Friday, March 24, 2017

Waffles for Our Lady!

The Annunciation by Fra Angelico source

Tomorrow is the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord. The day when the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would conceive a son, named Jesus. It is exactly nine months before the birth of Jesus. So do we know the exact dates when these events took place in history? No, although they did take place in human history.  We have record of the birth of Jesus outside of Scripture from non-Christian witnesses. Feast days, as we call them, are days set by the Church in order to commemorate important events in our Salvation history; or to commemorate certain saints.

On the Solemnity of the Annunciation, we celebrate the fact that Mary's yes brought about our salvation. Becuase of Mary, who was Immaculately conceived, God was able to be born and "dwell amongst men." God came amongst us! Can you wrap your head around that one? No other religious leaders in human history claimed to be God. In no other religion does God intervene in human history. He said, alright, you don't get this, you don't seem to understand my love, so I'll come and show you myself. That's it!

Here's a basic breakdown of the different types of feasts we celebrate in the Church from Catholic Straight Answers.

Solemnities are the most important celebrations. They begin at vespers (evening prayer) of the day before. During the Mass celebration, we say the Gloria and the Creed.  Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation (U.S. Holy Days of Obligation are: Mary Mother of God, Ascension, Assumption, All Saints, Immaculate Conception, and Christmas) are solemnities.  Other solemnities are St. Joseph (March 19), Sacred Heart of Jesus (Friday after the Feast of Corpus Christi), and St. Peter and St. Paul (June 29).

Feasts are of second importance. They do not have a first vespers or Vigil Mass.  An exception would be the feasts of the Lord which occur on Sundays in Ordinary Time and Sundays during the Christmas season.  For example, the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord (February 2) has its own first vespers.  On these days, the Gloria is recited but not the Creed.

Finally, there are the memorials, which are classified as either obligatory or optional.  Memorials commemorate a saint or saints.  Obligatory memorials must be observed (meaning celebrated in the liturgy) whereas optional memorials do not have to be observed.  For example, St. John Bosco (January 31) is obligatory while the memorial of St. Blase (February 3) is optional.  Only the memorials of those saints who are of “universal significance” are observed by the whole Church and marked in the general liturgical calendar.

Other feast days would be local saints to a country, town, diocese or religious order. 

One note: often we will hear the word feast used to refer to any liturgical commemoration, such as the Feast of the Annunciation, rather than Solemnity of the Annunciation. It is still referring to the solemnity.

So how exactly do we celebrate this day? So up until now, we haven't really celebrated this day in particular other than going to Mass. But now, that our children are a bit older we would like to add on some new traditions to commemorate certain liturgical feasts. The richness of the Catholic faith is that everything has meaning. Some traditions are not necessarily universal and some we just kind of make-up on our own. The point is that we commemorate this celebration with something not only festive but memorable so that the children will note that it is a special day. That gives us parents the opportunity to explain why it is a special day. A teaching moment. Always great!

So on this day, we will make waffles! Yep! Waffles. Why you ask? It's kind of a silly and fun tradition. Why not! Well over at Catholic Cuisine she points out that in Sweden, it is known as Vaffeldagen or Waffle day which is similar to Varfrudagen, which means Feast of the Annunciation, or, "Our Lady's Day." So why not have waffles in honor of Our Lady's yes!

So have fun cooking up those waffles!  Only I used a Belgian Waffle recipe :)

Here's the recipe from

2 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
1⁄4 cup sugar
2 eggs, separated
1⁄2 cup oil
2 cups milk

Sift the dry ingredients together in a large bowl.
Separate the eggs.
In small bowl, beat egg whites until stiff.
Mix together the egg yolks, milk and oil and stir slightly.
Add to dry ingredients and mix well.
Fold in beaten egg whites.
Cook in waffle iron.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Lent Challenge: Be with your children and NOT technology!

"There are countless reasons you'll catch me on my smartphone
or worse, my laptop, during the day..."

There are still almost four weeks to go until Holy Week. It seems like an eternity, but this year I am taking it as a challenge, to become a better person. Lent, as we have seen, is a time of sacrifice and of prayer. Above all things, it is a time to focus on the Sacrifice of all sacrifices.

So, what is your greatest sacrifice? What is it that challenges you?

I want to challenge all moms and dads out there.

Here is the deal:

I have come across countless articles about how technology is ruining our children. There are a plethora of stats warning us how screen time can alter our children's brains. "Diagnoses of ADHD, autism, coordination disorder, developmental delays, unintelligible speech, learning difficulties, sensory processing disorder, anxiety, depression, and sleep disorders are associated with technology overuse, and are increasing at an alarming rate." (source) Yet, where are the stats of how our phone and screen time use impacts our children?

Does our use of technology affect our children? YES! YES! YES!

Meg Meeker, a wonderful best-selling author, and pediatrician points out that "...parents often showed annoyance at children when the parents were interrupted from their phones. And the little interaction that parents or caregivers had with their children were more negative or harsh. (source)

I am guilty of this. So, very, darn guilty! There are countless reasons you'll catch me on my smartphone or worse, my laptop, during the day. There are phone calls, texts, WhatsApp messages from distant family and friends, Pinterest, Facebook, work I have to get done, etc. Must I go on?

The truth is none of that is as important as my children. I will admit that without hesitation. Then why is it always pressing to answer that text? Why do I have look at facebook one last time before I finally set the phone down? Why didn't get my work done before my children got home from school? Yes, my friends, it is an addiction and it's not pretty.

"Do you find that putting the phone away equates to cutting off a limb, leaving you figuratively handicap and literally restless for the rest of the day?"

Here we are trying to protect our children from the horrors of screen. Yet, what kind of example are we setting if they see us using technology constantly?  The buck stops here! I am taking up my own challenge this Lent. How about you?

Do you see yourself caught up in technology? Do you not give your children the attention they desire and deserve? Do you find that putting the phone away equates to cutting off a limb, leaving you figuratively handicap and literally restless for the rest of the day? If this sounds familiar then I invite you to take up this challenge.

Put. Down. Your. Phone.

Put. Away. Your. Laptop.

Put. Away. Your. Tablet.

Just do it. Put it all away in time for when your kids come home from school. Let them have your attention. It doesn't mean you have to sit there and be at their beck and call. It means really listening to them and being there for them. It means not getting agitated when they interrupt our hundreth text of the day. It means playing with them for a bit. Going for a walk or a bike ride. Preparing dinner with them or simply sitting down and reading a book together.

Try to make all your important phone calls/texts while they are at school. Try to limit them while they are home. Make texting and posting on Facebook a big no-no while they are around.  You can even put your phone on "do not disturb" if you are brave enough. I place my phone in another room where I can still hear it if I need to take a call. I also tell my husband if he needs me (aka emergency) to call twice.

You will soon notice your children's behavior change, for the better. You will see a change in yourself and in your family all together. You will be more patient and at peace. Kids are worth it. Don't you think?  Let's be there for our kids. Let's show them that there is more to life than technology. Let's place family first and enjoy the simpler things in life. How do you want your children to remember you? Hunched texting on your smartphone? Or spending afternoons together enjoying each others company?

Technology can wait. Put your children first!

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Lent, a journey towards greater things

The LORD said to Abram: "Go forth from the land of your kinsfolk and from your father's house to a land that I will show you. "I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you. All the communities of the earth shall find blessing in you." Abram went as the LORD directed him.

So many instances in Scripture we see that those who obey the will of the Lord are promised great things. These great things may not be of considerable value to this world, but they are great indeed. I envision this promise of God to Abram and imagine his enthusiasm and fear. I can almost feel his joy and his sorrow, his sense of obligation and his free will. It's as if this all exudes from his heart at the same time.

Doing the will of God is never an easy task. Following God's commands takes courage and strength, not found in ordinary human hearts. This type of strength only comes from God's grace. Exactly what we need is what we must ask for. Exactly what will pull us through is what we lack. Our work for God is only done by God through us. Ironic, isn't it?

That's a little bit of our journey through Lent. A lot of the sacrifices we may be making may not be easy to come by, but we get by on His grace. Our sacrifice only has meaning through His Sacrifice. So my fasting is empty and a mere diet if it is not joined with prayer. I must replace my being off of Facebook with an act of service, if not I risk this extra time being void of meaning. Sacrifice is empty without His Sacrifice. 

Lent is a time where we can join what we "give up" or "take on" with what Jesus gave up on this earth and what He took on: the Cross. These forty days lead up to a culmination where all our sacrifices are nailed on the Cross. We become privileged participants in something that has been done for us. We are no longer spectators. "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh, I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church." Col. 1:24

How amazing is God that He allows us to join our most puny little sacrifices to the greatest offering of all time? God never stops giving! He always gives us a chance to be a part of His greatness. To be holy as he is holy! He promises us, like He did Abram, greater things. Great things come with some form of renunciation. Every yes, comes with many no's.  

Abram left his homeland. In his yes, he renounced so much. We too are asked to leave our homeland of sorts: leave our comfort zones; forgo the pleasures we are so used to. We are even able to give up the things that we need and desire, such as food. All this, so that we may obtain a greater good. A supreme good. In our yes, we proclaim that God alone suffices and we prepare ourselves for what will be in the next life.  

Lent is a journey of learning, where, each year, if we will, we can delve deeper into this mystery of sacrifice. 

What have you taken on? What have you given up? Are you joining it to prayer? Are you joining it to the one Sacrifice that gives it meaning?

Be reminded that "...all things work for good for those who love God." Romans 8:28

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The Lenten Journey

"The Sacrifice of Our Lord Jesus Christ is the reason we are even able to make sacrifices in the first place."

Okay, the first week of Lent here and there is no better time to extract truth, goodness, and beauty than now.  I will be making it a point to blog during Lent. No better time then when you are trying to stick to good habits and discipline.

Lent is a time of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. This is the time, as good as any really, to really dig into the faith and realize that we can give it all to God. Our day is filled with opportunities for Lenten sacrifices. Sure, the typical, not eating between meals, giving up sweets, staying off of Facebook, are good ways to gather up your strength through self-control and discipline, but how about what you take on? Lent is not always about giving up. Sometimes taking on things, can be just as difficult or even more difficult.

This Lent I want to take you on a journey of how we can take on and yes, give up the things that are a bit outside of the box. How about taking on a bit more compassion while driving? How about really making efforts to be on time to your appointments? How about not really caring what other people think?

Let's share this time of Lent and let us dig into to all the beauty the Church offers us in preparing ourselves for the Sacrifice that makes sense of all of our sacrifices. The Sacrifice of Our Lord Jesus Christ is the reason we are even able to make sacrifices in the first place. Our difficulties, even the most minute, even those we purposely take on, have a redeemable quality only because He redeemed us by His life. That one whopper of a ticket that Jesus redeemed by giving His life up on the Cross, basically cashed in all tickets of suffering for all of eternity, as long as they are united to Him.

Make this Lent count and make each day count by remaining connected and aware that each day we gather up our strength in self-discipline and self-control, we are preparing ourselves for the things this world does not prepare us for, preparing our hearts for eternity.

Have a blessed Lenten journey!

Featured on Aleteia-For Her

Becoming a new mom was probably one of the most magnificent experiences of my life. It was a time filled with wonder and worries, anxiety and excitement. Yet, in the midst of all these mixed emotions, I could only envision moments of tenderness and pure love with my soon to be newborn. Sure, motherhood would be difficult and there would be great challenges, but I was certain love would conquer all. I soon learned that simple moments of prayer would be the best source of grace and much-needed strength that would get me through the toughest moments that lay ahead.

The day finally arrived. Our first son was born. Then, less than two years later, we were blessed with another baby boy. We had our share of sleepless nights and “napping while baby napped” simply didn’t suffice. Even so, my heart was brimming with love. I reached out to friends who were veteran moms and they helped me through the rough spots. But indeed, it was prayer that always gave me a sense of peace and reassurance. During quiet nap times or while our youngest son nursed, I spoke to God. Those were my moments of great grace, and they saw me through.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Why Aleppo and Cairo should change Christmas!

As Christmas approaches I can't help but think of the people of Aleppo. Or the many women and children recently killed (martyred) in Cairo. How can we not? How can we not think of them when they are being killed for believing in Christmas. For believing in Christ.

I recently gave a presentation at a parish on the meaning of the Incarnation and how this spills over into our every day life. The very word incarnation--to become flesh-- takes on so many meanings when we relate it to how we incarnate our faith. And never, ever has it been more dire to realize the meaning of the incarnation or how to incarnate the faith than now. If we let this Christmas pass as just another celebration, another festive occasion where we exchange a myriad of gifts, than those deaths, on the other side of the world, have merely been in vain to us.

This is not possible! It would be scandalous!

Let me start by just saying that our God, the triune God that we proclaim as Father and Son and Holy Spirit, is a very practical God. Our faith, the Catholic faith, is very practical. This time, right now that we are living, the season of Advent, is proposed by the Church so that we may prepare, for that very day when Christ returns, as an infant, on Christmas.

And what God is this, that comes to us as an innocent child? What God would "become flesh" and come as we all do, through the womb of a woman (a virgin mother) and be born in a stable? You see, our thought of that cozy little wooden stable is not at all what it was like. In Bethlehem, the rocky, hilly fields were dotted with natural caves where many used to find shelter for themselves and for their animals.

It is there, in a dingy, dark, stench ridden cave, where beasts once hid from the elements, that our Lord and Savior was born. Then He was laid in a manger which is none other than a feeding trough where beasts would feed. And what did they fill this trough with? Prickly, stinky, probably dirty hay. A baby. Born into this? Much less, the son of God?

There you have it, the King of kings came to this poor dwelling to be visited by the marginalized shepherds and later to be found and adored by Kings of the East and not royalty of His own region. In fact, in Scripture we read that Jesus was found to be a threat to King Herod. (Mt 2:16) Basically, this small infant was a threat to the most powerful empire known to man. Ask yourselves how that can be and it will give you a bit of insight as to how over two-thousand years later there is no Roman Empire, yet Jesus is still worshipped. If Jesus was merely "a good religious man", how can this be?

So let's just say that this year, of all years, you will make a concerted effort to teach your children what Christmas is really all about.  You will teach them the true meaning of--Christ-mas. Then will come the presents and the food and the family and all the other trappings. Beautiful none-the-less but trappings at best. Good enough?

God became man. God, His very creative Word, that was there from all eternity--"Let us make man in our image." Gen. 1:26."-- (the choice of pronoun referring to more than one person). God Himself chose to take on our humanity so that we would receive His divinity. No other religious figure has claimed this. None! "If you know me, then you will also know my Father. From now on you do know him and have seen him." John 14:7. He never hid the fact that He and God were one.

God. Became. Man.

"And the Word became flesh, and made His dwelling among us." John 1:14.

Meditate on the fact that God, who is all perfect; all knowing; all present, would take on our own miserable state. That is something to ponder on. That He could have come into this world in any way He chose because. He is God!  But instead, He came to know what it was like to be man. To suffer like us. To love like us. To cry like us and laugh like us. To work like us and to live like us. "For we do not have a high priest [God] who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin. Hebrews 4:15

This is our God.

This is the God that so many in the past decade have died for. So many in the past century and these past sixteen years have died for. More martyrs than ever before!

This is the God that in the recent weeks many have been tortured, beaten, enslaved, murdered, raped, bombed and humiliated for. This, the very God, that comes to us as a child on Christmas. The God for which blood has been shed and witnesses have been proclaimed. This is the reason we celebrate Christmas--"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life." John 3:16.

The very Scripture passage, John 3:16, that you will find on the bottom of a Forever Twenty-One shopping bag, proclaims the God that gives His life for us so that all those who have died recently in Aleppo and in Cairo and all the other places that go unrecognized, live on in eternity. Eternity.

So how could we go beyond our trappings and make this Christmas count? How can we, who have the freedom to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, not only teach our children what the true meaning of Christmas is, but also show them how to live it? How can we incarnate the meaning of Christmas--of what it means to be a Christian--in our life?

Go to worship the God that is being proclaimed on the tongue of those who draw their last breath before their enemies. Our enemies.

Pray for these enemies. Pray for the sufferings of those who's God given freedom of worshiping Him has been stripped away, because like Herod, they are threatened by Christ. Who would not be threatened by a God with so much love that He came to be with us? Who would not be threatened by a God that is so powerful, people give up their lives for Him? Freely!

Seek a relationship with Him. Speak to Him. Get to know Him in Scripture. Come to know this God that people give their lives up for. The God that has given His life for you!

As I sit here in my warm, cozy house, all decorated for this Christmas, I ask myself, would I recognize Christ if I was threatened with death? Would I display the same courage these people have shown to the world, a world that barely listens to these modern day martyrs? Would I allow the name of Christ to be the last word that my own mouth proclaims?

I only hope and pray that I too, may have the same courage. I pray to have the same incarnated faith so that I too would give up my life for Him.

Celebrate the true meaning of Christmas this year. Celebrate it because so many others cannot. Celebrate Christ, because without Him, there would be no Christmas.

God bless you and may the infant Jesus be born in your hearts and remind you that the precious gift of freedom we have is not guaranteed in this world, but is certain in the next.

A happy and blessed Christmas to all.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Rejoice! Gaudete Sunday!

Today is Gaudete Sunday! Rejoice! Rejoice for the coming of the Lord is near! The time of Christmas fast approaches. It seems that every year it sneaks up on me. Is it perhaps the busy-ness of the time? As you see I have been slacking on my posts, once again. Is it perhaps the fact that we are so caught up in all the season has to bring that all of a sudden we wake up and it's Christmas morning?

I am diligently making it a point to not allow that to happen to me this year. The Church offers us a time of Advent to savor and cherish the time leading up to Christmas. In all the preparations of gifts, and travel and parties and gatherings, we forget that what we are preparing for is not only the coming of the child Christ who was born more than 2,000 years ago in a stable. It is not only the babe who lies in an unromantic and probably stench ridden animal trough, it is also about when He in fact will come again. 

We may be ready with our gifts for each of those family members we have checked off of our list. We may be prepared to seal and stamp those beautiful glossy Christmas cards we finally got from tiny prints. We may also even be ready with our full on menu and table settings for that family gathering that boasts to be the bash of the year. However, are we ready for the coming of Christ in our heart and at the end of times, which is what we, as Christians, await in "joyful hope".

Are we prepared? Are we living the lives we want Christ to find us living? Are we loving the way we want Christ to find us loving? Are we waiting in expectant hope or are we simply living in a passive means that which leads us to be unaware "of the day or hour" (Mt 24:36) in which He will return? A day that awaits us all. No exceptions.

I cherish this time of Advent because all of the Scriptures and all of the Liturgy points towards the celebration of Christmas as well as the celebration of the hope of our lives, His triumphant return. Take time to go to Mass during these last couple of weeks of Advent. Rejoice in that our Savior is coming, as a child and as a Savior who has redeemed us all and who wants us to be ready for His final coming.

Gaudete! "Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near." Philippians 4:4-5

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