What A Mission Trip Isn’t

I am a natural skeptic. 

Two days ago at 6:00 AM, my JetBlue flight from Kingston, Jamaica arrived at JFK International Airport. I was worn and tired, having gone without sleep since 6:00 AM the day before. After nearly a week, my stint as a short term missionary in the Carribean was over.

Before departure the Monday before, I expected nothing from the week that awaited me. I thought I would see some kids, plant some flowers, maybe paint a wall – but I knew I wouldn’t experience a great spiritual impact in any way.

Why?

Because I was skeptical of short term mission trips. 

My primary exposure to short-term missions (STM) was this: College girl goes on an STM, paints a wall that a local person could do (for steady pay), takes some pictures with local kids (posts on Instagram, of course), returns home, gushes about how “This trip changed me, not the people I went to serve.”

Okay, sweetie.

So, when I signed up with a local Catholic young adult group to go to Jamaica on a short term mission trip, more than one person expressed their surprise at my decision. After all, I’ve spent many breaths decrying the expenses associated with STMs that could be used to directly benefit career missionaries as well as the local poor in many destination countries.

To me, at least, spending $2500 to go to Central America just so you can dig up dirt and build a fence seemed foolish. Just send the $2500 instead. Also, don’t forget the number of unskilled people that travel on STMs to perform skilled labor. Never built a house while living in suburbia? Never worked on a construction site? Surprise! You still can’t do it in Guatemala. It’s not a skill handed out after passing through immigration.

Yet, I signed up because something told me it was the right thing to do. Despite my intellectual qualms and hesitations regarding STMs, I took a chance that just didn’t make sense. Also, as a recent convert to Catholicism, the lack of Catholic evangelization deeply troubles me. I wanted to help remedy this, so I took the step, paid my fees, and booked my flight. I asked God to show me why I was doing this, and He showed up.

My week in Jamaica wrecked me in a way I never expected. 

When you ask Jesus to show up, He will without hesitation. It was humbling, as I asked for this divine show and expected only a paltry response from the King of the Universe. (Perhaps this is something I will write about later).

And while this past week positively wrecked my soul for the Lord, I still haven’t thrown overboard all of my hesitations for STMs. There are many things that an STM is, and there are at least three things an STM isn’t.

Let’s take a look at what it isn’t. 

1. A short term mission isn’t an opportunity for you to romanticize the poor and/or poverty. I get it. It’s humbling to see how the majority of the world lives without access to the luxuries we consider everyday necessities. It’s tempting to say, “These people have nothing, yet their faith is so strong,” and then assume that poverty is equal to righteousness. Yes, the Sacred Scriptures tell us time-after-time that we are to care for the poor in our midst and to store our treasures in Heaven. But…

we fail to remember that poverty is not a virtue. 

No one gets to Heaven faster because they are poor. It doesn’t work that way.

Poverty, coupled with a lack of access to healthy food, water, and quality education, makes life very difficult. It often shortens lifespans and causes grief, whether it’s here in the United States or abroad. Again, it’s tempting for us to see enthusiastic Christians in poorer countries and to assume that “Well, it can’t be that bad, look how happy they are for the Lord!”

Life is tough, and it’s tougher when you lack access to basic needs. When serving on a short term mission, take care to realize that poverty is not a pastoral, idyllic condition. It’s hard, it’s tough, it’s real.

2. A short term mission isn’t an opportunity for you to project your standards on to another population. The group I traveled with was, and is, amazing. We worked well together, helped those we came to serve, and knew the work would be tough.

Not at one time during the week did I hear anyone complain about how different our temporary standard of living was. It was refreshing to work with a positive, upbeat crew of young adults.

At the same time, it’s tempting as humans, when removed from our “normal” situation to view the differences of our new settings as inconvenient, or even bad. Lights go out for most of the day? What kind of horrid place is this? The locals don’t show up on time for an event with a clear starting time? Don’t they know it’s rude to be late? Children clamor to hold your hand? Do these kids know anything about personal space? 

Mission trips tend to slay, or at least temper, our perceptions about how we should live our lives. As it turns out, there’s more than one way to exist on our blue planet. As a short term missionary, it’s not yours, or my, job to think we’re there to change the local group’s perception of time, personal space, or standard of living. Service, and not necessarily change, is paramount. Which leads to the fact that…

3. A short term mission isn’t an opportunity for you to change the world. Those of us who go on STMs are the type that believe we can be a force for good, and frankly, many of us are dreamers. Since my youth, I knew I wanted to “change the world” in some way, shape, form or fashion. I suspect that many who sign up, and serve, on STMs are the same way. We believe that change in the name of the Lord Jesus is possible for anyone, anywhere.

Yet, an STM isn’t an opportunity for you to leave your mark on the world.

Let’s be honest: Those you come in contact with probably won’t remember what you said, or even what you did, but they will remember your presence. They will remember that you showed up in a place that is far from your own home and probably very unfamiliar.

For example, during my time in Jamaica, I performed in a skit about the life of St. Francis around seven times – and six of those times in the classroom for young school children. Will the kids remember what we said about St. Francis? Probably not. Will they remember that we came to their school, sang some songs, and played some games out on the school lawn? Absolutely.

Working for God is a task in accepting small, incremental change. Your STM team will probably not see the fruit of your labor immediately. Don’t expect mass conversions and convictions on the spot because you were there for four days and put up a fence. Can it happen? Yep. Will it happen? Probably not.

As short-term missionaries, our job is to plant the seed, water the existing seeds, and let the Holy Spirit do His work. It’s critical that first, we put aside any grandiose expectations for change and second, get out of God’s way. He’ll do the work in His time. We just have to be willing. 

***

Finally, before this trip, I would have discouraged anyone from going on an STM. As stated, I thought missions were wasteful, vacation-like ventures that served as little more than Instagram fodder for doe-eyed Christians seeking out a feel-good experience.

Thankfully, I was wrong. 

If you haven’t already, I would encourage you to seek out and actually go on a short-term mission trip where your skills and talents will be used to the maximum. Pray about it, ask God to show you what’s up, and go with it.

Despite my inhibitions, I listened and followed. I was happy and blessed during my time in Jamaica. However, will your experience be like mine? Maybe, maybe not. You may go and return from your mission and feel nothing. In fact, you may have a terrible experience. But, there is always a good chance you won’t have a terrible experience and your life will be marked forever.

I know that my time in Jamaica will stay with me for the rest of my life. And, in the words of every female on social media who’s ever gone on an STM, “This trip changed me, not the people I went to serve.”

Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us.

Our Lady, Patron of Jamaica, pray for us.

*****

If you’ve ever gone on a short term mission trip, what was your experience? 

What are some other things a short-term mission trip isn’t? 

Are you skeptical like I was (and still am, a little) about the value of short-term missions? Why or why not?

Let me know in the comments below. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Want to Get My Doctorate but I Also Wear a Veil to Mass: Healthy Traditionalism, Anxiety, and Social Media

I’m a regular on Twitter. It’s a fun place to find quirky community – especially if you’re a tech savvy Catholic. In a smattering of characters, I can lament the lack of convenient daily Mass times or praise the joys of the sacrament of confession. I’ve made many wonderful friends on the platform – friends I hope to meet in person someday.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time on the Internet – especially social media. My summer job included sitting at a desk for the majority of the day, so I would spend my time clicking through Catholic articles and a multitude of tweets from my “friends” to pass the time. However, at one point in the summer, I became filled with such anxiety that I swore off Twitter for about a day before returning. I took the time to examine why I became so anxious and what we can do about our social media anxieties.

Social Media Anxiety

I don’t identify as a feminist, and as a full disclosure, I don’t believe that “Catholic Feminism” is a real thing. There’s just Catholicism – which honors and respect women (though in a much different way than our secular world does). I don’t suspect that true feminism wills faithful Catholic women to join its ranks because of our opposition to many contemporary institutions such as abortion on demand and artificial birth control. I digress.

However, I’ll say this: A lot of people have a lot to say about what women do or don’t do. This is spectacularly evident in religious circles on the Internet – especially social media.

For example, lately I’ve contemplated my decision to return to graduate school and work towards my masters and doctorate in Applied Linguistics. While I am receiving generous financial aid in scholarship and grants, I am still using some student loan assistance to reach my goal. In the back of my mind, there’s this little nagging voice that says: 

“That’s really dumb, you’re not even thinking about your future kids! What if you want to stay home but then you have to work to pay back your debt? Your kids will have to go to daycare and public school and you’ll just have kids that were raised by someone else. You can’t have everything you want.”

Women Shouldn’t Vote and Our Lady Was a Feminist 

This nagging voice was especially exaggerated by some things I’ve read on social media in the past few weeks (in my own paraphrase):

  • College education is a waste of time for women who want to be homemakers. If something happens to your husband, you can live off of his life insurance.
  • Women who want to be truly modest should never own pants because they are made to show off one’s figure.
  • Women who don’t marry young aren’t serious about their families and are only concerned about their career.
  • Women who take out student loans would rather serve an employer instead of serving their husbands with joy.
  • Women shouldn’t vote because they are inherently more liberal – which is why Obama was elected.
  • “I want a traditional, Catholic wife who is a perfect 10, acts like a whore, but is actually a virgin who enjoys washing the dishes and massaging my feet. I, on the other hand, am obese and live in my mom’s basement.
  • If you send your kids to public school, you’re damning them to hell. 

But, don’t despair, here are some more anxiety-inducing quotes from the other side of the coin:

  • You can never, ever tell a woman what to wear to Mass because that forces her to be beholden to men and that’s not cool.
  • Jesus was the original feminist and if you’re not also a feminist – you hate women.
  • Mary, the mother of Jesus, was anything but meek and mild. She did what she wanted and wasn’t submissive.
  • Divorce is a holy thing for women and is often the best choice.
  • It’s [current year] and women can do whatever they want to do without the permission of a man – even in the Church.
  • Women who believe that they should submit to their husbands only do so because they are “taken care of” and don’t have to think for themselves.
  • You’re a total queen who doesn’t need permission from anyone to be who you are (even if “who you are” is destructive to yourself and those around you).

It’s probably no surprise that many faithful Catholic women, myself included, are in a tizzy about who they are and what they want to be. I often find myself in a thought loop that sounds something like this: Are my desires and goals in my life from God or are they a result of our modern culture? Does God really need a female linguist that could just stay at home instead? Or do I not possess a healthy level of girl power to trust my instincts?

Where is my place in the world as a young woman who believes she should submit to her husband but also wants to study the social impact of language at the doctoral level? Where are the voices that say that for young women, a solid college education is worth the time and effort, but may not be for everyone (and that life insurance isn’t a permanent solution)? Where are the women who believe in the value of motherhood but also know its okay to share your gifts outside of the home (and that it won’t ruin your children for life)?

In short, where are the sensible traditionalists? 

For me, fighting this cycle of anxiety looked like logging off of social media for a day. It meant talking about my concerns with those far wiser than myself and learning how to employ the “mute” function on Twitter. For you, it may look like deleting your profiles completely and stopping the comparison game. But for all of us, if should mean trusting our gut and ultimately the Holy Spirit – our supreme guide.

Thank you for reading! If you enjoyed this post, please consider sharing with your friends and family via social media and other platforms. I appreciate your support. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Settling: Notes on Putting Down Roots

Saturday, January 5th, 2019

As I write this, I am somewhere over the American midwest, headed towards Dallas, Texas. If I had to guess, my plane is cutting across the sky where Tennessee and Missouri meet. Below me, I see a river and patches of farmland.

I am on the road again.

This time, I am flying from Kentucky back to New York City at the conclusion of a much-anticipated winter break. After a delay at my airport of origin, I am experiencing a reroute through Dallas in order to return to the Big Apple. While it’s totally out of the way to travel southwest with a destination in the northeast – I don’t mind. I love travel, especially by air. I love the vibe of airports, the anticipation of boarding a plane, the suspension of everyday life as the aircraft takes off and soars through time. I love the movement, I love the adventure.

Before moving away to college, I lived in the same house for 18 years. For me, moving away to college was an adventure akin to getting on the plane – the vibe was right, the spirit of anticipation was there. As I studied to become a teacher, I thought of all of the school districts in Kentucky where I could teach. From the far Appalachian Mountains to the Mississippi River – my opportunities were endless. I thought I would find myself teaching in the hills of Eastern Kentucky one year and in the Western Coal Fields another year. The idea of bouncing around the state was met with anticipation –  another sense of adventure.

After graduating from college, my living arrangements shouted “adventure.” I lived in South Korea with a Korean family for a year, taught in two separate school districts in Western Kentucky, and taught for three years in my own home county. My homes included an apartment situated on a busy main street, an apartment nestled between two retirees, my parents basement, and another little house. Now, as a New York City resident, I find myself living in an all-women’s living residence on the west end of the famed 34th Street.

However, between the movements, I found myself growing weary of the constant moves and change in jobs. Some changes were not my own choices, while some were. Yet, I longed for the days when I lived in the same little house on the same little farm. The adventure was fine, but it was beginning to grow old.

After moving to Manhattan, I started to make an effort to establish more roots in my local community. By nature (or social construction), New York City is an ever-changing place. One doesn’t move to Manhattan to settle down and raise a family – he or she moves there to say they lived in the heart of one of the best cities on the planet. It’s not a place of permanence for most people who live there. Instead, it’s a constant revolving door of people and ideas.

Despite the built-in opposition, I wanted to make Manhattan a home – if but for a little while. For example, many Catholic young adults who take their faith seriously want to find a parish in which they can connect. This can be tough for a myriad of reasons. I am no exemption, and in college, I was a notorious church hopper. However, after my first few weeks in my new home, I made an effort to register at a nearby parish. This was one small step to creating a home, to establish roots.

Finally, in big cities, the temptation to “wonder” is at an all-time high. I would wonder what it would be like if I lived in another borough of the city, if I had another job, if I could go and do so many other things. Yet, as I wrap up my first six months living in New York City, I found this “wonder” mentality detrimental – I couldn’t enjoy my blessings without wondering about everything else around me. This tiny shift in mindset alone helped me root my mind and heart in my current location – instead of allowing my mind to wander. Day-by-day, I root myself in my own reality and enjoy the city as it bustles and grows. The city is more vibrant, the world becomes a lovelier place to live.

Rootedness in our own culture is tough – we are always promised that something bigger and better is around the corner. We are encouraged to move around – to find what’s out there. Ambition is the new king of our hearts.

I encourage you, especially if you are making a move to a new city or new home – think about how you can cultivate rootedness – even if it is temporary. Maybe this looks like registering at a local parish or church, joining a social group, or intentionally making friends with your neighbors. For each of us, this looks different. However, I recommend that we all be still, if but for a moment, and reflect on how we can create homes and sanctuaries, right where we are.

A Roadmap for Prayer

One of the beauties of Catholicism is the embrace of rhythm.

The Church boasts a robust liturgical year filled with silence, celebration, mourning, and remembrance. The Liturgy of the Hours marks the days with the reading of Psalms and the calm punctuation of prayer. The Rosary reminds us to be still for twenty-ish minutes at a time, while the Angelus beckons us to remember the Incarnation of Christ at 6 AM and Noon. Rhythm is everywhere, the order of time surrounds Catholics in an ever-present embrace.

Still, though, our lives outside of Mass are often disordered, or distorted, by time. We struggle to find time to pray (and forget trying to find time to read the daily Mass readings). Often, it just doesn’t seem possible to be as devout as many of us would like. This probably applies to you, as it very much applies to me.

Before moving to New York City, my life was fairly leisurely. I usually didn’t leave for work until 8:00 AM and returned around 3:30 PM. Now, I leave for work at 5:30 AM and return around the same time in the evening. The morning Rosary I once treasured has taken a back seat in favor of more sleep and the Mass readings have slipped to a place before bed. My devotional life has been in a tizzy, and frankly, I just don’t like it.

While I am adverse to New Year’s resolutions, I am not adverse to new beginnings that just happen to take place in the first weeks of a new month. This month (and for the rest of the year), I want to commit to a more ordered devotional life. For example, when I first converted to Catholicism, I wanted to do all the the devotions: prayers, rosaries, novenas, journaling. You name it, I wanted in. Yet, I found myself easily overwhelmed and giving up. Almost two years into my life as a Catholic, I discovered the value of order (and not doing all the things all the time) – much like the liturgical year that orders our own devotional lives.

To make things easier, I decided to pursue one devotion per day of the week and retain some devotions on a daily basis. For example, everyday I want to pray two entries in the Liturgy of the Hours (typically the 6AM and 6PM hours), read the daily Mass readings, and pray the Angelus. For me, this is manageable and can be done almost anywhere, including the subway or as I walk down the streets of New York. For other days, I have selected various prayers and litanies to order, and not overwhelm, my life as a praying Catholic.

A Roadmap for Prayer in 2019

Sunday: Recitation of Holy Rosary

Monday: Novena to Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal

Tuesday: Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus

Wednesday: Litany of Humility

Thursday: Litany of the Most Holy Name of Jesus

Friday: Divine Mercy Chaplet 

Saturday: Prayer for the Intercession of the Chinese Martyr Saints

As I am merely human, I will not fulfill my desires everyday of the week. But, I believe this is a great start to more ordered devotional life in 2019. Do you have certain days that you say certain prayers? Which are your favorite? Feel free to let me know in the comments, as I always love to hear suggestions. Happy New Year!

 

 

 

 

Do It Anyway: A Guide for the Rest of Us

There is a famous poem attributed to St. Mother Teresa that goes something like this:

If you are honest, people may cheat you. / Be honest anyway / Give the world your best and it may not be enough / Do good anyway / If you find happiness, people may be jealous. / Be happy anyway.

I’m not sure if the beloved saint actually penned or quoted the poem, but it is surely needful in our current society. We find ourselves tangled in fear and hurt, and often, we’re afraid to do the right thing.

Lately, I’ve often thought of St. Mother Teresa and her impact on the world.

Earlier this year, I read an authorized biography of the saint from Calcutta, often moved by her ability to shun what the world finds important (awards, accolades), in exchange for what the world deems useless (the poor and marginalized). Before, I thought Mother Teresa was little more than a “coffee cup saint,” someone who said nice things that made inspirational mugs sell like hotcakes. Yet, the more I read, the more I discovered the power of love and how Jesus used Mother to change the world.

In December 2018, I began formation as a Lay Missionary of Charity (LMC) with the Missionaries of Charity (MC) sisters in Brooklyn, NYC. When I was a Protestant, I was a member of an ecumenical order of lay Benedictines and lay Franciscans. It was a good experience and a great introduction to monastic living in the “outside” world. After I became Catholic, I yearned for the rhythm of the monastic life, but I didn’t know where to turn.

I grew up familiar with the Dominicans who ran the local Catholic college and a few parishes near my home in rural Kentucky. Of course, I was acquainted with the Benedictines, but the Franciscan charism never appealed to me. After moving to New York, I considered formation with the lay Carmelites, but the charism also didn’t seem like a good match. I desperately wanted some “school” to help me follow Jesus better, but I was coming up short.

Yet, St. Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity always found a way to work their way into my daily life. A quote here, a reminder there. It was evident that that Jesus was pointed me towards formation with the LMCs. Honesty, I couldn’t believe that God would guide me to study the life of a saint who I believed was just okay and maybe good for a few quotes on social media. But, as Jesus often works, His plans are better than my own.

As I reflect on my brief time with the MC sisters and the small LMC group, I thought of my own spiritual practice, and how sometimes, it requires a nudge to “do it anyway.” Like the MC sisters, LMCs are required to participate in a variety of spiritual practices, such as praying the Angelus and praying some hours from the Liturgy of Hours. Sometimes, this can be taxing, and quite frankly, seem like an intrusion into my busy schedule. Reflecting on my entry into this new “school of love” with the LMCs, I present an updated version of the oft-quoted and oft-attributed Mother Teresa’s Do It Anyway. 

Do It Anyway: A Guide for the Rest of Us

Praying the Angelus will often seem a chore at noon, when your schedule is crammed packed. Pray it anyway.

Going to Mass during the week will be tedious and cause you to alter your life. Go to weekday Mass anyway.

Reading the Daily Readings may seem useless when your mind is filled with cares and worries. Read it anyway.

People will think you’re exclusive when you preach and offer them the message of Christ. Evangelize them anyway.

Your friends may not understand your joy when the world seems to crumble around you. Radiate joy anyway.

Praying for your enemies may enrage you and cultivate more anger for a brief time. Pray for them anyway.

Reaching out to the poor will require you to pour out yourself, sometimes more than you want. Reach out anyway.


May God bless you as we enter 2019. Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us. Our Lady of Mercy, pray for us.

 

 

 

 

 

Daily Ways to Sneak in the Rosary

As women, we’re busy.

By the nature of our birth and biology, we are often saddled with the struggles and joys of family life and our careers. As a result, our prayers lives are often inhibited or may gradually disappear as we sink deeper into the secular demands of our lives. It’s easy and I’m sure many of us have struggled with this balance of prayer and everyday life.

Of course, our spiritual lives and our everyday lives are often interwoven. We pray over our meals, place an icon in our work cubicle, pray the Angelus at noon, or keep holy water in our cars. Yet, too often, it’s easy to keep our faith on the shelf as we work about our daily lives. How can we, as modern women with more demands than ever, possibly achieve sainthood in such a hectic world? I believe the key lies in the recitation of the Holy Rosary.

The Power, and Struggle, of the Rosary

From personal experience and from the study of the lives of saints, I am convinced that the Rosary is one of the most powerful prayers that we can pray. In my own devotional practice, I can attest that the Rosary has brought grace and peace that I’ve never known before. It’s no surprise that many Catholics that we now know as saints possessed a great devotion to this prayer.

However, praying the rosary is TOUGH.

Think about it: The Rosary is 53 Hail Marys, over 5 Our Fathers and Fatima Prayers, the Apostle’s Creed, and the Hail Holy Queen. All together, praying the Rosary can take anywhere between 20-30 minutes, depending on how fast you pray. For many busy women, 5 minutes of quiet time, much less 30, is a struggle to find.

I found this to be true when I first began praying the Rosary.

Often, I found myself zoned out after the first decade, especially when listening to a recitation on a podcast or prerecorded track. I found myself looking around the church or at my surroundings, wondering what I could do next. I couldn’t sit still for too long, as my mind started to go to other places between each Hail Mary. It was hard, and I did well to pray the Rosary once a week.

The Benefits of the Rosary

However, in October 2017 I encountered the Chews Life Rosary Challenge. Essentially, the challenge encouraged email subscribers to pray the Rosary everyday for 30 days –  a month. Long-story-short: This challenge rocked my world. Sins I struggled with? The desires fell away. A sense of anxiety? Slowly dissipated.

Now, I don’t say this to prescribe the Rosary as some magical charm. Just because one takes up the practice of praying the Rosary doesn’t mean her problems will disappear or that her mental anguish will fall away. Rather, I do suggest that the Rosary infuses a wonderful grace in our lives that may have been unknown before. This is why I suggest it as a daily devotion for Catholics – especially women.

But, with a prayer as lengthy and repetitious as the Rosary, how can a busy woman possible make time for it?  I also struggled with this – out of the lack of time or from sheer exhaustion at the end of the day. Mistakenly, I thought that a Rosary had to be prayed in one sitting, but it doesn’t. You can pray the Rosary one Hail Mary or Our Father at a time at any time and any place.

Sneaking in a Prayer

Here are just a few ways to sneak in an entire Rosary into your busy schedule. As it turns out, you can pray a whole Rosary while you:

  1. Walk/drive/commute to work.
  2. Wash the dishes.
  3. Change your child’s diaper.
  4. Rake the leaves.
  5. Jog/bike/exercise.
  6. Eat your lunch at your desk.
  7. Bake a cake.
  8. Patch up an old pair of pants.
  9. Stand in line at the bank.
  10. Walk the halls of your workplace.
  11. Run to the supermarket.

The beauty of the Rosary is not confined to silence and adoration chapels. Rather, the Rosary is a reflection of our living faith as Catholic women in an ever-changing world. As you reflect on the mysteries of the Rosary, rather it is the Transfiguration or the Annuciation, you remember the active work of Christ as He walked the earth. Our Catholic faith is a vibrant, living faith, so it only makes sense that one of our hallmark prayers should be one of vibrant love and hope.


Thank you for taking the time to read my blog! I pray that you were moved by the love of Christ in some way. If you enjoyed this post, please consider liking my Facebook page, following me on Twitter or Instagram, or subscribing via WordPress or email, or dropping me a line at sarahquelpart@gmail.com. I’d love to hear from, and connect, with you.

To Jesus through Mary,

Sarah 

10 Quotes from St. Pope John Paul II’s “Letter to Women”

Today, the Church celebrates the feast day of St. Pope John Paul II. Like many young Catholics, my first experiences with the papacy included this dearly beloved saint. Though I was not Catholic during John Paul’s pontificate, I did appreciate the impact he had on the world around him. Now as a Catholic, I have admired his Letter to Womenpublished on June 29, 1995, prior to the Fourth World Conference on Women.

For those who argue that the Church is behind the times in matters of gender and sexuality, they would be hard-pressed to find any signs of the oppression of women in this historical document. Rather, the Letter to Women is a vibrant celebration of women from all walks and stations of life. In honor of St. Pope John Paul II, here are ten great quotes from his monumental letter (bold text mine):

  1. “Thank you, women who are daughters and women who are sisters! Into the heart of the family, and then of all society, you bring the richness of your sensitivity, your intuitiveness, your generosity and fidelity.
  2. “Thank you, every woman, for the simple fact of being a womanThrough the insight which is so much a part of your womanhood you enrich the world’s understanding and help to make human relations more honest and authentic.”
  3. “Transcending the established norms of his own culture, Jesus treated women with openness, respect, acceptance and tenderness. In this way he honoured the dignity which women have always possessed according to God’s plan and in his love. As we look to Christ at the end of this Second Millennium, it is natural to ask ourselves: how much of his message has been heard and acted upon?”
  4. “We need only think of how the gift of motherhood is often penalized rather than rewarded, even though humanity owes its very survival to this gift.”
  5. “The creation of woman is thus marked from the outset by the principle of help: a help which is not one-sided but mutual. Woman complements man, just as man complements woman: men and women are complementary. Womanhood expresses the “human” as much as manhood does, but in a different and complementary way.”
  6. “Were I would like to express particular appreciation to those women who are involved in the various areas of education extending well beyond the family: nurseries, schools, universities, social service agencies, parishes, associations and movements. Wherever the work of education is called for, we can note that women are ever ready and willing to give themselves generously to others, especially in serving the weakest and most defenceless.”
  7. “It is thus my hope, dear sisters, that you will reflect carefully on what it means to speak of the ‘genius of women‘, not only in order to be able to see in this phrase a specific part of God’s plan which needs to be accepted and appreciated, but also in order to let this genius be more fully expressed in the life of society as a whole, as well as in the life of the Church.”
  8. “The Church sees in Mary the highest expression of the “feminine genius” and she finds in her a source of constant inspiration. Mary called herself the “handmaid of the Lord” (Lk 1:38). Through obedience to the Word of God she accepted her lofty yet not easy vocation as wife and mother in the family of Nazareth.”
  9. “…from the heart of the Church there have emerged women of the highest calibre who have left an impressive and beneficial mark in history.”
  10. “Necessary emphasis should be placed on the “genius of women”, not only by considering great and famous women of the past or present, but also those ordinary women who reveal the gift of their womanhood by placing themselves at the service of others in their everyday lives.”

St. Pope John Paul II, pray for us.

Our Lady of Mercy, pray for us.

Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us.

Love for Beginners: Recognizing the Dignity in Everyone

“For, by his incarnation, he, the Son of God, in a certain way united himself with each man.”

– Vatican II

I don’t know if you can remember the first time you struggled with or recognized sin in your own life, but I know I can. Even as a young child, I was often filled with undue pride and arrogance at my self-perceived properness and heightened dignity. Simply, I thought I was better than almost everyone else.

See, I was born into a life that so many would literally kill for. I was raised in home with married parents who were nurturing and supportive. My brother and I get along splendidly and have never one time had an argument or disagreement. By the time I was 18, I traveled to all 50 states with my parents and to the Holy Land with my mother. The little town I grew up in, though insulated, was perfect for raising up children who retained their innocence a little longer than most. In most ways, I lived a healthy, idyllic life.

The Dangers of Privilege 

Unfortunately, an idyllic childhood does come with drawbacks, though it’s few and far between. For me, that drawback was the failure to recognize the dignity in every person I came into contact with. For example, if I scored higher on a test than most of my classmates (which was often), I pondered my own outstanding intellect. If someone participated in hobbies that I found banal (watching and playing sports, not reading voraciously), I determined that person was uncouth and in need of culture. Oh, and people who went to the beach every year for vacation? Get up on my level and go somewhere educational and exotic.

For years, I harbored this belief that I was somehow better than everyone else by the virtue of my family, my behaviors, and my hobbies. I prided myself as someone who would have followed Jesus had I lived during His time on Earth. In reality, I probably would have turned up my nose at the sight of the Holy Family. 

Love One Another

One of the most commonly quoted bits of Holy Scripture is from Jesus when He says, “A new command I give you: Love one another. By this, everyone will know you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35). What is originally a profound and deeply influential command is often twisted by our society. It’s turned into a kitschy saying that we decorate our homes with and quip on social media.

But, have you thought to ponder what it means to truly love one another? Jesus does not instruct us to only love those whom it is easy to love. While we are to love those who are the closest to us, it’s also an imperative that we love those who cause our hearts to clamp up in dread. After all, Jesus said that even the pagans love those who are lovable (Matthew 5:47). The simple, yet sacrificial act, of loving those we struggle to see the dignity in is what can change the world.

Love for Beginners

I am convinced that none of us will ever become experts in loving our neighbors, at least on this side of eternity. We have all sorts of hangups: baggage, presumptions, and the scourge of original sin. All of these things distort how we view and love our neighbor. Sin causes us to discard the lowly and to place a preference on our own selves. We fail to see the inherent God-given dignity of those, especially those we don’t like, around us.

Since my conversion to Catholicism, I have grappled more with my own sin of arrogance and judging others. I think this is primarily because, once I converted, my faith became my own and was no longer something I doing just to avoid hell. Often, I thought about Church teachings on the dignity of the human person . Through my journey, I discovered little ways we can learn to value those around us.

Recognizing the Dignity in Others

A few ways to do this are:

  1. Realize that God created each and every person, and knows them intimately (Psalm 139).
  2. Know that Jesus wildly loves each person you encounter. According to Church teaching, every person is assigned a guardian angel. Just think: God loved you and everyone else enough to appoint a supernatural being to protect and watch over you. Knowing that each person has a guardian angel has greatly influenced how I view those around me.
  3. Pray for those you don’t like. This is tough: Easily said but not easily done. Whether you start out with a simple Our Father or Hail Mary for that person, it’s a start. As you progress, watch how God will slowly chip away the barriers in your heart.
  4. Give of yourself. Volunteer for those who are less-fortunate. It’s easy to pity the poor, but the real change is found in working to improve the conditions of those who are the most vulnerable. This very act takes you outside of yourself, and while humbling, it can help you recognize the dignity in others.

Seeing the dignity in others is hard and arduous. It often requires that we step down from our own high places and come face-to-face with the reality of our littleness. Let me know below if there are other ways you recognize the dignity of others. I always love to hear from my readers. May God bless you, always.

 

 

 

Guest Post: The Way Back – Finding Faith by Kyle Howatt

I want to send a special thank you to Kyle Howatt, a digital friend who has graciously offered his time and talent to my blog. Please consider subscribing to Quelpart for more posts on Catholicism and daily living.

I’ve spent the better part of my now nearly 30 years in this world largely outside of religion. I was born and baptized into the Catholic Faith, but outside of attending funerals, weddings, and the occasional first communion, my baptism was the only experience of mine in any Church at all. Until now, that is, as I’ve begun a journey to find Faith and build a relationship with the Lord that has been absent in every facet of my life thus far.

I’m apprehensive to admit that in my late teens and early twenties I considered myself what is called an Agnostic Atheist. For those who don’t know what that means, I generally referred to myself as a believer in an unknown power or deity that is not God or a God-like being – essentially, I believed in a higher power that is unbeknownst to us as human beings. I say apprehensive to admit so because I now look back and think that holding such a belief was childish – childish to believe that there isn’t a God.

I used to be one of those people that “needed the proof”. Show me the facts and prove to me logically that God exists and I would change my mind. I fault this largely on the premise that I was not raised religiously. But I’ve since grown. I’ve changed my perspective insofar as that to believe that we as human beings are capable of understanding everything that has existed or ever will have existed is nothing more than arrogant and egotistical thinking. I’m not ruling out that there are still other powers or sciences we have yet to even scrape the very surface of, but to dismiss that there is a God because no hard scientific evidence exists to prove otherwise is absurd.

He is out there – in one way, shape, or form. Perhaps in other ways we haven’t thought possible yet, too. Perhaps he’s even walking among us at this very moment in time. I no longer need any hard proof.

My grandparents on my Mother’s side were devout Catholics. If anything, they serve as a consistent reminder to me of all that it means to embody Faith, Tradition, and a life lived in service to the Lord and to all in good Faith. I recall that in the twelve years they lived in Florida in their retirement, going to Mass was an everyday occurrence for them. I’ll always remember them telling me this on family vacations to Myrtle Beach. If only they were still here so I could talk about my own journey in finding God with them. I can’t do Mass everyday myself just yet, but I can certainly go every Sunday.

They also always dressed their best, too – with no exceptions – for the purpose of not only showing their greatest respect for the Lord and the Church at Mass, but also to show respect and order in all that they did and valued in their lives. I’m sure my Grandfather’s military career and upbringing had a lot to do with their life approach. If there’s one improvement I could suggest people make at this moment, especially Men, it is to dress better for Church. I suppose it’s a respect thing for me. Regardless of the Churches I’ve attended – with the exception of one over the last four months – I always showed up in a suit. We can all do better with this, I think. I’m not picking on a single Christian denominational Church here either, I’m simply speaking for them all. The standard has got to change.

My Mom, raised Catholic, decided to break away from the Church when she was 18. My Dad is non-religious. Nonetheless, my Mom was adamant that my brothers and I were all baptized Catholic. Again, though, my participation in the Church thereafter, and consequently, my brothers’, was very little. No Sunday masses, first communions, confirmations or anything seriously involved with the Church or Faith. My Mom decided that she wanted for my brothers and I to find faith on our own, if we so chose to do so. And that is where I am now.

While my own personal history is rooted back to the Catholic Faith, I didn’t rule out other denominations of Christianity – at first – as a place to call home. I started out attending my local Catholic Church back in early May, and I’ll be honest, I felt right at home. Structure, order, and a beautifully conducted Mass. All of which, I believe, are lost arts by today’s measures. At least the former two of the three things I just mentioned are – people have very chaotic lives and often construe structure and orderliness with unimportant busywork and non-meaningful obligations. I figure with any sense of the word, going to Church time after time will bring more true order and structure to my own life in the Traditional sense. Massive change begins one by one, after all.

I’ve also attended my local Lutheran and Episcopal Churches in addition to a nearby Christian Community Church that a friend of mine goes to – in case you were interested in where else I’ve explored.

After I attended my first Catholic Mass in my local town back in May, I met a kind gentleman by the name of Brian who proceeded to refer his contact information and encouraged me to reach out. He is part of an organization affiliated with this Church and was interested in talking to me more about the Faith and God. I have yet to do this, but the more I progress through the different Church denominations of Christianity, the more and more I am leaning to Catholicism. While yes I was baptized there, it is more the whole concept that all of Western Civilization was founded upon the principles and morals of this Faith. And with the current state of society being where it is, I find I am being drawn back to the roots of where it all began. It’s now probably time to give Brian that call.

Some of you might be wondering what kind of a crazy person would want to join the Catholic Faith now in light of the most recent and currently ongoing sex abuse scandal(s). To that I answer that Faith is much more than corruption. Society, and the Catholic Church, are both in dire need of help, and it’s going to fall on my generation’s heels to correct the course of action – for both. I see it as an opportunity to not only worship on Sundays by attending Mass, praying for those in need, and building my own relationship with the Lord, but also as a means to help a hurting entity. A hurting Father. A hurting Mother. A hurting child. A hurting family. Hurting believers. To help those who want to believe but just can’t find the courage right now. To help restore the very foundations in which a strong civilization and society can stand. I’m taking my own leap of Faith to show that, even in a time that would seem said restoration consequently impossible, there is still hope for a better tomorrow.

As an aspiring Traditionalist, I know that I can not truly live out the capacity of the Traditional lifestyle if I have no relationship with God or have no Faith. I need to find a way to incorporate the religious values a Traditionalist holds near and dear into my own life to meet this goal if I have ever a prayer of living by example. But I have to show the way first before others will follow, and while there are many other ways in which I live out my life Traditionally right now, this is an area I need to fix, build, and expend into daily practice. It’s an area of my life that I need to bring into reality. Once I do this, I can then offer my help and show the way for others. And are we ever in a time now where we need more people to step up, take that leap of Faith (if they haven’t), restore Faith in those who’ve lost it, and show the way – the right way. I want to be an example of this kind of person, and while I do believe that this, too, is what God wants for me, I have to do my part in fulfilling this mission. So long as I’m willing to serve, I know the He will be by my side.

Hebrews 6:10:

God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.”

Next Sunday I go back to the Catholic Church here in my local town. And this time, I believe, I will be there to stay.

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Thank you for taking the time to read this blog post about my journey to find a relationship with the Lord. And thank you to Sarah for allowing me to write a guest post for her blog. I am grateful to you all.

Please feel free to share insights, tips, and your own practices for living your best Catholic life in the comments below. Much change is still on the way for me, and I wholeheartedly welcome your input as I transition. Thank you.

 

Start Acting Like It

This was originally posted on my personal Facebook account. In light of recent events, I believe it’s a timely reflection on the state of the Church and what can be done about this deviant scourge in our midst. 

Some thoughts:

I am currently reading the grand jury report regarding the sickening Catholic clergy sex abuse case coming out of Pennsylvania. I’ve always been of the opinion that when it comes to convicted child abusers, ESPECIALLY sexual offenders, that the best justice is street justice. But, for better or for worse, we don’t necessarily live in that type of society.

In spite of all of this, do I plan to stay Catholic? Absolutely.

In no other church do I have access to the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus through Holy Communion.

There will always be scandal, there will always be sinners, there will always be passively, polite people who stand by and let bullshit like this happen because they don’t want to disturb the (false) peace. That’s because people are people: that includes you, me, and everyone else kneeling on the rail on Sundays.

But…

You can speak out, stand up, keep going to Mass, keep going to Adoration, keep praying and praying, keep serving your parish, and making your voice heard when something doesn’t seem right. In the words of St. Teresa of Avila, “[right now on Earth,] Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet..but yours.

So start acting like it.