tomb and Calvary

Within the same day (Wednesday, the day before Holy Thursday) after visiting the Church of the Visitation and some other sites, we hopped back on the bus assuming we were going to check-in to our hotel just outside the city walls and just a 15 minute walk from the Holy Sepulchre.

No sooner do we get on the bus and we were told, “We’re not going to the hotel to check or to have dinner yet. Surprise! We’re going to the Holy Sepulchre, NOW!”

Having no idea of the amount of crowds that were no doubt making their way to the Holy Land this week and most likely a lot in the next few days, our guide thought it best to go now to be guaranteed a visit to the tomb and Calvary.

Before getting into my experience, let me share some photos I took myself and then some MUCH BETTER photos so you can truly grasp what this all is. Because I must say, if you’ve never been there, it can look really confusing.

After waiting an hour in line, we made our way into the tomb. This is the entrance to it:

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Another view of the entrance to it (taken on a different day during a procession):

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This is a shot of Calvary:

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And underneath that small altar is a hole that you can reach into with your hand and touch the rock that Jesus was crucified on:

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Since you may be thinking, “What am I looking at?” I did the leg work for you and found some better photos of all the Holy Sepulchre contains:

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An outline of Holy Sepulchre
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The outside of Holy Sepulchre
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A view from above inside
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A view from around the edicule which houses Jesus’ tomb
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Jesus tomb
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Calvary/Rock of Calvary (under altar)

Hopefully these photos make it a little more clear.

As for the experiences themselves, at first it was quite rushed. No one can really spend more than a minute at Jesus’ tomb. I think the longest it ever “felt” that someone was in there was maybe 90 seconds. They definitely keep the line moving!

Secondly, we were instructed not to take photos of his tomb which I wouldn’t have anyways, I was just trying to comprehend what I was kneeling in front of. The magnitude of it all!

By the time I was done kissing and kneeling, it was time to get out of there. Maybe 30 seconds?

Knowing I’d be back there, I wasn’t too upset. We then made out way to Calvary where we waited about 10 minutes to kneel down and touch the rock of Calvary. Again, a bit rushed and not completely understanding that THIS was Calvary! It’s hard to imagine it all when you’re surrounded by other pilgrims, speaking all kinds of languages, some of them pushing a little bit, some of them taking selfies (ugh!) and many just talking a lot so if I was hoping for a moment of silence, that was never going to happen.

We then walked back down stairs from Calvary and were able to venerate the Rock of Unction:

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This is the rock that Jesus was laid on and prepared before He was put in the tomb.

That was the first experience at the Holy Sepulchre.

The second and third experiences I had there were much better, much more prayerful.

And most definitely require a separate blog post about it….

Stay tuned!

 

The Gift of Teaching Others How to Pray

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For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.

—St. Therese of Lisieux

I just love the different people I encounter at adoration on any given day.

Just the other day, as I was praying the rosary, a woman in the row of seats next to me seemed restless. She kept getting up and going to the back of the chapel to get some books. She didn’t seem to comfortable just sitting there and looked like she needed something to read.

As I went on with my rosary, the woman asked, “Excuse me, but do you have the Our Father over there by you?”

I rummaged through my bag o’ books and had to laugh: Of all the prayer cards and books I have on me at any given time, how could I not have the Our Father, the most common prayer?!

I apologized for not having it handy but then informed her it was in the Bible. (Matthew 6 for future reference.)

She had no idea and was so grateful that I mentioned this to her.

I went back to my rosary but couldn’t help think: “How sad that this person didn’t  know the Our Father!”

And then I realized the hard truth: There’s no prayer in public schools anymore. There’s no prayer on tv. There’s no one praying out in the open for fear of being sued or ridiculed. So why should I be surprised that this middle aged woman didn’t know the most common prayer in history?

If I hadn’t been raised Catholic I may not know the Our Father, either. But I also didn’t start really praying from the heart until a couple years ago. I started seeing people sincerely speak words from their heart, as they would pray either over me or with me or even before a meal and I thought, “I gotta step up my prayer game. These people are professionals!”

There’s lots of books on contemplative prayer, and meditative prayer and repetitive prayers, novenas, chaplets, devotions, etc. It can seem overwhelming if your goal is just to learn how to pray everyday.

I’m no expert but I thought, if I were to try to help someone learn how to pray, here’s what I would suggest:

Books to Pray With

Two books by Jacques Philippe are great recommendations:

Time for God  And his follow-up book is called Thirsting for Prayer

Both books are under 150 pages, which is why I like them so much. Sometimes I think we say we don’t have time to read about how to pray, but we do. We just have to make the time. And these books can easily be read in a couple of days.

Meditation and Contemplation

There’s also a great way to pray with scripture called Lectio Divina. I’m not too great with this. My poor Spiritual Director had suggested it to me and I really struggle with this one. I can’t quite do this by myself but I have found it to be helpful in a group setting. It’s harder to become distracted with others around, for me at least.

Thomas Merton is probably one of the more widely known teachers of contemplative prayer. His book,  Contemplative Prayer is one of the most popular spiritual books out there. According to reviews, ”

Another great author is Richard Rohr. He has a book entitled, Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer.  Rohr also has a great website where you can sign up for his daily meditations. Richard Rohr, OFM – Center for Action and Contemplation

There’s an App for that

If books aren’t really your thing and you’d prefer to use an electronic device to pray, I have to mention two that are FREE and worthwhile.

The first is called Examen and it’s my favorite app to use.  Not only is it helpful with your prayer life, it gets you to take a look back at your day for some self-reflection. In our busy day-to-day hustle and bustle, it’s really key to take time to reflect on not only all the good that God provides for us, but the moments when maybe we weren’t really acting or thinking with the mind of Christ.

The second app is called iBreviary and it’s used to pray the Liturgy of the Hours. This is what most priests use and religious as a way to pray for the Church and to mark each hour with prayer and song. I try to pray at least morning and evening prayer and lately I’ve been on a roll praying all 5 times throughout the day. It doesn’t take long and what I like about it is that this forces me to slow down and take a breather to focus on what’s really important. It’s amazing how SANE I feel and how any anxiety I have melts away after I pray this way.

“Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Mt 18:2

Recently, I shared with my 7th graders the 5 Finger Prayer. It was an easy way for them to understand a certain order to pray in because let’s be honest, sometimes we just don’t know where to begin after we make the sign of the cross.

Here’s an easy way to remember that even a kid can understand:

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“But when you pray, go in your room and shut the door and pray to your father who is in secret.” Mt 6:6

I’m in awe of people who create and construct their own home altars. Whoa. That’s a bit advanced for me.

I would suggest trying to find your own “cell” or private space in which to pray everyday. If you tend to become easily distracted, like me, then praying in the middle of a house full of people/kids/blaring tv, etc just isn’t going to cut it. A table or a desk and maybe enough space for a couple of books (the Bible being most important of course) is really all you need!

Speaking of the Word, if there was just one book you need or require to get started praying, the Bible is really the only one you need. And while there are Bible apps, I would suggest an actual Bible. And perhaps a notebook to act as your prayer journal. Because chances are, once you start to really pray religiously (ooooh see what I did there?) you will no doubt want to jot down thoughts that the Spirit stirs in you. Plus it’s a neat way to look back after a few months to see how some of your prayers have been answered!

When all else fails, when you feel overwhelmed by all these methods of prayer, just go back to the beginning and think of the woman I spoke to during Adoration. The most basic prayer you can pray is the prayer Jesus taught us:

Our Father who art in heaven,

Hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come.

Thy will be done

     On earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread,

And forgive us our trespasses

    As we forgive those who trespass against us;

And lead us not into temptation,

But deliver us from evil.

Amen.

 

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: Spiritual Adoption

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The Sacred Family

I cannot stop staring at this picture. The first time I saw it was at a (surprise surprise) Catholic Women’s Conference in Columbus where one of the vendors was a pro-life organization. There was a stack of prayer cards on the table. The prayer was on one side, this picture was on the other.

The prayer is this:

“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, I love you very much. I beg you to spare the life of the unborn child that I have spiritually adopted who is in danger of abortion.”

The prayer is from Venerable Fulton Sheen who wrote it in 1973 after abortion was deemed legal in the United States. He encouraged Catholics to pray this prayer daily for nine months in the name of the baby. He believed that, by such “spiritual adoption” of specific babies — one prayer at a time — the advance of the culture of death in America and abroad could be thwarted.

I spiritually adopted an unborn baby the week prior to reading this card, although I didn’t quite know it.

I had been asked, along with many of my friends, to pray for a young college student who found herself unexpectedly pregnant. We were asked to pray that this young woman would cancel her appointment at the abortion clinic the following week. We knew nothing more about this woman except for her first name.

A week later I was at this conference and saw this prayer card. Little did I know that the unborn baby that I knew of that was in danger of abortion, was scheduled to have an abortion that very day.

It is still unclear, about 3 weeks later, if this young girl went through with her abortion. No matter what, I find myself still praying for her. And I pray for her unborn baby as well all of the unborn everyday.

It’s difficult to express especially to those that aren’t pro-life, the sadness I feel for all women who are faced with an unplanned pregnancy. Pretty sure many pro-choicers assume that I’m anti-woman.

I cry for these women.

I’m sad for them because I know 4,000 women each day abort their child. I’m sad for them because they usually receive no support from the father of their child or from their parents or friends. I’m sad for them because the only “friend” they find themselves talking to is the abortion worker. I’m sad for them because they have believed the lies that so many of us women have believed for far too long: “You’re weak. You’re helpless. You’re not strong enough to have this baby. This baby will ruin your life. In fact, it will end your life.”

I believed these lies for SO long. I remained convinced from 8th grade until just a couple years ago: “If I ever get pregnant, my life is over.”

Who told me this lie? No one specifically. It was more of the “mantra” of my teenage and college years. Almost like a “Scared Straight” episode but with pregnancy as the “drug” that will do you in. A baby TRAPPED you. A baby was a BURDEN. A baby was a MISTAKE.

I’ve written about my conversion to the pro-life side here. But what I’d like to end with today is a letter to the unborn. It seems that “An Open Letter To…” posts tend to be popular. I just saw someone wrote one to a certain Presidential Candidate who shall remain nameless. But in the abortion industry, people write letters too.

For example, did you know you can write letters to abortion workers telling them they are praying for their conversion and that they were there to help, like the Love Letter Campaign from And Then There Were None? People write letters to women who’ve had abortions who claim they have no regrets about ending their lives of their offspring, like this one from Rep. Diane Black. People write letters to women who are hurting and feeling suicidal due to their abortions (simply Google “An Open Letter to Post-Abortive Women” and you’ll see tons of examples, especially from those who have had an abortion).

I found myself writing the following letter that I addressed to the unborn. I know most children that I “spiritually adopt” in the womb will never read this. But I am still comforted by the fact that they will one day understand that there were many of us that fought for the least of these:

To The Unborn-

I don’t know you, little one. I don’t know you or your mother. But I pray everyday that you hear my voice in that little womb of yours. If you hear echoes of “protect” and “save” and “choose life,” that’s me and my friends. We fight for your life everyday. Some days we might say this prayer called a Rosary where we pray for our Mother Mary to intercede for us to save your life.

I want you to know that I desperately want you to live. Sometimes people out here don’t understand what they say when they yell and scream or even just talk to one another about “Choice” and “Reproductive Rights.” I know these words don’t mean much to you now but I assure you there are people who claim these words mean that they can end your life before you see your Mom face to face.

Just know that your Mom loves you. She doesn’t understand what’s happening right now. And maybe some people are lying to her. They make her feel weak and inadequate. They tell her that she’s incapable of taking care of you. They tell her things that make her feel like she’s making the right “choice.” They use language to make her feel like you are nothing but a problem that needs to be destroyed. That you are a mistake. And a burden.

But many of us know better. We know destroying an innocent life like yours is not going to solve any “problem.” Please know that in addition to praying for your soul, I pray for your parents too. I want them to meet you and God someday so I know how important it is to pray for their souls. 

Unfortunately, your parents don’t understand the JOY and HAPPINESS that your life could bring them! But I know, without a doubt, your Mom IS strong. I pray she knows that. And your Mom IS loving. I pray for her to know that too. She may say or think that she’s “not ready to be a mother.” But what she doesn’t know is that she’s already a mother. The second you were conceived, she became a mother and your dad became a father. They are parents and always will be, no matter what.

Most of all I pray for you and your little soul. Many more people that you don’t even know and will never meet are praying for you right now, too. Many of us end up crying, begging, and pleading with God that you’re life is spared from death. That you get a chance to take a breath outside your home in your mother’s body.

So stay strong. Don’t be scared. And forgive your parents, especially your mother. The pain you may feel will be quickly forgotten once you experience the bliss and joy of entering heaven’s gate and see Mary, Our Mother, her arms wide open to welcome you home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Gift of: A Happy Death

O Blessed Joseph, who died in the arms of Jesus and Mary, obtain for me, I beseech you, the grace of a happy death. In that hour of dread and anguish, assist me by your presence, and protect me by your power against the enemies of my salvation. Into your hands, living and dying, Jesus, Mary, Joseph, I commend my soul. Amen

March 10th 2016 will mark three years since my Mom passed away.

I’ve written about Mom in the past – this one is the fan favorite.

I wanted to write about so many things today in an effort to celebrate this most blessed anniversary of hers.

But after several drafts and re-writes, it seems I’m supposed to write about those 3 days. A Friday, Saturday and a Sunday 3 years ago.

Clearly, this will be a brief version with just the highlights.

There were many of us in the family that were there those 3 days but in an effort to protect their privacy, I’d like to just share my own views of those final days of my Mom’s life.


 

She requested hospice on a Friday and was gone by Sunday. 3 days…just like someone else we know.

“I hope I’m making the right decision.” She just kept repeating that…over and over. How do you even respond to that?

She was incredibly lucid in those first hours, especially that first day, to the point where we were in disbelief that the hospice nurse said she wouldn’t last more than 2 more days.

“But it’s Friday! What do you mean she won’t make it the weekend? This IS the weekend!”

It’s incredibly surreal – The hospice nurses instruct you when and how to administer the morphine and it’s like watching a movie, almost like it’s happening to someone else’s family.

“Will she tell us when she needs the morphine? How do we know if it’s too much? Or not enough?”

But then it becomes too real and you just want it to be over. But you can’t wish for that because this isn’t your battle. This is hers and you just have to be there.

We were told that she is going to go through a “life review” which at first you don’t quite believe but then you actually witness it. And it’s heartbreaking and mesmerizing and awesome and awful all at once.

By Saturday we had to laugh at certain points because if we didn’t we’d go nuts.

“She’s going to be so mad when she sees what she’s wearing and that we let the hospice nurses see her like this.”

The worst moment for me – I sat at her feet when she was in the recliner (before she had to move to the hospital bed) and just looked up at her and realized this was it. I cried at her feet and I can still hear her saying and repeating, “It’s okay, it’s okay. It’s going to be okay.”

She eventually she had to be moved to the hospital bed. She just kept looking at it. She knew her own mother died shortly after being moved from the recliner to the hospital bed. I’m sure that’s what she was thinking. I know she was trying to prolong her stay here as long as she could. Not for herself, but for us. To spare us the pain of seeing her die.

She said goodbye to my nephews who recorded a beautiful voicemail for her that we played on speaker so everyone could hear. The look on her face as she listened was pure joy. I had never seen her smile like that in weeks. It was probably the most heartbreaking moment of all as we realized this was the last time she’d hear their young voices. Her grandsons were her source of joy. Hands down, they were her world. Especially Sean since he was so young and so oblivious to what was happening to “G.”

Time for a sidenote/side story:

Just two weeks prior to her death, she had ended up in the hospital again to drain fluid from her lungs. I was having a particularly bad time dealing with this and went over to my sisters to see the boys. Sean (the younger of the two) was hanging out with my brother-in-law. Out of the blue he pointed out that “Daddy has a cut on his head from shaving.” I glanced and saw, yes indeed he had a tiny cut on his head. Sean was asking me to look at it. I said I saw it but was clearly preoccupied with my Mom’s illness to not particularly care all that much.  Sean looked me in the eye and said in his sweet little 4 year old voice: “I’m going to pray that my Dad is healed from that cut. Because you know what auntie? God hears my prayers. Did you know that? He hears my prayers.”

Twice. My nephew said this twice and looked at me in the eye as if he was channeling someone.  I just looked at him and almost started crying. I wanted to tell him, “God DOES hear your prayers. And right now can you please pray that G is healed? Please?! I don’t want to lose my Mom!”

But I didn’t. I just remember that moment as being so surreal. How innocent a child prays. It wasn’t even a question – “Do you think God hears my prayers??” It was a STATEMENT. “God hears my prayers Auntie.” I will never forget that.

Sunday – I remember that morning as the one that my Mom saw her Dad. She spoke to him and said things like “Daddy, I’m afraid.”

“Afraid?  This wasn’t in the brochure! She’s not supposed to be scared!”

She also said things that were incomprehensible as she flowed in and out of lucidity. Sometimes her eyes were opened and she spoke but you could tell she wasn’t talking to us. I don’t recall responding too often so as not to confuse her. But I also felt like if I spoke or responded to her, that would be…rude. 🙂  She was clearly having a private conversation with someone and I was not about to interfere with that.

It was a sunny day and I thought “What a beautiful day to leave and go home!”  However, things didn’t progress that well. In fact, we called the hospice nurse on call to tell us what to do. We were concerned she was in pain! After all, she kept saying she was afraid. So that must mean she’s in pain, right?

“She’s in spiritual pain. Have you prayed with her?” – the hospice nurse asked.

The look on my face was complete embarrassment.

Had I prayed with my mother on her deathbed?  NO! Duh!!! What the heck was wrong with me?

I prayed with her as best I knew. I think many of us said the Our Father because that seemed to be the only prayer we all knew.

“How do you pray with someone who can’t hear you and can’t speak?”

I was clueless.

Sunday evening – We called her priest to come and give her last rites. He also managed to ask a question I was all too embarrassed to NOT know the answer to –

“What’s your mother’s favorite prayer?”

I went from feeling like a decent daughter to being the worlds worst. I had never even bothered to ask my Mother’s favorite prayer.

We ended up praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet at her bedside which I think she would have approved.

Shortly before she passed, I ran out of “prayers” and instead took all the cards anyone had ever sent her and read them all out loud to her. I took her hand, told her it was okay for her to go and said I would see her in the morning.

My dad took over the “shift” change.

I went up to bed and prayed and cried to God to please ease my Mom’s sickness.

An hour later she passed away with my Dad at her side.

I don’t even recall crying. I immediately thought God heard my prayer just an hour before.  (Thanks to Sean for restoring my faith in prayer).


 

My Mom was always happy and forever smiling during her life and in countless pictures.

As her body lay there, I stared at her. She looked so….GOOD! As if she would just sit up and say, “What are you looking at? Be happy for me! I’m home!”

I couldn’t help but think …

…that’s how you die a happy death.

 

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The Gift of: Life Renewed

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A picture of my favorite Saint posing with my favorite TOB Teacher, who will probably be a Saint someday. St. John Paul II, pray for us both!

Well this was unexpected.

It’s not everyday you hear that your mentor is coming to a chapel near you to give a talk about God, Sex, and The Meaning of Life.

But this evening I found myself driving speeding just a tad to hear Christopher West give a talk at Walsh University, just a little over an hour away from me.

Never mind the fact that I’ve read 3 of his books and attended TOB1 last summer. Never mind that I attended yet another course in August on Catholic Sexual Ethics and plan on attending TOB2 in June this year. Never mind that I am currently facilitating an Intro to TOB DVD series with over a dozen women from my parish. And never mind that I tend to introduce myself as “a crazy TOB gal” upon first meeting anyone with even an inkling of knowledge about our beautiful teaching. And did I mention that I’m pursuing the full certification so one day I can teach TOB?

Clearly, I am not ignorant to Theology of the Body.

So why would I skip out of work an hour early (sorry boss!) to drive an hour away to hear a talk on a subject I clearly know quite a bit about?

Because I can never get enough. And, as much as I think I know, there is ALWAYS more to learn.

I was thinking about this as I made the drive down there to North Canton tonight. I was grinning ear to ear, SO excited to get there and take it all in.

“Who in their right mind would be this ecstatic to hear a chastity talk?”

Probably because it’s SO MUCH MORE than a chastity talk.

And it hit me, sitting there in the pew tonight, listening to Christopher speak:

It takes your breath away.

And it hit me, on the way home, thinking and reflecting on all the changes that have occurred in me since last spring:

Theology of the Body healed me.

Why would I not be excited to hear about the very thing that cured me?

It never ceases to amaze me that I prayed for healing, I cried to God (sometimes out loud and in front of the Blesses Sacrament), to help me.

And it takes my breath away when I realize the work He did in me.

And it takes my breath away when I think,  “If He has the power to convert a huge sinner like me, then there’s hope for every person out there.”


There’s not enough space (and you, dear reader, don’t have enough time) to read about how much TOB changed my life. I’ve written bits and pieces here and here if you’d like to read just a taste of it. (Or, simply search “Theology of the Body” within the blog to find the rest).

The fact that I changed my blog to it’s current name should give you a pretty good indication that this was more than “just another book” that I just happened to read last year.

TOB saved my life, and I don’t know how else to summarize it better than that.

I know that doesn’t really tell anyone anything specific, and that can be frustrating.

But I always remember that Catholicism is a proposal. And TOB is a proposal. And so I can’t force you to learn it, but I can INVITE you to learn it.

So I invite you, whoever you are, wherever you are at in your journey, to take a look at TOB.

It won’t be easy because, after all, this is all very heavy and intense and uncomfortable sometimes. But that’s why we have some great resources to help us in our time of need.

The first is Jesus. (Duh) He’s our first “emergency contact,” if you will.

But sometimes, you need to talk this stuff out with people who are wise and considered the experts.

Your local priest will also be a great resource and can definitely help you navigate your way into the TOB world.

But for those that prefer to remain somewhat anonymous or like reading more than speaking:

This is where I will give a shameless plug to Christopher’s Cor Project and the TOB Institute.

These websites are the go-to sources for every body. Every state in life. Every budget.

  • The Cor Project is fantastic and well worth the $10/month investment to be a member. As a member you have access to his talks that you can download online and SHARE with your friends and family (Hello! Evangelizing for the modern world!) You will also get emails from him on Monday, Wednesday and Fridays.  They include short YouTube videos as well as quotes and blog posts.

I spoke to a few people tonight at the talk who didn’t want to join because they “already have so many emails coming in each day.”

As a daily email addict myself, I found a solution to this problem: Make the emails part of your daily prayer. 

What I mean by that is if you don’t want to stop subscribing to other email lists like The Catholic Company or the USCCB or uCatholic or Matthew Kelly (I told you I was addicted), pick one to focus on in the morning. Even if you’re daily prayer is only 10 minutes, you can still find that time to be useful if you’re really reading and investing time to reflect on the message.

I’ve even watched his video’s during Adoration (headphones in of course) and THAT has proven to be very helpful.

  • The TOB Institute provides all the courses/retreats to the general public so you can become an addict like me further your own personal journey. I wouldn’t be doing a good job of spreading the message of TOB if I didn’t promote the courses. You don’t need to be a religion teacher or a parent or a priest to appreciate these courses. As you have heard it said repeatedly: Theology of the Body is for every body. Yes, that includes those of us who are single! This isn’t just for married folks, folks.

If you can only attend one in your entire life, you must make it to TOB1.  Period. Nuf said. Just go.


My life, in the past year, has totally changed. I remarked to Christopher as he was signing that picture of St. Teresa of Avila, (drawn by his 15 year old son, by the way):

“You know YOU started this Christopher. You did this to me!! You made me into this crazy TOB chick!”

I think I said Thank You. But in case I didn’t:

Thank You! I’m forever grateful for my new life.