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!

 

Listening to Mama Church

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In granting married persons the privilege and great responsibility of becoming parents, God gives them the grace to carry out their mission adequately. As spouses, parents and ministers of the sacramental grace of marriage, they are sustained from day to day by special spiritual energies, received from Jesus Christ who loves and nurtures his Bride, the Church.  —The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality, Guidelines for Education Within The Family

Most people that know me are aware I have a lot of time on my hands.(Not too surprising considering that I’m single and childless). But what many are NOT aware of is in the past year and a half, I’ve basically gone “all in” with my Catholic faith; reading and researching and attending webinars and seminars and conferences and retreats. And among the many things I have uncovered, is that there’s more that the Church has gotten RIGHT than most people realize. And one of those is Her teaching on sexuality. 

Since most people are totally unaware of this (The Church and SEX don’t exactly appear in the same sentence very often), I figured I’d give out some resources that parents can use to not only educate themselves, but their kids as well.

Mama Church Knows Best

“No good parent accepts and endorses everything their child chooses.”

We view the Church as our Mother. And like any good Mom, she wants what is best for us.

If you’re scratching your head in disbelief, allow me to explain.

Let’s take the example of a child running into the street without looking. If you see your child starting to run into oncoming traffic, are you going to say “Well, I can’t judge them for doing that. If they feel like running into the street, that’s their right. I can’t stop them.”  Of course not!! You’ll run to save them. You’ll tell them to stop running so they don’t hurt themselves! Because you love them.

If you see your child start to take drugs, will you just sit by and say, “Well, that’s their choice. I mean, they might end up hurting themselves in the long run but I can’t stop them. If they feel it’s right for them…” Clearly you wouldn’t. You would try to stop them and tell them that there are consequences for their actions and that doing drugs is wrong and unhealthy and harmful. And since you love them, you get them help so they can thrive and stay alive.

This is how the Catholic Church sees us – as children in need of guidance. One of the best examples of this is seen in the document entitled Humanae Vitae. This document (HV for short) explains the Church’s stance on contraception (a big no-no). But WHY was Pope Paul VI (the Pope at the time this was written) so down on the pill? Well, just read it to find out.  It’s easy to understand, I promise!

For one thing, the Pope predicted that the legalization and widespread access of contraception in partnership with the sexual revolution would lead to: single parent families, fatherless children, increased divorce, unplanned pregnancies, and increased abortions. In other words, a culture of death.

Gee…you think he may have been right on that?

What makes this document so controversial for some of us in the Catholic world is that the teachings are difficult to implement. Because, as we know, it’s not easy to be a Christian, especially today.

So maybe before you start to talk to your kids about sex and God’s design for our bodies and marriage, perhaps you need a re-fresher? Reading HV is a great start. But wait, there’s more!

Educate yourself:

  • One good first step is to get yourself a copy of the Catechism. It’s easy to read, although it’s very thick. But it’s divided up into sections so you can jump around. One of the best tips I received recently was from Dr. Bob Rice at Franciscan University at Steubenville. He says to start reading the In Brief sections and praying with those before actually reading it from cover to cover. I am finding that to be really helpful.
  • If you’ve followed my blog you know I’m a Theology of the Body enthusiast/addict/obsessed person. Besides listing everything in my Recommended Reading tab, I would say the best book for married couples and parents is The Good News about Sex and Marriage by Christopher West. It’s format is Q&A so you can jump around to the sections you want to read. It addresses infertility, contraception, celibacy, natural family planning and much more. Best of all, it addresses the beauty and truth about what marriage means between a man and a woman.
  • Hate reading?  If you prefer videos, you’re going to want to subscribe to both Fr. Mike Schmitz and Bishop Robert Barron. Bishop Barron is especially popular for his YouTube videos explaining everything from Advent to War. You can find his homilies, videos, and blog posts at Word on Fire. Here’s what you get when you search “Sexuality.”
  • As for Fr. Mike Schmitz, he’s considered more “real-world” and is a big hit with the teens and young adults. His videos can be found on Ascension Presents YouTube channel. Here is his video on the Transgender question which was probably one of the most popular.

Educate Your Kids:

I’m sure there’s plenty of parenting styles that someone is going to use to discuss the uncomfortable topics (pornography, masturbation, premarital sex, cohabitation, etc) and maybe you have already covered all of these topics with your kid. But I would definitely suggest none of these are “One and Done” subjects. I think it needs to be an ongoing dialogue as they grow up.

One great resource I found recently is this document from the Pontifical Council for the Family from entitled “The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality written in 1995.

This won’t tell you exactly what to say and how to say it, but hey, it’s a start! I would especially encourage parents to keep these things in mind:

  1. The information you present should be appropriate to the child’s developmental phases.

  2. The media violates these stages of development. Don’t allow the media to tell your child what is moral/immoral.

  3. Present chastity and virginity in a positive light (because it is!) and that’s contrary to what kids, especially teens, hear from their peers/media.

  4. It doesn’t matter what *you* did in the past. You can be vulnerable in front of your children but don’t think just because perhaps you fell into temptation, that you have “no right” to tell your kids how to be chaste. Don’t fall into the moral relativism trap.

  5. Everyone can be chaste, because we are all called to holiness.

  6. Not everyone is called to marriage. Be supportive in the discernment process for your children, especially if they seem drawn to the celibate/religious life as they become teenagers and young adults.

Another great (and shorter) resource comes from Focus on the Family. This PDF is free and downloadable after you enter in some basic information. This is probably most helpful for parents who have children who go to a public school but children who are at private schools can benefit as well: Empowering Parents Amidst Confusion on Sexuality

Lastly, the best one-stop-shop for teens and parents is the Chastity Project. You can search their resources for all kinds of answers to your questions regarding sexuality and what is in line with Catholic doctrine. Many of their blog posts are from teens and young adults struggling with everything from peer pressure to same-sex attraction to discerning consecrated life. Visit it often for all your questions and concerns about the confusing culture we are living in today.


There are countless other resources, books, talks, commentaries, etc. on how to raise your kids and discuss sexuality in a positive way that I cannot possibly list them all. My main point here was to emphasize that we can’t rely solely on the schools, teachers, catechists, priests, or youth ministers to “take care of it” for you. Parents NEED to be open about these things, especially with the conflicting and confusing messages kids see in the news, on social media, on the cover of magazines, from pop culture, and from their peers. Remember to teach the truth in love and to make sure your child knows they can come to you if they have questions. Be not afraid!

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: Good Radio

A year ago, if you asked me what I listen to on the radio when I’m in my car or streaming online while I workout or running errands,  I would have told you SPORTS talk, hands down. No brainer, Sports are my thing, that is me!

Now?

If I must be honest, I have probably listened to a total of an hour of sports talk radio in the past 2 weeks.

So what changed?

Well, discovering Theology of the Body was the first. But the second was a strong desire to learn more about my faith. And I found listening to sports talk wasn’t really doing much for me.

Was it entertaining? Sure! Was it fun to listen to? You bet. But clearly, I was yearning for something with a little more substance. I was hungry, starving really, for spiritual radio chatter.

You’re one of those Christian Rock fans?!

Let me first say, before you stop reading, that I was NEVER a fan of Christian music. I couldn’t even name one Christian singer, except maybe Amy Grant.(She still counts right? El Shaddai…El Shaddai…)

I definitely had a bad attitude when it came to “those cheesy and silly songs.”

Take a wild guess as to what I listen to now more than anything else?

Yep, I have crossed over to the dark side of Christian rock. And in it’s defense, it’s not ALL that cheesy. A lot of it is really quite catchy.

One day I was listening to the main Christian station in town and it ran a promo that went something like this:

“People who listen to our station for 30 days in a row report that they have a more positive outlook and are happier.” (I’m paraphrasing).

I didn’t listen to this station religiously (too easy) but I swear, after a month or two I noticed I was in a GREAT mood, especially in the morning on the way to work.  I found myself singing along to the best songs and realized I was this happier person than before. And most people who know me really well never associated me with “HAPPY!”

I wasn’t miserable, but I was quite reserved. (This will come as quite a shock to the people I have met this past year. Yes, it’s true, I swear. I was the quiet one for most of my life!)

While the songs were awesome, I still needed more chatter. It wasn’t enough just to hear a few good songs on the way to work. I was craving more than that.

Evangelize thru the Airwaves

Back in the summer while I was in deep with TOB, an AM station called The Rock here in Cleveland had begun. This was an EWTN station meaning they broadcast programming that can be seen on EWTN. This came in handy for me as the Pope made his visit to the US last summer. I couldn’t find any unbiased resource that was covering this as much as EWTN. It was pretty awesome to hear all of his speeches and commentary as he made his way through Philly, DC and NYC.

I quickly discovered that when The Rock wasn’t broadcasting Pope Francis, they had some awesome quality programming from folks that were popular in Catholic media like Teresa Tomeo, Johnnette Benkovic, Fr. John Riccardo and the always fiery Fr. Larry Richards.

And then, one night, I tuned in and heard this interesting show called Catholic Answers Live.

It sounds just like the title. You got questions about the faith? They have the answers. Many times, the host will request non-Catholics to call in with their questions about our faith. It’s really interesting to hear them debate and have real, honest conversations about God, about doctrine, about the sacraments, the Pope, etc. You name it, this show has it. Atheists, Protestants, fallen-away Catholics, all of them call in any given show to find the answers to their most difficult questions.

The Pods Have Arrived

Not too many of us can sit and listen to the radio all day, as much as we would love to. To solve this problem, you gotta get down with podcasts. For those that don’t know, podcasts allow you to listen to a radio program any time you want.

These days, if you want to say something, you can have your own show and record your own podcast about virtually any topic. Back in the day I used to listen to fitness shows and of course, sports talk shows.

Recently, I discovered GOLD when I met the amazing and beautiful Brooke Taylor. She was the emcee at the talk given by Christopher West that I blogged about recently.

So here’s where today’s story comes full circle:

Remember that Christian radio station with the “happy in 30 days” promo that I just mentioned? Brooke was one of the hosts on the morning show at that station when I first started listening.

She is now on her own and has her own podcast called Good Things Radio.

Note to all moms (and Dad’s!) This show is fantastic! But let me mention that you don’t have to be a mom or a dad to appreciate it. Brooke manages to discuss a variety of topics with regards to our Catholic faith as well as everyday life.

The best way to listen to these podcasts? Well, finally, if you’ve been waiting for the FITNESS connection to this post, it should be obvious: Go to the gym (or outside) and listen while you work out! I managed to listen to about 3 of Brooke’s shows while I jogged about 3 miles on the treadmill. So you work up a sweat and get a good auditory workout as well.

A Final Thought….

This journey to listen to good radio and good tunes may, on the surface, appear to be just some information that I’m passing along. But what I would like to convey is that as insignificant as it seems, changing what I listened to (and what I watched on TV which is a whole other post for another time) truly affected my behavior and my outlook on life.

If I listen to songs from my past, sometimes it conjures up images and thoughts and memories that I would rather not remember. Sometimes. And that really affects my behavior. I would get depressed, anxious, sad, angry…not a good look.

Other times I have really great memories and thoughts and that’s wonderful of course!

But I noticed that once I changed to more, for lack of a better term, “easy listening,” I was calmer, relaxed, happier and overall a more positive person.

That’s been the best gift.

And I hope I have successfully passed it on to you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

For those who have lost a loved one…

From The Holy Longing by Ronald Rolheiser

“Just as Mary Magdala did not find Jesus in his tomb, we too will not find our loved ones there. Where will we find them? We will meet the ones we can no longer touch when we put ourselves in situations where their souls once flourished. Our loved ones live where they have always lived and it is there that we will find them.

Simply put, we find our deceased loved ones by entering into life, in terms of love and faith, in the way that was most distinctive to them. We contact them and connect ourselves to them when, in our own lives, we shape the infinite richness of God’s life and compassion in the way that they did, when we pour ourselves into life as they did.

Every good person shapes the infinite life and compassion of God in a unique way. When that person dies, we must seek him or her among the living.

Thus, if we want a loved one’s presence we must seek him or her out in what was most distinctively him or her, in terms of love, faith, and virtue. If your mother had a gift for hospitality, you will meet her when you are hospitable; if your friend had a passion for justice, you will meet him when you give yourself over to the quest for justice; if your aunt had a great zest for life, for meals with her family, and for laughter in the house, you will meet her when you have a zest for life, eat with your family, and have laughter in your house.

That is how a Christian searches for his or her loved ones after they have died. Theists visit graves (and Christians too visit graves because we are also theists) but, given the incarnation, given that we are all part of the word becoming flesh, as Christians, we search for our deceased loved ones outside of cemeteries, among the living— at our tables, in our places of work, and in the decisions, great and small, that we must daily make.”

Fit in Your Faith Today: How do you “revisit” your lost loved ones? When was the last time you engaged in something that made you think of him/her? Besides visiting the grave, what else can you do, after reading this passage, that keeps the memory of your loved one alive?

Have You Received Your New Heart?

Ezekiel 11:19

Good News Translation

I will give them a new heart and a new mind. I will take away their stubborn heart of stone and will give them an obedient heart.

New Living Translation

And I will give them singleness of heart and put a new spirit within them. I will take away their stony, stubborn heart and give them a tender, responsive heart.

I included the New Living Translation in this scripture passage so we can see how the New Life Bible Study defines singleness of heart:” a unanimous singleness of purpose.”  The commentary goes on to say: “No longer will God’s people seek many gods; they will be content with God. Their stony, stubborn hearts of stone will be radically transplanted with tender, responsive hearts. This new life can only be the work of the Holy Spirit. It is God’s work, but we must recognize and turn from our sin. When we do, God will give us new motives, new guidelines, and new purpose.”

After reading this passage I immediately thought of the church hymn, “Here I Am Lord” by Dan Schutte that we often sung as children during mass growing up. I always get a little smile on my face when I see it listed as one of the hymns during mass these days because it brings back such great memories as a kid.

Here are the verses that came to my mind:

I, the Lord of snow and rain,
I have borne my people’s pain.
I have wept for love of them, They turn away.
I will break their hearts of stone,
Give them hearts for love alone.
I will speak My word to them
Whom shall I send?

It’s a wonderful song but I would get so sad when I would sing it sometimes because it’s almost like a love letter from God to the His people that won’t listen to Him! The people are turning away and worshiping false idols and pagan gods and they won’t listen to the prophets. But finally, God is telling them that indeed, He will take all of this away and they will be content to worshiping just Him. He’s going to give them new motivation. A new heart.

Have you ever hit rock bottom? What does everyone say when you’re at the end of your rope, at the bottom of the pit? “Well, there’s no where else to go but up!” Right? I almost feel like this is similar – We hit the bottom, we have reached our limit and there’s nowhere else to go. We can’t get any more low than we are at this moment. And then…God turns our stubborn hearts into loving ones. We get out of this rut. We turn the page. A new heart, a new life, a new purpose!

The time between hitting that bottom and getting a new heart is probably a lot longer than we care to admit. But it can happen. The Holy Spirit is working inside us constantly to change and form us into the people that God wants us to be. And our hearts are being transformed too!

Fit In You Faith Today: What comes to mind when you hear that God will take your stubborn heart and turn it into a tender and loving one? Do you feel renewed with a greater purpose? Spend some time with this passage and perhaps with the hymn I referenced (or another one!) and study the lyrics and words. Is God trying to get you to turn away from a sin that’s hardening your heart?

You have a Purpose

Jeremiah 1:5

“I knew before I formed you in your mother’s womb. Before you were born I set you apart and appointed you as my prophet to the nations.”

From New Life Study Bible: God knew you, as he knew Jeremiah, long before you were born or even conceived. He thought about you and planned for you. When you feel discouraged or inadequate, remember that God has always thought of you as valuable and that he has a purpose in mind for you.

At times, many of us must wonder what our purpose in life is and how can we figure it out? How do we discern what that purpose is?

We’re all called to something, some kind of role in life. Many people feel a pull, or even a PUSH! from God in a certain direction. More often, I think we know when we are NOT meant to be in a certain role (like a job, or living in a certain city, or in a relationship). Sometimes you can feel that it’s wrong, or just not meant to be.

We should be careful not to obsess over this. Pray about it, of course. But a better way to go about finding our purpose might be to choose to become the best version of ourselves in every action we make. If you wake up everyday attempting to live your life in a godly way – choosing good over evil, choosing hard work over laziness, choosing smiles over sadness, how can you not say you’re not living your purpose?

Fit in your Faith Today: Are you constantly searching and discerning what God’s purpose is for you? Recognize that this is something we all wonder about. But spend more time in prayer asking God to open your eyes to your purpose so as not to close your eyes to other things around you that require your attention.

A Little Help: Listen to this Podcast from Busted Halo as they discuss this exact same question.