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. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2020: Enough (or Grace for the Smartest Person in the Room)

In the days leading up to New Year’s Eve 2019, many of my Facebook friends began sharing their “Word of the Year,” (WOY, from now on) For the uninitiated, a WOY is a single word, even phrase, that someone chooses to live by in the upcoming year. This practice is most popular perhaps among women and gives them the opportunity to focus their energy on a single aspect of their lives. Some of the words included, Love, Hope, and Energy. In a sense, the practice of choosing a WOY can prey on a woman’s insecurities: Maybe she doesn’t feel loved, hopeful, or energetic. Maybe she needs an outward motivation to affirm that she is indeed loved, hopeful, and energetic. On the other hand, a WOY can be encouraging and uplifting.

When finding one’s WOY, a single word, selected at random typically by a computer-generated system, can offer a woman enough hope to pull through on her long-forgotten dream and desires. Religious companies like DaySpring offer a Christian-based WOY quiz, while secular outlets like Buzzfeed cater to a more relaxed audience with its 2020 WOY quiz. Regardless, finding out one’s WOY could be akin to skimming the newspaper horoscope for a sign of hope and permission to live out a good life.

In fact, for years, I believed that fellow women who participated in WOY random selection were the same ones who consulted crystals when they could just talk to the Lord Jesus and didn’t date certain men because they are a Pisces. To me, finding a WOY was nonsense. Why do you need a WOY of the year when you can just derive all wisdom and motivation from the Bible, the Tradition of the Church, the lives of the Saints, and praying a daily rosary?

As in most cases when my arrogance sits me on a high horse – I found myself kicked off of the same horse’s back.

This year, I saw many Catholic friends making use of Jen Fulweiler’s WOY Generator. Jen is a popular podcaster, speaker, and blogger in Catholic Internet Land, so it makes sense that her inspirational word generator would take off amongst the faithful – especially women. After being inundated with post after post, I caved and visited the generator.

My WOY? Enough. 

When the word materialized on the screen – I felt a celestial punch to my core. I don’t believe we can manipulate God by asking for specific signs and I don’t think He primarily works through word generators – but perhaps that afternoon He decided to bend my preconceived notions.

You see, this past fall, I went back to graduate school. I was already in possession of a master’s degree, but this was the big time step towards achieving my dream of a doctorate. No more trivial online forum discussions and an invisible, online instructor who never answered her email. This was BIG. SCHOOL.

The one problem with BIG SCHOOL? I never felt like I was enough. More often than not this semester, I felt underprepared and stupid – unworthy of ever being accepted into my program. After all, it’s not like I’m studying biochemical rocket science sheep cloning mechanics – it’s Applied Linguistics, a discipline so obscure most people don’t even know what it is. And yet, I felt like I was playing years of catch-up as week after week rolled by.

In a past life – I was the Smartest Person in the Room. Even if I wasn’t the Smartest Person in the Room – I was always under the impression that I was. Also, everyone was kind enough to not tell me otherwise. Growing up and working in Rural Kentucky, who else would you bump into who graduated at the top of her class in college, was a Fulbrighter in East Asia, spoke enough Mandarin Chinese to impress the casual listener, read social science books for fun, and traveled to places that most people can’t place on a map? Nobody – that’s who.

Then, someone like me, The Smartest Person in the Room, goes to BIG SCHOOL, where everybody else was also a Fulbrighter, speaks more than one language fluently, went to bilingual schools abroad,  and knows more about English grammar and mechanics than you ever will. Just imagine every Smartest Person in the Room you’ve met and put them all at the same BIG SCHOOL and that was my life beginning in September.

Now imagine me, The Smartest Person in the Room, representing Middle of Nowhere, Kentucky sitting in a class and the professor starts talking about language concepts I never knew existed. Also, I have a wonderful housing arrangement with wonderful people who, you guessed it, are also The Smartest Person in the Room. And some of these fine people are next-level Smartest Person in the Room and I’m like, “Did you know that a noun is a person, place, or thing?” Of course they know! They’re the Smartest Person in the Room!

Yikes.

I spent plenty of time reveling in my deficiencies and bemoaning the fact that no, I’m no longer the official Smartest Person in the Room.

But do you know what I am? I’m ENOUGH.

Do I still know how to create a flawless sentence diagram tree? No. Can I still perfectly explain the differences between synthetic, agglutinative, and analytic languages without occasionally confusing an element of one with the other? Also, no. Am I going to become a profound phonetician? A snowball’s chance in the lowest ring of Hades.

Heading into 2020, I’m reminding myself always and at all times that I’m enough. I was enough in September and I’ll be enough in May when the year is over. I’m enough when someone, yet again, asks me where I’m from because I have a “cute” accent. I’m enough when I’m staring out my window, wondering how on earth I got to where I am today. I’ll be enough after I leave BIG SCHOOL, I’ll be enough when I feel that I’m not enough.

Thankfully, God’s grace is enough for me, for you, and for everybody who’s ever been the Smartest Person in the Room.

 

 

Embrace Your Quirk

In less than a week, I head back to graduate school. 11 years ago, I started my undergraduate journey at a small college in Central Kentucky.

To put it politely: I was a basketcase.

I obsessed over things that, in the long run, just didn’t matter. For example, my freshman year in the one credit physical education class, I wrote a nearly 10 page paper about my daily health habits. I showed up 20 minutes early to a weightlifting class that I took at my advisor’s suggestion (just in case I ended up dropping a class and wouldn’t dip below full-time). I once cried because the schedule I planned was ruined because a class I wanted filled up before I could register. As I finished my first master’s degree, I painstakingly sifted through my final paper for a misplaced comma or erroneous data.

Who obsesses like that? I’ll tell you: It’s me. Was my physical ed teacher looking for a 10 page paper? No. Did the coach who taught weightlifting need me there 20 minutes early? No. These things just didn’t matter.

To say that I grew out of this anxiety and hyper-planning would be a lie. It followed me after I graduated and into my career. I worried if I didn’t show up somewhere 20 minutes early (Can’t be late to being early! was the idea), I worried if all my ducks weren’t in a row. I texted people non-stop to keep them posted if my plans slightly changed (I can’t keep them waiting!). The list goes on. Perhaps you recognize this behavior because you too are like me.

My mom, the consummate advice giver, recently said “This time, don’t stress out.”

TranslationIt’s never that deep. Don’t let anxiety over perfect grades and perfect performance ruin your time at Columbia. Think about this as your “second chance.”

She’s not wrong. I blame my anxiety and hyper-controlling/anxious/need for utmost perfection to missing out on a lot of fun experiences in college because I was too worried about perfecting my writing technique on Old Testament theophany. Instead, I could have been out winning mad money at Keeneland’s College Scholarship Day.

As I prepare for the new semester and my new journey, I find myself going back to my default setting: Control.

This time, however, I’m embracing it.

Yes, I’m an anxious control freak and I’ve finally come to terms with this reality. I like perfection, I like my ducks in a row, I like schedules, I like rules, I like order. I crave structure and will do almost anything to maintain it. I’ve tried to rewire my brain to avoid this tendency, I’ve tried to “chill,” I’ve tried to “let it go.”

But, for me, it’s not that easy. What is easy, though, is recognizing that at some point during this semester, I will struggle with anxiety and unrealistic expectations. I will probably call my mom, crying, asking her why I thought this whole thing was a good idea. I’ll stare at my fiancé as he tells me, “Goose, just chill.”

And you know what? I now expect that my anxiety and perfectionism will crop up and I know that at the end of the day, everything will be okay. Nothing is ever that serious in life. 

So this semester, I know I’ll never know how to “chill.” I know it’s just not in my personality or nature. But, what I can do is anticipate my own quirks and go from there.

Perhaps that’s first step to everything else. 


How do you embrace your quirk? Let me know in the comments below! If you enjoyed this post, please consider sharing on your favorite social media outlet or emailing to a friend. 

 

 

 

 

 

Hiding, basically.

My last activity here was in February. I wrote about finding, igniting, and maintaining your “blue flame.” That is, the passion that makes you feel and become alive – the very thing that makes your heart jump and your soul spark.

Since that day in February, I didn’t write a single word for publication. I thought about it, sure. I started drafts, purchased a nice notebook, tried to take a blogging course, maintained a journal at the turn of the new fiscal year (under the impression that my children would donate my papers to assorted alma maters after I died), and stared at blinking cursors and blank pages. Even when other bloggers offered to feature me on their pages, I hemmed and hawed.

The reason for my silence is that I’m hiding.

I’m hiding in my own frustration at the lack of traction in my own writing – the fact that I feel like I’m just another faith-based blogger shouting into the darkness that we call the Internet.

Nobel Prize or Not at All

I don’t know about you – but when I want to do something, I want to do it well. Very well. I’m a perfectionist of the highest order: neatly written to-do lists, perfectly sequenced strings of a daily Rosary, praying all of the entries of the Liturgy of the Hours, sorting my books by size, straight A’s. It’s no surprise that this bleeds over into my writing habits – a needling sense of perfection. That, if I don’t write the next viral blog post or conceive a memoir worth of the Nobel Prize, then it’s just not worth it.

This is difficult: I want to write. I believe I was made to write, as it’s part of my vocation.

I once read that your occupation is what you’re paid for and your vocation is what you’re made for. If you’re lucky, sometimes the two overlap. In my case – that’s not the reality. I believe I have a way with words, the gift of telling stories that people get. More often than not, my regular readers tell me how much they enjoy my writing and how accessible it is. Yet, to be wholly transparent, I hate how little recognition I receive from my writing. The internet is an information void and I’m one pixel drifting in and out the collective consciousness.

Drive-Thru Writing

When I write, it’s like I’ve prepared this giant, wonderful banquet for my family and friends. Except when they arrive, they tell me that they decided to swing by the McDonald’s drive-thru on their way home and just aren’t hungry right now. It’s deflating to labor on a well-thought out piece, only for it to receive up to 50 separate views on a very good day.

All the while, I see Susan write primarily about her two home-schooled kids and how much those little angels *love* praying the Rosary before breakfast, making paper dolls of the saints and angels, all while her son “plays” the Mass with his toy kit in the well-decorated living room.

“Little Aquinas has discerned a call to the priesthood and he’s only 3 years old!,” says Susan.

I’ve rolled my eyes so hard at these blogs that surely one day my eyes will dislodge from their sockets. Why does Susan gets mega views with her cupcake recipe and I’m over here with 20 views on my post debunking myths believed about Catholicism?

And I get it, Catholic moms are a big audience with many needs. All moms believe that, at some point or another, they’re surely messing up their kids and they want someone, perhaps a friendly blogger, to tell them that everything will be okay. They need a Susan, and for better or worse, I’m not a Susan.

I can’t write about the best homeschool curriculum or the most engaging Advent activities for littles. I can’t tell women that everything will be okay when they’re practicing NFP and found themselves pregnant again. I don’t know how to keep kids quiet in Mass because I don’t have kids to take to Mass.

That’s just not my niche right now.

“Wow Sarah, why do you hate Susans and mommy blogs?” 

I don’t hate women named Susan and I don’t hate mommy blogs. However, I sense that for female writers, especially in religious spheres, she has to tap into the common experience of motherhood and the mundane. Primarily, blogs for moms about sanctifying your time as you wash the dishes or how to pray a chaplet very quickly as your child naps.

My most hurriedly devoured pieces aren’t about explaining doctrine of the Immaculate Conception or why Sunday is a Holy Day of Obligation – it’s the posts about what I’m wearing and where I’m traveling to next. Essentially, lifestyle content. Even more discouraging is when I write for other Catholic outlets, most of my pieces are met with a “That’s nice” or nothing at all, all while others are flooded with inspirational comments.

(Full disclosure: My most popular post on this blog is a reflection on the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary).

I cringe at these statistics because I don’t want to be just another female blogger who writes about her hair, her shopping trip, or that time she tanned on a beach in Europe. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with writing about shopping, shoes, and sunbathing, but I want to write substantial pieces that challenge my readers’ beliefs in a positive way – even if they’re not Catholic and have no desire to become Catholic. Faith matters, and even if you’re a nonbeliever, faith still permeates all parts of our society despite the growing onslaught of secularism.

There is a joke that says once you convert to Catholicism, you automatically receive a book deal and successful podcast, but it looks like the Vatican, after my confirmation, may have lost my address via the Diocese of Lexington. I just want to know that my writing matters and that it’s worth the time and the energy I funnel into it.

Yes, if just one person reads what I’m writing here and finds faith in the Lord Jesus – it’s all worth it. Sure, I don’t need human recognition for anything to matter, but knowing that the big literary meal I’m cooking up will soon be devoured by a hungry audience is a good motivator. I don’t want my blue flame to fizzle, but without a clear purpose, it seems like it might extinguish at any given moment. I don’t want to be salty, but honestly, I’m feeling very salty.

But for now, I’ll linger around, try to pull myself out of hiding, and keep clacking on my keyboard.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.