How Not to Hate Winter

I’ve always dreaded Januaries.

Maybe it’s because the post-Christmas solitude often feels empty and uncomfortable.

And it’s cold outside.

Instead of counting the days until Spring, I’ve decided this year to find ways to enjoy the long, dreary winter and live in the moment. I’m baking. I’m watching old movies. I’m visiting people. These are all things that you can do any time of year, of course, but somehow they seem like they belong to the winter.

And of course, celebrating post-Christmas winter traditions helps too. For example, we did out first ever Epiphany house blessing where we chalked the door.

20+C+M+B+17 stands for the names of the three magi, Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar, and it also stands for Christ Bless this House in Latin.

The changes in the liturgical calendar really help to keep us centered. Ever since I started going to daily Mass, being aware of the different feast days and their associated traditions has really made my life feel more full. (Actually, if you’re interested in a really cool blog on liturgical living, check out Carrots for Michaelmas. I’m a big fan).

But of course, as with most things, there’s a deeper level of this “living in the moment” thing. I’ve been trying (for the last year) to step away from all my plans and dreams, and just exist. I’ve been trying to stop thinking about what I should be or what I would like to be and just be, well, me.

Specifically, I’m trying to just be God’s daughter.

Many years ago as I was talking to a priest at my high school, I told him, “You have no idea how much fun it is to be someone’s daughter.”

I was speaking in reference to my human parents, but I meant it in respect to God as well.

Being able to love someone as their daughter is a unique gift. I really believe this, and I think that is also why it hurts so much for people when their human parents are unable to allow their sons and daughters to love them.

And even if our earthly parents aren’t perfect, we have this opportunity to be in a love-filled relationship with our heavenly father.

What does this look like?

Jumping into his arms to hug him at the end of the day. Crawling into his lap when we’re sleepy or scared. Pouring out our hearts to him and listening as he does the same with us. Stopping by his house to say “hi” in the middle of a busy day.

It’s pretty simple, really. He’s Dad. I’m Connie Ann. And this is where I am right now – trying not to worry about the future, or whether or not there is anything else that I’m supposed to do or to be. If he wants me to do something for him he’ll let me know. For now, I’m just going to sit right here and be his little girl.

Be an Encourager

Be an Encourager

“Encourage each other daily, while it is still today.” -St. Paul in his letter to the Hebrews.

Listening to Catholic radio on my way into work this morning, radio host Gus Lloyd reminded everyone that an important part of being a Christian is to give encouragement to others.

What does that mean?

When people are struggling, whether they’re just having a bad day or maybe dealing with serious issues, what can we do to be encouraging? How can we help, especially when we might not understand the depth of their struggle?

Pope Francis recently said that sometimes there really isn’t anything you can say to make them feel better. In these cases, he said, it’s best to just be there and cry with them.

Having been on the receiving end of well-wishers who maybe haven’t understood the depth of the problem being faced, I think he’s right.

But here’s the thing. There is one thing that can always be said, no matter the situation.

“You are loved.”

And isn’t that what the pope’s tears of solidarity are really saying, after all?

You are loved.

I’m no expert, but I believe that is what is at the very core of being a Christian. Knowing that we are loved in spite of everything, and spreading that love to everyone, everywhere.

So to everyone, no matter who you are or what you may be going through, take courage and remember that you are loved.

Now let’s get out there and spread this.

You Are Mine

You Are Mine

Pslam 139:13-14

13 For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.

“For you created my inmost being…”

I was born without a uterus. And though I never consciously¬†blamed God for this, of course he allowed it to happen‚ÄĒand that is something that needs reconciling.

While I never knowingly¬†said, “How could you, Jesus?” I know that deep down, part of me used to think that maybe this disease was a result of neglect on his part. I have thought, many times, “God forgot to give me a uterus.” I know that others, in their situations, have thought similar things: “Maybe God forgot to make a plan for me,” or “maybe God forgot to keep an eye on me, and that’s why this happened.”

The truth is that he never turned his eyes away. He never neglected me (or you) for even a second. He made us,¬†on purpose.¬†He did, actually and truly “knit me together in my¬†mother’s womb.” And you are, in fact, “fearfully and wonderfully made.” He created you‚ÄĒevery part of you‚ÄĒand you were never a mistake. You are his child, and he loves you more than you could ever imagine.

Faith, Trust, and a little Pixie Dust

Faith, Trust, and a little Pixie Dust

Faith, Trust, and a little Pixie dust!

That’s what it takes to fly, according to Peter Pan. Faith, trust, and a little pixie dust! How many of us spent our childhoods believing that to be true, or hoping it were true, and waiting for the day that Peter Pan would show up at our windows with a little pixie dust- since that’s all we lacked.

Of course, that never happened. And anyone who contemplated jumping off their deck in hopes of flying was most likely stopped by their mom- like I was. But a thought occurred to me tonight- perhaps Peter Pan taught us something more important that we realize.

In our relationship with God, it really is possible to soar, if we want to. We need faith. We need trust. And as for pixie dust? That’s code for Grace. With these three, we can fly.

Remember when Jesus walked on water, and Peter (the apostle, not Pan) asked if he could do it too? Peter jumped out the boat and started walking (by the grace of God), but then he started to sink. Jesus pulled him out of the water and said, “Oh you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

How many times does this happen in our lives? We know God is going to take care of us. We may even have enough faith and trust to jump out of the boat- and lo and behold, grace is there to sustain us. But then we notice the waves, and lose sight of the Master. And when our faith and trust are replaced by fear and doubt, we start to sink.

What should we do when we start to sink? Peter Pan says to think happy thoughts, and he’s not wrong. Pray for faith, trust, and grace. And keep your eyes on Christ- that’s the only happy thought you’ll ever need. ‚̧

Should you talk to the homeless?

Should you talk to the homeless?

Growing up in upper-middle class America, I was taught that when you see panhandlers and homeless, you shouldn’t give them any money “because they’re probably going to use it on drugs or alcohol.” This popular middle-American proverb has a cousin- “Don’t engage, don’t make eye contact, you don’t know what they’re going to do, and you can’t trust them.”

I never questioned these at all. I never even thought about them. Sure, in high school we would make sandwiches for soup kitchens and have toy drives and can drives and all sorts of events to help out in the community, but the actual, in-person encounters with homeless and beggars was still something that was out of my ability, as far as my teenage self was concerned.

And then something happened. I was riding in the car with a friend, and we came across a homeless man on a street corner. My friend rolled down his window, opened up his wallet, and handed the guy a $20 bill. Being startled (and naturally obnoxious), I said, “I thought you’re not supposed to give to those people, because they might use it for drugs and it will feed their addiction.”

My friend said, calmly, “Well, it’s his choice what he does with it. It’s my job to give.”

homeless_jesus_sm

My friend had planted a seed in my teenage brain. It lay dormant for years, but it was there, and it nagged at me every time I passed someone on the street. Then, something started to happen.

There’s a thing with virtue, called, “fake it til you make it.” (That’s how Aristotle put it, right?) If you want a virtue that you don’t have, start practicing it. For example, if you’re cowardly, start acting as though ¬†you have courage. It will be hard at first, but soon enough it will become second nature. I took this approach with the homeless. I started giving them things, and even saying hello. It was absolutely terrifying at first. But every time I chickened out, I would feel terrible. After all, when Christ himself says, “Whatsoever you do for the least of these, you do unto me”, and “If anyone asks you for your tunic, give him your cloak as well.” Who are we to argue?

I’m ashamed to admit that even recently, I’ve sometimes been afraid to help people in need. Beating back against your ingrained fears is not easy. In the last few months, I’ve been trying this “fake it til you make it” thing- trying to make eye contact, give what I can, and tell them that they are in my prayers. It’s been years and I still haven’t “made it”- but I’m getting better.

And as for those “proverbs”- I know what they are now. They’re from¬†devil, and they’re designed to make us afraid¬†of doing good.¬†The father of lies delights in twisting our thoughts until we’ve decided that it’s wrong to do good. When Christ says to give to those who ask, without counting the cost, Satan says, “Yeah but not to those people who look really poor, because they might hurt you, and your gift might be used wrongly, and it’s not your job anyways- send them to a church.”

We are called to be Christ’s body in this world. We are his hands. We are his heart. We shouldn’t worry so much about the details, but rather we should remember that it is our job to show love, wherever we go, and to whoever we meet. It’s up to them to decide what to do with it, but it’s our job to show love.

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.

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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.

Sacred Heart Prayers

Sacred Heart Prayers

As promised, a little published update and thank you for prayers heard.

I said this novena to the Sacred Heart of Jesus through the intercession of St. Jude:

May the Sacred Heart of Jesus be adored, glorified, loved and preserved throughout the world, now and forever. Sacred Heart of Jesus, pray for us. St. Jude, worker of miracles, pray for us. St. Jude, help of the hopeless, pray for us.

You say this prayer 9 times a day for 9 days, and you are guaranteed to have an answer on or before the 8th day. It has never failed. It didn’t fail this time, either.

I prayed for either a new job or career direction. I have so many interests and I’ve been so confused, I haven’t really known what to look for.

This Saturday (the 7th day), I decided to go pray in front of the Blessed Sacrament. I tried to go in the morning before meeting a friend for lunch, but I ran out of time. Then, when I met my friend, she mentioned that she parked right near a really cool old Catholic Church. Wait, what?

After lunch (and shopping!) we went inside the church to explore a little. Then, when my friend left, I stayed for about 20 minutes to pray.

While I was praying, I looked up and noticed that up above the tabernacle there was a very large statue of the Sacred Heart, front and center.¬†Looks like I’m in the right place.¬†I looked at that statue for a while and remembered why Jesus asked to be portrayed that way- because he loves us. He loves us so much and his heart continues to burn with love for us. He doesn’t want me to be miserable, directionless and without purpose. He has a plan for me.

My eyes were then drawn to the right of the altar, and a statue of St. Paul was there.¬†St. Paul? What’s he doing here? Wait… this church is called St. Paul’s. St. Paul is the patron saint of writers!

St Paul

Yes, the Paul who wrote half the bible (basically) and who is quoted more than any other source in Christianity was an intellectual with many gifts who was called to use those gifts for the Kingdom of God.

I thought this must be the answer: to look to St. Paul, to be a writer, and to ask for his intercession in finding fulfilling employment using those gifts. I still wanted a little confirmation though. And after all, this was only day 7.

That night I started googling St. Paul novenas. I had never heard of a novena to St. Paul. He’s not exactly known to be a heavy hitter like Anthony, Jude or Therese. And then came God’s second whack over the head for me:

It turns out, the Daughters of St. Paul have a special novena to St. Paul, and it starts JUNE 21.

June 21. Sunday. The 8th day.

Boom.

So last night, we continued with our Sacred Heart novena (must do all 9 days in thanksgiving), and we began a novena to St. Paul the Apostle, patron saint of writers.

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

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+

 

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