Tag Archives: Catholic

Faith & Exercise = Essential, Not Optional

My faith is the number one most important aspect of my life.  My loved ones would come second, but right after that is exercise.  My fiance would likely say the same thing regarding his own life.

Many people I encounter cannot understand that about us.  When I complain about my busy week, they don’t understand why I still make time for holy hour on Monday night, FCA on Wednesday morning at work, Bible study on Thursday night, Mass on Sunday, and additional time spent in prayer.  I mean, that’s over four hours of my week, after all.

Others who do understand my faith cannot understand my workout regimen.  If I’m having a busy week, I should just skip the gym, shouldn’t I?  I don’t need to bother with that run.  I look like I’m in decent shape.  What’s one missed day?

Although it’s true that one missed day at the gym won’t kill me, I believe it’s that exact mindset that has led to the obesity epidemic.

We’re all busy.  We have jobs, families, and unexpected emergencies.  We must go grocery shopping, cook meals, eat, work, clean, and sleep.  If I let my workout be an optional activity that only occurred when I had extra time, it would NEVER happen.

I always have more items on my to-do list.  There is always something more that can be done.  That is why my workout, just like my faith life, is not optional.  Rather, they are both entirely necessary.

So I’ll start with faith since that’s number one.

#1: Faith

My goal is simple: get to Heaven.  That’s it.  That’s why I’m on this earth.  I want to live the best possible life that I can while I am here, and yes, I want the joys that life entails, but ultimately, everything is meaningless if I do not get to spend eternity with Jesus Christ in Heaven.

Do I always act like that is my top goal?  No.  Just like anyone else, I sin, I fall, I get overwhelmed by this life. There are many times when I focus my eyes on happiness, success, my career, and other false idols, but I get back up and try my best to refocus my eyes on the true prize: eternity.

If I place anything on a pedestal ahead of God, then I am telling Him that I want that item/person/feeling/accolade/job more than I want Him.  If I fight for a promotion with every minute of my time, then I am telling the Lord that the job is more significant than Him.  If I love my fiance more than I love God, then I am worshipping him rather than God.  God has to remain first.

And if I really think about the amount of hours I spend in prayer, it isn’t nearly enough.  To the world, it looks like a lot.  A whole hour at Mass on Sunday? And then another hour at adoration on Monday? Bible study every week?  How do I do it?

Let’s be clear here: I’m no saint.  Compared to the world, yes, maybe that’s more than the average person.  But if God is number one, then does one hour a few times a week really suffice?  Absolutely not.

I don’t always follow these ideals.  Sometimes my hectic life gets the best of me.  Planning my wedding this year has been a trying task.  When I went to confession a few months back, though, the priest gave me great advice: make each of my tasks into a prayer.  I can’t stop planning my wedding.  Sure, there are certain items that must be crossed of the list; however, I can take my frustration and offer it as a prayer instead of a complaint.

We should strive to live a life in which every mundane task becomes a prayer.  Stuck in traffic?  Pray.  Offer it up.  Getting out of bed in the morning?  Thank God for a new day.  Annoyed by someone at work? Pray for that person. Going to bed?  Thank Him for the day, even if it was a difficult one.  Now, I haven’t perfected this myself, but I’m working on it.

Too many Catholics squeeze in Mass only when it fits.  Sports and football have become their gods.  Football game?  Sorry, gotta skip church.  Son has baseball practice?  Oh well, no time for church.  Went to a wedding Saturday night and slept in on Sunday?  Oops, too bad, need my sleep.

Maybe you didn’t realize, but there are so many Catholic masses that there isn’t an excuse to miss it.  I can go to Mass on Saturday night, Sunday morning, Sunday midday, or Sunday evening.  There is even a church in my area that offers Mass at 7:30pm on Saturday and Sunday.  Others have Mass at 6:45am on Sunday.  So no, that football game isn’t an excuse.  You’re just being too lazy to get to the Mass that takes place first thing in the morning.

If Heaven is my goal, then God must be first, not an afterthought.

Which brings me to my next priority: exercise.

#2: Exercise

My mom’s side of the family is not too keen on exercise.  Luckily, I think I inherited some of the genes from my dad’s side of the family.  Exercise is a huge part of my life.

Now, this wasn’t always the case.  I never played a team sport.  I wasn’t ever overweight, probably because I don’t have the biggest appetite in the world, but I definitely wasn’t very athletic.  I was active, but I never had much of a routine other than following along to some pilates videos after school.  I mainly just wanted to grow (I heard that pilates can help to lengthen your spine, and I was 5’1.5″ at the time) and I wanted abs.  When I was younger and visited my dad on the weekends, we would bike and rollerblade, so I wasn’t that kid who was always in front of the television, but I wasn’t as active as all of the kids on sports teams.

Then everything changed after I got Lyme disease.  Suddenly, I had a hard time just walking across campus during my sophomore year of college.  All I wanted to do was run, so I decided that if I ever got better, I would start running.

That’s what I did; I started running, little by little.

And then I relapsed.  But once I started regaining my health, I began running again.

Initially, I’ll admit, the running was for aesthetic reasons.  I did not like what the Lyme medicine had done to my body.  I had never worried about my weight, but Mepron, the last antibiotic I took, was not water soluble; it only dissolved in fat.  I had to take it twice a day, both times with about 20 grams of fat.

Not only was I sick and unable to work out, but I had to take my medicine with fat.  I didn’t gain more than about 10-12 pounds, but on a 5’2″ frame (I guess the pilates worked for that last half inch), that is quite a lot.  Just looking at my face, the difference was apparent.

Here is the progression of my face:

Fall 2007 (pre-Lyme), freshman year of college:

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Summer 2010, after college; had been battling Lyme for about 3 years:

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Summer 2013, after I had been running regularly:

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Did I start exercising for the health benefits?  No.  I just wanted my smaller body back.  But the more I ran, the better I felt.  It seemed ironic because when I was sick with Lyme, my back and knees would ache like crazy.  Running didn’t seem like it would be the best exercise for me, but the more I ran, the less my knees hurt.

I signed up for my first ever race: a half marathon.  Then a full marathon.  Then I just kept running and racing in either running races or Spartan obstacle races and a Tough Mudder.

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Hartford Marathon – 2013
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Atlantic City Marathon – 2016

Now, it hasn’t been easy.  I’ve relapsed since then.  I didn’t get to run any races at all during 2015, but I’ve found a direct correlation between eating healthy, exercising, and the disappearance of my Lyme symptoms.

If I get too busy to work out, I start to notice back pain.  My workout is therefore not an extra part of my life; rather, it is essential to maintain healthy functioning and keep the Lyme at bay.

Sometimes the people around my fiance and I cannot understand why we are so regimented with our workouts (him even more than me).  Although he doesn’t have a chronic disease, he values his workouts just as much as I do, if not more.

I just wish that more people could understand that our bodies weren’t meant to sit on the couch for hours on end, watching Netflix.  My students cannot fathom this.  How can I not have a television?  Or a Netflix subscription?  Or a video game console?What do I do in my free time?  Well, I don’t have that much free time because of my devotion to God and my ability to prioritize my exercise.

My fiance works insane hours, yet he still wakes up every day to do two things: go to Mass and go to the gym.  These are not options for him, but requirements to a fulfilled life.

So many people say they cannot find the time for exercise.  I understand that.  The problem is that you will never find the time.  Rather, you must make the time.

I work a full time job.  I have an apartment.  I cook my meals, clean, do my laundry.  I spend lots of time grading papers since I’m a high school English teacher.  I know that I have fewer tasks than others since I’m not yet married and I don’t have children, but it’s not like I have tons of free time.  I have to keep my workouts as part of my schedule.

When I’m training for a marathon, the schedule is easy.  I need to get that weekend long run in no matter what.  Whether that is 8 miles, 13 miles, or 20 miles, I have to find the time.  I plan around it since those long runs are crucial to success on race day.  I do speed work on Wednesdays.  Again, a crucial step if I want to beat my previous times.  I have other runs built around those two days, plus cross training, strength training, stretching, and yoga because I want to be my best.

The same is true with my faith life.  My Sundays are planned around the Mass I will be attending.  Thursdays are planned around Bible study.  These are not added bonuses that only occur if I find the time.

Right now I’m not training for anything, so it’s easier to skip workouts on busy days.  Does that happen occasionally?  Sure.  Life happens.  But most weekdays, you will find me at the gym after work.  Or, if the weather is nice, I can be found running on the boardwalk, at the reservoir, or working out outside.  That’s my schedule.  That’s what I do to keep myself sane, happy, healthy, and Lyme-free.

Watching the video below is actually what prompted me to write this blog.  It’s about the benefits of exercise on our brain.  So if you have no other reason to make exercise a part of your routine, do it for your brain and to prevent or delay dementia and Alzheimer’s.

 

Now I know that people will probably continue be baffled by me for keeping my faith as my exercise priorities, but I just don’t care.  They can view me as insane.  That’s fine.

All I know is that at the end of the day, my faith and my exercise are what I need for a fulfilled, healthy life.

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Father Larry Richards – Prayer

Last year, I was fortunate enough to attend the second two days out of Father Larry Richards’ four-day mission at St. Gregory the Great parish in Hamilton Square, NJ.

This year, he returned to New Jersey for the mission at the Co-Cathedral of St. Robert Bellarmine in Freehold, NJ.  I was still unable to attend Tuesday’s talk since I teach CCD, but this time I was able to go on Monday.

Here are the blogs that I wrote last year based on the last two days of the mission: Day 3: Confession and Day 4: Adoration and Healing.

These are the things that resonated with me from Monday’s talk:

“Be a saint.  Or go to hell.”

Those words sound really tough, but those are really the only two options that we have.  I remember how I never used to want to be a saint.  I had heard stories of many of the saints of the Church; I knew how much they suffered.  It isn’t until more recently that I realized that anyone who has made it to heaven is considered a saint.

I guess I had thought that a saint was a special person in Heaven since the canonized saints have to go through the very specific canonization process and need to have verified miracles.  I thought that I would be happy just getting to heaven, but without being a saint.  If our deceased loved ones are in heaven, they are saints just as much as St. Therese or St. Teresa of Calcutta; they are simply not recognized specifically as a saint by the church.

Anyway, I now realize that I obviously want to be a saint because it is that or hell.  Plain and simple.  Do we love God above all else and want to be with Him forever?  Or do we want to deny Him and be separated from Him for all of eternity?

Father Larry had us do an activity during which we wrote down 5 things on 5 pieces of paper that were stapled together.  He told us to write down what we love the most.

Then, we had to rip off one of the pieces of paper.  The first paper I removed was running.  I love running, but I could give it up if I had to.

Time to rip off another.  The beach.  I love it, but sure, I could live without it.

And he continued until we were down to two pieces of paper.  I’m assuming that most people had their spouses, children, and maybe God on those 2 pieces.  What a difficult task.

Once we made our decision, he explained that if the last paper in our hand said anything other than God, we had just chosen hell.  My friend and I looked down at our papers and they both said God.  We smiled and felt proud of ourselves for choosing God.

Not so fast, said Father Larry.  He knew that some of us would be sitting there feeling smug, maybe even judging those around us who hadn’t chosen God as their last piece of paper.  He asked us if our choice was really true.

Do we always put God first?  Do we give our time to Him?  If not, then although we may acknowledge that God should be first, He isn’t actually first in our lives.  Ouch.  Quick jab to my ego right there.


24,000 children will die today from hunger.  Father Larry said that if we are unable to preach the Gospel to the mother who is holding her dying child in her arms, then we don’t truly know the gospel.  After all, the death of a child should be a moment for rejoicing since that child will likely join God in heaven.  Of course, it’s a sad moment for the family members, but if we really have faith, then we should be overjoyed that that little one is already experiencing the fullness of God’s love.


There is a heresy called pelagianism which asserts that we can earn our way to heaven, but that is simply not the case.  We are save by grace.  If we reject God and go to hell, it’s not because we didn’t earn heaven; rather, it’s because we refused to accept God’s grace and mercy.


We’re offended by everything, thinking that makes us holy.  I can definitely relate to that.  I hate being around people who curse, drink too much, do drugs, or act promiscuously.  Now, I don’t think Father Larry was saying that we should place us in those types of situations since some of them could lead to the near occasion for sin, but we also must not condemn those around us.

He said how Jesus was never shocked or offended.  He spoke to adulterers, tax collectors, you name it.  He didn’t judge them or condemn them.  Rather, he loved them.  He never said that any sin was acceptable and he told the adulteress to sin no more.  But he did not judge anyone.

Father Larry said how a man once told him that he thought it would be a good idea to refuse to attend the wedding for a couple who was living unchastely.  Father Larry asked what good that would do.

The better option, he said, would be to fast every Friday for their conversion rather than judging them.  Wow.  I usually fast during two days of the year: Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.  I have been hearing a bit more about fasting recently, and how we are actually supposed to fast every Friday (except the Friday after Easter).  That doesn’t always need to be a fast from food, but we are supposed to give up something in order to remember that it is a penitential day.

I can’t imagine that man’s reaction.  Yes, you should attend the wedding.  And, by the way, you should fast once a week for the couple.

Imagine how significantly the world could change if we all fasted on Fridays for a particular cause (and if we had the true faith that it would work).  If you have someone who you know is living in sin, you should sacrifice yourself for their conversion rather than condemning them.

Father Larry said that he fasts 23 hours a day.  He only eats dinner.  I cannot even imagine doing that, though I have heard of saints who fasted in very extreme ways.

He said how Father John Vianney was very harsh and how he would give people very challenging penances.  However, we would them make sure that he would do the penance himself for them, offering himself as a sacrifice for their holiness.


He said that our prayer should always focus more on listening than talking.  This is definitely a struggle for me.  Even at Eucharistic Adoration, it’s tough to just listen.  When I was younger, I would struggle to get through an hour of adoration.  I find it much easier now that I go every Monday night.  It’s easy to pray with rote prayers, the Rosary, and petitions/intercessions.  I also usually have the Bible to read, or a book based on something faith-related.  But sitting there and doing nothing but listening is incredibly difficult.  I find that my mind wanders almost immediately, and I eventually notice that I’m daydreaming and try to get back on the listening train.  I guess I’ll have to continue practicing.


Father Larry also spoke about how our love for God should be what leads us to stop sinning, not our fear of hell.  It’s a selfish act if the only reason we stop sinning is to avoid hell.  Rather, we should choose to give up our sinful ways because of our complete love for God and our desire to strengthen our relationship with Him.

He said how he is a virgin because he chose to give that to God.  He’s not a virgin because of his fears of eternal damnation.

If we consider a married couple, we could ask the husband why he chooses not to commit adultery (aside from his love for God).  Hopefully the man’s response is that he makes that choice out of love for his wife.  He’s not living that way to avoid punishment.  If asked, “Why haven’t you cheated on your wife?”  “Because I don’t want her to be angry with me” isn’t the most romantic response.  Similarly, we choose to avoid sin out of our love for God and to avoid hurting Him through our selfish acts.

Good parents don’t want kids who fear them and only behave to avoid being beaten.  That’s not love, but fear.  Perfect love casts out fear; it doesn’t exacerbate it.


Anyway, I could go on for quite a while, as he spoke about many more topics than just these, but these were the ones that stuck out to me the most.

I’m thankful that I had another opportunity to hear Father Larry speak and I hope that if he is in the area again in the future, I will get to see him on day 2 since that is the one that I’ve missed.

Wedding Blues

I feel like such a complainer, but I can’t even describe the hatred I feel towards wedding planning.  I know, I sound like a stupid, stuck up, spoiled girl.  Oh, life sucks, my boyfriend proposed and I’m getting married.  Life is so hard.  But it does suck.  I hate it.

I have seven weddings to attend in 2018 including my own.  Yes, SEVEN.  I’m a teacher and my fiance has tons of student loans.  It’s not like we can easily afford all of this.  Not to mention, I’m a bridesmaid in two of the weddings and he is the best man in one and a groomsman in another.  So we’re involved in a significant way in 5 out of 7 of the weddings.  Oh, and one will require a flight to Michigan (plus hotel), one will require a flight to Texas (plus hotel), and one will require a six-hour drive to Pittsburgh (plus hotel).

Right now we’re expecting to pay over $5,000 just on the other weddings between the flights, hotels, dresses, tuxedos, presents, showers, and bachelor/bachelorette parties.  For ours, we’re trying to keep a tight budget, but getting married in New Jersey by the shore is not cheap.

I’m not having an engagement party or bachelorette party.  We’re having brunch instead of dinner, we removed the cake to save some money, I’m probably going to use old shoes and do my own makeup, possibly even my own hair.  We’re hoping to rent SUVs instead of hiring drivers or limos or fancy cars.  We got free engagement photos and super cheap save the dates.  We’re using a videographer who is a friend and a DJ we know through family.  I’m looking for cheap invitations that still look nice.  My mom is hemming the dresses I need for the other weddings we’re attending.  I feel like we’re trying to cut prices wherever possible.

I am also doing everything I can to save money in my day to day life.

Ibotta app?  Got it.  I’m sending in every receipt when I go grocery shopping or to the drugstore because every 50 cent reward adds up.  So far I’ve earned $22.  Dosh app? Got it, but since we’re not going out to dinner since it’s cheaper to eat at home, I haven’t really made money there.  QuickThoughts survey app?  Yep, that too.  I’ve made $30 since January.

IPSOS I-Say surveys?  Yep, I do those.  I’ve made $25 since January.  Not bad.  MyPoints website?  Yep, I do that also.  $10 made since January.  Ebates installed to my computer?  Yes, but I don’t really buy much online, so it’s taking time to earn much.

But all of that work still only comes to a grand total of $87.  That’s enough for my left shoe.  (Okay, that might be a bit hyperbolic, but that’s how it feels.  I’m actually most likely re-using shoes I already own because who the heck is going to see them anyway?)

I’m thankful that I can grade AP exams in June and teach summer school this summer to earn extra money, but still, it’s all overwhelming.

And then there’s everything I’ve given up.  My sessions hot yoga ran out, so I’m not buying any new ones.  I’m not signing up for any Spartan races or half marathons this year.  My fiance and I aren’t going out to dinner, out to aquariums or museums, or really doing anything that costs money.  I bought a Groupon the other day so that we could at least get a cheap dinner at a pizza place because there is nothing to do anymore on the weekend aside from reading and building puzzles and discussing more wedding plans.

I used to only buy organic foods, but now I’m buying regular eggs, some regular produce, and even some regular meat.  I hate that because I know how unhealthy that is, with all of the antibiotics present, but I can get 3 pounds of turkey for $7.  Wild salmon for $17.99/lb is a thing of the past.

I even have frickin frozen pizza in my freezer.  I cannot even remember a time when I bought non-organic frozen pizza.  I honestly don’t think I ever have before.  But guess what?  Freschetta frozen pizza was not only on sale at the supermarket — it also came with a $1 rebate on Ibotta.  So one pizza cost me $3.  That is 2 to 2 1/2 meals for me.  I just can’t beat the price.

Yet at the same time, I’d like to be in my best shape for the wedding, so I’ve been working out any time I have a free moment.  Unfortunately, that time is limited since I’m staying late at work any time I can to help students with assignments so that I can earn a few more dollars.  So my workouts are inconsistent, and I’m occasionally eating garbage like frozen pizza, yet working toward abs.  Yes, I know, it doesn’t really work like that.

I don’t want to go to any doctors.  I should go to the eye doctor because my contacts have been bothering me, but instead, I’m just using eye drops to remove my red eyes.  My students probably think I’m high or something.

I am looking into a naturopath to go to for my Lyme, but again, it’s unlikely to happen unless my insurance covers it because I know how expensive that will be if I’m paying out of pocket.  I should find an OB-GYN since I haven’t gone to one of those since living in CT, but that’s another expense.  I’m praying for no cavities because my dental insurance sucks, so if I get a cavity, that’s a chunk of our wedding budget immediately gone.

And I’m not even going to get started on the whole living situation.  I’d like to buy a house in the near future, but every $1000 spent on the wedding is $1000 less in our savings to purchases a house one day.

I just feel like there is nothing to look forward to other than my honeymoon.  I have no spring break plans, obviously.  I can’t afford to plan a fun weekend for my fiance’s birthday like I did last year.  On my 30th birthday, we’ll be driving 6 hours to a wedding.  I’m not excited for anyone else’s birthday because again, that’s just more money being spent.

I should be excited for our wedding, but all I can think about is how excited I am for the wedding to be over.  I don’t really enjoy weddings anyway, so I have a lot of weekends of wedding showers and weddings coming up in 2018, which isn’t my favorite thing in the world.

And I usually go on a mission trip every summer, but I’ve cut that from my expenses as well.  So now I feel even worse because here I am spending all of this money on one day of my life when that same amount of money could have saved so many children from poverty across the world.  I could travel on at least five overseas mission trips for the amount we’re spending on our wedding and others.  That just hurts my heart.

Is this all really worth it?  I wish I could go back, un-invite everyone, and have a small Catholic ceremony with my closest family members and call it a day.

I’m obviously just in a terrible mood today, but I feel like this is where wedding planning has brought me.  The usual happy, optimistic, joyful Stephanie has turned into this negative Nancy.  I don’t like it, but that’s where I am right now.

I don’t even look forward to weekends anymore because weekends are just extra time to grade papers, begrudgingly work on wedding plans, and take as many surveys as I can to save up a few more bucks.

Welcome to the engaged life.

 

 

 

Wedding Planning Woes

I hate wedding planning and I hate the whole wedding industry in this country.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am absolutely ecstatic about being engaged and planning a future together with my fiance.  But the wedding planning?  Ugh.  Gag me.  I cannot stand it.

Both AJ and I are deeply invested in our Catholic faith.  We’re excited to celebrate the sacrament of matrimony.  But because we live in the year 2018, it is impossible to avoid the secular world of weddings, along with all of its astronomical costs and extravagance.

First stop: engagement ring

I knew that I didn’t want a blood diamond (if you don’t know what that is, read this: “Blood Diamonds”). Finding out about the company, Do Amore was an incredible blessing.

I love my sapphire, ethical engagement ring that is made out of recycled white gold helped to pay for the drilling of a well in Bihar, India.  I am also excited that we ordered our wedding bands on Do Amore as well, so that we are contributing even further to the drilling of a well in India.

I don’t understand why more people won’t stand up against blood diamonds and support companies like Do Amore.  But don’t get me started, I could go on forever.

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Next stop: proposal

Everything in our society seems to be a competition of who can top everyone else.  There are now ridiculous proposals involving flash mobs, helicopter rides, and camera crews.  These poor men are spending thousands of dollars (the average cost of an engagement ring in 2017 was $7,000!!!…don’t worry, mine was not nearly that pricey) on engagement rings, and then thousands more on the proposal.

I guess now that promposals have become so ridiculous, the adult men feel the need to top the seventeen-year-old boys gifting Michael Kors watches to their girlfriends when doing their promposals.

Thankfully, my fiance knew that I wouldn’t have wanted a big to-do for my proposal.  He proposed with printed pictures of us that were all over the floor of my apartment, each with a note on the back.  It was simple and sweet and not at all flashy.

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Engagement party?

We skipped that part, but today it is typical to have someone throw the newly engaged couple an engagement party.  I know the upcoming marriage is exciting, but we already have showers, bachelor/bachelorette parties, rehearsal dinners, the wedding, and the honeymoon.  An extra party to celebrate the engagement seems to be a bit much.

Maybe a nice dinner out with parents or with the couple’s closest friends?  Fine.  But extravagant engagement parties?  Come on, there’s more about the marriage than a gazillion parties.

For us, it went something like this: get engaged, call parents, walk on the beach, call more people, get sandwiches for dinner, go to adoration, call more people, the end.

I love the fact that we got engaged on a night when my church has Eucharistic adoration because we were able to start out engagement in prayer, thanking God for His blessings while praying for our future.

Choosing a venue.

We picked the venue based mainly on the cost.  Gosh, is the pricing insane.  I know that it doesn’t help that we live by the beach in New Jersey, but still.

Fortunately, we’re having a brunch wedding.  I’ve always wanted a brunch wedding because A) people don’t usually get as drunk at noon as they would at night and B) breakfast is my favorite.  Option A was the main factor for me since I despise drunkenness so much.  I love a good steak or seafood dinner like anyone else, but I’d rather have a nice little brunch, have my wedding over by 5pm, and hopefully not have to witness the sloppy drunkenness that will probably take place once people go to after parties that evening.

But back to the venue choices…

I thought that brunch wedding options would be cheaper.  Relative to the dinner options, they were, but gosh, I cannot believe how much people are spending on their weddings.  All of the venues I researched, with the exception of three, offered brunch prices between $97 and $150 per head.  At $97, I could invite just 150 people and already spend almost $15,000.  That is insane.

I guess that’s why the average cost of a wedding in New Jersey is $47,000.  That is more than I spent on two years of tuition at the college I attended.  My wedding day is important, but how can I justify spending that kind of money on ONE day?

In the end, I spent hours of research on venues before finally making appointments with three locations.  I went to the first one on my own.  It was lovely, but I just felt blah about it.  The next I went to with AJ and both of us loved it.  The last was the most beautiful location since it was right on the water.  If I was choosing based on aesthetics alone, that would have won hands down, but their brunch options were limited.

We went with the place we both loved.  The location isn’t phenomenal, but that doesn’t really matter since a wedding reception is mainly indoors.  There is an outdoor area if the weather is nice, so that can be used for the cocktail half hour.  And the biggest benefit is that it’s a hotel, so many of our guests can stay right there, which makes everything easier, especially since we have lots of out-of-state guests.

Photographers/videographers

The photographer is one of the most important parts of the wedding to me because I love looking back at old photographs.  I still print photos and I have a whole bunch of photo albums in my home.  I love looking through them when I have some spare time.

I understand that photography is an art, but the prices are simply unreal.  A friend who was engaged before me warned me that if I wanted photography and videography, that it was going to cost about $6,000.

I initially hoped to find a photographer for $1000 to $1500, before realizing that was completely impossible.  Fortunately, I found one who offered a discount if we didn’t get engagement photos, so that helped with the cost a bit.  I just had no idea how expensive everything is.

Engagement photos? Save the dates?

AJ and I went back and forth on this one.  Eventually, we decided to skip the engagement photos and I figured that I would just make a save the date with pictures we already had.  In the end, AJ’s cousin offered to take engagement photos for us at no charge, so we were really blessed and thankful for that opportunity.

Now, some girls go buy new outfits and get their hair and makeup done before the engagement photos.  I just got dressed in clothes that I’ve had forever.  Actually, the sweater that I wore has a hole in it (but it’s behind my neck, so you can’t see it).  None of my clothes had been purchased within even the last two years.  I wore slightly more than what I use for my typical makeup routine (no foundation, contouring, highlighter, [insert other makeup guru term here]). Yet the pictures came out beautifully.  Go figure.

Along those same lines, we also went back and forth between whether or not to send save the dates.  I would have preferred to have just sent invitations out super early, but everything online suggested against doing that.  We mainly chose to make save the dates so that people traveling long distances would have advance warning for the dates.

Black Friday had some amazing prices for Save the Dates, so it didn’t really end up being a significant amount of money.  If they had been expensive, I think we would have just skipped save the sates and verbally told our closest friends and family members about the date.

Wedding dress squad?

I’m an introvert, so I know this is different for extroverts, but I did not care to have a big group of people providing me with their input on my wedding dress.  I felt like that would make everything more stressful and that it possibly even cause me to choose something different from my own preferences if I let the opinions of others begin to dictate my own thoughts.

My mom came down from Connecticut for the weekend and I made appointments at David’s Bridal as well as a local bridal shop.

The first store, I liked nothing.  The second store, I had two favorites that I couldn’t decide between.  We were able to squeeze in an appointment at the third store, where I liked nothing, and then we went back to store #2 (just in a different location).

By that point, I wanted to go home to decide between my 2 favorite dresses.

I went back to store #2 on a random Tuesday afternoon after work.  I tried on the two dresses that I loved and decided that I wanted to go with the one that just seemed more “Stephanie.”  Both dresses had their positive qualities, but I felt much more like myself in the dress I chose.

I am happy that I made my decision by myself because although I did have some input from others (I texted the pictures to a few of my friends), it was ultimately my own choice and I didn’t pick my dress because of what anyone else preferred.

I still have to find a veil.  Did you know they can cost $400!?!?  I found that out last week.  So I will definitely be shopping around trying to find one under $100…preferably under $50 if that’s possible.

Bridesmaid dresses

My sister in Brazil is my matron of honor and my bridesmaids are from Texas, Virginia, and New Jersey.  I wanted something that would not be too much of a hassle for them.

I figured that David’s Bridal would be the easiest choice since they’re located all over the country.  I picked the color that was closest to what I wanted.  Is it the exact shade I would have preferred?  No.  But it’s pretty close and that was good enough for me.

I decided the color and length of the dress and let the girls all choose the style they prefer.  I think it often looks better when brides do this because everyone has a different body shape.  I love how V-necks and halter tops look on me, while other girls hate those styles and prefer other shapes.  I have a square-shaped body with virtually no waist or hips, so I prefer styles that give me the allusion of a waist.  Other girls have to try their hardest to hide their wide hips.

I know that most girls hate their bridesmaid dresses, so hopefully since the girls at least got to pick the style of the dress, it will be flattering to each of their body types.

Tuxedos

AJ went to the mall with his dad.  They went to two stores and picked out the tuxes for AJ and his groomsmen.  I met up with them since I happened to be in the mall that day because a friend of mine was visiting.  AJ initially picked a gray tux and I just mentioned how I thought grooms usually wore black.

He switched to black and used gray for the groomsmen and just picked colors that would match my bridesmaid dresses.  I actually don’t really know exactly how the tuxes look, but I just don’t care. That’s AJ’s job.  He chose what would go well with the help of the person working at the bridal store and I’m sure it will all look great.

I’m not the type of bride who wants to control every tiny little detail of my wedding.

Transportation

This part has not yet been figured out yet.  I don’t want anything fancy.  I’d prefer no limos, sports cars, trolleys, or party buses.  But we do need to have transportation for our wedding party, so I’m hoping to maybe use a car rental place and order two or three SUVs.

That’s the plan right now.  It seems way more affordable than other options, but we’re still figuring it all out.

Glam squad?

This has not yet been finalized.  I plan to wear makeup, but I’m not sure how much.  I’ve never worn foundation, contouring powder, false eyelashes, etc, and I think I plan to keep it that way.  I like the way I look more naturally.

People keep warning me that my pictures may look bad without full face makeup and that since it’s August, I may look shiny, but I have recently realized that if that were true, I would hate how I look in other pictures I have.

I like the way I do my makeup.  Will I do a little bit extra for my wedding?  Yes, but  I don’t want to look different from me.  I picked my dress because it felt more “Stephanie” and I think that has to be my ultimate goal with my hair and makeup as well.  I want to look like myself.  I’ll try to find something to remove the shine since it might be a hot day, but I don’t want my face to look fake.

I also have no idea how to do my hair because I have curly hair and sometimes it air dries perfectly while other times it gets frizzy.  I don’t want ti to look really fake, though, so I’m still figuring out what to do there.

Flowers

I’m not a flower person.  I told AJ right from the start that he shouldn’t ever buy me flowers.  I just don’t really appreciate them very much.  They look pretty for a few days and then they die.  I like potted plants or flowers growing outside, but bouquets aren’t my thing.

I looked into alternatives to flowers.  They make bouquets out of lollipops now.  Others are made out of feathers.  But I felt like they were just a little too silly.  I need the bouquet when I’m walking down the aisle, and it’s the Mass that is my main priority, so I feel that having a candy bouquet would just be silly and kind of make a mockery out of something that is so important.

So I do plan to have a bouquet, but hopefully just a small, simple one.  I love bright colors, so I’d love either a bright blue/pink, or hot pink bouquet for me and a tiny bouquet or single flower for my bridesmaids.  I’m leaning toward fake flowers since they cost a bit less.

Honeymoon

This was very high on my list of important wedding plans.  I could not wait to plan my honeymoon.  I could write an entire post on this, but here’s the short version.  We’re going to Bali!

Extravagant?  People would assume so, but it’s actually surprisingly affordable.  I was able to purchase flights that were cheaper than any international flight I’ve taken to Brazil, despite the fact that it’s significantly farther away.

The travel time will be long (11-hour flight followed by a short layover and another 11-hour flight), but I know that it will be worth it.  AJ and I love mission trips, so I don’t think we will take fancy vacations once we’re married.  We would probably prefer to volunteer.  I know that this trip is truly a once in a lifetime experience.

In Bali, AJ and I can afford what in most other countries would be luxury accommodations.  We will visit Ubud and Sanur.  In Ubud, we can afford a private villa with a private swimming pool and in Sanur, we can afford a private bungalow that is pretty close to the beach!  Yet it’s significantly cheaper than one night in a regular hotel in New Jersey on the same date.

Once there, we can have a nice meal for two people for under $10!  So yes, Bali is very far away and traveling there will cut some time off of our trip (it’s technically a 10-day honeymoon, but only 8 days in Bali), and we may experience jet lag, but we will bet to experience all of the beauty of Bali without spending a huge amount of money.  I can’t wait!

Wedding gifts

Apparently it’s now a thing for the bride and groom to give each other gifts.  I didn’t know this, but have stumbled across the topic during my wedding planning.

I love gifts, but if we truly understand the purpose of a wedding, there should be no need for extra, tangible gifts.  AJ is giving me the gift of himself and I am doing the same to him.  We are becoming one union under God.  What greater gift can there be than that?

I feel like giving him a tangible gift would almost undermine the beauty and significance of matrimony.  Here is a nice watch/thermos/[insert man gift here] for you because giving myself to you isn’t enough.  Spending thousands of dollars on this wedding isn’t enough.  Traveling to Bali for our honeymoon isn’t enough.  I think this watch will be what really proves my love.

I would like to write a letter to AJ for him to read on the morning of our wedding, but that’s it.

Maybe if couples would stop co-habitating and sleeping together before marriage, they wouldn’t feel the need for a separate wedding gift.  For those couples, the wedding changes very little.   I guess they need the diamond necklace to make their day complete.  I’m truly sorry for those couples because they have no idea how life-changing marriage could be if they had put things in the proper order.


I know that there are many other aspects of wedding planning that I didn’t mention.  DJs, favors, cake, room blocks, invitations, and on and on.

Honestly?  Just writing about all of this is beginning to get to me.  Maybe cathartic at the start, but now it’s getting old.  You get the idea.  I want the wedding because of the actual marriage.  I don’t care about the extra extravagances.  I don’t want to feel like a queen.  I want to feel like myself.

I want to give myself to AJ fully through the sacrament of marriage, during which time we will become one flesh.  I want God’s blessing for our marriage and I want to enjoy spending time with my closest family members and friends.

I am excited to leave for our honeymoon the following day and after the honeymoon, move in together as a couple for the first time.  All of that is what is important; not the hair extensions, fake tans, and false eyelashes.

 

 

2017: My Year in Review

As I’ve done for the past three years (201420152016), here is my 2017 year in review.  Last year, I was incredibly thankful for having met my new friends from Bible study and starting a new relationship.  Now, I have even more to be grateful for this year.  So here is what happened since last year:

January:

-AJ and I rang in the new year at Devin and Elise’s wedding in Connecticut

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-Then we went hiking at Lover’s Leap in New Milford, CT and Kent Falls in Kent, CT the next day

-Frost Valley in Claryville, NY

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-I met up with Lizzy in Philadelphia since she was there for clinicals for vet school (before graduating in May!!!)

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-Camden Aquarium with AJ

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-Hiking with AJ and Bolt in Freehold

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February:

-Hiking at Lover’s Leap in New Milford, CT again with AJ

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-Grandma’s birthday party

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-Valentine’s Day dinner at Rooney’s in Long Branch

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-Going to Absecon Lighthouse, the Atlantic City Boardwalk, and Lucy the Elephant in Margate with AJ, Sway, and Denielle

March:

-My mom’s birthday

April:

-Escape room in Freehold with AJ, Daniel, and Brady

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-AJ’s 25th birthday party

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-United States Marine Corps Educator Workshop in Parris Island, South Carolina

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-Sway’s Confirmation at the Easter Vigil

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-Easter in Connecticut

-Hiking at Bushkill Falls for AJ’s birthday

-Finishing the Spartan Beast with AJ in Vernon, NJ

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May:

-Bible study at the Freehold Mall

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-Battleship USS New Jersey in Camden

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-Father Larry’s talk with Bible study

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-Abby & Lauren’s Irish step dancing recital

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-My cousin Lauren’s first communion

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June:

-Scoring AP exams in Tampa, Florida

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July:

-Acro yoga in my back yard

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-4th of July in Connecticut for my grandpa’s birthday

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-Vacation in LBI with my mom

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Barnegat Lighthouse

-Churrascaria for my early 29th birthday dinner

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-Acro yoga attempt #2 in my back yard

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-Volunteering in Uganda with Go Be Love International.  Sole Hope in Jinja

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-Free day at the Nile River

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August:

-Volunteering with Go Be Love International at Amani Baby Cottage in Jinja

September:

-Phil and Marissa’s wedding in Pennsylvania

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-Chris and Grace’s wedding in Pennsylvania

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-Visiting Franciscan University for the first time since I graduated 7 years ago

October:

-Jersey Shore Half Marathon in Sandy Hook

-Getting engaged on October 9th

-Connecticut for a family party

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-Pro-Life dinner at Doolan’s in Spring Lake

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-Lizzy visited & we went Halloween bowling

November:

-AJ’s cousin, Jared, took engagement photos for us

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-Celebrated Thanksgiving with AJ’s family in Somerset, NJ

-Hiking at Hartshorne Park

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December:

-Christmas Eve in Connecticut at Grandma & Grandpa’s house

-Christmas Day in Connecticut: morning at Grandma & Grandpa’s house, shoveling snow, and then Christmas Day at Aunt Suzi & Uncle Bob’s house

-Young Adults in Faith Christmas celebration at St. Robert’s in Freehold

2017 was a great year.  Looking back at January, when AJ and I had only been together for a month, I never expected that by New Year’s Eve, we would be planning a wedding, figuring out where we want to live, and having intense conversations about the future.  So much can change in one year and I am thrilled to see what 2018 entails.

I thank God for all of His abundant blessings and pray for an amazing 2018.

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

Beauty of the Beatitudes

It’s so easy to become engrossed in the news right now, watching Trump’s every move as new president.  So I would rather take some time to reflect on this past Sunday’s Gospel reading from Matthew 5:1-12, the Beatitudes:

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain,
and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him.
He began to teach them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me.
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.”


Blessed are the poor in spirit.  My 7th grade CCD students were confused about this one.  They thought that “poor in spirit” meant that God was speaking about people who lack faith.  I knew that wasn’t it, but I realized that I was also unsure about the actual meaning by the phrase “poor in spirit.”

I like the way that this verse was explained here:

Blessed are those who realize they are spiritually bankrupt, for this realization turns them to God, without whom they cannot fulfill what they are created to do and be. Much of the rest of the sermon rips away from us the self-delusion that we are capable of acquiring a state of blessedness on our own. It aims to produce in us a genuine poverty of spirit.

What is the practical result of this blessing? If we are poor in spirit, we are able to bring an honest appraisal of ourselves to our work. We don’t inflate our résumé or boast about our position.

Blessed are they who mourn.

He promises to comfort those who are experiencing sorrow.  I know that these words have been a source of encouragement to me in times of struggle and sadness.  I had faith that things would get better and that even if it took a while, God would remain by my side, comforting me through it all.

Blessed are the meek.

The word meek reminds me of someone like Mother Teresa / St. Teresa of Calcutta.  Our society does not view the meek person with high regard.  Our society favors the outgoing, energetic, charismatic personalities.

But with God, that is not the case. It is those who are humble and who do not boast who will inherit the land.

Those who work hard day in and day out without complaint.  Those who volunteer in order to promote good in the world rather than those who volunteer for the acknowledgment and accolades.  They are the ones who deserve to inherit God’s finest gifts.

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness.

These are the people who, although sinners, thirst to lead a holy life.  They acknowledge their shortcomings and failings and try to improve in order to become even more worthy of God’s love.  It is they who will be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful.

These are the people who forgive those who have wronged them.  This reminds me of the Dylan Roof case.  After he killed those people who were at the end of a church Bible study, many of the deceased victims’ family members offered kind words of peace and forgiveness.

I can’t imagine how it must feel to have my loved one murdered.  It would be difficult to forgive the assailant.  But that is what many of these people did.

It will be people like that to whom God will show his mercy.  Their kind actions will be remembered when it comes time for their ultimate judgement.

So many people today harbor anger and ill will toward their fellow brothers and sisters.  They hold grudges over inconsequential things that don’t even matter in the grand scheme of life.  They are being called to step back and show some mercy rather than anger and hatred.


Blessed are the clean of heart.

It is the pure who will see God in all of His glory.  When our souls are stained and blemished by sin, we cannot easily see God and His love for us.  We end up dying to our sins and falling away from Him even though he is always there for us.

It is those with pure hearts who have the advantage of seeing God and understanding Him more full than those who are damaged by sin.


Blessed are the peacemakers.

It is they who strive to unite people who will be called children of God rather than those who separate themselves from others.

We are called to live peacefully, being slow to anger, open to forgiveness, and not dwelling on past wrongs.

Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness.
Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me.

This last part is the section that stands out to me the most.  Blessed are we who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness.  Blessed are we who ridiculed, insulted, and hated because of our faith in God.  Jesus was persecuted in the worst possible way, ultimately leading to his crucifixion.

We will never experience the full pain that Jesus experienced in dying for our sins, but that is not to say that life will we easy.  If we are truly following God’s will for us and his teachings, we will not always have the popular opinion.  We may find ourself the minority in some situations.  We may find people who dislike us simply because we call ourselves Christians.  The path of following God isn’t easy, but it’s worth it.
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.

Rejoice.  That’s a pretty significant word to use there.  We must not just accept these insults, but rejoice in them.  We must take joy in this persecution.  That’s difficult advice to follow.  Sometimes our path in following Christ becomes difficult.  People think that we’re crazy.  People hate us.  People utter false lies against us and the Catholic Church in general.

It is during these times when we must rejoice, with confidence that we are following the truth and doing what is right in order to achieve eternal salvation one day.

 

So while I, too, am nervous to see what happens with our country over the next few years, the Beatitudes give me a feeling of comfort and hope in the future.