All posts by Emma King

Emma graduated cum laude from Hillsdale College in May, 2013 with a BA in Philosophy. She is happily married to a wonderful man and lives in Michigan.

The Time I Didn’t Evangelize My Doctor

A couple of weeks ago, while traveling for a friend’s wedding, I suddenly developed what can only be described as a mini Mount Vesuvius on my knee. The random, swollen, fluid-filled monstrosity eventually became bad enough (because my “oh, it’ll go away….duh!” mentality didn’t work), that when we got home I went in to see my doctor.

Like a good expectant mom, I told the doctor’s office right away that I am pregnant. I also informed them that I’m taking supplemental progesterone, something I don’t think much about, since its use in NaPro Technology is fairly common. The nurse looked at me strangely when I mentioned progesterone and, after he left, I told my husband, “Ugh. Outside of NaPro Technology, use of progesterone in pregnancy is really rare. I bet they’ll ask me about that.” Since I was tired from traveling and my knee was causing pain I wouldn’t have wished on my worst enemy, I definitely didn’t feel like having the “NFP talk” with my doctor. I felt myself go on the defensive automatically.

When the doctor came in, sure enough, she asked me “you’re pregnant?”

“Yup.” I replied shortly.

“…But you’re taking progesterone?”

“Yup.” Another quick response on my part.

“…why?” she asked.

I sighed and replied “because I have low progesterone.”

The doctor let it go at that, and satisfied that I wouldn’t have to defend my use of the Creighton Model or NaPro, I settled in for the conquering on Mount Knee-suvius. Half way through the exam, it came up again.

“Who is your OB?” asked the doctor.

I told her. Understandably, her eyebrows rose when she heard I was traveling over an hour away to see my OB.

“Is there a reason you go all the way down there?” she inquired.

Irritated, I quipped “yes.” Again, why the inquisition? Can’t we fix my knee?

The doctor explained that someone traveling that far could indicate a high-risk pregnancy, which would change her course of treatment. No, I reassured her, I’m not high risk. The eyebrows went up again – “then why is this chick traveling so far?” I could see the question in her eyes.

After the exam, I hopped off the table and as I settled into my chair next to my husband the doctor said to me “I’m sorry, this is off topic, but, do you like your OB?”

I quickly responded that I love him, I couldn’t recommend him highly enough, and everyone should go to him. The doctor smiled and explained that she is getting married in 11 days and they want to start a family right away. Since she will be living near that area, she is looking for good OBs and wondered what I thought. Then she asked what had prompted me to drive down there.

The question hit me like a baseball bat on the head and the old expression “third time’s a charm” ran through my head. With a new sense of compassion, I told the doctor about NaPro Technology and the Creighton Model. I explained why it was important to me to have a NaPro trained OB and the basics of the system. She listened with rapt attention as I explained the tenants of NaPro and when I offered her my OB’s card she took it readily.

“This is really cool!” She said, “thank you!”

As we left the office a sense of shame came over me.

“That was a close call,” I told my husband as we got in the car.

“What exactly?” he probed.

Every single person we come into contact with has a right to the truth. Every single person we meet has a right to hear the Lord’s message of love, redemption, and an opportunity to come into contact with the faith. That doesn’t mean we ought to go stand on street corners thumping bibles, but it does mean that when the opportunity for evangelization presents itself we have an obligation and a duty to rise to the occasion and evangelize. It doesn’t matter how tired we are, or how much pain we are in. It doesn’t matter how many times we’ve told people something or how many times doctors have told us that “that’s not going to work.” The fact is, that the Creighton Model and NFP in general have brought numerous people into contact with the faith. What if I was the only person who was ever going to tell her about it?

“Maybe she’ll go see our OB, maybe she won’t,” I told my husband. “But what if she does? What if she does and he introduces her to Creighton? What if his practice introduces her to Catholic theology and the faith? What if through seeing our OB, she comes into the Church and it all started because I gave her a business card? This visit could have potentially changed her entire life, and I almost blew it because I was too tired and grumpy to care that the Lord was presenting me with this opportunity.”

I was lucky that day that the doctor asked me one more time “why that?”

But… what if she hadn’t asked one more time?

What about those who don’t?

The new evangelization calls us to be radically aware of those around us and how we can bring them to the Lord. She thought she was healing my knee, and had our conversation been left at that, only one of us would have walked away better. However, because the Lord opened a door, maybe both of us walked away from that encounter better off. Hopefully, we’ll all be more aware than I was and recognize those unique opportunities to share the truth with everyone we meet!

Running in Circles: The Luminous Mysteries

In keeping with my recent posts about the fruits of the mysteries of the rosary in our daily lives, today I want to tackle the Luminous Mysteries and their fruits.

The first Luminous mystery is the Baptism of Our Lord in the Jordan, the fruit of which is “Openness to the Holy Spirit.” At first this seems pretty obvious; when we are baptized we are brought into the family of God, children of His by adoption, we become members of the Body of Christ, the Church. However, I think this mystery goes beyond simply meditating on our own baptism (which is a good and worthwhile thing to do). If we consider the number of times we renew out baptismal promises each week, every time we enter and exit the Church for example, we suddenly become aware of the number of opportunities we have to crack the door of our soul open just a bit more to the workings of the Holy Spirit.

Even more than just renewing our baptismal promises, think of all the times the Lord desires to shower us with His grace – “baptize us in the Holy Spirit,” as it were. Our Lady of Guadalupe once said that the fingers in the painting of her that do not have rays coming out of them signify all of the graces that are available to us that no one asks for. Perhaps if we come to love our baptism and the promises that come with it, we will develop a new openness to the Holy Spirit, thus allowing ourselves to be spiritually “baptized” in His abundant graces each day!

Indeed, opening our souls to the Holy Spirit then allows us to turn for even greater help to those in Heaven. Which, coincidentally, is the second mystery and fruit – the Wedding Feast at Cana and the fruit “To Jesus through Mary.” When we open ourselves to the workings of the Holy Spirit, we become more malleable to the ways the Lord longs to bring us to Him. For those who are cautious about getting to know Mary, opening ourselves to the Holy Spirit may be the first step in trusting her to get us to her son. After all, she didn’t receive her son until she opened herself (in every possible way, mind you!) to the Holy Spirit. Maybe she knows a thing or two about the workings of Our Lord in The Spirit and the two of them, spirit and Mother of God, can work together to bring about wonders in our soul!

Which brings us to the third mystery, The Proclamation of the Kingdom and its fruit: “Trust in God.” Only when we become a true instrument of the Lord through His Spirit can we begin to evangelize the world. Yet, evangelization only works if we place all of our trust in Him: that He is the one evangelizing, not us, that His work will be done if we remain humble. Yet we need the Holy Spirit and Our Blessed Mother to help us reach those who have yet to be reached. Who better to ask for help than the Spirit, who gave the apostles tongues to evangelize, and Mary, who brought Jesus to the world for the first time?

In the fourth mystery, we see how the act of opening ourselves to the graces of the spirit, asking Mary for guidance, and bringing the gospel to others begins to have a profound effect on us. For, just as the mystery reflects on the Transfiguration we too are transfigured into a true reflection of Christ in the world. As we grow in this holiness and radiate the Lord to others, we find that our “Desire for God and Holiness” deepens.

Finally, our spiritual life culminates in the fifth mystery: the Institution of the Eucharist and the fruit of “Eucharistic Adoration.” As the Eucharist is the source and summit of the Church, so too is it the source and summit of our life as Christians. As our desire for holiness grows in response to the workings of the Holy Spirit within us, we are necessarily drawn to the One who can make us Holy: Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. In adoring Him, we are given the Holy Spirit and a new openness to His workings in our life, and the whole circle begins again.

Indeed, the spiritual life, it seems, is not linear, but rather a series of overlapping circles that build on one another to make a beautiful pathway to holiness. As we again grow in openness to the Holy Spirit, our desire for Mary’s intercession awakens and we are transformed by our desire for holiness, which again brings us to the Eucharist.

People like to say that running in circles in pointless. Well, maybe, it’s not as pointless as it seems!

2 Sides of the Same Coin: The Annunciation & The Agony

A while back, I published a meditation on the Joyful Mysteries of the rosary. In revisiting that piece recently, having just prayed the Sorrowful Mysteries, I was struck by the parallels of many of the mysteries. The approach of God to ask for something important, the “fiat” of both Jesus and Mary, the journeys they both undertake immediately afterward, and the birth of Christ into life – Earthly, and later, Heavenly.

However, today I want to focus specifically on the Agony in the Garden and the Annunciation. It seems fitting to me that the Agony would be the first of the Sorrowful Mysteries not solely because it marks the beginning of Our Lord’s passion. The Agony in the Garden perfectly mirrors, or parallels, the Annunciation in the joyful mysteries.

In the Agony, Christ is faced with God asking to use Christ’s body to accomplish His salvific work. Christ must decide to say yes or no, just as Mary was asked by God to use her body and had to say yes or no. Just as Mary, conceived without sin, would of course say yes, so too we know that Christ will of course submit Himself to the will of the Father.

Yet this almost makes the experience worse. In meditating on Agony, we are the audience observing a Greek Drama. We see the end, we are helpless to stop it, and we know it must happen. (We are blessed in a way that Greek Dramas aren’t in that we know that the end is really the most wonderful end there could be, but the process of getting there is pretty hard to take in. Go re-watch The Passion if you need a reminder!). By meditating on the Agony, we begin to see those places where the Lord is asking something painful and necessary of us. In reflecting on Christ’s words: “let this cup pass from me” we all feel vindicated in not wanting to assent to the Lord’s will. In the next breath, however, we learn to assent to God as Christ said “yet not my will, but yours.”

Now, the Annunciation was a joyful and heartfelt yes that resulted in a physical experience of God in our lives. Christ was made incarnate in Mary’s womb. When we say “yes” to God the first time it is often a very physical experience. We feel joyful and excited to get to know God!

However, in the “yes” of the Agony, we experience a loss of God. While the Lord is still with us, He removes Himself so drastically that all we experience is the strength to continue, something we are often unaware of. Christ suffered the extreme separation of Himself from His Heavenly Father, which we see in His cry on the cross – “My God, why have you forsaken me?” – yet we know that the Lord provided Him the physical strength to continue through the Passion.

Indeed, the Lord was so close to Christ throughout the Passion, providing heavenly strength to continue, that Christ could not see Him! So the same may be true of us. When we accept the Lord’s plan and feel abandoned in the process, we are closer to Him than ever before. Even when we feel the most abandoned, or the most confused (“I said yes and now everything is terrible”), we can know that it is not the feelings of closeness that bring us close to God, but the faith that He will not abandon us even in times when we are alone with our cross.

We also see in the Agony in the Garden the maturation of the spiritual life. The Joyful mysteries take place before the Sorrowful mysteries.

Annunciation before Agony.passion

Joy before pain.

So too, the annunciation of our own lives often occurs before an agony experience. When we first encounter the Lord, it is a joyful and exciting occurrence, if a little scary. Only when our spiritual life has matured and we are intimate with the Lord, does He ask for “everything” in our own Agony in the Garden.

Yet, the two are not separate experiences. Every Annunciation comes with an Agony. The Agony in the Garden is simply the other side of the “Annunciation coin.” Just as God eternally presents Himself to us in an on-going annunciation, continually asking to be made present in our lives, so too He is eternally asking us to sacrifice everything for love of Him and His people.

Mary knew what she was getting into when she said “yes” in her garden. She knew her child was coming to save His people, and that meant a pretty painful end. Yet there was joy in embracing the Lord’s plan, a joy so great that there is a whole set of mysteries devoted solely to that virtue. So too, when the Agony in the Garden is presented to us, and we meditate on our own “Agony experience,” we can trust that the other side of that painful, lonely, agonizing, torturous decision is the hidden joy of the Annunciation and the promise of God made manifest in our lives.

Redeeming Lent this Holy Week

Tomorrow we begin the Triduum, the great celebration, and the climax of the Christian year. We’ve spent 40 days preparing for this great feast, and our very beings are quivering with anticipation of the joy and feast to come.

Or, at least, they’re supposed to. But for many of us, Lent is a time that we aren’t sure how to approach, what to do, or how to make the most of it. Even if we choose something “good” to give up, we often fail, and when Easter rolls around it’s hard to see how we’ve prepared for the great feast when we slipped up and had chocolate 20 minutes ago.

Rather than go into an exegesis on the nature of Lent, I want to offer a few ideas on how we can redeem our Lent this Holy Week, and make of ourselves a fitting offering to the Lord this Easter Sunday.

  1. Immerse Yourself in Liturgy.
    There are many great liturgical celebrations during Holy Week. For example, one of the lesser known traditions is Tenebrae. Celebrated on Wednesday night (tonight!), it is meant to encapsulate the darkness surrounding Holy Week and the Passion of Our Lord. If your parish or a local parish hosts a Tenebrae service, consider attending tonight, and allow that to prepare you for the Triduum to begin tomorrow.With that, immerse yourself in the Triduum. Technically, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil are all one celebration. They are not three unique liturgies, and are therefore considered only one day in the liturgical year. Try to go to all three services. You’ll love the continuity and how it ties your Holy Week together!
  2. Fast.
    Traditionally, the Good Friday fast was carried through until the Easter Vigil (or Easter morning, depending on what service you go to). Consider embracing this tradition. Refrain from meat on Saturday, and eat only one regular meal and two small meals that together do not equal the regular meal on Saturday as well as Friday. If you want to get really gung-ho, you could do a Triduum-long fast: abstain from meat today until Easter Sunday, refrain from snacks between meals, or drink only water until Easter Sunday.
  3. Embrace Silence.
    To keep the somber solemnity of Holy Week, consider adding a new level of silence to your day. Turn off the radio. Keep silence during the three o’clock hour on Wednesday and Thursday and from noon to 3 pm on Friday in remembrance of our Lord’s death on the cross. Refrain from unnecessary talking on Saturday, out of reverence for our Lord’s death. Abstain from watching TV in the evening. Instead, take the time to pray the Stations of the Cross or do some spiritual reading or mental prayer.
  4. Embrace Austerity.
    Since it is the Lord, the Bridegroom, who brings all joy and all good things, embrace a new level of austerity for the next few days. Cover beautiful objects – specifically holy ones – in your home with purple cloth. Take cold showers, and eat simply in preparation for the feast of Easter Sunday.

ThePassionThe celebration of Holy Week can do amazing things to prepare our souls for the grace and celebration of Easter Sunday. I hope these ideas help to make the most of this time in the Liturgical year and truly allow us to embrace the joy of Easter!

Theology of the Body in ‘Friends’

The classic TV sitcom, Friends, is iconic for its long run, humor, and relatable characters that made everyone feel they were part of the “gang.” Friends also pushed the envelope, dealing with themes that America was just beginning to delve into in the 1990s. Taking a supportive and liberal approach to topics such as hook up culture, marriage and divorce, “alternative” families, and homosexual relationships, Friends dealt openly with themes previously considered taboo.

Yet, in the 10 seasons Friends ruled TV, the show made a compelling argument against all the social changes it tried so hard to support. Homosexual relationships, hook-up culture, and the redefinition of the family played prominent roles in each of the characters’ lives, yet, it is apparent that each of these elements were inherently bad for the characters on multiple levels. This ironic social commentary opens the door for a rich engagement with Pope Saint John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, the themes of which play out in many of Friends’ characters and episodes. The relationships of the six characters provide an in depth social commentary as their friendships help one another to grow in maturity throughout the show. In the interest of time, I want to focus on the experience of one of the main characters: Chandler. 

We learn early on that Chandler’s parents divorced and his father left to become a drag queen in Vegas. This, understandably, sows many issues in Chandler that are most obviously noticed in Chandler’s inability to celebrate Thanksgiving. Since that was the day he learned of his parent’s separation, it has been irreparably ruined for him. Indeed, we see that Thanksgiving brings up enormous emotional scarring in Chandler that is hard for him to handle at best and completely debilitating at worst.

Chandler’s issues with his parents become more apparent as the show progresses. We see that Chandler is riddled with insecurities regarding his sexuality, social abilities, and worth as a person. He is incapable of maintaining long-term relationships, and finds intimacy threatening. He focuses on casual dating and one-night stands, resulting in a promiscuous and concupiscent character early in the show. This “concupiscence signifies … that the personal relations of man and woman are one-sidedly and reductively tied to the body and to sex” with no deeper intimacy established (TOB 259). This inability to establish long-term relationships is a reflection of Chandler’s “concupiscence [which] brings with it the loss of the interior freedom of the gift [of self]” (TOB 259). In fact, it isn’t until Chandler makes peace with his father that he is able to move forward and prepare for marriage to Monica. By mastering his fear of commitment, history of promiscuity, and the wrong he was dealt in childhood, Chandler is able to be vulnerable to his wife and “become a gift” which is only possible “if [man and woman] each masters himself” (TOB 259-60).

Chandler’s relationship with Monica also helps him engage with his sexuality in a healthy way. This allows him to establish the confidence so drastically undermined during childhood. Just as Adam in the tobgarden, in his original solitude, stood in “search of his own ‘identity’” and “falls into his [sleep] with the desire of finding a being similar to himself” so too does Chandler search for his own identity, only to find it when he awakens from his concupiscent torpor and enters a relationship with Monica (TOB 159). For Adam, it is only in the creation of the female Eve that he is finally able to understand himself as “male”, and rest in “the identity of human nature” (TOB 161). Likewise, Chandler struggles to establish his manhood before dating Monica. Yet, in the context of a woman who challenges Chandler to grow as a person, he does find his masculinity and rests in that knowledge. As Adam understands his “particular value before God [as] male first and … second because he is for ‘woman’” (TOB 161) so also Chandler finds a value in his role of male in his relationship with Monica.

Chandler’s character also makes a strong argument against alternate families. Chandler is dealing with the effects of his father’s homosexuality, his parents’ divorce, and his father being “replaced” with a womanized version of his father as a drag queen. Likewise, Ben, Ross’ son, has a mother who is homosexual, his parents got divorced, and his father is replaced with the woman of Susan. Since episodes focused on Chandler are repeatedly aired in close proximity with episodes focusing on Ben, it seems that, knowingly or not, Friends makes the statement that Ben will be dealing with the same problems as Chandler for a very long time. In many ways, Chandler’s experience prefigures Ben’s and establishes a strong stance against homosexual relationships. Chandler’s parents, “by violating the dimension of the mutual gift of the man and the woman … cast doubt on the fact that [every person] is willed by the Creator ‘for himself,” a doubt that plagues Chandler long term (TOB 259).

Finally, only Ross and Monica’s parents are still married, which is reflected in their children’s relationships. Monica and Chandler are able to get married and stay married only because Monica “coaches” Chandler in the ways of healthy relationships. While Phoebe does get married, it is only after several seasons of observing Monica and Chandler’s marriage and often inquiring into the inner workings of their relationship.

Furthermore, while Monica is able to establish a healthy and long-lasting relationship with Chandler, Ross’ marriage breaks apart and his separation from his wife subsequently causes him to lose his consistency and identity as a man. As the show progresses, we see Chandler’s and Ross’ characters reverse rolls. Chandler grows into the easy-going, good guy that Ross was at the beginning of the show and Ross slowly devolves into an insecure and awkward character.

It is significant that we learn in the first season that at the time of his divorce, Ross had only ever had intercourse with Carol, his wife. Since this fundamental human bond has since been broken, Ross continually tries to return to the married state his soul desires. Since Ross wants to know that the relationship is “for keeps,” every relationship he enters gets too serious too quickly on his part. John Paul II notes that in such situations, the over-sentimentalizing of relationships are often their downfall: “the ideal is more powerful than the real, living human being, and the latter often becomes merely the occasion for an eruption in the subject’s emotional consciousness of the values which he or she longs with all his heart to find in another person”(L&R 44). Ross becomes progressively more emotionally needy and awkward in relationships and makes a deity out of his idea of the perfect relationship, an effect consistent with the spiritual turmoil that these broken relationships are sowing. However, since Ross is anxious for marriage and many of the women he meets do not share his goals, the relationships Ross begins throughout the course of Friends never result in anything long term since “love between two people is quite unthinkable without some common good to bind them together” (L&R 28). In contrast, we see Chandler become healthier and “more Chandler” as his healthy relationship with Monica progresses, while Ross becomes more and more dysfunctional as relationship after relationship fails.

While Friends presents great food for thought on the Theology of the Body, there are definite week points in the show. For example, the indissolubility of marriage is never truly resolved which is problematic. Nevertheless, there are many other situations in the course of this sit-com that lend themselves to deeper analysis. I’ve only focused on one character and the other five have as much to offer as Chandler. I myself have only scratched the surface!

Obedience in the Year of Mercy

Obedience is an incredibly merciful virtue.

It is one that everyone, especially Millenials, need to learn how to embrace again.

I say Millennials specifically in part because I am one, and in part because our generation tends to take a condescending and patronizing tone, especially towards those we disagree with or those in authority over us. When Millenials are told to do something, we spend more time explaining why we think we shouldn’t be required to do that rather than just shutting our mouths and doing it.

More astoundingly, I find those Catholic Millenials who preach the most about the importance of reverence, sanctity, and tradition often have the greatest offenses against obedience.

Today’s Catholic youth long for Truth, Beauty, Goodness, and a rightly ordered life – all good things. Yet, they become overly suspicious when something doesn’t seem to align with their specific form of Catholic aestheticism. Whether it be a change in the annulment process, a Bishop moving tabernacles to the middle of the Church, or a call to integrate divorced Catholics more fully, the Millenial’s first reaction is regularly one of suspicion and skepticism, critiquing the actions of the Holy Spirit on Earth, rather than embracing all the ways the Church makes Christ’s love and mercy known.

Indeed, the youth, in their desire and search for the Truth, are often not merciful or charitable at all to the very institution that holds the Truth they so desire – the Church. Too often, in their vigor for objective Truth and morality, Millenials rail against that which provides them avenues for the spiritual growth they long for. A priest who dislikes communion rails because he feels that they distance him from his congregation, a Bishop who encourages openness to refugees, and a pope who works to encourage proper respect for the environment all become fair game for dissent and disrespect by the Objective-Morality Millennial.

Yet, in his haste to prove that the Tridentine Mass is the only Mass that can possibly create Saints in this day and age, the Millennial looks right past all of the opportunities that Christ is presenting him in his local parish down the street. The Catholic faith is an uncomfortable faith, and it doesn’t matter how much you know about it or how much in line with doctrine you are – or think you are. If you are truly engaging with the Catholic faith, eventually it will make you uncomfortable. Liberal Catholics may have to deal with the discomfort of rightly ordered sexuality, but conservative Catholics will have to deal with the discomfort of Mercy and the discomfort of being corrected. Simply because conservative Catholics understand the pro-life argument, doesn’t somehow make them the “good kids,” who never get corrected or chastised. Indeed, all Catholics must learn an openness to all the ways the Church works, else they risk becoming the modern day Pharisee: calling out our priests and bishops for “not doing it right,” while they pat their own backs and congratulate themselves for knowing more than those silly priests!

“The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” –Luke 18:11-14

The lost virtue of obedience allows us to embrace the fullness of Church teaching because it forces us to be uncomfortable and wrestle with what the Lord is asking of us right now in the challenging request of this certain priest/bishop/Pope. What good would it do us if we could recite the whole Summa, yet found ourselves incapable of saying to our spiritual Father “I will do as you ask.” Without submission to those in persona Christe, how can we expect to grow in obedience to Christ Himself? What good is it to man if he gains the world, but loses his soul? Growing in knowledge of those doctrines we find discomforting becomes Christ’s means of challenging us to becoming better, wiser people.

Obedience is a virtue of mercy, and one that should be practiced now more than ever in this Year of Mercy. To be obedient to a priest or bishop (or pope!) you find frustrating, you must have mercy toward him. If we grow in mercy towards our leaders, we necessarily grow in humility as we begin to understand our right place in the grand order of things. In the book Roses Among Thorns St. Francis De Sales states that the virtue of humility “sees to it that we are neither troubled by our imperfections, nor in the habit of recalling those of others, for why should we be more perfect than our brothers? Why should we find it strange that others have imperfections since we ourselves have so many? Humility gives us a soft heart for the perfect and the imperfect: for the former out of reverence and for the latter out of compassion. Humility makes us accept pains with meekness, knowing that we deserve them, and good things with gratitude, knowing that we do not.” Does this not sound like mercy, especially as Pope Francis has discussed it? Yet how can we expect to grow in humility if we do not first humble ourselves to be obedient to the Magisterium out of reverence for the Lord, His work, and His Church?

There may be a time for challenging corrupt orders. Certainly there have been – and continue to be – bad priests and bad times in the Church. There is certainly room for discussion and dissent of opinion. However, all and any dissent must be undertaken after serious prayer and in true humility. We must never challenge the Magisterium rashly out of pride or discomfort. When we are confronted with a teaching to which our immediate reaction is to dissent, we ought to check ourselves. Our first response should not be the prideful approach of “he is wrong!” but rather the humble and reverent approach of “I am wrong.” Let us look into these teachings and ask ourselves how the Lord may be calling us to grow through them. We have no need to fear because the pope declared that we should serve the poor betteadam_eve_snaker! “Be not afraid!” for the pope is Peter, the rock, upon whom the Church is built and against which the gates of Hell shall not prevail. Fear is from the Devil, who desires us to sew discord in Christ’s institution. Don’t let him get the better of you, but rebuke him and his fear mongering and embrace those teachings which scare you, thanking the Lord for His goodness and mercy all the while!

In this Year of Mercy, let us focus on building up the kingdom of God on earth so that others may come to know, love, and serve Him. Let us embrace the forgotten virtue of obedience, the lack of which separated Adam and Eve from God, lead Martin Luther to destruction, and brought the world to its current divided and confused state. Truly, we need obedience to remain one with the Church, learn proper humility, and open ourselves to the graces that flow from God’s merciful heart.

Feasting on Advent

In his stunning work, the Spirit of the Liturgy, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI states that worship requires that God “give back” and reveal Himself to us, otherwise we are simply “clutching empty space” when we try to worship God. Despite attempting to move toward God in our mind or will, we will never find God if we do not allow Him to reveal Himself to us. Pope Benedict goes on to say, that if God doesn’t reveal Himself to us and we are anxious for Him, we risk making false Gods.

The Liturgical Year is established so that our worship is rightly ordered all year. God reveals Himself in the Liturgy in unique ways: “Christ is always present … in the Church’s liturgical functions. He is present not only in the person of His minister… but especially the Eucharistic Species,” the sacraments, the baptized, and “in His word, since it is He Himself who speaks when Holy Scriptures are read in church” (CCC). Christ is present also in the worship that comes from properly living the Liturgical Year. So, when we “hop over” a large season, such as Advent, we skip over that by which Christ longs to make Himself known to us. Instead of trusting that Christ will bring the joy of Christmas, we establish a celebration which becomes a “feast that the community gives itself, a festival of self-affirmation” (Spirit of the Liturgy).

This type of inordinate feasting then leads us to that exhausting Christmas Consumerism which plagues this time of year. This Christmas Consumerism threatens us, not merely in the material goods we buy, but in the approach we take to the season. A desire to psychologically, emotionally, physically, and spiritually feast on the season of joy that has not yet come inevitably means that “man is using God” and “instead of being worship of God, [this merry-making] becomes a circle closed in on itself: eating, drinking, and making merry” and “ultimately, it is no longer concerned with God but with giving oneself a nice little alternative world, manufactured from one’s own resources” (Spirit of the Liturgy). This will inevitably exhaust man, for when man removes God from the center of his activities, nothing can be rightly ordered and man’s activities and relationships suffer.

Now, Catholics are all about feasting. It is good, right, and proper to feast at the appropriate times (Easter, Feast days, etc). But that means that there are also inappropriate times of feasting, such as during seasons of preparation. This makes sense; to begin a feast before the preparations are finished is foolish! This early-feasting is why we often feel, as Benedict put it, “frustration, a feeling of emptiness” on December 26th, rather than the peace, joy, holy anticipation, and edification supposed to be present on that day.

After all, the Liturgical Year, and specifically December 25th, is not without reason. When the Church established the Liturgical Year, it placed Christmas on December 25th for specific reasons.

One reason was to replace the Winter Solstice, and get people thinking about Christian holy days in place of pagan ones.

The main reason, however, was because of the darkest day of the year, which is December 21st. This means that the light is only just returning when Christmas occurs on the 25th. This becomes very significant. At the literal and metaphorical darkest time, the Light of the World enters the world. To jump to Christmas too early is to celebrate the Light of the World when the world is still in darkness – and getting darker.Advent Wreath

The great saints speak of how we have to purge ourselves not only of sin, but also of imperfections. Even though imperfections are not themselves sins, they still prevent us from intimacy and total union with God who is Perfection, for we are called to “be Perfect as your Heavenly Father is Perfect.”

So, just as there are imperfections which prevent us from union with God, so too there are more and less proper ways of living which prevent our actions from becoming means towards our sanctification. For example: while it might not be wrong to have a banjo at Mass, it is perhaps not as proper as having an organ. Or, put another way, the organ is a more proper expression of the liturgy and its solemn celebration than the banjo is. The same is true of the liturgical preparation of Advent. While not sinful to celebrate Christmas early, it’s not the most proper action to take, either. We don’t want to clutch at empty ritual and meaningless joviality. We don’t want to use God to give us a reason for celebration. Rather, we want Him to reveal Himself to us in the proper way at the proper time as the reason for our celebration.

Christ said in Matthew 9:15: “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.” The Bridegroom is not yet with us, and won’t be until Christmas! So we must save the feast for His arrival and prepare accordingly! The Christmas season is one of joy and rapt attention to the salvific mission of our God. We don’t want to be spent from meaningless celebration when the Light of the World, the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Prince of Peace, God, Father, Savior, and Redeemer arrives! Let us embrace this time of preparation and renew in our souls a wonder at the season of Christmas and what it holds for us.

The Beauty of (Our) Fall

I love autumn because the changing leaves are so incredibly beautiful, it blows me away every year. Yet, these pretty colors do more than give me something nice to look at. The leaves demonstrate to us the beauty in death. Which sounds like a weird thing to say, but I don’t think it is.

As Christians, we’re not new to death. We as Christians are called to a life of death and resurrection. Dying to ourselves, dying to our sin, dying to our desires. Dying and being resurrected. Resurrected over our temptations, resurrected over our desires, resurrected by the Father every morning to live yet another day.

We as Christians also know that the “dying” part is no fun. It’s not fun to fall flat on our face in the face of temptation. It’s not fun to die to our desires. It’s not fun to fail and have to ask the Father for aid and forgiveness! It is certainly (for most) not fun to get up in the morning!crossinautumn

So we tend to think about the “death end of things” from a cynical perspective. A “well, that’s just the way life goes” perspective. At best, we see it as “a chance to grow.”

But I think that autumn exists to point out to us the beauty in death. While, yes, failure isn’t a great experience, aren’t we all so thankful when we come out on the other side a better person? While we don’t like laying our desires at the foot of the Cross, aren’t we all thankful when we are purged of worldly inclinations? While no one enjoys suffering, aren’t we so glad when we see how much stronger we are for it?

Death is sort of beautiful in retrospect, then. Looking back and being so thankful for those “dying” parts of our life shows us that.

Now, I am a huge proponent of our carnal, human, physical nature. I love the idea of the physical world as created for us because we are material! God gave us the world, the trees, oceans, mountains, flowers, and the seasons to help us know Him better. Perhaps it’s possible, that the beauty we all see and enjoy during autumn isn’t there just because the chlorophyll is breaking down.

Maybe it’s not some remote philosophical idea that the world “reflects creation” in its “birth in spring, flourish in summer, wither in fall, death in winter” cycle. Maybe that cycle is closer to us than we think or know. Maybe it is meant to demonstrate to us how faithful the Lord is. He is so faithful that even when we die in our daily lives, God says “even when you sin, you’re still beautiful in my eyes.” Or, “even when you die, it’s beautiful, because it’s a part of your growth.” The leaves are just God’s way of saying that without saying it.

As the last of the leaves fall, thank God for the opportunity to experience His cross and resurrection everyday in our fallen nature. Thank God for the mercy of raising us up above our sinful nature. Thank God for the beauty present in the cycles of life, even death. May our final death someday lead to the greatest and most beautiful resurrection of all!

Lessons From a Roof

A few months ago, my husband and I agreed to re-do the roof on the outreach and hospitality house we run for the Parish in town.

We are not inexperienced construction workers. We’ve worked on dozens of houses, tackled problems of every type and ability level, and know this house inside and out. Despite the fact that the roof on this house is quite technical, we weren’t intimidated and decided to take it on.

The entire week spent working on this roof was an overwhelming experience of joy, mercy, love, and the tangible feeling of the Lord’s presence. The fruits of my contemplation on the roof I now present to you in…

Lessons from a Roof

Lesson Number One: Destruction is Easy, Building Up is Not

The first day was spent tearing off the old roof. Fairly low on the skill-level spectrum, we were able to get some volunteers up the scaffolding and ladders and get the old roof in a dumpster. It’s not exactly the easiest job on the planet, but it’s hard to mess up. No one cares how the shingles come off, so long as they do. No one cares if you destroy them. If they are off and the sheeting is ok, you’ve done your job.

Building, on the other hand, is a different entity entirely. The care, precision, diligence, tact, and skill required to make something out of a bunch of pieces cannot be over emphroofingasized. It took 1 day to destroy the roof. It took 14 to put it together.

Likewise, it is incredibly easy for us to tear each other apart. How much easier is it to gossip or snap at another person when we are frustrated? How easy is it for 1 small word or act of injustice to ruin a good day? When we experience evil in our lives, it is easy to allow it to negatively impact or change us for the worse.

Additionally, we know how hard people fight for wellness. We know that establishing health in mind, body, and spirit takes people years – even lifetimes – to accomplish, and how in one instant everything can be destroyed.

So too the same is true of our Lord and the devil. We often wonder why God doesn’t make things right right away when something goes awry. Yet, isn’t it more fitting that it would take time for things to be put right?

The Lord isn’t just putting a roof on a house, He is making goodness out of nothing. He is taking our brokenness and knitting it into His ongoing act of creation; sewing it into His divine plan and making everything right by re-creating joy out of sorrow. Yet this takes time and finesse. We must trust the Lord in His actions: just as rebuilding the roof took two weeks longer than removing it, the finished product was far more glorious than the original roof.

Evil destroys quickly because evil is rash and loud. But the Lord is total peace and tranquility. When something in our lives is destroyed by rash evil, we must return to the peace of creation that will make everything right again.

How much more like God are we, then, when we choose to build up those around us. One kind word is like adding a shingle to a progressing roof. It is a slow process, but the end result brings glory, while tearing each other down is like tearing a roof off. Easy to do, but it leaves the other with nothing but their bear bones, and moreover, it takes years to remedy.

As scripture says:

“Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.” – Romans 14:19

“Therefore, encourage one another and build one another up” -1 Thessalonians 5:11

Lesson Number Two: The Communion of Saints Begins on Earth

The guys who helped on our roof are really good guys who work really hard. Since they work really hard and long hours, they don’t have a lifestyle conducive to time spent with our Lord.

I do.

This is where an Earthly Communion of Saints comes in. As Paul says in his letter to the Romans: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” Romans 8:26-27

I was incapable of truly thanking the men for the work they did for us, at least corporally and physically. I could thank them by showering them with prayers of thanksgiving and intercession. I could pray in their stead, ask the Lord to count my prayers as their prayers, just as their work counted for my work.

Lesson Number Three: There Are Things You Can do Alone and There Are Things You Can’t

Even though my husband and I had tackled similar problems in the past, this roof required reinforcements. So too the same applies to the spiritual life.

Confession, adoration, Mass, the sacraments, are not signals that we have somehow failed. They are in place to aid us in our attempt at holiness. Having recourse to them is a sign that we know ourselves and our limitations, not that we have somehow failed at being holy. Calling in extra roofers wasn’t a sign that we were somehow bad at what we do, but a recognition that everyone needs a hand sometime.

Let Jesus be your Simon!!

Finally: We are Corporal Beings

The incredibly physical activity on the roof led us into deep reflection and contemplation, just as any physical experience in the world is meant to do.

Christ made us as corporeal beings. Therefore, it is good, right, and proper that we come to know Him better through our experience of the physical world around us. Do not see the physical world as a threat to holiness, but rather as an opportunity to experience God’s creative genius, artistry, and beauty. The heat, soreness, sweat, (and yes, blood), that came from the roof, served to illustrate God’s mighty power: We slave to create, yet Christ creates in 1 word. We work because of Adam’s curse, yet we have the divine assistance with us in our work. We are tired at the end of the day, and so we rest when we “see that it is good.” All of these things lend us to a deep communion with God. Do not shy away from the corporeal world simply because it is physical. “For God saw that it was good.”

Maybe, He saw that it was good, because it has the very real potential to help us get to know Him better.

Living at the Ends of the Earth

Growing up, I heard two things.

One was that I could be and do whatever I wanted if I put my mind to it. The other were stories about saints. The former spoke to my work ethic, high ideals, and diligence. The latter sparked my desire to do great things, be something great, and impact the world for the better in a bold and dramatic way.

Since stories about saints often involve romantic notions of leaving everything behind to go to the ends of the earth in service of the Lord, they also served to energize my natural wander-lust and implant the idea that it is only in great big sacrifices that holiness is realized.

The combination of these two culminated in a very impassioned desire when I graduated college. I wanted to give my life to God, and I knew that that was possible because I could do anything I wanted if I worked hard enough! I knew (or thought I knew) that I was supposed to leave everything behind and gallivant off to the yet undiscovered rain forests of Cambodia to serve the natives there (because that’s how you become holy, duh!) and by golly, I was ready to do so.

However, soon after graduating, I found myself working a retail job in Columbus, Ohio. Then I found myself living in a small, heavily depressed town in southern Michigan. Newly married, away from my friends and family in Ohio, and most certainly not at the farthest ends of the earth feeding the homeless of Transylvania.

For a while, I kept telling myself that this was just the first step in the grand plan to bring the Eucharist to the natives of Madagascar. Yet, my husband and I became more established in Michigan and the plan seemed to change. As I slowly began to realize that Iceland and I were not going to meet anytime soon, I also had to ask myself the question “how do I become holy here?” and then the insecurities had to be dealt with: “why am I not good enough for the Lord? Why doesn’t He want to send me to the ends of the earth?”

As I searched for the answers to these questions, the same stories of saints from my childhood kept popping up. As I got to know many of these saints better, I also began to understand that the stories of the saints paint an incomplete picture.

These stories make the saints’ lives out to be a great adventure, and surely they are, but the stories never delve into what the saints were truly experiencing during their great sacrifices. Sometimes the stories told mention that Saint so-and-so didn’t really want to go to China/Indonesia/Africa/you-pick-the-place, but it is usually presented as “but that’s why this person is so cool.” No doubt it is cool, but this approach cuts short the nature of their sacrifice.

The places considered to be at the ends of the earth several centuries ago were not at that time the hip, trendy, social justice places they are today. As I learned to live in (and even love!) my small, depressed town, I began to realize that when St. Francisco Álvares went to Ethiopia, he wasn’t going on a Christian Safari. He was going to the equivalent of my Michigan town. Ethiopia wasn’t some neat, exotic place to travel to, it was a place of loneliness, poverty, and distance from all that was known, familiar, and comfortable to him.

My little Michigan town is, perhaps, the absolute lowest on the list of places one wants to travel to. It is poor and distant from my family and friends in Ohio (even hostile at times to a natural-born Ohioan!). It was, consequently, lonely when I first came here, and certainly not comfortable.

As I began to put my situation next to the those of the saints, I slowly began to realize that my dream had, really, come true. As we live four hours away, I have in a sense, been asked to “give up” my friends and family, and live in a small town that in many ways, I didn’t at first want to be in. I consider my situation to be living at the ends of the earth in many ways. There is no good place to get a hair cut, no good date places, and we are surrounded by cornfields. Yet I am also living in a town that desperately needs love, mercy, and the Eucharist.

The ends of the earth aren’t in some far-away country. They are right here in our own nation. Africa isn’t the ends of the earth, Flint, Michigan, Hillsdale, Michigan, Cranks Creek, Kentucky, Harlingen, Texas and numerous other towns like them are. What’s more, the work the saints did wasn’t glorious in and of itself. It was – and still is – glorious because it made Christ present in the world in a place and a manner which He previously wasn’t.

That is glorious.

The work the saints did was really hard. It wasn’t, to them, the most romantic thing in the world. It probably stunk a lot of the time. No doubt, they asked themselves “am I really going to live the rest of my life here?” Yet knowledge that you are doing God’s will provides peace which surpasses such earthly discomfort.

Sometimes, it is really hard for me to be joyful or to believe that what I am doing is good and important. It is really hard to be away from a state, family, and friends that I love. Yet, holiness isn’t dependent on where you are, but rather who you are and how you respond to where God put you. Holiness isn’t about some misguided passion, it is about being passionate about your faith even in the smallest, most overlooked, most forgotten towns in America. Holiness is about trusting that God put you there for a purpose, and that if you can love this small town with great love, and do little things with great charity, then you’ve done more good than any mission trip you could have done to Australia. When it comes down to it, these humble towns and seemingly invisible callings do more for the development of humility, the interior life, trust in God, prayer, faith, hope, and love than any great work I could do elsewhere. Moreover, the peace and subtle, yet strong joy that comes from this town far surpasses any worldly comfort I could gain elsewhere. Indeed, I have fallen so hopelessly in love with this place that I wonder if I could ever leave, if given the choice. Indeed, how great is our consolation when we do the works of the Lord and allow Him to be present to us!

So, let us not be misguided by the shiny, exciting “calls” to Japan or India. No doubt, some are called there and God bless them. But for the rest of us, stuck with a “mediocre” calling in a boring old town, embrace it! The Lord has chosen you to go to the ends of the earth and make Him known there! The greatest adventures, and the greatest joy, await you right here, in the homes of your neighbors and the backyards of your neighborhoods.

radical-obedience

Discernment Games

One thing I am grateful for is the fact that we live in, what I call, a “Discernment Culture.” An emphasis on discernment and a focus on living your life in accordance with the Divine is fantastic. I love that many youth groups and catechists focus on this and attempt to help those in their spiritual care to grow in knowledge of God’s will. No doubt, openness to God’s Will will better our world and help us grow in holiness, which is the point.

However, as is the case with all good things, there are elements of our discernment culture that, in best-case scenarios, leave something to be desired, and in worst-case scenarios, backfire on this wonderful culture of openness to God’s will.

One of the problems with Discernment Culture is the pressure it puts on the discerner. How many times have we heard something like “God has a plan for your life” and “if you discern your vocation, God will take care of the rest.” That sure puts a lot of pressure on the discerner! The negative effects from this pressure then present themselves in a variety of ways and levels of severity. From the panic of “What if I miss my calling?!” to a distorted understanding of the nature of desire, the over-emphasis on God’s plan for your life and your duty to discern it sets people up not to discern God’s plan and, moreover, not to be open to it when they do discern it.

Why? I think it’s because discernment culture leads the discerner to discern about discerning. I know this makes little sense, hang with me for a second. When we emphasize the importance of discerning God’s will through prayer, we place such an emphasis on it that those discerning can easily become scared away from it. The sacredness of discerning holds such prominence, that they have almost too much respect for it. Or, such fear is created that one might “miss their vocation,” that rather than begin discerning and risk missing their vocation, the discerner takes it especially slow in order that he won’t miss anything.

Thus, rather than enter active discernment, discerners find themselves praying about whether or not they should discern. This lends itself to postponing active discernment and replacing fruitful prayer with furtive over-thinking. By focusing on discernment, we’ve done the exact opposite of what we were trying to do. We haven’t encouraged a deep relationship with Lord, instead we’ve told the discerner “what are you going to do? Have you figured it out yet?” thereby taking the focus off of God and placing it entirely on the shoulders of the discerner. Perhaps, we should emphasize less praying for discernment and more praying that God’s will be done.discernment-crossroad

When we pray that God’s will be done, then stuff begins to happen. We allow the Lord to increase in our lives, and thus truly allowing the Lord to work in and through us in the world, which is the point after all. Moreover, when we get stuck in our heads simply praying over and over, we give God less ways of making His will known to us. We are physical creatures, after all, and more than that, we are co-creators, co-operative individuals in God’s work in the world. If that’s the case, then we rely on the physical world to experience and discern the Lord in our lives, and if we get stuck entirely in our heads, we cut off the main ways the Lord helps us to know His will.

What does this mean? It means, we need to create a better balance of work and prayer. We need to take to action the fruit of our contemplation, not take to contemplation more contemplation. If in prayer, a vocation presents itself, rather than praying on it for months, channel your inner St. Joseph and act on it. Don’t spend days over-thinking whether or not to go on that discernment retreat or visit that convent, just go. The Lord will give you greater clarity in your experience of that retreat or visit than if you sit at home thinking about it.

We also need to re-order our understanding of desire. We’re constantly bombarded with stories of saints who gave up all of their earthly loves to follow the Lord’s will. This easily leads the discerner to believe that if he desires something, he must abandon it if he is to do God’s will. Yet God does not give us desires solely to laugh in our face when they are not fulfilled. Rather, we can come to know ourselves and God’s working in our lives better through those desires. We psych ourselves out half the time when we say to ourselves “I want to marry this person” or “I want to be a priest,” and take that as a sign that it is not what we are meant to do.

Yet that is not how the Lord works, and our emphasis on these saints is an incomplete record of their life and decisions. Sure, saints gave up stuff in order to do the Lord’s will, but it was always a decision of love. They gave up a secondary love for a primary love, or, in other terms, they gave up something they loved less for that which they loved the most. And surely, we all do that periodically. I give up ice cream for dinner every night because I love my health more, and I give up snapping at my husband out of anger because I love him and our marriage more than showing my anger.

That is the sort of sacrificial love the Lord asks of us. Sometimes it requires us truly to delve into our passions and the ordering of our loves, but it never – or should never – ask us to give up something we love more, because really, we should love the Lord the most.

Basically, let us not see discernment as a mental game. The Lord does not play those sorts of games with us and we get ourselves into trouble by playing them with ourselves. We should take action when an interest in a vocation presents itself to us, we should see vocation as an outgrowth from that which we love, and we should place the emphasis not on us figuring out this vague plan God has for us, but on us opening ourselves to become handmaidens of the Lord. If we let it be done to us according to His will, then we truly have nothing to worry about.

Tackling the “Summer Problem”

When I was in college, I found that those long-awaited, blissful days of summer, however enjoyable, always caused a certain amount of spiritual angst for me. Thrown out of my rhythm established at school, my spiritual life would take a beating during the 3 months I was home and leave me back at square one just in time for my return to school in August. I would then spend 9 months re-instilling those hard fought-for habits and be at my spiritual happy place in time for summer.

I’m sure you can guess what happened next.

The pattern continued.

The most frustrating part of all of this was that I tried. I went to daily Mass, said rosaries, you name it, but for some reason being away from the infrastructure I had made for myself at school always hurt my spiritual fitness.

With that in mind, here are some thoughts for those college and high-school students struggling without the structure of academia to keep us all honest!

1. Play Offense, Not Defense

When I would go home, knowing that my routine was changing and worried about the harm it would cause my spiritual habits, I would switch into defense mode, which probably made the situation worse.

Let me give an example.

Instead of praying at Mass like I usually do – offering up prayers of thanksgiving, intentions, meditations and the like – I would go to Mass with the sole purpose of “remaining spiritually fit.” All this accomplished was the exact opposite of what I wanted. I would be so distracted in Mass wondering the whole time about whether or not I was praying well that I wasn’t praying at all. In fact, I was getting distracted and setting myself up to feel alienated from Our Lord.

summerprayerThe same is true for my times of contemplation, rosaries, etc. I would worry too much about maintaining my spiritual health.

However, what do the greatest saints say? If you are not moving forward, you’re moving backward. I shouldn’t have been focused on maintaining my spiritual life at all. I should have been focused on growing in intimacy with Christ. That’s what we should all do, regardless of the situation or change in routine. That’s what my focus was at school, and should have continued to be at home. My loss of focus on that disrupted my routine even more!

2. Spiritual Fitness is Like Physical Fitness

By that I mean that when people work out, often they find that they reach a plateau. They continue to lift, run, tone, and eat well, but they find that they don’t move forward or get stronger in their training. This usually means that they need to mix it up. Doing the same exercises over and over again only results in your muscles becoming incredibly good at that one exercise, and not growing in strength all the way around. If you mix it up and change exercises, often you’ll find that your strength increases dramatically.

The same can be said for our spiritual lives. I would spend 9 months getting to my spiritual fitness peak and then our Lord would give me an opportunity that I squandered every single time: to change my routine and grow even more. Think of summer as that change in exercise regimen that will not only prevent you from falling backward, but launch you forward into unprecedented intimacy with God! Think of prayers, books, or spiritual habits you’ve been interested in or wanting to form and take those 3 months to do it!

3. Create an Infrastructure

As I said above, the main reason I struggled so during the summer months was that I didn’t have the normal people around to keep me honest and I didn’t have a routine of spiritual events to go to or keep myself on track with. In short, I lost my infrastructure.

My last summer home, it finally clicked. If structure and accountability buddies are what I need, then make it and find them! Find a friend you can go to Mass with a couple of times a week. Get some of your college buddies to form a Facebook group where you can all post about your spiritual habits, things you’ve tried, new prayers you’ve learned. Make Skype dates with your Catholic besties in college and pray the rosary with them! Set something in stone and you’ll find you’re less likely to fall.

4. Trust God

Finally, relax! Focus your thoughts on God. Periodically throughout the day, just say “Hi, Jesus” or “I love you” to Our Lord. If something happens during your day that makes you smile, laugh, feel good, or makes you happy, say a quick Hail Mary of thanksgiving for that moment. Likewise for those things that may be negative.

In everything, offer Him your concerns and trust that you are His beloved child! He will not abandon, nor forsake you. Make this summer a living loaves and fishes: take to Him what you have and He will bless it abundantly. Let Him know you love Him and you’re trying your best and He will take care of the rest!