All posts by Theresa Williams

"I have become all things to all, to save at least some" (1 Cor. 9:22) basically describes her life as writer, homemaker, friend and sister, wife, and mother of 2 spunky children, all for the sake of Gospel joy. She received her BA in Theology, Catechetics/Youth Ministry, and English Writing from Franciscan University of Steubenvile. Currently, she is a homemaker and freelance writer. Her life mottos are Ad Majoram Dei Gloriam and "Without complaint, everything shall I suffer for in the love of God, nothing have I to fear" (St. Teresa Margaret of the Sacred Heart). She is Pennsylvanian by birth, Californian by heart, and in Texas for the time being. Yinz can find her on Twitter @TheresaZoe.

Secular Songs That Can Bring Us Closer to God

I listen to a lot of music—from great Catholic artists like Matt Maher and Audrey Assad to classic rock to punk rock to alternative to country to everything in between. Generally, when I wish to feel close to God or get myself into a meditative/prayerful mood, I listen to Catholic Christian music, but every so often, I come across a secular song that brings me closer to God in a new and profound way. Here are some secular songs that bring me closer to God.

“Semi-Charmed Life” by Third Eye Blind

This song talks a lot about using drugs and having premarital sex and the rush that it all is. But it always comes back to the chorus:

“I want something else to get me through this semi-charmed kind of life, baby, baby, I want something else, I’m not listening when you say goodbye.”

The singer is still searching, still unfulfilled, though he keeps going on these manic adventures and searches and usages. If these things aren’t fulfilling, what else possibly could be? Well, God. That’s what this song always brings me to—I may try to fill myself up with these things of the world, things that are promised to fill me up, make me whole, and make me free, but they can’t. Not entirely, anyway. Only God can do that. Without God, we’re just living some (partially) empty, semi-charmed life.

“Let It Be” by The Beatles


Many, many a person has mistaken the subject of this song to be the Blessed Virgin Mary, that Paul McCartney was singing of her guiding hand. In fact, he wrote this song about his own mother, Mary, and how she appeared to him in a dream after she died when he was a young teenager. Doesn’t change the fact that this song could very well be about the Blessed Virgin, and I choose to listen to it that way because she is always guiding us and helping us to grow in virtue and discernment, after all 😉

“Fix You” by Coldplay

The emotion in this song is infectious, and it’s hard not to feel the pain and longing. This song is all about being broken and needing to be fixed. When listening to the chorus as though it were Christ speaking to you, well, let’s just say tears stream down my face every time.

“Bless the Broken Road” by Rascal Flatts

This one, I think, is a little more straightforward. The road of life is rarely ever straight and obstacle-free, and this song talks about walking it anyway, trusting God to bring you right where you’re supposed to be no matter what. And who couldn’t learn to trust Him a little more? I know I need that reminder! Jesus, I trust in You. Great song for the Year of Mercy!

“The Middle” by Jimmy Eat World

I first heard this song when I was young and very unsure of myself, of who I was and what I was doing, and this song reassured me that if I continued to stay close to God and pursued Truth and goodness, that it would all figure itself out (which it did). I always picture Jesus singing this song to me, just telling me to hang on, trust Him, and do my best in every situation that’s presented to me.

“How to Save a Life” by The Fray

Another fairly straightforward song, this one talks about trying to help a friend out of a deep struggle, an addiction of some sort, but all of the gentle nudgings of the narrator remind me of how God gently nudges us, is always beside us even in our darkest moments, and always tries to help us into the light. This song, for me, is about learning how to accept God’s grace, not wallowing in self-pity, and being grateful for every moment, every struggle, every slight urging back to grace.

“Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” by Green Day

Life changes. Things happen. Our perspective shifts. This mournful song is about learning to accept the changes, learning to be ready for them, and being grateful for what you’ve been given and the time you’ve had to live. At one point, he sings: “For what it’s worth, it was worth all the while.” Life is always worth living, always worth fighting for, always worth moving forward. With God, the future, the unpredictable path of life, doesn’t have to be so scary. So while this song is very reflective on life lived thus far, I find it very hopeful for the future, that everything is a gift and that God will never abandon us no matter what life throws our way.

What are some secular songs that remind you of God or bring you closer to Him? This list certainly isn’t exhaustive! Which ones on my list surprised you or made you think? Any that you completely disagree with?

 

A version of this post originally appeared on EpicPew

Affordable Catholic Higher Education: Dominican Institute

Have you ever wanted to further your Catholic education but realized that even online higher education from a good Catholic institution is pricey? Or maybe you’re not necessarily interested in earning a degree, just taking a class here and there about specific topics in the Faith of interest to you. Dominican Institute is the answer. The goal of Dominican Institute is to provide top-notch instructions from instructors who have at least their M.A. (some have their Ph.D.) in their area of expertise at a fraction of the cost of other Catholic institutions of higher education.

Areas of course instruction include theology, philosophy, apologetics, evangelization, and Dominican studies, among others. There are ten courses offered this first semester, including Foundational Bioethics, Fundamentals of Dogmatic Theology, Natural Theology, Classic Apologetics in the Modern World, Church History: The Great Heresies, and Introduction to Dominican Spirituality. All of these courses are in line with the Magisterium and students are awarded certificates of completion at the end of each course (there are different kinds depending on need and number of courses taken). Coursework can be used for catechetical certification, professional development, personal development and lay formation. Your transcript can be sent to participating programs for proof of completion.

Now for cost. This is always the biggest hurdle I have had in furthering my own personal education and for so many others, as well. But Dominican Institute’s cost is phenomenally affordable. At just $150 per 3 credit hours, it ranks as just 10% of what other major Catholic institutions charge for the same number of credit hours in their programs!

Comparison between DI and other Catholic higher education institutions

As someone who has wanted to further my education and knowledge of the Church and Faith, this is great news! Affordable, quality Catholic higher education- it’s a dream come true! Dominican Institute makes being a life-long learner possible.

Education and being an educator is truly a ministry and Dominican Institute is a beautiful labor of love and service, trying to make the Faith more accessible to all kinds of people and students. DI, founder TJ Burdick, and his team of amazing instructors truly fulfill Christ’s call to “go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations…teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28: 19-20). I don’t know much about St. Thomas Aquinas (maybe I’ll take that Intro to Dominican Spirituality course…) but I think he’d approve.

Learn more and register for classes here. Classes start Monday, August 8!

Must-Read Book: The Four Keys to Everlasting Love

If you are engaged or married, married for a short time or married for a long time, fallen away from the faith or have your doctorate in theology, whatever your state in married life, The Four Keys to Everlasting Love by Karee and Manuel Santos will enrich your married life and life in general. The book is meant to serve as a kind of field manual to the details of a life together that might be otherwise overlooked or swept under the rug, but which cause the most problems between spouses. It is meant to be read and worked through together with your spouse, although it can be read by one spouse at a time.

four keys

Topics included range from the basics of what being married means; prioritizing God, family, and work; fertility and the sexual union; finances; and domestic life, including rearing children and special family situations such as children with special needs and blended families. What Karee and Manuel do especially well is weave this information in thoughtful ways through anecdotes both personal and from clients they’ve encountered through the course of their career (Manuel is a psychiatrist) to give readers a fuller and more practical understanding of these principles of Catholic living.

Sprinkled throughout each chapter are reflection questions meant to spark conversation and deeper understanding in spouses, maybe even a life change. Also, at the end of each chapter there are conversation-starter questions (especially helpful if you’re the only spouse reading the book), an action plan (a practical, tangible way to put the lesson of the chapter into action), and a quote from the Catechism.

For me, some of these chapters were great refreshers on things I already knew, but others, like those on finances and child-rearing/domestic life, either gave me the answers I had been searching for but was previously unable to find, or gave me new, enriching insights into this life that I hadn’t considered before. I’m sure most readers will be the same way—not everything in the book will be a revelation, and most of us will have different areas in which we are strong and weak. But this book provides all of the essential information for living a full married life—and a Catholic one, at that—and is a great practical manual for day-to-day living. It fills a void in Catholic marriage preparation, not because Pre-Cana and the like are necessarily lacking, but because you can’t take Pre-Cana with you! Get this book, read and discuss it with your spouse, put it on the shelf in a prominent spot, and pull it out often. Your marriage will benefit immensely.

 

*I received a copy of this book for the purposes of review*

19 Amazing Quotes from the Last Month of St. Therese of Lisieux’s Life

Since St. Therese of Lisieux is a favorite of mine (and is a Doctor of the Church for a reason!), I thought it would be fun to go through some of her quotes from the last month of her life (September 1897). So here are 19 truly baller quotes from the saint’s last month of life on this earth.

Small things with great love
Small things with great love

1. “When we accept our disappointment at our failures, God immediately returns to us.”

Humility level up!

2. “Ah! It’s offered up to God. It no longer matters. Let them think what they want!”

3. “O little Mother, I don’t love one thing more than another; I could not say like our holy Mother St. Teresa: ‘I die because I cannot die.’ What God prefers and chooses for me, that is what pleases me more.”

Detachment was a hallmark of St. Therese’s life and spirituality.

4. “But I don’t want to change, I want to keep abandoning myself entirely to God.”

She was ever-transforming in herself but never failing in her desire for God above all else.

5. “I’m afraid I’ve feared death, but I won’t fear it after it takes place; I’m sure of this! And I’m not sorry for having lived; oh! no. It’s only when I ask myself: What is this mysterious separation of the soul from the body? It’s my first experience of this, but I abandon myself to God.”

There is room for fear and curiosity, but God alone suffices 😉

6. “Should I fear the devil? It seems I should not, for I am doing everything out of obedience.”

No need to fear the Evil One when you are totally consumed by Love!

7. She was unpetalling a rose over her Crucifix, touching each petal to the wounds of Our Lord. “When unpetalling for You the springtime rose, I would love to dry Your tears! Gather up these petals, little sisters, they will help you to perform favors later on…Don’t lose one of them.”

Prophetic much?

8. “Yes, I’m like a tired and harassed traveler, who reaches the end of his journey and falls over. Yes, but I’ll be falling into God’s arms!”

Running so as to win, although I’m sure St. Therese would insist that she could not run if she tried, so she would let God run for her.

9. “Yes! What a grace it is to have faith! If I had not had any faith, I would have committed suicide without an instant’s hesitation…”

She intimately understood the hope that faith instills so personally and entirely.

10. “O Mother, it’s very easy to write beautiful things about suffering, but writing is nothing, nothing! One must suffer in order to know! I really feel now that what I’ve said and written is true about everything….It’s true that I wanted to suffer much for God’s sake, and it’s true that I still desire this.”

-and-

11. “All I wrote about my desires for suffering. Oh! it’s true just the same! And I am not sorry for delivering myself up to Love. Oh! no, I’m not sorry; on the contrary!”

Kinda like when St. Thomas Aquinas said all his writing was like straw.

12. “No, it isn’t frightful [what she was going through]. A little victim of love cannot find frightful what her Spouse sends her through love.”

-and-

13. “When shall I be totally suffocated!…I can’t stand any more! Ah! pray for me! Jesus! Mary!…Yes, I will it, I really will it…”

-and-

14. “Oh it’s pure suffering because there are no consolations! No, not one!”

And we whine when we’re suffering BUT ALSO being consoled!

15. [Last words] Looking at her Crucifix: “Oh! I love Him! My God…I love you!”

16. “You must become gentle; never any harsh words, never a harsh tone; never take on a harsh look, always be gentle.”

Good life advice, awesome parenting advice!

17. “Believe me, don’t wait until tomorrow to begin becoming a saint.”

The time is NOW!

18. “You will call me little Therese.”

-and-

19. “When I am in heaven, you will have to fill my little hands with prayers and sacrifices to give me the pleasure of casting these as a shower of graces upon souls.”

She never wanted to sit still, not even in death; she always wanted to work for the glory of God by pouring out love upon the earth!

All quotes taken from the book St. Therese of Lisieux: Her Last Conversations, translated by John Clark, O.C.D.

 

A version of this post originally appeared at EpicPew

Soul-Changing Sacraments

Recently, I was able to attend the ordination of my brother-in-law to the priesthood, and there, before my eyes, his soul was eternally changed, indelibly marked. I’ve witnessed this phenomenon before—I’ve attended many baptisms and confirmations and Easter Vigils, and I’ve even been to another ordination. I’ve also met many persons who’ve been indelibly marked, as all who are baptized and confirmed are, and I have the immense blessing of knowing many priests. And I am among the indelibly marked! Yet we all look physically, outwardly the same as we did previously. Inwardly, though, we are changed, like the man born blind (cf. John 9: 6-9). Much like the form of bread and wine conceal the greater truth of the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, so our bodies conceal the greater reality of our changed, marked, and claimed souls through the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and, for some, Holy Orders.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains, in paragraph 1121, that these three sacraments, in addition to conferring grace, also confer “a sacramental character or ‘seal’ by which the Christian shares in Christ’s priesthood and is made a member of the Church according to different states and functions. This configuration to Christ and the Church, brought about by the Spirit, is indelible; it remains for ever in the Christian as a positive disposition for grace, a promise and guarantee of divine protection, and as a vocation to divine worship and to the service of the Church.” The indelible mark of these three sacraments is a positive orientation towards God and openness to His grace, that we might love Him, serve Him, and be more like Him. I’ve been baptized and confirmed, and in those sacraments, not only have I been claimed for Christ by this indelible mark—this sacramental grace from the Spirit—but I have also been given an avenue, a calling, a vocation to be more like Christ. These sacraments call me to be Christ in this world, according to my state in life.

What an incredible thing! To be so changed inwardly that it cannot be undone, no matter what. We truly are the Church, the baptized and confirmed, that we have been so changed that not even the gates of hell can change us back—we are eternally for Christ, then, by virtue of these sacraments, and that is a glorious comfort. Surely we can still choose against God, choose sin and evil and Satan, but that cannot undo or revert our souls back from this indelible mark; we are changed forever. It reminds me a lot of something C.S. Lewis said in The Weight of Glory:

It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare….There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.

Fr. Jason blessing Archbishop—photo courtesy of William Williams

At my brother-in-law’s ordination, I encountered a cathedral packed with everlasting splendors, hundreds of people invested in the seven men who were giving their lives over in service to Christ and His Church, hundreds of unordinary people witnessing the eternal changing of these seven men’s souls. It is a glorious feeling to not only witness the conferring of this greatest sacrament of service but to also be among hundreds of other eternal, splendid souls who are doing the same. Surely, this is what heaven is like: a multitude of changed souls, oriented eternally toward the Triune God, worshipping, praising, and participating in Him together. This is exactly what the ordination felt like. Truly, if you’ve never been to an ordination or an Easter Vigil, make it a priority.

It is a wondrous world we live in and a wondrous God we serve and love. He is a wondrous God Who loves us so much to create us in the first place, and even more so to give us the means by which to come to Him even more fully and easily through the sacraments. Carrie Underwood has a song called “Something in the Water,” in which she sings about how baptism changed her, how the Lord has been even more at work in her life since, and how she can depend on Him even more than she could before. She’s talking about the first and most available indelible mark we can receive, this positive orientation toward grace and God. How generous is our God to give us, as Catholics, two more ways to be indelibly marked, two more ways to be even more closely configured to Him and more deeply opened up to the power of the Holy Spirit! We are the few, the proud, the eternally changed, the indelibly marked—let our lives be shining examples of this in the world, of Him in the world. People can’t tell just by looking at us that we’re any different than they are, but our words, deeds, and joy set us apart; they open up the changed nature of our souls to share with others. This is the call of baptism, of confirmation, and of the priesthood: to be lights of Christ to others as we are more closely configured to and united with Him.

The Inescapable Lover

The other day, after I got out of the shower, I wrapped myself up in my bathrobe, as I often do, and I felt God. I felt God in my bathrobe. In my bathrobe. For whatever reason, that day, God decided to show Himself to me through the cozy embrace of my bathrobe—it felt like the warm and comfortable embrace of a lover. And it got me thinking about two things: 1) God present in the everyday things we often take for granted or overlook, and 2) God as lover.

Seeing God in the everyday items isn’t really that much of a stretch. It’s easy to see Him in the sunshine and the rain, in nature, in the food we eat, in the faces of the people around us. But I’m talking about taking it a step further. Not just seeing God in these things and all things but realizing that He is in them, holding their existence together. I’m talking about feeling God in my bathrobe, recognizing that He holds its existence in place with His very Being. The last Ignatian Spiritual Exercise is the Contemplatio, in which you meditate on God’s existence in absolutely everything and everything’s complete dependence upon God for existence. Whether we see Him in things or not, whether we feel Him or not, whether we believe or not, all the things of this world, and we ourselves, are completely dependent upon God for existence; if He were to withdraw Himself, things would just cease to exist, they just couldn’t be.

In this way, not only could I feel God in the embrace of my bathrobe, but I could rightly conclude that God Himself was embracing me through the physicality of that bathrobe. It’s an interesting thought, understanding that God is giving Himself for me to sit on in the form of this chair, that He covers me through the clothes I am wearing, that my skin that itches, itches precisely because He is making its existence possible.

Of course, God’s presence in my bathrobe or my chair or whatnot is different from His presence in the Eucharist. He’s not present Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in any of these created things like He is in the Eucharist. That’s why the Eucharist is necessary and so incredibly good—because He’s already present in everything but deemed it good to be completely present to us in His full humanity and divinity, and so He gifted us with the Eucharist. What an amazing God that holds our entire existence together with His very being and then gives of Himself totally in another profoundly glorious way. He is such a Lover.

Open Your Hearts

It’s easy, for me at least, to relate to God as Father, God as Brother, and God as Friend. But it’s not so easy for me to relate to Him as Lover. It’s easy to see God’s Providence as He cares for me throughout the circumstances of life, it’s easy to see God’s companionship on the road of life. But it’s more difficult to see Him as totally giving Himself and asking for the same in return, to see Him loving as one who wishes to be fully, completely, irrevocably, profoundly, and eternally united to His beloved. And yet that’s what the Eucharist demonstrates and what Him upholding the existence of the entirety of creation with His being implies.

We hear a lot about God as a jealous lover or a relentless lover, or about all of His qualities as lover (check out Song of Songs!), but what do those things really mean? What does it look like? Well, it looks a lot like the saints and it reeks of holiness. That’s all holiness and sainthood is—being fully, completely, irrevocably, profoundly, and eternally united to the Beloved. It looks a lot like prayer and sacraments, like seeing God in the creation around you, being brought closer to Him through everything we see and hear (maybe even through some secular songs), being thankful for every moment of this life. It looks a lot like feeling God embracing me through my bathrobe.

Mary, Mercy, and Me

I used to be jealous of Mary.

Not because she has the fullness of grace and I don’t. Not because she has the immense privilege of knowing Jesus in His human form, living while He lived. Not because she is closer to God than anyone ever. Not because she has the perfection of virtue.

I was jealous of Mary because she only had to be separated from her loved one, Jesus, for three days.

My mother died extremely unexpectedly when I was 22, and even if I only live to be as old as my mother was when she died (58), that’s still 36 years I will live without her. Mary only had to wait three days for the Resurrection! For the complete fulfillment of promises and the assurance of salvation and unity! I have to wait years.

My mother never was able to meet my husband, as he and I didn’t meet until she had been gone for three years. She will never know her grandchildren. I’m sure there’s a host of other things about me and my life that my mother will never know or experience. And that wounds me. Yet there was not one thing that Mary did or experienced that Jesus was not present for. It’s just not fair.

Seven Sorrows

Ironically, I had always had a great devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows; I always felt close to her sorrowing heart, understood by her, and held closely to her heart. So after my mother died, I did the only thing I really knew how to do—I ran into the arms of Our Lady. At first, though, my relationship with her was strained as I began to question, “What do you know of sorrows? You who only had to sorrow for a little while until her tears were turned into joy? I do not have the fullness of grace and yet I am being asked to carry a load longer than you had to! I am being asked to sorrow in a way that you have no experience in!”

While I felt betrayed in this, I didn’t at the time realize that I had already unlocked the mystery through my questions. I had all the answers I needed if only I would look more closely.

Mary has the fullness of grace. Far from making any sorrows or burdens easier to bear, it makes them more weighty because she has the gifts to understand these trials more deeply and feel them more heavily upon her heart and soul. Where I only catch glimpses, she sees fully. In this way, the three days she was separated from Jesus may have felt like 30! Or even longer. And so, my relationship with Mary began to mend as she asked to once again hold me close to her Sorrowful Heart and I allowed her to.

As it is the Year of Mercy, I have started to read more about God’s mercy, try to understand it better, try to live in it more deeply. I realize now that perhaps being asked to be separated from my mother for a longer period of (earthly) time is a mercy, too. Perhaps it is a mercy to be given the time to grow in virtue and understanding, since I am not imbued with the fullness of grace from birth, instead of having to shoulder the burden of total understanding from the get-go. Mercy is a funny thing; it is both love and justice—justice in what we are due and justice in what we owe. Mercy, in my case, means the Lord gives me glimpses and deepens those glimpses as I go until I am prepared to receive the fullness of understanding and grace (in heaven), rather than letting loose the shock of the fullness upon me when I will not be able to receive or bear it. But it will take me longer. Though the path may look dark, crooked, and sometimes as though it travels in the completely wrong direction, God knows the way that will bring me to the fullness of grace and understanding (and He knows the way that will bring you there, too).

I’m not jealous of Mary anymore. I’m not relieved either, though. Sorrowing and suffering are an intimate part of the Catholic Christian life, and we are only exempt if we do not wish to be united with Christ (which would, in itself, bring eternal suffering—how poetically ironic). But I once again take solace in the Sorrowful Heart of Mary, as I finally understand that she does know exactly what I bear, what I go through, what I long for—and she knows it even better than I do. The years of absence may be long, but eternity is infinite.

Lessons from a Lent Past

Being in the thick of Lent, I’ve been reflecting on Lents past and how differently I approach Lent now. Lent the year I was sixteen immediately came to mind—it was the first one I approached with any type of maturity. So I offer this recollection as a hopeful reminder that life gets better and that even when powerless in addiction, even when no one understands, God truly has the power to heal.

Sixteen, what a year—many big things happened in my life, among them that I received the Sacrament of Confirmation, I was completely addicted to masturbation, and I found out that masturbation is a mortal sin. There were many life-altering events that year, but nothing was more shattering than already struggling in the undercurrent of addiction and then being crushed by a tidal wave saying I was going to hell for something I no longer had any control over. I could not let that happen. I would not go to hell. So without any resources or support or know-how, I did the only thing I could think of: I gave up masturbation for Lent.

Previously my Lenten sacrifices consisted of giving up different candies or cracking my knuckles or other such things appropriate to younger ages, but that Lent was different, that Lent I was not giving up something I loved but something I knew was holding me back from Love (and, coincidentally, love). That Lent I was scared, unsure, but determined. I also decided to begin reading the Bible from start to finish (and this has sparked my now typical Lenten routine—give something up and add a spiritual practice).

That was all well and good until my parish priest said from the pulpit that we should be in Lent together as families, that all family members should share what they are giving up or doing for Lent to keep accountable or to choose something we could all do as a family. I almost broke out into a cold sweat in my pew. My parents knew of my addiction to masturbation as “my problem” and I was not in the habit of telling them about the depth of my problem. I wanted to keep this Lent under wraps. But while I was wolfing down my omelet and cheese danish at breakfast, my mom looked at me and asked what I was doing for Lent. I scrambled and came up with giving up cracking my knuckles, swearing, and snacking between meals, to my mom’s disappointed but consenting, “Okay.” I was off the hook.

Until I went for a cookie a few hours later. Until I cracked my knuckles while helping prepare dinner. Until I cursed when I found more homework due the next day that I had forgotten about. Then I realized that this Lent was truly going to be different than any other Lent.

I quit my addiction to masturbation cold turkey and was keeping it a secret and then, as a show for my mom, I was breaking the habit of cracking my knuckles, watching my mouth (which admittedly was a very good thing), and was skipping snacks while at home (although what happened at school stayed at school). Truth be told, I remember next to nothing about those forty days. All I remember was feeling stressed, pressured, and generally out of my mind. But whatever happened that Lent, I did not break, I did not fall, and I did not give up. I did not realize until that Lent that I could be strong.

I fell back into my addiction after that Lent, but what I did gain was a thirst for truth, understanding, and healing. A thirst I have not lost today. A thirst that drives me closer to God every day. And I’m not afraid of my own weaknesses and limitations anymore because I am in love with a God who has none. When I was sixteen, I found that I was made for more than what I had been allowing myself to live in, and I wanted more life. Holiness is pure, true life. That’s what I wanted when I was sixteen and fought my addiction for the first time, and that’s what I want now. May this Lent purge us of whatever death we have been living in and open us to true life.

 

A version of this post originally appeared on my now defunct personal blog, The Fetal Theologian

Learning About Self-Donation at the Gym

I was reflecting on my first month of the new year and my resolution/theme of “stronger.” I’ve been going to the gym a lot this month and can see so much physical change in my body, along with emotional and mental change and discipline. But as I was reflecting on all this, my thoughts turned to a young woman I met in a class at the gym. She is 17 weeks pregnant with her third child and is in much better shape than I am; in fact, she barely looks pregnant—she makes me look pregnant! Of course, this sparked conversation among the other young mothers in the class about how she does it, as well as how far some of us still have to go in losing the baby weight and regaining our bodies. This young mother told us that she and her husband always plan a trip 12 weeks out after having a baby to a tropical location so that she has motivation to work out (a.k.a. look good in a swimsuit), that she gets back to the gym as soon as possible after giving birth, and that she doesn’t breastfeed her children because it prevents her from losing weight. She is definitely a very type-A person! But much of what she was saying just didn’t sit well with me. I thought, What am I missing? What do I not understand? The more I thought about why this woman’s statements bothered me, the more one word came up: self-donation.

Now, I am in no way judging this woman as I don’t even know her name, let alone her true motivations or the depths of her heart, but the way she presented herself sparked these revelations within me, and God was certainly using her to do this work in me. That being said, the way this woman presented herself to me seemed to lack an understanding of the beauty of giving up your body for another, the beauty that is using your body for the good of another, and seemed to view pregnancy as an inconvenience and nothing more (although she spoke very beautifully of the babies she has been given, so this is good!). Yes, pregnancy is certainly a physical inconvenience, and using your body for the good of one so tiny instead of getting it back in peak physical condition as soon as possible is also an inconvenience. But this is the way of Christ—a total giving of self for the good of others.

I give myself to my children in so many small ways (and deny myself to them in many of the same instances)—sharing my bed and not getting enough sleep, staying home from the gym because they are sick. In carrying them within me during pregnancy and in trying, ever desperately trying, to breastfeed them. In playing with them or listening to their stories or worries when what I really need is a little quiet time. In making their food and feeding them before I even think of feeding myself. In not worrying what my body looks like as long as it can function to give (while remaining healthy, always shooting for some semblance of balance).

And in what I give up in my body, I gain so much more. I gain children who run to me and embrace me and enthusiastically call me their queen and their love! Children who want to share everything with me because they know that I care for every ounce of their existence. I gain children who want me to run with them and take them on walks and who wrestle with me and get into tickle fights with me. My body may not be back to top physical form and I may never look “good” in a swimsuit, but I have found a new discipline in it, the discipline of knowing how to give up myself, how to turn myself over, how to truly love with every fiber of my body. My desire to get in better shape should not come at the expense of serving my family; rather, it should be directed toward helping me serve them better, and ultimately that means it might not happen in exactly the way I’d like.

I think of that young mother, and I pray for her. Not because I think she is in a desperate way; I pray instead that she already knows this deeper beauty and that she goes even deeper. My prayer for myself is the same. And really, I’m not at all a type-A personality, so maybe I truly just don’t have any idea of how her interior life even begins to go! It matters not; all that matters is that this lady was an avenue of grace for me. When I look upon the Crucifix, I realize that it was not just on the Cross that Christ gave Himself for us in totality, but that He did it throughout His life in every small and big way possible. That is true self-donation: giving all of oneself in every moment of living and in the totality of death. This is my prayer and my plea, to be more like Him, to give more like Him, to love more like Him, to die more like Him.

Keep Your Eyes on These Fantastic Four

There are many amazing saints, and many amazing blessed and venerables and servants of God—so many that lots are often overlooked. Here are my picks for some faithful departed you might start hearing more and more about sooner rather than later.

Blessed Chiara Luce Badano

October 29, 1971–October 7, 1990, beatified September 25, 2010, feast day October 29

Why she’s cool: She died just before her 19th birthday after a two-year battle with one of the most painful bone cancers and offered it all for others. She even refused morphine to dull the pain because she wanted to remain lucid and united with Christ on the cross. She was a normal teenager who loved sports, hanging out with friends, and even had a crush on a boy. She proves that extraordinary grace is for everyone. Chiara asked to be buried in a wedding dress because she was going to meet her Love, Jesus. Learn more about her at http://www.chiaraluce.org/

Notable Quote: “For You, Jesus…If You want it, I want it, too.” bl. chiara luce badano

Venerable Solanus Casey

November 25, 1870–July 31, 1957, declared venerable in 1995

Why he’s cool: He was the first U.S.–born man to be declared venerable! He wasn’t a very good student, so he served primarily as a porter, aka receptionist and doorkeeper, and was not granted the full priestly faculties of public preaching or hearing confessions. He was known as a great intercessor and for his healing ministry. He died in Detroit of a skin disease. You can learn more about him here: http://www.solanuscenter.org/portal.php

Notable Quote: “Do not pray for easy lives; pray to be stronger people. Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers; pray for powers equal to your tasks.”ven. solanus casey

Chiara Corbella Petrillo

1984–June 13, 2012

Why she’s cool: An even more modern St. Gianna Molla, Chiara chose life for her first two children, who were both prenatally diagnosed with life-threatening complications, and both died shortly after being born. When pregnant a third time, she developed a malignant tumor and refused both to abort and to receive treatment until the baby was born. After Francesco was born, the tumor became terminal, causing her to lose sight in her right eye and confining her to a wheelchair. When children would ask about her eye patch, she was known to tell them that she was a pirate. Chiara was a witness to joy in the face of adversity, of love that overflows despite sorrow from loss. Read more about her at http://www.chiaracorbellapetrillo.it/en/

Notable Quote: When asked by her husband Enrico if this yoke, this cross, is really sweet as Jesus said, she answered, “Yes, Enrico, it is very sweet.” chiara corbella petrillo

Paul Coakley

February 9, 1980–January 20, 2015

Why he’s cool: Paul died from an extremely aggressive testicular cancer less than a year ago, leaving behind his wife Annie, three kids, and one on the way–but his endurance to live and his readiness to die were not only how he lived his final month, but his entire life. He attended the Franciscan University of Steubenville, and legends of his deep faith and crazy antics far outlived his time there—everything he did (even road trips and jumping off of cliffs) was for love and in love of Christ. He and his wife Annie spent the first two years of their marriage driving a big rig to pay off college loans. Paul’s life exemplified the statement by St. Iranaeus that “The glory of God is man fully alive.” More about his intense life of love can be read at www.livelikepaul.com

Notable Quote: “I am third—Jesus, Others, Me.” paul coakley

Who other of the faithful departed do you think we should keep our eyes on?

 

This article originally appeared at EpicPew

Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger

resolutions
Become STRONGER

New year, new you!—a motto that makes me want to vomit. What’s so great about a new me if I couldn’t even love the old me? And thinking that I’d have to create a new me every year just makes my anxiety flare. Lose that weight, make that money, achieve that goal, by all means! But all of these things should be done because we love ourselves (and God and those around us), not because we loathe looking in the mirror or think we are failures for not having a ton of disposable income. When we can set goals or resolutions that draw us out of our weaknesses and into lives lived more fully, for ourselves and others, then we have set good, solid resolutions. So, instead of a traditional resolution, this year I have decided on a theme: be stronger. I want to be stronger physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. (NOTE: Change is essential and necessary and we will all become new creations, but not in the way that New Years resolutions tend to lead us to believe. The great Simcha Fisher wrote a really poignant article on this metamorphosis we shall all go through.)

To be stronger physically—This doesn’t only mean losing weight, but, I think more importantly, it means building my stamina again, helping my lungs grow strong to deal with my asthma, toning my arms, legs, and abs, and eating foods that I enjoy and that will also nourish my body. I’m achieving this by learning more about proper nutrition for myself and taking at least one class a day at my local YMCA (I’m taking a mix of classes to keep things interesting, including Zumba, Insanity, Body Combat, and an abs class). This will make me strong enough to keep up with my kids, hopefully not be in pain most of the time, and to start treating my body like the temple it is. The body is an important aspect of our beings and taking care of it helps to give us the discipline necessary in other aspects of our lives. Here is more about the importance of the body.

To be stronger mentally—For me, this will consist mostly of reading more books, and on more varied topics. I am determined to finally finish the Lord of the Rings trilogy this year and also, hopefully, The Silmarillion! There are also some various books on American history on my list. I’ve also subscribed to Lumosity to have a few simple games a day to stretch and train my brain in other ways. This is important because the mind, the intellect, is a gift to guide us in the right direction to God, to rule over our passions, and to order those passions correctly. A strong intellect will not only order the passions but also help to keep the will in check, especially in situations where the will might become weakened.

To be stronger emotionally—I keep it no secret that I struggle with depression and anxiety (which also cross over into the mental category), but getting help for these conditions is not the only way I want to grow stronger emotionally. Learning to rule my emotions instead of allowing them to rule me—especially anger/frustration and especially with my children—is actually at the top of my list. Those little moments throughout the day when I think ill of someone else, when I practice disgust instead of understanding, when I cannot or will not remain calm and at peace. These smaller, everyday moments are the most telling sign of someone’s emotional state, and I want mine to be in much better shape. I’m tired of feeling out of control and all over the place. This will be an exercise of the will, learning to not let myself be ruled by emotions and to stand firm in truth and righteousness even when my emotions are raging.

To be stronger spiritually—This is the most important one, the one that will ground and make possible all the others. So first things first, get my prayer life in order. Some of the changes I’m making are simple, like kneeling beside my bed for prayers in the evening. Others are old habits being resurrected, like praying Liturgy of the Hours. Next, I’m making Confession a much bigger priority than it used to be for me and going to receive the sacrament at least once a month. Getting a spiritual director is also in order. Here are a bunch of other Catholic, spiritual resolutions to get your noodle going with ideas. “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). If I trust in Him, if I turn over all my weak areas (the physical ones, too!), and make myself a complete offering to Him, He will give me His own strength and not just help me achieve strength but to be strength for others- I will be a vehicle of love and Truth to all that I encounter in every aspect of my life because He will radiate through me. This is the real purpose of becoming strong spiritually- knowing and loving God and then being His light to others.

Maybe your theme for this year is different; maybe it’s something like “die to self more” and that makes the actions of these same categories look different than how they look for me. That’s good! Becoming stronger in these ways will not only make me a better person, it will also give me the tools I need to achieve some long-sought goals and will also make me depend more on God, the ultimate source of strength. What is your theme for the year? What is God calling you to focus on? How will you set about to achieve that?

The Best Lie You Could Ever Tell

My first Confirmation class (quite some years ago now) ended with an enticing cliffhanger: “Next week, I’ll teach you how to lie,” our teacher told us. The next week, we all waited eagerly around the circular table. “Repeat after me,” he finally said. “It could never happen to me.”

It could never happen to me.

In actuality, anything could happen to any one of us at any time, and to think otherwise or fail to prepare ourselves is folly. Any one of us could be involved in a car accident, sustain life-threatening injuries, be diagnosed with cancer, lose our jobs to a more qualified candidate, or lose our homes to natural disasters, or any number of other situations and occurrences. We hear stories of such things happening to others all the time but are sometimes hard-pressed to believe the reality that it could just as easily be us as anyone else.

Once we begin to see through the lie, many fall into one of two problematic categories: those who live in fear and prepare, in extreme, for any and every disaster situation possible, bracing themselves for the worst at every moment, and those who also live in fear and try to prevent anything—even good things—from happening to anyone. Just in case. This is still a lie—the lie that we can avoid suffering. It is easy to fall into either deception, especially at this time when we face looming global threats and many tragic shootings on American soil. However we proceed as a nation, we must keep in mind that we will never be able to legislate evil away, but we may be able to help keep it from rearing its ugly head so often.

memento moriOne thing is certain: in one form or another, suffering will come to us. It is, then, in how we respond to it that matters. Will we respond in fear, or in love and virtue? When death befalls each of us (because no one is exempt), will you cower in fear or open your arms?

Frater, memento mori—brother, remember your death. This may seem ill-fitting for this time of year, this time of joy when Christ is born. But Jesus was born to die, to die to save us. Not even God Himself was exempt from suffering or death. Brother, remember your death—remember that this life is temporary and that you will pass from the temporal to the eternal. “Be not afraid,” Jesus tells us time and again, not of persecution or suffering or death—perfect love, God’s perfect love, casts out all fear. Brother, remember your death—a life well-lived with faith, hope, and love and in service to God and others surely has nothing to fear of the eternal, because that soul is already embracing the eternal while journeying on earth.

Mary and alert Baby JesusDo not let yourselves be deceived by the ignorance or fear of suffering and death—they have no prejudice—but, instead, prepare yourselves properly. Pray, frequent the sacraments, serve those around you. Live each day with an eye on the eternal and you will not be deceived nor have anything to fear. Outfit yourselves with the armor of God and you will be impenetrable against the whims of the world. Live life in imitation of Christ, from the cradle to the cross.

As we prepare to welcome the Christ child this Christmas, as we contemplate the mystery and joy of the Incarnation, let us look upon the face of the baby Jesus as Mary did—with love and devotion, knowing that He would grow up to die. Frater, memento mori. Merry Christmas.