Another Miracle on 34th Street

One week ago today I moved to New York State and on July 5th, I moved to 34th Street in Manhattan, New York City. Somewhere between the Hudson River and the flagship Macy’s store, I am now home (if but for a temporary time). Because I am not adept at cultural references, the 34th Street name did not strike a chord with me. But, for many friends and family, it did. One favorite response to my newfound address? Look out for miracles! And looking out for miracles, I have surely done.This past Sunday, July 1st, the Gospel reading at Mass recounts the story in Mark chapter 5 of Jesus, a synagogue official named Jarius, and Jarius’ daughter. In short, Jarius begs Jesus to heal his daughter who has been sick for a long period of time. However, in the time it takes Jesus to respond to the desperate father, people from Jarius’s house arrive bearing bad news: The little girl is dead and Jarius should trouble Jesus no longer. However, Jesus turns to Jarius and says, “Do not be afraid; just have faith.” Jesus goes to Jarius’ home, where He informs everyone that the girl is not dead, but merely asleep. Jesus then takes her hand, and says talitha koum, meaning “Little girl, I say to you, arise!”How many times in our lives have we been like Jarius? We’re desperate and at the end of our ropes, only to see the death of someone or something in the form of a dream or hope die. Or, maybe we’re paralyzed by fear and we can’t bring ourselves to believe in the words of Jesus when He says, “Do not be afraid; just have faith.” Jarius is a lot like all of us: scared, worried, and troubled by circumstances that we can’t quite understand or comprehend. We can barely function, much less “arise” like Jarius’ daughter.I don’t believe in luck or coincidences, but I do believe that God speaks in mysterious ways. Before I moved on Monday, I was terrified. I wondered if I was making the right decision to leave Kentucky and a life that was calm, even if it was boring at times. Yes, I wanted to move to the city. Yes, I wanted to live closer to my fiance. Yes, I was ready to mix up my teaching career. Everything had fallen into place from the job offer to securing housing right in the heart of Manhattan. Yet, I was very afraid that I had made the wrong decision and that everything would be a sure disaster.But, the Gospel of Mark spoke to me in a profound way during Mass.When reading the Bible, I try to stay away from reading each individual verse as if it’s written to and for me. I understand that Scripture has a context for a time and place. While Jeremiah 29:11 was written for Jews suffering the Babylonian exile, it doesn’t mean one cannot derive some comfort and courage from the verse. Similarly, while I am not Jarius’ daughter, I too can also sense the freedom that Jesus offers when He says, “Little girl…arise!”The day before my move, when I heard this Gospel reading, I was filled with hope. I knew that with Our Lord, I had nothing to fear in my new transition. Will it be tough? Yes, sometimes. Will I sometimes fall prey to anxiety and weakness? Yep. But, each time, I can remember the words of Jesus when he says “Little girl…arise.” It is in Christ that you and me and everyone else can persevere, rise to sainthood, and enjoy the wonderment of Heaven. We just have to rise up day after day and trust that God is always with us – whether we live in secluded cabin or we’re looking for miracles on 34th Street.–Thank you for reading! If you enjoyed this post, please consider liking this blog’s Facebook page. Also consider subscribing through WordPress or email. I look forward to connecting with you! 

Viking River Cruise’s Rhine Getaway: A Review

Happy Tuesday! Here’s a note before we begin:

Last week, I mentioned that I am taking a break from blogging until mid-July due to my upcoming vacation and my move to NYC next week. On Sunday afternoon, I returned from Europe after experiencing a most unique vacation with Viking River Cruises. My trip was so special that I believe it merits a break from my break in order to help you determine if river cruising, especially with Viking, is a good choice for your future travel choices. Please note that though my review is overwhelmingly positive, I am not affiliated with Viking River Cruises in any way. 

I watch a lot of cable news. In between breaks of talking heads and other pundits, I’ve watched this (now dated) commercial many, many times:

My initial thoughts? Sure, that looks fun…if you’re over 50 and have retirement money to spend.

Personally, I consider myself a semi-budget traveler. I like to go as fancy as I can for as cheap as I can. From the looks of the Viking commercials, the cruises fit the “fancy” criteria of my travel desires, but more than likely would not fulfill the “as cheap as I can” part of the equation. Also, how much would I enjoy a cruise where the age of the average cruiser would easily hover around 55?

Then, in 2017, my parents cruised with Viking on the Elegant Elbe itinerary. Later that year, they traveled to South America with Viking, only to turn around and sail a few months later down the Danube River. For my parents, who are under 55 and very active, Viking was their top, and now only, choice for cruising.

Yet, I was still suspicious: Would I enjoy a Viking River Cruise? Even if I enjoy European history, but I’m not a buff? Even if I am “old at heart,” but still like to talk about the concerns of a younger generation?

So, when the opportunity arose to go on a Viking River Cruise presented itself, I hurried to take advantage of the occasion. To make a long-review-short, even though I harbored my own concerns about the trip, all of my assumptions of a Viking cruise were shattered within seconds of boarding our longship on June 17th, 2018 for our sailing on the Rhine River.

Please note that like any vacation, there are pros and cons to any journey. Throughout our Rhine Getaway, I noted specific aspects of river cruising with Viking that I loved and three aspects that others (not necessarily myself) may not prefer. With that, let’s start with the positives of the Rhine Getaway.

1. Service: Service to and on our longship, the Viking Hlin, was impeccable from the start. The moment we landed in Basel, Switzerland, we were escorted to a comfy Viking motor coach which whisked us away to our dock. Check-in on the Hlin was a breeze and we were directed to a lunch buffet that was prepared and waiting for us. Our servers were attentive, but not overbearing. Within a day, our server at breakfast, Aries, knew both mine and my mother’s name. He knew what we wanted to drink without having to ask. Our room attendant, Annamaria, was equally as impressive. She knew how many washcloths to leave in our bathroom and cleaned our stateroom twice a day. At dinner, when we ate on the Aquavit Terrace, our server Goska also knew our names and dining preferences within a day. These examples of fine service are only the tip of the iceberg.

2. Dining: The dining experience on our longship was exceptional (and included in your fare!). In the mornings, we were treated to a wide selection of egg and pastry-ish dishes from a menu, accompanied with an extensive breakfast buffet. The buffet hosted traditional American-style bacon and eggs, but also European fish dishes, salad, and muesli. Lunch and dinner service was no exception. While you can order from a three-course menu for lunch, my mom and I often ate on the Aquavit Terrace, which was a lighter option. Lunch on the terrace often included the selections featured in the restaurant, but in smaller portions (which was perfect for our dining needs). For dinner, dining featured a wide selections from a regional menu and a standard menu that remained the same for those with more American tastes. On our first night, I enjoyed a sirloin with fries, Cesar salad, and vanilla ice cream. Throughout the week, I tried German sausages, Dutch beef stew, and a few delicious cheeseburgers.

3. Ease of Travel. I am not new to international travel, though I am new to river cruising. Typically when I travel abroad or over long distances, it is a task to get from place-to-place or hotel-to-hotel. Previously, my travel experience in Europe included an 18-hour layover in Paris back in 2006. That was it. So, maybe you’re not a seasoned traveler, but you want to see more of the world in a way that’s not tiresome or stress-inducing. This is where river cruising with Viking steps in. With Viking, we stopped at many cities on the Rhine River, and at the end of the day, we returned to our ship to enjoy dinner and other fun activities. We didn’t have to worry about handling our luggage, finding a taxi, and navigating in a foreign language. All of this was taken care for us by the ship’s staff and crew. For someone who hadn’t visited Europe in 12 years, the ease of travel with Viking was an excellent motivation to return to the continent.

While I could list many more positives of my Rhine Getaway with Viking, there are also some negative aspects to river cruising. Please note, these “negatives” can be interpreted more as preferences based on an individual person, and not to river cruising as a whole. But, nevertheless, these are worth mentioning and considering before booking your first trip with Viking.

1. Not a Party Ship. Viking River Cruise longships are NOT party ships. If you are looking to get sauced every night in the bar with spring break college kids and techno music bumping in the background, then river cruising with Viking is NOT for you. Yes, the ship has a bar and alcohol is provided at meals, but by 11:00 PM at night, most of the ship’s 200ish guests are tucked away in their staterooms. There is no curfew on the ship and you are free to browse the halls at all hours, but don’t expect to join a raving party in the lounge or on the top deck at these hours. Appropriately, Viking Cruises are billed as the “thinking person’s cruise.” Most cruisers are on vacation to relax, visit historical sites, enjoy a glass of wine at dinner, and to read a book from the ship’s library. In this same vein, do not expect children’s programming on these ships. This is not a typically family-friendly cruise, and it’s not geared towards children. Don’t expect to drop off little Johnny at ship daycare while you relax by the walking track. Personally, I am “old at heart,” and I appreciated the mature atmosphere of our ship. But, if you’re looking for a loud, non-stop party (or a vacation with children’s programs) then steer clear of river cruising with Viking.

2. No Room Service. Viking River Cruises do not provide 24-hour room service. For those who have cruised on ocean liners, they may be accustomed to non-stop stream of food at their fingertips. On Viking, you certainly won’t starve due to lack of food and free snacks, but don’t expect to make a phone call for 3:00 AM pizza. Once again, this is a personal preference. Some really want the full-meal access while on vacation, while others (like myself), prefer the formal meals while enjoying free coffee and snacks in-between meals. Personally, I think the three-course meals at dinner, wide selections at lunch, and menu ordering at breakfast adds to the mature atmosphere of the cruise. But, once again, it depends on what you’re looking for in terms of your desired culinary experience.

3. The Price. When my friends heard I was going on a river cruise the Viking, the first question was “How much did you pay for the trip?!” This is a fair question, as river cruising is an investment to be taken seriously. Also, the pricing can be intimidating for those who are uninitiated. A large suite with a balcony on a Viking longship can easily go for $6,000 per person for 8 days. Can you afford that? Probably not. Can I afford that? No.

But, the key is to shop smarter, not harder.

If you’re thinking of taking a river cruise with Viking, sign up for alerts through a travel agent. I recommend using the Roaming Boomers, who often send out unpublished Viking fares in their email updates. That’s how my mom and I snagged a great deal for our stateroom on the Rhine Getaway. Often, these prices are thousands of dollars cheaper than fares on the Viking website. Once you start looking for deals, you may find yourself sailing down any given European river.

My vacation with Viking River Cruises surpassed my expectations. I had a great time exploring Europe along the Rhine River and I made some wonderful memories along the way. Of course, I can’t list every positive about river cruising, and nor can I list every “negative.” In the end, it’s up to you to determine if European river cruising is for you. But, overall, I highly recommend this mode of travel. Have you traveled with Viking in the past? What was your impression? What did you like or dislike? Let me know in the comments below! In the meantime, happy trails.

Taking a Break

Happy Thursday, everyone! 

It’s been quiet around here for two weeks. Why? I’ve been [super] busy.

On June 5th, my fiance came down for a visit and stayed for a week. During his visit and since he left, it’s been feet on the ground and running, running, running. This Saturday, I depart for my European river cruise. Eight days after my return, I move to New York City to begin my new job in July. So, you won’t hear much from me around here until early-to-middle of July 2018. Keep me in your prayers as I travel and transition, and I’ll pray for you as well.

God bless you and I’ll talk to you soon.

-Sarah

Roamin’ Catholic: USA Edition

Earlier this year, I wrote a blog post regarding all of the Catholic places I’d like to visit. Sites included the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes in Lourdes, France. All of these places are wonderful, holy sites that can enrich our faith. But, when you live in the United States and hopping a plane to Mexico City or continental Europe on a whim isn’t an option, it’s favorable to check out the holy places in your own backyard.

Below is a list of a few places I would love to visit, especially in the near future when I move to New York City. Certainly, I will miss some worthy places, so drop a comment below and let me know where I should visit.

Roamin’ Catholic: USA Edition

  1. St. John Paul II National Shrine, Washington, D.C.
  2. The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington, D.C.
  3. Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament, Hanceville, AL
  4. Shrine of St. Therese, Darien, IL
  5. Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, La Crosse, WI
  6. Lourdes in Litchfield, Litchfield, CT
  7. Our Lady of Good Help, Champion, WI (The only Vatican-approved apparition site in the USA)
  8. St. Kateri National Shrine and Historic Site, Fonda, NY
  9. Shrine and Parish Church of the Holy Innocents, New York, NY
  10. Shrine of Our Lady of La Sallette, Altamont, NY
  11. Shrine of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, Philadelphia, PA

Where are places you’ve traveled? Drop a note below!

When Easter is Ordinary: Times of Slow Prayer

Pentecost Sunday 2018

After the long, tedious haul of Lent, the Easter season is a time of rejoicing in the Risen Christ. In an ideal world, all Christians would by happy and jubilant during this time, full of prayer and contemplation. Nothing would hinder our devotion and we would pray without ceasing during this joyous time.

But, for better or for worse, we live in a different reality that what I described above. 

As a relatively new convert, I have eagerly jumped into many devotional prayers and practices. At first, it was really easy to incorporate new prayers and practices into my life. “This is easy!,” I thought. “I don’t know why more people don’t pray the Rosary everyday and pray all these novenas!” 

Then, bit-by-bit, real life began to creep in. During this year’s season of Lent, I decided to abstain from blogging (except on Sundays) and other social media outlets. After Lent, when the time of fasting was over, I found myself struggling to write again. I found myself lagging also in my prayer and devotional life.

When I once eagerly prayed the Rosary each morning and read a devotional, I did well just to pray something on my own. Novenas? Forget it. Writing in my journal with prayerful overtones? No. Reading the devotions that are emailed to me every morning? Delete.

If you can’t tell, my Easter season has been a struggle.

As we round out the Easter season with the joyous day of Pentecost, I have thought of how I can better reestablish a routine of prayer that helps me grow right where I am. Of course, I know that life happens: Living gets busy and we can’t upkeep the prayer habits of those living in a cloister or monastery.

Thankfully, since January, I have met monthly with a wonderful spiritual director. Often, we talk about habits of prayer and practice. I willingly admit that I want to pray all the prayers and do all the devotions. When I “fail,” I become utterly disappointed and feel like I’m somehow less of a Catholic because of it. However, when meeting with her last week, my director suggested that I make a list of what I would like to do prayer-wise throughout the day.

Though I am a habitual list maker, I never thought to apply the fine art of list-making to my prayer life. Since I began making a list since last week, I’ve noticed that the “slowness” of my Easter season prayer has begin to fall away and I’ve began to notice a renewal in my own practice. I am not overwhelmed nor wracked with a false since of guilt.

Here’s an example of my own “prayer list” that supplements my spontaneous prayer:

  1. Daily Mass Readings
  2. Pray the Liturgy of the Hours (when possible)
  3. One Rosary decade (or full Rosary when possible).

These tasks fit easily within my own life and help me grow closer to Christ throughout my day. Once I complete all of these prayerful tasks, anything “extra” is a bonus. By choosing to make a list and sticking to it, I can already tell that I don’t feel as slothful in my prayer life. I am slowly picking up the energy that I possessed before the Lenten season and I thank God for the wisdom of my spiritual director. And strangely enough, I thank God for this slow, prayerful season of Easter. In a sense, I have rediscovered the joy of prayer.

As we enter into Ordinary Time, what are some ways you can revamp your prayer life if it feels slow? What works for you? What doesn’t work for you? Let me know below, I’d love to hear your story.

May Our Lord Jesus bless you as you celebrate Pentecost and venture into Ordinary Time.

GUEST POST: Delight Yourself in the Lord by Allison Gingras

Happy Wednesday, everyone! I am excited to present a guest post from another digital friend and fellow Catholic blogger, Allison Gingras. May the joy of the Lord be your strength!

Delight Yourself in the Lord

Well, that seems easy enough. Though, I am not sure which intrigued me more when I first read it?  Whether it was wondering how one delights themselves in the Lord or which desire of my heart I longed to have fulfilled?

Continue reading

Myths of a Different Kind: Two Falsehoods I Used to Believe About Catholicism

Solemnity of the Ascension // Our Lady of Fatima // Mother’s Day, 2018

It’s very common for inquirers about Catholicism to arrive in their RCIA classes or local parishes with misconceptions about the Faith. Often warned by well-meaning acquaintances about the dangers of the Catholic faith, those curious about Catholicism often have to work through this emotional and cultural baggage before (and sometimes after) receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation.

For those who convert from an Evangelical Protestant background, some “myths” run a common thread across denominational lines. Some of these common myths include the idea that Catholics worship Mary, Catholics must earn their way to Heaven, Catholics believe they can “just go to confession” (and keep on sinning), and that Catholicism rejects Biblical teaching in favor of man-made traditions.

For me, the experience was a little different.

Many Protestant groups teach that one only has to “accept Jesus” in order to secure salvation. Often, it is taught that salvation can never be lost, regardless of what the person does. Other groups teach that salvation is eternal, but if you continue to live a life of sin after acknowledging Jesus, then you probably weren’t really “saved” to begin with. Baptism is often presented as something one does as a sign of obedience after salvation, not as an act necessary for salvation.

Contrary to this dominant theology in Protestantism, my denomination taught the necessity of baptism for salvation and that eternal security is not a Biblical teaching. Since the Catholic Church teaches the necessity of baptism for salvation and the rejection of eternal security, I had no issue with this during my formation period.

However, there were other myths before my conversion that I carried with me into RCIA. Thankfully, these myths were resolved and I was able to understand more clearly what the Church teachers and how she operates in our world. While I’m not a professional theologian, hopefully I can help you untangle these misunderstandings and any other misunderstandings you may have, too.

Myth #1: Catholics Don’t Evangelize. A few months ago, I read an article (title and author I have since forgotten) about Catholic evangelization. Essentially, the author stated that helping  someone enter the Catholic faith was once almost unheard of. He mentioned that inquiring about Catholicism was like if a non-Italian walked up to someone of Italian descent and said, “I’d like to be Italian. Can you help me do that?” In case you didn’t know, you can’t change someone’s ethnicity.

I imagine, that at one time, Catholicism was easily viewed as a family tradition, rather than a relationship with God (which happens even today in all faith traditions to a degree). Often, for those born into a Catholic family, the idea of conversion may seem foreign or even odd. At one time, I thought people only converted to Catholicism because they were going to marry a Catholic. On reason I carried this belief was because I thought that Catholics simply did not evangelize.

However, when I was in RCIA and upon my confirmation, I discovered that this was farther from the truth. For example, the Saint Paul Street Evangelization creates street teams to encounter passerbys in public spaces in a non-threatening way. These teams often pass out medals, rosary beads, pamphlets, and Bibles to those who are interested. On a smaller scale, many Catholic parishes have envagelization teams. For example, my parish hosted a Discovering Christ and Sharing Christ sessions for those interested in telling their story of faith in social settings. Catholic evangelization is alive and well, even if you don’t see it shouted on your local street corner.

Myth #2: Catholics Don’t Care About the Bible. This myth is rampant, especially in some (but not all) Protestant churches. The accusations are varied: Catholics say a priest forgives you. That’s not in the Bible! or Catholics drink blood each Sunday. That’s not in the Bible! or Catholics observe Advent and Lent, plus they baptize babies who can’t consent. That’s not in the Bible! My personal favorite: Catholics don’t even read the Bible. They’re not allowed to! 

Unfortunately, many of these statements about Catholic doctrines not having a Biblical foundation are based on myths within a myth. Perhaps someone had heard a Catholic family member describe a faith practice incorrectly. Or, maybe someone has encountered a former Catholic who is angry with the Church (and is often poorly catechized), and is determined to spread their own understanding of Catholic teaching.

While I don’t have time to delve into the Biblical basis for Catholic teachings, I can say that Catholics have a strong reverence for the Bible as the inspired Word of God. If you attend any Catholic Mass, you will notice that the Mass is absolutely soaked in the words and story of the Bible. There are multiple readings: the Old Testament, a Psalm, often a second reading from the Epistles, and always, always, always a Gospel reading. That’s a reading from each part of the Bible each and every Sunday! In a three-year liturgical year cycle, a Catholic will have heard the entire Bible read. How awesome is that!

Another example, before receiving the Eucharist, Catholics say, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only the say the words and my soul shall be healed” (Matthew 8:8). So, each time we receive Communion, Catholics are reminded that though we are not worthy of God, He comes to each one of us in the Eucharist. There are so many ways that Catholics reverence the Bible, just in the Mass alone. In fact, Pope Francis admonished Catholics to carry our Bibles just like we carry our smartphones.

Food For Thought

If you’re a convert to Catholicism, are there any myths that you believed prior to your confirmation? If you’re a cradle Catholic, did you have misunderstandings that were cleared up upon further study? Are you a non-Catholic who may have a misunderstanding? If so, I’d love to hear your stories below. It’s important that we always promote the truth in charity and love. I look forward to reading your comments and stories. Have a blessed Sunday!