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.
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.
-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
-Annual trip to Frost Valley in Claryville, NY
-The end of my last relationship
-Caidin came to visit and we went to Twin Lights in Highlands
-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.
-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.
-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.
I also got to see lots of other family members while there and I went swimming with river dolphins with two of my uncles.
-My mom’s 60th birthday
-Although my mom’s birthday was in March, we had a family party for her in April
-My cousin, Dan, graduated from UConn
-I ran the Run the Hook 10k in Sandy Hook, NJ
-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
-Ran the Fairfield Half Marathon and set a personal record of 1:55
-Went to Connecticut for my grandpa’s birthday party
-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
-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
-Went to Long Beach Island for a week with my mom
-I turned 28 in Long Beach Island
-Ran the River to Sea Relay race with an awesome group of people to raise money for Covenant House
-I started riding my bike all around the shore
-Traveled to Nicaragua with Living Water International
-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.
-My friend, Lizzy, visited since she was in Philadelphia for vet clinicals, so we had a beach day
-Worked on improving my yoga and handstands
-Hung out with new friends from Bible study
-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
-Went kayaking with my friend, Adam
-Ran the Jersey Shore Half Marathon in Sandy Hook
-Tenth Avenue North concert with my friend, Amanda
-Went to Catholic Underground in NYC with friends from Bible study
-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
-I went swimming in the ocean the day before Halloween
-I hosted our weekly Bible study once at my house in November. It was tight to squish in 15 people, but we managed.
-Bar Crawl in Asbury Park to raise money for Covenant House
-Did some November stand up paddling and kayaking in the ocean in my wetsuit from my uncle
-Kayaking Shark River with my friend, Kate
-Home to Connecticut for Thanksgiving
-Went to see the ice sculptures in Tinton Falls
-Out in Asbury for my friend, Stacy’s, birthday
-Weekend in the Poconos for Sway’s 25th birthday
-New relationship with AJ on December 11th
-Graham cracker gingerbread house building with AJ
-Christmas Eve at my grandparents’ house
-Christmas day at my aunt and uncle’s house
-Devin & Elise’s New Year’s Eve wedding with AJ
So here is goodbye to 2016 and hello to 2017. This year should be another great one, filled with more adventures!
I try to always be aware of the importance of gratitude. It is so easy to focus on the things that we with we could improve in our lives. This is especially true in our prayer lives. It’s easy to get caught up in constantly asking God for things. There is always someone whose health could improve, someone who can use a new job, and many other requests that we have for God.
But we must remember to also thank God for all that He has given us and all of the prayers that He has answered.
With the approach of Thanksgiving and the Christmas season of Advent, it is now the perfect time to focus on gratitude.
So I want to reflect on my year and all that I am grateful for.
-My health – I’ve been doing well with my Lyme disease for a while, finally able to get back into running races again this year
-My family – Since I no longer live close to my family, it makes me even more grateful for the time I get to spend with them during the holidays. I am thankful that they are only two hours away so that it’s not a difficult task to go home to Connecticut.
-My new friends – I have been so blessed with all of the new people I have met this past year, meeting people at work, at the beach, and in Bible study, and my young adult group.
-My Bible study – It is through this Bible study that I have been able to meet most of these new friends. I am so grateful to have a group of people who are pushing me to grow in my faith.
-My apartment – I love living so close to the beach.
-The ocean – It keeps me sane on the days when I am stressed out.
-My job. I love teaching high school English so much.
-My students. I have a really great group of kids this year.
-My wet suit from my uncle that now allows me to go kayaking and stand up paddling even when the weather isn’t super warm
-Having a roof over my head
-Living in a first world country so that I don’t have to struggle each day to survive
-My love for volunteering
-All of the people I have met through my volunteer opportunities both locally and abroad
-My sponsored child, Patience, and his family
-That I have had the chance to meet the Brazilian side of my family, especially my now deceased grandma and grandpa
REI has just announced that it will not offer any Black Friday deals. In fact, all 143 stores across the country will be closed.
According to the REI website:
REI believes that being outside makes our lives better. That’s why this Black Friday, we’re closing all 143 of our stores and paying our employees to head outside.
They’re promoting the hashtag #OptOutside.
Props to you, REI.
I already wrote a rant about Black Friday madness in a post entitled Black Thursday?.
This news from REI makes me so happy. Thanksgiving is about family — not about getting the cheapest possible television. Although REI doesn’t use that as it’s reason for the store closings, I commend them. Granted, they might only be hoping to gain a bit of publicity out of the deal, but regardless, the outcome is positive.
In recent years, the craziness of Black Friday has been escalating. Stores that used to open early in the morning began opening around midnight. People who used to line up around 4am or 5am now begin lining up at 8pm, after partaking in their Thanksgiving festivities. They start out the day by being thankful for the things that they have, and then they proceed to push and shove each other to get the latest HD TV.
Now we also have Cyber Monday for those who still want the deals, but don’t want to wait in line.
But this year, many stores are advertising about their Thanksgiving hours. I’ve seen commercials about stores that will be open by 6pm. But at that time, people should still be celebrating the holiday with their families. If stores are opening by 6pm, employees need to report there even earlier, and customers waiting for those deals will most likely begin lining up before 4pm.
It’s easy to condemn the stores and say that they’re at fault. And I agree with that, to an extent. It definitely puts a bad taste in my mouth when I see these advertisements. Some of the stores open Thanksgiving evening include:
But part of the problem lies with us, the consumers. Situations like this are all based on supply and demand. If these stores weren’t sure that they would have good business, they wouldn’t be opening the night of Thanksgiving. Because our society is increasingly focused on the material aspects of the holidays, these stores know that they will be packed. That being said, there are stores that are refusing to open on Thanksgiving, and I absolutely commend those stores. But I understand why the others are opening — because that’s what we want from them.
These are some of the stores staying committed to allowing their employees to enjoy Thanksgiving celebrations:
-Barnes & Noble
Thanksgiving has become more about the shopping that will follow than the family time itself. Christmas is more about checking items off various wish lists rather than celebrating the birth of Christ or enjoying the family get togethers. This is not all the fault of the stores. It’s our fault as a society. Our priorities have shifted away from the value of the family, of religion, of community.
Instead, we want objects, material goods, in the hope that they will lead to happiness. But everyone knows that the minute they get their iPhone 6, there’s a new iPhone 7 right around the corner that will ruin the appeal of the 6. The 2014 new car will be out-shined by the 2015 version that’s a bit fancier. You’ll eventually complete all levels of that video game, and it will become obsolete. Those brand new shoes will become scuffed and worn.
So this Thanksgiving, despite the craziness of the shopping, I hope that there are still some people who plan to embrace the holiday for what it is: a time for gathering, enjoying meals together, and most importantly, enjoying time together as a family, not worrying about the wish lists and shopping and errands that must be finished before Christmas.