As I’ve done for the past three years (2014, 2015, 2016), 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:
-AJ and I rang in the new year at Devin and Elise’s wedding in Connecticut
-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
-I met up with Lizzy in Philadelphia since she was there for clinicals for vet school (before graduating in May!!!)
-Camden Aquarium with AJ
-Hiking with AJ and Bolt in Freehold
-Hiking at Lover’s Leap in New Milford, CT again with AJ
-Grandma’s birthday party
-Valentine’s Day dinner at Rooney’s in Long Branch
-Going to Absecon Lighthouse, the Atlantic City Boardwalk, and Lucy the Elephant in Margate with AJ, Sway, and Denielle
-My mom’s birthday
-Escape room in Freehold with AJ, Daniel, and Brady
-AJ’s 25th birthday party
-United States Marine Corps Educator Workshop in Parris Island, South Carolina
-Sway’s Confirmation at the Easter Vigil
-Easter in Connecticut
-Hiking at Bushkill Falls for AJ’s birthday
-Finishing the Spartan Beast with AJ in Vernon, NJ
-Bible study at the Freehold Mall
-Battleship USS New Jersey in Camden
-Father Larry’s talk with Bible study
-Abby & Lauren’s Irish step dancing recital
-My cousin Lauren’s first communion
-Scoring AP exams in Tampa, Florida
-Acro yoga in my back yard
-4th of July in Connecticut for my grandpa’s birthday
-Vacation in LBI with my mom
-Churrascaria for my early 29th birthday dinner
-Acro yoga attempt #2 in my back yard
-Volunteering in Uganda with Go Be Love International. Sole Hope in Jinja
-Free day at the Nile River
-Volunteering with Go Be Love International at Amani Baby Cottage in Jinja
-Phil and Marissa’s wedding in Pennsylvania
-Chris and Grace’s wedding in Pennsylvania
-Visiting Franciscan University for the first time since I graduated 7 years ago
-Jersey Shore Half Marathon in Sandy Hook
-Getting engaged on October 9th
-Connecticut for a family party
-Pro-Life dinner at Doolan’s in Spring Lake
-Lizzy visited & we went Halloween bowling
-AJ’s cousin, Jared, took engagement photos for us
-Celebrated Thanksgiving with AJ’s family in Somerset, NJ
-Hiking at Hartshorne Park
-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.
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:
Sit at the feet of the Master (daily prayer)
Develop the attitude of the Master (be a servant)
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.
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:
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.