Thursday, November 17, 2016

Preparing for Advent


Getting ready for Christmas can be fun. The crisp air is a sign that the holidays are right around the corner. Thanksgiving is usually when people start putting up their Christmas decorations and trees. But in our Catholic faith, there is something about living the present moment, that makes this time even more exciting than starting Christmas a month too early. 

You see, Christmas does not begin until, Christmas eve. So, we are asked to prepare for it for four weeks. We prepare our hearts and our homes for the coming of Christ. It's that simple. This helps to place every thing into perspective. Although I love Christmas decorations, music and all that comes with the season, I do like to celebrate when it's time to celebrate it. We anticipate so many things these days that we forget to live the present moment.

Advent is just that. It's a time and season to prepare for the season of Christmas, which by the way is not just one day. Christmas is celebrated, in the Catholic Church, from the vigil of the 25th of December all the way until the Baptism of the Lord, which in the U.S. falls on January 6th. So imagine how wonderful? If you wait, you get to enjoy the real time of Christmas, for that much longer.

Here is a post from my old blog that I posted about three Christmas' ago. Enjoy:

For those of you not familiar with Advent, it is a time of preparation. It begins four Sundays before Christmas and means advenire which is "to come to," in Latin. For Christians it is a time of preparation for the coming of Christ in His birth at Christmas, but also symbolizes Christ's Second Coming at the end of time.

Today's day in age we live for instant gratification. I am the first to fall into this trap with the help of Amazon, internet, Facebook, texting etc. Advent, is a reminder that "the best things come to those who wait". Literally! We wait for Jesus.

As a family we have decided that Christmas would be all about, well, what it is: Jesus! Yes, the gifts are nice; the tree, the stockings, the Christmas cards. All that is wonderful. Not bad in itself, but when we make that our focus (again, I fall into this) it is certainly not good.

Really, if we think about it, if it weren't for Jesus, there would be none of what we make Christmas all about. So, here is one family tradition we are working on year after year. As the children get older, they appreciate it more and can participate in all that the season of Advent brings.

We decided to get into the "Spirit" by following some beautiful Catholic traditions. One you may know already, it is the Advent wreath. The Advent wreath (circle) is used to symbolize God the Father and eternal life. It holds four candles which are lit over the four weeks of Advent. There are three violet (purple) candles and one rose (pink) candle, each representing 1,000 years a total of 4,000 years that humanity waited for the Savior.

The progressive lighting of the candles symbolizes the expectation and hope of our Lord’s first coming into the world and the anticipation of His second coming to judge the living and the dead.
Traditionally, each of the four candles has their own meaning:
 
  • The 3 violet candles symbolize the prayer, penance, and preparatory sacrifices and goods works undertaken during Advent. 

  • The 1 rose candle is lit on the third Sunday which is known as "Gaudete Sunday" it is the Sunday of rejoicing, because it is the midpoint of Advent and it's close to Christmas.

But another tradition you are probably not familiar with, that we've been doing for a couple of years now, is the Jesse Tree. The Jesse Tree dates back to the middle ages and came from Europe. You may even find a Jesse Tree design in stained glass windows in old cathedrals.

The Jesse Tree come from Isaiah 11:1: “A shoot shall come out of the stock of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.” Jesse was the father of King David. The Jesse Tree is decorated with handmade ornaments that represent the people, prophesies, and events leading up to the birth of Jesus. The ornaments of the Jesse Tree tell the story of God in the Old Testament, connecting the Advent season with the faithfulness of God across four thousand years of history.

One way I (we) can learn that instant gratification is not normal and is actually not good for us, especially children, is to spend Advent preparing for the coming of Christ.

Here are some of the ornaments I have made out of felt. You can have your children make them out of paper or you can make them out of just about anything. 


Day 1: Symbolizes the World Created by God– Globe – Genesis 1:24-28

Day 2: Symbolizes the First sin by Adam and Eve – Snake and Apple– Genesis 3:1-24

Day 3: Symbolizes the promise of God to Noah after the Flood – Rainbow & Ark – Genesis 6:11-22; 86-12; 9:11-17


Day 4: Symbolizes the promise of God to Abraham – Camel & Tent– Genesis 12:1-7:13:2-18; 18:1

Day 5: Symbolizes the Ram sacrificed instead of Isaac – Ram – Genesis 22:1-14

Day 6: Symbolizes Jacob – Ladder – Genesis 27:41-28:22

Day 7: symbolizes Joseph – Multicolored Coat – Genesis 37:1-36


Day 8: symbolizes Moses – two tablets --Deuteronomy 5:1-22

The great thing is you learn so much! You learn how all these events and Biblical figures foreshadowed Jesus & led to His birth. It makes the time leading up to Christmas all about what it should be. You read the appropriate Bible verse each night and the child(ren) places the specific ornament on the tree.

This tradition does not interfere with a Christmas tree, as it is not a Christmas tree in and of itself. There are literally hundreds of way to do this. I have seen some creative things on-line. There are also tons of recourse books...Catholic and non-Catholic alike as this is not strictly a Catholic thing.

I used this one:

The remaining days are as follows but there are dozens of variations on symbols and passages.

Day 9: Symbolizes the promise land-Numbers - Grapes - Numbers 13:1-2, 17-18, 20, 23, 27
Day 10: Symbolizes Ruth - Sheaf of wheat - Ruth 1:15-2:3
Day 11: Symbolizes Miriam – Tambourine – Exodus 15:19-21
Day 12: SymbolizesSamuel – Lamp – 1 Samuel 3:1-21
Day 13: Symbolizes Jesse – Branch – Isaiah 11:1
Day 14: Symbolizes King David – Harp – 1 Samuel 16:14-23
Day 15: Symbolizes King Solomon – Crown – 1 Kings 3:3-28
Day 16: Symbolizes Isaiah – Throne – Isaiah 6:1-8
Day 17: Symbolizes Jeremiah -Heart - Jeremiah 31:31-33, Hebrews 9:13-15
Day 18: Symbolizes the Angels – Angel – Hebrews 1:1-14
Day 19: Symbolizes Malachi – Trumpet – Malachi 3:1-4
Day 20: Symbolizes Zechariah and Elizabeth – man and wife - Luke 1:39-45
Day 21: Symbolizes Mary – Mary– Luke 1:29-35
Day 22: Symbolizes John the Baptist – River – Matthew 3:1-6
Day 23: Symbolizes Joseph of Nazareth – Hammer/Saw – Matthew 1:18-25
Day 24: Symbolizes Bethlehem – Star over town– Matthew 2:1-12
Day 25: Birth of Christ – Crib – Luke 2:1-7

A happy and blessed Advent to you all. May this time teach each one of us that the best things in life take time and are worth much more than we can imagine.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Meeting all the Zacchaeus'



So we've arrived at the end of this challenge. Notwithstanding, I missed two days at the end. We were crazy busy here at home. I know, I should practice what I preach (i.e. the disease of busyness) It hits home quite often. Nonetheless, we've arrived. The discipline of this last month has pulled me out of my stagnant period where I only wrote sporadically. A big thank you to Write 31 days for starting this challenge!

Hopefully I can continue this momentum and post three times a week. Hold me to it!

I would like to end this challenge with a great and urgent call within the call of "Being who God created us to be so we may set the world on fire." And it goes all too well with yesterday's Gospel reading.

Here it is, Luke 19:1-10, the story of Zacchaeus, the tax collector:

At that time, Jesus came to Jericho and intended to pass through the town. Now a man there named Zacchaeus, who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man, was seeking to see who Jesus was;
but he could not see him because of the crowd, for he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus, who was about to pass that way. When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” And he came down quickly and received him with joy. When they all saw this, they began to grumble, saying, “He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.” But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.”

Within the layers of richness of this text, there can be found the reality of a man, a sinful man at that, who desired, more than anything, to see this Jesus. This Jesus because he probably only knew of Him from all the talk and buzz going around of this man who was healing the sick, driving out demons and preaching about mercy.

However, Zacchaeus had a difficulty. He was short in stature. So, in a very practical way, he climbed a tree. He wanted a good glimpse of Jesus. The tree was his help.

Then Jesus approaches him and says “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” Just like that. Jesus came to him. Called him by name. Jesus was coming to his house! What joy!

But what happens next is what is most important here, it's a miracle actually! Just in this simple encounter, even without Jesus actually setting foot in Zacchaeus house, Zacchaeus confesses his sins, repents and begins to tell Jesus how he will make reparation for what he has done wrong. Just with this simple encounter! One look! One word! Just like that, Jesus transforms Zacchaeus!

That is the thing with Jesus. When a heart is open. When the heart is eager to meet Him, curious to know Him, than Jesus can transform!

So here is the clincher for you. Zacchaeus used a tree. The tree was the instrument to help him see Jesus better. He used nature. In reality there are so many ways to encounter Christ today. But probably the most effective, the most powerful way, is through our witness! By telling others of this Jesus, sharing our own story of encounter with Him, we can bring many more Zacchaeus' to Christ!

So many have a difficulty out there, that is keeping them from meeting Jesus. Think of the countless things that keep hearts closed. Zacchaeus was short, but so many of us our short in so many ways beyond stature. We are proud. We are angry at God. We are unwilling to take responsibility for our lives. We are caught up in the things of the world or we simply cannot believe that the God of the universe can love us.

So let us be the instrument that others use to get to know Him, who is the one that makes us into the the person we were created to be. Let us help others to overcome their "shortness" so that they may see Him clearly. So that Jesus Christ may say"today I must stay at your house.” That he may stay forever in the home of their hearts.

Let us draw people to the source of life, the Author of love and of peace. Let us help others to be God's true creation so that, along with them, we can all set the world on fire. And what else does it mean to set the world on fire, than to bring the fire of Jesus' love to all of humanity.

(This post was inspired by my pastor's homily given on 10/30/2016 at  Ss. Cyril and Methodius Catholic Church, Sterling Heights, MI.)


Saturday, October 29, 2016

Ten Tips for Battling Discouragement



On this road to being who God created us to be, essentially being the best we were made to be, there can be some instances of discouragement. Every once in awhile, discouragement happens. It's a part of life. It's human. Basically, discouragement is a loss of confidence. It can happen at any time and for various reasons. But probably one of the worst enemies we have, when it comes to disappointment and discouragement, is our own self.

Discouragement can be built-in. No need for outside sources. Sure, they say the more we're on social media, the more depressed we can become. Here's a simple solution to that: stick more to real-life rather than virtual reality. That's a no-brainer. But no matter the outside sources, which, as a matter of fact, sometimes are hard to pinpoint, self-discouragement creeps up. Without notice. What to do?

Here are some helpful tips for battling discouragement along the way of life's goals. Becoming who God created us to be, so that we can set the world on fire is no easy task. It takes dedication, perseverance, and trust that God is the Artisan and we are His masterpiece, to be.


Ten Tips for Battling Discouragement


1. Eliminate outside sources. 


If we are able to pinpoint what outside sources are bringing on discouragement, we are able to give ourselves distance or even the possibility to eliminate them altogether.  For example, if we are feeling down after spending lengthy time on social media, cut back. Or, if we need to just eliminate it for a while, go for it. If it is a certain relationship, whether it be a friend or family member, we can set boundaries or just take some time to keep our distance until we have been able to clear our mind and deal with the situation with more logic rather than emotion.


2. Take a break from technology. 


Even though I mention social media in my first tip, all around, social media and even technology in general, can cause for a certain disconnect from the real world. It doesn't allow us to relax. I mean, really relax. Take some time-out from technology and read a real book (not on a tablet) or go for a walk. Quiet time is essential to helping us not only relax our bodies but our mind as well. We live in a constant flood of information and it's good to check-out of that tidal wave every once in awhile.

3. Read inspirational literature. 


Again, reading. It is a way to relax, particularly when it's on paper. The old fashioned way is best. The best place to start? Sacred Scripture. If we want to find timeless inspiration, then look no further than the Bible. It's the best selling book of all time, inspired by none other than God Himself.  Here's a link where one can find a plethora of Bibles and inspirational books: Ignatius Press.

4. Pray.


This naturally brings me to prayer. Prayer is essential in reaching our goals and allowing God to do His work. It is only when we are in dialogue with Him, the Master Craftsman, that we can envision what He wants from us. It's also our opportunity to communicate to Him the tweaks we wouldn't mind Him making here and there. Praying and becoming God's work of art is certainly not a passive task. He listens to our pleas and we, along with Him, can work together to reach our essential goals.

Here are just a few of the many passages from Sacred Scripture that will give us a renewed sense of hope. All of Sacred Scripture is a story of hope and love.

Isaiah 43
Jeremiah 29:11
Matthew 11:28
Jeremiah 1:5
1 John 4:19


5. Be patient.


We must give ourselves time to accomplish the goals we feel like we may never reach. We mustn't' be hard on ourselves. It's funny but we can be really patient with others, but when it comes to ourselves, most of us can be very inflexible and unrelenting. Sometimes we have to recall that it's not only the destination, but also the journey that matters. It is the journey that in fact makes the destination.


6. Find a mentor or spiritual director.


For us Catholics we might also want to find ourselves a spiritual director. A spiritual director may be a priest or a trained lay person. Basically a spiritual director helps us to deepen our faith and to discern the movements of the Holy Spirit in our life. On a more practical level, we may want to find a mentor. For instance, if we are wanting to become an avid writer, we can link up with someone that has experience in the writing field. Finding a professional with some spare time and good will can be a huge help, especially when we are first setting out to reaching our goals. They can give us pointers and help you foresee obstacles that perhaps they've already overcome.

7. Step away.


 If we only dedicate ourselves to one thing, then it may get pretty sticky. We may become hyperfocused which can lead to stifling episodes of rampant frustration. This is a sure way to become absolutely discouraged. We must step away from our projects/goals. Take a break every once in awhile. Find other hobbies or small projects. No. We're not talking about small breaks here. On occasion, we need to take a few weeks or even months away from our goals. It helps to clear the mind so that we may return with a fresh outlook and renewed zeal.

8. Get other opinions/critiques.


Another good tip is to search out all types of opinions/critiques about our work/project. The best way to become better at what we do is to see our work from many perspectives. With a mentor we are able to hone in on expert advice. However, when asking other people, who aren't necessarily experts, we are able to receive other perspectives. This allows us to see our work from another vantage point that will certainly help us to improve or change, where needed. The key is not to seek out too many opinions.

9. Let discouragement run its course. 


Allow discouragement to happen. It's natural. It's human. Face it. We get discouraged. It is what it is. Let it take it's few days to settle and dissipate. This is the perfect time for either a short-term or long-term break. Our goals aren't necessarily terminated. They are just set on hold. Sometimes God allows for these little stints of downtime that may involve discouragement because it allows us to focus on what is important. It helps us reflect on what our goal really is.


10. Fight through it. 


Finally, there are those moments where we may feel discouraged but we know we have to fight through it. We may encounter small enough hurdles where we are able to push through without a lot of drawback. We may even find a sense of satisfaction because, precisely, we didn't have to step away. Like I mentioned, discouragement is normal. It's also a great mechanism for growth, for so many reasons. Perhaps the most important one, at times, is that we are indeed able to stay the course, no matter the circumstances. In the end it helps to remind us who's in charge. If we keep pressing on, we learn valuable lessons that make God's work even more beautiful. In turn, it also makes us all the more compassionate towards ourselves and others. Our next set of discouragements may just not seem so bad.


In all your ways be mindful of Him, 

and He will make straight your paths. Proverbs 3:6



Thursday, October 27, 2016

Halloween: a mockery of evil?



Okay, not to get sidetracked or anything but since Halloween is right around the corner, I thought I'd share a few thoughts and some great insight on the 31st of October:

What is the way to go about participating innocently in the childish notions of Halloween without necessarily touching upon the very debased traditions of this night that precedes "All Saints and All Souls"?  It's a real question that we ask ourselves as Catholic parents. We want to be able to use every opportunity to teach our children about the difference between what is good and bad; what is right and wrong.

I cannot say that the following thoughts flow solely from my own reflection but rather from an excellent article I read recently. This article was sent by a friend who has encouraged us to raise our child "in the world but not of the world".

The truth is that Halloween, (you can read about some of the traditions of Halloween here), within its basic foundation was seen as a moment to remember the truth and grim reality of hell. "Hence all the devil, goblins and references originally were meant to teach others of the horrors and consequences of sin and evil."

"Thus, Halloween can depict a vital element in the re-enactment of [our] salvation history. Although it is not an official holy day...linked to All Saints and All Souls, Halloween imagery presents an integral illustration of the human passage and the consequence of Christ. Without death, there would be no saints in heaven or souls in purgatory. Without Christ, man would have no right to ridicule the devil. (paraphrased from Crisis Magazine article, my emphasis added).

"Halloween offers a comic, cultural expression of the truths that comprise man’s participation in Christ’s Resurrection. Halloween celebrates Christ’s triumph through parody—or exultant mockery—subjecting the symbols of the grave to satirical derision. Witches, devils, ghouls, skeletons, and such spooks become caricatures of an impotent evil...."

"...O death, where is your sting?"

In essence, we can mock hell and all that is evil because Christ has been victorious over these.

But, unfortunately in today's reality of halloween, there is so much occult and satanic worship involved that we do have to be weary. We have to take steps to be cautious particularly when it involves children. We must set boundaries and offer alternatives to the overtly commercial culture of violence, ugliness and what is blatantly occult.

Many schools, neighborhoods and religious communities offer alternatives such as dress up as your favorite story character, or your favorite saint. These are good teaching opportunities as well. This way we are able to help children see the reality of evil without actually "dressing" in it or praising it.

As Christians, we have a responsibility to take Halloween and other pagan festivities and redeem them by using them to teach about the realities of life and faith and of the truth of Christ. Halloween shows us the consequences of a death without Christ. Halloween helps us to stare evil in the face and laugh!

We must pass through death into new life. It is no mere coincidence that Halloween precedes the great feast of All Saints, where we pray for those who have died and have been victorious with Christ in reaching Heaven. And yet, we have another opportunity, the following day to pray for the dead who are in Purgatory. During the feast of All Souls we become aware of the cleansing reality of God's mercy that helps to wipe away the consequences of sin.

If you would like to read the whole article found in Crisis Magazine, please go here.

May your Halloween be safe and pleasant. May it offer you an opportunity to teach your children of the mysteries of life and death and the great truth that Christ is victorious!

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Increase in me


Forgiveness is a tricky thing for us humans. So many things can get in the way. In particular, our pride! But God on the other hand, He never, ever tires of forgiving us. Amazing, right? It's the one attribute of God that I believe we humans struggle with the most. We struggle to ask for it. To give it. And to receive it. And yet, it's the one thing that brings peace to our hearts, besides love.

If we imagine that God is the source of all perfect goodness, beauty and love, than we can imagine that He manifests it in the most perfect of ways. The goodness that comes from Him, is the goodness that rings true in our hearts as when we see a baby smile for the first time. It might sound cliche, but it's so true. Who cannot help but smile at such pure goodness?

The beauty that comes from Him is a beauty that astounds us and creates a sense of wonder in our hearts. Like the majestic sunrise over a mountain top or the beauty of the endless sea during the setting of the sun. Again, may seem cliche, but there is a reason why these examples are used to describe the epitomy of these virtues, these attributes the human heart seeks tirelessly.

We just can't get enough.

Then there is love. Perfect love is a love that creates, builds up, transforms and forgives over and over again. It seeks nothing for itself but only wants good for the object of its love. It's a love that is so perfect, it can never be abated. It only grows with time and in the midst of suffering gives of itself all the more. That's a love that supersedes all love. It's God's love.

 It is very rare to find this perfect love in other fellow humans. Few have loved this way throughout history. Jesus was the example par excellence. He loves as the Father loves (John 15:9). His love is sought to be emulated. His love is sought out for only love's sake. Yet, we fall short of this type of love. Way short.

I fall short. So short it seems, I question my love every day. I question its authenticity. I question its basis. I question it's wanting.

Indeed, I fall short.

But that is where God comes into the picture. A God that forgives all and loves in a way that is beyond comparison, also gives in ways beyond our understanding.

We can ask for His love. The love we would want to love with:

Lord, love others through me, because I cannot.
Lord, forgive others for me, because I cannot.

In fact, that crazy character in the Bible who ate locusts and honey and was brave enough to call the King out for his lack of love, St. John the Baptist, said it best:

I must decrease so that He may increase. (John 3:30).

The more we focus on our lack of love and turn to the source of love; the more we can empty ourselves of what is wanting so that it may be filled with what is good, true and beautiful; the more we can make room for His love to love within us and through us.

Forgiveness is a tricky thing. Loving in the most perfect of ways is deemed impossible. But nothing is impossible with God. (Matthew 19:26)



Monday, October 24, 2016

Sex is not everything!



C-H-A-S-T-I-T-Y. Chastity. 

No. I'm not talking about some girl. I'm talking about not having any sexual relations before marriage. It also means fidelity within marriage.

It is the antidote to lust.

It is the ability to have self-control in one's sexual desires.

It is not a suppression. It is not a punishment. Nor is it an asexual attitude.

We are sexual beings. Unlike what we are hearing these days, we are man or woman. We are man or woman to our core. In all that we do, think or say, we are either man or woman. This may be extremely controversial, but when has truth not been controversial?

Because we are sexual beings, we have sexual desires. These sexual desires are good. However, like any desire, they must be channeled in the proper way. They must be given their proper place.

Chastity is the harnessing of sexual desires in a manner that allows us to develop other ways of showing our love and our desire for another. In ways beyond the sexual realm.

Why is this even necessary? Simply put, and unlike what popular culture tells us, sex is not everything.

In marriage, there is more to the relationship than just sex. If all focus is on sex, than when days come when one is tired, or the children are ill, or even one of the spouses is ill, what will you lean on? Other means of expressing love must be developed early on.

Love must never be mistaken with lust. Lust is the desire to use another for the sole purpose of pleasure. Love is the desire to give oneself to another for the sole purpose of the other. Love can be chaste. Love can wait. Love can be expressed in others ways beyond the sexual realm. Beyond sex.

Lust cannot wait. Lust cannot be controlled. Lust only seeks to please itself. It is selfish.

Chastity is beautiful because in abstaining from the sexual act it allows a man and woman, who deeply love each other, who want nothing more than to give themselves to each other, to find so many other beautiful ways of expressing this love.

Helping one another.
Caring for one another.
Writing love notes.
Giving gifts.
Taking on other responsibilities.
Sharing deep faith.
Praying for one another.
Simply talking.
Just being together.

And the list goes on.

Chastity in marriage helps us to live our relationship on a much deeper level. Sex is not everything.
Chastity in single life helps single people discover that they are loved for much more than just their body. And when all's said and done, sex is not everything. Love is!

Truth about single life



So we've covered marriage and a tiny bit of motherhood, but really what is essential is to talk about single life.

Single life is the basis for all vocations. Single life is the time when you build yourself up. It is the time when you can really focus on God and yourself. Those are the two most important relationships of single life. However, the world will tell you otherwise.

The world tells single people to go ahead, have fun. Do anything that makes you feel good. Life is short. Life is about pleasure. Focus on success.

So the Church tells you differently. Yes.

Christ's message is freeing. Christ liberates the human person.

Is it not freedom we are all ultimately seeking?

So what does the Church say? Well, the Church does not tell you not to have fun. It does not deject pleasure. It does not smite success. It's outlook is otherworldly, yet human. It's grounded. It's real.

Fun and pleasure is good in moderation. Pleasure must be limited in that if we solely seek pleasure, than we will be turned inwards on our own desires and forget that we are made for love of the other and the Other. 

Love must be at the center of all that we do. Real love. Love that is responsible. Love that is patient. Love that is kind and understanding. A love that knows that what comes first is the other as opposed to me.

There is so much that I can cover in what it means to be single. But alas, there are not enough pages. I will speak of my experience instead.

For many years, I lived as the world prescribed. I was happy. Or so I thought. I realized that happiness was fleeting. It came and went as easily as did the friendships I was making and the relationships that were lost in the abyss of superficiality. My focus was to have fun. My focus was on me. My needs. My wants. My life.

Guess what? Most everybody else was living the same way. That makes for a lot of hurt. A lot of using. A lot of emptiness.

There was always an unquenchable longing for more. A more that I couldn't find in what I was living. The more I thought I had, the less I felt fulfilled. It was all an illusion.

Until I realized I had to stop "chasing of my own tail", so to speak. I began to search for more. I began to pray.

I prayed a very simple prayer:

"Your will be done Lord." That's all.

The rest, I can say, is history. But I will say this: The Lord, came to my rescue. He heard my call. He answered my prayers and what I found was not only fulfillment but the love I had been longing for. God's love revealed to me real, true, passionate love. A love that gives all for the other.

And so, that is what I searched for in others. That is what I found in my husband. I began to seek more than just pleasure and fun. I began to immerse myself in ways I could serve. I could give. I could love.

Single life does not have to be hurt and emptiness. The world tries to sell you on an old formula that does not work. Take care of no. 1. 

I can attest to the fact that when you start living for the other, you find your life. You find freedom. You find the purpose for which we were created for: to give ourselves away. That is love.

Like Christ. Who loved. Completely. Unto death.

The slogan is still out there. Take care of no. 1. People still believe it. Young people still try and obtain all that it entails. I know. I was a high school teacher. It's an illusion.  It only takes you for a spin and then back to none other than, yourself. That is not what we are created for. We are not made for ourselves. We are made for others. For God. For love.

Real love.
Love that is responsible.
Love that is patient.
Love that is kind and understanding.
A love that knows that what comes first is the other as opposed to me.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Empty hands



In today's Gospel reading we hear about two sinners. These two sinners approach God in two totally and completely different ways. One goes before Him with a sense of righteousness and the other in total humility. One pointed towards the sins of others while the other pointed out his own sinfulness. One made reference to all the good he does and the other dared not even look up to God.

Jesus addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else. “Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector. The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, ‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity greedy, dishonest, adulterous -- or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’ I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 18:9-14

In a world where increasingly they try to shame Christians into submission and try to shut us up and make us believe that our faith is but a private devotion, we must learn to give witness in humility. Let us grow stronger and more courageous not necessarily in speech and argument, but in humility and love.

Let us be witnesses to God's love that helps us to recognize our own failings like the tax collector. Not so we can wallow in self-pity but so we can aim towards being "who God meant for us to be so we can set the world on fire!"

The only way to give witness is to recognize our own littleness.

It is only in the greatness of God, that others will see the truth of God.

It is only in His mercy that hearts will begin to change.

It is only through the God of love and compassion that dwells in our hearts, that the faith will grow.

The pharisee set himself apart not in holiness as we are called, but in self-righteousness. The pharisee did not recognize his sins because he was blinded by his own pride.

The tax collector saw the goodness of God and that only God is good. Any goodness that we find in ourselves comes from Him. All praise, honor and thanksgiving should be given to Him for all the goodness in the world.

May we, as sinners, come before God with empty hands so that He may fill them with His love and compassion for a world in dire need of Him.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

An old, frail man



Today is the feast of Saint John Paul II. I could go on and on about how much I admired him. But I won't. I could list all the amazing things that he did. But I won't. I could tell you how he changed my life, significantly. So I will.

I was not in touch with the Church or even the Pope until I was invited to attend World Youth Day in Quebec in 2002. This was a pivotal point for me. I was just coming to realize what it meant to be a Catholic. I had just recently come back to my faith, in baby steps. This invitation would soon turn my life around. World Youth Day was actually started by John Paul II almost at the beginning of his pontificate. In the most simple way, it was his way of gathering youth from all over the world, and just loving them. Celebrating with them. And encouraging them.

"He saw the good in the youth, the good. He also saw that the young people were sensitive. He noticed they were searching for something. Hence, he recognized that you have to surround yourself with young people." (Cardinal Dziwisz's Interview with EWTN, speaking about St. John Paul II).

So he did surround himself with young people.

That night, the night that the youth surrounded the Pope, I saw something so moving. I saw a frail, sickly, eighty-one year old man, waving his arms in delight. The young people sang. His head that slouched from the parkinson's that had taken over his body, barely revealed the overwhelming smile that lit up his face. His eyes, peered in the distance as he used all his strength to look out onto the crowd of almost 850,000 people. The young people sang. They cried tears of joy.

What in the world was going on?

I didn't understand. And I didn't care that I didn't understand. It was beautiful. How this frail, elderly man could create such an intimate moment with hundreds of thousands of youth, who all felt so intensely loved and wanted at that very moment, was beyond me. It was a mystery. It was all really beyond anyone's understanding.

I flew home a few days later and was still in a daze. I couldn't put my finger on what had just taken place. But I knew that I was on fire. I wanted to tell everyone about what I had just experienced. I wanted to know more about my faith, about the Catholic Church. I didn't want to just know what other people said and thought about the Catholic Church. I wanted to know for myself, what it was all about. I wanted to learn from her history. Her tradition. Her teachings. From her over two-thousand years of being the light of Christ on earth.

And I wanted to know why this eighty-one year old man could capture the hearts of so many young people?

Not anything anyone said or did could deter me from this mission. I searched. I read. I prayed.

In 2004, I went on to study Theology in Rome.

Some of the best years of my life were spent there. In the heart of the Church.

There I had a few more encounters with this elderly man that everyone wowed over during Papal Audiences and other Papal events. The crowds yelled out to him like he was some sort of rockstar.
And he was! That was the most amazing thing. Pope John Paul II was a rockstar in his own way. There was something people saw in him that drove them to want to be close to him. They wanted to reach out and touch him. Take pictures of him. Have the opportunity to say something to him.

For the remaining year and a half of his life, that I was in Rome, I studied him. Why? Why were people so enamored by him? Why was I so taken by him? But I did more than just study how people reacted to him. I began to read the hundred upon hundreds of documents, letter, encyclicals, exhortations, homilies, books and speeches that he had written.

His words spoke truth to my heart. A truth that rang true in so many hearts. It was the truth of Christ. It was the truth of our lives. He was so in love with Christ that he couldn't help but reveal him to all the world. Christ came through in everything he did. In the way he looked at people. In the way he spoke to them. Forgave them. Loved them.

He forgave Mehmet Ali Ağca, the man who attempted to kill him on May 13, 1981.

He was the Vicar of Christ.

His body continued to fail him. Even his voice would go right before his last Easter.  I remember during his last Angelus on St. Peter's Square, he could only make out grunts and other unintelligible sounds. That is what resonated through the Square. Everyone was in tears. He was in tears. Only days remained before he would leave us.

I stood there the evening it seemed that all of Rome had converged onto St. Peter's Square. We gathered to pray for the now dying Pope. It was the eve of Divine Mercy Sunday. We prayed the rosary and just waited and watched. We watched the ever faithful light that always shined bright from his Papal apartment.

And then it switched off.

The light was out. The light of our dear Holy Father was out. He was gone.

It was 9:37 p.m. I'll never forget.

Many do not understand how an eighty-four year old man could have been so significant in my life, or in the lives of so many young people. You'd have to have known him. I didn't know him. But I knew him. I loved him. He was like a father. He showed me the face of Christ.

He taught us about love. You can read about that here.
He taught us about life. You can read about that here.
He taught us about mercy. You can read about that here.
He even taught us about our own feminine genius. Read that here.
And. He. Taught. Us. So. Much. More.


This is the treasure of the Church. She is not just an institution. She is not just a body of clerics commanding Catholics how to behave and live. She is two-thousand years of tradition and of faith that have carried over from the time of Christ. It is all there, for you to see for yourself.

What she has to offer is life. What she can give you is what we are all seeking. Christ.

St. Pope John Paul II was just one of many Popes who left a legacy. One of so many. So much richness. So much wisdom. So much treasure that lives on and is not changed by society, nor wars, nor trends or revolutions. It remains the same. Two thousand years later. She is the same. She is rooted in the eternal. Christ.

He was special, because he was my Pope. The Pope of my youth. The Pope that brought me back to the fold of my faith. My Church.

He taught me that when there is love that is founded on truth, founded on Christ, even a frail-elderly man can be significant. Even if the world will tell you he is useless.




Friday, October 21, 2016

Favorite Friday: Fabulous & simple recipes

Since it's favorite friday, I figured I'd share some of my favorite, go-to recipes. These are tried and true. I have made these several times and they are a hit with all my guests. The carrot cake was especially loved amongst the Italians when we lived in Italy.

These are not my recipes. I take no credit. I've occasionally changed a few things, due to lack of certain ingredients. But all in all, I would try to stick to the recipe because they are oh! so! yummy!

All credit to the chefs. You can link up to the chef blogs by simply clicking on the recipe name. Happy cooking and have a blessed weekend.

This post goes out to my dear friend Mili who inspired me to make simple cooking--fabulous! 

Blackened Chicken Breast and Cilantro Lime Quinoa with Greek Yogurt Avocado Puree 

by Baking with Blondie

Baking with Blondie
Ingredients
2 Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts
½ Teaspoon of Paprika
¼ Teaspoon of Salt
¼ Teaspoon of Pepper
¼ Teaspoon of Cayenne Pepper
¼ Teaspoon of Onion Powder
¼ Teaspoon of Cumin
1 Teaspoon of Olive Oil
2 Cups of Low Sodium Chicken Stock
1 Cup of Quinoa
Juice and Zest from Two Limes
A Dash of Salt and Pepper
2 Tablespoons of Cilantro, chopped
2 Avocados
½ Small carton of Greek yogurt
Teeny bit of milk to thicken sauce to desired consistency

Combine all the dry seasonings in a small bowl. Mix them together and then season both sides of each chicken breast.

Add the teaspoon of olive oil to a large pan or skillet. Heat the olive oil for a minute over medium/high heat. Add the chicken breasts to the pan. Cook for seven minutes on each side with the lid on.

Add the chicken stock and quinoa to a medium sauce pan. Bring to a simmer over medium/low heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for ten to fifteen minutes with the lid on, until all the stock has been absorbed.

After the chicken breasts have cooked all the way through, remove them from the pan and let them rest for seven minutes before slicing them.

Add the warm quinoa to a large bowl. Toss in the lime zest, lime juice, salt and pepper, and chopped cilantro. Mix to combine.

Serve the sliced chicken breast on top of the quinoa. If you find the blackened seasoning too spicy, you can add a quick and easy avocado cream sauce to cool it down.

 *to make avocado sauce, combine avocado, greek yogurt, teaspoon of lemon juice and a little cilantro in a mini-food processor. Add milk to obtain desired consistency.

Mediterranean Grill Cheese 

by An Edible Symphony

Ingredients
8 slices multigrain bread
4 quarter-inch slices of fresh mozzarella
3 plum tomatoes, cut into thick slices
2-3 slices of fresh avocado
1 cup fresh basil pesto or store bought
Freshly ground black pepper
Extra-virgin olive oil

Basil pesto:
1/2 cup pine nuts
2 cups fresh basil leaves
1 cup fresh Italian parsley leaves
1/2 cup Parmesan or Romano
2 garlic cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Pesto: Toast pine nuts in a skillet over medium heat until fragrant, about 5 minutes. Combine pesto ingredients in a food processor and pulse until well combined but still rough-textured.

Assemble sandwich by smearing pesto onto slices. Arrange a layers of sliced tomato, mozzarella and avocado slices and fresh ground pepper and a bit of olive oil on top. Drizzle a pan with olive oil (e.v.) and grill sandwich until golden brown and mozzarella is melted.

Carrot Cake 

by Mary Mary Quite Contrary
One of the best and easiest carrot cake recipes I have found.

Ingredients

2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp allspice
1 cup applesauce
1/2 cup vegetable oil
6 egg whites
3 cups peeled, grated carrots
Optional: 1/2 raisins
1/2 chopped walnuts

Mix dry ingredients in mixing bowl. Add remaining ingredients and beat on medium speed for 2 minutes. Spread in 2 greased 8" round pans. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes, or until toothpick stuck in the middle comes out clean. Cool, then frost with Cream Cheese Frosting (see below).

Cream Cheese Frosting:
8 oz cream cheese, softened
1/2 stick butter or margarine, softened
powdered sugar (2 and a half to 3 and a half cups, depending on how stiff you want your frosting to be) Note: I only added about 3/4 cup of powdered sugar and found that it was sweet enough. Test your desire for sweetness out. I like the taste of cream cheese to come out more and the sweetness of the cake balances it out, so I don't think you need such sweet frosting. Enough suger to make it spreadable.
2 tsp vanilla.

Blend cream cheese and butter well. Add vanilla. Gradually add powdered sugar until desired thickness. Beat until smooth.

Buon appetito!