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.
I am currently still in a state of shock. I cannot believe the ways that God has blessed me as of late.
I had recently been feeling very stressed financially. For the first time, I owed money back when I completed my taxes. So instead of receiving at least $800 as I had expected, I actually owed $1200.
I was also overwhelmed because I have to decide whether to fix some things on my car or to purchase another used car. Plus, Friday night was one of my payment deadlines for my mission trip to Africa. All of these numbers and bills were piling up and I wasn’t sure if I would have to drain my savings to get by. I felt like maybe instead of volunteering, it would be more prudent to have a summer job, since I technically could work full time in the summer (since I’m a teacher), though I would prefer not to.
I knew somewhere deep in my heart that God would provide, but at the same time, I saw dollar signs looming on the horizon and I couldn’t help feeling worried about it.
Had I made a bad decision in my choice to volunteer in Africa this summer? Maybe I was taking on more than I could handle financially. Should I have opted for a cheaper, week-long mission trip somewhere in South America, which would have been more affordable?
Had I been too lavish in buying mainly organic produce, and meat? Maybe I should risk the health concerns and go back to the antibiotic-infested meat and fish and pesticide-rich fruits and vegetables. I really didn’t want to, but somehow, my finances had become a burden.
A few weeks ago, I was receiving phone calls from Franciscan University, my alma mater. I knew they were calling for donations, as they typically do once a year. I love that school so much, so I donate every year, but this year the timing was less than ideal.
After a week or so of intentionally not answering the phone, I finally picked it up one night, deciding that I needed to show God that I did, in fact, have faith in Him. I couldn’t hoard my income and expect any fruit to come from that. So despite my anxiousness about my finances, I made a donation to Franciscan University.
On a separate occasion, I was listening to my friend on the Catholic radio station. It was their fundraising drive and initially, I planned not to donate because I knew that I already had too much to take care of financially in my own life.
But eventually, something made me realize that I couldn’t have that attitude. I had to give with the faith that things would work out for me in the end if I could be generous to those who needed it.
And sure enough, that is exactly what happened.
By Friday evening (April 22nd), I needed a certain amount of money in my account for my mission trip to Uganda, followed by the final payment that was due by May 22nd.
All day, I left the donation page open on my computer, knowing that I would have to just put the amount (over $1500) on my credit card and hope that I would be able to raise some more money in the future.
That evening, almost immediately before I was about to put it on my credit card, I received a phone call from my mom that a family member of mine was interested in helping to make a substantial donation to my trip.
I almost burst out crying. I am beyond humbled right now and incredibly gracious.
I feel so guilty for the amount of stress I have been experiencing lately with regard to my financial situation. I should have maintained my faith in God, but I just kept doubting myself and my choices.
Yesterday during Mass, I couldn’t stop smiling and thanking God for His abundant blessings.
I am so glad that I made those donations to Franciscan and the Catholic radio station (in addition to my regularly scheduled donations, like the monthly $38 that goes to my sponsored child in Rwanda through Compassion International.)
When we give, we also receive. That is so true in this very moment.
At the time that I signed up for the mission trip to Uganda, I truly felt that was my calling. I absolutely love having a teacher’s schedule so that I can travel to volunteer each summer. I have been blessed to experience a variety of mission trips serving in Ecuador, Haiti, Rwanda, and Nicaragua. When deciding where to go this summer, the description of the Uganda trip immediately stood out to me.
We will be working in a children’s detention facility through Sixty Feet (prisons, the justice system, and justice reform is something that I care about quite a bit). Then we will be working with Sole Hope, which holds medical clinics to remove jiggers from the feet of children (and adults) who have been infested. It then provides them with shoes.
Everyone is on this earth with a certain calling. One of my callings is to teach. Another is to volunteer, specifically overseas, which is something that many people are afraid of, or simply uninterested in.
I regret how I had been second guessing my decision to join this mission trip because of finances and I am now more confident than ever that God has had a hand in forming this team and that there is a specific reason why that trip is the one that stood out to me.
I am absolutely astounded by the way everything happened this weekend. I am beyond grateful to everyone who made a contribution to this trip. I have received donations from close loved ones, to anonymous donors, to people who I have never met, but they know one of my friends of family members. I am completely humbled by all of the support and I will continue to keep all of my donors in my prayers as I prepare for this mission trip.
In the end, God has our backs in every situation. He is there for us and if we are able to accept that help and turn to Him when we are in need, we will reap great blessings.
We must give without knowing whether it’s a prudent financial decision because He will pay us back in ways we cannot even imagine. We must maintain our generosity even when it seems most difficult to do so.
“Give generously to him and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to.” – Deuteronomy 15:10
“Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.” – Proverbs 3:27
While I agree with the author’s point that she hopes that the best years of her life will take place once she has a husband, a career, and children, I disagree with the rest of the content.
She hopes that college isn’t the best years of her life because, to her, college entails:
-“getting drunk three nights a week”
-“playing pong with frat brothers”
-conversations about who the “cute frat guy is hooking up with and what frats are going to be open on Thursday night”
-“drinking crappy beer in frat basements”
But here is the problem. This is unfortunately what college life is like for most students today. However, that DOES NOT have to be the norm.
I went to Franciscan University of Steubenville, a passionately Catholic university. None of those five bulleted items that she mentioned were a part of my college experience.
I had an absolutely amazing time during college. Like the author, I believe that there is still more good to come in my future years, but I would definitely say that college was one of the best times of my life.
At my school, the students surrounding me truly pushed me to be a better person. It was the norm to see the three daily masses filled, standing-room only. It was not strange to see the chapel full during the early hours of a Saturday morning, with many students who were about to travel to the abortion clinics in Pittsburgh to pray outside of them.
Spring break was not filled with wild trips to Cancun and Miami, but with mission trips. We sent students to Louisiana to help after Hurricane Katrina, to Ecuador on a medical mission trip (the one I went on), to Honduras, Belize, New York City, Jamaica, and on and on.
Our classes were often started with a prayer. Our professors were approachable and knew us by name. My custodial job was also started with a prayer.
Our athletic teams would offer to pray with the opposing teams after the end of games.
One Saturday night a month, our field house was full of students who were there for a FOP (Festival of Praise). If you wanted to go to confession, you knew you had to get there early, or else you would be spending quite a bit of time waiting in line.
I spent time with my friends baking cookies, going out to dinner, shopping, watching movies, playing games, and being silly college-aged students, but we were sober through it all.
We had formals every semester. Although they were usually at venues that did sell alcohol to students who were 21, very few people were ever drunk. Everyone would get all dressed up and have a genuinely good time, without being under the influence. At the end of the night, we would go back to our dorms with our friends. Nobody would be having sex with a random hookup on the bottom bunk. Nobody would be passed out in a pile of vomit next to the toilet. Nobody would be arrested for drug possession.
I met genuine people who I am proud to call my friends. People who helped me to grow in my faith, but were also there to be silly with. People who I respect for making the decision to choose a school where they would better themselves rather than waste their years away in a drunken stupor.
I am proud of the person I was during college.
I understand that my college was DEFINITELY different from today’s college norm. However, especially as a high school teacher, I am nervous about what college has become.
I know that many of my students choose colleges based on parties. I have had students who chose the University of Arizona, Penn State, and UConn because of their ranking on the lists of top party schools in America, or because they had the best fraternities and sororities.
I know that many of my former students focus more on drinking, socializing, and hooking up than on passing their classes. Former honors and AP students are now drinking their struggles away at college parties, skipping those pesky 8am classes since they are too hungover to think straight.
I know that many of them will still pass their classes, graduate, and move on to positive futures, but I hate how this drunken, over-sexed culture is the current norm for college in 21st century America.
College is so incredibly expensive, yet students are wasting those tens of thousands of dollars to get wasted, high, and to sleep with as many people as possible. Instead of graduating with degrees that make them marketable for future careers, they are leaving with drug and alcohol addictions, unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases, and an endless list of sex partners.
“Thanks, Dad, for helping me to pay for these four (or five or six) years of blackouts and one night stands. Your money was well spent!”
Yet at the same time, I know that I also have former students who are the first members of their family to get a college education. Many of them are taking their time incredibly seriously, understanding that they can’t afford (literally) to waste any time or fail any classes. They are active members of their schools, involved in volunteer outreach, study abroad programs, clubs, and athletics. Many of them have scholarships, grants, and financial aid opportunities that require them to maintain a certain GPA.
Sure, many of them go to their occasional party, but they can do so in a responsible way and avoid waking up in some random person’s bed in a strange room that they can’t seem to remember from the previous night.
I don’t expect that every college student has to live the way that I did. I know that my college was very unique. But there is a major difference between attending some college parties and drinking on occasion and living the way that many college students are today. Constant binge drinking does not have to be the only option if you’re a college student in the year 2016.
So no, college may not be the best time of your life, but please don’t believe the false notion that college always entails drunken sexcapades. It doesn’t have to.
Be that person who goes to college with higher standards. Be that girl who refuses to sleep around with random frat guys just because other girls are doing it. Be that guy who will respect the women around you enough to treat them like jewels rather than just trying to get an easy one night stand.
College is what you make it. You can make it a positive, enriching experience that will transform you into a better version of yourself. Or you can get caught up in the parties and end up as a college dropout with nothing but an addiction and an STD to your name.
If more students went to college with higher standards, they could change the current norm. I know that many of you females who are guilty of waking up in a random frat guy’s bed are just lonely, homesick, and you have the desire to feel loved. You don’t realize that Mr. frat guy probably doesn’t know your name and is definitely not showing you any sort of love through his actions. If anything, you’re just hurting yourself worse.
I know that many of you frat guys also don’t get much pleasure from comparing the number of girls you’ve slept with, but you think it’s the key to gaining friends and maintaining popularity. You think that if you get with that cute girl in your sister sorority, everyone will like you. Unfortunately, you don’t realize that people who want to be your friend because of your sexual experience aren’t really the people who are going to help you to become a better, stronger man.
Which of these paths will YOU take? Will you perpetuate the current college norm? Or will you stand up for yourself and your morals, realizing that you deserve so much more than that red solo cup full of stale, cheap beer and that one night stand that will leave you feeling empty?