What is Moral Authority?

The Big Girls in the Dance Studio
When I was a little dancer, I looked up to the “big girls” at my studio. I wanted to be just like the girls who helped my instructors teach my dance classes. They were beautiful dancers, but they were also kind, smart, and fun to be around. These girls were my role models, and I wanted to grow up to be them.

Fast forward to when I was in high school, and I became one of the older girls. It took me a long time for me to think that I was a beautiful dancer. My technique was not the best, but I brought so much heart to dance. I was on staff for three years, and it was such a fruitful and rewarding experience. My students were my pride and joy, and I loved each of them. I felt the overwhelming responsibility of being a role model. Every day their little eyes would watch me, and I had to set a good example for them.

In some ways, this is just part of growing up. We go from being the young, impressionable minds to the ones who directly or indirectly teach the little ones how to behave and think. At my dance studio, I was always intentional and I wanted to be my best for the younger dancers. I remembered the dancers who taught and inspired me when I was small, and I wanted to return the favor by being someone worth looking up to. In many ways, this is exactly how the Catholic concept of moral authority works.

What is Moral Authority?
What is Moral Authority?

Defining Moral Authority
I give this example not to boast or to make myself sound important, but to describe moral authority. Whether we know it or not, we look up to those around us, and their lives affect us. Moral authority is the ability to lead others not by title or position, but by the way we live. Yes, as a junior teacher I had a leadership position in my dance studio, but it was my character that mattered and affected the ones watching and looking up to me.

As Christians, we don’t–or at least we shouldn’t–make moral authority our goal. We don’t wake up each day with the intention of wanting everyone to look at us and think we’re such a great follower of Jesus. Moral authority is the result of our personal faith journeys. It’s what we gain when we surrender our lives to Christ. When we make Jesus the center of our lives, that demands something of us. Surrendering to Jesus means that we change our lives for good, resolving to follow Him and desiring to draw near to Him at all times. If we’re truly living the Gospel, then our lives won’t look like everyone else’s The choices we make, the habits we form, how we fill our minds, and how we spend our time affects our moral authority.

Effective Evangelization
At the heart of moral authority is a quiet yet strong way to evangelize. When people see our example of living joyfully for Jesus, they’ll know we’re different and want that for themselves. I came into college with a steadfast faith, but when I met the upperclassmen and the FOCUS missionaries, I knew that I could dive deeper. At the Newman Center, I was surrounded by women on fire for their faith, and I wanted to be like them. As a freshman, I had no idea what a holy hour was, but when I was a senior, I was praying holy hours regularly. I learned to love the Mass so much more, and I went as often as I could. I detached myself from earthly things that distracted me from God learned how to live in such a way that glorified Him.

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Moral Authority as a Responsibility
The moral authority of the seniors and missionaries evangelized me. Their example of joyful godly women inspired me to be like them, and therefore, be a closer disciple of Christ. Now that I’ve been transformed by their witness, I have the responsibility of doing the same for others. Reflect on your own life and think of the role models who nurtured you during your faith journey. What was their relationship with God like? How did they pray and how often did they receive the Sacraments? What did they do to keep God their first priority? Now apply these questions to yourself. Have you taken on the responsibility of moral authority? How have you been a good spiritual example and modeled Christ to others?

When we practice moral authority, we become more like Christ. Just like Jesus led His disciples to become more like Him while He was on earth, moral authority allows us to imitate Christ and help our friends and family become more like Him.

Stay radiant!

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St. Vitalis of Gaza

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.

Matthew 5:11

I think we all know how it feels to be misunderstood. No matter the reason why, knowing that those around us don’t understand us makes us feel frustrated, disheartened, and most of all, alone. People can easily judge or condemn us when they don’t really know us. When we’ve only heard a fraction of someone’s story, it’s impossible to fully understand who that person is.

St, Vitalis of Gaza was extremely misunderstood during his time. If I told you that St. Vitalis of Gaza was a monk who spent every night with a different prostitute, you probably wouldn’t believe me. Either that, or you would think of a different narrative than what had actually happened. The truth is, St. Vitalis imitated Christ in a profound way that was only publicly revealed after his death.

St. Vitalis of Gaza
St. Vitalis of Gaza

St. Vitalis of Gaza’s Life
St. Vitalis lived in Gaza in the 600s. As an elderly hermit, he often hired himself out as a day laborer in Alexandria. At the end of the day, he used his earnings to hire a different prostitute each night. He spent his time with these women talking and praying with them. He reminded them of their worth and dignity. Because of St. Vitalis, numerous women gave up their lives as prostitutes and became holy wives and mothers. He helped them to understand authentic love and forsake use and lust.

Of course, St. Vitalis’ ministry caused his reputation to suffer. Other people only saw that a holy man was paying for women, and didn’t see the good that he did behind closed doors. Naturally, people grew suspicious. When St. Vitalis eventually died, all of the women who he impacted came to his funeral and testified that he had changed their lives. The once misunderstood Saint became more widely beloved.

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Imitating Christ
Jesus warns us that by following Him and doing His will, not everyone will see or understand the good that we’re trying to do. Surprisingly, this can be a good thing! We don’t have to be understood or praised for our work in this life, and we shouldn’t strive for that anyway. Our sights should always be on Heaven because our reward is there, not on this earth. Besides, Jesus was misunderstood and even hated during this life for what He did. If we’re treated the same way, then we’re all the more like Christ.

Jesus encountered prostitutes and other sinners during His earthly ministry. By encountering Him, they repented and followed Him. As His followers, we’re called to do the same. St. Vitalis of Gaza probably took this example to heart as he spent his life reaching the souls who need Jesus the most. He inspires us to risk our reputation for something more important, an eternal soul. Let’s look to St. Vitalis of Gaza as he reminds us to encounter our brothers and sisters and bring Christ’s light in the darkest places.

Stay radiant!

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This Sunday’s Gospel: January 10, 2021

For this Sunday’s Gospel and other Mass readings, click here.

I was born on March 4, 1998, but I was born again later that month. On March 22, 1998, I was Baptized at St. Stephen’s Parish and I entered the Church. Although I don’t remember it because I was one month old, it was the most important day of my life.

Of all the ways that we surrender ourselves to God’s will, the first and one of the most important ones is Baptism. It’s a form of dying to yourself and this world so that you can rise for Christ. Water has always been a sign of life, so by the holy water of Baptism, our new life in Jesus begins as we’re born again in Him. This Sacrament that juxtaposes death and birth is what makes us sons and daughters of God.

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In my blog about why Jesus was Baptized, I talked a little bit about my Confirmation classes. I mentioned that my class often prayed with what God the Father said after Jesus was Baptized. The words “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” still echo in my heart. In His goodness, the Lord constantly reminds me that I’m His beloved daughter. As I follow Him closely and choose Him, I feel that He’s pleased with me.

Baptism is our first death to the world and our birth in Christ. As His followers, we’re called to constantly die to the world by turning away from sin, resisting temptation, and not indulging in material things or worldly comforts. Every day, we choose to follow the Lord and renew our love for Him. Every time, we can remember the Baptism of our Lord to encourage us as we remember that we are God’s beloved children, and He is well pleased with us.

Stay radiant!

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How to Set Spiritual Goals in 2021

Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?

Isaiah 43:19

Can you believe that it’s 2021 already? Now that the new year is here, you might be setting resolutions and intentions for 2021. I prefer to use the term “goals” instead of “resolutions” because I feel like goals are more realistic. I’m better at setting goals than resolutions, and I find that I’m better at reaching my goals than following through with my resolutions.

For 2021, I have several goals, big and small, for different areas of my life. Of course, I set about three goals for myself to improve my faith life. My blogging friend Isabella from Bearing Good Fruit has an awesome blog post about spiritual goals and several examples and ideas which helped me to set some concrete spiritual goals and inspired me to write this post! After I set my faith goals for 2021, I thought I’d share my process and some tips to set some for yourself!

How to Set Spiritual Goals in 2021
How to Set Spiritual Goals in 2021

Decide how or where you want to grow in your faith
Think of specific, tangible, and realistic goals that will help you improve your faith journey. Do you want to pray every day? Do you want to go to Confession more often? Do you want to read Scripture or Christian books? Whatever you want to do in 2021 to further your faith journey, make that your goal.

Bonus tip: Discern and remember the “why” behind your goal. Your “why” will inspire you to keep striving for your goals. For me, one of my faith goals for 2021 is to read the whole Old Testament. My “whys” behind this goal are to read more Scripture and to gain a deeper understanding of Salvation History.

Write your goals down
I once heard the saying “A goal not written down is only a wish,” and I took it to heart. The goals that I write down are the ones that I’m more likely to reach. Whether it’s in your planner, your notebook, your prayer journal, your phone, a vision board, or even just a sticky note on your wall, write down somewhere where you’ll see it often.

Have an accountability strategy
Now that you’ve discerned your faith goals and you’ve written them down, figure out how you’ll keep yourself accountable for achieving them. Maybe you have a friend or family member who has the same goals, and you can work on them together. Maybe you can write down your progress in a notebook. No matter what you choose, make sure you have a way to keep yourself on track.

Tip: Use a planner or a notebook to track your growth. After you write down your goal, you can write down your progress on the same page, or you could use the whole thing to journal about reaching your goals. At the end of the year, it’ll be such a rewarding feeling to look back and see how much you’ve grown! I’m using my faith planner to write down how much I’ve read each day as well as verses that I want to remember.

Ask God to help you
Pray about your spiritual goals and ask God for the grace to achieve them. God wants to answer our prayers, and He wants us to grow closer to Him and become holier. Naturally, He’ll happily answer your prayers when you ask Him to help you with your faith goals! Before you sit down to read Scripture, ask Him for understanding and for a deeper love of His word. If you want to pray a Rosary every day, ask Him for a deeper devotion and ask Mary to intercede for you. Remember that you’re not on this journey alone. God wants you to succeed and He’ll help you every step of the way. We just have to show up and ask Him to help us grow. When we give God an inch, He’ll give us miles and miles.

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I hope these tips help you as you discern and begin working on your spiritual goals for 2021! I’d love to know what yours are, so comment below so I can pray for you as you work on your goals!

Stay radiant!

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This Sunday’s Gospel: January 3, 2021

For this Sunday’s Gospel and other Mass readings, click here.

When I was little, I remember seeing saying “Wise men still seek him” printed on Christmas cards and decorations. At the time, I thought it was a clever way to “keep Christ in Christmas,” as they say. I found myself remembering that saying every Christmas to remind myself of the reason for the season.

With Epiphany on its way, I’ve been reflecting on the wise men and what it means to seek something. When we seek something, we go out of our way to look for it. We make what we’re looking for our priority, and when we find it, we hold it close to us. The wise men sought Jesus when He was born and were some of the first to encounter Him. Today, we know that Jesus came to earth and He’s still with us, so why do we need to “seek” Him?

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Like the wise men, we do still seek Jesus, but in a different way. We’ve learned who He is and what He did for us, but now we seek to know Him personally. Our search for Jesus consists of falling more in love with Him and strengthening our relationship with Him. As we remember the wise men today, we can continue our journey with Jesus knowing that we’ll constantly seek Him and confident that we’ll find Him.

Stay radiant!

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My Spiritual Annual Report

But Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart.

Luke 2:19

God’s View of 2020
One of my favorite hobbies is planning. I love to pick out a cute planner (or four) at the beginning of the year, decorate the weekly pages with cute stickers and washi, and write in my plans with colorful pens. For as much of a writer as I am, I don’t journal nearly as much as you’d think, but as I look back on my 2020 planners, I view them as something of a journal. I see my busy days and my relaxing days, my highs and lows, my joys and sufferings of 2020. When we make an examen of conscience at the end of the day, we try to view our day from God’s perspective. After 366 days, I try to look back on my year through God’s eyes.

Just like this past year, hindsight is 20/20.

A Spiritual Annual Report
Before Christmas, I received an email from Blessed is She about something called a spiritual annual report. Instead of recording the facts and figures of the year, BIS’s spiritual annual report invited me to recognize where I’ve turned to God and how I’ve become more like Him. The PDF printable had three simple questions that prompted me to reflect on 2020. I flipped through my planners, scrolled through my phone’s camera roll, recalled some memories, and even re-read a few of my blog posts. I allowed myself to reflect on how I’ve grown, where I felt God’s hand, and what I’m thankful for from 2020.

My Spiritual Annual Report
My Spiritual Annual Report

My Journey to Surrender
It seems like everyone’s saying that 2020 was the worst year ever. In many ways, 2020 wasn’t the best. I can’t deny that things have been taken away from me, and I’ll admit that I had some major struggles this year. I think it’s safe to say that this year didn’t go as planned for any of us, but if we take a step back, we can see that God still blessed 2020 and gave it to us for a reason.

This was the year that I learned to let go of my will and what I want so that God can be in control. My word of 2020 was “surrender,” which was fitting because I learned to suffer well and accept everything that God has planned for me. “Surrender” helped me understand that God’s plans are greater and more beautiful than any plans that I could dream up for myself. Throughout the difficulties and tragedies of 2020, I accepted what God gave me and allowed Him to take from me graciously. I leaned on Him at all times, especially when I had no where else to go. As much as I don’t like the phrase “offer it up,” I learned to do just that and I saw the blessings and beauty in what broke me. I became more patient and gentle to those around me, and I set my fears aside to grow and go forth.

He Guides His Daughter
This year was when I learned that God truly is with us always, just like Jesus promised in Matthew 28:20. I wandered through 2020 like a small child holding her Father’s hand. Slowly but surely, He guided me through the year and revealed more of His plans for me. He nudged me to improve my prayer life so that I can spend time with Him every day. He helped me to complete my Marian Consecration and Fiat 90. He gave me the grace to detach myself from the world so that I could seek and fill myself with holy things. He gave me the peace that only He can give. If I did nothing else this year, I can honestly say that I spent 2020 learning more about and falling more in love with Jesus Christ and His Church.

A Moment for Gratitude
My heart still overflows with gratitude even though so much has been taken away this year. I passed milestones that I’ll cherish forever, like graduating from college, starting my post-college life with Franciscan Mission Service, celebrating my first anniversary with Nathan, and looking forward to our second anniversary in just a few weeks. I embarked on unforgettable adventures, like SLS 20 in Phoenix, West Virginia with my friends, Erie with my family, and Washington, DC, which I now call home. Before the world shut down, I finally got to see my favorite band, the Lumineers. I spent some much-needed time at home with my family, and I fell more in love with Nathan. I watched my friends Allie and Ryan tie the knot, and I had so much fun as one of their bridesmaids. Most of all, I grew in prayer and discipleship as I found my worth as a daughter of the Lord and sought to know Him more.

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Looking to 2021
God placed the word “surrender” on my heart just around midnight one year ago. “Surrender” helped me remember the One who carried me through 2020. I don’t have a word of the year for 2021 yet because I’m hoping to have a similar experience of God giving me a word on New Year’s Eve. No matter what, I’m sure that God will give me a word that reminds me to look to Him throughout the New Year. I pray and trust that our Heavenly Father will go before us in 2021, and that no matter what happens in the next 365 days, He’ll bring us ever closer to Him, using our highs and lows for our sanctification.

Stay radiant!

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This Sunday’s Gospel: December 27, 2020

For this Sunday’s Gospel and the other Mass readings, click here.

The images of the Holy Family that I grew up around were of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus huddled together, as if Joseph were holding Mary and Jesus close to him. I think these images speak to how close the Holy Family was. As we can see in today’s Gospel reading, the Holy Family presented Jesus in the Temple out of their obedience to God. They leaned on each other and relied on each other, as a good family should. Life was far from perfect for them, but they stayed together through it all. They did the best with what they had, and their faith was at the forefront of their lives.

I used to wonder how my current family could possibly compare to the Holy Family. Mary had no trace of sin and she always did the will of God perfectly, Joseph wasn’t perfect, but he was pretty close to it because he was so chaste and holy, and Jesus is literally the Son of God. But as I reflect on how I grew up, I see the little ways in which my family resembles the Holy Family. My mom and dad worked so hard to take care of my brother and I. They made significant sacrifices so that he and I could go to Catholic school from Kindergarten to high school so that we could learn about our faith. They always had time for us and showed up for us when we needed them. They protected and nurtured us in so many ways. Most importantly, they raised Jeff and I in the Church and gave us a strong foundation in our faith.

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Jeff and I are certainly not as perfect as Jesus, but we continue to become more like Him. For as long as I can remember, we learned how to pray, about the Church, and the importance of the Sacraments. We were raised with a love of service and community as we were involved in parish life, and we continue to serve the Church with the unique gifts that God gave us.

My family is no where near perfect, but it’s rooted in our faith. I can easily call us holy. The Holy Family has definitely been watching over us and holding us close. I look at the Holy Family and my own family and I’m grateful that, by the grace of God, my family resembles them in our own special ways. As I pray for my family, I continue asking for the Holy Family’s intercession and I pray that one day I can have a family of my own that looks like the Holy Family.

Stay radiant!

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Will You be Home for Christmas?

What Christmas Looks Like This Year
For Christmas this year, Nathan and I will get to visit my family and his, like we did for Thanksgiving. We’re really blessed that we’re able to make these visits happen, and they’re really important to us because we don’t get to see our families in Pennsylvania often now that I’m in Washington DC and Nathan is in Maryland.

I’m sure you can relate when I say that it’s important that I’m with my family and loved ones on Christmas. With that in mind, my heart goes out to everyone who can’t be with their loved ones this Christmas. Whether they’re far away and can’t travel, or they’re nearby but want to isolate to prevent potentially spreading the virus, I know it must be hard to be away from your family, friends, and loved ones, especially this year.

Will You Be Home For Christmas?
Will You Be Home For Christmas?

The First Christmas
As part of my year of service with Franciscan Mission Service, each volunteer received a spiritual director. I met with mine earlier this month, and she and I had a beautiful talk about Christmas. She told me that this year, we’re experiencing a Christmas that’s very similar to the first Christmas.

Things weren’t going according to plan for Mary and Joseph. Under miraculous circumstances, Mary faced an unplanned pregnancy. Although she never expected to be the Mother of God, she accepted His will graciously, and although the child wasn’t his, Joseph took care of both Mary and the baby Jesus and protected them with his life. When they traveled to and stayed in Bethlehem, the Holy Family had no one but each other. They brought the Infant Jesus into the world essentially into poverty, but this was far from a bad situation.

The Holy Family was truly humble in the sight of God, and their detachment allowed them to surrender to Him and let Him provide for them. Through all of the hardships and twists and turns that the Holy Family endured, they clung to each other. The difficulties in their lives diminished when they held Jesus. With God in their midst, they knew that somehow everything would be okay, and they were home.

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Home with Jesus
We’re no strangers to difficulties and hardships, especially during 2020. Through them all, we can look to the Holy Family to help us rely on God. We might be far from our families, we might have lost someone or something important, but we can find peace and comfort in bringing our grief to Jesus. As we keep Him close to us, we remember that He’s all that we need. Whether you’re able to attend Mass or you’re livestreaming it, believe that Jesus is with you. In receiving Him in the Eucharist or making a spiritual communion, you hold him inside you. No matter where you are this Christmas, seek the Lord who became flesh for us, and you’ll be home.

Have a Merry Christmas and a blessed New Year!

Stay radiant!

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Christ’s Peace with Us: 4th Sunday of Advent 2020

Peace on Earth?
Do we really have peace on Earth? I tend to look on the bright side of things, but the pessimist in me says no, peace is nowhere to be found. After experiencing the difficulties of 2020, I’d say that we’re far from peace on Earth. Our world seems to be in a state of unrest, division, and suffering of so many kinds. After the year that we’ve had, it’s easy to give in to hopelessness.

Christ's Peace with Us
Christ’s Peace with Us

Perusing for Peace
To escape our frustrating and disappointing reality, we desperately search for peace. Of course, we don’t always know where to look, and during times like these, peace is hard to find and even harder to keep. The news only increases anxiety and anger. Endlessly scrolling though social media tempts us with relaxation and happiness, but it only leaves us feeling empty. TV shows, food, shopping, and other activities that we typically turn to give us temporary distractions and bursts of pleasure, but all of these are fleeting.

If we want to have genuine peace on Earth, we can’t rely on earthly things.

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The Prince of Peace
We remember during Advent that the peace we long for lies in Jesus. One of His many titles is “Prince of Peace” for a reason. He is only One who can truly give us peace and alleviate our anxieties. He came two thousand years ago, and He’ll come again for us someday. Out of endless love for us, He became man, died for us, and conquered death through His Resurrection for us.

Jesus doesn’t promise us that the world will be peaceful and perfect. We’ll have to take up our crosses often in this life, but we don’t have to carry them alone because He’ll be with us every step of the way. Amidst the turmoil of this world, we can retreat to Jesus Christ, our Savior, and rest in His peace.

Yes, peace on Earth is attainable when we find it in Jesus. More importantly, we’ll experience the fullness of Jesus and His peace when we’re face-to-face with him in His Kingdom.

Stay radiant!

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Hidden with God in Isolation

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?

Psalm 139:7

Entering Isolation
This Thanksgiving, Nathan and I traveled home to Pennsylvania to visit our families. We were so blessed to spend so much time with his family and mine after being away from home for months. Of course, because we’re still in the middle of a pandemic with cases rising, I had to self-isolate for 72 hours, take a Covid test, and wait for negative results when Nathan took me back to Washington DC.

I don’t like to refer to this time as “quarantine” because I wasn’t actually sick. I prefer the term “isolation” because I had to be alone for a while, away from my community as much as possible, in the unlikely event that I caught the virus. Fortunately, my test result came back negative, as I expected that it would. By the time my result came back, I had spent nearly a week in isolation.

Hidden with God in Isolation
Hidden with God in Isolation

Hidden with God
In a way, isolation was incredibly lonely. I couldn’t spend time with my community, and they rarely talked to me or checked on me. If I hadn’t FaceTimed my family and Nathan every other night, I would have gone crazy from the lack of social interaction. Although I had to be physically isolated from people, I grew ever closer to God during my period of isolation.

It’s easy for me to make excuses about not praying as much as I should. My most common ones are, “I’m too busy,” and “I don’t have enough time.” In isolation, all I really had to do was work from home. I couldn’t help with cooking, dishes, or chores, let alone leave my room, so I had more time and was more free to do whatever I wanted. I spent some of my time blogging, writing letters, and calling loved ones on FaceTime, but the most rewarding and fruitful thing I did during isolation was improve my prayer life. I began my isolation by beginning the St. Andrew Christmas Novena and starting my 33 Days to Morning Glory Marian Consecration renewal. I kept delving into Scripture, reading 1 John and 2 John. God’s Word continues to capture my heart, so I took my time with reading, contemplating, and journaling about it.

Even when I was isolated I still felt close to God. As I had to separate myself from my community, I knew that I could cling to my Heavenly Father. I could never be truly isolated from Him because of His constant presence. During my week by myself, He comforted me and embraced me in His love. Isolation wasn’t always pleasant, but when I turned to my Father in prayer, I happily dwelt there. In a way, I felt like He was isolated with me. Like my chapel veils help me to be hidden with Jesus during Mass, I felt hidden with Him in my upper room, and I cherished our moments alone together.

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Creating and Sharing a Special Space
Now that Covid cases are rising, non-essential businesses and non-profits are shifting to remote work. After a discussion with FMS, the other two associates and I decided to work from home three days a week. At first, I thought I would resent this option. From my time in isolation, I learned that I’m more productive in the office and I can focus more on my work in that designated space. Now, I’m glad that I can work from home because I have more time to pray.

During Advent, we reflect on what it means to prepare the way for the Lord. Generally, this looks like making our homes and hearts ready for the most important One to come to be with us. We make space for Him, clean it up, and make it lovely and special. With my deepening prayer life, my room has become a special space for the Lord, and He and I dwell there together. In the morning, I light a candle, sip some tea, and read and reflect on His Word. When I’m done with work, I look out the window to watch the sunset with Him while I pray the Rosary. Now that all the leaves are off the trees, I can see the National Shrine of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception through my bedroom window. The closeness of the Basilica is one of the many ways that I feel Jesus near.

Always Abiding with Him
The surprises of 2020 have taught me many lessons, one of them being there’s nowhere I can go where the Lord isn’t already. He’s always close to me, which is the most perfect gift. Remembering this truth reminds me to abide in Him in all things, like He encourages us to do in John 15. My prayer this Advent is that we can draw ever nearer to Jesus. May He soften our hearts and open them up so that He can abide in us.

Stay radiant!

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