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The Lily of the Mohawks: St. Kateri Takewitha’s Journey

I am not my own; I have given myself to Jesus. He must be my only love.

St. Kateri Tekawitha

I remember learning about St. Kateri Tekawitha in Catholic Elementary school. She was canonized in 2012, so while she was still Bl. Kateri Tekawitha, I learned about her during all-school Masses. Fr. Patti would tell her story during his homilies. I listened as he told us about how she became Catholic and journeyed by herself to find a faith community. St. Kateri’s story stuck with me and inspired me throughout my own journey with Jesus.

The Lily of the Mohawks

Kateri’s Conversion
Kateri was the daughter of a Mohawk chief and an Algonquian woman. Kateri’s mother taught her the faith while she was young. She learned to pray at a young age and would often say the Hail Mary. When she was four years old, she and her family contracted smallpox. While the disease took her parents and siblings, Kateri recovered, but with scars all over her face. Because of this, Kateri was often teased, so she would hide her face with blankets.

After her parents died, Kateri’s uncle became the new cheif and raised her. When she was 19, a Jesuit missionary named Fr. Jacques de Lamberville baptized her. She also took a vow of chastity out of her love for Jesus. While her uncle would try to arrange marriages for her, she turned every one down. Eventually, her uncle gave up trying to marry Kateri off and understood that she desired to dedicate her virginity to Jesus.

Pursuing Holiness
Kateri was very much alienated for her conversion. The other members of the Mohawk tribe harassed her and ridiculed her for her faith. She bravely left her home to seek a faith community. Traveling by herself, Kateri journeyed to Montreal to live with a community of Christian Indigenous Americans.

For the rest of her life, Kateri prayed ceaselessly. She fasted constantly, and when she did eat, she would taint her food to decrease its flavor. She also practiced self-mortifications as she put thorns in her bed, and according to some accounts, she sometimes burned herself. Kateri openly embraced suffering. She detached herself from the world and united her suffering to Jesus. “I will willingly abandon this miserable body to hunger and suffering,” she said, “provided that my soul have its ordinary nourishment.” Kateri became ill and passed away in 1680 when she was only twenty-four.

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Faith Amidst Hardships
St. Kateri Tekawitha is the first Native American to be canonized a Saint, and rightfully so. She’s lovingly called the Lily of the Mohawks for her purity and piety. She inspires us to live our faith fearlessly amidst harassment from others and suffering. As a shining example of devotion to following Christ, she dedicated all of her being to him in the final five years of her life.

St. Kateri was so steadfast that she left her home and everyone she knew for a faith community who would grow closer to Jesus with her. Knowing that she shouldn’t be alone in her walk with the Lord, she surrounded herself with holy people who supported her in her faith journey. When I reflect on this facet of St. Kateri’s life, I’m reminded of my own faith community in college. While I felt like a fish out of water living my faith on campus, I found solace in the Newman Center and all of my friends there. St. Kateri’s fasting and mortifications were a sign of her piety. She consciously and happily chose to take up her cross daily. I pray that we might be as strong in our own faith journey and constantly seek Jesus like St. Kateri. May we stop at nothing to pursue him and forsake comfort for suffering to grow closer to him.

St. Kateri Tekawitha, pray for us.

~Stay radiant!

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This Sunday’s Gospel: July 12, 2020

Matthew 13:1-23

On that day, Jesus went out of the house and sat down by the sea.
Such large crowds gathered around him
that he got into a boat and sat down,
and the whole crowd stood along the shore.
And he spoke to them at length in parables, saying:
“A sower went out to sow.
And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path,
and birds came and ate it up.
Some fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil.
It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep,
and when the sun rose it was scorched,
and it withered for lack of roots.
Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it.
But some seed fell on rich soil, and produced fruit,
a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.
Whoever has ears ought to hear.”

The disciples approached him and said,
“Why do you speak to them in parables?”
He said to them in reply,
“Because knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven
has been granted to you, but to them it has not been granted.
To anyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich;
from anyone who has not, even what he has will be taken away.
This is why I speak to them in parables, because
they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand.
Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in them, which says:
You shall indeed hear but not understand,
you shall indeed look but never see.
Gross is the heart of this people,
they will hardly hear with their ears,
they have closed their eyes,
lest they see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their hearts and be converted,
and I heal them.

“But blessed are your eyes, because they see,
and your ears, because they hear.
Amen, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people
longed to see what you see but did not see it,
and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.

“Hear then the parable of the sower.
The seed sown on the path is the one
who hears the word of the kingdom without understanding it,
and the evil one comes and steals away
what was sown in his heart.
The seed sown on rocky ground
is the one who hears the word and receives it at once with joy.
But he has no root and lasts only for a time.
When some tribulation or persecution comes because of the word,
he immediately falls away.
The seed sown among thorns is the one who hears the word,
but then worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word
and it bears no fruit.
But the seed sown on rich soil
is the one who hears the word and understands it,
who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.”

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The Parable of the Sower and the Seed is one that we’ve heard numerous times. But the question is, do we understand it? Out of all the Parables, this is the one we should understand the most because it’s the only Parable that Jesus himself explained in the Gospels. Those who understand Jesus’ parables and teachings are blessed. He says that if he grants us knowledge, more will be given to us. However, people who don’t understand have a disadvantage. Understanding and knowledge are gifts of the Holy Spirit, and if we have them, then he expects us to use them for the glory of God. Because we know Jesus and understand his teachings, we can and should help those who don’t. While this can look like giving talks and having Bible Studies, we can teach in other ways. We can start by having conversations and asking questions. Once you’ve built a relationship with someone, they’ll trust you and know that you care, which gives you the freedom to reveal Jesus to them. Over time, we’ll see rocky soil become good soil and thorns clipped away in the hearts of our loved ones and disciples. If God is the sower, we can be his laborers and harvest souls for him. Because much has been given to us, he expects us to give much of ourselves to others.

~Stay radiant!

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8 Awesome Things to Write in a Prayer Journal

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

You’re shopping and you find a beautiful notebook. You pick it up to check it out, and the cover has a cute design and a nice texture. You love how the pages feel as you flip through them, and it has the rule you like! The price is right, so you decide that this is your new prayer journal! You buy the notebook, and now comes the hard part, deciding how to use it. I started prayer journaling in college when I got a new notebook for Christmas. Now I’m probably on my fourth prayer journal, and I love to try new ways of using them.

8 Awesome Things to Write in a Prayer Journal

1 Letters to God
When I went on my mission trip to Nicaragua, everyone on the team received small moleskin journals with the patron Saints of Nicaragua painted on them. I used mine to journal about what we did every day on mission and to write my prayers during Adoration every night. I found myself writing “letters to God.” I’d address them to my Heavenly Father and share what was on my heart with him. In simple prose, I’d offer my praises and intentions to him every evening. This correspondence strengthened my relationship with God and helped me feel his presence in Adoration.

2 Praises and Gratitude
It’s so important to thank God for what he blessed us with and for the prayers that he answered. Practicing gratitude will make you a more grateful person as you’ll be able to recognize God working in your life and the good things that he entrusts to you. Make gratitude lists in your prayer journal and list the things in your life that you’re thankful for. Write down prayers God has answered with what you wanted or with something better. Our Heavenly Father is never outdone in generosity, and practicing gratitude helps us remember this.

3 Prayer Intentions and Intercessory Prayers
I wrote a previous blog post about several ways to practice intercessory prayer. If you have a prayer journal, you can use it to write down and refer to specific prayer intentions. In addition to your own intentions, when someone else asks you to pray for them, you can write down their intentions to remind you to pray for them. Then you can flip through your journal and pray for those intentions by name during your time in prayer.

4 Bible Verses and Saint Quotes
If you come across a Bible verse or a Saint quote that you want to remember, you can write it down in your prayer journal. A prayer journal is good place to keep Bible verses and Saint quotes that resonate with you. They can give you something to meditate on during your time in prayer and you can keep your favorite verses and quotes all in one place. The Lord can speak to us through Scripture and his Saints, so hold on to the words that touch your heart.

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5 Bible Study or Conference Notes
You can write down notes from the Bible Studies you attend in your prayer journal. When you attend Catholic conferences, it’s always a good idea to take notes. Write notes while you’re listening to talks at a conference so you can remember the points that a speaker discusses. I took so many notes when I went to SEEK 2019 and SLS 2020, and I’ll keep them forever. Keeping these notes in your prayer journal will be helpful when you want to look back on what you learned in Bible Study or at a conference. You can also take your notes into your time in prayer to thank the Lord for what you’ve learned and to ask him how to use and grow from this knowledge.

6 What you hear during Lectio Divina
Lectio Divina is a prayer form that involves reading scripture, meditating on it, and allowing God to speak to you through his word. As you pray Lectio Divina, you can write in your prayer journal what the Lord is telling you. Write what words and phrases stand out to you as you read, and then write down what God revealed to you through meditating on the passage. If you’ve never prayed Lectio Divina before, check out What is Lectio Divina? for an in-depth description and tutorial!

7 Prayers you want to remember
We take notes in school and write down plans in a planner because people generally remember things better when they write them down. If you just learned a prayer and you want to remember or memorize it, you can copy it into your prayer journal. There are some prayers that are just a little difficult to remember. For example, if you’re new to the rosary, it might take a while to memorize the Hail Holy Queen. Writing prayers like these in your prayer journal will help you remember them and give you a place to keep them.

8 Track your faith goals
Do you want to pray a rosary every day this month? Are you starting a novena or making your Marian Consecration? You can track these faith goals in your prayer journal to keep yourself accountable! Write down the novena prayer that you’re praying, write down the dates of the nine consecutive days, and check those dates off as you complete them. If you’re praying a rosary every day for a month, you can do something like I did in October. Number a list from one to thirty-one, and on each line, write an intention. This way, you not only have a way to track your daily rosary, but thirty-one intentions to motivate you to pray!

Which of these prayer journal prompts are you excited to try? Let me know in the comments below, and share this post with a friend who loves to prayer journal!

~Stay radiant!

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A Model of Forgiveness: St. Maria Goretti’s Story

But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

Matthew 5:44

St. Maria Goretti is easily one of the most beloved Saints of our times. At just 11 years old, she wasn’t “too young” to be a Saint, setting an example for all of us to stay strong in our faith. If you know her story, you probably look up to her for her purity or chastity. While she expresses these virtues beautifully, I also admire her for her forgiveness. At the most difficult time in her life, she forgave someone who was seemingly impossible to forgive

Maria’s Life and Death
St. Maria Goretti lived near the end of the 19th century. She was a poor Italian girl whose faith was incredibly strong for her age. She lived in poverty and never received an education, but her trust in God was profound. She always had faith that God would provide for her, and she always followed his will.

When Maria was eleven, a boy named Alessandro Serenelli tried to rape her. She bravely fought back and exclaimed “God does not wish it!” Outraged, Alessandro stabbed Maria several times. She died about a day later, but before she passed away, she expressed her forgiveness towards Alessandro. Not only did she forgive him for assaulting and attacking her, but she hoped that he would repent and be in Heaven with her someday. “I want him with me in Heaven forever!” she said.

Alessandro’s Conversion
Alessandro was sentenced to 30 years in prison. While he was there, Maria appeared to him in a dream, which was the catalyst for his conversion. When he was released from prison, he implored Maria’s mother to forgive him, and they attended Mass together. Eventually, Alessandro joined the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin, and when Maria Goretti was canonized in 1950, he was present at the ceremony.

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Forgiving Our Enemies
Jesus tells us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Especially during the final moments of her life, St. Maria Goretti took this teaching to heart. How many times have we failed to forgive others? Sometimes because of the hardness of our hearts or the severity of the offense, forgiving can seem impossible. A year or two ago, someone hurt me so badly and I couldn’t get over it. I would be reminded of him and how he broke me, and I’d fall into despair, dwelling on pain that haunted me. Recently, I learned to look to St. Maria Goretti. In my brokenness, I’d pray “help me to forgive him for doing this to me,” and at least in my heart, I was able to reconcile with him. With her help, I was able to forgive him and I found peace.

It might seem trivial, but when we forgive others, we’re able to witness to them and help them encounter Jesus. Like Maria Goretti and Alessandro Serenelli, Our forgiveness can lead to radical conversions and changes of heart. My prayer is that we can soften our hearts towards those who hurt us and genuinely wish their good. No matter what someone does to hurt me, I would rather them be in Heaven than in Hell, and our actions can help them be with our Heavenly Father forever.

~Stay radiant!

Check out this FREE printable with a prayer to St. Maria Goretti!

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This Sunday’s Gospel: July 5, 2020

Mathew 11:25-30

At that time Jesus exclaimed:
“I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth,
for although you have hidden these things
from the wise and the learned
you have revealed them to little ones.
Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will.
All things have been handed over to me by my Father.
No one knows the Son except the Father,
and no one knows the Father except the Son
and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.”

“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
for I am meek and humble of heart;
and you will find rest for yourselves.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

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In This Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus promises to give us rest. When we’re tired, overwhelmed, scared, or upset, he’s there and we can gladly rest in him. Interestingly, in the very next sentence, he asks us to take his yoke upon us. That doesn’t sound like rest to me. In fact, it sounds like more work. By taking up Jesus’ yoke, we have to get close to him. We depend on him and become like him, which is what he wants for us. Before you have second thoughts, remember that Jesus’ yoke is easier and lighter than any yoke that the world can give. Although our lives won’t be perfect when we’re yoked to Jesus, he’ll literally be right beside us. We’ll still struggle from time to time, but everything we endure will be lighter and more bearable when we allow Jesus to share our load.

~Stay radiant!

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God Bless America

There is a famine in America. Not a famine of food, but of love, truth, and life.

St. Teresa of Calcutta

Tomorrow is the 4th of July, which entails a day of cookouts, yard games, fireworks, and family fun to celebrate America’s independence. We often hear the cliches that America is the best country in the world. Although that’s not entirely true, those of us who are proud to be an American will defend it tooth and nail.

The United States isn’t perfect. For every good thing that I can say about our nation, somebody will come back and say something negative. While America has come so far in its 240-some years of existence, I can’t deny that we still have a long way to go. I see our nation, still young compared to others, constantly growing. Despite our shortcomings, we’re still fighting to make ourselves the best nation we can be.

God Bless America

While the United States doesn’t have everything, it does have some great things. I’m thankful that I have clean water to drink and to shower in, and that my family and I never had to go to bed hungry. I’m thankful that I have clothes to wear, a home to go to, and a bed to sleep in. I’m thankful that I have a college education. I’m thankful that I can vote, drive a car, and speak my mind.

I know what you’re thinking, “Not everyone has access to all of these opportunities in the United States!” This is true, and this is heartbreaking. While everyone technically can have a house, an education, and more in the United States, not everyone is privileged enough to do so, which disappoints me. This is why we need to fix systems that put others at a disadvantage or leave others out altogether. Until then, it’s so important for us as everyday citizens share our wealth and change our hearts. When much has been given to us, the Lord expects us to give much to others. We set aside money to donate. We give of our time and volunteer. We use our voice to advocate and speak up whenever we see inequalities and injustices. We need to take a hard look at ourselves to see what conscious hatred or subconscious biases we hold. Once we recognize those, we need to mold our hearts to become more inclusive and loving. We follow the corporal and spiritual works of mercy to give our brothers and sisters in Christ a better quality of life and to remind them that they’re loved.

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Imagine how different America would look if we all resembled Jesus Christ a little more. Our country would change for the better significantly if we were all more generous and merciful towards our neighbors. Think of what the United States would be like if we treated everyone we met as if they were Jesus. While “separation of Church and State” is a big deal for some people, I ask that you consider this. Instead of immediately rejecting Jesus in public or political settings, if we embraced him and his teachings a little more, our country would grow in virtue, we would improve our morals, and the United States would be a better place for everyone. I don’t mean saying “Jesus likes this!” or “Jesus thinks this is bad!” but emulating him and his Gospel that the Father loves all of his children, and there’s a place for all of us in his house. We would love our neighbors as ourselves and love our enemies. Because virtues like, faith, hope, and charity, are inherently good, we should strive to uphold these to make the America truly great.

If you’re feeling pessimistic or downright unpatriotic this Independence Day, I see you. I understand. Our country has been through a lot lately with the Coronavirus pandemic, police brutality, riots, and more. My heart is breaking for our nation too. I invite you not only find but be the positive changes that are coming from these trying times, and one of the best ways to make a change is through prayer. Please join me in praying for our country and those who lead it. God bless America.

~Stay radiant!

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When You Need Your Mom

What a joy it is to remember that she is our mother! Since she loves us and knows our weakness, what have we to fear?

St. Therese of Lisieux

I think everyone to some degree wants to be like their mom.

When I was growing up and even now that I’m an adult, I’m intrigued by what my mom does. I’m fascinated by her work inside and outside our home, and I appreciate the effort and charity that she puts into everything she does. I look at how my mom cuts hair not just for her clients, but for shut-ins that we know. Her generosity inspires me, and I’ve told her that she does this with beautiful mercy. I appreciate how she takes care of the house, making time to clean it, keep it looking beautiful, and making good dinners and brunches after Mass on Sunday. Through it all, she always finds time to pray. When I manage to wake up early, I can find her praying the rosary. We go to daily Mass together whenever we can. She reads her Bible and tons of books about the faith and I can only hope that I’m able to do as much as she does when I’m a mama.

Needless to say, I want to be like my mom.

When You Need Your Mom

Just like I want to be like my earthly mama, I also want to be like Mary. I always knew that she was my Heavenly Mother and that I should love her as my mother, but I didn’t wholeheartedly do this until college. As I deepened my faith with my friends from the Newman Center, I learned how to grow closer to Mary. Although it took me three tries to complete my Marian Consecration, I grew closer to Mary each time. Thanks to Fr. Michael E. Gaitley, I understood what it meant to embrace Mary as my mother. Preparing for and eventually making my Marian Consecration allowed me to depend on Mary and let her make me into a worthy disciple of her Son.

Click here to read A Glorious New Morning: My Marian Consecration Journey!

For the past two years, I did Fiat in varying capacities. This year, I embarked on Fiat 90, and the Lent before, I did Fiat 40. These 90 and 40 day retreats respectively helped me to become more like Mary. Through her intercession, I learned how to detach myself from the world a little more each day. The little sacrifices that I made were little ways of saying yes to God and his will, like Mary consistently and perfectly let God’s will be done. Although I failed several times, I don’t consider my Fiat attempts complete failures. Mary always gently guided me in the right direction. When I did sacrifice and when I grew in detachment, I felt myself become more like her as I did my best to submit to God’s will for me.

In other words, I improved my relationship with my mom and slowly but surely became more like her.

Because of this, I find myself actively needing Mama Mary and asking for her help. When I’m stressed or overwhelmed, I ask her to help me calm down and to guide me. When I’m sad, I ask her to take the mess that I’m in and make it perfect for her Son. I see her in the little things that I do and the little sacrifices that I make. I do the dishes and fold the laundry because it’s pleasing to my earthly mother and my Heavenly Mother. I’m patient with my friends and family and I listen as best as I can during our conversations. I try to emulate Mary’s love by caring for people and keeping their prayer intentions close to my heart.

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Until I move to Washington DC to start volunteering with Franciscan Mission Service, I got a summer job at a childcare center. I spend a couple days a week playing with children, making sure they eat, keeping them safe, changing their diapers, and making sure they take naps. It’s a lot of fun and very rewarding, but of course there are times when I get overwhelmed. Sometimes a baby won’t eat, kids will take toys from each other, toddlers won’t fall asleep, and a diaper will stink so badly I dry heave. When work, and even life in general, becomes to much to handle, I turn to Mama Mary. When things get out of control and I don’t know what to do, I say a Hail Mary. Actually, I say several Hail Marys super slowly to remind me that she’s here to help me.

If you need your mom and you long to grow closer to her, start by praying the rosary. Pray this beautiful and powerful prayer every day to love and understand our Mother and her Son more and to deepen your faith. While you pray, imagine yourself wrapped in her mantle and holding her hands. Ask her to keep you in her most Immaculate Heart and show you how to love and follow Jesus as closely and perfectly as she does.

~Stay radiant!

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5 Intentional Ways to Create Community

And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

Acts 2:47-48

In my last post, I talked about how we’re made for community. I shared what my faith community looked like and meant to me in college, and why community is crucial when we want to grow deeper in our faith. You might be thinking, “Okay, I get it, but how do I create a community?” When you don’t have a youth or young adult group or a Newman Center to go to, you might find yourself tasked with creating a community of your own. Fortunately, it’s not that hard to foster a faith community. We can’t deepen our faith on our own, and we shouldn’t have to. There are so many ways to bring people together to grow in holiness. Be intentional and open, and use these five ways to create community wherever you go.

1 Make intentional invitations.
Sending a mass email, making a Facebook post, or posting on your Instagram story is generally a great way to get the word out about something. This form of reaching out to people might bring some people to Bible Study or small group with you, but it comes off as impersonal. While general invitations are good, making intentional invitations is better. To make an intentional invitation means to reach out to someone personally, whether it be through a face-to-face conversation, a phone call, or a nice text. For example, you can reach out to your friend, roommate, or whoever sits next to you in class to let them know about your Bible Study. Tell them what you’ll be doing, why you love it, and that you think they’d love it as well. Especially when you let them know that you’d love for them to be there, people will feel more welcome and wanted at your event when you’re intentional about the invite.

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2 Host small gatherings of your own.
Whether you’re leading a Bible Study or small group or you want to have some friends over for dinner or coffee, don’t be afraid to initiate a little get-together. It doesn’t have to be anything grandiose. We’re called to do little things with great love, so we can be simple yet intentional in our hospitality. I always loved when my girl friends and I would get together in one of our apartments for tea and Lectio Divina or the rosary, and we would stay to talk for hours. Praying, talking, and sharing meals is a great way to create community. These little gatherings allow us to meet new people and strengthen preexisting relationships. If there are any new faces, be sure that they’re being seen and heard and that they feel welcome.

Read more about Lectio Divina in What is Lectio Divina?

3 Make people feel welcome wherever you go.
FOCUS’s mission involves investing the few to reach the many. This method of spiritual multiplication is great because we can form disciples who will become disciple makers of their own. While it’s good to invest deeply in a few, it’s still important to meet new people. We can create community with people as soon as we meet them if we’re open, and having a friendly, welcoming demeanor is key. If you run into someone new at Mass, in small group, or even at the store, smile, introduce yourself, and ask for their name. If you’re not the best with names, try repeating your new friend’s name during your conversation. It’ll help you remember it, and people love hearing their name. Maintain friendly eye contact and offer a handshake or a hug. All of these things will open the door to holding a meaningful conversation. Once you’ve gotten to know your new friend, you can give them your phone number or invite them to go to Mass or get coffee with you!

4 Hold meaningful conversations.
People like to talk about themselves, and they’ll usually share a lot about themselves if you give them the opportunity and show that you’re really listening. If you’ve exhausted the “What do you do?” and “What’s your major?” questions, dive a little deeper by asking how they chose their major, who their favorite professor is, and what their favorite thing about their major is. It can be fun to ask something completely random, like “If you were a kitchen appliance, what would you be and why?” As crazy as it sounds, you learn a lot about a person this way, and I’ve heard it spark some great conversations. Finally, don’t be afraid to bring up faith. I know that along with politics, religion can be a taboo subject, but people are generally down to talk about it and share their experiences. You never know until you ask, and you never know who’d be willing to go to Bible Study with you until you invite them.

5 Intentional Ways to Create Community

5 Offer to pray with and for people.
You’re faith community will plateau if you don’t pray together regularly. Facilitating prayer can take many different forms. You could do a sunrise Lectio Divina or Liturgy of the Hours session, commit to going to daily Mass together on Wednesdays, or invite your girls over for tea and rosary. While having these structured, tangible ways to pray is great, impromptu prayers are just as powerful. If someone tells you about something they’re struggling with, let them know that you’ll pray for them. When you remember them and their intentions in your prayers, you can text them to let them you know you’re prayed for them. If you’re comfortable, you can offer to pray with them or over them. When my friends prayed with me like this, I felt Jesus in them. I grew so much closer to my friends and God this way. When you pray with your faith community, you’ll be inspired and inspire others to delve deeper into their prayer life by helping them encounter the Lord.

Read more about praying for others in 5 Fruitful Ways to Practice Intercessory Prayer!

There are lots of other ways to build community, but hopefully these five can get you started. Whether you’re just getting started on your faith community or if it’s flourishing and you want it to grow, following these tips will help. No matter what, keep praying for yourself, for the people who you’ll encounter, and for the people in your community. No matter what you do within your community, keep your sights on Heaven and our Father and don’t stop striving for Sainthood!

How do you build community in your life? Let me know in the comments below!

~Stay radiant!

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We’re Made for Community

Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.

Proverbs 27:17

When I was in college, I learned from the Newman Center and our FOCUS missionaries the importance of community. Looking back on my time at Slippery Rock, I always had something to do at the Newman Center, and someone who I loved was always there. We had Mass on Sunday and Wednesday evenings, and because so many friends were always there, no one ever went to Mass alone or sat by themselves. the Newman Center is where we had our Wednesday night meetings, Bible Studies, and the oh-so-important meal of coffee and doughnuts after Mass.

Aside from these faith-based things, we were still always together. We did homework together in the lounge and the St. Anthony room. We would get dinner together, go to Starbucks, and have game nights and movie nights. Whether we prayed, studied, ate, talked, or laughed together, everything that my community did led me closer to our Heavenly Father, whether we knew it or not.

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Could I have stayed Catholic throughout college without this community? Probably. Would my faith have flourished if I was always by myself? Absolutely not. We learn from God in Genesis that man shouldn’t be alone. While we can pray, live, and work by ourselves, that doesn’t mean we should. After Jesus ascended into Heaven, the disciples were always together to pray and share meals. If we never surround ourselves with community, we’ll fall into despair. We’re meant to abide with each other, and we see that in our families and our friend groups. We’re designed to depend on each other and “do life” together, meaning we spend time together, eat together, live together, and share the highs and lows of our life.

Read more in My Second Home, the Newman Center!

I heard the “iron sharpens iron” proverb a lot throughout my time in Rock Catholic, especially when we went to Catholic conferences like SEEK 2019 and SLS 2020. It reminds us that we have to support each other because we make each other strong. Holy people become holier when they stay together. The friendships that we forge in community give us ways to help each other grow in our faith and fall more in love with God. Receiving the Sacraments, praying, going to Bible Studies, and even just getting coffee together sharpens us. We strengthen each other’s faith so that we become holier when we’re with each other than when we’re alone.

Read more about SLS 20 in Made for Mission and Surrender: A Reflection on My SLS 20 Experience!

You’ve probably heard the “hot coals” analogy that has a similar meaning. Coals stay hot and burn brighter when they’re close together. If you take a coal and put it by itself, it quickly cools down. The coal that’s separated no longer has coals to surround it and keep it hot, so it loses its heat and glow. The coals are us and their heat is our faith. We stay on fire for the Lord when we have a thriving faith community. When we surround ourselves with friends who are strong in their faith, we’ll find ourselves becoming like them. We’ll find our prayer life improving, we’ll receive the Sacraments more often, we’ll grow in virtue, and not to mention, we’ll become closer with our friends. If we go off on our own, we’ll find our faith dwindling because when we’re alone, we don’t have anyone to keep us company and hold us accountable.

We're Made for Community

The constant, intentional togetherness of community draws closer to God. If you’re desiring holiness and striving for Sainthood (which we all should), rely on your core group of friends who are rooted in their faith. It’s so important for your community to spend time in prayer and fellowship often and to call each other to holiness. They’ll be your brothers and sisters in Christ and your accountability buddies who’ll remind you to pray, go to Mass, and keep growing in virtue. There are so many times when my Newman Center friends have been like Christ to me, inviting me to go to Mass, pray a rosary, or get dinner with them. We’ve been together through our faith highs and lows, always managing to remind us of our identity in Jesus Christ.

When I was a freshman, my faith wasn’t nearly as strong as the other girls I met in the Newman Center. Because of this, I felt intimidated and discouraged, because I spent so much time with them anyway, my faith has grown immensely. We all need a faith community to join us on our faith journey and to help us keep up with it. By staying close to our hot coals, we’ll reach holiness and find ourselves on our way to Heaven together.

My next blog post will share ways to create intentional community. Be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss it!

~Stay radiant!

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5 Fruitful Ways to Practice Intercessory Prayer

Pray, hope, and don’t worry. Worry is useless. God is merciful and will hear your prayer.

St. Padre Pio

Intercessory prayer, or praying for others and their intentions, is so important. With so many people asking us for prayer intentions and knowing that the Lord wants us to pray for our brothers and sisters, we know that intercessory prayer is powerful and crucial. Regardless, sometimes it can get overwhelming if we’re not sure where to begin. I regret to say that for a period of time, I stopped praying for others simply because I didn’t know how. Fortunately, I learned a couple of great ways to pray intercessory prayers, and now I pray for others more than I ever have. Hopefully, these 5 forms of intercessory prayer will inspire you to become a prayer warrior.

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1 Spontaneous prayer
Spontaneous or improvisational prayer involves praying “off the cuff.” Instead of reading a prayer or preparing what you’re going to say, you make up this prayer as you go. Essentially, you pray about whatever’s on your heart and let the words flow. Spontaneous prayer unfolds naturally as your bring your intentions to the Lord. I like to pray this way as soon as I hear a prayer request. When someone asks me to pray for them or when I read of a prayer request on Twitter, I immediately stop what I’m doing to pray a Hail Mary, or I bring the intention to the Lord and pray from my heart.

2 Write down your prayer intentions
Writing down my prayer intentions helps me to remember them and to make time to pray for them. I recommend writing them in a place where you’ll see them multiple times a day. The best place to write down intentions is in a notebook, on a notecard, in a prayer journal, or in a planner. Wherever you keep your intentions, bring it to your Holy Hour or your time spent in prayer so your prayer list is close at hand. During your time in prayer, you can write down and read through your intentions so you can pray for them by name.

Click here to read Holy Hour How-To’s

3 Pray the rosary
You can offer your rosary for just one of your intentions, or you could pray it with all of them in mind. While this may sound overwhelming, it’s not that hard. One way is by bringing all of your intentions to the Lord at the beginning of your rosary by praying for them by name. If you want to get more intentional, you can pray each Hail Mary for a different intention, cycling through your prayer list. This intercessory prayer method can also work for the Divine Mercy Chaplet if you pray for a different intention with each “For the sake of his sorrowful passion” prayer. Additionally, you can pray each station in the Stations of the Cross for a different intention.

4 Fasting and mortifications
Although they’re not technically forms of prayer, fasting and taking on mortifications are powerful ways to intercede for others. We know about fasting from Lent as the practice of giving up food or a certain kind of food for a period of time. I’ve found that mortifications are a lesser-known and lesser-practiced way of interceding. They involve giving up something that isn’t food for an intention, like staying off of social media, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or sleeping on the floor. Fasting and mortifications give us ways to make sacrifices throughout the day. We can use these practices to offer up our inconveniences and sufferings for our intentions and for the people we’re praying for. They’re not supposed to be easy; in fact, sometimes they’re downright uncomfortable and hurt a lot. When fasting and mortifications get hard, use the pain as an opportunity to pray for your intentions and offer up your suffering. Jesus made suffering holy through his Passion, so you can unite your suffering to his for the sake of your intentions.

5 Fruitful Ways to Practice Intercessory Prayer

5 Make a depth chart
If you have a lot of people in your life who are growing closer to God, a depth chart is a useful thing to make! A depth chart lists important people in your life and organizes them depending on where they are in their walk with the Lord. It also gives you a visual of your role in spiritual multiplication I learned how to make a depth chart from FOCUS missionaries because they use them to keep track of and pray for the students they encounter. Their depth charts have categories for new contacts, growing disciples, and disciple makers, just to name a few. When Courtney, who’s my discipler, was preparing me to be a disciple maker, she helped me make a depth chart of my own. I still use it during prayer and I refer to it when I need to check in with my disciple, Morghan and the other girls I pray for.

The first section of your depth chart is for people who bring you to life. Here, you can list men and women who inspire you and motivate you in your faith journey. They’re holy people who lead you to holiness and Sainthood. The second line is a place to write your own name to remind you to pray for yourself. Underneath your name, list three people who you closely invest in. For this section, focus on people who you’re close to and you know very well. These can be friends, disciples, or anyone who you invest deeply in by consistently meet with them and helping them with their walk with the Lord. Finally, at the bottom of your depth chart, write no more than twelve people to pray for and reach out to. These can be new friends, more close friends, co-workers, or anyone else you encounter. These people aren’t exactly disciples because you’re not investing yourself quite as much in them, but they’re still a priority. This section is for people that you pray for and talk to every so often, but still care deeply about.

If you want a template of the depth chart I just described, I made a free printable of one for you! You can find it and download it at the end of the blog post!

There are so many ways to practice intercessory prayer, but I hope these are enough to get you started! No matter how you pray for others, the most important thing to do is just show up to pray. Bring your intentions wholeheartedly to the Lord, and he’ll take care of them according to his time. We might not see the fruits of our prayers during this life, but we still pray in faith knowing that our prayers matter.

~Stay radiant!

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3 Reasons Why I Veil at Mass

The covering of the head with a veil symbolizes the reality of woman sheltered in the side of her Source and becoming one with Him. She becomes covered and hidden in her Divine Spouse.

St. John Chrysostom

In the months prior to SLS 20, the FOCUS conference I attended in January, I kept thinking about veiling at Mass. I wondered what it would be like, if it would improve my faith, and if it was for me. I felt called to try veiling at Mass, so when I found a booth for Veil By Tradition at SLS, I bought two veils and a pouch to keep them in. I veiled for the first time that night when I went to the Adoration chapel with a few friends, and I knew that veiling was right for me. There are so many reasons why I veil at Mass, but I’ll tell you about the three biggest ones here.

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1 Veiling is beautiful.

We praise God all the time with beautiful Churches filled with paintings and statues that remind us of his glory. We praise and worship him through music that makes our hearts rejoice. Veiling is another way to praise God with beauty. Along with goodness and truth, beauty is a transcendental, something that allows our thoughts to shift from earthly things to heavenly things.

Sometimes we go to Mass or Adoration preoccupied with distractions and thoughts of our daily life. The sacred art and other beautiful things that surround us remind us to focus on the Lord. Wearing one of my long lace veils helps me to transcend my mentality to worshiping God. When I genuflect, enter a pew, and put my veil on as I kneel, I remind myself to forget about myself for an hour and be fully present with my Savior, who is truly present in the Eucharist.

Click here to read How to Deal with Distractions During Prayer

2 Mary wore a veil.

If you’re like me, then every time you think of Mary, you picture her wearing a long veil. In fact, she’s rarely depicted in art without one. Mary is the only person who followed God’s plan for her perfectly and wholeheartedly. She always put her own will aside for God’s will, and she always thought of her Son instead of herself. She always points us towards him. My favorite example of this is the Magnificat. During the Visitation, when Elizabeth said “Blessed are you among women,” Mary responded with “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” (Luke 1:42-47).

All of this is represented in the veil that she wears. Her veil is an outward sign of her devotion to the Lord. It expresses her humility and love for God as she hides herself to redirect attention to God. Our Blessed Mother does the will of God perfectly, so we emulate her as we wear our veils to show our reverence and submission to God.

Click here to read How I Started to Love Mary as My Mother

3 Veiling helps us to be hidden with God.

In our faith, we veil things that are sacred. This began in Biblical times when the Holy of Holies was kept behind a thick curtain, only for the high priest to see. Of course, this veil was torn when Jesus was crucified as a sign that we’re now reunited with God and we can be with him in Heaven. We continue the tradition of veiling sacred things as a way to protect them and as an outward sign of their holiness. For example, we keep the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle when we’re not adoring it or receiving it.

Veiling something shows that what is hidden is holy. As we veil our heads, we recognize ourselves as beloved daughters of God. While we wear them in worship, they help us to focus on the Mass or the Blessed Sacrament in Adoration. In a world where everything is fighting for your attention, veiling gives us a way to center our sights on God. It’s also a way to recognize Jesus’ True Presence hidden in the humble form of bread and wine. In a similar way, we hide ourselves to show humility in his presence.

Ladies, if you’re interested in veiling, there are several veil shops out there! I got mine from Veil by Tradition, but there are seriously. so. many. If you feel a tugging at your heart to veil, one to Adoration a few times. If you’re looking for a way to deepen your devotion to the Eucharist and be hidden with the Blessed Sacrament, try wearing the veil. You’ll find yourself falling more in love with the Lord. When he sees his precious daughter wearing the veil, he’ll transform your heart to look to him and depend on him more.

~Stay radiant!

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Blessings of a Pandemic Graduate

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.

Ecclesiastes 3:1

My college graduation, the day that I dreamed of for four years, was supposed to be May 9. Of course, the Coronavirus pandemic changed that, and and the commencement ceremony is now postponed indefinitely. I could dwell on everything that Covid ruined and let myself be bitter. I admit that I gave into my bitterness from time to time, but this never satisfied me. I remembered to keep turning to the Lord, which helped me to keep radiating joy during this time. There are things that haven’t been the same because of Covid, and it hurts and it’s okay to feel sad about it. While I let myself feel those emotions when I needed to, I learned to recognize the blessings that the Lord has given me through Covid, particularly on my graduation day.

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Not having graduation the way that I wanted it was a lesson in humility. Something that I learned from Fiat 90 was detachment. I’ve been learning how to let go of earthly things to seek the kingdom of God. Growing in detachment has helped me put my will aside to follow God’s will. It hurt to have to let go of my plans and dreams for graduation, but I’m glad that I did. He doesn’t take away something good from us only to give us something mediocre. God had plans for my graduation day that were still so good, and spending my graduation day at home was better than I ever could have imagined.

I’ve heard that you don’t know what you have til it’s gone, and I’ve heard that absence makes the heart grow fonder. Everything about this pandemic has taught me to appreciate blessings as they come. I talked on the phone with one of my best friends from college a few weeks ago. We caught up and talked about a few of our favorite memories together, like getting together in our dorms to do homework and listen to music, our heart-to-hearts, and bouncing artistic ideas off of each other. We certainly didn’t take those moments for granted, but we agreed that we would have cherished them a little more. I’m looking back on college more fondly now that my time at SRU was cut short.

At first, I didn’t understand how something good could come from something as distressing as a global pandemic. I kept praying to recognize the Lord’s goodness during this time. Slowly but surely, he softened my heart so I could see the blessings that came from this less-than-ideal situation. This is probably how I was able to enjoy my graduation day so much.

I celebrated my graduation with a beautiful day at home and then at my aunt and uncle’s house. I started my day with a holy hour and logged into to a heartfelt dance department Zoom call where my dance faculty shared some beautiful words with me and the other seniors. Nathan came to visit and we took beautiful graduation pictures. (My Mama should really be a photographer because the pictures turned out gorgeous.) We got together with some family to have dinner and play board games and card games. The whole day was filled with joy. Everything about it was lovely as I was surrounded by loved ones who made every moment special. It wasn’t the day that I expected, but it was a day that I’ll cherish forever.

I can’t exactly say that I’m glad that my commencement ceremony is postponed indefinitely. I still want to walk and see my friends in their caps and gowns. I’m glad that this was the alternative. The Lord gave me countless blessings that made my graduation day better than I ever could have imagined. It was filled with so many people and things that I love. I know prior to graduating I was heartbroken that my plans had been shattered, but looking back on how beautiful that day really was, I wouldn’t change a thing.

~Stay radiant!

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The Original FOMO

When you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you.

Jeremiah 29:12

As a millenial, I’ve faced so many of the “normal” life events that happen for us.
Especially those of us in our twenties. I have worked a job in the retail industry,
experienced college, graduated with a Bachelor degree, moved out on my own, bought
a car, been in my friends’ weddings, and am now working a full-time job in my current
field. Many accomplishments! But why am I still not happy? Why am I not satisfied? I
don’t have my dream job of working in a public school district teaching an exuberant
group of elementary school students. I don’t have all my student loans paid off. I don’t
have a full bank account. I don’t have a fiancé that I am planning to marry and start a
family with. Heck, I don’t even have a boyfriend that I can plan to have a future with. Yes,
all of that is coming from a glass-half empty attitude.

For the first few months of 2020, I’ve dwelled on the fact that my life isn’t perfect.
But what does perfect even mean? For those few months, I imagined that perfect was
having my life “together.” Having the ideal well-paying job, owning a house, planning a
wedding to a faith-filled man, beginning a family, and working on my Master’s degree –
all those things were “perfect” in my mind. Nothing about my life felt perfect for those
few months. I was in a deep, dark rut.

We may all think that we are brave, steadfast, and clear-headed in our pursuit of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of Heaven. However, we are all human. We make mistakes. We have free will. We gossip, we forget to pray or attend Mass, we have selfish acts in the material world. Just two seconds ago, I checked my phone in the middle of prayer. I was distracted from the Word by the world. That’s the deep, dark rut I was living in. I may not have begun the hole in the ground, but I took the shovel from Satan and continued to dig that deep, dark rut farther and farther away from the Word as I tried to get closer to the world. The world had shackled me in my grave.

Wishes for marriage chained my arms behind my back, desires of material goods
pinned my legs to the dark soil, and a blindfold took my gaze away from the Holy One. I
was chained in the world that Satan wanted for me, and that world is a dark place. It’s
full of unhealthy thoughts, dishonest behaviors, and has no light from Jesus Christ.

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Yes, we live in the world. There are going to be distractions. Cars honking at us
while we worship on our commute to work, text messages chiming as we try to use our
phones to read scripture, or someone calling our name while we try to pray a novena or
rosary. The power that God gives us isn’t just in free will, but in how we chose to use
our free will. Will you put down your phone to do a 30-minute workout because it’s good
for your mental and physical health? Will you step aside from Netflix to watch mass online? Will you use your daily FaceTime check in to pray with friends and family
instead of gossiping? The choice is yours.

My surrender was a panic attack. I had these quite frequently while digging my
deep dark grave. Satan had control of my emotions and thoughts. Breaking free was
painful; resulting in tears, hyperventilation, and dropping to the ground. That’s how
strong the dark one’s hold is on us. Breaking those chains is not easy. However, for
how many chains that Satan has you tied down with, Jesus Christ has 10,000 more
reasons to love you.

The choice to break free is yours, mine, and ours

Yes, we are human. We make mistakes. The Lord sees that, recognizes that,
and forgives us when we seek redemption. It’s how we use our time to redeem. If we
keep rebutting ourselves as opposed to rectifying ourselves, with the Lord’s guidance
and strength, then we will truly come to know what it means. The season of Lent is
about change, forgiveness, and redemption. Jesus didn’t just die on the cross because
he wanted a YOLO moment. He is the Original, the OG. The original FOMO.

He created the everlasting, all powerful, reckless love of our God when He died
on that cross. Now why would we want to have the fear of missing out on God’s never-
ending love for us? Is the latest episode of your favorite show going to happen faster
than what you’ve been praying for? Maybe. Is your selfie on Instagram going to get likes
quicker than God’s plan for your life unfolding in front of you? Possibly. We are human.
We are naturally subject to the desire for instant gratification. However, that episode,
those Insta likes… they are nothing compared to the long term. The delayed
gratification that results in Jesus’ plan for us.

Jeremiah 29:11 reads, “For surely I know the plans for you, says the Lord, plans
for our welfare and not to harm, to give you a future with hope.”

But, Jeremiah 29:12 also says, “When you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you.”

He hears us! He hears our cries from the deep dark grave. He hears, sees, and loves us all as we are. It is who we are. He takes us as we are. Jesus is madly in love with you and me. Before you were even conceived, Jesus had your plan sculpted out. The Lord breathed into you upon your first breath. The Lord has an overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love that He is dying to share with you. We pray with Him, and He prays with us. His love is the original love. So that fear that we are missing out on… is the fear of God’s undying love for each and everyone of us.

When Jesus died on the cross for us His intention was to take all those fears, anxieties, and worries away from us. He didn’t just unlock the shackles binding us to that deep dark grave, He broke the chains! He busted open the gates of Heaven for all of us to enter His Kingdom someday. 

Right now, times are scary. When I spoke to my grandmother, I asked her if she had ever seen our country, our world, in such a panic before. She said no, not since 9/11. Even during the Cold War, I asked. She responded, even during the Cold War we were allowed to leave our homes, socialize, and enjoy life. Right now, we are secluded to our homes because of COVID-19. Some with family, some without. Some with income, some without. Some with an actual home, and food, and shelter, many without. It is indeed a terrifying time – the year 2020 is not treating us kindly right now. But you are not alone. Not only do we have each other, but Jesus is carrying us through this trying time.

In John 19:30, Jesus uttered the words “it is finished,” as He bowed His head and gave up His spirit to His Father. Jesus had the fear of missing out on the love of His Father that he died on the cross to forgive all of the world of their sins. His love is the original love. When He breathed His last breath, Jesus breathed life into us.

Is it so easy to be more of the world than of the Word. I’ve been there, saints have been there, I’m sure that Pope Francis has been there, too. We are human. However, how we choose to ultimately live out our lives is the path that Jesus wants for us. He paid it all for us, so why wouldn’t we want to repay this to Him? Sometimes we don’t feel that we deserve it. But guess what? You deserve it! He loves you 10,000 times over. So come as you are. Come as a prodigal son or daughter, to Him in prayer and in life. Seek the Word, not the world, and all will fall into place. Ask for the original love of Jesus Christ, and you won’t have to experience the fear of missing out.

Leah Hoffman is a 26 year old Special Education teacher at a private school in the North Hills of Pittsburgh, PA. She is a devout Catholic who enjoys evangelizing and volunteering with her parish. 

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Losing Control

“Like a city breached, without walls, is one who lacks self-control.”

Proverbs 25:28

Woooooo. Zing. Ya got me Lord. 

I was running the other day at the gym, listening to my crappy pop dance party workout music (as one does), and the song I was listening to had the line “lose control” in it. As I jogged in place on the treadmill, I thought to myself, “What a funny thing. The world is all about ‘loosing control’ as if it’s a good thing. As if everyone is too uptight and needs to let go of literally everything and give in to everything they want. This is not what Jesus tells us.”

Control is a funny thing. We all want it. Heck, I struggle daily to let go of a desire to control things. I think it can be a very subtle thing, control. I think sometimes we don’t even realize that we are doing it. Sometimes it looks like using a dating app to fill a hole in our hearts that needs to be filled by Jesus. Sometimes it’s counting calories because we put our worth in our weight. Sometimes it’s in saying no to an experience we are afraid of, because of how it might challenge or embarrass us if we fail. Oh control, you sneaky sneak. 

Now to be clear, I am not saying diets or dating are bad. I am just pointing out that sometimes we have motives that are not necessarily healthy or truly in our best interests.

It’s interesting to consider the way the world tells us to lose control, versus the way Jesus does. Both say “don’t be afraid to let go”, but the culture really means “give in to anything you want,” while the Lord means “let me lead.” Do you see the difference there? Those are two very different things. This verse from Proverbs, “Like a city breached, without walls, is one who lacks self-control,” while intense, has a point. If we just let down all of our walls like the songs on the radio urge us to do, we become a city without walls, letting in anything and everything. St. Clare of Assisi famously said “We become what we love.” How true that is! Have you ever noticed that? When we love the things of the world – clothes, money, notoriety – we get sucked into that lifestyle. When we love God, we serve others, as he did. When we love ourselves, we serve ourselves. When we love sugar, we slowly fill our bodies with unhealthy foods, and we ourselves become unhealthy. It’s like this with all things. If we are a city without walls, we let in everything, and we are ransacked and left with nothing but emptiness. We are like a vacuum cleaner that needs to be cleaned out. If the vacuum is too full of stuff, it eventually cannot do anything. It becomes nothing. No longer even a vacuum. 

So what does a lack of control look like to God, if in the book of Proverbs we are being urged to control?

Great question gang. 

The Lord simply wants you to let go of all the crap and the things that leave you feeling empty. Be filled with him! “…it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me…” (Gal 2:20) Clare begs us to do this! To become who we love will make us FULL of LIFE because God himself IS life! 

How do I fill up on the life of God? Sacraments! Scripture! Prayer! All the holy things. And to have fun and love well. I am then FREE of the things that actually control me! If I lose control the way the culture tells me to, I actually become a slave to sin. I am owned by the choices I make that will likely have some pretty terrible consequences. But when I choose to live a life with the Lord, I am most free. This is because Jesus wants me to be the person he made me to be. And that person? That person is me. That person isn’t who the world wants me to be, or who I think I should be. That person is just me. Me. Me as myself. And in reality, I still have free will. I still have control in the end. I can give that control to God, or I can take it into my own hands, and he will let me. 

We have two options: we can model Our Lady – “be it done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38) – giving our freedom totally to God so that he can lead us to a life of LIFE, FREEDOM, and JOY in him. Or we can choose ourselves, filling our hearts like a vacuum that can’t stop taking things in, until we are so stuffed we don’t even recognize who we are anymore. We can be “Like a city breached, without walls…” (Prov 25:28) or we “may have life, and have it abundantly” (Jn 10:10) with the Lord! It’s totally up to you, and no one can choose but you.

Ashley Ackerman is first and foremost a daughter of God. After that she is the daughter of two amazing parents, big sister to the two best siblings in the world, and Godmother of four sweet kiddos. Ashley teaches high school theology, and she is constantly amazed by how much love God pours into her heart to pour out for her students; each day is full of wonder and awe at what God does for his children. Ashley also loves reading, snow, Winnie the Pooh, Harry Potter, coffee, and breakfast.

 

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An Opportunity to Surrender: A Response to the Coronavirus Pandemic

Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.

Psalm 62:8

I first heard about the Coronavirus in class on the first day of the spring semester. I thought it would be just another illness that would become another current event hot topic. I assumed that it would be just another Swine Flu, Ebola, or Zika Virus, and in many ways it is. Coronavirus, or at least the media’s hype about it, will come and go. Unfortunately, right now we’re in the thick of it and it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. We know that this too shall pass, but for now we’re caught up in the uncertainty and fear.

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Going into my last semester of college, I never imagined that a pandemic would affect my life so much–without even getting infected by it! In the middle of my spring break, I received an email from my university’s president saying we won’t be returning to campus (or normalcy) any time soon. Like many universities, Slippery Rock has postponed all classes until March 30th. The faculty will have to decide how classes will continue by then, and they’ll most likely be online. I’m grateful that this semester will be condensed, not extended, but I still feel like I’m losing valuable time from my last few months of college.

Along with a few other senior dance majors, I was accepted to present my capstone research paper at NCUR, a national research conference for undergraduate students. I was looking forward to going to Montana State University and sharing my capstone research project on Martha Graham’s aesthetic shift. As a passionate aspiring dance historian, I poured my heart into researching since I began my bibliography in July. The same day that I got the email informing me that SRU’s classes will be postponed, I received an email from NCUR with the subject “NCUR 2020 Cancelled.” I was devastated. I was looking forward to NCUR as the last “big thing” that I’d do before I graduated. I’ll never be able to get this once in a lifetime opportunity back, and I’m so frustrated that it was taken away from me. I’m left with holding onto a sliver of hope that my other future plans won’t get cancelled.

 An Opportunity to Surrender: A Response to the Coronavirus Pandemic

Just after midnight on New Year’s Eve, the word surrender entered my heart and refused to leave. I realize more clearly every day that surrender is my word of the year for a reason. I’ve been learning to surrender all that I am and all that I have to God. This has been my prayer since day one of 2020, and God has constantly been challenging me to keep that promise. He’s been pushing me to surrender more than I thought I could handle, and when I think I’ve surrendered enough, he shows me how much deeper I can go. I learned to forsake control, anxiety, and fear in exchange for trust in God’s plan and timing and the peace that only he can give.

Losing weeks of school and presenting at a national conference is just another call to surrender, to sacrifice, and to grow. I’ll be honest with you and say that this one hurts. It’s breaking me to lose classes, opportunities, and experiences, and I’m so frustrated and disappointed. This surrender is a big one, but I trust that it’s necessary.

I think it’s fitting that this is happening while I’m doing Fiat 90, the 90-day detachment challenge that calls college girls to live in the world and not of it. I can’t help but remember the meaning of that beautiful Latin word, fiat: “let it be done.” Mary gave her fiat and surrendered her will for God’s will, and although I’ll never surrender as perfectly as Mary did, I can strive. With Mary’s help, I’m doing my best to humbly surrender at this time. I surrender not to the Coronavirus, but to my Heavenly Father so that his will can be done. Needless to say, this is super hard, so please remember me in your prayers and know that you’ll be in mine.

~Stay radiant (and healthy!)

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This Sunday’s Gospel: June 28, 2020

Matthew 10:37-42

Jesus said to his apostles:
“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me,
and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me;
and whoever does not take up his cross
and follow after me is not worthy of me.
Whoever finds his life will lose it,
and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

“Whoever receives you receives me,
and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.
Whoever receives a prophet because he is a prophet
will receive a prophet’s reward,
and whoever receives a righteous man
because he is a righteous man
will receive a righteous man’s reward.
And whoever gives only a cup of cold water
to one of these little ones to drink
because the little one is a disciple—
amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward.”

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Jesus gives us a lot of hard teachings. As much as I long to follow him closely, I sometimes struggle with embracing what he encourages us to do. When he gives us instructions like he does in this Sunday’s Gospel, I find myself lovingly challenged to be a better disciple. We might thing Jesus is bold to say that if we love anyone more than him we don’t deserve him. Jesus is reminding us that to follow him, he has to be our first priority. We have to love him more than anyone or anything else in our lives. Although it might come off as harsh, he knows we can do it and he constantly encourages us. He always reminds us that we’re called to holiness. Sometimes we have to ask ourselves the tough questions. Is there anyone I love more than Jesus? Am I willing to take up my cross? We might have to wrestle with these questions and figure out what needs to be limited or eliminated from our lives. We can’t let anything prevent us from following him. We can emulate Jesus’ sacrificial love by putting our own wants aside to be a closer disciple of his.

~Stay radiant!

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