The Miracle of the Flowers: A Wedding Story

The Miracle of the Flowers: A Wedding Story

The wedding industry is a bully. It pressures cash-strapped brides to have a Pinterest-perfect wedding no matter what the sacrifice. Add in a deeply entrenched Italian-American culture that says parents must provide for their daughter’s big day (or face eternal embarrassment), compounded with the fact that our Catholic families equaled over 250 people (not including friends), and you’ll start to get a picture of the impossible situation we found ourselves in when my darling James got down on one knee and asked me to be his wife.

I didn’t think I could have one of those dream weddings. My parents had just sold our home at short sale and we were living with my grandmother. James hadn’t found a full-time job yet. A traditional Italian wedding seemed impossible.

Impossible, but here’s the catch. God is Love. And with Love, all things are possible.

love

One day, during lunch, I went to a nearby church and prayed. I was doing that famous novena for James to get a job so we could get married. Yes, I wanted a nice wedding, but what I really wanted was to start a marriage with the man I love. I opened the hymnal to a random page, and it happened to be a song about marriage and the miracle at the wedding at Cana. That’s when it hit me:

Jesus would take care of it. His first miracle was making wine at a wedding to keep the party going. Not only would he find James a job so we could get married, but he would make sure we had a nice wedding, too.

cana

My parents are the ultimate fighting team when it comes to art projects. One Artist + One Engineer= Two brilliant, imaginative people who turn visions into reality. There’s really nothing that these two can’t do. And they channeled their genius into my wedding.

My mom single-handedly made all of the favors. The programs were printed (by my dad!) on gorgeous parchment-style paper and bound in scrapbook paper and ribbons assembled by an in-house team of relatives and friends. My mom and sister made all the boutonnieres, bouquets and corsages out of gorgeous silk flowers a year in advance. We basically kept the glue-gun manufactures in business throughout the whole of 2012.

4235511_0051
One of our gorgeous DIY programs. We had an assortment of paper and ribbons so each one was unique.

Then came the unexpected gifts. My dress alterations and veil were all FREE from a friend of my mother. My gorgeous and unique centerpieces were also done by another friend of my mother. The beautifully engraved cake-serving set and the elegant toasting flutes were gifts from my dear friends. That delicious dessert buffet was a community effort on the part of our friends and family who volunteered to bake their favorite sweets for our big day. And our dream honeymoon was a gift from James’s parents.

Jesus did it. He provided for our big day. Yes, he cares more about the marriage than the wedding, but he cares about the wedding too! There were so many examples of how his love poured through our friends and family and made our day amazing. And family was everywhere. The priest who married us was family. The altar boys were family. Even our wedding coordinator was family. We were completely overwhelmed by love.

And to top it all off…

Out of all these gifts and blessings, there was one little miracle, one gift that stood out as a reminder that ALL the gifts, big and small, were signs that Jesus was taking care of this wedding.

In an effort to curtail expenses, we had decided to forgo altar flowers. Those big, gorgeous arrangements are very expensive, and we just didn’t have the money. We decided that someone would run to Home Depot in the morning and get potted flowers to place around the altar.

In the rush of that morning, no one remembered to purchase our little potted flowers. Oh well. Except when we arrived at the church…

There were flowers on the altar! Three huge, gorgeous, professional arrangements that were the PERFECT colors for our wedding were on either side of the tabernacle and in front of the altar. They’re in all of our pictures and they were incredible.

4235511_0180
See those GORGEOUS flowers on either side of the tabernacle? Those were the anonymous gift! There was a third arrangement in front of the altar. And of course, our wonderful priests (an uncle and a friend), and the bouquet my mom and sister made.

We have no idea where they came from. We’ve guessed that maybe one of our friends or relatives did this for us, but we will never know. Working through loving human beings, God made a miracle happen, and showed us his overwhelming, gratuitous love. As the Rite of Marriage says, “Christ abundantly blesses this love.” And he did. Like making wine out of water, the way our wedding came together was a beautiful, mysterious example of the overflowing love of God.

Paul, meet Connie. Connie, meet Paul.

Paul, meet Connie. Connie, meet Paul.

So, I recently started talking to St. Paul.

In case you’re not familiar to praying to saints, this is where God grants his buddy Paul a special grace to be able to hear me, and I ask Paul to put in a word for me to the big man. Much like asking a friend on earth to pray for you, I’ve asked Paul of Tarsus to give our friend JC a little nudge to “wake him up”, if you will. After all, Jesus was known to fall asleep at inconvenient times. (Mark 4:38, anyone?)

Well, St. Paul woke him up.

On the 3rd day of our St. Paul novena, I got to speak with the Creative Director at the ad agency I work for. I told him I want to write, and he wants to help me! He said he would start throwing me some things to play with, and, “You never know,” he said. “I’ve met people who started at the front desk like you and ended up as Creative Director eventually.”

God bless that man.

On day 6 there was another mention from the Creative Director about hoping to hook me up with some writing in the near future, and an apology that he’s been overly busy lately. Clearly, it is on his mind.

Now I’m waiting. Still praying, still hoping, still waiting. But there is hope, and that is a wonderful thing.

Honestly, I don’t even know if a writing position at this company is the answer. Maybe this nod from the creative director is just meant to give me a little encouragement as I continue to seek meaningful work as a writer. The path is still foggy up ahead. All I can do is keep putting one foot in front of the other, and keep praying that the fog clears soon.

To keep the hope going, I’m looking for prayer stories. When has God given you a clear answer to your prayer? How did you hear his voice? Where did it lead? Do you have a favorite go-to prayer when you really need guidance?

Blessed are the Invisible

Blessed are the Invisible

You know that dream, the one where you’re screaming for help but no sound escapes your lips? It’s terrifying. You desperately need help, but no one sees your plight. You are invisible.

Many of us feel this way in our suffering, especially if that suffering is infertility, singleness, or difficult marriages. We have a hard time finding spiritual support, and we feel completely alone in our journeys. We feel like we are forgotten by our fellow Catholics. Why?

The Church is made of humans, and humans fall into judgement. Humans beings make assumptions like, “The more children you have, the better Catholic you are,” and “Anyone without a happy marriage and several children must be in a state of sin.”Amidst these assumptions, those who suddenly find themselves single or without children tend to shrink back and hide. They’re ashamed and embarrassed, though they did nothing wrong. And you know what happens when good people are ashamed for no reason? They keep their mouths shut. They’re afraid to be outed as a misfit. They accept their invisibility, and the shroud of secrecy is allowed to grow. When the secrecy grows, the judgmental stay ignorant, and the stereotypes continue. This is not what God wants.

JesusNeverSaid

I’m here today to tell you, all of you who are invisible, to have hope. Rejoice in your invisibility. Yes, it is awful to be one of the misfits, the different, the hidden people on the margin. But we have a God who sees what is hidden. Ours is a God of the marginalized.

Jesus spent much of his earthly ministry saying over and over again that those who are smallest are the most precious to him. He lifted up the powerless: women, children, and backwater fishermen. He ministered to the lepers, the sinners, and the poor. His message wasn’t for those with perfect lives. It was for you.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.” You are suffering, you have a problem, you are powerless, you need God. Therefore you are blessed, because he has promised you his kingdom.

“Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.” I’m sure you’ve done your share or mourning. You will find comfort, even if it’s not in the way that you would expect.

And when people judge your cross, remember this:

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Each of us is called to something different. God wants us to live our lives for him, whatever that entails. If your life doesn’t fit the mold, live it anyway. He loves you just as much. In fact, he has a soft spot for you.

Jesus always roots for the underdog. ❤

Gemma

Gemma

This is St. Gemma. I just finished reading her diary. And, um, WOW.

Gemma Galgani was an Italian girl who lived at the turn of the century near Lucca, Italy. Much like St. Therese, her mother died when she was very young, and from then on she embraced Mary as her mom. Gemma’s diary is all about her love for Jesus and her struggle for holiness. What is really remarkable is that she was frequently blessed with mystical experiences, regularly conversing with Jesus, Mary, her Guardian Angel, and St. Gabriel Possenti.

I loved her diary. I really loved it. She was close to my age, and reading the conversations between Gemma and Jesus were just so…. I can’t think of a word. It was awesome. And in her diary, Jesus comes across as a real person- not just the up-in-the-sky ethereal Godhead, but the real flesh, blood and personality that we know is true but so often forget. He has a personality!! His facial expressions show real emotions, and he laughs. And her guardian angel even says things like, “Gemma, you have to talk to Jesus this way, otherwise he won’t want to do what you ask.” How human is that!!?? As Catholics we believe that Jesus really is human and divine, but how often do we remember the human part? There’s even one part where Gemma says something to Jesus that her guardian angel had told her, and Jesus gets kind of a stern look on his face and said “I don’t like him to tattle on me.”

Reading St. Gemma’s journey to holiness made me think a lot about my life, and I think it has a great lesson for everyone. So much in life is out of our control. Gemma was never able to become a Passionist sister, as was her dream. And some dreams really do not come true, no matter how hard we try. But God has a plan and a purpose for each of us, and that is holiness. We are made for Heaven, and the prayer for holiness will always be answered. This dream will come true.

St. Gemma’s diary is a love story with Jesus.  He loves us more than we can imagine, and all he wants from us is our love in return.

If you’d like to read more about St. Gemma and her Diary, click here.

St. Gemma, pray for us.

Taking Up Our Cross

Taking Up Our Cross

The first followers of Jesus called their faith The Way. Living the Gospel is a journey and a way of life, one that was so strikingly different from their pagan neighbors that they stood out. It’s no different today. As my grandfather used to say, “We live one way, the world lives another.” Our faith is counter-cultural. To put it bluntly, if you truly live as a Christian, you will not fit in.

This can mean a number of things, and none of them are easy. It can mean going out of your way during a busy, stressful day to help someone, or being patient with a cranky call center rep. It can mean refusing to engage in gossip about a troublesome family member, and doing your best to love them as Jesus does. It can mean being the only one of your friends not to live together before marriage, because your faith teaches that marriage and sex are sacred. It can mean giving up an hour of your Sunday morning to get dressed and visit Jesus at Mass, even when you “don’t get anything out of it” because you know its the right thing to do.

It can mean any form of denying yourself and your wishes, even if they are natural, because you believe that there is a proper ordering of things, and you have the gift of free will.

A wise person once said, “Christianity without suffering isn’t Christianity, it’s Paganism.” We can all be nice and get along. What makes Christianity different? It’s our willingness to bear wrongs patiently in the name of our God. It’s taking up your cross daily, and striving to live according to the Gospel.

Our society has indeed reached a new era of paganism. No, not too many people still believe in Zeus and Mars. The modern gods are Money, Conformity, Relativism and Desire, and the king of the gods, Self.

Everybody has a cross to bear, something that makes you say “I could be a perfect Catholic if that one teaching didn’t go against what I need in my life. It works for some people, but it won’t work for me because of x, y and z.” To live our faith, we need to abandon those thoughts. They are not from God. When Peter suggested that Jesus find a way out of his impending crucifixion, Jesus rebuked him saying, “Get behind me, Satan!” And yet we know the cross was hard for Jesus to accept. He sweat blood as he prayed, “Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not as I will, but as you will.”

Accepting our cross is the hardest thing we’ll ever do. And we’re going to fall on occasion. But God knows this, and he loves us anyway. The beauty of our faith is that we know that if we leave the right path, our Good Shepherd loves us so much that he goes looking for us, eager to forgive us, bring us back, and help us follow the Way.

Jesus-The-Good-Shepherd

Anima Christi

Anima Christi

Soul of Christ, sanctify me; Body of Christ, save me; Blood of Christ, inebriate me; Water from the side of Christ, wash me; Passion of Christ, strengthen me; O good Jesus, hear me; within your wounds, hide me; let me never be separated from you; from the evil one, protect me; at the hour of my death, call me; and bid me to come to you; that with your saints, I may praise you forever and ever. Amen.

Anima-Christi


When I was a child, I found this prayer in a book that I kept in my room. I would pray it over and over, completely mesmerized. I don’t remember how old I was, but I remember having to pull out the dictionary for “inebriate”. Is it weird that whenever I hear that word, my thoughts immediately go to this prayer?

Within your wounds, hide me.

When I was a kid, I remember picturing being tiny and Jesus being like a giant, keeping me tucked in his pierced side and me being perfectly content, as close to him as possible. I never thought that was weird. Oh, the mind of a Catholic child.

Now that I’m an adult, this line has new meaning. We know that we are particularly close to Jesus in our suffering, for it was then that I carried you. Perhaps asking Jesus to hide us in his wounds means we are asking him to allow us to suffer with him. Perhaps it is about taking up our cross and joining him, uniting our wounds with his. Maybe it’s asking him to keep us close in suffering. This beautiful line makes me think of St. Thérèse and her desire to be small and insignificant. It makes me think of what St. Faustina learned from Jesus, that “If the angels were capable of envy, they would envy us for two things: one is the receiving of Holy Communion, and the other is suffering.” It’s something I could spend the rest of my life contemplating and never quite understand. Perhaps that is what makes it so beautiful.

I don’t really know why, but this prayer always fills my with a strange and wonderful fire, like a burning peace, if that makes sense. It is so powerful. If you’ve never prayed it, I strongly encourage you to give it a try.

Does anyone else find the Anima Christi to be particularly moving? What is your favorite prayer? Is there one in particular that really speaks to you? I’m thinking about making prayer discussion a recurring topic here at TFTV.

Radiating Fruitfulness: Sacrifice

Radiating Fruitfulness: Sacrifice

We made it! I made it! Welcome to the third and final installment of my first series, “Radiating Fruitfulness: Charity, Hospitality, Sacrifice,” where we explore what it means for a marriage to be fruitful, even for those of us not blessed with children. If you’re just joining us, feel free to check out Part 1: Radiating Charity and Part 2: Radiating Hospitality.

Radiating Sacrifice

Somehow that title doesn’t have the same ring as the last two. The word “sacrifice” doesn’t exactly fill us with warm fuzzies, does it? Still, the Catechism points to sacrifice as a way in which all marriages are fruitful. What does this mean?

Sacrifice means giving something of ourselves, offering something up, as a gift to God. Sacrifice is an act of love, and an exercise in trust. We know that we will be ok without these things, because God is our strength. Christ gave is own life as a sacrifice on the cross, to redeem us. We in turn take up our crosses daily, uniting our suffering to his.

We know that marriage comes with sacrifice. We vow to love and honor each other “in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health.” Even in the good times, placing the needs of your spouse before yourself isn’t always the easiest thing to do. Sanctification in marriage comes from a daily dying to yourself for the sake of the other. “No, I’m not going to stay at the office later than I have to, because I have a wife who needs me.” “Sorry, I’m going to have to cancel my plans to take care of my husband who’s not feeling well.” “Yes, I’ll hold my tongue in front of your mother.”

Those things are little, and yet we know there are bigger sacrifices that come with love.

“No, we’re not going to live together before marriage because we trust that God has a plan for us, and that sex belongs in marriage, period.”

And then, the struggle of the infertile:

“No, doctor/mom/dad/brother/cousin/myself, for the thousandth time, we refuse to engage in IVF. Yes, we know that that is our only chance for a biological child. Yes, we are suffering, more than you realize. But we trust that God has a plan for us, and that new life is sacred. We make this sacrifice because our souls are more important to us than the fulfillment of our dreams, because our greatest dream is the Kingdom of God.”

What good, truly, comes from these sacrifices? If we look with human eyes, we only see the pain. In the first instance- “My spouse is encroaching on my comfort.” In the second- “Quaint, archaic rules are getting in the way of how I want to live.” In the third- “Old men in Rome are dictating whether or not I can have children.”

If we look with eyes of faith, we see the Glory of God. When we sacrifice and die to ourselves, we open our hearts and become holier people, and that holiness radiates outward.

Like St. Therese’s “Little Way”, we are growing in holiness through small, everyday sacrifices. In the first instance, sacrificing your own comfort to tend to the needs of another bears witness to the love and patience of the Father.  In the second instance, bearing witness to the truth of sexuality goes so far against the grain that it angers those who can’t bear the light. While many won’t have to courage to say it out loud, more than one will be touched by this witness. And on a much more personal note, couples can attest to the many blessings and graces that flow after marriage as a result of this sacrifice.

In the third case, perhaps the witness is more silent. Perhaps not many will know that refusing IVF comes with an immense suffering on your part. But I promise, it is worth it. Graces flow from obedience. In the words of Our Lady of Lourdes, “I cannot promise you happiness in this world, only in the next.” Couples dealing with infertility are on the front lines of the culture wars. Our witness to the dignity of life and the sanctity of marriage matters. It is perhaps a still, small voice- but one that has the power to open eyes and change hearts.

 

We know that all love bears fruit. It is my hope that this series might be a small comfort to my brothers and sisters who are suffering in the throws of infertility. I promise you, your marriage has a purpose. God has a plan. I pray that all who read this will experience the healing touch of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and that whether or not you have children, your marriage will bear much fruit, for his greater glory.

+AMDG+

 

RadiatingFruitfulness

Radiating Fruitfulness: Hospitality

Radiating Fruitfulness: Hospitality

In this series, we’ve been exploring what it means when the Catechism states that all marriages can “radiate a fruitfulness of charity, hospitality, and sacrifice.” If you missed the beginning, check out part 1, Radiating Charity.

I have to admit, writing part 2 has been a real challenge. What exactly is “fruitfulness of hospitality”? Honestly, I had to do a lot of background reading and thinking to even have an outline for this post. I’ve wondered about this question for an entire decade. Why did I expect to have this figured out in a week? Am I in over my head? Oh but I have to write this. Ok. Here we go:

 

Part 2: Radiating Hospitality

What does hospitality mean, anyways? Let’s start with the Google definition.

hos·pi·tal·i·ty
ˌhäspəˈtalədē/
noun
  1. the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers.

The Old Testament includes a number of stories that illustrate the sacred nature of hospitality. Angels disguised as house-guests are a recurring theme, and God continually rewards the generous heart.

These stories reflect a culture in which hospitality was held as a sacred virtue. We see this lived out in the life of Jesus. There are many stories of him visiting people and having dinner at their homes. We know he ate with Levi, Zacchaeus, Peter’s in-laws, Mary and Martha, a Pharisee, and many others. Much of his teaching was delivered over a dinner table. His first miracle was supplying wine to a wedding feast. Another miracle involved feeding 5,000 people. He made breakfast for his friends after his Resurrection. The night before he died was spent breaking bread with the apostles, giving his own flesh as bread for the life of the world, and commanding them to “Do this in memory of me.” Jesus invites us to his table, where he gives himself to us in the form of bread.

At our wedding homily, the priest talked about how heaven is described as a wedding feast. It’s everyone together, happy, celebrating and full of love. Only minutes old, our marriage was already fruitful in that it was bringing all those people there together. This continues, not only in the parties we host or the dinners we share, but in our desire to let our home be a safe harbor for others. I really do believe that “radiating a fruitfulness of hospitality” means that the love you share spreads to create a welcoming environment for those around you. Just like the dinner scenes in the New Testament, your new family (even if it’s a family of two) can be a place where others can experience the warmth and healing comfort of God’s love.

When two people marry, their home becomes each other and the love that is shared between them. Marriage brings forth a new life, one that is designed to be open and welcoming. The grace of the sacrament fosters an environment for sharing, visiting, and loving one another. This is how marriage radiates a fruitfulness of hospitality.

RadiatingFruitfulness

Check out Part 3: Radiating Sacrifice

Previous: Part 1: Radiating Charity

The Crack

The Crack

I often cry at Mass, but I’ve never cried during a homily- until tonight. Tonight, I had tears streaming down my face the whole time. It was like God was using the priest to speak to directly to me.

This week’s gospel is the story of the Samaritan woman at the well. I can’t really replicate this homily here, but I’ll try to summarize.

We all have these walls we put up, from our hurts, our sin, our wounds. We put them up to protect ourselves, so we won’t get hurt again. Though these walls may protect us, they also don’t let anyone in- not even God. And as long as those walls are up, we can’t heal.

The woman obviously had something wrong in her life. She was at the well in the middle of the day, rather than in the morning with everyone else. She clearly wanted to avoid seeing the other women in the village.

You can picture Jesus smiling knowingly when he said, “Go get your husband.” And you can picture the woman say, rather hard and defensive, “I don’t have a husband.” There. There’s the sore spot. And Jesus reaches in with, “I know. You’ve had 5 husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband.” There’s the wound. Clearly she must have been through some terrible things.

Later, she goes out to the very townspeople she had been avoiding and says, “This man told me everything I’ve ever done. Could he be the Christ?”

The only way to heal is to let the walls crack enough to let Jesus in. And he is the only one who can heal you. And he’ll use that very thing, that wound, to transform you and bring you to him. That wound is how you are going to glorify him.

He knows everything you’ve ever done. Learning that your life was not what you thought it was, discovering that you would never be a “normal” person, realizing that you could never again look at things the same way, feeling like an outcast, knowing that there would be no one else in your life who would really “get it”-that’s exactly what he’s going after. He’s going to reach in with his healing touch and turn that around so it can be used for good, to bring others to him. He’s going to help you tear down those walls.

And it all starts with a crack.

Why is there suffering? A Lesson from the Man Born Blind

Why is there suffering? A Lesson from the Man Born Blind

Recently I decided to read the Gospel of John from start to finish, one chapter at a time. This morning before work I read chapter 9, which is the story of the man born blind.

It was crowded. Jesus saw the blind man. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”  Jesus answered, “Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him.”

Jesus spat on the ground, made a little mud, put it on the man’s eyes, told him to go wash it off, then disappeared back into the crowd. The man did as he was told, and he could see.

Blindness is a cross. Like every other form of suffering, it is a symptom of our fallen world. It’s nobody’s personal fault.

Very few of us will receive miraculous physical cures for our sufferings. Those kinds of miracles happen, but they are rare. All of us, though, through our suffering have an opportunity to be an instrument for God to show the world some of himself. Like the blindness of this man in the Gospel, God can allow us to suffer so that his works may be made visible through us.

After the healing, the pharisees question the man, badgering him about how he was healed, and whether he believed that Jesus was from God or not. To the man who was healed, it was pretty simple: “One thing I do know is that I was blind, and now I see.”

The man doesn’t really know who Jesus is, but he stands up for the godliness of his healer, and is kicked out of the synagogue. When Jesus hears of this, he finds the man, reveals himself, and the man becomes his disciple. He knows that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God.

Why do we suffer? Perhaps because it is through our trials that God reveals himself to us. Through these experiences we come to see that we are completely dependent upon God. We have no control. We are powerless on our own. The one who opens the eyes of the blind and calms the tempest with his word offers his peace in our lives. All we have to do is place our trust in Him.