All posts by Liesl Bee

Liesl is a single Catholic woman who hails from the great state of Ohio, but now resides in the just-as-great state of Virginia. She graduated from Miami University in Ohio with a B.S. in Chemistry and a minor in English Literature in 2009 and from The George Washington University with a M.Sc. in Chemistry in 2011. She spends her days working for the government, and her evenings figuring out what to cook for dinner. In her free time, she enjoys music, running, thrifting, baking, cheering on the Washington Nationals, singing about being sixteen going on seventeen, and making people laugh. You can find her at her blog The Spiritual Workout or on twitter @LieslChirps.

The Look

Peter’s Denial by Carl Bloch

After arresting him they led him away and took him into the house of the high priest; Peter was following at a distance. They lit a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat around it, and Peter sat down with them. When a maid saw him seated in the light, she looked intently at him and said, “This man too was with him.” But he denied it saying, “Woman, I do not know him.” A short while later someone else saw him and said, “You too are one of them”; but Peter answered, “My friend, I am not.” About an hour later, still another insisted, “Assuredly, this man too was with him, for he also is a Galilean.” But Peter said, “My friend, I do not know what you are talking about.” Just as he was saying this, the cock crowed, and the Lord turned and looked at Peter; and Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times.” He went out and began to weep bitterly. (Luke 22: 54-62)

How did Jesus look at Peter? What was on his face that made Peter remember that he had denied Christ, just as Jesus had predicted? What did Jesus’ expression say that made Peter go out and weep bitterly?

Jesus could have looked at Peter with a smug face that said, “I told you so!” How many of us would give someone a smug expression after being proved right?

He could have looked at Peter with anger. “How could you deny me, after everything I’ve taught you, everything I’ve done for you!?!?” How many of us would respond in anger, upon discovering that someone we loved denied even knowing us?

Christ could have looked at Peter with hurt and sadness, where his eyes said it all: “All I ever asked from you was to follow me, and you can’t even do that when I need you the most…” How many of us would respond to being betrayed with tears in our eyes?

Jesus could have looked at Peter in any of those ways – they are all certainly human responses – and any of these responses could certainly lead Peter to weep.

But these looks don’t belong on the face of Jesus that Peter knew; the Jesus that we all know.

I believe that Jesus looked at Peter with love. When I read and reflect on this passage, I picture Jesus’ eyes saying, “I forgive you. I am with you to the end. I still love you, no matter what you do.

And that kind of expression – that look of love, even when we feel unworthy of being loved – is what made Peter weep.

Wouldn’t you?

Christ of St. John of the Cross by Salvador Dali

A Review of At Play in God’s Creation: An Illuminating Coloring Book

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Ripping open the box!

I jumped at the chance to review AT PLAY IN GOD’S CREATION: AN ILLUMINATING COLORING BOOK, because as the kid in all of us knows, nothing soothes quite like taking some crayons/markers/colored pencils to paper. Yet, I was pleasantly surprised to find that this coloring book is so much more than the child-like therapy we originally think of when coloring — it is also a prayer aide.

I may have torn into the box when it arrived in the mail like a young child unwrapping her Christmas presents. In fact, I almost gasped because I was so amazed at the beautiful simplicity of the cover. I knew that if that much beauty and attention to detail had been put into the cover, I was going to like what I found inside. 

Written by Tara M. Owens and beautifully illustrated by Daniel W. Sorensen, the subtitle of “coloring book” really doesn’t do this book justice.  The book opens with a few pages reflecting on creation, beauty, prayer, and how to get the most out of this book and your prayer, and then is filled with pages upon pages of gorgeous illustrations.

As I slowly flipped through the book, not only did I encounter beautiful original artwork to color, but I was also surprised to find that there are quotations from Scripture and the saints interspersed throughout many of the art pieces.  These quotations weren’t just placed as an afterthought; they are seamlessly integrated into each art piece, leading your mind to prayer as your color inside (or outside!) the lines.  As I dove into the task of coloring the candle piece, I constantly found my mind and heart drawn to the quotation woven into the page from St. John of the Cross: “In the first place, it should be known that if a person is seeking God, His beloved is seeking him much more.” I thought I’d spend a couple of hours just relaxing by coloring, but I ended up spending quite some time in prayer as I colored away.

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This is one of the highest quality coloring books I have ever seen.  The book is made with thick, high quality paper, and is filled with almost 100 pages to color and explore.  The only drawback I found was that the pages are made of such high quality, thick paper, that it makes it difficult to color to the inside edge of the page at the binding.  For some pictures, this doesn’t matter, but for the pages where the design continues across the two-page spread, I would have liked to have been able to get my colors all the way to the inside of the page. If you aren’t a coloring perfectionist like me, you probably won’t even notice this!

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Trying to get into the tiny spaces of the binding.

I highly recommend this coloring book that goes above and beyond artistic creativity and stress relief.  I can see this book as being incredibly helpful to taking your prayer life in a new and different direction, and it is perfect for meditative and contemplative types of prayer. This book would make a perfect gift for Christmas for a family member, friend, or yourself! Hop on over here to grab this book for all your gifts this year!

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My finished page!

Disclaimer: I was given a free copy of this product in exchange for my review. However, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

Spiritual Lessons with Elisabeth Leseur

I first encountered Servant of God Elisabeth Leseur about five years ago when I was towards the beginning stages of my spiritual dry spell. The Magnificat had included a reflection of hers that reads:

“Those who seem to be spiritually dead are not always those least accessible to the divine Word; when wood is dead, it needs only a spark to set it afire.”

These words spoke very loudly to me, like a loud voice in a once silent room. At the time, I felt like that dead wood, searching for that spark, and reading her words set me on a journey of discovering a new saintly friend.

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Elisabeth and Felix Leseur

Elisabeth Leseur was born in 1866 in Paris to a wealthy French Catholic family. She had hepatitis as a child, and it recurred throughout her life. In 1887, she met Dr. Felix Leseur, also from an affluent, Catholic family, and they were married in 1889. However, shortly before they were married, she discovered that her husband-to-be was no longer a practicing Catholic. Felix was an outspoken atheist, and he would bring these anti-religious attacks against Elisabeth. Prompted by her husband’s confrontations, she probed deeper into her own faith, and she experienced a profound religious conversion at the age of 32.  At that moment, she saw that her biggest task in life was to pray for her husband’s conversion while remaining patient with his criticism of her faith. She took all of this in stride throughout her marriage, bearing her cross silently, only to share her sufferings with her diary and with those she had a spiritual correspondence through letters. She wrote in her diary:

“We pray, suffer, and labor unaware of the consequence of our action and prayers. God makes them serve his plan; gradually, they take effect, winning one soul, then another.”

This was not the end of her inner suffering, though.  Elisabeth experienced profound spiritual darkness at times during her marriage and felt deep loneliness from being isolated for her faith in her marriage and feeling apart from God. When she did write about her struggles in her diary, her entries are filled with longing for God, to feel his spark again. Despite the darkness she felt, she often saw the good that God would bring out of her suffering, and the peace she felt in discovering God each time anew:

“It is surprising to see how much spiritual progress we make in times of aridity, when no conscious joy of any kind unites our souls with God. It is then indeed God himself whom we love, and not his consolations; and whatever we do then, requiring constant effort and appeals for grace, is indeed duty in all its starkness. Then, when the dusty road is over and the way becomes easier, we are astonished to see how far we have come; sometimes we arrive at a gentle resting place, in peace, near the heart of God.”

In addition to her interior suffering, Elisabeth suffered from many physical afflictions. She and her husband also bore the cross of infertility, never to have children. In 1907, she became so ill that she was forced to live a highly sedentary life, directing her affairs from a chaise lounge in her home. Despite these sufferings, she didn’t let this stop her. She was quite intelligent and wrote on political and women’s issues for the time.  She also had a great love for the poor and was active in a lot of charity work, although this greatly deteriorated as her health declined. In 1911, she received radiation for a malignant tumor, and while she initially recovered, she passed away from cancer in 1914.

But her story doesn’t end there. After her death, her husband found a note by her addressed to himself that prophesied about his conversion and him becoming a priest. She said:

“I shall die before you.
And when I am dead,
you will be converted;
and when you are converted,
you will become a religious.
You will be Father Leseur.”

In order to prove his wife wrong, Felix went to Lourdes to expose it as fake, but instead he experienced his own religious conversion. He read and re-read her diary, and was finally made aware of the holy woman with whom he had spent so many years. He wrote of his conversion:

“And so from her Journal I perceived clearly the inner meaning of Elisabeth’s existence, so grand in its humility. I came to appreciate the splendor of the faith of which I had seen such wonderful effects. The eyes of my soul were opened. I turned toward God, who called to me. I confessed my faults to a priest and was reconciled to the Church.”

And her prophesy did come true. In 1919, Felix became a Dominican novice and was ordained a priest in 1923. For the next 27 years, he spent much of his priestly vocation speaking about his wife’s spiritual writings, and he constantly looked to her for guidance, writing: “Elisabeth had led me to the truth, and even today, in my inmost being, I continue to feel her guiding my steps to a more perfect union with God.”  He shared her holiness with the world by publishing her diary, and he was an instrumental part in opening the cause for her canonization in 1934.

There is so much to admire about Elisabeth, and I pray that she is canonized someday. She is a role model and provides us with many spiritual lessons, just from her life and death. She was a laywoman, and she shows especially those of us who do not have a call to the religious life how to live a holy life through our lay vocations (although her spiritual guidance is also incredibly appropriate for priests and religious). She was faithful to her marriage, despite the attacks she endured (and despite how it sounds, she and Felix loved each other very much). She teaches us how to bear with those who persecute us, especially those who we love, by being patient with them and praying for their conversion all while living an interior spiritual life. And with her holiness, she struggled in her faith as so many of us do, and while she experienced profound spiritual darkness, she never gave up on God. She saw the good He worked in her life through her suffering, and she offered up her sufferings for others, even to the point of offering her own death.

“It is not pride, is it, to call myself your friend, one you have called, your chosen friend? I see the traces of your love everywhere, the divine call everywhere, my vocation everywhere. You made use of trials, suffering, and illness to make me completely yours and to make me holy, first drawing me to you solely by your action within me. You have done everything. Now complete your work; make me holy according to your will; use me for others, for my beloved ones, for all your interests; use me for your greater glory, and let all be done in silence and in an intimate encounter between us alone. From the depths of my being and my misery I say, ‘Lord, what will you have me do? Speak, your servant listens; I am the handmaid of the Lord; I come, Father, ready to do your will’ (Luke 1:38).”

In Defense of Chocolate

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Or so they say…

Lent is just around the corner, which means blog posts galore will circle the internet telling you what you should give up for Lent. In recent years, I’ve also seen a number of posts and memes making the rounds that tell you what you should not give up for Lent—mainly, chocolate.  While the intentions of these posts are usually innocent (writing that you should do something more spiritual for Lent instead), they do unintentionally rip on those of us who do choose to give up chocolate for Lent, usually making the broad assumption that giving up chocolate is a waste and does not relate to your relationship with God at all.

So, I am here today to convince you that they could not be more wrong. I am here today in defense of chocolate as a Lenten sacrifice.

First, I am of the opinion that we should not be judging the sacrifices of others. What may be a very difficult sacrifice for one person might be easy peasy for the next. But that doesn’t make the sacrifice any less for the person who finds it difficult.  For example, giving up coffee for someone like me (who drinks coffee maybe three times a year) would not be a sacrifice, but for someone who has three cups a day, that is a huge sacrifice!

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Hello, my sweet.

I have given up chocolate for Lent for the past few years, and while it is not the only sacrifice I make, it is certainly my most difficult. I have a not-so-secret love affair with chocolate. We are like peanut butter and jelly—we just go together. And so to willingly separate myself from something that I quite enjoy is not an easy feat! For someone who doesn’t have quite the level of love affair with chocolate as I do, giving up chocolate may not be a sacrifice, and that’s ok. But just because something may not be hard for one person does not mean we should belittle that it might be difficult for others.

Second, like many things in our lives, it is all about your intention. If you treat your sacrifice of chocolate like a new year’s resolution to help you lose weight or just as a way to break a pesky (but not overly harmful) habit, is your intention really getting at the heart of Lent? Probably not. But if you approach your sacrifice similar to how Christ fasted in the desert, such as to help you develop self-control and recognize that there are things that have a hold in your life that distract you from what really matters (that would be God), then it sounds like the intention behind your sacrifice is the exact purpose of Lent, no matter what that sacrifice may be.

Giving up chocolate in past years has really pushed me to grow in self-control, and this newfound self-control doesn’t just apply to whether or not to eat chocolate. It helps in all aspects of my life, and even leads to practicing more self-control with temptations to sin. Whether it is instigated by giving up chocolate or something else, developing self-control helps us grow in holiness. When I learned that I could say no to chocolate, I found that I could also say no a little bit more easily to things like gossip, or anger, or impatience. Along with this, I found myself having more freedom to say yes to the things that really matter: more prayer, learning about the saints, and putting my relationship with God first. Is chocolate the only roadblock on my path to holiness? Of course not. But if sacrificing chocolate helps me to overcome other obstacles, then the intention behind that sacrifice is exactly how we are supposed to approach Lent.

Finally, it also comes down to how you use it.  A fast from something like chocolate (or coffee, TV, social media, etc.), no matter how minor, can be put to great use.  As Catholics, I’m sure we are all familiar with the phrase “Offer it up!”, but how often to we actually put it into action? St. John Paul the Great, who experienced enormous suffering in his life, famously said that we should not waste our suffering.

The first couple of weeks of my chocolate fast are pretty rough. I find myself craving just a bite of smooth, milky chocolate multiple times a day.  Whenever this happens, I try to offer up this craving for someone or something that could really use the prayers. Last year, I chose a different person or intention to offer it up for each day during Lent. Imagine how many prayers those intentions got just from my chocolate cravings alone! Now, will me giving up chocolate get a poor soul out of purgatory or send miraculous healing to a friend? Will my small bit of chocolate deprived suffering change the world? Probably not. But even the smallest offerings, when joined with Christ on the cross and given to God on behalf of others, can be used in the most mysterious ways.

In closing, I find chocolate to be a perfectly acceptable and worthy Lenten sacrifice, and I hope that many of you can now agree, so we can see an end to the posts that trivialize my favorite/not-so-favorite Lenten sacrifice. And with that, I rest my case. As members of the jury, feel free to chime in with your thoughts in the comments!

P.S. If you want to read another post where the writer agrees with me, check it out here.

5 Spiritual New Year’s Resolutions

New Year’s resolutions usually seem to be focused on doing things to improve our physical health such as losing weight, eating healthier, or exercising more.  While it is important to evaluate our physical health and work to make changes, we also shouldn’t forget about our spiritual health.  If we put as much effort into improving our spiritual lives as we did in going to the gym or counting calories, our faith lives would be so much more fruitful!  New Year’s is then also a great time to evaluate our spiritual health, and resolve to make changes to bring us closer to Christ in this coming year and beyond.

Here are five ideas for spiritual New Year’s resolutions you can make to help improve your faith life in this new year.

1. Find a Spiritual Director

Talking with a trusted and faith-filled confidante about your prayer is great for deepening your prayer life. You can make a resolution to meet with a spiritual director regularly, or just check in every once in awhile. While I prefer meeting with a priest (because he can also double as your confessor), you can also meet with a religious brother or sister, or even a layperson who has been trained in spiritual direction. If none of those options are available to you, even talking with a close friend who shares your faith can open up your prayer for you. It can be easy to get so bogged down in our own thoughts that we might miss something that God is very clearly saying to us. Spiritual direction can really help unpack all these thoughts to help lead us closer to God.

2. Add 5 more minutes of prayer to your day

If you want to become closer to another person, you spend more time with them. The same is true for God! If you want to build a deeper relationship with Him, talking to Him more will lead to that. A good place to start is to add just 5 more minutes of prayer to what you already do each day.  Do you only pray for 5 minutes a day right now? Try to pray for 10 minutes. Do you do a holy hour every day? Try to do an hour and five minutes.  This time adds up to an extra 35 minutes a week spent with God, and the benefits of adding this extra time far outweighs the time you give to Him.

3. Read a spiritual book

I love making reading resolutions at New Year’s, but I often forget to include a spiritual book on my list! There are so many options to choose from, including Scripture, writings by the saints, writings about the saints, and books on Catholic doctrine.  Make a resolution to take the time and sit and read (and finish!) a spiritual book this year to help deepen your understanding of the faith.

4. Add one more spiritual activity to your monthly schedule

Life gets busy, and so it can be hard to make changes to your daily life. It can be easier though to add something new to your monthly schedule.  This year, I’m making a resolution to go to daily Mass at least three times a month.  I went to daily Mass every day when I was in graduate school, and so I know first-hand that words really cannot describe how much daily Mass and frequent reception of the Eucharist added to my faith life. Daily Mass may not be doable for you or in your town, so you can add another spiritual activity instead, such as spending a holy hour in Eucharistic Adoration, going to confession once a month, or even adding a volunteer service activity to your schedule to help celebrate the Year of Mercy.

5. Add a daily devotion

This one is especially good for people on the go, because you can read and reflect on your daily devotion on your commute or during your lunch break.  I personally love reading the  reflections in the Magnificat (although I need to get better about reading it every day), but there are a wealth of apps and e-mail devotions you can use too.  There are 3-Minute Retreats from Loyola Press you can sign up for, you can have Blessed is She devotions waiting in your inbox each morning (specifically for women), or you can choose from a number of Catholic apps to use instead of playing on your phone at lunch (some great lists are here and here). It only takes a few minutes to read the daily readings and a short reflection, and it can make a huge difference to your day to just center yourself on God for a few extra minutes.

Did you make any spiritual New Year’s resolutions this year? Share your ideas in the comments!

Mary’s Advent

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Hail Mary by RakstarDesigns (Used with Permission)

The season of Advent is a time for waiting, preparing, and eagerly anticipating the birth of Christ.  It seems like no one could understand this period of time more than Mary, as she waited what probably seemed like a very long nine months for the birth of her son.

You could say that Mary’s personal Advent journey started at the Annunciation, when the angel Gabriel greets her, saying: “Hail, full of Grace! The Lord is with you.”  Even Mary was “greatly troubled” by these words, and pondered their meaning. We can look to Mary in our own walk through Advent as we prepare for Christ, discovering through her what it means to be full of grace and for the Lord to be with you.

When Mary told the angel Gabriel to let it “be done according to your word”, she said yes to being with God, yes to being full of grace.  Her yes affirmed this greeting—just as when we say yes to God, we are filled with His grace.

Her yes can be a guide as we journey through Advent (and life) and as we truly prepare ourselves to be with the Lord.

We can never carry Christ like Mary did.  She quite literally was with the Lord as she physically carried Him in her womb. However, we can also be “pregnant” with Christ by carrying him in our hearts, and through receiving Him in the Eucharist.

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Kissing the Face of God, by Morgan Weistling (Used with Permission)

To truly prepare for Christ’s birth, it must go even further than just being with the Lord in our own hearts.  Mary also spent her time of waiting in service to others—she ran with great haste to be with her cousin Elizabeth. Elizabeth immediately recognizes that she is in the presence of God by being in Mary’s presence, as John leaps in her womb. Mary’s Advent preparation thus also involved her physically bringing Christ to others.  We too can be a vessel for Christ, especially during this Advent season, by bringing the light of Christ to all that we meet and serve.

Mary’s Advent was long. She spent nine months waiting and traveled many miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem. We only spend four weeks in preparation, and (most likely) don’t have to travel very far by riding on a donkey. But we can apply how Mary prepared for the coming of Jesus to our own Advent season—by pondering the meaning of being with the Lord, saying yes to accepting His grace, and bringing Christ to others.

Pope Francis Makes Me Uncomfortable

2014 Pastoral Visit of Pope Francis to Korea Closing Mass for Asian Youth Day August 17, 2014 Haemi Castle, Seosan-si, Chungcheongnam-do Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism Korean Culture and Information Service Korea.net (www.korea.net) Official Photographer : Jeon Han This official Republic of Korea photograph is being made available only for publication by news organizations and/or for personal printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be manipulated in any way. Also, it may not be used in any type of commercial, advertisement, product or promotion that in any way suggests approval or endorsement from the government of the Republic of Korea. If you require a photograph without a watermark, please contact us via Flickr e-mail. --------------------------------------------------------------- 교황 프란치스코 방한 제6회 아시아 청년대회 폐막미사 2014-08-17 충청남도 서산시 해미읍성 문화체육관광부 해외문화홍보원 코리아넷 전한I have a confession to make. Well, if you read the title of this post, you already know, but here it is again: Pope Francis makes me uncomfortable.

I know that as a Catholic I am probably not supposed to say that (or feel that way), but it’s true. Ever since he was elected Pope, he has made me uncomfortable.

It started with hearing “first Jesuit Pope” and seeing this humble man meekly waving from the balcony, and it has continued throughout his papacy.

Every time I see him in the news, or trending on Facebook or Twitter, my first thought is, “Oh no, what does the media think he said this time?”

After that wears off, I begin to wonder, “Wait, what did he actually say?”

And then it usually hits me square in the face: “Is he speaking to me?”

At first, I thought my discomfort stemmed from the media’s portrayal of our beloved leader, but I came to realize that it was more than that. He makes me uncomfortable because he is challenging me, personally, to encounter Christ and His Church in a whole new way.

I have decided that it’s a good thing that he makes me uncomfortable.  Honestly, he should make all of us uncomfortable. A leader who makes people feel comfortable can’t lead very effectively.

As Pope Benedict said, “The world promises you comfort, but you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.”

We were not made for comfort. I have to let that sink in sometimes, especially when something comes along that throws me out of my comfort zone. We were not made for comfort. We were made for greatness.

We are called, as Christians by our baptism, to be challenged.  We are then called to challenge the world by our love and faith.  Christ radically challenged the world, and so should the Vicar of Christ here on earth.  Christ asked the disciples to leave all comforts behind and to follow Him, and He asks us to do the same today.  In the same way, as leader of Christ’s Church, Pope Francis is also called to make us uncomfortable, just as Jesus did and continues to do today.

I’m eagerly and anxiously anticipating Pope Francis’s arrival to the United States. I’m excited to hear how he challenges our country to step out of our comfort zones, but I’m also uncomfortable about what he will say that will speak directly to me, challenging me in a new and radical way. Pope Francis reminds us that we do not live in a safe Catholic bubble, but rather we are striving for the Kingdom as we live in the world. He challenges us to step out of that safe bubble and bring Christ to the world.  Yes, it will be uncomfortable at times. But by accepting this discomfort, we will find the peace that God promises us, because we were made for greatness.

Running with God

Earlier this summer, I was pleasantly surprised when I received my mid-year fitness summary: I had run over 100 miles in the previous four months.0627151135

For those of you who have been running your whole lives, this probably seems like nothing; but to me, who hadn’t run more than maybe one-tenth of a mile straight until three years ago, this is quite an achievement!

As running has become more and more integrated into my life, this means that I’ve had many miles of pavement to muse on the deeper things in life, such as what I’m going to have for dinner, when this hill will end, and watch out for that dog! Oh, and God. I’ve had a lot of time to think about—and talk with—God.

I’ve discovered that there is quite a bit in common with how I approach running and with how I do (or should) approach developing my faith life with God.

Perseverance

As you have probably surmised, running is not something that comes naturally to me. So when I first set out with a goal to run a 5K, I knew that it wouldn’t be easy. As I started to train, I had a lot of doubts in my mind, and I came up with a lot of reasons to just give up. Yet, with every additional minute that I tacked onto my running time, and with each hill I conquered, I started to realize that I could do this running thing.  And I ended up meeting my goal of running that 5K… and meeting it again, and again, and again. To be a runner, you have to have a lot of perseverance: to not give up when you feel like you just can’t run another minute, and to keep pushing when you are almost to the top of the hill.

The same is true for running with God. A lot of times, it feels like it would be a lot easier to just give up. Doubts creep in and excuses become more reasonable sounding. Yet, with each “hill” you tackle in the spiritual life, you realize that living a life with God is worth it. Yes, being a Christian is not easy. It may not come naturally to us with our fallen natures, but living a life for God and with God is something that with a lot of perseverance, we are all able to achieve.

Stop Comparing

It is easy to get discouraged when you’re running a race and get passed by a mom pushing a double stroller while you are just trying to put one foot in front of the other. Unless you are an Olympic runner competing for the gold medal, comparison can be a runner’s worse enemy. I learned pretty quickly that it didn’t help me run any better or any faster by comparing myself to others’ abilities. It doesn’t matter if I have a better time than that mom with a double stroller who is also working her hardest. What matters is that I am running to the best of my own abilities, and that I am doing the best that I am capable of doing in that moment.

The same is true for our faith journeys. It is easy to start comparing your faith life to the faith of others. She is able to get to daily Mass, I wish I had time to do that. He spends an hour in adoration every day. How much more amazing would my prayer life be if I did that? They seem so in love with God, why can’t I have that? But comparing your faith to another’s more often leads to discouragement than to motivation to improve your own faith. God doesn’t want you to take the same faith journey of your priest, or your best friend, or your neighbor. He wants your faith to be the best that you personally can make it. He wants to have an intimate and personal relationship with you that is unlike any other. He wants us to stop comparing and start running our own journey.

The Finish Line is within Reach
When you first set out on a run, it can seem like the finish line is never going to be within sight. I ran a 5K once where you could see the finish line in the distance… over a mile away. I thought I was never going to cross that finish line, but not only did I cross the finish line, but I was still standing when I did!
In our faith, we are running towards the ultimate finish line: Heaven. Unfortunately, it can be easy to lose sight of that ultimate goal or it can seem like it’s very far away even when you can glimpse it in the distance. But just like running, if we keep pace and keep striving towards that goal, not only is Heaven within our sights, but it’s attainable.
I’ve learned a lot on my running journey, and I’m sure I will continue to learn more with each mile I add and each hill I conquer, and the same is true for my journey of running with God.

Living in the Noise

Recently, I went to a Sunday night baseball game to cheer on my beloved Washington Nationals.  When the Nats play on Sundays, the local parish offers an extra Mass for baseball fans coming to the game, affectionately called #NatsMass. Not only is it the perfect way to attend Mass right before the game – still making it to the park in time for opening pitch – but the Nats also have a pretty stellar winning record on #NatsMass Sundays, which I think we can all agree is clearly not a coincidence.

This particular Sunday, it just so happened that the Gospel reading and homily were very appropriate for attending Mass in a small parish in the middle of the hustle and bustle of a major city with major game day traffic.

In the Gospel, Mark tells of Jesus coming to His hometown to teach in the synagogue, and the not-so-warm welcome He receives. Jesus was in the world where He grew up, but the people refused to listen to and believe Him.

The priest talked about how Jesus was not afraid to go out into the world to spread the good news, even to His hometown. Christ did not water down the truth for anyone, even His own people. His kingdom was not of this world, but yet He still walked and lived in this world, even if that world did not accept Him.

Throughout the entire Mass, the noise of the world heading to the baseball game permeated through the church doors. Cars honking, sirens blaring, whistles blowing, people yelling. The world outside this quiet little parish delivered a constant stream of noise; a world that was completely oblivious to the miracle of the Mass that was happening right in its midst.

I couldn’t help but take the reading and homily to heart as the noise continued to stream into the church. We live in a world that refuses to listen to Christ, and refuses to believe in Him – even when He is right in their midst.

The parish sitting in the middle of the busy-ness of the city is a metaphor for Jesus teaching in His own hometown. How many people notice this stone church as they walk or drive past on their way to the game; how many stop to think about the presence of Christ in the tabernacle within their reach? I’m sure that the answer is “very few”, and of those few that do notice the church on the corner, even fewer actually soak up what it means to live in this world as followers of Christ. It is so easy to get lost in the noise of this world, and so easy to miss the presence of Christ right in front of us.

There is a lot of noise that surrounds us as Christians. We are not called to live in a Christian bubble; we are called to live in this world, as noisy as it may be. Even more, like Christ, we are called to preach the Gospel and speak the Truth, even if we are ignored or shunned.

As the Host was raised during the Consecration, the noise outside continued to pour in and I thought to myself, “All of those people outside don’t realize what they are missing out on in here.” And so, this is our mission as Catholics – to help bring Christ to all those who live in that noisy world outside.

#NatsMass
[Source]

3 Simple Prayers for When Praying is Hard

Every Christian has at least one time in their faith journey when they feel spiritually dry. For some, this time in the spiritual desert lasts for a brief period of time and for others it lasts for a lifetime. While spiritual dry spells can encourage great spiritual growth, they are also a very trying time on a person’s soul. Spiritual dryness can lead to spiritual apathy which makes it hard to do the simplest tasks – even praying.

If you’ve spent a prolonged time in the midst of a dry spell, sometimes it can be too hard to even muster a simple Hail Mary or Our Father. I know I’ve been there. I will start praying an Our Father, and get sidetracked about three lines in. So many words; so many lines (or so it seems, when prayer is hard).

Throughout my wanderings in the spiritual desert, I’ve come to rely on a few very short and sweet prayers that are quick to utter while still expressing what is on my heart.

Christ_in_the_Wilderness_-_Ivan_Kramskoy_-_Google_Cultural_Institute
Even Christ spent time in the desert. [Source]

Help my unbelief!

These three little words are pulled straight from Scripture. A man brings his son who is possessed by a demon to Jesus and begs Jesus to drive the demon out, if he can. Jesus responds to him that everything is possible to those who have faith, and the father cries “I do believe! Help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:14-32).

I discovered this passage at the depth of my spiritual dry spell and what immediately struck me was that the father did not just tell Jesus that he did in fact believe and leave it at that. Rather, he recognized that while he did believe, his faith was still lacking. It was eye-opening for me because I realized that whatever faith I thought I had was still lacking. This little prayer asks God to help my unbelief, wherever it is that my faith falls short.

Thy Will Be Done

In the times where I get easily sidetracked just praying the Our Father, I instead focus on these four little words. This line from the prayer sums up the Christian theme: for God’s will to be done in each of our lives.

I’ve found that praying these four short words can pack a punch. When I send these words towards Heaven, I am not only asking for God’s will to be done, but I am truthfully asking for Him to send me the strength and grace to accept and carry out His will, whatever that may be. It sometimes takes a lot of time to see, but I have seen the power that these four words can have in shifting my life in the direction of God.

Show me where You are in this; show me Your peace.

I started praying these words at a time in my life where I was struggling, and I knew that I needed to keep my focus on God. This short phrase especially came to my aid on a night where I was asked to make a difficult decision. As I took a deep breath, knowing what my choice was going to be, even though it was one I didn’t want to have to make, I silently prayed these words to ask God to lead me in that moment. And wow, did He respond in a big way. God sent me an answer that was as clear as day to me, and I felt such a strong wave of consolation – something I hadn’t felt in a long time in my prayer – and I knew that my peace was with Him.

I think this can be a powerful prayer in any situation – good or bad – because it centers your heart and mind to God, and seeks to find Him wherever you may be in that moment. God is in everything, and by asking for Him to reveal Himself to us, we can find peace.

Have you ever experienced a time where prayer is hard? What are some prayers that you have centered yourself on during these times?

Be a Window

Have you ever met someone who just seems to radiate Christ with every fiber of his or her being; where you can just see their love for God reflecting from their bodies? It’s a sort of aura, a glow, that just emanates out and has the profound power to draw people in. It’s a joy that is shown in a wide smile, loud laughter, a twinkle in the eye, a warm hug, finding happiness on even the darkest of days.

This kind of love is so much more than glorifying God with your body. As St. Paul writes, this kind of love is glorifying God in your body (1 Cor 6:20).  The choice of language here – to use the word “in” instead of “with” – carries so much meaning. The joy that radiates from love of God doesn’t just come from walking along with God, but it comes from carrying God deep within.

When St. Paul is calling each of us, as Christians, to glorify God in our bodies, he also asks, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you?” (1 Cor 6:19). As baptized Christians, our bodies carry the Holy Spirit to the world. As Catholics, our bodies receive the Eucharist and physically take Jesus out into the world. This is not something to take lightly! If we are truly carrying Him in our bodies, should we not always be radiating His joy, grace, and love to others? By glorifying God in our bodies, we should be blinding others by reflecting His light from within us.

We are called to be a window, and not a door. To glorify God in your body means to allow Him to shine through.

Light Shining through a Window onto the Altar in Westminster Cathedral, London, England (Photo, my own)
Light Shining through a Window onto the Altar in Westminster Cathedral, London, England (Photo, my own)