Tag Archives: Catholicism

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.

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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.

 

 

God’s Perfect Love Story

It’s amazing how much life can change over the course of one year and how God’s plans are far superior to our own plans.

Back in October of 2016, I was finally feeling joy again after a rough start to that year.  I was thankful for my apartment right by the beach, for my career as a high school English teacher, and for my Bible study, which I had found just a few months back.

Everything was going well.  While out for a run with my friend, Gabriella, I had commented to her about how I was really content with my life.  She immediately replied, “You know what that means, don’t you?”  She explained how I would probably find a new relationship since I wasn’t actively seeking one.  I laughed and shrugged it off.

But as the weeks passed, I found myself drawn to AJ every time we would meet at our weekly Thursday night Bible study.

The first time I met AJ at Bible study, I actually had him pegged as a dumb jock.  He speaks somewhat slowly, so I just pictured the stereotypical attractive football player who has little intelligence.  I didn’t even know his name.  His friend, Sway, introduced him as “Gaines,” so it actually took me a few weeks of Bible study before I learned that his name was AJ…and months before I knew that his actual name was Alan.  

How wrong I turned out to be with my dumb jock assumptions.  Once he opened his mouth about the Scriptures, I knew that he had a phenomenal knowledge of the Bible.

As weeks passed, I noticed how similar we were, primarily how we both had to work at finding a balance between our careers, our workouts, and our faith journeys.  I was impressed when AJ told me about the commitment that he made to God, promising that he would not work out for more time in any given day than he had spent in prayer.  That blew me away.  

After previous failed relationships, I had started to doubt that I would ever find a guy who was quite as interested in his faith as I was.  And yet here I was, feeling completely humbled by AJ.  I knew that in all of my marathon training, there were many days when I had run for two or three hours, but I definitely had not also spent two or three hours in prayer with God.  I actually felt intimidated by AJ and his faith, even unworthy at times, not thinking that I was holy enough to push him further in his faith journey.

I started looking forward to Bible study even more than I previously had, always hoping to be in AJ’s group when we would split up, or trying to sit near him during dinner.  However, AJ seemed to be a lot younger than me.  I didn’t really know his background, but I knew that he was studying for his physical therapy boards after having recently graduated from college.  I assumed that he was around 22 years old.  I was 28 at the time, so I viewed him as the cute guy at Bible study who I had a bit of a crush on, knowing that nothing would ever come of it.

Wrong, once again.

Yes, he had only recently graduated from college, but that’s because he was earning his doctorate for physical therapy.  Once I learned that and knew that he was only four years younger than me, I was even more interested in him.

On October 8th, I went to Catholic Underground in New York City with some of my friends from Bible study.  AJ was just a few weeks away from his boards for physical therapy, so he was studying during the drive up to NYC.  I was sitting next to him in the back seat, quizzing him on his notes and also chatting about life to him and the rest of our group.

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During adoration, I noticed that he took out his phone.  Initially, I totally judged him, wondering what could be so important that he would look at his phone during adoration.  Then I realized that he was actually looking up the words to the Hillsong United song, “Touch the Sky,” which was being played.  And then I I noticed how he was singing aloud — something that isn’t that common among the Catholic men I see at any given Sunday Mass.

At the end of the night, I told AI that I would pray for his boards and he told me that he would pray for my upcoming marathon.  It turned out that these significant events were both happening during the same week: my marathon on October 23rd and his exam on October 27th.

We didn’t talk much outside of Bible study at that point because we didn’t even have each other’s numbers.  He sent me a private message on Slack, the app our Bible study uses to inform everyone about our events.  He said that he hoped that my race went well (but he was a little early, so I thanked him and explained the actual date of my race), and I promised him that I would pray for his exam.

I always try to pray for people when they need me to, but often I forget to pray at the exact right moment when their test or other significant event is happening.  Not this time.  I couldn’t believe how many times I thought of AJ and his exam on October 27th.  Even while I was at work, I kept thinking about the test and how he was doing, saying a little prayer every time I remembered.

October 27th was a Thursday, so we had Bible study that night.  He came late since he was busy that day, but I remember feeling so excited to see him since I had prayed for his test so much that day.  We didn’t really get to talk, but I was so hopeful that he would pass.

The following Thursday, November 3rd, I hosted Bible study at my apartment.  It turned out that a larger group than normal was available that night, so we faced a good problem: too many people here for Bible study.  I made penne a la vodka with chicken and squished 15 of us into my living room.

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It was a very warm fall last year, so I was always looking for people to come kayaking with me.  I posted an open invitation on Slack, but I did secretly hope that AJ might take me up on my offer for anyone to join me for kayaking.  He responded that he was interested, so we exchanged numbers, waiting for a nice day to kayak.
Before we actually had time to go kayaking, my friend, Kate, invited a bunch of us to go to a bar crawl in Asbury Park to raise money for the Covenant House on November 5th.  I don’t drink at all, so a bar crawl was not very high on my list of desired things to do, but I was excited that I would get to spend time with Kate and Gabriella, and I was hoping that AJ might come as well.  Gabriella and I planned to bike to Asbury, so I was excited to at least have fun with her and Kate.

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In the end, the bar crawl was great.  AJ and I talked here and there throughout the day, but we also spent time talking to other friends.  I was able to catch up with some of my teammates from a relay race that we had completed in August.  

Then we got to the last bar, Johnny Mac’s, and some of the bar crawl crew had gone home for the night.  There was an outdoor bar that had these huge heaters blasting (it was November in New Jersey, after all), but nobody wanted to sit directly under the heaters because it was so hot.  Well, I quickly learned that both AJ and I love being hot.  We sat at the bar under those heaters for a long time, just chatting and getting to know each other.  I knew for sure at that point that I was interested in him, and I was hoping that the feelings were mutual, but I really wasn’t sure.  I’ve always been pretty terrible at knowing when guys are interested in me.

Soon after that night, we were started hanging out together pretty often, since I was free every afternoon after work and AJ hadn’t yet gotten hired as a physical therapist since he was waiting on his license to come in the mail.  It also helped that I had extra days off from work for teacher convention.

I’m so thankful for this time that we had because if he had already had a job when we first met, we never would have been able to hang out.  God’s perfect timing was definitely at work.

On Tuesday, November 8th, AJ and I got to go kayaking on Shark River when I got out of work.  We kayaked and talked and had a really good time.  The following day, Wednesday, we went to see the movie Hacksaw Ridge.  I remember texting Gabriella about it, unsure whether or not it was a date, not knowing whether I should pay for my own ticket or not.  In the end, he planned to get to the theater before me to get the tickets, so I just figured he would get the tickets.  But then we both showed up at exactly the same time, so when the cashier called him up, I just let him purchase both of our tickets.  He told me later on that he did not intend the movies to be a date, but he realized that I may have thought that when I let him pay.  Regardless, it was a great movie.  

On Thursday, we had a young adult Mass at my church, followed by fellowship at a local bar, Anchor Tavern.  

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Because I was one of the people organizing the event, I didn’t have time to talk to AJ because I had to walk over to Anchor Tavern first to make sure that the reserved tables had been set up for us.

I sat at a table, just hoping that AJ would end up near me.  That event had a great turnout, with over 20 of us at the bar and many more who attended the Mass.  AJ did, in fact, sit near me.  This time, I really felt like he was interested in me, even though I was still a bit unclear on the whole situation.  

The next day, Friday, we went hiking at Hartshorne Park in Atlantic Highlands.  Unfortunately, AJ didn’t have his own car at this point.  He had to borrow his brother’s car, so we were only able to hike for a short time before he needed to return the car.

Then on Saturday, a group of us from Bible study were driving to the campus ministry house at Rider University to film this video.  That was the fifth consecutive day that AJ and I had been together.

Some time during that week I had talked to Gabriella, completely unsure whether or not he was interested in me.  I felt like he had to be since we were spending so much time together, but at the same time, he would always just say goodbye when he left, not really hugging me goodbye or anything.

The following week, we went kayaking again on Wednesday, November 16th.  At one point, though, he mentioned a friend who may have been interested in someone else at Bible study and he said how he didn’t want Bible study to become a singles group.  When he said that, I was really confused.  Did he direct that towards me, trying to show me that we were just buddies and that no relationship would come out of all of our hang-outs?  Or did he just mean that he didn’t want his friend to come to Bible study with the sole purpose of finding at mate?  I was extremely confused.

On Thursday, we had Bible study Friendsgiving.  I had to arrive late since it was the same night as parent-teacher conferences, but I was glad that I got to at least come to part of it.

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Then on Friday, we had a holy half hour in Freehold, followed by fellowship at Moore’s Tavern.  It was pretty loud in the bar that night, so it was difficult to talk to people.  Every time AJ tried to talk to me, he put his hand on my back to pull me closer to him so that we could hear each other.  I remember how tingly his touch felt every time he put his hand on the small of my back.

We talked about Spartan races and I told him about one that I was planning to sign up for.  He was interested and said that he was going to look into signing up for the same race.  He said that he could help me to increase my strength and I could help him to get back into a running routine.  He reminded me that Spartan training came with one stipulation — that he would not work out for more hours a day than he spent in prayer or at church.  I thought that was incredible.

He also invited me to go to a party that his parents were throwing for him the following weekend to celebrate his graduation and passing the boards.  Later on, I asked Gabriella if she had been invited.  When she said no, I was pretty confident that he had invited me because he was interested in me.

The following weekend, on Saturday, November 20th, we helped Kate deliver Thanksgiving baskets to families in need.  Then AJ and I went to Twin Lights in Highlands, before hiking for a really long time again at Hartshorne.  It was absolutely one of the most fun days that I had ever had.  We had so much fun doing such ridiculous things and making up silly games.  We ran through the reeds, played hide and seek, climbed fallen trees, played balancing games, Simon Says, you name it.

Then we created a game where one of us would close our eyes and the other person would try to lead us through the woods.  We were in a really thick part of the woods, so it was relatively difficult to navigate alone, let alone helping another person.  It was hilarious and we had a great time.

We were there for hours, ultimately hiking five and a half miles (partially because we thought we were going in a loop, but when we got to a dead end, we had to go back the entire way).

Afterward, we were starving for dinner, but we were both filthy from hours of hiking.  It was Jersey Shore Restaurant Week, so we ended up going to Mr. Shrimp for dinner, despite our filth.  Dinner was also hilarious because we kept finding random leaves and branches stuck to our clothing or in our hair.  My diary entry on that day says, “It was such a blast,  I have a feeling he’s going to end up being my next boyfriend but I still want to wait for him to take the lead.  I guess we shall see what happens.”

The following Saturday, November 27th, was his graduation party at his house.  I was a little bit nervous since I had never met his family or friends, and I only knew three people who were going to be there.  It was really fun though.  

During the bonfire, somehow the topic of blood diamonds came up and AJ said how he never wanted to buy a diamond.  I was absolutely blown away.  He was the first person I had ever met who even knew about blood diamonds.  I had been saying for years that I never wanted to own a diamond.  There were just so many things that AJ and I had in common — even our distaste for diamonds.

Later, people started leaving, but he asked if our friends, Sway and Denielle, wanted to stay so that the four of us could play some games, so we played Blokus and Scattergories.  Eventually, Sway and Denielle were also leaving and I really wanted to stay to talk to AJ for a bit since we hadn’t been able to talk much during his party, but it was already getting late.  Fortunately, AJ felt the same exact way.  He has a dog named Bolt who is very mean to most people other than his immediate family.  Knowing my love for dogs, though, he asked if I wanted him to introduce me to his dog.  Of course I excitedly agreed.

I guess I’m a pet whisperer or something, because Bolt was initially scared, but let me pet him.  Eventually, he came right up to me, licking my hand and everything.  AJ couldn’t believe it because Bolt is usually so mean to everyone he encounters.  

AJ and I ended up talking on his couch for hours, before he finally kissed me for the first time.  It’s funny looking back, because I felt like we had been hanging out for such a long time before he kissed me, but really the first time we had hung out together without other friends from Bible study was November 8th, so it was only about three weeks later.  I think it felt like more time than that since there were many times when we hung out for four or five days in a row.

I don’t usually kiss guys who I’m not in a relationship with, but I remember being happy that he kissed me.  He made it clear that we were dating and not seeing other people.  But he wasn’t officially my boyfriend just yet.

We signed up for the Spartan Beast in April.  Looking back, I’m really surprised that I did that because we could have realized that we weren’t right for each other between November and April.  It could have made the race really awkward, but everything worked out just fine.

I can’t remember exactly how long we ended up hanging out and talking that night, but it was really late.  I think I only left his house around 5am, which is a big deal for me since I am not typically a night person.

After that night, we continued hanging out, volunteering, running, working out, and playing games together.

One night we went to look at the ice sculptures in Neptune before walking around Belmar to look at all of the Christmas lights.  We decided to take silly pictures imitating the sculptures.

Everything we did together was an absolute blast.  At this point, I started telling one of my coworkers about him and she said she’d wager that we would be engaged in 6 to 9 months.  I disagreed since we weren’t yet an official couple, but she just told me to wait and see.  It’s funny now, looking back on that conversation, because she had us pegged from the start.

In early December, AJ was hired as a physical therapist, so his life started to get really busy.  I am so thankful for all of the time that we had during the month of November because I didn’t realize how much that was about to change.

On the weekend of December 10th, one of our friends was having a birthday weekend celebration in the Poconos.  I only knew Sway from Bible study, but he had been AJ’s friend for years.  AJ invited me to come with a group of their friends to the Poconos.  I was initially really nervous about going since I didn’t really know their group of friends yet and I wasn’t sure about the sleeping situation.  I didn’t want to have to share a bed with AJ, but I wasn’t sure how much space there would be for everyone.  I also didn’t know how much drinking would be involved, since I am not interested in alcohol at all and I really hate being around drunk people.

In the end, the weekend was a ton of fun and I’m really glad that I went.  I got to know AJ’s friends better, go hiking in the Poconos, go swimming in the pool, and enjoy time with AJ before his life got super busy with work.

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The first night, we slept on the kitchen floor in sleeping bags, but we were talking for such a long time that we looked at the clock at one point and realized that it was 6am.  Oops!  That day we went hiking for hours and I can’t believe that we even had the energy, considering our lack of sleep.

The second night, on December 11th, AJ made it official that I was his girlfriend.  I’m really happy how everything turned out.  I like the fact that we we met in Bible study and got to know each other through our discussions of the Scriptures, rather than on awkward first dates.  There was never a time that I was trying to act a certain way to impress him.  He even heard me talk about things I would rather have him not know about, like some conversations I had about previous relationships.  Initially, I didn’t expect to end up with AJ at all, so I didn’t really care what I talked about when I was at Bible study or with that group of friends, and I think the same was true for him.  We got to know the other person in an open, prayerful environment, which ended up being perfect.

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We never really had a first date because initially we were hanging out kayaking and hiking, but it never really felt like a date.  We were just friends.  Then everything just developed into a relationship with the passing of time.

Fast forward a bit and now we are engaged, set to get married in August 2018.  It’s amazing all that has happened in the past year and I am so thankful that God allowed my path to cross AJ’s path.  We only had a short window of time to find each other between the start of Bible study and the start of AJ’s physical therapy job.

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As I had become older and experienced more failed experiences, I think I had grown a bit cynical about relationships.  I expected to have to settle a bit, never expecting to find someone who was quite as faithful or adventurous as me.  I didn’t think I would find someone who has a passion for mission trips and volunteering.  I didn’t really believe that God had that perfect love story in my cards.  Boy, was I wrong.

Right now next year, I will be married to the most amazing man I know.  I am excited that I will get to call him my husband and that he will call me his wife.  Our short life on earth should be lived with one goal in mind: heaven.  There is nobody I would rather have beside me during that journey, pushing me to grow in holiness each and every day.

 

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

 

 

 

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.

 

Are the Side Effects of Birth Control Really Worth It?

Yesterday, I was reading a CNN article entitled “Women Rush to Get IUDs Because of Trump.”  Obama’s Affordable Health Care Act guarantees free contraceptives to most women.  Trump wants to change that, so women are rushing to determine their birth control plans.

Many are choosing to have IUDs implanted.  According to CNN, an IUD costs around $1,000 to insert and it can last for up to ten years.

So before I get into the problems surrounding The Pill, let’s get into IUDs.

IUDs

They can perforate the uterus upon insertion, or if they accidentally move around inside of the woman.  Although non-cancerous, they have been proven to cause ovarian cysts.  They can cause problems with a woman’s menstrual cycle, in addition to headaches, mood swings, nausea, and acne.  Although the IUD doesn’t create infections on its own, if a woman gets a genital infection and she has an IUD, the infection can much more easily be spread into the uterus and fallopian tubes.

Now, I would rather not experience any of those side effects, but what amazes me is that multiple websites readily admit that the Mirena IUD causes ovarian cysts.  They list it as one of the “common” side effects.  It isn’t even like it’s something that is hidden from the general public.

In addition, lawsuits have been filed against Mirena for not being more forthcoming in the past about the uterus performation that can occur if the IUD moves.  There have been over 500 lawsuits against Mirena for this reason.

I’m sure that many of the women flocking to have the IUD inserted are well aware, and that’s what astounds me — that women readily accept potentially life-threatening side effects so that they can have sex without risking pregnancy.

Pregnancy is so terrible that women would rather face cysts and perforations of the uterus.  Really?    You know, condoms have pretty high rates of pregnancy prevention as well.  And as far as I know, they won’t rupture your uterus.  And there’s something even better – Natural Family Planning (NFP) that is completely free.

And then there’s the Pill.

The Pill

I was having a conversation last night with a friend who had stopped taking the pill due to some side effects that she was experiencing.  She mentioned how it made her feel extreme levels of anxiety as well as depression.

I am a high school English teacher.  Without considering this potential correlation, I had noticed over the past few years of teaching that I have many females with anxiety issues.  I know that the stereotype is that females are more emotional, but I have seen girls who have abnormal levels of stress and anxiety.  I have also seen many girls writing in their journals and other assignments about their experiences with depression.

I know that depression can exist on its own, but my conversation with my friend made me wonder if there could be any link between this increase that I’ve noticed in anxious females and birth control use.  After all, many girls start taking birth control as soon as they get their period.  Some of them take it for pregnancy prevention, while others are prescribed it because of acne or menstrual irregularities.

Upon doing a little research, I stumbled across this CNN article, “Birth Control Linked to Depression, New Study Says.”

According to the article, 30% of women eventually stop using the pill because of side effects.

“We have known for decades that women’s sex hormones estrogen and progesterone have an influence on many women’s mood. Therefore, it is not very surprising that also external artificial hormones acting in the same way and on the same centers as the natural hormones might also influence women’s mood or even be responsible for depression development,” said Dr. Øjvind Lidegaard, a professor at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark and lead supervisor of the study.

Lidegaard performed a study that involved one million Danish women ages 15-34 over the course of 14 years and he did not include any women who had been previously diagnosed with depression.

Here are some of his findings:

Among all hormonal birth control users in the study, there was a 40% increased risk of depression after six months, compared to women who did not use hormonal birth control, the researchers found.

Adolescents seemed more vulnerable to this risk than women 20 to 34 years old. Further studies are warranted to examine depression as a potential adverse effect of hormonal contraceptive use,” the researchers wrote in their study.

According to the article, 62% of women between ages 15 and 44 use some form of birth control.  16% of them use the pill, 16% use female sterilization, and 7% use IUDs or implants (National Center for Health Statistics.)  Other studies have shown 4 out of every 5 American women use birth control.

Now I don’t know about you, but a 40% increased risk of depression is absolutely cause for concern.  40%?!? Those are pretty good odds.

Of course some OBGYNs were quoted in the article about the fact that more needs to be studied since “causation is hard to prove.”  One doctor said that “Although this study suggests an increased risk of depression with combined hormonal contraception, the increase does not seem so great as to significantly change how I counsel patients.”

Really?  You don’t plan to counsel patients any differently?  You know that there is a pretty good chance that they could become anxious or depressed as a result of the pill and that isn’t going to change that much for you?

The CNN article continues to say that although some side effects of birth control include things like strokes, there are also health benefits like pregnancy prevention (well…isn’t that the point?), menstrual cycle regulation, and acne.

Think about the 13 year old girls who are prescribed this pill only because of acne.  Depression is a better alternative to skin that isn’t clear?  Okay, your face is flawless, but I’m sorry to tell you that you might have a stroke.

So you won’t get knocked up, your cycle will be normal, and your skin will be clear.  You might just have to deal with a stroke here or there.  No big deal.


Now I’m one of those people who does not believe in contraception at all.   My opinion stems from my religious beliefs, but I also try my best to live an all-around healthy lifestyle.

There was another CNN article published about the fact that some women are opting to ditch birth control because they have realized that it isn’t healthy to mess with your hormones and reproductive organs the way that birth control does.

Natural Family Planning

This article talks about women switching over to Natural Family Planning (NFP).

I was shocked to even see an article about this on CNN’s website.  NFP was something that I had only heard about through my Catholic college or Catholic friends.  CNN even admits that it was started within the Catholic Church, but it is apparently becoming more secular.

The way that NFP works is that the woman monitors her cycle, bodily changes, and temperature to determine when ovulation occurs and then she chooses not to have sex on the days when she is fertile.

The woman interviewed in the article explained that she switched to NFP once her doctor told her that she was at a high risk for strokes as a result of her birth control.  She was 29 years old, yet at risk for strokes.  Kudos to her for taking action and ending her birth control.  Many other females accept the horrifying risks so that they can have sex as they please.

In the article, an OBGYN said that 1 in 4 women using NFP will get pregnant.  However, it also says that if it is used correctly, it has a 99.6-99.4% rate of success in avoiding pregnancy.  That does require women to take their temperature daily and monitor their bodies, but isn’t that a much better alternative to depression, strokes, weight gain, acne, etc?  It’s effective as long as it’s used properly.


So I know that plenty of women will disagree with me, but I’m absolutely supportive of Trump wanting to change Obamacare’s free contraception.

I mean, almost nothing in life is free anyway.  For what reason should contraception be free?  A woman will not die without her birth control.  There are sick people all across the country who cannot afford the medications they need in order to survive, yet our taxpayer dollars are helping people to have sex without worries.


And if you’re interested, here’s a previous post about the dangers surrounding NuvaRing:

Risking Death to Prevent Pregnancy?

2016 Year in Review

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

January:

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

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-Annual trip to Frost Valley in Claryville, NY

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

February:

-The end of my last relationship

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

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

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March:

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

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

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

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

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-My mom’s 60th birthday

April:

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

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May:

-My cousin, Dan, graduated from UConn

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

June:

-I went to senior prom to see my students

-Finished my first year teaching in New Jersey

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

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

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

July:

-Went to Connecticut for my grandpa’s birthday party

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-Ran the Belmar five miler

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

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

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

-Went to the sand castle competition in Belmar

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

-I turned 28 in Long Beach Island

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Birthday lunch

August:

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

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-I started riding my bike all around the shore

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Riding my bike through Avon by-the-sea

-Traveled to Nicaragua with Living Water International

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My amazing team

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

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

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The community with their finished well

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

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

September:

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

-Started my second year of teaching in New Jersey

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

-Went to the Philadelphia Zoo with my friend, Adam

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-Went kayaking with my friend, Adam

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October:

-Ran the Jersey Shore Half Marathon in Sandy Hook

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-Tenth Avenue North concert with my friend, Amanda

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

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-More kayaking with friends

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

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

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-I went swimming in the ocean the day before Halloween

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November:

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

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

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

-Kayaking Shark River with my friend, Kate

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-Home to Connecticut for Thanksgiving

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December:

-Went to see the ice sculptures in Tinton Falls

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Mimicking the ice sculptures

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

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

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-New relationship with AJ on December 11th

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Climbing a tree in the Poconos

-Graham cracker gingerbread house building with AJ

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-Christmas Eve at my grandparents’ house

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-Christmas day at my aunt and uncle’s house

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

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

Advent

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

 

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

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

“Joy is not dependent on circumstances.”

“Joy is a choice.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Father Schmitz says that Advent has three main goals:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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