All posts by Olivia Spears

Olivia knows that Jesus can do anything. She was born and bred in Kentucky, where sweet tea and bourbon flow like milk and honey. She quickly returned there after graduating with Theology and Catechetics degrees from Franciscan University of Steubenville. Olivia is married to her high school best friend turned college sweetheart and they recently welcomed their first son. She spends her time teaching 7th graders about Christ and His Church, exploring the crunchy side of life, organizing anything she can get her hands on, and dancing in the moonlight. You can come along for the adventure at www.totheheights.com.

5 Ways to Pray the Rosary More

We all know about the spiritual fruit that comes from praying the rosary. Throughout the centuries, the popes have encouraged, even insisted upon the regular recitation of the rosary. Our Lady, in her apparitions, requested the praying of the rosary, and our priests and religious lead by their example of fidelity to this prayer.

But praying the rosary doesn’t come easily for all of us. It has always been a challenge for me to consistently pray the rosary. I’ll do great for one week, then totally bottom out the next. After chatting with many people who struggle with the same thing, I decided to find ways to incorporate the rosary more into my life in various ways.

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1. Pray the rosary in the car.

For those of us who are rather busy (who isn’t?), praying the rosary in the car on the way to/from work or on our errand runs is a great way to bring pause to our hectic days. We remind ourselves of our greatest calling and re-center our hearts and minds on the Lord. By praying the rosary in the car, we invite the Lord into the midst of our days, welcoming Him into our various tasks, joys, hopes, and worries.

2. Divide the rosary into segments.

I have found it helpful to pray the entire rosary throughout the whole day. For example, I’ll pray a decade in the morning before my son wakes up; then, I’ll pray a decade while making lunch; and another during nap time, etc. This method does not overwhelm me as much and I find that I am better able to enter into each mystery by truly taking them one at a time.

3. Pray the rosary as a family or with a loved one.

By consistently praying the rosary with someone else, we are both held accountable and joined in communion. Having my husband as my “accountability partner” has been a huge help to me in praying the rosary more.

4. Listen to the rosary on CD.

Folding laundry? Making dinner? Cleaning the house? Listening to the rosary on CD is an awesome way to fill those spaces of time when your hands are occupied and your mind can be set in prayer. For those who enjoy musical prayer, a sung rosary is an awesome option!

5. Engage your heart and mind.

When we enter into the prayer of the rosary with focus and true contemplation, the fruits are endless. By fixing our full gaze upon the life of Our Lord through the eyes of His mother, we open our hearts to the total transformative power of an authentic encounter with Him. For some of us, this means removing all distractions so we can close our eyes and feel the rhythm of the beads. For others, it means praying the Scriptural rosary so that we have something specific to focus on during each Hail Mary. For others, it means singing the mysteries. For others, it means drawing scenes from the mysteries while praying. Whatever helps you more fully engage your heart and mind during the rosary will of course aid its bearing of fruit in your heart and mind.

What’s your favorite way to pray the rosary? How do you find ways to pray the rosary more frequently?

What Begging for Money Taught Me About the Richness of Poverty

$30,000. 3 days.

We had 3 days to raise $30,000, and I had no idea how we would pull it off.

It was my senior year at Franciscan University, and I was blessed to be co-leading a mission to Ecuador that is so near to my heart. Plane tickets were beyond expensive that year, and the cost for us to get down to South America during our spring break in order to serve the lovely Ecuadorians both spiritually and physically was overbearing. We had only three days left in our fundraising campaign, and although we had worked our tails off, we still had about $30,000 to obtain. If we didn’t find that money, our mission would be cancelled.

We were desperate.

We called a team meeting to discuss our situation. We were at risk of losing that which we had worked for during the entire year, and we needed to make a decision. Thankfully, we decided to work tirelessly over those three days. If we were going down, we were going to go down swinging. We knew that with perseverance, the grace of God, and saintly intercession (thanks, St. Rita!), we could bring God’s will to fruition.

In order to raise that money, we needed to become beggars. In the spirit of St. Francis, we laid aside our pride and became poor. We called everyone we knew, we went to local churches that weekend to present our mission to the congregation in hopes for their support, and we begged on the streets of Pittsburgh. We spent three straight days begging our little hearts out.

The Lord brought us to the point where we had nothing, much like those we were going to serve, and much like Our Savior Himself.

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Now, each Advent, I recall that wild situation in which we were brought low to beg for money. We begged passionately for something we cared about, we accepted our empty hands with joy and knew that Jesus would fill them in His time and in His way. But during those three days, we were so rich. We grew in virtue that we were going to need in Ecuador, we realized our littleness and our brokenness, and we acknowledged our total dependence on the Father in a new and radical way. In our utter temporal poverty, we became spiritually rich.

Like Our Lord humbled Himself to be born in a smelly manger, we must be brought low in order to fully accept the gift that He brings us, namely, salvation. Without the grace of poverty, we will never experience the entirety of the richness of Christ’s kingship. Without the grace of poverty, we will never become truly rich.

Encouraging Vocations the Right Way

It is no secret that the Church has experienced a shortage of religious vocations in the last two decades. It is also no secret that our seminaries are now beginning to overflow. There is definitely a shift coming as many young people become more open to and respond to the call of Jesus to follow Him in this particular way.

No matter what season or culture the Church finds herself in, there is always, always a need for her members to encourage religious vocations. We hear this petition at nearly every Mass we attend. The Church is begging for more of her children to respond to the call to the priesthood or religious life. We need our priests, our shepherds, these “other Christs” for the sacraments; and we need the powerful intercession of religious brothers and sisters. I’m convinced these people literally keep the world turning with their prayer. The Church needs the priesthood and religious life to continue her mission of evangelization and salvation.

Encouraging vocations to the priesthood and religious life is a major duty of Christian parents. As we raise our children in the arms of Mother Church, we would be cheating them if we did not inform them about every vocation and encourage them to consider each. This is our obligation as parents of baptized Catholics. There’s no two ways about that.

But I think it is important that we encourage vocations the right way. In our desire for our children to be great saints, we must always remember what sainthood truly is and what it is not. Because at the end of the day:

God’s will > our desire for our child’s religious vocation

Our primary responsibility as Catholic parents is to encourage our children toward sainthood, to always eagerly respond with humble acceptance to the will of God for their lives, whatever that may be.

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I know many people whose parents, in good will and authentic love for the Church, only encouraged vocations to the priesthood or religious life. These children grew up being told that they would be a priest, that they would enter the convent; and, when, in their own relationship with the Lord and discernment of their vocation, they received a different call, they doubted God’s will and even rebelled against it in order to gain their parents’ approval. This often leads to a severely damaged parent/child relationship or severe regret about running from the will of God. It can foster heartbreak on all sides. Certainly this is not what Jesus intends.

I understand their parents’ zeal. In my dream world, my husband and I will produce children that will choose all the vocations. Wouldn’t that be fun?! But at the end of the day, more than I want my son to be a priest, I want him to be a saint. I want him to choose Jesus in every moment of every day. I want him to surrender his life to the Holy Spirit. I want him to find his fulfillment in the Father. If that means being a priest or religious brother, awesome. If that means being a husband and a father, awesome.

Our ultimate desire for our children must be sainthood, and we must leave their particular path to that point up to the Lord, and Him alone.

How can we encourage vocations the right way, then?

First, by being examples in our own vocations. We can strive to follow God’s will in our own lives and in our own vocations. We can constantly seek to pursue holiness through the lens of our vocation. As parents, we can put large emphasis on growing in virtue with our spouse through prayer and mutual affection.

Second, we can teach them to be saints. We should be praying with our children, teaching them about the lives of the saints, instructing them in the Catechism and Church documents, and encouraging them to listen to that still small Voice within themselves.

Lastly, we can pray for them. We can put our own desires, inclinations, or thoughts aside and lay our children at the Feet of Jesus, knowing well that He will guide our little loves toward sanctity in His own way. We must place our trust in Him who knows best. Because if we desire sainthood for our children so much, how much more does the Father desire it for them?

God will provide the call, whatever that call may be. It is our job to teach them to listen and respond in abandoned faith.

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The Ten Virtues of Mary Series

This content was originally published at To the Heights and has been reformatted for the Ignitum Today readers!

If you’re a faithful Catholic woman, chances are you’ve heard advice along the lines of, “Just be like Our Lady” more times than you can count. And if you’re anything like me, chances are you’ve silently responded, “What the heck does that even meannnn?”.

Just being like Our Lady sounds simple, right? You certainly can’t go wrong. But if we just leave our idea of holy womanhood at “being like Our Lady”, we may be left feeling overwhelmed and frustrated. Mary is such a unique, complex, and spotless creature. She is the epitome of womanhood, grace, fidelity, and honor. As Catholic women, religious, wives, moms, sisters, daughters, and friends, we want to just be like Our Lady. We want to emulate her. But sometimes we’re so in awe of her grace that we’re stuck wondering how on earth we go about doing that.

Which is why I love the Ten Virtues of Mary.

St. Louis de Montfort, a 17th century French priest, had a passion for Mary, the Mother of God, and how she unceasingly leads us to Jesus. He was certain that loving Mary would lead us to a greater love for Jesus, and that our desire to be close to Him would be ignited by her. So de Montfort wrote a preparation for and prayer of consecration to Jesus through Mary in order to solidify our commitment to Our Lord. In this document, de Montfort highlights what he calls “the ten principal virtues of Mary”. He strongly suggests that we commit these virtues to memory and strive to imitate them in our daily lives.

So what are the virtues of Mary? Her Angelic Sweetness, Ardent Charity, Blind Obedience, Constant Mental Prayer, Divine Purity, Divine Wisdom, Heroic Patience, Lively Faith, Profound Humility, and Universal Mortification.

It’s sometimes hard to be a virtuous Christian, especially in today’s world when we are constantly being bombarded with messages that are contrary to the gospel. Life gets messy and work needs to get done and kids need to be fed and marriages need to be nurtured and health needs to be fostered and laundry needs to be folded and and and … the list goes on. There is so much stuff that makes up the structure of our life that sometimes we can grow weary and confused at the foundation.

Mary had this whole Christ-following, marriage, and motherhood thing down pat, despite the difficulties she encountered. Mary knew how trying womanhood can be, yet she shone with the love of God and her virtue was undeniable.

For me, in the face of life’s ordinary circumstances, I find it inexplicable helpful to have the ten virtues of Mary at hand. They are concrete. They are simple. They are effective. They are easy to pray for. For example, when I’m in the heat of being really annoyed or aggravated, it is simple for me to pray quickly for heroic patience. Then, I call to mind what that virtue entails and it helps me to handle frustrating issues with more grace. I like to think of these virtues as tools in my Christian-life toolbox that I am able to utilize in a pinch. These tools allow me to more closely imitate Mary while catering to my simple mind. Recalling these virtues helps me to be a better Christian, wife, mom, and friend. These virtues remind me of the purpose of community, of being a woman, and of striving to be like Our Lady in the first place.

I can honestly tell you that studying and applying the ten virtues of Mary to my daily life has been one of the most spiritually fruitful things I’ve ever done.

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So what’s the deal with this series?

Each Tuesday from now until mid-December, one blogger will host this series at her place and focus on one particular virtue. She will share the definitions of both the virtue and its modifying adjective and why that matters, she’ll reflect on how Mary lived it in her own life, she will offer insight into how we can live that virtue as women, and she’ll divulge how that virtue kicks us in the butt.

I’m so looking forward to reading each reflection because all of these women have amazing hearts and varied personalities, and I’m confident that we will all grow from their particular viewpoints.

At the end of series, we will be celebrating with a big Marian-themed giveaway! We would love for you to join us every Tuesday to learn about Mary and how we can imitate her goodness simply each day, in every situation, and in the tiniest, most mundane moments.

Check out the schedule below to see who’s covering what :) can’t wait to see you there!

October 7 – An Introduction to the Ten Virtues of Mary – Olivia of To the Heights

October 14 – Lively Faith – Molly of Molly Makes Do

October 21 – Blind Obedience – Kendra of Catholic All Year

October 28 – Constant Mental Prayer – Jenna of Call Her Happy

November 4 – Heroic Patience – Kelly of This Ain’t the Lyceum

November 11 – Profound Humility – Carolyn of Svellerella

November 18 – Angelic Sweetness – Regina of Good One God

November 25 – Divine Wisdom – Britt of The Fisk Files

December 2 – Universal Mortification – Abbey of Surviving Our Blessings

December 9 – Divine Purity – Gina of Someday Saints

December 16 – Ardent Charity – Christy of Fountains of Home

December 17 – Massive GIVEAWAY at To the Heights – Just in time for Christmas

An Interview with Alanna Boudreau

How do you judge good music? What are your standards? When do you know that you’ve encountered an incredible song or artist?

One way I judge music is by its ability to snap me out of whatever I’m doing in the present moment and transport me to a different place, season, state, or memory. Really great music is that which helps us to extend outside of ourselves, to help guide our minds to another person or place.

When I listen to the music of singer-songwriter Alanna Boudreau, the aforementioned takes place in my heart. Her music leads my emotions to joy and nostalgia and longing for Beauty Himself.

Have you gotten to listen to Alanna’s music yet? If not, now is an ideal time. She just released her newest album, Hints and Guesses, and I’d be willing to bet that you’ll fall in love with her creativity, voice, and style.

Alanna is not only an extremely talented musician, but she just has the loveliest soul. I went to college with this woman, and even spent some time with her in South America, and the beauty of her music is just a simple reflection of the beauty of her heart.

I had the privilege of interviewing Alanna recently about her music, her writing process, her inspiration, and her motivation behind writing and singing. All my Pope St. John Paul II, Tolkien, and C.S. Lewis lovers out there will greatly enjoy what she describes as her driving force behind her lyrics.

So sit back with a warm cup of tea, perhaps with a dollop of honey, curl up in a warm blanket on this Fall day, and meet Alanna-Marie Boudreau.

Blessing is in Obedience

It was my last class of my senior year of college, and I listened intently as my professor wrapped up his final lecture. I sat amongst my fellow Catechetics majors, all of us eager to begin setting the world on fire with love for the Lord. All semester, our professor had been teaching us how to handle various situations we would encounter in our ministry, whether it be a parish, school, or some other religious education setting. Now, at the end of our formation as catechists, our professor declared, “If you remember anything from this class, remember this…”. My ears perked up. This was going to be good. He was certainly going to unlock the secret of boldly conquering the world for Christ.

“If you remember anything from this class, remember this:”, he said, “Blessing is in obedience.”

“That’s it?” I thought, “That’s so simple”. And as I sat there repeating the phrase over and over in my mind, the truth of it sank deeper into my heart, and completely altered the way I see the world.

As humans, and particularly as Americans, we often believe that our way of thinking, our opinion, and our way of doing things is the most correct. We tend to struggle with humility and taking direction, especially if it conflicts with our own preferences. When someone in authority over us makes a request or demand of us that we do not personally care for, our initial reaction is to list off all the reasons why they are wrong and we are right (unless you’re a saint, then you can stop reading this because you’ve got it all figured out; but I am not that, so I trudge onward).

But blessing is in obedience. Even if what is asked of us is annoying, inconvenient, or inefficient.

When we are obedient to those who are in proper authority over us, we grow in great humility and love. We obey  our earthly authorities out of love for our ultimate Authority.

Jesus even backs this whole notion that blessing is in obedience. In many of His apparitions to different saints, particularly in His chats with St. Faustina, Our Lord describes how much obedience please Him. Not only does obedience to Him merit us great grace, but obedience to those in charge over us pleases the Lord more than if we were “correct” or “better”. We honor the Lord when we are properly ordered, when we recognize true authority and seek to humble ourselves to accept whatever is requested of us.

Because blessing is in obedience.

Sometimes we are asked to obey in massive ways, like when our parish priest begins an initiative that doesn’t seem important to us, or when our confessor assigns us a penance that we don’t think will be very fruitful, or when our spouse declares that it’s time to have another child when we don’t think we’re ready.

These pills are hard to swallow, but blessing is in obedience.

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Most of the time, however, we have the opportunity to obey in many small ways each and every day. We obey the law by driving the speed limit, even if we are in a hurry to get somewhere. We work diligently on the task entrusted to us at work, even if we believe it’s meaningless. We suck it up and do that thirteenth load of laundry in one day, even though we’re certain suds are coming out of ears.

Because blessing is in obedience.

Finally, and this is perhaps my favorite, we are able to grow in virtue by applying the above truths to things that are asked of us by those who are not in authority over us. For example, heeding the “Enter” and “Exit” directives at your local grocery or retail store. There are doors that you are meant to enter through, and doors you are meant to exit through. Isn’t it tempting to go in through the exit doors? Isn’t that the quickest and easiest way most of the time? And let’s face it, we could do that and get away with it. Wal-Mart doesn’t have authority over me, they’re not going to punish me if I go through the wrong door. But by simply being obedient in small matters, we are training ourselves to be obedient in the great ones.

You see, the tiny, seemingly insignificant moments in our day to day life are constantly forming the disposition of our hearts.

So let’s strive to happily complete what is asked of us, both by proper authority and TJ Maxx, because these are the acts that lead to great love. These are the barely detectable hands of the Potter making us into saints; and that, my friends, is the blessing that flows from obedience.

Spiritual Attacks on the Expectant Mother (and How to Combat Them)

Whether a woman is expecting her first child, or her fifteenth, pregnancy is filled with many emotions. There is joy and excitement mixed with anticipation and a little nervousness. All these emotions are appropriate, given the weight of what this new little life entails.

Like mothers throughout time, I felt these slew of emotions during my first pregnancy. My days were peppered with elation and nervous anticipation. But there was also something else. My immense happiness was occasionally threatened by intense doubt and fear. At first, I thought I was isolated in these waves of uncertainty. So I decided to consult with other moms, which is when I realized I was not alone.

Through our conversations, we saw that Satan often tries to take our natural concerns and twist them until they become nearly unbearable. Obviously, there are natural worries and anxieties that come with pregnancy since it is such a huge event. But there is a great difference between being bummed that you can no longer fit into your favorite pair of skinny jeans, and thinking that there is nothing good about your body.

Therefore, it is necessary for women to be on guard against the Enemy in this regard. Just because pregnancy is wonderful does not mean it is exempt from spiritual attack. In fact, it is precisely because it is so wonderful that the Enemy especially hates it and makes grand efforts to ruin it (hello, abortion). The devil lurks, and seeks to destroy our warranted joy by taking our natural emotions and running with them through the mud. Fortunately, we have a God that is not only victorious over that scumbag, but sanctifies and protects pregnancy by being born Himself. We are not meant to live in darkness, but in the light of Truth.

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Together, these new and seasoned mothers and I compiled the most common spiritual attacks on the expectant mother, and we concluded what helped us overcome them. The devil’s game doesn’t change much, so by being aware of what he might try to pull, we will be better equipped to combat his deadly lies when they are being shouted in our ears, and instead cling tighter to the Savior.

1. Inadequacy

Let’s jump right in with the most prevalent and overwhelming lie Satan throws at us. He especially likes to tell us we are inadequate in the following ways:

Physically: We think our bodies can’t handle pregnancy. Because we are sick and unable to be as efficient, we deem ourselves worthless. We think, “I cannot birth this baby.

Emotionally: We think we are an emotional train wreck that no one likes to be around, so we might as well shut ourselves off from everyone.

Spiritually: We think we are not holy enough to be a mother. We sin too much to teach virtue to our children. We are not even close to resembling Our Lady in her motherhood.

2. Body Image 

This one is a tough one that takes many women by surprise. When a woman first discovers she’s pregnant, she often gets really excited for that cute baby bump to start showing. And then it comes, and suddenly she may not be so thrilled with the changes happening to her form. In these vulnerable moments, the devil likes to swoop in and take over. “Your body is the least attractive it’s ever been”, “Your husband does not want you”, “This pregnancy has sucked away all your beauty”.

3. Marital Disharmony

Boy, does the Enemy really love this one. He enjoys going straight to the root of a joyful pregnancy, a self-giving marriage, and getting it all tangled up. Pregnancy demands massive amounts of communication, patience, openness, and understanding between spouses. Any chance we give Satan to place wedges and cause division, he will do so.

4. Comparison

The devil takes every opportunity he can to tell us that we are not as good as so-and-so. He spews falsities to us like: “You won’t be a good mother – you’re not creative enough, or rich enough, or smart enough, or settled enough. Look at all these other super-moms. They have it all together, and you know you don’t.” Our Pinterest-obsessed culture and the mommy-wars certainly open the doors even wider for the Enemy. But that’s worthy of its own post.

5. Regret

Simply stated, Satan likes to make us doubt if we should have ever created this life in the first place. This one is quite terrible to endure.

6. Irrational Fear

Goes a little something like this: “Everything terrible that CAN happen WILL happen. My pregnancy is doomed, my birth is doomed, my postpartum time is doomed. I’m going to make all the wrong decisions and effectively destroy any chance of my child’s health, happiness, and holiness”.

How to Fight Back (and Win)

1. Your Spouse

Your husband is your first line of defense; let him defend you. After all, he is made for that. Let him combat the lies you are being told by planting sends of truth into your life. Allow him to serve you and care for you in your sickness, allow him to affirm that you will be a terrific mother, allow him to comfort you in your fear, allow him to initiate intimacy when you feel especially unattractive (side note: the majority of men find their wives most attractive during pregnancy, just saying 😉 ), and allow him to intensely pray and fast for you.

2. Eucharistic Adoration

Get yourself in front of the Resurrected Christ. Spend time in silence with Him. Cast your cares upon Him and invite Him into those deepest doubts. He has crushed the head of the serpent for you, for your freedom from these attacks. He will not leave you.

3. Your (and your baby’s) Guardian Angel

Seek help from the being that has been assigned to you from the beginning. Ask your guardian angel to give you a firm nudge when Satan starts to unleash his junk. Ask for protection and strength, clarity and hope. Ask your angel to remind you of the truth.

4. Scripture and the Rosary

Speaking of truth, the life of Christ, Truth Himself, will help us combat these spiritual attacks. By diving into the Word and contemplating the life of Jesus through the rosary, we will remain focused on what is true, good, and beautiful, and will be solidified and convicted in our vocations as wives and mothers.

On Thomas, Doubt, and Being an Outsider

Have you ever felt like an outsider amongst a group of people who all shared a similar experience? Sat awkwardly in the background as they joyfully reminisced? The fact that you missed out on whatever it is that the rest of your acquaintances lived through can possibly leave you feeling isolated and uncomfortable.

I imagine that’s how Thomas the Apostle felt when he returned into hiding in the Upper Room after the Crucifixion of Jesus. Today is his feast day, and we owe some attention to this valiant Apostle who often gets a bad rep and who inspired a universally employed nickname.

Our Doubting Thomas returned to the Upper Room from, well, we don’t know where he was or what he was doing out of hiding. What we do know is that while he was away, Our Resurrected Lord appeared to the rest of the Apostles for the first time since His death, and Thomas missed it. Talk about bad timing.

When he was reunited with the rest of the Apostles, the atmosphere in the Upper Room had shifted dramatically. Thomas was greeted by his excited and enlivened friends who exclaimed to him, “We have seen the Lord” (John 20:25). Imagine the mix of emotion Thomas must have been flooded with: happiness, confusion, hope, disappointment. Emotion that, undoubtedly, you and I would have felt similarly.

Overwhelmed, Thomas doubted the truth behind the other Apostles’ claim. Because he did not share in their experience, how could he be sure? Thomas most certainly felt like an outsider, as is evident by his over-the-top refusal to believe unless he placed his hands inside the very wounds of Jesus.

We know the rest of the story. Days later, Jesus once again returned to the Upper Room. This time, Thomas was present, and was very much the focus of Our Lord. What the Savior does in this moment, although so simple and subtle, bears incredible significance.

Take a minute and think about how Our Lord could have acted toward Thomas. Had He not proven His omnipotence enough during His ministry by healing the blind and lame, forgiving sins, and raising the dead? Was His own Resurrection, then, so inconceivable to Thomas, who had witnessed all these miracles? Jesus could have utterly reprimanded Thomas; but, as per usual, He instead approaches His Thomas with the most merciful tenderness.

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Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe” (John 20:27).

Although Thomas had previously missed out on the initial encounter with the Resurrected Godman, had been left on the outside, Jesus ultimately and literally brings him inside Himself, into His Heart. Our Lord’s love for Thomas is so great, so all-encompassing, that He transforms the outsider into the one who is closest to Him. Yes, Thomas momentarily doubted the Lord, but the Lord never doubted Thomas.

Let this, then, be a lesson for us. The Lord is close to the outsiders; and they are often the ones who are invited into the deepest of intimacy with Him. Just as He humbled Himself to meet Thomas in the midst of his doubt, He never ceases to reach down to us in our littleness and frailty, in our own doubt and lack of faith, to pick us up and bring us into Himself. So in our moments of weakness, we would be wise to remember the example of St. Thomas, who, although he wavered for a moment, was a bold disciple of Christ, loving Him to the point of death with an unquenchable passion. Then, once united with the Lord in such intimacy, we too may profess undoubtedly along with Thomas, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28).

Tongue Twisters and the Imperfection of Humanity

Earlier this week, my 7th grade students engaged in a battle of tongue twisters. They exchanged challenges that sought to discover which of them could say certain phrases “ten times fast”. Laughter erupted from everyone as, one by one, the kids stuttered and stumbled over seemingly easy sentences.

After some amused observation, I eventually joined in their efforts and attempted a few for myself. Once I failed terribly at my goal of saying “toy boat” five times fast (And you just tried it, didn’t you? Harder than it sounds, eh?), I waved my little white flag and let another soul endure the light humiliation of messing up the English language.

I sat back in my chair, giggling along with this age-old game that enables us to laugh at our mistakes. And this thought occurred to me: tongue twisters serve as such a wonderful reminder that we are so human.

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The movement of our lips, tongues, and vocal chords do not coordinate as they should, thus leaving us in a tangled mess of non-words and funny noises. As humans, we are far from invincibility and flawlessness. Although a very minor reflection of the consequences of the Fall, tongue twisters illustrate this truth simply and beautifully.

Referring to the Original Sin of Adam and Eve, the Catechism states, “The harmony in which they had found themselves, thanks to original justice, is now destroyed…” (CCC 400). The perfection that Adam and Eve enjoyed in the Garden is now tainted due to sin, and we who come after them inherit this need for grace and wholeness.

This turns us into clumsy creatures full of chaos (in every area of life).  In our miserable imperfection, we need some Jesus. Big time. Because so often we are like baby giraffes learning how to walk for the first time, we need Our Lord, in all His love and mercy, to take us by the hand and to pick us up when we fall flat on our faces. We need His grace in order to straighten out the wrinkles of our lives, both large and small.

I can’t help but think of St. Paul and his take on the reality of our weak and flawed selves.  “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me… for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9, 10b).  St. Paul recognized that Christ fills the gaps.  Where we are imperfect, Jesus is perfect.  Where we are empty, Jesus offers to fill us until our cups overflow (cf Psalm 23:5).  Therefore, the more we seek to rely on Him and His strengths, the more our weaknesses will be transformed.

Although we get tongue-tied, are forgetful, and stub our toes, we, as human persons, have the terrific ability to reflect the love of God when we depend upon Him.  Once we truly understand the fact that we are utterly hopeless without the grace of Christ, we are set free to love like He loves, even amidst our imperfections.

Be it a small reminder, listening to the tongue twister attempts helped me to reflect on how much we need the Lord in order to make it through each day.  We are totally incapable without Him, and, thankfully, He offers Himself to us totally and unreservedly, even when we show forth our simplest human imperfections.

Let us boast, then, along with St. Paul, in our human frailty and weakness, a weakness that is made so evident when we attempt to master things like tongue twisters, because it is only then that Christ may take a greater hold of our hearts and our lives.

Marriage: The 100-100 Principle

My heart beat a bit faster as I struggled to sit comfortably on the couch I had carelessly reclined on so many times before.  My angst made the room where we met for marriage preparation seem smaller than I recalled.  The priest who was going to celebrate our marriage would be there shortly, and I looked over at my fiance, who returned my worried gaze with an understanding and comforting smile.  We were two months away from tying the knot, and I had a burning question to ask Father.

The 100-100 Principle

Secular society has coined a phrase about marriage that is radically flawed. You’ve probably heard it before: “Relationships are 50-50.  It is give and take, but your partner must meet you halfway”.  That idea sounds nice.  In its fluff, it may even make sense to us for a brief moment.  But, as with all things in life, Christianity one-ups the world and offers an even better way, a way that leads to greatness as opposed to mediocrity, a house that is built on rock rather than sand (Cf. Mt 7:24-27).

Christian marriage, if it is to flourish as it is intended by God, cannot consist of giving merely half of ourselves, but absolutely everything we’ve got.  We have to be all in, so to speak.

Think about it, we accept the 100% principle in most other arenas of life. If an athlete wants to excel in his sport, is he told to just give it 50%?  If a musician aspires to play at Juilliard, is she encouraged to give just half of herself during practices and performances?  Certainly not.

We are told that if we desire to succeed in our crafts, our careers, and as persons, then we must be willing to put our whole selves into our pursuits. So why would we strive for less than that when it comes to our marriages and families, the building blocks of society itself?

The mystery of the 100-100 principle is that it is in giving that we receive. By giving more of ourselves to something or, in this case, someone, we actually receive more than we give. By giving 100% of ourselves to our spouse and our marriage, we in turn receive 200%. That math doesn’t make sense, you say? My friend, God works wildly beyond numbers.

That sounds great; but how does this look in real life?

The question that plagued my mind had to do with this 100-100 principle. In our marriage preparation, I had come to love and value this principle. As a Christian, it made sense to me: Christ gives Himself completely and entirely to His Bride, the Church.  If spouses are to love another as Christ loves the Church (see Eph 5), then we must give of ourselves entirely in imitation of Him. I was excited about that.

But as I sat in our meeting that day, I didn’t feel like I was giving 100% of myself. In fact, I felt like I had nothing to give.  The past few months had brought a significant cross into my life that had been difficult to bear. I knew what it felt like to be on top of the world, being able to give and give and give and never run out of steam. I knew what “my best” looked like, and how much I was able to produce when I was at my best.  In this moment, however, I was not at my best. This troubled me, therefore, because how could I give 100% while carrying this burden?

When I brought this up to Father, his answer rocked me and has remained with me ever since. He smiled kindly, turned to my fiance, David, and questioned him instead of me. David explained to Father that by carrying this cross with me, it had strengthened our relationship even more and solidified our love in a greater way. From his point of view, I was giving 100% of myself because I was giving to God and to him everything I had, even if it wasn’t what I deemed my “personal best”.  Father turned back to me and said, “Exactly”.

Photo credit: http://www.drawntotheimage.com
Photo credit: http://www.drawntotheimage.com

The lesson I learned that day is that the 100-100 principle does not require us to be the greatest we’ve ever been in every moment of every day. Rather, it calls us to give 100% of ourselves, of everything we have and everything we are in each moment.

Sometimes this will mean that we are super-spouse who has everything together and can’t seem to run out of patience and love. Other times, this will mean being willing to allow our spouse to be our Simon of Cyrene, to bear our heavy crosses with us. In both scenarios, my friends, we are able to give 100% of ourselves with the grace of God.

This is precisely how the 100-100 principle works in the reality of life and love. The Lord, in His goodness and wisdom and through the grace of the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony, offers the spouses guidance through the ebb and flow of life. He presents each spouse with the ability to support and encourage the other, and to be supported and encouraged in return.

“Christ dwells with them, gives them the strength to take up their crosses and so follow him…to bear one another’s burdens…and to love one another with supernatural, tender, and fruitful love” (CCC 1642).

Therefore, may we never cease to turn to Jesus for this grace, the grace that allows us to give of ourselves entirely and completely, whether we are at our best or our worst.  In this way, our marriages will bear the sweetest fruit of sanctity and fidelity, no matter what storms come our way.