All posts by Abigail C. Reimel

Abigail C. Reimel is a budding Catholic author in love with her faith. Though her more immediate dreams include successfully completing college and securing an editing position, she ultimately hopes to live in a little beach house with her future family while writing books that present "the good, the true, and the beautiful" to the young adult generation in an exciting way. She has been published in the St. Austin Review and hopes to be published many more times in the future. She adores living by the ocean, but traded salty winds for mountain air to attend Christendom College, where she is majoring in English.

Comfort In Christ Falling

Titian_-_Christ_Carrying_the_Cross_-_WGA22830Multiple times I have written about the struggles of being a goal-oriented person, about the difficulty in surrendering when my first instinct is to try and plan my life down to the minute, to try to make it as productive as possible.  As my journey through college continues, the idea of opening my hands to receive God’s grace while simultaneously letting Him take control has become harder and more necessary to embrace.

In the midst of a particularly anxious moment while traveling back from Thanksgiving Break, it occurred to me that Christ, the perfect role model, not only showed me how to “be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48), how to walk by grace, but also how to fall by grace.  By falling upon the road to Calvary, Christ admitted human weakness, but also showed the strength of faith.  He fell three times; He did not walk the whole way without difficulty.  Yet as the perfect Lord He did not fall because He could not do it, but because He wanted us to see that taking up one’s cross is hard.  When striving to be perfect, one will stumble sometimes and will need help, yet a fall is not a failure but rather is an opportunity, and as Christ showed us, we must get up again.

This realization came upon me rather suddenly, but it was truly the answer to my prayer.  So many times over the past couple years I have tried to complete fitness challenges, regularize my prayer life, let go of stress, find peace, and so many times I have failed.  As an over-achiever I became increasingly discouraged, thinking I must be particularly weak and sinful since I was so good at failing.  The more discouraged I became, the less I liked myself and the more critical I became, always on the defense trying somehow to justify my failings by comforting myself with the thought that others were failing too.  Inevitably, these thoughts only added to the anxiety rather than soothing it away, and any respect or love I had for myself slowly dissipated.

But Christ has blessed me from the moment of my birth by constantly surrounding me with people who love me, and who I love.  And suddenly I began to see that I had been so focused on myself, my feelings, my failures, that my negativity had started hurting those around me.  I learned that dwelling on my failure was a type of pride as well, for I had become so isolated in my thoughts I had stopped considering or truly loving those I thought I was protecting by internalizing the problems.  Come to find out, I am more of an open book than I thought.

Slowly but surely I started trying to fix it, but it was discouraging to begin again with things I had done well not that long ago.  As I sat in the airport, I read about a new fitness challenge starting in January, one hosted by the same women who hosted the previous ones I had tried.  And for the first time I did not want to sign up, I did not want to start planning to ensure my success, because I knew I would fail anyway.  This horrible attitude accompanied me onto the plane, mixing with my fear of flying and turning into a perfect emotional storm.

Then a “still, small voice” whispered in my ear, “You are not alone,” and I knew then that Christ did not fall because He lacked the strength to bear His cross, but because He wanted to show me, to show all people, that a fall is not a reason to quit but rather an opportunity to get back up, to keep trying, “to finish the race” (c.f. 1 Corinthians 9:24-27).  He fell for us just as He died for us, and in that moment Christ reminded me that it was not my falls that defined me, but how I responded to them.  For the first time I understood, in a small way, why Christ fell three times upon that difficult road: because He knew that His children, already fallen and always falling, would need someone to show them how to do it, and how to get back up again.

 

Pope Francis is Human

Pope_Francis_in_March_2013_(cropped)Last month I wrote a post analyzing the National Geographic cover story entitled “Pope Francis Remakes the Vatican”.  I read the article skeptically, expecting to come away feeling frustrated with slanted reporting, and still knowing hardly anything about what Pope Francis was actually doing.  Instead, I found myself enjoying the inside look at the Pope shared by author Robert Draper, who stayed in Rome for six months observing the Holy Father’s daily life.  As Pope Francis’s visit to the United States approaches, I would like to briefly share three new things I realized after reading the article.

1. Pope Francis is Human

As obvious as this seems, I never stopped to consider the full implication behind this.  As the Pope, it is easy to expect him to be a saint already, to only speak the truth perfectly, to completely adjust to a different lifestyle without a glitch, to effortlessly guide the entire universal Church without ever having a moment of weakness or difficulty.  But as Draper reviewed some of the radical moments of Pope Francis’s first months, showing how he grew and developed into his position, I realized how hard it must have been for him to transition.  When I looked back at his decisions and seemingly radical choices in light of his humanity, it was easier to see him as a man trying to do his best, but realizing that he no longer had the freedom to reach out in the online casino ways he had previously.

2. Pope Francis is Solidly Catholic

He is not changing doctrine, not redefining what it means to be Catholic, and not trying to soften the rules by bending them.  Pope Francis is reaching out in sympathy to a world which he realizes is hurting, which he knows will not turn to an institution which only seems interested in judging them.  He is not saying or doing anything that the Church has not done all along.  He is proud of the Catholic faith, and when questioned about his strong statements in support of her doctrines—statements the news will not report—he shows compassion but does not waver.

3. Pope Francis is In Love

The Holy Father is in love with the children of God, whether or not they are Catholic.  He is trying to show the world that God is reaching out to them through the Church, not to scold them, but to love them.  Pope Francis wants to be like Mother Teresa on the streets with the poor and heartbroken.  While he has learned that he can no longer be on the streets without celebrity attention, he has also realized that he can use that attention to show the hurting world a different side of the Church.  He can focus on how God’s beloved children are suffering, and show them loving compassion while gently guiding them back to the narrow way, which has been the focus of his papacy.

Though no one knows better than Catholics the danger of believing the media at its word, the constant misrepresentation of the Pope can leave even Catholics a little apprehensive.  Yet after learning the reason and passion behind the Pope’s activity, I know now that I can trust his actions.  He is the shepherd of the Church after all, and following Christ’s example, he is going after the lost sheep who have forgotten that the Shepherd not only loves them, but misses them.  God came for every man, and Pope Francis simply wants to world to remember.

My full analysis of the National Geographic article and more commentary on the spirit behind his actions can be found in my post last month, entitled “Pope Francis Remakes the Vatican?

 

Pope Francis Remakes the Vatican?

 

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The August 2015 edition of The National Geographic Magazine features a lengthy article on Pope Francis, written by Robert Draper after six months of observing the life of the Holy Father, featuring photographs by Dave Yoder.  Though the article is titled and headlined with one-liners that portray the Pope and Catholic tradition in conflict, the pages themselves tell a different story.  Rather than expose a papacy full of dissent, the author gives the world insight into the beautiful person of the Pope, and the human struggles even he must face as he adjusts to being an international figure.  Though Pope Francis may be doing things a little differently than his immediate predecessors, he is faithfully Catholic in every way.  In spite of a clear desire to depict a trouble-maker in Rome, the author instead found a man who truly lives up to the name he chose, a Pope who wants to renew the Church as the face of love to the world—not a love without morals or caution, but the true love of a parent, who instructs and disciplines when necessary but loves unconditionally.

 The Pope’s Early Ripples

Draper’s attempt to sell a radical Pope Francis began with a full description of all the things he did differently in the first months of his reign.  He stayed in the Vatican’s guest apartment, rode around in a Ford Focus, chose the simple white robes over the scarlet cape, fell to his knees and asked evangelicals to pray for him, and washed the feet of prisoners on Holy Thursday.  He was a radical man with a past history of mixing life up a bit.  He tried to ride the buses and walk the poorer streets of Rome like he used to back in Buenos Aires and it seemed those who knew him from South America expected him to stir the comfortable cardinals in the Vatican with his “very stubborn” enforcement of ideas (p. 38).

Yet, in spite of the ripples Pope Francis certainly created during the early months of his papacy, Draper does not seem to be able to find much else to critique.  Yes, Pope Francis accepted the resignation of one bishop and reappointed another both involved in the priestly sexual scandals, but of course Draper’s mention of these scandals was neither unexpected nor important (p.57).  Towards the end of the article the issue of the Pope’s response to gays came up, but rather than misconstrue his honest answer “Who am I to judge?” Draper augments this response by showing the way Francis responded to a former gay student of his who was hurt by the Pope’s statements on the harmful nature of “gay marriage”, depicting the loving yet unyielding way Pope Francis was sympathetic to his friend’s suffering while not yielding on his position (p.58).

The Pope: Relatable Person

Pope Francis has experienced something during the past couple years that many could never comprehend.  He went from being an archbishop in a South American city—loved by many, different in his techniques, but ultimately unknown by a majority—to becoming the Pope of the Catholic Church, an international figure and leader of billions. Pope_Francis_in_March_2013_(cropped) Over his time in the Vatican, Draper shows the way many of the Pope’s more drastic-seeming decisions were often the result of a man in love with the poor and still trying to reach out to them in the way he used to before he completely realized the way his position both helped and hurt his ability to do so.  By being the Pope, it became possible for him to reach more people across the world, but in turn he had to accept that riding city subways and hiding from cameras no longer fit his position.  Pope Francis misses some of the perks of his anonymity, but he also is embracing the new joys of leading such a large flock from its center.

Pope Francis is a man, a human, who had his ways and preferences before he became the Pope.  To the outside world he may seem sporadic, but to those who help him daily and more intimately, they are beginning to realize he always has a plan, he just does not always share the details before they occur.  He has accepted the spotlight and become a loveable figure, posing for pictures and giving in to the careful watch of the Swiss Guards (p. 51).  He has also helped more people than ever open their minds to what the Catholic Church is saying by focusing on love rather than rules.  The difference between what he is actually doing and how the media portrays him is that he has not forgotten the rules, but rather he is gently enforcing them in a spirit of compassion rather than chastisement.

Pope Francis’s Loving Vision

As the article comes to a close, Draper includes a quote from one of Pope Francis’s friends from Argentina, insisting that Pope Francis “won’t change doctrine” but rather focus on giving the world a vision of the Church that has the human experience of suffering and each man’s relationship with God at the center, rather than man’s corruption and vice (p. 59).  Ultimately, Pope Francis is not “remaking” the Vatican, but rather wrapping it up in new paper to use it to give the gift of God’s love to all the world, regardless of which religion people follow.  In this modern age where lust reigns over true love, comfort over sacrifice, and acceptance over truth, Pope Francis’s efforts to present the Church to the world as a haven of love and honesty are radical, but not because they forsake doctrine.  They are catching attention because many have forgotten that love and truth have always characterized the Catholic Church, it just took a Pope reaching out to people where they are to remind them to look up towards heaven rather than in towards themselves to find their center.

Many will pick up Draper’s article expecting to find the Pope Francis the media claims is forsaking tradition and changing the Church.  But instead they will find the story of a human being in love with the common people, focused on reaching out to them through Christ while reminding them to embrace religion as a love affair rather than a list of rules (just as G.K. Chesterton would say St. Francis himself did).  Pope Francis is not remaking the Vatican, but he is doing his best to help the Vatican remake the world.

To read the full article pick up a copy of The National Geographic Magazine: August 2015 edition where the article runs from pages 30-59.  It can also be read on their website..

 

The Necessary Virtue of Hope

hopeDuring any phase of transition, the importance of the theological virtues of faith and love are always emphasized. One is counseled to have faith that God will bring the best result out of the situation, while being reminded to either love those also struggling or to be very loving to the one who is facing the changes alone. While these are very important pieces of advice, often the incredibly important virtue of hope is lost in the mix.

Hope is of extreme importance in a Christian life, especially when in the middle of difficult or confusing times. Though faith in God can help assuage worry, and love can help overcome the sadness over what is being left behind, hope is the virtue which lifts one out of the situation and anticipate the future with joy. As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wrote in his beautiful encyclical Spe Salvi, “Only when the future is certain as a positive reality does it become possible to live the present as well” (2).

Because times of change involve many decisions and actively considering all the possible problems to come, a person leans on faith to take care of what he does not have time to consider, and love to help him feel better in the moment. But ultimately it is hope which is needed to reach that interior peace which allows one to look beyond the present pain, to find joy in the struggle, and to muster the strength to reach for the good that is ahead. Through hope one can be at peace about what is to come, and thus handle the immediate concerns with a clear mind.

Through hope, that person can embrace the trials directly in front nbso online casino reviews of him with the attitude which will bring him to more positive endings, and enable him to weather even the hardest storms of life, for the sake of reaching that promise of joy. Whether it is a time of transition, when hope is especially easy to lose but extremely important to have — when so much of life is uncertain and it is hard to grasp onto anything that brings lasting joy — or a time when the state of politics or a more personal grief are weighing heavily and bringing distress, hope is the calm in the storm. Pope Emeritus Benedict the XVI reminds Christians in his encyclical that this necessary hope is imprinted in each one of them, imprinted in the heart of every person, but which Christians have special access to through the Gospels.

“To come to know God — the true God — means to receive hope” (3), the dear Pope counseled the Church. And in these times, it truly is the hope within each Christian heart which slowly but surely transforms the world, by transforming each modern disciple interiorly, enabling each of them to extend the Good News to the lost sheep around them. This hope burns within them because their Shepherd found them first, and wrote a stunning love letter special for them, to encourage them when life is hard by reminding them that there is always a reason to hope, found in Him.

“The one who has hope lives differently; the one who hopes has been granted the gift of new life” (2). This is why converts are always so passionate about their newfound faith, and also why the Catholic Church has stood the test of time: because Christ has lit the fire of hope in the souls of His children, and the joy which has filled them empowers them to face each day’s challenges with grace while ultimately praying for the day when all lives will be joined together in Christ’s New Earth.

And that is why, more personally and immediately, I find myself in need of this missing virtue. For “[m]an’s great, true hope which holds firm in spite of all disappointments can only be God — God who has loved us and who continues to love us ‘to the end,’ until all ‘is accomplished’ (cf. John 13:1 and 19:30)” (27). Often in the midst of transition and trials, I start to rely and look only at myself, when ultimately it is the faith in God that will center me, the love of God that will comfort me, and the hope to be found in Him which will empower me to approach the worst of situations with positivity, while bearing them for the sake of the good to be achieved.

So, with Pope Emeritus Benedict the XVI, through the blessing of our God, I invite you to join me in this journey, to invite hope back into our lives, and rediscover the way God will use it to transform us.

Women, God Does Not Make Mistakes

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In a society which tells women they are simply the sum of their parts—that all it takes for even a man to become a cover-worthy woman are the right curves in the right places—women are having an increasingly hard time feeling good about themselves. Between advertisements and social media, women feel like they are not good enough no matter where they turn, always being knocked down by the unending stream of images thrown at them defining what it really means to be beautiful—or rather sexy, since that seems to be all modern society cares about.

To the women who struggle with this, I am writing to you today to say that I am struggling beside you. For years I have grappled with never feeling like I am “enough” as a woman and will never be able to reach the standards society is setting. This feeling of inferiority led me to worry about many sad things, but the real depression settled in when my lack of self-esteem caused me to doubt my value to God. Ladies, I know there are those of you who have struggled with this too, who have looked in the mirror and asked God for “little miracles”: “God, couldn’t you just give a little more here, or a little less there? God, if you would just do that little thing, I know it would make me pretty. Then I would be enough.”

But ladies, I want to tell you something today that my parents told me when I was going through the worst part of my struggle. They looked at me one day as I sat across from them crying about my braces and my bangs, and they told me that it does not matter what the world thinks. God made me the way I am for a reason, gave me each freckle, hair, and blemish, and loves me just the way I am. As I thought about this, I realized something. Every day that I sat on my floor, hating my appearance and praying for a change, I was actually insulting God because I was implying that He had made a mistake.

delightsinyouWomen, God does not make mistakes! Every inch of you is beautiful because God made it! You are a masterpiece, made in God’s image, and if He stopped thinking about you for a second you would cease to exist! Do you know how much He must love you to think about you constantly?! Maybe you have aspects of your appearance you wrestle with, but as long as you are being a good steward of the body God has given you, then your perceived imperfections are actually parts of a beautiful uniqueness God gave especially to you!

Ladies, you know how often your beloved’s funny little quirks make him so unique and special to you? Or how the cute bump in your son’s nose or the birthmark on your daughter’s cheek are all just as special to you as his perfect smile or her adorable laugh? That is love, love sees every part of the beloved as beautiful, the perfection and imperfection, because it all combines to make the total person. The scars and imperfections tell a story, are physical signs of the strength within, the courage which dared to overcome those flaws and be defined by something greater instead.

God loves you ladies! He loves each and every one of you just the way you are! And He does not make mistakes! So when you look at yourself in the mirror, don’t see all the ways you are lacking, see a woman who is cherished! God as Father created you and loves each part of you as His own, and God as Beloved cherishes every inch of you as part of the one He adores, even unto death. Our Father is the King and our Beloved is Prince, which means we are destined to be Princesses in the Kingdom of Heaven, if we faithfully live our lives for Him. You are God’s Princesses, you are so special! And when you allow that to be your identity, when you allow His love to be enough, rather than doubting whether you are enough, you are free to live joyfully again. And that beautiful joy will penetrate your soul and reveal the true beauty within your hearts.

So today ladies, pray for two things. If you know there are ways that you have not taken care of yourselves, have eaten too much or too little or hurt yourself in more extreme ways, ask God for the courage to overcome these insecurities and be defined by His love rather than your fear. And most importantly, ask Him for the peace to look upon yourselves today and remember that He does not make mistakes, and you are all beloved just the way you are.

I’ll be praying for and with you, ladies! Turn to Mary for help when you are distressed: God assumed her into Heaven and loved her body and soul, just as He loves each of us. She understands the struggles we face; appeal to her womanhood and pray to feel her gentle love when you are hurting. She will always be there for you, as will her Son. God bless each and every one of you beautiful ladies today!

Writing Within the Word?

Ever since childhood I was always taught to treat the Bible with a certain amount of respect.  This included never setting it on the bare floor, but always on top of something; never tossing or throwing it around irreverently; generally avoiding stacking non-religious things on top of it; and not writing in it.  The Bible was God’s Word, and thus deserved a level of treatment above that shown to an average book.

When I was younger I never thought twice about not writing in my Bibles, as I was never prone to write in any of my books anyway and—typical of Catholics—no one I knew really tended to carry around a Bible regularly, much less mark in it.  When I spent my first two years of high school at a “non-denominational” Christian school, I met people who used the Bible much more often than Catholics, but also treated it with more familiarity.  Though their knowledge of the Bible was truly inspirational, often their attitude towards it was a little more casual than I felt comfortable with.  This only reinforced the reverent habits of younger years, and as friends in Bible class highlighted and dog-eared pages of their Protestant translations, I found myself jotting notes on sticky notes or in journals outside my Catholic translation instead, not able to bring myself to mark the sacred text.

Then I began to realize the benefit in owning various translations of the Bible, Protestant and Catholic, so that I could compare and thus better understand where other Christians were coming from based off of the footnotes in their translations, or the errors in word choices that led to misleading interpretations.  I also began to feel comfortable marking the Protestant translations, because after all I wasn’t studying them for religious reasons—only for scholarly ones—thus I did not consider the ESV, for instance, as worthy of as much respect as the Catholic RSV.  Though I was able to justify jotting down apologetic notes in the Protestant translations, I still felt like writing in the real Word of God would be disrespectful.

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When I started taking Bible classes at my Catholic college, it wasn’t unusual to have a professor suggest underlining or marking a passage which was particularly important for the class lesson.  As I learned more about the Scriptures, I found myself becoming more attached to them, wanting to carry the Bible around more regularly.  As I studied them and started, thanks to our campus chaplain, practicing Lectio Divina, I often wished I had marked the passages that were meaningful or particularly insightful when my attempts to find them after-the-fact often ended in despairingly giving up the search.  But when it came to actually putting the pen on the page, I still felt like—in some way—by marking in the margins of the Bible I was not treating it with the reverence it deserved.  After all, who was I to mark alongside the inspired Word of the Creator of the Universe?  Yet as I quickly became “that person” whose favorite books could be determined by the amount of notes in the margins, I began to wonder if maybe, just maybe, marking biblical passages so that I could find and benefit from them again—just like I marked poignant lines in works by Chesterton or Tolkien—made more sense than I previously realized.

Many Catholics online have written about how marking in their Bibles is not a sign of disrespect, but rather a testimony to how often they turn to God’s Word.  One of my favorite bloggers writes about the way the Word of God has been a constant presence in her life, as is evidenced by the state of her favorite Bible, now falling apart with use and brimming over with bookmarks and marginal notes.  The Catholic Answers forum members chimed in, all encouraging a young person with concerns like mine to embrace the idea of marking up the pages, because it will help her connect better with the text.  Life Teen’s website encourages writing in the Bible in their post about how to start reading it.  I can see their points, but I can’t help but remain stuck on the question of reverence.

What do y’all think?  Is marking up Bibles a sign of particular devotion, or can it encourage an all-too-familiar attitude towards the Sacred Word of God?  Would you go so far as to make your Bible’s works of art in the spirit of religious fervor, or is there a line that can be crossed where marking it up hinders respect for God rather than encouraging it?  Does the translation make a difference?  Does having a “good Bible” that is treated with reverence and remains untouched by human additions to go along with the marked one preserve the reverence while also allowing for the devotional method?  What do you think?

Patience in the Desert

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For forty days Christ suffered in the desert, fasting and depriving Himself of comfort, choosing to undergo hardship and temptation for the sake of teaching us the importance of fortitude, penance, and trust in God alone.  Christ made Himself uncomfortable to show us the importance of doing the same, of not being afraid to do the difficult for the sake of greater sanctification, and to not shy away from suffering which redeems to remain in excessive comfort which weakens.  During Christ’s forty days in the desert He was a model of perseverance as he endured the necessary trial, embodying patience as He waited on His Father to make the next move, in order to lead by example and show us how to use adversity to grow in virtue.

In the same way, especially during this season of Lent, we are called into the desert.  Some of us are called to journey into the desert, leaving behind peace in prayer and letting Christ’s suffering make us uncomfortable, inspiring us to renew our efforts to remain in His grace by reminding us how incredibly unworthy of Him we are.  Others of us are already in the desert, struggling to make it through, thirsting intensely for a single drop of blood from His side to show us He is still there. In this dryness Lent calls us to unite our sufferings to Our Lord’s, thus being saved through them.  Still, others of us are called to thrust ourselves into the desert that comes with recognizing that something in our lives needs to change, to leave behind the suffering that comes with knowing a difficult, dreadful decision must be made, and take on the trials that come with finally making the decision.  This kind of desert involves a leap of faith, plunging into the barrenness without provisions or directions, literally surrendering it all to His Providence, and trusting that He will guide your paths to their right conclusions, even if the direction you decided to start walking was incredibly far from right.

Each of these struggles, each type of desert, when experienced during this Lenten season and united to Christ’s own desert tribulation, becomes a sanctification.  Each trial can become a wellspring of grace, and at the end of each desert there is the promise of respite.  For some this Lenten dryness may only be a continuation of a spiritual low-point which seems to have no end; for them, Lent is a reminder that the desert will end, that even in the desert life can be found, and if they only hold on to the Father as Christ did, He will send angels to minister to them as well, when the time is right.  For those who choose to seek out the desert, because their spirituality has been on a high and they are ready for new, rigorous ways to awaken new parts of their soul, the desert is humbling, for even Christ could not go through the desert without suffering, and even their shining souls can profit from the buffering of the sands of sacrifice.  And for those who walked into the desert, hearts already in pain, and knowing the way was only going to grow harder before it became easier, this is the time for patience.

Patiently wait upon God, in faith await His guiding hand, He will not allow you to perish on the way.  He holds you in the palm of His hand, and whether He uses the desert to guide you back to true path you left behind, or to reveal a new way to you, you will be stronger for having braved the desert, and He will reward your faith.  May we all, at our different stages of the journey and within our different deserts, join together under the Holy Church, embrace her liturgical seasons and the lessons they are meant to teach, and emerge from the desert strengthened in faith, proven in hope, and full of love for God and neighbor, love we are ready to extend in the spirit of Christ’s sacrifice.

God bless you all on your Lenten journeys!

When Waiting is Really Hard

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In reaction to the increasing physical immorality spreading through society today, and in an attempt to counter the message  constantly being sold through advertising, movies, music, and even best-selling books that says sexual intimacy is not only okay, but expected, outside of marriage, the Catholic online world has been buzzing with all sorts of articles on how to stay pure.  Each week it seems Jason Evert’s online blog for young adults comes out with a new list of suggestions for how to become pure, remain pure, return to purity, or increase in purity.  And while this is an incredibly important message, it can be a little discouraging when you prioritize purity as a couple, but still find it very hard to do so—not because you’re tempted to break the rules, but because saying no to what feels good and natural is hard.

For couples who have been dating long enough to be past the “he’s perfect, she’s perfect, we’re perfect for each other and neither of us can find fault in the other” phase, the struggle to remain pure becomes hard on a whole new level when you reach an understanding that comes with trusting each other with more of yourselves.  While physical attraction tends to be an initiator of relationships, and the main facet in them in the beginning (which is perfectly acceptable, as long as there is a desire to know the person better individually, and not just use them for their appearance), the temptations to take things too far tend to center around the “newness” of it all.  You’re both excited to be discovering each other, you’re not serious enough yet to be having intimate conversations or discussing deep mutual feelings, and simply touching each other sends electric sparks through the air.  During this phase, purity is hard because it puts a limit on how many new things can be experienced, but it is also the beautiful restraint which forces the couple to look beyond the physical attraction and truly learn to love each other’s hearts and souls.

But after the two of you have your first fight, endure hardship together, and start to learn all the “perfections and imperfections” (to use a beautiful phrase from Inception) that make your partner who he/she is, you start to form a deeper bond with him/her.  The deeper it goes, the more intimately you begin to know each other, and the more you desire simple affections, quiet moments, and complete closeness.  Your hearts start to feel so intertwined, you become so familiar with the quirks and little things about the other one that make them so unique, and you start to share things together more exclusively.  And as this emotional nearness increases, the longing to physically be as close as possible to the other person, to physically become close to them in the way you are becoming emotionally close, can often be even stronger and harder to resist than the initial, flirtatious, excited temptations.

When your longing to take the next step in the physical area of the relationship is based on a desire to complete the feelings of unity that the two of you have been building, when it comes from an almost spiritual yearning rather than just base attraction, it becomes easy to justify the temptation in your mind.  It’s easy to think “I’m not lusting after them, I just want to be close to them”; while this is a beautiful desire, outside of marriage it is a very persuading argument for impurity.  When thoughts like that take over the mind, not only does it become harder to say “no” when you both feel so united, but it also becomes harder to keep your thoughts pure—because when you’re thinking like an engaged couple, but not actually engaged, your mind starts dreaming of and preparing for things upon which it is not yet appropriate to dwell.

This is a very personal topic, and it is easy to feel alone in this struggle when so many articles and talks about purity make it seem like if you’re following the rules, everything should just be easy.  For those out there dating, trying to do so in a holy, pure, Catholic way, but still finding it incredibly hard nonetheless, do not be discouraged.   As paradoxical as it may sound, a date cut short because temptation was particularly intense is more rewarding than a date that went too far.  When you both look at each other at the end of the night, hold hands, exchange chaste kisses on cheeks, and know that you both want so much more but are offering it up for the sake of pleasing God before yourselves, then kneel before your separate beds to pray, being able to say to God “We took care of each other, Lord.  I put his/her soul before my own desires tonight, so I could take care of him/her for You.  Please see the sacrifice and give us grace instead.  Bless her/him, who I miss so much already, and thank you for the gift of true love stronger than lust”, nothing is more rewarding.  And should God join the two of you together “until Death do you part” one day in the future, the reward will be tenfold when you can pull each other close and come together as husband and wife, giving each other the gift of yourselves so carefully preserved, and showered with grace as you unite both body and soul.  So do not feel guilty or alone when your God-centered relationship still hurts sometimes when yearnings cannot be satisfied: purity is extremely hard, but it is so worth the wait.

St. Joseph, Most Chaste Spouse of Mary, pray for us!

New Year’s Dreams

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The shiftiness of college years does not always create the best circumstances for keeping New Year’s Resolutions.  Though I hardly ever pass up an opportunity to make a list, my typical resolutions seemed like they would only put more pressure on me in the midst of an already demanding schedule rather than encourage me to be a better person.  So as far as resolutions are concerned, I’ve decided to go more abstract and simply try to accomplish everything ahead this year to the very best of my ability without going insane, with less emotional eating, and—most importantly—by remembering I will not succeed unless I lean on God first.  That being said, it seemed a shame not to participate in the list-making craze that sweeps the nation around January 1st every year, so I sat down and did something I haven’t done in a long time: I wrote down my dreams.

Being a goal-oriented person who lives for the sake of accomplishing one thing so I can start working towards the next one, there’s always been something in the future which drives my work in the present.   But goals are different from dreams; goals are work-oriented, focused in the now, and typically are attached to a certain amount of hard work that has to be accomplished for personal satisfaction.  Dreams however are more special; they’re the things that we think about when asked questions like “If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?”  Dreams dominate our childhood because kids are less focused on being practical, and adults knowing this don’t ask them which college they’re working hard with hopes of attending, but rather what they want to do with their life.  But often as we age and start worrying about gas prices and college applications, we become so caught up in the “real world” problems we forget to dream.

This New Year’s as I sat unsuccessfully trying to justify not making resolutions, I realized that maybe in the midst of all the studying, planning, and endless working that had me feeling increasingly depressed and burned out, perhaps I just needed a minute to be a little less practical.  As I sat down and asked myself “If you could be guaranteed that your life would turn out any way you want, where would you want to be in ten years?” and “When you look back on your life during your final years on earth, what do you want to be able to see that you’ve done?”  I realized that dreaming is incredibly important, because it makes you reevaluate what means the most to you.

After answering these questions, I found that what I wrote was significantly less immense and spectacular than some of the dreams I might have written about in childhood.  Looking at my list, I wondered if maybe my simpler answers meant I had become a boring person.  But as I reconsidered them, I realized that age had led me to appreciate the beauty of a peaceful life lived in the place that holds your heart, with the people you love more than anything, over the thrill of fame, travel, or experience.  And though I’m sure my simple little three-item list would seem dull to some, it didn’t matter anymore if my life impressed the masses, only that it fulfilled God’s plan for me, and that it was full of beauty and love.

At this phase in my life where college stress and adult growing pains lead me to ask “Why the heck am I doing all of this?” more often than I’d like to admit, those peaceful, simple dreams were just what I needed to keep myself going.  For dreams are like goals in that we hope one day to realize and accomplish them, and if realizing my dream of a peaceful, domestic life in the future means working hard now to reach my more immediate, necessary goals, then so be it.  For with God’s help I know He’ll use those goals to pave the way, and one day as I sit back in my own little house with my family around me I’ll be able to smile and breathe a happy sigh, for though the work is all ahead of me now, it will be behind me one day, and then I know it will all be worth it.

I’d like to dedicate this post to an incredibly kind lady who works at my bank.  While running errands I saw her and she not only remembered opening my account for me two years ago, but also took the time to ask me how college was working out for me.  Upon telling her that it was going okay but that I was kind of burned out, she encouraged me, telling me not to quit because it’s all going to be over before I know it, and when it is I’ll be so happy I saw it through to the end.  She was an uplifting breath of fresh air in a place I least expected it, and I want to thank her for taking time out of her day to try to make mine better!

Helpful Advent Links

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Advent is my favorite liturgical season. I become extremely excited when Advent is coming, and love observing it by wearing my purple “Advent scarves,” painting my nails to mirror the Advent wreath, and putting up my La Posada statue in my room. Unfortunately, during my first year of college Advent passed me by before I had a chance to fully embrace it. Knowing that my soul benefits a great deal from this penitential season of joyful waiting on Christ, I was determined to find a way to observe Advent, even though my home and seasonal accessories are miles away. Thanks to the internet and God’s guiding hand, I’ve found three ways to immerse myself in the season.  I wanted to share them so that others who are seeking to supplement their Advent observation can benefit from them as much as I have.

  1. Fr. Barron’s Advent Reflections, via e-mail: Anything Fr. Barron does is always worth looking into, including these daily e-mail reflections sent straight to one’s inbox early every morning. They’re short, simple, but powerful and provide beautiful thoughts to keep one in the Advent mindset throughout the day.
  2. EWTN’s Advent Homepage: Each day has its own fragment from the Mass readings, a reflection, a little “Advent Action”, and a small prayer at the end. Once again, these are short and could be read in less than five minutes, but paired with Fr. Barron’s reflection the two help frame an outline for refocusing one’s spiritual life more fully in the spirit of the season. And the little “Advent Action,” even if the specific one is something not practical in one’s own circumstances, really helps keep the spirit of reaching out to others in the name of Christ at the front of the mind throughout the day.
  3. Advent Music through Grooveshark: Advent music is so beautiful, and it’s taken me a couple years to find enough to start a playlist out of. Music is such a perfect way to center the mind and heart by truly opening oneself to deeper, spiritual emotions. I like to listen to it in the background as I journal about the above two reflections, or sit still and meditate on it quietly as a prayer before bed. Here’s my playlist, I would love more suggestions!
  • “People Look East” –Hereford Cathedral Choir (Holiday)
  • “The King Shall Come” – from the album Christmas Choirs and Carols, Vol. 1
  • “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silent” – The Master’s Chorale
  • “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus”- Salisbury Cathedral Choristers
  • “On Jordan’s Bank the Baptist’s Cry”- Grace Cathedral Choir
  • “Creator of the Stars of Night”- High Street Hymns
  • “Star of Wonder”- Sara Groves
  • “Winter Snow”- Audrey Assad
  • “O Sanctissima”- from the album The Wonder of Christmas
  • “Still, Still, Still”- John Schmidt
  • “Gabriel’s Message”- Sting
  • “Ave Maria”- Jewel
  • And Winter Came… – the album by Enya
  • Advent at Ephesus- the album by the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles

How do you keep the Advent season?

Crawling to Heaven

If studying the saints has taught me anything, it is that there are many ways to travel the narrow road to Heaven.  While some lived shorter lives which were filled with spiritual difficulties, but ultimately ended early and sweetly, others suffered great pains and tortures to their bodies before finally reaching their resting place, their vibrant souls unchanged.  Other still endured dramatic wounds to the flesh and temptations to the soul on their journeys to God, battling the whole way to Heaven, while some lived simple lives and peacefully passed away as testaments to the beauty of Christ’s peace.

Unfortunately, I have a far way to go before I am even close to ready to join their blessed company—if indeed I am meant to do so.  For now, I find myself slowly but surely trying to crawl my way towards Heaven, but at least I am finally moving in the right direction again.

Over the summer, on my blog which has been horribly neglected ever since I started college, I wrote a post comparing my life to that of a shark’s—having to be in constant motion to avoid death, and not being able to stop to make sure I was going the right way.  Unfortunately, when I wrote that post it was in the wake of discovering that things had actually been that way longer than I cared to admit.  Upon arriving back at school, I was slowly plodding along though interiorly still feeling shaky, when the school’s new chaplain started posting sign-ups in one of the main gathering areas for spiritual direction.

I would like to claim that I signed up right away, but by the time I finally gave in to my conscience saying it would be a good idea all the slots that would have been possible for me had been taken.  A narrow save, or so I thought.  Yet as things became worse, God helped me realize I needed to stop—even if I wasn’t going in the right direction yet, I needed to stop going in the wrong one.  He not only helped me do this, but also rewarded me and gave me the little strength I needed to pick myself back up again by helping one area of my life that had been steadily declining take a turn for the better and become incredible.  Can I interrupt myself for a moment just to say that God really is excessively wonderful?!

The second round of sign-ups was posted, and I sheepishly made sure I was one of the first to claim a 45 minute time slot with the priest.  I was embarrassed and nervous; it had been a couple years since I had gone to a spiritual director, and I’ve never been one for playing physiatrist’s patient, laying on the couch while talking about my feelings.  But, all that put aside, my guardian angel made sure I was there, and that beautiful 45 minutes ended up turning my whole life around.  Worries, anxieties, honest desires to do the right thing, fears, all poured out, and at the end of the session as I left and turned around to wave good-bye to the priest as he welcomed in the next person, he smiled at me.

That sweet smile was like a wave suddenly crashing over me, and I realized as I smiled with a joy forgotten that it had been a long time since I had remembered and believed that Jesus wasn’t disappointed in me, He loved me.  As I walked back to my dorm I could hear Christ’s comforting words from Luke’s Gospel echoing in my ear, “Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom,” and I knew that my heart had come home once again, and it was all—finally—going to be okay.

Like all feelings the ecstasy of that moment did not stay, but the peace did.  The priest, listening to all my worries, gave me the best advice when he said lovingly that we humans feel like we must have everything planned out perfectly, but we have to trust God more than that.  All we can do is make our plans and aim for them, but be open to knowing that if God changes them along the way, it is His will—not ours, that must be done, and if He leads us away from our plans, it is because He has more perfect ones in store.

Though this worrier has a long way to go, I am happy to report that though in many ways I am still relearning how to feel and return Jesus’s love (following the priest’s advice to do Lectio Divina, which has been an INCREDIBLE blessing), no longer am I a shark pacing nervously in the waters, afraid to stop and rest.  Instead I am crawling my way to Heaven now, and hopefully God—seeing my littleness—will reach down and take my hand, to help me along the way.

Reconsider the Chapel Veil

Over the summer my dear friend and roommate put together a gorgeous video about why many Catholic women are returning to the old custom of wearing a chapel veil to Mass.  I personally started wearing a veil in high school, and often thank the Lord that He lead me to do so.  I highly encourage those of you who wear a veil, are considering wearing a veil, or know someone who does to watch this video. It will help those who already wear a veil to remember why they do so, those who are considering to more fully understand the point of this lovely devotion, and those gentlemen who cannot wear a veil- but know women who do- to better appreciate the beauty behind the tradition.  Below her video is a quote that inspired me in my early days of wearing the veil, and which I have returned to and reflected on many times.  I hope you enjoy the video, and take time to prayerfully consider this devotion as a way to renew your prayer life and enhance your participation in the Mass, and encourage others who are looking for that “something different” in their practice of the faith to do the same.

 

“Woman, because she was created by being drawn from man’s side, is constantly trying to return to him. She desires the original unity of one flesh and one bone. The desire for unity between man and woman is a mirror of the relationship between Christ and the soul. As woman longs for union with man in human relationships, she is also drawn to unity with God. He calls her to become one with Him: to come under His side and become flesh of His flesh and bone of His bone. This occurs during reception of Eucharist. The covering of the head with a veil symbolizes the reality of woman sheltered in the side of her Source and becoming one with Him. She becomes covered and hidden in her Divine Spouse.”

-St. John Chrysostom