The Celebration That Never Ends

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

13523006_1073498959401305_8404079349648722331_o

It figures.

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

Of course I was. Where else would I be?

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

Great timing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How beautiful is that?!?

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

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

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

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

 

The Gift of: 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Catholic Sexual Ethics Summary

About two months ago I attended a week long course through the Theology of the Body Institute called Catholic Sexual Ethics. It was an amazing experience, similar to my first encounter with TOB 1 but a little more academic considering the subject matter.

I have sent friends who understand TOB this summary below and thought it was time to share it here because these teachings are not something many people are aware of nor have time to read all this material. I have the time and the means, so here you go!


Prior to the course we were required to read several vatican documents: Casti Cannubii, Dignitas Personae, Familiaris Consortio, Humane Vitae, Gaudium et Spes, Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, Persona Humane, and Donum Vitae.(these are all available on the vatican website for anyone to read.) www.vatican.va

The speaker/professor was Dr. John Haas. He is the President of the National Catholic Bioethics Center. (http://www.ncbcenter.org/)  This man was amazing. He was clear, concise, funny, respectful, everything you want in a professor. Here is his Bio.

The NCBC has SO much great info and for just $10 a month you can get their newsletter and a free book each year, I believe. Definitely bookmark that page!

We were also made aware of several other websites that I would like to share:

http://couragerc.org/ – Support for Catholics struggling with SSA as well as Parents/Family and Clergy. From their website: Courage serves as a spiritual support system to assist men and women with same-sex attractions in living chaste lives in fellowship, truth and love. There are more than 100 Chapters and… “In helping individuals gain a greater understanding and appreciation of the Church’s teachings, especially in the area of chastity, Courage extends the Church’s invitation to a life of peace and grace. In chaste living, one finds the peace and grace to grow in Christian maturity.”  Many people at this retreat had heard of this group so it was encouraging to see the support for it.

http://anonymousus.org/ – How often do we think about the children conceived from a donor of an egg or sperm? How often do we think about what their life is like after they find out they were conceived due to scientific means? In most cases, they have no idea and will never know who their parents are.  And what about donors who donated so much that it’s possible they have fathered several hundred children? Will these children ever meet their other siblings? What if they fall in love and want to marry someone and it turns out to be one of their siblings? While we all understand the desperation to have a child, where is the line drawn when we try to play God?  This website invites all participants to submit their story anonymously. Donors, donor-conceived, parents who are considering IVF or Artificial insemination or donation, doctors of fertility, etc all are able to submit their story. This completely opened my eyes to this issue that no one seems to talk about.

http://onemoresoul.com/ – This site is dedicated to “fostering God’s plan for love, chastity, marriage and children.” Good resources for Natural Family Planning such as NFP instructors, Sermons available to download on the church’s teaching, resources for couples, infertility links, etc.

Speaking of infertility and science, NaProTechnology was mentioned on a few occasions. Here is a link to that as well: http://www.naprotechnology.com/ I’m interested in exploring this further -According to their website – “Natural Procreative Technology is a new women’s health science that monitors and maintains a woman’s reproductive and gynecological health. It provides medical and surgical treatments that cooperate completely with the reproductive system.”  Definitely bookmark this one!

We also discussed infertility in more depth, transgenderism, sterilization, and of course, abortion and Planned Parenthood.

Here are some things I found particularly interesting/thought provoking:

—-Planned Parenthood admitted that Abortion: “kills the life of a baby after it has begun, It is dangerous to your life and health. It may make you sterile so that when you want a child you cannot have it. Birth control merely postpones the beginning of life.”
Plan You Children for Health and Happiness newsletter 1968
This was in response to the question of: “Is birth control an abortion?”

—-The Pill is categorized as a carcinogen according to the World Health Organization

—-To the people who argue “Where in the bible does it discuss contraception?” You can answer them, “It doesn’t appear in the bible. This is because to be barren was a curse and to have a child was considered a blessing.” (Some theologians quote the story of Onan as a contraception story/lesson) But it was interesting to ponder that today, we could say this thinking has reversed, hasn’t it? Children are the burden and to have no kids is a blessing to some people.

–After finding out facts about surrogate mothers, IVF, donating eggs/sperm, abortion, I came to the sad conclusion that has been echoed by many: “Children are now seen as commodities.”

With all this depressing news, what about the good fruit that came from this course?

-I got to meet and talk to 110 other fans of TOB which is always a blessing!  But not only that, we all got to witness 23 participants graduate with the full Theology of the Body certification. This means they have taken all 8 courses and are now certified to teach TOB in whatever ministry they are a part of at their parish/in their community. This was course #2 for me so I have 6 more to go!

-For me personally, I have joined the pro-life movement 40 Days For Life. I now pray outside Planned Parenthood with others and offer up my prayers for all the babies that are being aborted there (and everywhere). If I can’t make it to the abortion clinic, I spend some time with Christ in front of the Blessed Sacrament and say a rosary for these women who are faced with this difficult decision.

-I am considering how I can volunteer/donate to my local pregnancy crisis center called Womankind. I don’t know if I’d be good at counseling pregnant women (they offer training) because I think I’d be nervous and would say the wrong thing. But I’m hoping there’s something I can do there that would be a way to help save some babies.

-I have added many books to my ever growing library so I can speak well to RC doctrine and teaching such as “How to Defend the Faith Without Raising Your Voice” by Austen Ivereigh, I now listen to EWTN Radio and TV to get the news that matters to me and tells the truth that you won’t get from the secular media.

There’s plenty of other things that could be shared here but this was just a quick summary. More posts to come soon focusing on just one of these subjects so be on the lookout for those.

In the meantime, I hope you visit the websites I have mentioned in order to gain some perspective. Also, take some time to read some of those vatican documents. They are relatively easy reads, you don’t need to be a theologian to understand them.

Divine Mercy Sunday

The Sunday after Easter has been declared as Divine Mercy Sunday, based on Saint Faustina Kowalska reported as part of her encounter with Jesus. But what exactly is mercy?

We certainly read the word mercy in the Bible over and over. Here’s a small sample from part of Psalm 118.

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,

his mercy endures forever.

Let Israel say:

his mercy endures forever.

Let the house of Aaron say,

his mercy endures forever.

Let those who fear the LORD say,

his mercy endures forever.

Mercy, according to definition is a suffering of the heart. God’s mercy in the Psalm above can be interpreted as “I suffer with.” A deep loving identification with people in their suffering. Because as we know, God is love.

Pope Francis keeps stressing the divine mercy and just announced a year-long Jubilee of Mercy. According to America Magazine: For Pope Francis, mercy is the interpretative key to the Gospel of Jesus. Francis had his first profound experience of God’s mercy at age 17, when he went to confession and felt the call to the priesthood. Throughout his priestly ministry, he has sought to give concrete expression to God’s mercy by word and deed because he believes, as he wrote recently: “Mercy is not just a pastoral attitude; it is the very substance of the Gospel message.” He wants to bring the whole church, starting with the cardinals, bishops, priests and consecrated persons, to open themselves to God’s mercy and to find concrete, creative ways to put mercy into practice in their areas of ministry.

How did Jesus in this Sunday’s Gospel show mercy? As he entered the room where his disciples were hiding in fear, he said, “Peace be with you.” Even after He showed them his hands and his side, he again said “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” This is when he breathed on them so they could receive the Holy Spirit and forgive the sins of people everywhere, as He had forgiven theirs.

What a gift these men received! And what a relief to them. Jesus didn’t appear to them to inflict revenge for what had happened to Him on the cross. No, he showed them mercy and then instructed them to show mercy to others.

Fit In Your Faith Today: As Pope Francis declares a Jubilee of Mercy, so too should we show mercy to others. But we can start off on the right foot by using a sacrament that has gone into “disuse” according to Father Robert Barron in recent years: Reconciliation. Even our Pope has gone to confession and describes himself as a sinner. What better way to “celebrate” this special day than to repent and be healed by His powerful mercy.

 

 

The Best Quotes About Lent

The practice of Lent

Matthew 6:1 Jesus said, “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.”

Pope Benedict XVI: “Lent is like a long ‘retreat’ during which we can turn back into ourselves and listen to the voice of God, in order to defeat the temptations of the Evil One. It is a period of spiritual ‘combat’ which we must experience alongside Jesus, not with pride and presumption, but using the arms of faith: prayer, listening to the word of God and penance. In this way we will be able to celebrate Easter in truth, ready to renew the promises of our Baptism.”

Mother Teresa: “As Lent is the time for greater love, listen to Jesus’ thirst…’Repent and believe’ Jesus tells us. What are we to repent? Our indifference, our hardness of heart. What are we to believe? Jesus thirsts even now, in your heart and in the poor — He knows your weakness. He wants only your love, wants only the chance to love you.”

Pope Francis: “Live your Lent as if there is no Easter.”

“No act of virtue can be great if it is not followed by advantage for others. So, no matter how much time you spend fasting, no matter how much you sleep on a hard floor and eat ashes and sigh continually, if you do no good to others, you do nothing great.” – John Chrysostom

Fr. Robert Barron: “Jesus, having resisted these temptations from the devil in the desert for 40 days, is now ready to make God the center of His life. This, too, is our purpose during Lent.”

Prayer:

Matthew: 6: 5-6 “And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

Martin Luther: “To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.”

Paul E. Billheimer: “Satan does not care how many people read about prayer if only he can keep them from praying.

Various Priests and Deacons: “Pray in your car, it’s the perfect setting. You’re alone, you’re forced to slow down when you’re stuck in traffic. Begin a conversation with God right there.”

St John Damascene: “Prayer is the raising of one’s mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God.”

Fasting:

Matthew 6:16 “And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Pope Francis suggests we fast from indifference to others:  “Indifference to our neighbor and to God also represents a real temptation for us Christians. Each year during Lent we need to hear once more the voice of the prophets who cry out and trouble our conscience.”

Fr. Robert Barron: “The pleasures of the body sometimes dominate and take over – so we fast from them purposely so as to allow the deeper hungers to arise and emerge.”

John Piper, Author of A Hunger For God: “Christian fasting, at its root, is the hunger of a homesickness for God.”

Almsgiving:

Matthew 6: 2-4 “So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

Father Robert Barron: We all have too many material things. Here are 3 ways you can express almsgiving:

  • When you receive something in the mail and it is requesting money, donate to that cause.
  • If you see a homeless person who asks you for money, give them something (does not have to be money).
  • When you want to buy something, take a look at what you would consider your first choice. Then buy the model or the version just beneath it/less expensive than your top choice. Use the money that’s the difference between those two and give it to the poor.

Mike Aquilina – Catholic Education Resource Center: Almsgiving is a form of prayer because it is “giving to God” — and not mere philanthropy. It is a form of fasting because it demands sacrificial giving — not just giving something, but giving up something, giving till it hurts.

Book of Tobit 12:8-9: “Prayer and fasting are good, but better than either is almsgiving accompanied by righteousness … It is better to give alms than to store up gold; for almsgiving saves one from death and expiates every sin. Those who regularly give alms shall enjoy a full life.”

Fit in Your Faith Today (and this Lenten Season): Practice the 3 aspects of Lent – Perhaps you take just one a day. Which one do you need the most help with? Do you find that you aren’t giving to the poor enough when it’s NOT Lent? Work on how you can give to those less fortunate, even if it’s not monetarily.

Do you go about your day skipping prayers and forgetting to give thanks to God? Arise every morning with a short prayer of thanksgiving.

What do you have too much of that you can fast from this Lent? It could be food, it could be social media, or it could be a certain bad behavior/habit you have been meaning to cease.

Is 46 days too much to ask to abstain and use that time/energy/money on something for your community of fellow Christians? Start your Lent off on the right foot and start a calendar or write down in a journal how and what you’re going to accomplish this Lent. At Easter, note how closer you have come to putting God first in your life.