All posts by AnneMarie Miller

AnneMarie Miller is a quirky, spontaneous woman who loves the excitement and adventure that each day brings. She also greatly enjoys making weird analogies that intertwine the Catholic Faith and everyday life. A recent college graduate, she currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, where she spends her days blogging, avoiding housework, freelance writing, and reading good books. You can hear about her adventures and contact AnneMarie through her blog, Sacrifice of Love (http://marianninja.blogspot.com).

Why we should read “Gaudete et Exsultate”

Back in March, Pope Francis released an apostolic exhortation all about the call to be holy, Gaudete et Exsultate. Within just a few days, the online world was discussing (and debating) the document. As often happens in our world of constant news and digital engagement, a few weeks went by and conversations about this exhortation died down. People began arguing about other topics. The release of this apostolic exhortation seems like a distant memory, and if you haven’t read it yet, you may be reluctant to do so. We often like to read and discuss whatever is trending in the world, so if the world has seemingly moved on, what good can come from perusing these words of Pope Francis?

1. Gaudete et Exsultate is a loving note of encouragement from our Holy Father.

As an apostolic exhortation, Gaudete et Exsultate does not seek to define dogma or lay out a detailed analysis of the Church’s teachings about one particular topic. Instead, it is an apostolic exhortation that seeks to encourage us in our mission as Christians.  In this document, Pope Francis clearly states that his aim “is not meant to be a treatise on holiness, containing definitions and distinctions helpful for understanding this important subject, or a discussion of the various means of sanctification. My modest goal is to repropose the call to holiness in a practical way for our own time, with all its risks, challenges and opportunities” (#2). Pope Francis did not write this document for a few scholarly people to pull apart and debate; he wrote it for all of us to read and learn from. 

2. This exhortation takes us back to the basics of holiness.

In five pithy chapters, Pope Francis’s words remind us to stop over-complicating things and just be holy. As someone who tremendously enjoys learning about the intricacies of our Faith – especially as manifested in the liturgy – I sometimes face the temptation of forgetting the heart of Christ’s message. Like a Pharisee, I grow overly legalistic and proud, and let this overshadow the message of transformative love that floods the Gospels. In Chapter Three of this document, Pope Francis walks us through the Beatitudes, reflecting on how – looking at the Scriptures and the lives of the saints – we can embrace our call to holiness through this path that Christ lays before us.  Pope Francis notes that:

“The Beatitudes are like a Christian’s identity card. So if anyone asks: “What must one do to be a good Christian?”, the answer is clear. We have to do, each in our own way, what Jesus told us in the Sermon on the Mount. In the Beatitudes, we find a portrait of the Master, which we are called to reflect in our daily lives” (#63).

3. There are some beautiful and profound one-liners. 

I can always appreciate a succinct, thought-provoking statement that I can ponder for a while. To my delight, I found that Gaudete et Exsultate is full of these! No matter if he’s talking about the universal call to holiness (“To be holy does not require being a bishop, a priest or a religious”), the importance of cultivating peace in our world (“We need to be artisans of peace, for building peace is a craft that demands serenity, creativity, sensitivity and skill”), or the command Christ gave us to forgive others (“We need to think of ourselves as an army of the forgiven”), Pope Francis bluntly calls us forth to be holier men and women.

If you’ve been hesitant to pick up this document because it seems like “old news,” read it anyway – the reflection Pope Francis presents about holiness is needed in our modern world.

If you haven’t read this document because you think that it’s just for theologians and scholars, read it anyway – Pope Francis wrote it for us. In the conclusion, he states: “It is my hope that these pages will prove helpful by enabling the whole Church to devote herself anew to promoting the desire for holiness” (#177). He wants to help the whole Church, not just a privileged few.

If you’ve neglected to pick up this document because (based on opinion articles, headlines, and social media posts you’ve seen) you think it is chock-full of faulty teachings, read it anyway – the pope is not laying out incorrect teachings or false doctrine; he is encouraging us to be holy. While yes, there are some passages that seem a little vague and could be twisted in a variety of ways, I invite you to reflect on the pope’s words as you examine how you can practice sanctity in your own life.

Image credit: “Pope Francis” by Mikedev, via Pixabay (2017). CCO Public Domain. 

Why Make Resolutions for the Liturgical Year?

Advent began on Sunday, December 3, and with it, the new liturgical year also began. An entire year to focus on the life and ministry of Christ stretches before us, complete with seasons, feast days, and days of fasting and penitence. Since we are in Advent, it’s important to focus on the season we are in, and to prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ at Christmas. However, I also find it beneficial to take a moment and look at the broad expanse of the year that lies ahead, and make specific goals — New Year’s resolutions.

The practice of making — and breaking — New Year’s resolutions is commonplace. Each winter, as the calendar year draws to a close, numerous people resolve to change their lives in some way. While this can be a worthy practice if one truly commits to working towards these goals, the idea of making resolutions to coincide with the calendar year has never really appealed to me. Why jump on the secular bandwagon of making resolutions for 2018 when I can instead dive deeper into the life of the Church and form my resolutions around the liturgical year?

For the past several years, in the final weeks of Ordinary Time, I start thinking and praying about what my resolutions will be. One year, I resolved to focus more on God’s mercy, and spent that year reading and praying with the diary of St. Faustina Kowalska. Another year, I decided to focus on modern saints, and spent my year learning about the holy men and women of the 20-21st centuries. This year, I made four resolutions, and will focus on each resolution for 3 months.  Our resolutions don’t have to be huge or fit specific criteria; instead, they need to be small ways in which we can try to grow closer to God. In creating my resolutions with the new liturgical year, I find that no matter what my resolutions are — working out, reading certain books, doing certain activities — I am more attuned to God’s voice.

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Images: PD-US

The Church Embraces All People: Thoughts on the Beatification of Fr. Stanley Rother

“They must be going to the beatification!” I yelped happily, as I pointed towards a well-dressed group of people walking down the sidewalk. It was early in the morning on Saturday, September 23rd, and I could not contain my excitement. Several minutes later, I found myself also walking down the sidewalks of downtown Oklahoma City. My husband, myself, and our toddler joined the massive throng of people who wrapped around the Cox Convention center, waiting to enter the arena. From around the state of Oklahoma – and around the world – we all came together for this historic event: the beatification of Fr. Stanley Francis Rother.

The view as we rushed through the arena, looking for open seats.

After bustling around, trying to find seats, we wound up sitting in the overflow section behind the altar. I was expecting many people to attend the beatification Mass, but the sight of so many people was incredible. Over 13,000 people crammed together to pray and celebrate the life and legacy of the first U.S.-born martyr to be beatified.

Throughout the beatification Mass, I kept thinking of how this event showed that the Church truly is universal and all-embracing. There were hundreds of priests and consecrated religious, and over 50 bishops. There were thousands of lay people. These individuals came to Oklahoma from all parts of the country – or from other countries, like Guatemala, where Blessed Stanley served and was martyred. The petitions during Mass also reflected the universality of the Catholic Church; they were read in English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Filipino, Comanche, Tz’utujil, and Korean.

As I looked out on the massive, diverse crowd of people, I thought of how Blessed Stanley Rother gave his life as he ministered in love to others. He didn’t stay in his comfortable little hometown in Oklahoma, but he went out to embrace and guide those in another country during a tumultuous time. He helped translate the New Testament into the language of the people there, Tz’utujil. He lived simply, joining in solidarity with the men and women around him. In his life and work, he sought to serve and love others.

There have been many times where I have found myself becoming self-absorbed. I’ll think that “my way” is the “best way” when doing different activities. Or, I’ll narrow my field of vision and think that a Catholic must look or act in one particular way. At times like these, I forget that Christ welcomes all people into His Church – those who have cultural differences from me, those who have backgrounds different from my own, and those who pray in ways which I do not. In his letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul writes: “As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ” (1 Cor 12:12). As I saw during the beatification Mass of Blessed Stanley Rother, there is a beautiful diversity among the members of the Catholic Church. Let us rejoice in the unique gifts that each person brings to the Church, and let us remember to embrace and welcome all people with the sacrificial love of Christ, so that we may all grow closer to Him together.

Why We Shouldn’t “Gloss Over” Marian Devotion

I’ve always enjoyed learning about epic stories of martyrdom. Even as a young child of 8 or 9 years old, I would read, in awe (and a little bit of shock) about the ways in which holy men and women across the centuries have lived and died as witnesses of God’s love and mercy. In fact, in my zeal for learning about martyrdom, I’ve even found myself skipping over areas of a saint’s life, just to get to the “good parts” where I learn about his or her heroic death.

“So-and-so was a good child, blah blah blah…very devoted to Mary…tortured for the Faith-ah yes, here’s where it gets good.”

Learning about a saint’s martyrdom is fascinating, and it can seem extremely relevant. After all, since our world is facing much division and persecution, hearing the stories of the martyrs can give us people to whom we can relate. Shouldn’t we spend our time focusing on stories of martyrdom, and just “gloss over” other aspects of their lives?

The more I think about this, the more I realize something: We can talk about martyrdom all we want, but if that is the only thing we’re focusing on, we are missing the bigger picture. We miss the why. For example, we recently celebrated the feast of St. Maximilian Kolbe. Many people focus on how St. Maximilian offered himself. We talk about his selflessness and heroic sacrifice as he literally gave his life for another person. For years, this is the sole image I had of St. Maximilian. It wasn’t until I reached college that I began to see the “bigger picture.” I learned about how St. Maximilian Kolbe was deeply devoted to Mary, and how his love for Mary was a strong, guiding motivation throughout his life.

We cannot simply “gloss over” Marian devotion or any other devotions that the saints have practiced, thinking that we should only focus on the “good” or “relevant” parts of their lives. These practices have formed the saints and made them who they are. Not only that, but Marian devotion will always be relevant. In fact, as our society quickly plummets downward into the chaos of moral relativism and disunity, growing in our devotion to Mary so that she may lead us to Jesus seems especially relevant.

When we read the lives of the saints, let’s not just focus on their gory martyrdoms or the mystical experiences that they had. Rather, let’s look at the whole picture of their lives, and learn from them so that we can strive for greater holiness too. Marian devotion is and will always be relevant, because Mary will never stop leading us to her son. So why gloss over it?

 

Photo credit: “Statue” by Momentmal via Pixabay. CCO public domain. 

How do we love our neighbors?

When I was young, my siblings and I would often play with a soccer ball in our backyard. Inevitably, someone would powerfully kick the ball and it would go sailing over the privacy fence and into someone else’s yard. While we wanted our ball back, it was a rare occasion that any of us actually wanted to go knock on a neighbor’s door to ask for our ball. While we knew a couple of our neighbors, there were many people whom we didn’t know—and the thought of walking up to the house of a complete stranger was terrifying.

Thinking back on these memories, I realize that our situation was probably not atypical. It seems that, in our current culture, we often scurry from our homes into our cars, preoccupied with our phones or other concerns. If we see our neighbors, we may give them a glance and “hello,” but that’s about it. We don’t really know who lives on our street, except for what kind of car they may drive, how many pets they have, and how much trash they put on the curb each week.

Photo credit: “Neighborhood,” by ChanhNguyen, via Pixabay (2017). CCO Public Domain.

We’ve heard the story of the Good Samaritan in the tenth chapter of Luke’s Gospel, and we know that loving our neighbor means treating each person we greet with God’s love and mercy. Yet, while we may do a fantastic job at being kind to the strangers we meet in public—because they are our “neighbors”—we can forget that we need to love and care for our literal, next-door neighbors.

Recently, my husband and I moved into our first house, situated in a rather quiet neighborhood. The first few days after we moved in, I didn’t really know much about our neighbors. I would occasionally see them in passing, but I was preoccupied getting unpacked and settling into our home. However, this quickly began to change. A few people introduced themselves to me, so I at least knew who some of my neighbors were. Then, one woman invited me over to coffee at her house, where I was entertained with stories about the beginnings of television in America. A few days later, another woman invited me to coffee at her house and then took me around her garden, gathering tools to loan me so that I could begin a small garden of my own.

In just a few weeks, I have seen beautiful love and concern from some of my neighbors as they seek to welcome our family. As I’ve told other people about my neighborhood, I’ve realized how, in the experience of many people, the level of kindness and care I’ve been experiencing is rare. I find this very sad, but unsurprising. We can make ourselves so busy that we have little time or desire to create bonds of friendship with others in our neighborhoods.

This summer, I challenge you to change this trend.

You don’t need to cook an elaborate meal or plan a massive neighborhood cook-out; sometimes, having these expectations for ourselves can hold us back from reaching out to others. Spend time outside and introduce yourself to your neighbors. Invite them over for coffee. Ask them for advice on lawn care. If you’re new to the area, ask them for recommendations on places to eat or attractions to visit. Introducing yourself to a near-complete stranger who you’ve been living by for months or years may be awkward, but seeking to love your neighbors and growing in community is well worth any awkwardness. It doesn’t have to be complicated, and we shouldn’t overthink things. Just love your neighbors—those strangers in public places, and the men and women who live next door.

The Apparition that Changed the World: A Review of Jean Heimann’s New Book on Fatima

The following review was originally written on the blog Sacrifice of Love. It is republished here with permission from the author.

With depth and simplicity, Jean Heimann’s new book, Fatima: The Apparition That Changed the World (Tan Books 2017), instructs and inspires as it delves into the story of Our Lady of Fatima. However, instead of solely focusing on the apparitions themselves, Heimann provides a holistic view which shows the people and societal conditions that were so drastically affected by Mary’s appearances at Fatima. Heimann begins her work by introducing the three young children whom Mary appeared to: Lucia, Francisco, and Jacinta. She then continues to discuss the Marian apparitions that took place in 1917 and continue to be important 100 years later.

Used with permission.

Instead of simply discussing each apparition and then moving onto the next one, though, Heimann really dives into the messages of Our Lady. Following the scenes of the first two apparitions, she includes a “Lessons from the Apparition” section. This part of the book connects the faithful, humble “yes” that the three young visionaries gave to God with the fiat of Mary, the Mother of God. Heimann also explores Mary’s words, and how typical, “normal” lay Catholics can live out these messages. Instead of just throwing around terms like “reparation” and “Rosary,” she talks about what these aspects of the Faith are. I found the small section on the Rosary particularly inspiring as it discussed the importance of contemplation in this prayer.

In discussing these apparitions, Heimann draws from Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger’s commentary on Fatima, which helps illustrate various symbols that were in the third apparition. She also provides the historical context of political events that were happening in Portugal at the time. Learning about these historical details was eye-opening, and helped me see how pivotal it was that Mary appeared in Fatima at this specific time period, and helped revive the Catholics there.

After diving into the sixth apparition—the famous incident of the Miracle of the Sun on October 13, 1917—Heimann talks about the lives and deaths of the visionaries in the years that followed. I really did not know much about the events that followed the apparitions, and I was fascinated as I read about Lucia’s life in the convent. The book concludes by discussing the different popes who have visited Fatima, and some miracles connected to Our Lady of Fatima that have taken place in the years since the apparitions.

I really enjoyed this book, and think that Heimann did an excellent job crafting a well-researched, thorough resource on Fatima that is very approachable and engaging. Whether you are unfamiliar with Our Lady of Fatima or grew up watching the animated movie about Fatima, this book is a great read that inspired me.  I found that this isn’t just a book about Fatima as an isolated set of Marian apparitions; instead, it shows us how Mary’s appearances at Fatima are part of the beautiful, rich tapestry of God’s work throughout the centuries.

Fatima: The Apparition that Changed the World, by Jean Heimann, is available for pre-order at Tan Books and at Amazon. 

I received an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own. 

Can You Teach a Preschooler About the Summa? A Review of Tiny Thomists

There’s a struggle that I experience when trying to teach young children about the Catholic faith. I want to teach little kids about God’s love, but I would like to take lessons beyond “God made the flowers and the birds and he made you!” This isn’t a bad lesson (it’s actually very important), but I think it is beneficial to get a little deeper. Young children have a capacity to encounter God, the saints, and the truths of the Catholic faith that we often do not give them credit for. How can deep truths be presented in kid-friendly ways? Figuring out how to bring substantial teachings to young children can be a daunting task, with many factors to consider.

Even though my baby is a little young to begin formal religious instruction, I still like to keep my eyes open for good resources and programs that may come in handy in a year or two. When I heard about TJ Burdick’s program, Tiny Thomists, I was very intrigued. As I communicated with Burdick about his program and looked through the materials, I became very excited. According to Burdick, the primary goal of this program is “to provide a free and focused Thomistic formation for parents who want salvation of their kiddos.” As I examined the program, I saw just how excellently Burdick is fulfilling his goal so far. Tiny Thomists is an adaptable, approachable, thorough resource for parents to use with their young children, and it’s free—what could be better?

Photo courtesy of the Dominican Institute. Used with permission.

This program is extremely adaptable. Burdick recommends Tiny Thomists for children three years old and up, and the materials are directed towards emerging readers and children in the pre–First Communion phase. However, after going through the materials and thinking about the wide range in understanding that different children have, I think that parents can easily use Tiny Thomists for older children—or perhaps even use some sections with younger children!

Tiny Thomists is very approachable. Even if you have no background in theology or philosophy, you can use Tiny Thomists to teach your child about the Catholic faith. Each lesson plan includes a variety of ways to teach Catholic doctrine to your child, and the two of you can learn together as you dive into Scripture, stories of the saints, and the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas.

The materials are very thorough. Biweekly, each household receives a two-week lesson plan that includes many different stories and activities. My favorite feature is the “Simplified Summa,” a section that features a sentence from the Summa Theologica to discuss. This is a great way to make St. Thomas Aquinas’s writings palatable to the mind of a four-year-old! The lesson plans also include games, stories, and ideas for craft projects to reinforce the lessons that are being taught. Also, every Thursday, parents will receive “The Gospel in Kid Speak,” so that they can discuss the upcoming Sunday’s Gospel reading with their children prior to attending Mass.

I was really impressed with the amount of resources packed into this program, and I appreciate this wide range of activities. Every child is different and has various needs and levels of understanding, and this program is so flexible. Tiny Thomists is a fantastic program, and I think it has wonderful potential for more development and growth in the future. Personally, since I love to cook and bake, I think it would be neat if a simple recipe would be regularly included in each issue that relates to the saint or Scripture. Already, though, this is a resource packed with great faith-building activities. I am very excited to see how it continues to develop and grow!

To download the most recent issue of Tiny Thomists, learn more about the program, and sign up for the emails, you can visit: https://dominicaninstitute.com/tinythomists/

What’s Cooler Than Getting Ashes on Your Forehead?

Ash Wednesday is a fairly busy day in many places. People cram into churches and receive ashes in the form of a cross (or a big blob, depending on who is distributing them) on their foreheads. Many churches offer small midday services with readings from Scripture and a distribution of ashes for people who cannot attend Mass that day. Also, as controversial they may be, some places offer “drive-thru” ashes so that people don’t even have to leave their cars to receive ashes!

Photo Credit: “Ash Cross” by Myriams-Fotos via Pixabay (2017) CCO Public Domain

I find it admirable that so many people begin Lent by receiving this outward sign of our sinfulness and need for God’s mercy. Yet, I think it is important that we place our enthusiasm in the right places. I have heard a variety of stories in which Catholics focus more on getting ashes than receiving the Eucharist, and these stories make me a little sad. Then, I think about the times in my own life when the main motivation to get myself to Mass on Ash Wednesday was that afterwards, I would be able to compare foreheads with my friends—and I realize that I do not appreciate the gift of the Eucharist.

Many of us get enthusiastic to receive ashes each year as Lent begins, but we pay no attention to the fact that we receive the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ each week—or several times a week. Should we be proud of this fact?

Personally, I am ashamed of myself. I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with taking Ash Wednesday selfies or comparing foreheads with others, but if I’m placing more of my focus on this external marking than on our Eucharistic Lord, I think there is a problem. I cannot count how many times that I have focused more on ashes or some other external aspect of Mass than the gift of the Eucharist!

Ash Wednesday is long gone, and we won’t receive ashes again for many months (that’ll be a nice Valentine’s Day present in 2018!). Yet, while we won’t receive trendy crosses on our foreheads for quite some time, we have the opportunity to receive Jesus Christ. Will we open ourselves up to the graces that He wants to pour out on us? Will we let ourselves be changed as we eat His flesh and drink His blood? The Catechism of the Catholic Church notes that:

“Communion with the Body and Blood of Christ increases the communicant’s union with the Lord, forgives his venial sins, and preserves him from grave sins. Since receiving this sacrament strengthens the bonds of charity between the communicant and Christ, it also reinforces the unity of the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ.” (#1416)

Isn’t this amazing?

Receiving ashes on our foreheads is cool, but consuming Jesus Christ in the Eucharist is infinitely better.

When We Try to Touch God

Nearly every Sunday, I see it happen: During the Sign of Peace, parishioners near me smile and reach over to shake my baby’s hand. They peer at my him, trying to make eye contact and perhaps be rewarded with a toothy baby smile. I continue to see this fascination when I go on walks or run errands with my son. Friends will hold out their fingers and coo at my baby, waiting for him to look their way and touch them. They yearn to feel my son’s fingers on their skin and to see his blue eyes look up at them. Sometimes, he looks over and grabs their fingers. On other occasions, he doesn’t even notice them. He’s a baby still growing in his awareness of others and the world, so this is to be expected.

The way that other people react to my son makes me think of the woman in the Gospels who suffered from hemorrhages.

“She had suffered greatly at the hands of many doctors and had spent all that she had. Yet she was not helped but only grew worse. She had heard about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak. She said, ‘If I but touch his clothes, I shall be cured.'” (Mk 5:26-28)

This woman longed for the touch of Christ two thousand years ago, and we yearn for His touch today. How often do we feel like we’re in a crowd of people, trying to draw close to God so that He will hear our petitions? How many times do we call out to God, hands outstretched, like those who encounter my baby boy? Just as people will make funny faces or noises in trying to attract my son’s attention, we will do anything to make God look over and touch us. We will pray louder, piling on more prayers, penances, and devotions. If we don’t feel His presence in our lives, we can become exasperated. We think that, like a baby distracted by his many surroundings, God is preoccupied with other matters and is not paying attention to us.

“Rosary” by Myriams-Fotos (2016) via Pixabay. CCO Public Domain.

However, God does not operate in this way. He does not ignore us from afar while we clamor for our voices to be heard. He is not oblivious to our needs and petitions. He knows what we need, even before we ask Him.

“Even the hairs of your head have all been counted. Do not be afraid. You are worth more than many sparrows” (Lk 12:7).

When we call out to God, it can be frustrating when we don’t think that our prayers are being answered. We don’t feel the touch of Christ, and we don’t sense that His gaze is upon us. The beautiful reality, though, is that faith is not about our feelings. Even if we don’t have an emotional experience and feel consolation from God, we need to trust that He loves us, cares for us, and is listening to (and answering) our prayers. As we embark on our Lenten journey, let us remember to focus on having faith in God both when it’s easy to see our prayers being answered and when we can’t see visible fruits of our sacrifices and petitions.

Let Yourself Be Moved

Every January, pro-life marches and events are held across the country. We talk about abortion in our parishes and homes, and we eagerly attend special Masses that are held to pray for the sanctity of all human life. We look at the adorable babies in our midst and, spurred on by a passion for life, decide that we will take a stand for the unborn children. We will speak up for the voiceless, and we will aid their mothers. We allow our hearts to be touched, and we are moved into action.

We absolutely need to continue spreading awareness about abortion and work to help the unborn babies and their families. However, we need to widen our pro-life scope and talk about another tragic reality that is in our midst: Sex trafficking.

I wonder, at times, why we don’t talk about sex trafficking very often.

Our silence is possibly due to discomfort. It is much more fun to hold pictures of cute babies on street corners and encourage people to choose life than it is to talk about the uncomfortable, grim reality of sex trafficking in our nation.

Maybe our silence is due to ignorance. We don’t know about this common form of slavery—what it is, or how to combat it—and so we don’t discuss it.

Or, perhaps we do not discuss sex trafficking because we have not let the issue touch our hearts. We stand at a comfortable distance with our “Choose Life!” posters, having the faint knowledge that sex trafficking exists, but keeping ourselves far from the issue. We think that other people can become knowledgeable about this slavery. Other people can do something to fight it. Other people are called to help the victims…but not us. We may share an article on social media about “5 Ways to Fight Sex Trafficking,” but that’s the extent of our engagement with the topic.

Originally, I thought that—since January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month—I would write an upbeat article about concrete ways that we can fight this industry. Then, I realized that many articles like this exist already. Yet, silence still persists in many of our churches and communities. We know about sex trafficking, but we have not let this knowledge touch our hearts. We have not been moved into action by compassion and a sense of justice.

So, let yourself be moved. Read the stories of sex trafficking victims, and listen as their voices cry out for help—the help that only you can give. Watch documentaries, learn about local anti-trafficking organizations, and open up your heart. Let your heart be touched by the stories you hear, by the plight of thousands of people in our cities and towns. When your heart is touched, you will see that the statistics on trafficking represent adults and children from our communities, people who deserve dignity, respect and love.

St. Teresa of Calcutta is attributed with saying, “Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time, and always start with the person nearest you.”

Holding this wisdom close, look at your community. Let yourself be touched by the reality of abuse, disrespect, and sex trafficking that affects many people near you. Then, let yourself be moved by compassionate love to do something to help our brothers and sisters in need.

Photo credit: “Human Trafficking” by sammisreachers  via Pixabay. CCO Public Domain.

Will We Listen to John the Baptist?

During Advent and Christmas, I often think of the Holy Family. I look at the poor and homeless in my community in relation to Mary and Joseph as they sought shelter in Bethlehem. Glancing at manger scenes, I contemplate the poverty of the Holy Family, and the impoverished in my community. I ponder their flight into Egypt, and think about refugees, fleeing from persecution. This year, however, I have frequently found myself thinking of someone else.

“John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea
and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” ~Mt 3:1-2

This passage from Scripture was proclaimed on the Second Sunday of Advent, and we heard John the Baptist urge people to prepare themselves for Christ. Each year, this same message of repentance and preparation from John the Baptist is spoken during Advent. Yet, how often do we really think about this saint and his words?

I often push away thoughts of John the Baptist during Advent, and instead choose to focus on the Holy Family. The image of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph is a lot cozier than that of an outspoken, blunt prophet who wore clothing made from camel hair and ate locusts! John the Baptist makes us uncomfortable. Yes, his appearance—from a modern standpoint—is rather strange. Even more than that, his message is unsettling to us. John the Baptist reminds us that we actually need to change our lives and hearts as we prepare for Christ. His words cause us to recall that in the mist of our warm and happy preparations for Christmas, our internal, spiritual preparations are most important.

As I look to John the Baptist’s words of wisdom in preparing for Christ, I also have begun to think about how I would react to his words if I lived at the time of Christ. Would I listen to the outspoken, passionate John the Baptist as he called for repentance and later stood up for the sanctity of marriage? Would I listen to John the Baptist as he directed people to Christ?

Of course, I’m not living two thousand years ago, when John the Baptist walked the Earth, so it’s hard to say what my reaction to him would be. However, in our modern world, there are people who—like John the Baptist—call for repentance. People who stand up for the sanctity of marriage. People who proclaim God’s Truth, even when it is unpopular. People who direct others to Christ. Will I hear what they–especially the pope, the Vicar of Christ–have to say? Furthermore, will I listen to John the Baptist’s message, and change my life so I may accept Christ fully?

Am I Living Like I’m in Times Square?

My small feet stepped across the sidewalk and my blue eyes widened as I took in the sights and sounds of Times Square. I had seen this bustling hub of activity often on television or in movies, but this time, I was visiting it myself. Today, many years later, I can still remember the awe I experienced as I saw flashing advertisements, huge buildings, and a wide variety of individuals rushing around. After that trip, I would often think about how exciting it was to explore such a fascinating place—and how glad I was to not be living in Times Square, with all of the noise and distractions that could easily pull me away from prayer and work.

However, it recently occurred to me that I bring Times Square into my home daily, in a way—and I’m not exactly happy about that. While eating my breakfast one morning, I was scrolling through my Facebook news feed—an action that many people, I’m sure, can relate to. And as my eyes took in advertisements, cat videos, and countless updates from people I know in varying degrees, it hit me: Wait, this is kind of like putting myself in Times Square again.

True, I wasn’t standing in a massive crowd of people on the street, but right in front of me, I was seeing the lives and images of many people on display. Viral videos and advertisements were playing automatically as I glanced around the page, and I couldn’t focus on any solitary thoughts as I clicked links, commented on posts, and ate my cereal. The more I thought about how I was inviting a hub of chaotic activity into my mind before I had even eaten or taken some quiet moments in prayer, the more displeased I grew. I need to change something, I thought. But, aside from “trying” to hold myself accountable regarding social media, I did not do much to change my habits.

Several weeks passed, and I found myself in a starkly different place: Our Lady of Clear Creek Abbey, a monastic community tucked away in rural Oklahoma. As Mass began, I knelt with my husband and son and immersed myself in the complete stillness and peace. There was a tranquility that draped across the crypt as the monks and congregation offered their prayers to God. As I explored the grounds later on that day, I continued to encounter this peace and tranquility. Even as I was perusing the gift shop or hiking the trails, I did not feel like talking loudly—and when I did, it felt unnatural. Simply by being in the presence of the abbey, I wanted to be still and hear God speak in the quiet.

Our Lady of Clear Creek Abbey. Photo by AnneMarie Miller (2016).
Our Lady of Clear Creek Abbey. Photo by AnneMarie Miller.

After my visit to the abbey, I thought about this contrast: the busy, flashing distractions of social media and the beautiful, peaceful solitude of the abbey. While some people may see benefit in cutting social media and technology out of their lives, I realized that this would not be beneficial to me. I am not called to live in solitude like a monk, and as a writer and blogger, social media holds a very important place in my life. Not only that, but I enjoy living in a city and connecting with the local community through events on social media.

However, I’ve realized that I do need to put effort into finding a balance, because this won’t happen without work on my part. As Advent draws near, I’m intentionally creating boundaries for myself, so that I stop filling my heart and mind with constant noise from the Internet. I invite all of you to honestly examine your lives and use of social media, so that when Advent comes, we may all embrace more solitude and quiet as we prepare for the birth of Our Lord.