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
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

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.


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! 

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Motherhood. They love me anyways.

I've only been a mother for just under four years. I could tell you a few things. I'm still working on the necessary skills. For now I can say that daily I see my failings. Daily, I see what I've finally gotten right. But the toughest critics by far, in this job of motherhood, are your own children. They'll tell you what you've gotten right and what's gone wrong. Daily. Minute by minute. When you don't even care to know. But they're also your biggest fans. 

This relationship--mother-child, it's a mystery. 

If marriage takes giving and forgiving, motherhood takes that plus so much more. It takes nurturing, cleaning, healing, mending, scrubbing, consoling, encouraging, understanding, reprimanding, coxing, supervising, providing, praying, praying, praying and praying. Wait, then there's creating, entertaining, transporting, feeding...Ok. I won't get into all those details. You must know how it is. All of us come from a mother. 

It's been a long day of mothering here.

Motherhood is the biggest test of the soul. More so than marriage. You've created this little tiny person and you've got to keep them going in this tough and scary world. 

Before I even get out of bed, I am already praying for God' strength to do all that I need to do. To love my children in the way that they need to be loved. 

I fail. 

I fail miserably. 

On a daily basis. But they love me anyways. 

I press on and make the best of each moment I have. Making reparation for the hurts I have caused or the words that weren't meant to be said. 

And they love me anyways. 

There will never be a more humbling calling than the call of motherhood. Never a more rewarding, mundane, yet extraordinary feat, than that of the task of being a mother.

They love me because I love. They simply love. 

They love me anyways.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Marriage, it's about forgiving

So are you still with me on this journey of discovering who God meant for us to be so we can set the world on fire? We've been covering a lot of elements of the road to becoming that person. Yesterday we spoke about how marriage is about giving, giving of oneself. Marriage is the most common vocation. It is my vocation, so it is the one I know best. Yet, in essence, giving of oneself is essential to all vocations. All callings, are about giving one's life for others. In fact, it's what life's all about. It's the only way to discover true joy.

Today I want to talk about the another essential component. It is actually more than just essential it is the lifeline of marriage, and really to all relationships. It effectively flows from the nature of selflessness. It is forgiveness.

The Latin word for forgive is perdonare. "Per" in Latin means "thoroughly" or "completely". "Donare" means to "give" or to "bestow." Furthermore, in old English we find the word forgiefan which means to give, grant or allow...etc. but it also means to give up or give in marriage.

Interestingly enough, to give in marriage, as we spoke of yesterday-- to give oneself, requires forgiveness. Let's just be straight here. You cannot give yourself completely if you are not willing to forgive. It's just not happening. Next question? How much are you willing to forgive? That is up to the forgiver. However, it also needs to be compared to how much are you wanting to be forgiven.

Let's examine this a bit more. Forgiveness, as we saw earlier, in its root is a gift. Forgiveness requires that we treat the offense as if it never existed. It's erased. And no. There is no forgiving yet not forgetting. That old adage is quite false. If you forgive, you must forget. Holding on to an offense or a hurt means you have not fully forgiving. Not forgetting--means not forgiving. Perhaps one is not ready to forgive. That can happen. It happens often in marriage. The forgivee must respect the forgivers need for time to heal and to reach that place of being able to forgive.

Yet, we ask ourselves again. How much am I willing to forgive? Let us look at where forgiveness truly stems from. Not etymology, but the source of the existence of forgiveness. It is God.

God is the creator of love.

Therefore, He is the creator of forgiveness.

You cannot have love without forgiveness.

Love cannot grow without forgiveness.

God was first to forgive us.

He forgives everything.


Pope Francis said it best: “God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy.”

So how much should we forgive? In marriage? Daily. In marriage? At every chance. In marriage? Because we love. In marriage? Because we give ourselves. In marriage? Because without it, we will not survive and love will atrophy. Marriage will wilt and die without forgiveness.

Yet, we are human and there are some human offenses that in the end we may be able to forgive, but we must detach ourselves in order that we may not be hurt again. Hurt in severe ways. In ways in which a marriage can no longer be sustained. But I am not addressing that type of forgiveness today.

I speak of marriage where self-giving is mutual. Hence, forgiveness is the fertilizer. Forgiveness allows for the weeds to be pulled and the garden of love to flourish and flower.

Dear Lord, 
Make me an instrument of peace within my marriage,  
that I may love in the most selfless way. 
Allow me to love as you love. 
To forgive as you forgive. 
Let me never tire to ask for forgiveness nor forgive. 
Let me nourish our love with a love that springs from You, 
who are the source of all love. 
In this way, may we enjoy all the days you grant us together, 
in joy, peace and tenderness for one another. 

Monday, October 17, 2016

Marriage, it's about giving

Marriage is messy. Marriage is beautiful. Marriage is hard and marriage is worth it. I write all of this being keenly aware that in the thick of it all, marriage is a call to deny yourself and put your spouse first.

On the day of our wedding, David and I picked a reading for the liturgy that was not very typical. We chose the reading of when Jesus washes His disciples feet. This reading is typically read on Holy Thursday, when Jesus is said to have washed His disciples feet before the Last Supper.

The washing of the feet has so much meaning. The Master, Jesus, washes His followers feet. If He does this, He who is God, are we not to do the same? But even more so, there is a greater meaning in a few of the words that appear in this passage. During the moment where Jesus washes their feet, he not only places the idea of serving at the heart of Christian life, but he also "lays down and takes up his garment." The only other passage where we see these two actions, "lay down" and "take up" appears in the Gospel of John when Christ says he "lays down his life" and then "takes it up."

The great significance in these words are so connected to marriage. In marriage, we should "lay down our own lives to then take it back up. In the selfless act of laying our lives down for our spouses, laying down our needs and wants and placing theirs first, in these very selfless acts, we find new life. We discover a resurrection. A joy. It is in this selfless love, given to the other, that we not only imitate the love of God but we also find the true meaning of love. Love is giving ourselves completely to the other. Love is not hinged on receiving but actually in giving. Giving ourself. Once we learn to give, it is only then that we are actually ready to receive.

As we do this mutually, we find true life, true joy and true meaning in marriage. Imagine, someone always looking out for you, your needs and your desires? And then you reciprocally do the same for them. Well, firstly, you would be set. This love takes care of you. Tends to you. Loves you. Nurtures you. Heals you. And then, you would naturally do the same for them. This type of love only yearns to be given back in the same way. A true gift-of-self. It's that type of love, that gives before receiving, that is the true building block of marriage.

Love is not a feeling.

Love is a decision.

Love is sparked by emotion but then, in the day-to-day, it is decision.

A daily decision to give of oneself.

Even when we are only wanting to receive, we must come back to this decision to give of ourselves, time and time again.

Love is messy. Our love is not perfect. It does not always work out as nicely as we would hope for it to be. Sometimes one takes more than the other. On occasion one only wishes to receive. However, if you always come back to this place, to this knowledge of true love, of the giving of oneself mutually, you realign with the perfect source of love, who is God. It is there that you re-discover the joy and peace that is ultimately the fruit of a marriage; marriage between one man and one woman, that is centered on laying downs one life, to only find it again.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Persistent prayer

Today's Gospel reading talks about persistence. Persistence can be helpful especially when it comes to prayer. I don't know about you, but many times, my prayer is swayed by answers given or not received. I know that sounds selfish, but I am very much human and I am being honest. It helps me to remember this passage. It helps me to recall that persistence is key in prayer. 

Jesus told his disciples a parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary. He said, “There was a judge in a certain town who neither feared God nor respected any human being.  And a widow in that town used to come to him and say, ‘Render a just decision for me against my adversary.’ For a long time the judge was unwilling, but eventually he thought, ‘While it is true that I neither fear God nor respect any human being, because this widow keeps bothering me I shall deliver a just decision for her lest she finally come and strike me.’” The Lord said, “Pay attention to what the dishonest judge says.  Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night?  Will he be slow to answer them? I tell you, he will see to it that justice is done for them speedily. But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth? Lk 18:1-8

What Jesus points out here is that even a judge who does not respect man nor God is willing to give in to the widow's requests. So logically we can conclude, that God, whom loves us and created us, would simply answer our prayers because He is God. Now,we know that God answers prayers according to what is best for us. Nonetheless, He answers our prayers. 

Persistence can also remind us to persist for the sake of prayer, for the sake of always being united to God in this way. If we are persistent, we are slowly molded in our perseverance.  Our dedication and patience shapes our will to be aligned with His will. Once we are praying according to God's will our perseverance becomes a way of life because we seek God simply for God and not for answer to our prayers. Ultimately, the value of persistent prayer is not that He will hear us but that we finally hear Him. This is the true fruit of persistent prayer, union with God and the ability to hear His words.

So be persistent. Pray without ceasing. 1 Thess. 5:17

Saturday, October 15, 2016

An early feminist


So today I have a woman to introduce to you. Perhaps you know her. Perhaps you don't. My little take on her here will do no justice as you can read a plethora of books/biographies based on her life. Even still you would only scratch the surface of this woman's impact on the Church [Catholic], on Christianity and for women in general. She was a woman ahead of her time. I am writing about St. Teresa of Avila also known as Saint Teresa of Jesus. Today is her feast day.

St. Teresa, was baptized as Teresa Sánchez de Cepeda y Ahumada. She lived between 1515 and 1582 in Avila, Spain. Avila is a town just North-West of Madrid in the region of Castilla-Leon. She was born into a pious Catholic family. Her upbringing made her into a prayerful young woman from a very early age. But it wasn't until later that we see Teresa's true colors surface; the characteristics that will shape her and her future as a reformer of the Carmelite order.

As many teenagers, Teresa also lost some of her earlier more devout ways. She began to yearn for more worldly things and this was reflected in her enjoyment of social gatherings and parties. She was naturally charming and became a kind of social butterfly within her social circles. She loved fashion and reading lots of fiction, just like any other teenage girl. This would set off concern in her father. Soon after her mother died her strict father decided to send her to an Augustinian convent school. Off she went at the age of 16. Although this experience reignited her zeal for the Lord, she soon fell ill and returned home.

Not long after Teresa entered a Carmelite convent and decided to become a Carmelite nun.

At that time the convent was not very strict. Her father had been so strict in her life that the convent seemed much more relaxed. There was so much laxity because the order was actually a veering away from the it's origin of poverty and obedience. They were accepting any candidate and mostly for financial reasons. Whosoever could pay, would enter. The order was even identified among the wealthy and the elite. Teresa fell gravely ill a second time, which would lead to her coming back to the ways of faith and prayer.

She began to experience visions and ecstasies that no one believed. This took her through an on-again, off-again relationship with the Lord in prayer. After some time she finally established a deep prayer life and from this she received the graces and courage to accomplish her life's work of reforming the almost unrecognizable Carmelite order. Her personality and character is what attracted so many to join her cause. She opened many new convents and traveled and wrote extensively. Today she is known as Doctor of the Church (a title given to theologians who have contributed extensively to the teachings of the Church).

Teresa was outspoken. Teresa did not fear men nor women. She faced many obstacles in her mission and many of them came in the form of people who tried to stop her at all cost.  She did not fear clergy, nor the papal-nuncio for that matter. Her only fear was of God and what he would think of her if she did not accomplish His will. For her time Teresa was a true feminist. She was able to constructively criticize the weaknesses of the women in the convent from a standpoint of truth and sincere hope for betterment of the order. She saw the faults of women and set out to teach them that their strength lied in God and not in their possessions or class status. She was a woman ahead of her time, with great courage and disdain for what was not of God.


A true feminist knows that men and women are equal but different. Teresa treated everyone equally, as children of God. She was on a mission from God. In her time, women had far less rights than we do now, yet she saw the truth in that God had created women with a mission as well. The amazing saints that would come from the Carmelite order (discalced) would be one of the fruits of Teresa's labor: St. Thérèse of Lisieux, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, St. Teresa of Jesus of Los Andes, Bl. Elizabeth of the Trinity, Bl. Mary of Jesus Crucified.

She is an example of true feminism. True feminism sets out to lift up the real cause of women: to protect their innate dignity without trampling on the freedom or dignity of men. True feminism compliments masculinity. True feminism protects the life of children, the dignity of families and that of faith at all costs. True feminism defends the cause of life because it is from the feminine being that life springs. True feminism recognizes the beauty and dignity of men and helps to transform them into the leaders they were created to be. This is reflected in her holy friendship with St. John of the Cross.

If you want to learn about true feminism, look to the women saints. They were heroes, ahead of their time with courage beyond human understanding. These are the examples of true femininity. There is no greater place to start, then with St. Teresa of Avila.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Favorite Friday: My favorite places in Italy!

Ah. Italia! Italy conjures up great memories. Some of you may or may not know that I spent a little over six years of my life, on and off living in Italy. I can say that they were some of the best years of my life. Our first son was born there! There is not a day that goes by that I do not pine for Italy. I would go back in a heartbeat. There is something about Italy that just lures you in, takes hold and never lets go. Once you've got the bug, it's hard to get over it. There is no cure.

I got the best of both worlds while I was there. My longest stretch was when I lived in Rome which is, to many Italians, the South. I would say it straddles both North and South. But after having lived in the North for a short time, I can see the clear difference between the life that is lived in the South and North. So here are some of my most favorite places to visit. If you are ever heading to Italy, let me know so that I may recommend lots and lots more. The list is inexhaustible.

1. Rome. There is no place like Rome. It is the "eternal city" for many reasons, but probably the best part of Rome is the presence of the Church. It is unlike any other place. To visit the places of the Church is to visit history and eternity. You can live your whole life in Rome and never see all there is to see. Besides the Church there is so much rich history of art and architecture. The city is a museum. A living one.


2. Siena. Siena is probably one of my favorite ancient cities next to Rome. What I love the most about it is that it's small and quaint yet it's history is large and it's traditions are extravagant. One of my favorite saints is from Siena. St. Catherine, named doctor of the Church. Here you will be blown away by its' unique central Piazza, Piazza del Campo. The rich tradition of il Palio a bare-back horse race that takes place each summer on the Piazza del Campo is something to experience. It goes back centuries where local families compete for the banner of the Virgin Mary.


3. Turin. This was my home for a couple of years. I really was able to discover this gem in Italy's Piedmont region. Turin is usually known for the auto industry, namely Fiat. Turin is the Detroit of Italy, so it is said. But in reality, Turin has so much to discover. It is a Baroque city of beautiful, elegant architecture. It is also the city of many holy things: Shroud of Turin, Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, St. John Bosco, St. Domenico Savio, St. Joseph Cottolengo, St. Giuseppe Cafasso, and the list goes on really. A great city to visit if you love cars but an even better place to visit for it's rich history in Italian patronage as it was the original capital of Italy.

4. Amalfi Coast (Positano). When I originally visited Amalfi back in 1999 it was not a well known destination among international tourists. Hence, it was a pleasant destination to rest and just relax. It's beauty is beyond captivating. It truly looks like that quintessential Italian city on the southern coast. Unfortunately, now it is very popular and it is no longer the quiet beauty it was before. But I must say that it is so absolutely breathtaking that it deserves a visit regardless of the crowds and the annoying street vendors.

Photo: Getty Images
5. Orvieto. This small hill town is just over an hour from Rome. It is a great day trip and it deserves a look for many reasons. First of all it is a quaint little hill town with lots of wonderful things to see. But probably one of the most spectacular reasons to visit this town is it's Cathedral. This 14th century gem displays its beauty both on the inside and out. It's Romanesque-Gothic style is truly amazing and is unlike any other in the region. But it's most amazing feature is within. The Cathedral was built by Pope Urban IV to house the Eucharistic miracle that had occurred in 1263 in the nearby town of Bolsena. Whether you believe or not, it is an amazing story of faith. You can read about it here.

6. Venice. I have a love-hate relationship with Venice. I lived there for a little over two months in 1999. I lived on the Island of Giudecca which can be seen right from St. Mark's square on the main island. It was a great time spent discovering the real life of the Venetians. But it was also the discovery of a real burden: the tourists. We did the best we could to not live like tourists although that was quite difficult since we wanted to discover every inch of the islands. However, we could see how the constant waves of tourists, practically all year round,  could take the much loved beauty of the islands and turn it into a curse. Venice merits a visit at least once in your lifetime but I suggest you go when tourism is at it's low point which is mainly during the winter or acqua-alta. Every inch of this beauty is a cause for wonder. I have never seen any city like it!

visit Trento

7. Trento. Otherwise known as Trent. I love this city. It is a city that is just bustling with life and history. This is the city of the Council of Trent (1545), one of the Catholic Church's most important councils, propelled by the Protestant Reformation. The history is in it's walls, walkways, people and surrounding homes. When I've stayed in Trent, I have always stayed in a little town outside of the main city called Povo. There is the greatest treasure of my visits. The treasure is a wise friend; a now 101 (or so) woman whom I have nurtured a friendship with throughout the years. Although I have spent little time with her, she has taught me things about life I never would have learned on my own. She is a treasure box of wisdom and wit. Trent is one of the wealthiest cities in Italy. It can be seen in the shops and cafes and it is a sight to see. All in all, it is a city I love returning to for more reasons than one.


8. Verona. Verona is famous for being the setting of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.  Even if it weren't, it is still a lovely city. It is small but packed with so much to see. From the balcony where Juliet heard the words of Romeo's love, to the 1st century Roman amphitheatre where you can still enjoy a wonderful opera and witness the amazing acoustical engineering of Roman genius'. There is so much to do here. In the evening you can stroll through the wonderfully cramped streets of the ancient city center and just take in the sights and sounds of a lively northern Italian city. There are so many great day trips you can make from here as well. The surrounding countryside is worth exploring.


9. Napoli. This is a city that truly reveals the heart of the south of Italy. It is a city where you can take in the everyday life of the south. From the street vendors, to the tight side alley ways full of shops that spill their goods onto the street, this city reveals the Italy of many years ago. The food is out of this world. You can probably find some of the best restaurants in the more local areas. I would always recommend eating where there are no tourists. But in a city like Napoli it is best to visit and eat with a local. Not only are some parts not the best areas to walk into as a foreigner but you will just get the best of everything when you discover Napoli through a local. Eat the pizza! It is probably some of the best in all of Italy.

10. Assisi. This is a city, like Rome and Turin, where I have left a piece of my heart. I spent quite a few years running retreats here, every October, during the feast of St. Francis. The city in and of itself is so unique. It is the birthplace of St. Francis and St. Claire of Assisi and so many other great saints. You can feel a bit of eternity uniting with earth here. It's a place of prayer. A place of peace. It is also a place of great beauty. Like many cities on a hill, Assisi is fortressed and nestled in it's surroundings. It is set in the hill country of Umbria. It is a gem and all who travel to Italy must visit this beautiful place. Yes. It is very touristy, but unlike Venice, for some reason, you do not notice the tourists as much. Perhaps it's because it feels like a bit of heaven?

There are so many other cities left to mention. There is, of course, Florence, Bologna, Padova, Milan, Como. The list goes on. Each region has it's unique beauty. Italy is certainly a place to visit in one's lifetime. Italy is by far one of the most heart warming places I have ever been to. I have always believed that at the end of the day, it's the people that make a place. Italians are just so welcoming, so caring and so much fun. I guess I will always be biased when it comes to this place of beautiful living. Viva l'Italia!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

What is vocation?

We've talked about many of the practical aspects of becoming who God meant for us to be.  But today I want to briefly touch upon one of the essentials. I say briefly because it is a very vast subject and I will get into some details later next week.

Today I want to talk about vocation. Vocation is defined as, very simply, a "call". It comes from the latin word "vocatio": to summon, to call, invite. But to look at it further, there are specific vocations or calls to every person. First there is the primary call to holiness. Then there is the natural call to marriage between one man and one woman. And finally there are the supernatural calls of the priesthood and religious life. In all these vocations, there is the great gift of giving oneself to another. The gift is always meant for God and it is accomplished either through another or through others.

The sincere gift of self is the only way to come to the full realization of who we are and what we are created for.

What I want to emphasize here is that we each have a call. There is the one call that is for all of humanity, the call to holiness. To be holy means to be set apart. To be of God. That is why many times you will hear, "to be in the world but not of the world." Since we were created by God, we are set apart for God. We live in the world but our work, our love and our service should be firstly for God. To be holy, is to live this call. It also entails that "every man shall be saved." "This is good and pleasing to God our savior, who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth." 1 Tim 2:3-4. We should set out to reveal Christ to everyone, first through our actions and then through our words.

The natural call to marriage is natural because we all have the innate desire to give ourselves to another. This is a call that is felt in all hearts. The desire to love is natural because we were created in love and for love. But then there are those who feel an even greater call. A greater call to give themselves in a supernatural way. I refer to supernatural in the sense that it takes God's grace in order to live out. It cannot be lived out solely from human desire.

Because the call to priesthood and religious life are supernatural it is also a specific call that God makes to specific people. Not all are called to these vocations. It must be discerned by the Church and by the person who believes he is receiving the call.

Finally there is another call that is hardly ever mentioned, but nonetheless exists. It is the call to single life. The call to single life exists when the person chooses to forgo having a family and does not necessarily feel called to priesthood (if they are a man) or religious life. Yet, this person feels a great call to serve the Church and God in a way that would not allow them to have a family. This is also a specific call and has, in the last few decades, become closely tied to the call of "lay consecrated life". Lay consecrated life is the call to celibacy (not marrying) for the Kingdom of God, while still living and working in the world. This vocation is not lived within a monastery or a convent, although it can be lived in the context of a community, most likely a lay-community.

We will take a look at the more specific aspects of some of these vocations in the days to come.
Vocation is essential in becoming the person God created you to be. Vocation helps us to use all of our gifts and talents in the setting that is best suited for us. It is true that most of us will go on to marry and have a family but it is important to recognize that some of us, some of our children, will be called to a higher vocation. We must learn to recognize and nurture these vocations so that we, or our children, can live out God's call to the fullest and in turn be filled with a joy that is complete.