Daily Mass Project – Northfield, Macedonia, Akron and Hinkley

Saint Barnabas – Northfield – Thursday July 20th

 

Celebrant: Fr. Ralph Wiatrowski, Pastor

Initial Thoughts: Got there early enough to walk the grounds outside the church to take in all the awesome statues and statute of Our Lady of Fatima as well as the outdoor Stations of the Cross. I even managed to get a little lost, trying to find my way IN to the church. I think I tried every door before I realized if I just went in the FRONT door, that leads to, duh, the church. A very blonde moment for me.

The worship space is all carpet with no kneelers but really large pews. It reminded me of my grade school parish of St. Anthony’s in that sense – very wide. I probably should have taken a seat closer to the sanctuary. I felt like I was in the “cheap” seats at a stadium sitting towards the back.

Homily Reflection: Fr. briefly mentioned St. Apollinaris, who was martyred in the 1st century and who we celebrated (commemorated?) this day. Apparently he was a bishop ordained by St. Peter himself. He had the gift of healing, which caused a fair amount of jealousy among other priests and leaders at the time. But the people listened to him and started to believe in Jesus because of him.

The 1st reading was about the burning bush. Fr. mentioned God’s response of “I AM WHO AM” is almost un-translatable in to English. It means God is omnipresent, all powerful. He’s the one who cares about us and hopefully, we care about Him in the same way.

The Gospel was the popular “My yoke is easy and my burden is light” from Matthew. When we listen to God, this His burden DOES become easy, because it’s what we are supposed to do. Our part is to do our best by hearing His word and putting it into practice and to cooperate with God in order to do His will.

Holy Moments: The walk outside beforehand was really a great way to silence my mind beforehand. I highly suggest, even if there is nowhere to walk outside your church before mass begins, to at least drive without the radio on and try to quiet your mind before entering the worship space. It really helps to focus on what is being proclaimed as well as to enter in to exactly what it is you’re about to receive. (Spoiler alert: Jesus). 🙂


Saint Sebastian – Akron – Saturday July 22nd

 

Celebrant: Fr. Anthony Simone

Initial Thoughts: WOW. I would never have guessed from the outside what this church looks like on the inside. Spectacular! The stained glass, the side altars and statues, the mosaic on the wall of the sanctuary. It was actually a gloomy rainy day when I walked in so to walk in from the downpour to this, was really beautiful.

Homily Reflection: Fr. Anthony is a buddy of mine and I was determined to travel to Akron to hear him celebrate mass. He mentioned the band U2 and the song “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” as a way to convey the message of the Gospel. Mary Magdalene was desperately waiting and searching for Jesus at the tomb and when she saw Him she wanted to stay with Him and cling to Him. But He says to stop clinging, because He has yet to ascend. And that’s how it is with us; we are on a journey SEEKING and searching for Jesus. Faith is a journey, NOT a goal.

The Song of Songs from the 1st reading expresses this desire –

On my bed I sought him  whom my heart loves – I sought him but did not find him…I will seek Him whom my heart loves.

If we seek Him at all, He will find us to remind us that He loves us first and to go deeper. Enjoy this moment but don’t stay. Enjoy this moment but keep following me. There’s always MORE!

Holy Moments: The entrance hymn was one of my favorites, “You Are Mine.” And the Responsorial Psalm was my favorite, #63. And hearing my good friend up there preaching = priceless.


Fox 8 Studios – TV Mass

Celebrant: Rev. Robert Marva, OFM Cap.,Pastor of St. Agnes Our Lady of Fatima

Okay so, this really doesn’t count as a DMP, but it’s a legit mass! My nephew was selected to be a server for the TV masses that will air on August 27th and September 3rd here in Cleveland. It was definitely unique to hear a mass and receive communion in a tv studio. IMG_7866

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Our Lady of Guadalupe – Macedonia – Monday July 24th

Celebrant: Rev. Kevin C. Shemuga; assisted by Deacon Dave Govern

Initial Thoughts: I think there’s always something special about a Marian parish. Maybe it’s because I now belong to one in my new home of Michigan, but upon walking up to the doors, I was just taken in by the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and even the glass doors! I myself knew nothing about this apparition until just 2 years ago when I took a Theology of the Body class. I had zero knowledge about the tilma or the story behind it. I felt a little silly for not knowing anything about it but I suppose, if you aren’t exposed to it, how can you know?

Homily Reflection: The Gospel was about the Pharisees asking Jesus for a sign. Jesus says “The Son of man will be in the heart of the earth…” Father reflected that Jesus entered into all of our hearts by embracing the cross. He entered deeply into the sin of our lives. We too must choose to embrace our cross. Then Fr. said something that I didn’t quite write down verbatim but it was in reference to St. Teresa of Calcutta and what she did very well:  “The most splendid skill of the human being is to enter into the compassion and hearts of others.” No one stands above the rest. We’re all supposed to be here for each other. That’s our call, to listen and to be merciful.

Holy Moments: The music. I am always surprised when a daily mass has music accompaniment. I didn’t write down the opening and closing hymns but I just remember the organist/music minister was on point. During the consecration, the “chimes” were manufactured by the organ but I didn’t even mind. It’s really nice just to hear the chimes during that part of the mass. Even if it’s “fake.”


Our Lady of Grace – Church and Shrine- Hinkley (Photos Only)

I pass by this Church and Shrine about 2 times a week and never thought to stop by until recently. I wasn’t able to attend a mass but did manage to walk the Stations of the Cross and pray at the Shrine.

 


Next post: A traveler’s blessing during mass from my friend Fr. Jim at St. Christopher’s in Rocky River for my final DMP in Cleveland; my first High Mass experience at St. Joseph Oratory (Detroit), and a tour of the 2nd oldest church in America of St. Anne’s (Detroit).

Made for Community: An Afternoon with Alpha

 

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Life was never intended to be lived alone; community with God and one another was always the plan. The desire for community is built into our DNA. – Dan Blythe

 

Let’s talk Alpha folks.

No doubt you’ve seen the billboards around town about it. Or maybe you’ve heard about it from a friend or co-worker. Or maybe you have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about. In any case, let me tell you about my short but very fruitful encounter with Alpha this past weekend.

My first encounter with Alpha took place last fall at a friends’ house. I was sent an invitation to it via email and was told there would be food (let’s be real here, I had said “YES” before I even read the rest of the invitation) as well as a short video followed by a discussion in a small group.  All we who were invited were told was that we would be learning about the basics of Christianity and that all would be welcome, no matter where we were on our faith journey.

In a nutshell this is what Alpha is: An informal and casual environment for people of all walks of faith and all backgrounds to engage with other people about what it means to be a Christian.

Looking back, it was an incredible experience. The food was delicious, the videos were inspiring and easy to understand, and the conversations we had were thought-provoking, not superficial or mundane. I LIVE for conversations like this! These are the kinds of discussions I WISH I had with my family and friends!

The weeks flew by and I was legit bummed when it was over, but I had gained SO much insight and perspective about Christianity that I had never bothered previously to explore or consider. And did I mention the food???

More than just a random visit

Fast forward to a year later (just about a month ago) and I’m in the midst of emailing a woman named Kathy, who works at a parish in the Archdiocese of Detroit called Our Lady of Good Counsel. I told her I had felt compelled to visit OLGC since this summer and would it be okay to go to the Church for mass one day over the weekend, pretty please?

Before I tell you her response, you may be wondering why *this parish? It’s actually a long story but I will say most TOB-addicted peeps such as myself have most likely heard of the pastor, Fr John Riccardo. I would encourage you to visit their website or their YouTube page and just explore. Guaranteed you’ll find something that makes you think, “Whoa. What did he just say? That’s different.”

Back to my email convo with Kathy…

Can I visit? Well the answer was of course affirmative. But the noteworthy part was this: There was an Alpha retreat taking place that Saturday and she invited me to join.

I replied back with a resounding “YES! Sign me up!” Clearly, God wanted me there for a reason.  But for what reason exactly, I wasn’t so sure.


Community, Connection and Christ at the Center

There’s not nearly enough space to discuss how the Holy Spirit was moving within me the entire weekend. But let me just say, it was palpable. Much of it was felt at the retreat but assuredly the entire weekend was full of God-incidences.

The retreat itself was less than 8 hours but even in this short period of time, I felt an immediate connection with the people there. While I didn’t have a solid outline of the schedule, I had a general idea of what to expect given the typical Alpha schedule. But I also knew we would conclude with the opportunity to have people pray over us individually, which is such a unique and powerful experience.

In fact, my first real experience of someone praying over me occurred at a retreat just a few months ago. The gentleman who did it? An OLGC employee. Hence, one of the many connections I felt to visit this place.

After introducing myself as the “Clevelander just visiting,” I immediately felt welcomed by a table of 7 other folks. Normally, I’m pretty outgoing and can be quite chatty, but I felt a sense to just observe and quiet myself. I did talk, but only when I felt the Spirit calling me to. I mostly heard the Spirit say, Just listen and allow these people to teach YOU something. You are here for a reason. Let me reveal it to you.

When the Holy Spirit talks, you listen.

Just as my first experience with Alpha went, the conversations were profound and insightful. Just a few things of what I heard:

  • The significant growth individually and collectively in just the 7 weeks this particular group had been meeting
  • Their struggles with having faith and raising a family in our current culture
  • The difficult of having friends and family members who don’t agree with their particular views
  • The suffering and sickness of family members and children and how they were able to get through it
  • The balance of marriage and career and as well as being an example of the faith to their children
  • How to pray to the Holy Spirit for wisdom, for knowledge and for the right words to speak and the right actions to take in order to lead others closer to Christ

One word kept coming back to me as I listened: Community. Here in front of me I had the privilege of observing community in action. I’m not sure if they realized it, but they were essentially evangelizing to each other by sharing all of these stories. And this was just one afternoon!  I think they’re on the verge of calling each other friends rather than just acquaintances. And isn’t that what forms a community? People who may be on different parts of a spiritual journey but have a common goal of sanctification and living in eternity with God?

By the end of the weekend, I truly feel God called me there to be something that I have failed at for the past year:  A witness. A real live, public witness. I talk a good game, but in the end, do I really live this out? Do people look at me and talk to me and think, “That’s a witness. That’s a person unashamed of placing her trust in God.”

I hope I showed this in the small amount of time I was there. But I distinctly felt that this Alpha retreat was supposed to prompt me to engage with others in a more concrete way.

I think this was God’s way of saying: You’ve done a lot of work this past year growing in your faith, and acquiring “data,” as Fr. Riccardo would say, but now I need you to really move and to speak up and be that living example I have called you to be.


One last word about Alpha

Alpha is a program you need to experience for yourself. If you are lost, join. If you are seeking, join. If you are confused, join. If you are prideful like me and think you know it all, join. You can find one near you here.

There are a few people who have been on my heart that I believe would benefit from Alpha. Please pray for me to have the courage to be a witness and lead them to an Alpha course. 

As I was dropped off at the house I was staying at for the weekend I remarked to my new friend from OLGC, “You all are so unbelievably nice to me. But it’s more than being nice. I feel as if you truly CARE about what happens to me and you don’t even know me.”

He simply responded: “Well, we love you.”

Ahh, I thought. So that’s what being a witness looks like.

May we all strive to echo this same sentiment, love each other as fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, and be a living witness to everyone we encounter.

I can’t adequately describe how hospitable, generous, and kind every. single. person. at OLGC I met was to me. Granted, you don’t have to travel 3 hours out of state to find generous and kind people. But I’m going on record as saying some of the best people are in Michigan.  (Don’t hate me, Buckeyes!)  Thank you to the amazing people at OLGC parish for your hospitality and generosity:  Mary, Pete, Kathy, Jennifer, Chris, Fr. John, Deacon Dave, Dr. Steve, Mary, Kristi, Heidi, John, Susan, Brad, Lauren and Nicole – You are all in my prayers and I can’t wait until we meet again. 

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Love Thy Neighbor or Mind Thy Own Business?

no-access-71233_1280You know how people usually compare  the journey of dieting and losing weight to the journey of faith?  Maybe it’s just me since I seem to have an ear for this sort of thing and my ears perk up when I hear anything related to food. But I swear ever since I started reading more about the saints and listening to Catholic speakers and reading Catholic books, it seems like desire and sin are always compared with our desire for food, and the  journey to sainthood and heaven is always linked to a weight loss goal.  It’s fascinating because, truthfully, it’s spot on!

Don’t believe me? Read on.

So I have a spiritual director (Hello Fr. Adam!) and what I’ve discovered is that SD’s are similar to Personal Trainers in a lot of ways (similar to any coach/counselor).

We give instruction, we give guidance, we ask questions. But ultimately, we can’t force you to lose weight/get stronger etc. That’s something you have to do on your own. My SD can’t force me to do anything but he does provide guidance, instruction, asks probing questions (that I sometimes hate to answer). “Did you workout like you planned?” similar to “Have you prayed using Lectio Divina?” to which I usually answer, “I plead the fifth Father!”

Most personal trainers or strength and conditioning coaches will ask their client to record their workouts and their food intake in a journal. It’s more about self-reflection than anything else. Same is true for anyone seeking the “more” to life. I’ve always journaled but I go through periods of lulls where I just don’t feel like writing anything. And I cannot even begin to tell you how many times I’ve attempted to log my food and kept failing because of laziness.  It’s an ongoing struggle.

And then there’s the gym. Clearly, the most obvious similarity is that to a Church, with the congregation being fellow gym-goers.

But I would say watching people work out is not like sitting in the pews. That’s probably more comparable to every day activity.

For example – I see people at the gym doing exercises improperly at least once or twice at each visit. Of course, no one is going to be perfect all of the time, but that’s why we have gyms – so people can exercise and work their way to their own version of the “perfect” body. (A whole other blog post)

But what about these gym people who seem to have terrible form and their breathing is off and they look like they might drop a dumbbell on their foot (or face!) any minute now?

Do I have an obligation to go up to them to tell them what they are doing is wrong and that they might hurt themselves? If the potential to hurt themselves is imminent, I do and I have. (A dumbbell to the face is no something I would like to watch!) But usually, they’re just going to hurt themselves over time. Not right away.

Keep in mind these are people I have seen repeatedly throughout the week. It’s usually something as simple as improper form. Will it kill them? No. Will it hurt them? Most likely, over time. Will it be an injury they can’t recover from? No idea. But most likely not.

Do I now have an obligation to help them or to say something? What if I wasn’t a PT and just a regular knowledgable gym-goer? Do I interrupt their workout and say something or just let them figure it out on their own? I could just wait until they learn from someone else more qualified. But then, won’t they feel kind of silly or stupid for doing it “their way” for so long? Will they wonder – “Why didn’t anyone tell me this before?”

Why is it so hard for me to work up the nerve to say something, and offer a better way for them to achieve their exercise goal at that moment?


Won’t You Be My Nosy Neighbor?

As you ponder that, let’s take the guy out of the gym and put him in a real-life scenario. Let’s say it’s a neighbor. Like, literally, your next door neighbor.

You know he’s married with a kid. You’ve met his wife and daughter. They go to your church. But you don’t know them that well. Just well enough to wave hello and once in a while borrow a cup of sugar or something. (Does anyone do that anymore?)

Let’s say over a period of time, you notice this guy talks down to his wife and daughter. But he seems to verbally abuse the wife more than the kid. You only notice this when you can overhear them if they’re outside. But let’s say it starts to become more frequent. And let’s say he starts to do it while you’re hanging out with him and his family at a cookout or something. Or at a church function.

Do you wait and not say anything? Do you pull her aside and say something? I mean, these people go to your church. But it’s not like he’s sinning right? He’s not hitting her because you’d be able to tell, right? You could always assume he’ll learn how to be a better communicator eventually from someone more qualified than you. You’re just a neighbor and you should probably just mind your own business…right?

The big dilemma is this: At what point do we go from casual observer to intervener?

Because I think that’s what’s happening in the world today but it’s being misinterpreted as being nosy and injecting your self into someone else’s life. Or the most popular argument: “You’re forcing your beliefs onto me!”

No, actually, no one can force you to believe anything. I can’t force you to lose weight, I can’t be forced to lose weight and I can’t force you or anyone to become a saint.

The Christian and Correct Response

It comes back to what I said in the beginning: We can guide. We can offer assistance. We can start the conversation.

And one thing I’d love for people to know, especially those who don’t quite get us Christians, is that we want to help people. I know some Christians are better at this than others. Some yell and scream (not good, seriously can we stop that please?) some calmly approach (better) and some literally offer to accompany and walk with that person on their journey (best). But even this approach may come across as hurting someone, because we are telling them bluntly, that they are hurting themselves by whatever sin they are committing. But even if we tell them the truth in love, I promise we really have their best interests at heart.

When we see someone living their life a certain way that we believe to be wrong and that will hurt them, we have a moral obligation and a duty to help that person the best way we can. But, and this goes to my fellow Christians, once you try to help someone, you have to get out of the way and drop it. No amount of coercion or yelling or degrading will ever get anyone to change their ways.

So I end with a question, for myself and for you, to think about: If you see someone, your neighbor, your fellow parishioner, your friend, doing harm to their soul, will you work up the courage to provide a better way?  Or will you just walk on by? Is minding your own business really the loving thing to do?

 

 

 

 

 

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

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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 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 Chastity Talks and Teens

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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: 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.