Category Archives: happiness

Food Fads Going Overboard?

I’ll be honest, I’m guilty of exactly what I am about to complain about.  But that’s just because I didn’t realize the problem until recently.

Anyone with an Instagram account knows that there is a myriad of photos of crazy food items.  They are incredibly aesthetically appealing.  But they also promote narcissism, gluttony, and waste.

I first heard about Black Tap Craft Burgers’ milkshakes from a YouTube video by Casey Neistat (see below if you’re interested):

When I saw the milkshake with the cotton candy on top, I knew that I just had to have one.  However, I wasn’t too keen on the obscene wait time, or the drive to NYC just for a milkshake.  I figured that if I ever happened to be in the area, I would get one; otherwise, I would probably forget about it.

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Soon after seeing that video, I passed by Coney Waffle ice cream shop in Belmar, New Jersey.  They are famous for their Freak Shake, now renamed the Sideshow Shake.  I love milkshakes and candy, so when I heard about the Freak Shake, I was intrigued.  Could it be anything like the one in Casey Neistat’s vlog?

For $18, this is what my Freak Shake looked like:

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It was a mint chocolate chip milkshake with all of the following (and probably more that I have since forgotton) on top: cotton candy, chocolate waffle, ice cream cone with an extra scoop of mint chocolate chip ice cream, chocolate covered Oreo, chocolate covered pretzel with Reese’s pieces, ring pop, and gummy candies.

Does it look amazing?  Absolutely.  Is it possible to eat that entire thing? Gosh, I hope not.

Upon serving me, they handed me a plate and a ton of napkins, explaining that I could put all of the candy onto the plate so that I could actually attempt to drink the milkshake.  They knew that there was no way that one could possibly try to eat that milkshake the way it was assembled.

So the whole purpose of this shake is the photo-op.  I’ll be honest, I was excited about that myself.  I absolutely took a picture before I proceeded to take it apart.  I ate some of the candy, but most I kept for later.  I drank some of the milkshake, but it took me three days to finish the whole thing since I couldn’t even begin to fathom how many calories that would be if it was consumed in one sitting.

And you know what? It wasn’t anything that special.  The milkshake tasted like a mint chocolate chip milkshake.  Nothing more, nothing less.  You might as well go buy a vanilla milkshake from McDonald’s, add in some peppermint flavor, and then purchase a whole bunch of candy to put on a plate next to you while you drink that milkshake.  It would be MUCH more cost effective.

The craziest part of all of this is that the Freak Shake is actually small in comparison to the newer Sideshow Shake:

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And this brings me to my point.  I have realized that the main purpose of a person purchasing a Freak Shake or Sideshow Shake is the photo-op.  In our Instagram/Snapchat-obsessed culture, we care more about the picture than the experience.

We want everyone to see our picture and envy us for getting to go to such a unique place. Yes, I did go to Coney Waffle and yes I can afford an $18 milkshake. (Note: I did not purchase the milkshake for myself, nor would I ever even consider it because I have much better ways to spend my $18.  Someone else bought it for me.)

These items also lead to gluttony and waste.  Although most people couldn’t consume and entire Sideshow Shake, I’m sure that some of them will try.  Don’t even get me started on all of the restaurants offering free shirts if you eat some insane amount of a particular food.  We have a problem with obesity in America, yet you can have that 1-pound burger absolutely free if you can consume it in its entirety in 20 minutes without vomiting.  And we’ll throw in a free t-shirt so that everyone will know about your feat.  Hooray!

Many people who want the Instagram pic without the weight gain end up discarding most of the shake.  They just want the picture.  We are blessed to live in a country where most people are not facing hunger.  And this is what we do with our privilege.  Starving kids in Africa?  Ehh…someone else can help them…I’ll continue to find the best angle for my Sideshow Shake and post it with the best hashtags so I can get a ton of Instagram followers!

Not convinced yet?  Let’s go through a few more examples.

– Playa Bowls.  I love acai bowls;  I buy them because they taste amazing.  But I also notice how a TON of people order them and seem to care more about the picture than the actual taste.  People will walk from the Playa Bowl shop down to the beach before taking a bite because they need the perfect playa-bowl-in-front-of-the-ocean photo.

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And yes, I’m also guilty of taking pictures of my acai bowls.  They are really pretty, after all:

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Brother Bruno’s Pizza.  I loved dessert pizza when I had it in Brazil for the first time in 2012.  However, we American’s can’t keep anything simple.  Bruno’s took the dessert pizza and put it on steroids.

I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t want to try it.  But at the same time, they’re just getting out of hand.  I would love to try a pizza with some chocolate and bananas.  Or the one that has apples and caramel.  But here’s a more recent photo:

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That’s their raspberry/cannoli/nutella/brownie pizza, as if the other dessert pizzas weren’t unhealthy enough.  They had to take it up a notch.  Diabetes on a plate, anyone?

-The Unbaked Bar / Cookie DO NYC.  I love the taste of raw cookie dough, as do many people, despite the dangers of salmonella due to the raw egg.  A few companies realized that if they just made cookie dough without the egg, it could be consumed raw.  Enter the unbaked bar and other similar shops.

Yes, those images may appear to be ice cream, but they’re actually cookie dough.  And no, that cookie dough cone on the right wasn’t quite cutting it…they really needed the cookie dough-filled cookies on top.

The Bagel Nook.  I don’t feel very strongly about bagels.  They’re fine.  I rarely eat them. But Bagel Nook got me hooked with their Instagram pictures like the ones below:

I finally went there with my boyfriend, excited to order a tie dye bagel with cotton candy cream cheese.  Yes, I did take a picture:

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It looks nice, but gosh was it disappointing.  It just tasted like a plain bagel with funky cream cheese.  Nothing too special.  I don’t plan to ever go there again.  But the taste doesn’t even matter since Bagel Nook will probably always have great business since it makes such a great photo-op.

Back to the problem here.  We’re purchasing these food items not because of their exquisite flavor, but because of the image that goes along with it.  We can show all of our friends “hey, look, I went to this trendy place and here’s the photo to prove it!”  It ties in nicely with our narcissistic culture (something that’s on my mind lately, since I’m currently reading The Narcissism Epidemic…great book, I recommend it).  It doesn’t really matter if we enjoy the food item; we just want our followers to see it and in return, envy us and our lifestyle.

But that isn’t the only problem.  These food items also promote gluttony.  Some of these food items probably contain a week’s worth of calories.

Anyone surprised about the American obesity epidemic?  Not I.

On the one hand, we have a constant barrage of beautiful men and women in the media and advertising.  We have advertisements about the Brazilian butt lift, age-defying cream, weight loss surgery, plastic surgery, you name it.  We all want to be beautiful.  Most of us want to be beautiful without the hard work that coincides with working out and eating healthy.

“I want the six-pack abs, but I also want a cookie dough sundae.  Actually, I don’t just want that sundae…I deserve the sundae since I did such a nice job at the gym today!”

I keep hearing a radio ad for a bariatric surgeon who promises that his patients can lose 30 or more pounds without even working out.  Let’s not even try to get Americans to improve their lifestyle — that’s unreasonable.  Let’s give them the quick fix surgery that they want, which will eventually fail when they continue drinking their two-liter of Pepsi while eating that Big Mac followed by a dessert pizza.

So as I said from the start, I am absolutely guilty of trying some of these food items myself, and documenting them through my own photos.  Am I proud of that? No.  But I didn’t realize quite how crazy it was until my Instagram feed began to be filled with more of these obscene food items.

In a world in which so many people are starving and suffering, we Americans must become aware of our overconsumption, overindulgences, narcissism, and wastefulness.

This issue extend far beyond a silly cookie dough cone or an overfilled bagel.  But none of it can ever be confronted if we do not recognize some of the lunacies that are present in our society.

 

 

Father Larry Richards – Adoration & Healing

Day three of  Father Larry Richards’ mission centered around adoration, healing, and thanksgiving (You can look up older versions of this talk on YouTube.)  Our opening prayer centered on thanking Jesus for all that He has done in our lives.

We started by reading Revelation chapter 4, which was written by John.  It’s all about the Mass, which cannot be understood without understanding Revelation.  When we attend Mass, we are experiencing Heaven.  He read through John’s description of Heaven in chapter 4 and how everyone there is constantly singing praises to God.

Most of us Catholics always want something from God.  We want forgiveness, happiness, you name it.  We’re constantly saying, “gimmee, gimmee.”  But our main focus should be thanksgiving to God for His incredible mercy.  Jesus gave His life for us and that should be our focus.  We go to Mass to worship Him, glorify Him, praise Him, and thank Him, not to get something from Him.  After all, He gave us the most precious gift we can ever receive in His death on the cross.

Father Larry then spoke about Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament after exposing the Eucharist.  The bishop of his diocese was not keen on adoration, but Father Larry wanted an adoration chapel in his church.  Despite the bishop’s refusal, he was able to eventually start holding perpetual adoration.

There were many naysayers, but he didn’t care.  He had faith that the adoration chapel would come to fruition and after that, he had faith that through the prayers of his parish in that chapel, the local abortion clinic would close.  After only a few months of perpetual adoration, the abortion clinic closed.  Then, when it opened again two years later, it was only open for two weeks before closing again.  There is now no abortion clinic in the entire diocese of Erie, Pennsylvania.  

It’s so easy to lose hope in evils like abortion as a Catholic living in the year 2017.  It seems to be so common today that some people give up in their fight to end abortion.  But part of the problem is that we lack the faith to truly believe that abortion can be ended as a result of our prayer.  God can do anything and we need to start believing that.  We don’t see miracles because we don’t believe in His power.

As a pastor, Father Larry challenges his parishioners.  He makes the men of his church attend the nightly hours of perpetual adoration since it is located in an urban area.  Anyone who is an extraordinary minister of the holy Eucharist must have a holy hour.  He says that if they do not have an extraordinary devotion to Jesus Christ, then they should not be distributing His flesh at Mass.  

His job is to get every parishioner to be a saint.  So is he demanding? Absolutely.  But when someone dies, will they really be upset that they had to spend on extra hour per week with Jesus?  A good pastor gets you to Heaven; he doesn’t just take your money and build things.

My mom’s parish in Connecticut has had a perpetual adoration chapel since Ash Wednesday of 2003 and she goes to her holy hour from 2 to 3 am on Tuesday mornings.  Through her witness, I have seen the tremendous blessings that have occurred as a result of her weekly holy hour.  It is not easy for her to wake up in the middle of the night to pray, but it has changed her life.  

Father Larry said the same thing, adding that churches with perpetual adoration have many more people who have discovered their vocation to the religious life.  He prays for an hour in adoration every day and he encouraged us to pray in adoration once a week.  He also says that he can tell a priest with a good pastor when he sees that pastor sitting in adoration.  Priests must pray for their parishes and if that is not the case, they are not doing their job.

When on the road, he likes to stop into churches that he passes to say a prayer.  Sometimes he finds locked churches.  This happened once in Illinois and six months later, the pastor contacted him to ask if Father Larry would hold his mission at their church.  He refused since they do not keep their church open to the public.  He explained that although his church is in an inner city, he still keeps the door open. Sure, he has security cameras, but it is important to have an open church so that people can go there to pray any time of the day.

He also told us how he was kicked out of seminary.  His preaching was “overly optimistic” and the Franciscans did not believe that he had a good grip on reality.  His first talk in the seminary was about how everyone was called to be a saint, but they wanted him to instead tell messages of God’s love for us.  His second talk was about our need for a daily prayer life and again, they asked him if that was actually realistic.  How would a person with a high-paying job have time for that?  He couldn’t believe that they were upset with him for that message.  How can we not have a daily prayer life and call ourselves Catholics?

So he was thrown out due to “an apparent lack of self knowledge” and a “Pollyanna attitude toward life.”  He didn’t like that term, Polyanna, so he had them change it.  The newer version said “excessively optimistic” attitude.

During seminary, he had a daily holy hour, and people thought that was too extreme.  They looked at him like he was crazy, but he knew how crucial daily prayer life was.  

On another occasion, a parishioner told him that he should leave the priesthood because of his personality.  He was living in Pittsburgh, so he drove 45 minutes to Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, to pray at the Portiuncula Chapel in front of the Blessed Sacrament.  He was in tears praying to Jesus, telling Him that he would leave the priesthood if that was what God wanted.  He then felt hands on his shoulders and a student said, “Father, thank you for being a priest.  We need you.”  God clearly met his needs, which happens for each of us when we pray to Him and share our needs with Him.

He then spoke to us about healing and healing services.  There have been people who were physically healed of their illnesses, but that is not God’s will for everyone.

Father Larry himself even had a mass on his lungs that doubled in size over the course of a month.  The day he had an MRI, he spent some time on his knees in front of the Blessed Sacrament, prayed 10 Memorares (a mini-novena) and then soon received a phone call that the mass was completely gone.

Too many of us believe that sometimes healing works and other times it doesn’t.  But that is not the case.  Healing ALWAYS takes place, but it isn’t always in the way that we expect or desire.  We need to believe that and then we will more easily see God’s miracles in our lives.  

We also have to realize that the greatest healing is death.  Our end goal in life is to end up in Heaven.  This world isn’t our home; we’re just passing through on our journey to Heaven.  We become satisfied by worldly goods.  If we live in a nice home, we feel content, not realizing that the fleeting joys of this life are nothing compared to the ecstasy that is Heaven.

People sometimes say that they don’t understand how God can allow children to die, but an innocent child or baby who dies at only one year old is more blessed than the person who dies at 100 years old because they can skip most of life’s suffering and have a quicker path to Heaven.  That teaching is difficult to accept since we cannot fathom the joys of Heaven, but that is what Jesus has promised.  

Father Larry proposed an interesting analogy.  For nine months, we lived in our mother’s womb.  Everything came from her even though we couldn’t see her until we were born.  We’re in God’s womb, with everything coming from Him, but we can’t see Him until we are born into eternal life.  That is why the saints’ feast days are the days on which they died because that is the day that they entered Heaven.

Life doesn’t truly begin until Heaven and once we accept that teaching, we will stop being afraid of death.  It is what we do now that will determine where we will spend eternal life.  When we die, God will give us whatever it is we loved the most, but if that isn’t Jesus, then Heaven may not be our end.  If we hold onto too many worldly objects, people, and desires, we show God that He isn’t what we love the most.  That is why we need to show our commitment to Him every single day.  We must prove that He is the one we want and love the most.

That is a quite challenging concept.  We want success, love, acceptance, and other worldly pleasures, but none of that will gain us eternal life.  

After discussing adoration and healing, he took Jesus around the church in the Blessed Sacrament.  Having attended Franciscan University, this is something that I was familiar with, but some people may have never understood the real presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament until that evening.  

He told us that while he was going around with Jesus, he wanted us to make an act of faith.  He wanted us to cry out, “My Lord and my God” in our hearts.  To receive healing, faith is necessary, so of course we cannot be healed if we don’t believe it.  For any sacrament to work, we need faith.  We can go to Mass every Sunday and receive communion, but if we don’t believe in Jesus’ real presence in the Eucharist, nothing will ever change in our lives.  The same is true during adoration.  Do we really believe that Jesus is there with us?

He told us not to consider the healing that we wanted for ourselves, but to say, “God, whatever You want, I want” in order to let Him give us the healing that we need.

I saw many people wiping the tears off of their cheeks as Jesus passed them by.  Although I try to attend a weekly holy hour, and I have been to adoration many times, I, too, was moved with awe for Jesus’ love and mercy and I had tears falling down my own cheeks.  

After that, we blessed ourselves with the oil from St. Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal, Canada.  After blessing ourselves, we said, “Saint Joseph, heal me.” And in the event that we receive a physical healing, we need to remember that we were not healed in order to enjoy the rest of our lives; we are healed in order to give greater glory to God.  We are healed so that we may serve others.

One of his last promises for us was that we would die.  We will all become dust, and we can be in that form forever, or we can live forever; it’s our own choice.  We can live our lives for Jesus Christ and spend eternity with Him, or we can avoid Jesus.

He then invited those of us who wanted to surrender our lives to Jesus to kneel down and repeat this prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, I acknowledge that I am a sinner and I am sorry for my sins.  Please forgive me.  Come into my heart, take control of my life, be my Lord and God and Savior. Fill me with Your Holy Spirit and make me Your disciple.  I love You, Lord Jesus Christ, and I give You my life forever.  Amen.”

Again, he reminded us about the two promises that he made to us at the beginning of the mission.  First, we would not be bored and second, our lives would be changed forever.  Upon surrendering or re-surrendering our lives to Christ, our lives were changed forever.

Father Larry says that he is set on fire by the same Holy Spirit that wants to set us on fire.  God wants us to end our mediocre lives and begin to change the world.  We can do it if we surrender to Him, maintain faith in Him, and heed His will for us.  God wants to use us in mighty ways, but we have to let Him.

In order to allow God to transform us into His disciples, we must do three things:

  1. Sit at the feet of the Master (daily prayer)
  2. Develop the attitude of the Master (be a servant)
  3. Be transformed into the Master (be another Christ…we are called to show the world Jesus)

And he told one last story about an American who was captured in a prisoner of war camp.  He was near a Japanese man who was being tortured for being a traitor.  The American man was a Christian who eventually knew that the Japanese man would die after a day of brutal torture.  He tried telling the Japanese man about Jesus and the Japanese man said that if Jesus was anything like the American man, he couldn’t wait to meet Him.

That’s what it means to be another Christ.  Can the people we encounter say that same thing?  Our husbands, wives, friends, parents, children, employers, employees, neighbors, strangers?  “If Jesus is anything like you, I can’t wait to meet Him.”

We must show Jesus to the world so that they can feel that desire to meet Him.

And ultimately, we must always remember to pray and to love.  That is the best summary of his mission.  Pray and love.  If we do that for the rest of our lives, we will be saints.  We are all called to be saints, which will happen as a result of prayer and love.
Father Larry also asked us to pray for him.  Since he goes around preaching God’s word, the devil goes after him.  He needs our prayers to help him to continue preaching the Truth, staying faithful, not doing anything contrary to the teachings of Christ, and not ever doing anything that brings scandal to the Church.

I wish I had been able to attend the first two days because Wednesday and Thursday were both amazing talks.  I highly suggest looking up some of Father Larry’s videos on YouTube, or his homilies on iTunes.

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My Bible study group (Young Adults in Faith) with Father Larry Richards

Father Larry Richards – Confession

This past week, St. Gregory the Great Catholic Church, in Hamilton Square, New Jersey, hosted a four-day parish mission led by  Father Larry Richards.  I was unable to attend the event on Monday and Tuesday due to prior obligations, but I made it to Wednesday and Thursday.  Wednesday focused on confession and Thursday focused on adoration and healing.

Wednesday, May 12 – Confession:

This is one of Father Larry’s most famous topics of discussion, so if you were unable to attend the event, you can see him speaking about confession at one of his other parish missions with a quick YouTube search. (Here is Part One on  YouTube.  It has four total parts). [see also: Part Two, Part Three, and Part Four]

Father Larry’s confession talk is extremely powerful in that he is able to make his audience examine their consciences in a way that probably goes deeper than ever before, but he is also able to cause them to feel absolute awe and wonder at God’s mercy.

At different times during the talk, I felt a combination of guilt, shame, gratitude, and overwhelming love.

He explained that mercy is when someone gives something good to someone who doesn’t deserve it.  That’s exactly what Jesus did for each of us in dying on the cross.  Jesus never sinned, yet He experienced excruciating pain in order to enable us to be forgiven for our sins and to one day reach the kingdom of Heaven.  As Catholics, we know this to be true, but often we take it for granted.

Father Larry holds many conferences for men, so he initially spoke to the men and husbands in the audience.  All of us, both men and women, should be praying daily, but it is the husband who is responsible for protecting and praying for his family.  If that is not the case, he is not doing his manly duty and it is problems like this, sins of omission, that are often the most grave sins.

He spoke about the many scrupulous Catholics who are constantly going to confession over every little mistake, but they fail to realize that venial sins are forgiven during Mass.  He says that Catholics should go to confession once a month, unless they have a mortal sin, in which case they must confess that as soon as possible.

He has a very blunt attitude about him, which is refreshing because he speaks the truth, not sugarcoating anything or trying to be politically correct.  There are probably a lot of people who were offended by his words not because they were wrong, but because they were challenging.  Any lukewarm Catholic was probably a bit frightened to understand that simply attending Mass on Sundays is not enough to inherit the kingdom of God.  Even those of us who consider ourselves to be passionately Catholic were pushed in our faith, feeling humbled at the inadequacies he exposed in each of us.  Priests were not exempt either, as he was very clear about the responsibility of priests to pray for their parishes.

He gave us a really good analogy of Jesus as the Good Shepherd.  He once was working on a farm and had to carry a cow to a different area.  While he was walking with the calf on his shoulders, it started to urinate, getting all over him and even into his mouth.  This is the way that we treat Jesus.  All He wants to do is bring us home to Heaven, yet we urinate all over Him through our sins while he is simply carrying us on His shoulders.

I have heard priests discuss the Passion and I watch the film, The Passion of the Christ, every year during Lent to remember Jesus’ suffering, but never have I heard it described the way it was on Wednesday night.

People sometimes wonder whether Jesus can understand their pain when dealing with the loss of loved ones, heartbreak, or even physical pain.  Asking that sort of question is the equivalent of slapping Jesus Christ in the face.  Of course He can understand our pain.  The question is, can we understand His pain?

While Jesus was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, he was sweating blood.  Father Larry told us how our capillaries can burst when we are enduring significant stress and fear.  This is what was happening to Jesus because although He accepted His death for us, that did not mean that he was immune to fear.  He was terrified about the pain that he would soon experience.  

Then, Judas betrayed Him with a kiss on the cheek.  When we are experiencing heartbreak, we sometimes wonder if he can understand.  Jesus didn’t date or marry, so how could He understand the pain of a breakup or divorce?  But those questions show our lack of full understanding.

Jesus IS love.  He loves everyone with a deeper love than we can ever imagine.  He loved Judas, the man who betrayed Him with a kiss.  Did He experience heartbreak in that moment?  Absolutely.  We cannot fully grasp the extent of God’s love while we live in these earthly bodies, so it is we who cannot understand this heartbreak, not Jesus.

Father Larry continued to describe the pain of His Passion in a more detailed way than I have ever heard before.  He described the way Jesus was scourged and how the pieces of metal and sheep bone that were attached to the leather straps on the rod would not just slap Jesus’ skin, but tear it away.  This reminds me of the scourging scene in The Passion of the Christ when the metal on the strap gets stuck in Jesus’ side and is then ripped away with an extra tug.  I am unable to watch that moment in the film, yet this was the way the entire scourging process unfolded.

Father Larry described the crown of thorns as more of a cap of thorns.  The thorns were not like those on your average rose bush; they were one to three inches long and he said that they would have pierced his eyebrows, ears, and even his skull.  

All of this pain, and yet the actual crucifixion had not even begun.  It was then that Jesus had to carry the wooden crossbeam.  It was tied to his arms, but he was so exhausted from the scourging that Jesus could barely walk.  If I was to fall down, I would catch myself with my hands, but every time Jesus fell, He landed flat on his face, with the wood of the cross smashing into the back of His head.  

On most crucifixes, Jesus looks to be in pretty good shape.  We don’t want to terrify the people who enter our churches by portraying Him in a more realistic way, with chunks of flesh removed from his body and other strips of flesh torn and hanging, but that was the reality of the crucifixion.

I have heard so many people who refuse to watch movies about the Passion because it’s too much for them to handle.  I, too, prefer movies that lack that type of gore, but it is necessary to understand.  Father Larry did not mince his words in talking about the crucifixion.  It was absolutely gruesome, but we must realize that in order to be truly aware of the awesome gift Jesus gave to us in His death.

Once He was nailed to the cross, His body would sag down and forward.  He would be gasping for breath, only able to breathe once he pulled himself up by the nails in his wrists.  He only spoke seven times while on the cross, probably because every word was a struggle.

He was hanging there, experiencing more pain than we can ever imagine, yet He said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  He was forgiving the people who were killing Him at the very moment of His crucifixion.  Yet we sometimes find ourselves unable to forgive those who hurt us years ago.
During the crucifixion, Jesus also established His mother, Mary, as our mother, when he said to John, “Behold your mother.”  He gave us the gift of Mary, yet some Catholics refuse to honor her as they should because they want to focus on Jesus.  We take Jesus’ gift of Mary and say, “No thanks, I’m good.”  She is a gift from God and we must give her the love and gratitude that she deserves as mother of our Savior.  Father Larry told us how he completed St. Louis de Montfort’s Total Consecration to Mary and now wears a chain on his wrist to represent how he is a slave to Jesus through Mary.

Because God cannot be near sin, Father Larry explained that Jesus said, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” when He had accepted all of our sins.  God could not be with Jesus in that moment because Jesus was sin, which could only be overcome through His death.

With that, many of us were already feeling quite guilty, knowing that we had a hand in Jesus’ death.  I’ve met people who don’t like to say “crucify him” aloud when we read the Passion during Lent.  But although we didn’t say that word for word, we say it every time we sin.  We are the ones hammering those nails into Jesus’ hands and shoving the crown of thorns into His head with every sin we commit.


At that point, Father Larry started to review the examination of conscience with us.  

When people hear the term mortal sin, they often think about murder, adultery, and devil worship.  But mortal sin has three facets:

-full knowledge

-full consent

-serious matter

As a practicing Catholic who understands the Church’s teachings, that means that any time I commit a serious sin, it is probably a mortal sin since I know the teachings and I have chosen to commit that sin.  That is absolutely terrifying since it only takes one mortal sin to end up in hell.

Missing Sunday Mass or a holy day of obligation is a mortal sin unless we were really sick or otherwise unable to attend, yet there are tons of Catholics all over the world who are not at Mass each week.  Sure, some of them fail to realize that is sinful, but many of them do and are therefore culpable.  

When Father Larry spoke about the first commandment about not having false gods, he explained that most people never confess that sin, but all of us are guilty of it.  Unless God is always first in our lives, then we are culpable of that sin.  We often value money, success, and relationships more than God, which is shown in our priorities.  If we don’t pray daily, we definitely are guilty of this sin.

Father Larry did not shy away from sins of a sexual nature.  This can be an awkward subject for many, so some Catholics shy away from this topic, but it is a sin that so many people struggle with.  He admitted to dealing with his own lustful temptations on a daily basis.  I think it’s extremely honorable for a priest to stand up in front of over a thousand people and admit to that.  It also helps us to realize that we are not alone, that we all face temptation, but that we also all have the strength to avoid that temptation.

He also said how too many people focus too much on feeling bad about their sins of lust while forgetting about the sins of omission, arguably the worst sins.

He said how he often asks people in confession what they have done to help the poor and whether or not they pray every day.  Failing to do either of those things is much worse than many of the sexual sins that we focus on.  We should all be helping those in need as much as we can, giving 10% of our income away.

We must confess the sin if we ever had an abortion or helped anyone to get an abortion.  He suggests making a good confession and then asking God to reveal the child’s gender.  Then they would name the child, pray to him or her in Heaven, and ask that child for forgiveness.  They will then be united one day in Heaven.

It’s also a sin if we use artificial contraception.  This is a topic that many priests avoid.  Many people don’t want to make too many waves, but we must not forget about pivotal Catholic teachings as a result.  They want to pick and choose which teachings they believe in, but that is not how it works.  When we think back to Jesus’ suffering and death, we know that it was a result of each of our sins.  It is not up to us to decide.

Many frequently people say “oh my God!”  That is a sin that used to be punishable by death.  Just because we hear other Catholics and sometimes even priests or nuns say it does not mean that it is not a sin.  We have no right to take the Lord’s name in vain.

People often think they’re safe in terms of the fifth commandment since they haven’t killed, but we commit that sin every time we feel anger.  Anger is not of God.  Father Larry admitted to struggling with this on a daily basis.  Again, it was refreshing to understand that we are not alone in our struggles.  Priests aren’t immune from temptation and sin either.

After he reviewed the examination of conscience, we said the Act of Contrition aloud.  There were eleven priests who would be hearing confessions and he told us to be quick, not using it as a time for counseling since there were so many people there.  He also said that if we were one of those scrupulous people who had just been to confession three days ago, we needed to go to the back of the line to allow other people to confess their sins.  

The next night, he said how he ended up hearing confessions until 12:10 am and how there were some people there who had not been to confession in over fifty years.  He wanted to make sure that people in situations like that would not have to stand in the back of a line, possibly changing their mind and leaving with all of that sin hanging onto them.

Although I go to confession regularly, I felt even more renewed after confession on Wednesday.  I had never delved that deeply into an examination of conscience.   I had never felt so guilty about the sins that I have committed but simultaneously, I had never felt so loved and grateful for God’s mercy.

When my CCD students went to confession this year, I explained how fortunate they would be if they ever died on a day they went to confession.  They were obviously taken aback, but Father Larry explained the same thing, how if we died following a good confession, we would go straight to Heaven.  He even mentioned his movie idea of a priest who performs confessions and then slits the throats of the person who just confessed his or her sins since that would get them straight into Heaven.

Father Larry promised that during this mission, nobody would ever be bored and that their lives would be changed forever.  Through his animated, enthusiastic speech, jokes, and storytelling, we were definitely never bored.  And our lives were definitely changed forever.  I will never consider my examination of conscience the same way I had before hearing this talk.
I am so grateful that I was able to attend Wednesday night’s talk and I hope to be able to share Father Larry’s messages with the people who were not able to attend the mission.

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Confession lines on Wednesday night

Yoga vs. Catholicism

A little over a year ago, I started attending hot yoga classes.  I have Lyme disease and I find that sweating helps to decrease my symptoms.  In Connecticut, I belonged to a gym that had a sauna, but here in New Jersey, I was unable to find an affordable gym that had one.

Instead, I decided to try hot yoga and I have had very positive results.

However, I remember hearing a Catholic priest warn us against yoga back when I was in high school.  I hadn’t ever practiced yoga at that point, so I didn’t look into his reasoning.  More recently, I decided to look into the stance of the Catholic Church on yoga.

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Yoga practice in my backyard

This article talks about this topic:

“Catholics should not participate in any of the “spiritual” aspects associated with yoga, but technically can do the actual physical exercises. However, many people who practice yoga caution that it is often difficult, if not impossible, to separate the exercises from the meditations.

For example, a common mantra repeated in yoga is ‘So’ham’ that roughly translates to ‘I am the universal self’. This focus on the self is contrary to the focus on God to which we are called. In the words of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI: ‘Christian prayer… flees from impersonal techniques or from concentrating on oneself, which can create a kind of rut, imprisoning the person praying in a spiritual privatism which is incapable of a free openness to the transcendental God.'”

Another article also discusses the possible problems with yoga:

“Should you take up yoga? As a spiritual path, yoga is incompatible with Christian spirituality. But if you can separate the spiritual/meditational aspects of yoga from the body postures and breathing techniques common to yoga, then you might be able to use those postures and techniques beneficially for health. If you’re at all unsure of your ability to do so, you may well be advised to find another form of exercise.

It is important for Catholics to know that yoga should neither be hallowed nor damned. As a spiritual path for Eastern peoples unfamiliar with Christianity, it may serve to assist them as ‘they seek freedom from the anguish of our human condition either through ascetical practices or profound meditation or a flight to God with love and trust’

On the other hand, Christians seek as the goal of their prayer to ‘flow into the way to the Father, which is how Jesus Christ has described himself. In the search for his own way, each person will, therefore, let himself be led not so much by his personal tastes as by the Holy Spirit, who guides him, through Christ, to the Father’.”


 

So to me, it seems that the practice of yoga could be acceptable if a person practices for the exercise and breathing techniques without the spiritual aspect.  That is what I do in my yoga class.  I like to work on my strength and stretching but I do not consider it to be a spiritual activity.  I also prefer certain instructors over others.

One of the instructors always reads from a yoga book that has lots of spiritual passages.  Every time I hear them, I think about how everything that she is saying is good, but it should be centered around Jesus rather than “the universe.”  “The universe” is meaningless.  It is God who reigns supreme; the universe is simply His creation.

So when she reads these passages, I either ignore them, or I think about the way they relate to God.

I do the same thing when it comes time to set an intention.  The instructors tell us to set an intention for our practice, a place to send our energy.  I don’t believe in that part of the practice.  I don’t think that by exercising, my “energy” is going to go heal my sick loved one.  If it did, I would go work out for hours a day to cure the ailing people across the world.  That’s just not reality.

So when it comes time to set an intention, I either just wait for us to move on, or I say a prayer in my mind since I believe that saying a prayer to God is more significant than choosing some place to send my energy.

At times, yoga also seems too selfish to me.  The instructors tell us to pat ourselves on the back for giving up 75 minutes to ourselves each time.  Yes, we must take care of ourselves, but some of the instructors seem too interested in this, which is opposed to the teachings of the Catholic Church.  They act as though we are the center of the universe, which I do not believe to be true.

So I will continue to attend my yoga classes, but I will substitute a prayer for an intention and I will focus on my practice as a physical exercise rather than a spiritual exercise.

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Tripods on my kayak in the ocean

 

 

 

Spartan Beast – Vernon, NJ 2017

The Race:

I went to Vernon, New Jersey this past Saturday for the Spartan Beast.  My boyfriend, AJ, and I drove up to the race early Saturday morning and then we met up with my friend, Jayme, and two of her friends.  While registering, AJ met a guy he knew from high school who was also at the race.

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Me & Jayme

I had completed four previous Spartan races back in 2014, but this was going to be my first one since then, so I was feeling a little nervous. (Previous races: Sprint in Uncasville, CT; Super in Vernon, NJ; Beast in Killington, VT; Stadium Sprint at Fenway in Boston, MA)

I had injured my shoulder about two months ago, so although I had increased my strength training early on this year, I had to cut back tremendously in order to rehab my shoulder.

I knew that I was in good shape in terms of running, but I was curious how I would do with the obstacles.

Our start time was 9:45am, but the race was delayed since there had been thunderstorms that morning.

Once we started, the race went straight uphill.  I knew from previous races that hills are meant to be walked.  A Spartan beast is over 12 miles.  They told us that this one was mapped out to be 13.8 miles (though their mileage doesn’t account for obstacles, so it was probably actually between 14 and 15 miles total).  That’s more than a half marathon, plus crazy hills and obstacles.  If you try to run up the first hill, I can almost guarantee that you are going to use up too much energy.

The hills seem almost endless at times.  Before even getting to mile two, my quads were already burning (despite how often I had been running and climbing stairs before the day of the race).  I was actually feeling a little bit nervous at that point, knowing that I still had over 10 miles left, yet my legs were already feeling sore.

I tried to run or at least jog every time the race became flat or downhill.  I’m really good at running downhill.  Some people step very gingerly when going downhill, but I find that I do better letting my momentum take over.  There were many times when my legs felt tired to walk, but once I started running or jogging, they felt less fatigued.

Even going down rocky slopes, I still usually jogged, remaining confident with my footing so that I wouldn’t slip.

There were a total of 32 obstacles.  Here is a review of some of them (in no particular order):

Walls

In any Spartan race, there are a number of walls to get past.  Some are short and I can easily jump, push myself up on my arms, and climb over.  For the 10-foot walls, I definitely need someone to help give me a boost.  Racing with AJ made these walls a lot easier since he could give me a boost whenever needed.

There was also a wall in the water.  For this one, we had to swim under it.  I didn’t mind going under the wall, but the water is brown and muddy, so some people don’t prefer submerging themselves.  I just felt for the bottom of the wall at first, to make sure that I knew how deep I had to go underwater.

After coming out of the water, there was a slanted wall with ropes on it.  We had to hold the rope to pull ourselves up.

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AJ coming out from under the water at this wall

For obstacles like this, the type of sneaker you are wearing makes a HUGE difference.  Lots of people were slipping all over the place.  When I tried, I didn’t slip at all.  I just held onto that rope and pulled myself up, one step at a time.

I prefer racing in trail shoes since they have a strong grip on the bottom.  Lately there are a lot of running shoes, especially Nike ones, that are very flat on the bottom.  They have little grip and although their lightweight nature may be nice when running, they are not the best option when grip is needed.

I have Adidas trail shoes that I have used for the past three or four Spartan races and I swear by them, rarely failing at an obstacle only as a result of my shoes.

Water

There are a few times when you have to walk through water.  This time, there was no swimming obstacle, but for one part of the race, you had to walk through water.  I’m 5’2′ and eventually the water was up to my chest.

I expected the water to be really cold since it was only April, but surprisingly, it wasn’t bad.  It was actually pretty refreshing.

I really like the water, so I enjoy the water obstacles.  The hardest part is that you can’t see where you’re walking, so sometimes you trip on stones or branches.  In Vermont, I cut up my shin quite a bit because I kicked a rock that I didn’t see.

This time, there were some times when we had to cross a stream.  One time, I jumped into the water and tripped as I went to take a step.  I fell onto a rock and cut my knee.  I saw the blood coming down my sock and soon after, we were walking through deep mud.  It’s never ideal to get a bunch of mud into cuts, but that’s what happens during this race.

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Memory

I had forgotten about this, but there is a memory component to the race.  You get to a wall and have to memorize a certain word/number combination, based on whatever the last two digits of your bib number are.  My bib number was 12517, so I had to memorize “Romeo 213 1089.”

When looking at some YouTube videos, I can see that some racers did have to tell a Spartan volunteer their number at some point.  If they couldn’t remember, they would have to do burpees.  But somehow we never had to do that.  I don’t know if we somehow ran past the people asking, or if they stopped asking.  But after finishing the race, I was so frustrated that I had remembered my number for nothing.

Z-Wall

I love this obstacle.  It’s a wall with wooden rectangle hand and foot grips.  I’m usually pretty good at it; I think it helps that I’m small so I can more easily rest my feet on the rectangles and grab the hand pieces with my whole hand.

For this version, though, the wall isn’t just flat across.  It is in the shape of a Z.  I had made it 2/3 of the way across and AJ was standing behind me.  I told him to just spot me in case I needed help.  I got to one of the corners and I couldn’t see the other side of the wall. I tried to reach out my foot to feel for the next wooden rectangle, but I couldn’t reach it even with my leg fully extended.  The same was true with my arm.

So AJ put a hand out for me to step across since I couldn’t reach and I got my foot on the rectangle, but I still couldn’t reach with my hand, so I suddenly slipped and hit the ground.  I was so frustrated since I was so close to the bell.

I forgot that I could have tried again, but instead I went and did the 30 burpee penalty while AJ crossed the wall.

Log Carry

Men get a larger log and females get a smaller one.  You must carry it up and down a hill.  The logs are pretty heavy, so although they don’t feel too bad in the beginning, it gets tiring by the time you carry it up.

I like to carry the log on my head because I find that to be the easiest option while walking uphill.  Not too many people do it this way, but it works for me.  Most people carry it on one of their shoulders.

On the downhill, I carried it horizontally across my stomach and that wasn’t too bad.

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Spear Throw

I hate this obstacle.  It’s so hard to get the spear to actually stick into the hay.  So many people have to do burpees at this obstacle.  AJ was able to complete every obstacle without assistance except for this one since he missed the hay.

Sandbag Carry

The females and males have different weights to carry.  Just like the log carry, you walk up and down hills, over some branches, and through a little bit of water.  Some people carry it on their shoulder or behind their heads.

I carried mine on my head and later kind of hugging it in front of me.

Monkey Bars

These are my major weakness.  I just can’t do the monkey bars.  But one day I will be able to.  They have normal monkey bars…well, as normal as the Spartan race will have it.  They’re still wider than normal monkey bars, so they’re really difficult to grip with my small hands.

They have monkey bars that have a long metal piece that you must get across, followed by different chains, baseballs on rope, and grips that you have to cross.

They also had ones that spin around while you’re trying to reach the next one.  AJ completed each of these obstacles with ease…me, not so much.

Atlas Carry

They have these big cement stones on the ground.  You must pick it up, walk a few yards, drop it, do 5 burpees, pick it up, walk back, and then drop it.

Picking it up is the hardest part.  Looking online, I can’t find a definite answer about the weight, but it seems that most people agree that it is somewhere between 40 and 60 lbs for women and 80 and 100 lbs for men.

40-60 lbs doesn’t sound terrible, but the size of the stone makes it difficult to get off of the ground.

I squat as low as I can to the ground and try to push it against my stomach to get it up.  Looking at tutorials online, some people roll the stone up one of their legs while the other leg is in the squatting position.  That way they can get it up against their stomach/chest more easily.

Once it’s up, it isn’t too difficult to walk with the stone, but picking it up is the tricky part.

Gravel Bucket Carry

This is an obstacle that most people hate.  It’s brutal.  It always comes towards the end of the race.  In the Spartan Beast in Vermont, this obstacle occurred twice.  You have to fill a bucket with gravel.  It has to be filled up to the line, which is a little bit lower for women than men.

Then, there is an extremely steep hill that you must climb while holding the bucket.  If you drop it, spilling gravel, you have to start all over again.  This is an obstacle that anyone can finish, but not quickly.

This was at the end of the race.  My legs were so tired from all of the previous running and obstacles.  Every step was difficult.  I hugged the bucket in front of me, slowly putting one foot in front of the other.

Going up the hill, every time I needed a break, I put my right leg in front of me, up the hill.  I would rest the bucket on my thigh.  That gave me the break that I needed so that I could catch my breath.  Many people rest by putting the gravel all the way back down on the ground, but that seems to waste a lot of unnecessary energy since you have to bend all the way over to drop the bucket and then lifting it off of the ground is much more difficult than lifting it off of your thigh.

At the top of the hill, it was flat, so I was sure to rest before the top and then after the flat part.  I knew that if I rested at the flat part, I wouldn’t have a hill to position my right leg on in order to rest the bucket on my thigh.

I expected the downhill to be more difficult, but that was not the case.  The downhill was definitely easier, but I was still very careful with my steps.  Parts of the hill were very steep and had quite a bit of spilled gravel.  I didn’t want to risk falling and dumping out my gravel since I would then have to start from the beginning.

Rope Climb

I’ve still never been able to climb the rope in the race.  Usually, the ropes are over water.  This time, the ropes were over foam mats.  And for the first time, I am able to climb a rope at the gym.  However, this obstacle was the last one in the entire race.  My body was entirely drained, especially from the gravel bucket carry which I had just completed.  I hopped onto the rope and although I thought that I might be able to get up partway, I could tell that my arms just didn’t have the strength to get me all the way up and back down without just falling.  I opted for the burpees.  Again.

Here’s a nice video that someone took of all of the obstacles:


Results

I finished in 5 hours and 3 minutes, which placed me 9th in my age group (out of 280 females ages 24-29).

I was 27th out of all 1374 females.

AJ and I both finished at the same time, so we were 299th out of 4,200 total competitors in the open division.  Not too bad!

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Women’s Clothing:

Tops: I like to wear a sports bra with an athletic tank top.  I avoid cotton, t-shirts, and loose-fitting tank tops since they become heavy when wet.  Some girls just wear a sports bra, but I don’t want my stomach and back to get cut while crawling over walls and under barbed wire.

Bottoms: I wear spandex shorts, or capris with long socks.  If it’s around 55 degrees or warmer, I’ll go for shorts because I don’t like to feel too hot while racing.  If it’s chillier, I’ll wear the capris.  I opt to just wear the spandex without underwear so that there are fewer layers of fabric, but that’s a personal preference.

I used to wear shorter socks for my first few races, but then at the Beast in Vermont, I cut up my heels pretty badly since my socks were too low.  That was pretty painful.  I was running at last 10/17 miles with bleeding ankles.  They especially hurt when I had to do the rope traverse obstacle, dragging my bleeding heels across the rope.

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Those were my bleeding ankles in Vermont.  Ever since then, I remember to wear tall socks to avoid that unnecessary pain.

I tend to get blisters on my toes when I run, especially if my feet are wet, so I wear Injinji toe socks:

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Shoes: I always use trail shoes because of the grip.  These are similar to the ones I have:

I noticed that there were a lot of people slipping on the wall that we had to climb holding onto a rope.  We went from water straight to this wall, so it was pretty wet.  Thanks to the grip on my sneakers, I didn’t slip at all.  Most of the people who slipped had sneakers with flat soles that might work for running, but not obstacle racing.

Hydration pack: I prefer to race without a hydration pack, but I learned that it is almost essential on the beast.  In Vermont, there were times when I was so thirsty that I considered asking a complete stranger for a sip of their straw.

I have a small Camelbak.  It’s called a mini-mule and it’s actually a child’s size, but I found that the adult ones were larger than I wanted when I went to buy one a few years ago.  This is mine:

Even better than the fact that it held water was the pockets in the Camelbak.  I brought 8 GU gels to the race: 4 for AJ and 4 for me.  We ended up having 3 each.  In the past, I have stored my GU gels in my sports bra, but sometimes I end up with cuts between my breasts as a result.  It was nice to just keep them in the pocket of the Camelbak.

I also kept our headlamps in another pocket.  We didn’t need the headlamps in the end, but we had them as a precaution because you get kicked off of the race if you don’t have a headlamp after the sun begins setting.


 

 

After the Race:

Upon finishing, they give you your medal, a banana, and a protein bar.  Then you can grab your T-shirt.  I was happy that the T-shirts were specifically for the Spartan Beast this year.  In 2014, all of the shirts were exactly the same, regardless of whether you ran the Sprint, Super, Beast, or Ultra.  I have 4 of the exact same T-shirt since I ran 4 races that year.

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T-shirt, headband, and finisher’s medal

 

I tried to walk around a little bit after the race because I knew that my legs would tighten up once I sat down.  I was pretty dirty, so I rinsed off some of the dirt before getting on the shuttle back to our parking lot.

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Dirty face after the race

After the two-hour car ride home, my legs were super stiff.  AJ and I were both super tired and sore, so we just went out to get dinner and then had a lazy evening.  Sunday was another lazy day.  They suggest running a slow, short jog the day after the race, but my legs were already so sore that I don’t think that I could have gone for a jog.

If I had, maybe that would have helped my sore legs.  I’m not really too sure.  I can’t even describe the pain I felt with each step.  It felt as though my quads and calves had been torn apart and were unable to support my legs.

Stairs were my absolute enemy.  I have had sore legs after running full marathons, but I think that I was more sore from this race than from the marathons.  My right knee was locking up every time I stepped because my muscles just weren’t firing accurately.

We were finished with the race around 3pm on Saturday.  Sunday and Monday were the most painful days in terms of my sore legs.  Tuesday was still pretty rough.  Wednesday I was almost walking normally.  Thursday was normal other than steps.  Finally on Friday I could walk up and down steps normally (though there was still some soreness).

After the race, I had rolled out AJ’s legs, but mine were already so sore that I told him that I didn’t want it.  Maybe it would have helped.

I was also really sore in my inner arm.  I had bruised it when getting up and over one of the 10-foot walls.  I had an immediate bruise during the race, which just kept getting darker after the race.

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Bruised arm

Anyway, I’m really happy about the race overall.  I wish I could have avoided my shoulder injury so that I could have performed better at some of the obstacles that require mainly upper body strength, but I guess that is what next year is for.

Here’s another medal to add to my race rack:

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Until next time, AROO!

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God’s Abundant Blessings

I am currently still in a state of shock.  I cannot believe the ways that God has blessed me as of late.

I had recently been feeling very stressed financially.  For the first time, I owed money back when I completed my taxes.  So instead of receiving at least $800 as I had expected, I actually owed $1200.

I was also overwhelmed because I have to decide whether to fix some things on my car or to purchase another used car.  Plus, Friday night was one of my payment deadlines for my mission trip to Africa.  All of these numbers and bills were piling up and I wasn’t sure if I would have to drain my savings to get by.  I felt like maybe instead of volunteering, it would be more prudent to have a summer job, since I technically could work full time in the summer (since I’m a teacher), though I would prefer not to.

I knew somewhere deep in my heart that God would provide, but at the same time, I saw dollar signs looming on the horizon and I couldn’t help feeling worried about it.

Had I made a bad decision in my choice to volunteer in Africa this summer?  Maybe I was taking on more than I could handle financially.  Should I have opted for a cheaper, week-long mission trip somewhere in South America, which would have been more affordable?

Had I been too lavish in buying mainly organic produce, and meat?  Maybe I should risk the health concerns and go back to the antibiotic-infested meat and fish and pesticide-rich fruits and vegetables.  I really didn’t want to, but somehow, my finances had become a burden.

A few weeks ago, I was receiving phone calls from Franciscan University, my alma mater.  I knew they were calling for donations, as they typically do once a year.  I love that school so much, so I donate every year, but this year the timing was less than ideal.

After a week or so of intentionally not answering the phone, I finally picked it up one night, deciding that I needed to show God that I did, in fact, have faith in Him.  I couldn’t hoard my income and expect any fruit to come from that.  So despite my anxiousness about my finances, I made a donation to Franciscan University.

On a separate occasion, I was listening to my friend on the Catholic radio station.  It was their fundraising drive and initially, I planned not to donate because I knew that I already had too much to take care of financially in my own life.

But eventually, something made me realize that I couldn’t have that attitude.  I had to give with the faith that things would work out for me in the end if I could be generous to those who needed it.

And sure enough, that is exactly what happened.

By Friday evening (April 22nd), I needed a certain amount of money in my account for my mission trip to Uganda, followed by the final payment that was due by May 22nd.

All day, I left the donation page open on my computer, knowing that I would have to just put the amount (over $1500) on my credit card and hope that I would be able to raise some more money in the future.

That evening, almost immediately before I was about to put it on my credit card, I received a phone call from my mom that a family member of mine was interested in helping to make a substantial donation to my trip.

I almost burst out crying.  I am beyond humbled right now and incredibly gracious.

I feel so guilty for the amount of stress I have been experiencing lately with regard to my financial situation.  I should have maintained my faith in God, but I just kept doubting myself and my choices.

Yesterday during Mass, I couldn’t stop smiling and thanking God for His abundant blessings.

I am so glad that I made those donations to Franciscan and the Catholic radio station (in addition to my regularly scheduled donations, like the monthly $38 that goes to my sponsored child in Rwanda through Compassion International.)

When we give, we also receive.  That is so true in this very moment.

At the time that I signed up for the mission trip to Uganda, I truly felt that was my calling.  I absolutely love having a teacher’s schedule so that I can travel to volunteer each summer.  I have been blessed to experience a variety of mission trips serving in Ecuador, Haiti, Rwanda, and Nicaragua.  When deciding where to go this summer, the description of the Uganda trip immediately stood out to me.

We will be working in a children’s detention facility through Sixty Feet (prisons, the justice system, and justice reform is something that I care about quite a bit).  Then we will be working with Sole Hope, which holds medical clinics to remove jiggers from the feet of children (and adults) who have been infested.  It then provides them with shoes.

Everyone is on this earth with a certain calling.  One of my callings is to teach.  Another is to volunteer, specifically overseas, which is something that many people are afraid of, or simply uninterested in.

I regret how I had been second guessing my decision to join this mission trip because of finances and I am now more confident than ever that God has had a hand in forming this team and that there is a specific reason why that trip is the one that stood out to me.

I am absolutely astounded by the way everything happened this weekend.  I am beyond grateful to everyone who made a contribution to this trip.  I have received donations from close loved ones, to anonymous donors, to people who I have never met, but they know one of my friends of family members.  I am completely humbled by all of the support and I will continue to keep all of my donors in my prayers as I prepare for this mission trip.

In the end, God has our backs in every situation.  He is there for us and if we are able to accept that help and turn to Him when we are in need, we will reap great blessings.

We must give without knowing whether it’s a prudent financial decision because He will pay us back in ways we cannot even imagine.  We must maintain our generosity even when it seems most difficult to do so.

“Give generously to him and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to.” – Deuteronomy 15:10

“Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.” – Proverbs 3:27

2016 Year in Review

As I’ve done for the past two years (2014: My Year in Review, 2015: My Year in Review), here is my 2016 year in review.  Everyone seemed so eager to see the passing of 2016, but I don’t feel that way at all.  While I am excited to see what this next year of life brings me, I am content looking back at all that happened in 2016.  I feel beyond blessed at how different my life is today, January 2nd, than January 2nd last year.  There are so many people I didn’t even know last year today who I am now happy to call my friends.  I had a great year and I look forward to an even better 2017.

January:

-I started off the new year in San Antonio, Texas, watching fireworks exploding all over the place at the passing of midnight and playing lots of games like jumbo Jenga before flying back to Jersey

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-Annual trip to Frost Valley in Claryville, NY

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Posing with the snowman and my cousin
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Hiking to High Falls with painted faces
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The crew

February:

-The end of my last relationship

-Caidin came to visit and we went to Twin Lights in Highlands

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-My mom traveled to Israel / Tel Aviv / Jerusalem / Bethlehem / Rome for her birthday pilgrimage to the Holy Land.  She got to renew her baptismal vows in the Jordan River.

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March:

-I traveled to Brazil for Spring Break.  First, I was with my sister, Vanessa, and my brother-in-law, Carlos, for Easter.  We went to see an amazing waterfall.

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Swimming by the waterfall with my brother-in-law, Carlos

-Then I went to Manaus for my grandma’s 99th birthday.  I am so thankful that I got to go and spend some time with her because that was the second and last time I would ever see her.

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I also got to see lots of other family members while there and I went swimming with river dolphins with two of my uncles.

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-My mom’s 60th birthday

April:

-Although my mom’s birthday was in March, we had a family party for her in April

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May:

-My cousin, Dan, graduated from UConn

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-I ran the Run the Hook 10k in Sandy Hook, NJ

June:

-I went to senior prom to see my students

-Finished my first year teaching in New Jersey

-Traveled to Kansas City, Missouri, to grade AP English Language & Composition exams with my friend from DHS, Elise

-While in Kansas City, I also got to see my friend, Kristin, from high school, who is now a zookeeper at the Kansas City Zoo

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-Ran the Fairfield Half Marathon and set a personal record of 1:55

July:

-Went to Connecticut for my grandpa’s birthday party

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-Ran the Belmar five miler

-My friend, Juan, came to visit me in Jersey

-Met on Monday nights with the Belmar Area Catholic Young Adult group that I helped run

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-Through the Belmar young adult group, I met my friend Gabriella, and through her, my Bible study, which has been such an amazing blessing and has brought me so many new friends

-Went to the sand castle competition in Belmar

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-Went to Long Beach Island for a week with my mom

-I turned 28 in Long Beach Island

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Birthday lunch

August:

-Ran the River to Sea Relay race with an awesome group of people to raise money for Covenant House

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-I started riding my bike all around the shore

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Riding my bike through Avon by-the-sea

-Traveled to Nicaragua with Living Water International

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My amazing team

-We helped to drill a well to bring clean water to a rural village

-We also taught hygiene lessons and Bible stories to the women and children.  I helped to translate.

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The community with their finished well

-My friend, Lizzy, visited since she was in Philadelphia for vet clinicals, so we had a beach day

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-Worked on improving my yoga and handstands
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-Hung out with new friends from Bible study14212800_931558857870_9142389201927948083_n

September:

-As of the 1st, I have officially lived in New Jersey for one year

-Started my second year of teaching in New Jersey

-My Brazilian grandmother passed away right before her 99 1/2 birthday

-Went to the Philadelphia Zoo with my friend, Adam

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-Went kayaking with my friend, Adam

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October:

-Ran the Jersey Shore Half Marathon in Sandy Hook

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-Tenth Avenue North concert with my friend, Amanda

-Went to Catholic Underground in NYC with friends from Bible study

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-More kayaking with friends

-Ran the Atlantic City Marathon.  My mom and my friend, Adam, came to cheer me on

-I saw whales a few times from the beach in the fall

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-I went swimming in the ocean the day before Halloween

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November:

-I hosted our weekly Bible study once at my house in November.  It was tight to squish in 15 people, but we managed.

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-Bar Crawl in Asbury Park to raise money for Covenant House

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-Did some November stand up paddling and kayaking in the ocean in my wetsuit from my uncle

-Kayaking Shark River with my friend, Kate

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-Home to Connecticut for Thanksgiving

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December:

-Went to see the ice sculptures in Tinton Falls

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Mimicking the ice sculptures

-Out in Asbury for my friend, Stacy’s, birthday

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-Weekend in the Poconos for Sway’s 25th birthday

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-New relationship with AJ on December 11th

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Climbing a tree in the Poconos

-Graham cracker gingerbread house building with AJ

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-Christmas Eve at my grandparents’ house

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-Christmas day at my aunt and uncle’s house

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-Devin & Elise’s New Year’s Eve wedding with AJ

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So here is goodbye to 2016 and hello to 2017.  This year should be another great one, filled with more adventures!

The Need to Humble Ourselves

My 7th grade CCD students went to confession last week, so I was looking for good YouTube videos to use with them in preparation.  What’s funny, though, is how I often find so much for myself and my own spiritual growth when I go in search of materials and videos to use with them.

I really like this video by Fr. Mike Schmitz:

I was simply looking for a video about confession, but then he mentioned the Litany of Humility and got me thinking about many other items in addition to confession.  Here it is:

The Litany of Humility:

Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val (1865-1930),
Secretary of State for Pope Saint Pius X

O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, Hear me.
From the desire of being esteemed,

Deliver me, Jesus.

From the desire of being loved…
From the desire of being extolled …
From the desire of being honored …
From the desire of being praised …
From the desire of being preferred to others…
From the desire of being consulted …
From the desire of being approved …
From the fear of being humiliated …
From the fear of being despised…
From the fear of suffering rebukes …
From the fear of being calumniated …
From the fear of being forgotten …
From the fear of being ridiculed …
From the fear of being wronged …
From the fear of being suspected …

That others may be loved more than I,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

That others may be esteemed more than I …
That, in the opinion of the world,
others may increase and I may decrease …
That others may be chosen and I set aside …
That others may be praised and I unnoticed …
That others may be preferred to me in everything…
That others may become holier than I,
provided that I may become as holy as I should…

That is a really powerful, challenging litany.   “Deliver me from the desire of being praised and approved.”  That’s tough.

I love my job as a teacher and I want to feel validated through praise and approval.  I don’t think that’s always a bad thing, but it can increase one’s ego if he is constantly praised.

I like to know that I am doing my work well.  I want that praise.  Yet I also have to be able to remain content without it.  And I don’t want to start feeling as though I am better than anyone else and judging them.

And what about our desire to be loved?  We all seek that.  However, no human being can ever show us the perfect love that God has for us, loving us without limits, even in our weakest states.  I don’t think this is saying that it is bad to want to feel love from another human being, but we must realize that we already have been shown a perfect love in that Jesus Christ died for us.  What more perfect love is there than that, that He would lay down his life for his friends? (John 15:13)

The litany continues, asking God to deliver us from the fear of being despised.  I’ll be the first to admit that I like being liked.  I don’t need to be best friends with everyone, but it makes me sad when I know that someone really doesn’t like me.  But the Bible tells us that if we follow Jesus, we will be persecuted.  “In fact, all who want to live religiously in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12).

We will not be liked by all.  Jesus calls us to live a radical life, and that is something that others will turn their noses against.  People will view us as crazy “Jesus freaks.”  We have to understand that that is okay.  We, as humans, like to be accepted, but if we live in the way that Christ really wants us to, we will stand out.

I have had this happen in many instances when I was not comfortable in certain situations because of my faith.  People have thought that I was crazy.  But that’s okay.

I won’t live with a boyfriend until marriage.  “But that is irresponsible since you don’t get to “test out” a boyfriend first to make sure you will be compatible.”

I don’t want to have sex until marriage.  “Wait, what?”  People look at me like I have two heads.

I need to find a Catholic church even when on vacation.  “But you’re on vacation.  You’re still going to church?  Why?”

I spend more money on mission trips than I do on my own vacations. “But how do you afford that on a teacher’s salary?  Don’t you just need time to relax?”

I’m beginning to understand that it’s okay to be despised by the world.  After all, Jesus was.  He reminds us, “If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first.  If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you” (John 15:18-19).

It’s never a great feeling, though, to be hated, which is part of what makes that litany of humility so powerful to me.  I must pray to accept the fact that the world may hate me.  And if it does, I should revel in that fact because it probably means that I am living in a way that is glorifying Christ rather than glorifying the world and worldly desires.  If everyone in the world does like me, then I must be doing something wrong; I must not be witnessing to Christ quite enough.  I must be keeping my faith hidden.

The litany continues with another challenging request, that God deliver me from the fears of being wronged / ridiculed / forgotten.  I don’t think most people would say that they want to be ridiculed.  But here we are, asking God to remove the fear of those things.  Sure, we’re human, it hurts to be wronged.  It’s not fun.  But we must not live in fear of those things.  We must live according to Christ’s teachings, without being afraid of being hated, or mocked, or forgotten.

I think the last part of the litany is even more challenging because it asks the Lord to help us to desire some things that are not necessarily ideal.  We need to desire that other people are esteemed before us, that others are praised and chosen while we are not, that others are preferred.

It is only through prayer that this could ever be possible because that’s the exact opposite of worldly teachings.  This world is so focused on the attainment of success and power and accolades.  It’s difficult to get away from that.

As a teacher, I want to have the best evaluations.  I want my administrators to praise my successes.  In our school, we have the monthly “fab five” faculty members.  I would be thrilled to hear my name on that list because it would give me confidence that I am doing my job well and that I am being recognized for all of my hard work.

But shouldn’t God’s opinion of me be more important?  Why should I desire another human being to provide me with praise?  My ultimate goal in life is not to be the best teacher, but to be the best follower of Christ.

That is not to say that I should blow off my job because it doesn’t matter.  I love my job.  I love having a part in forming the minds of the next generation and (hopefully) teaching them to be better people.

But in terms of accolades, I could receive honors and rewards here on earth that mean nothing in light of eternity.

In the Bible, it talks about how the rich have a more difficult path to Heaven than those who are poor, but the same is true of those who find glory while on earth. Luke 6:25 reads “Woe to you who are filled now, for you will be hungry.  Woe to you who laugh now, for you will grieve and weep.  Woe to you when all speak well of you, for their ancestors treated the false prophets this way.” And Matthew 19:30 says  that the first will be last and the last will be first.

If we are first here on earth, our path to Heaven is going to be a difficult one.  We must remain humble rather than boastful.

This is tough for me since I so badly desire to be the best teacher.  But I need to be content with the fact that I can teach to my own best ability without ever being noticed.  I still must work my hardest, seeking only what is in the best interests of my students rather than my own honors and achievements.

In today’s society, everything is geared around working one’s way up the ladder.  I’ve always felt that I did not have a desire to become a principal because my desire is to teach, whereas principals deal with more discipline issues.  But I have considered obtaining my administrative degree to move up from a teacher to potentially an English department head.

Maybe I could do that with pure intentions of simply helping more students by helping teachers.  But did I only consider that career move because I felt the push to move up on the ladder?  I’m not really sure.

The part in the litany about desiring to go unnoticed reminds me of the part in the Bible about praying in the quiet of one’s own room, so that nobody knows that I am praying except for God.  “When you pray, go to you inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret.  And your Father who sees in secret will repay you” (Matthew 6:6).  I don’t need to stand out to the world.

I also like the verse that is read during Lent that calls us not to act as though we are suffering when we make sacrifices.  We must not look “gloomy like the hypocrites“when fasting; instead, “When you fast, anoint you head and wash your face, so that you many not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden.  And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you” (Matthew 6:16-18).

This relates not only to sacrifices made during Lent, but also to work in general.  In my job, I get four observations during which my evaluators come into my classroom and watch my lessons, looking for my strengths and weaknesses as a teacher.  If I know that they are coming, I can try to plan a killer lesson to impress them.  But what is more important is what I do on the days when nobody is looking.

Will I let my students goof off because it doesn’t matter since I’m not being evaluated?  Or will I still try to teach killer lessons every single day because I want the best for my students?

We must seek to do what is good and what is right at all times, regardless of which people have noticed.  It’s easy to feel disappointed when those around us don’t notice great acts of service that we have done, or when someone does not show us the gratitude we believe that we deserve.

But we must remember that God is always there watching us, and He knows what we are doing in order to receive an accolade as well as the things that we are doing simply because we seek to do good and to spread the light of Christ to all we encounter.

Advent

I was watching an Ascension Presents video today from Father Mike Schmitz, entitled “Advent: More than a Chocolate Calendar.”  If you’re interested, you can view the video below:

 

Father Schmitz talks about how Advent is a time of joyful preparation for Christ’s coming.  Then he discusses the difference between joy and happiness:

“Joy is the abiding sense of well-being that comes from the fact that I know that God loves me.”

“Joy is not dependent on circumstances.”

“Joy is a choice.”

“I know the Father knows and loves me, despite my circumstances.”

These messages about joy really speak to me because I have felt this way quite a bit lately.  I feel truly joyful. But that doesn’t mean that life is perfect.

Life on earth can never be perfect because true perfection can only be found with God, which we will only encounter if and when we reach our ultimate goal of our union with Him in Heaven.

If joy depended upon our earthly circumstances, then nobody would be truly joyful.  There will always be suffering, whether it is our own suffering or seeing the pain of others, especially loved ones.

There will always be issues at work, within our families, in our relationships, with our friends, within our country, politics, and natural disasters.

If we wait for perfection in order to feel happy, then we will wait until death.

But joy is different.  I can say that I am joyful right now because I am so grateful for the ways that God has blessed me and the ways that my relationship with Him has grown.  Sure, there are still obstacles, but I know that He is with me, guiding me through life’s trials.

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for Thou art with me.” -Psalm 23:4

Father Schmitz says that Advent has three main goals:

  1. To worship Jesus
  2. To celebrate His coming
  3. To prepare for His second coming

He then poses an interesting question: “If Jesus came today, would there be any time for him?”

Our world, especially the United States, is so busy.  This time of year is particularly stressful and overwhelming for many people.

Unfortunately, Christ often gets left out of Christmas.  People instead focus on buying presents, putting up Christmas trees/lights/decorations, baking Christmas cookies, attending ugly sweater parties, sending Christmas cards, making gingerbread houses, drinking egg nog, cooking, and traveling to be with family.

None of those things is bad to do.  But sometimes we get too wrapped up in the material aspects of Christmas instead of remembering the whole point — Jesus Christ.

Even traveling to visit family can sometimes hinder us.  Some people end up missing church services because they are driving to visit family.  But the holiday wouldn’t even exist if it weren’t for Jesus.  He needs to remain the priority, or else what are we really celebrating?

If Jesus came to your house knocking on your door right now, would you have time for him?  Would you be able to fit him in somewhere in the middle of that to-do list and that schedule of events?  Or would you be so busy that you wouldn’t even notice the knock at the door?  Would you ignore Him and continue moving forward with the hustle and bustle of the holiday?

It’s great that people focus more on family during the Christmas season, but we must remember to also focus on Jesus.

He is, in fact, the reason for the season, after all.

 

A Season of Gratitude

I try to always be aware of the importance of gratitude.  It is so easy to focus on the things that we with we could improve in our lives.  This is especially true in our prayer lives.  It’s easy to get caught up in constantly asking God for things.  There is always someone whose health could improve, someone who can use a new job, and many other requests that we have for God.

But we must remember to also thank God for all that He has given us and all of the prayers that He has answered.

With the approach of Thanksgiving and the Christmas season of Advent, it is now the perfect time to focus on gratitude.

So I want to reflect on my year and all that I am grateful for.

-My health – I’ve been doing well with my Lyme disease for a while, finally able to get back into running races again this year

-My family – Since I no longer live close to my family, it makes me even more grateful for the time I get to spend with them during the holidays.  I am thankful that they are only two hours away so that it’s not a difficult task to go home to Connecticut.

-My new friends – I have been so blessed with all of the new people I have met this past year, meeting people at work, at the beach, and in Bible study, and my young adult group.

-My Bible study – It is through this Bible study that I have been able to meet most of these new friends.  I am so grateful to have a group of people who are pushing me to grow in my faith.

-My apartment – I love living so close to the beach.

-The ocean – It keeps me sane on the days when I am stressed out.

-My job. I love teaching high school English so much.

-My students.  I have a really great group of kids this year.

Running

Racing

Biking

-My wet suit from my uncle that now allows me to go kayaking and stand up paddling even when the weather isn’t super warm

-The beach

-Having a roof over my head

-Living in a first world country so that I don’t have to struggle each day to survive

-My love for volunteering

-All of the people I have met through my volunteer opportunities both locally and abroad

-My priests

-My sponsored child, Patience, and his family

-That I have had the chance to meet the Brazilian side of my family, especially my now deceased grandma and grandpa

Desserts

Traveling

Waterfalls

Hiking

-My Catholic faith