Roamin’ Catholic: USA Edition

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

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

Roamin’ Catholic: USA Edition

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

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

GUEST POST: Marian Book Review by Katie Hendrick

Today I am very grateful to have fellow blogger Katie Hendrick as a guest writer. She has reviewed many great titles about our Blessed Mother, which will make for perfect reading this Lent. You can visit Katie at her blog Stumbling Toward Sainthood.

Despite being a “cradle Catholic,” my relationship with Mary is pretty weak. Being the bookworm that I am, I decided to start reading more books about the Blessed Mother (as well as introducing some Marian prayers into my life). In doing this, I have found three books that can help anyone connect with Mary as Christ made clear we are to do.

Mary by Tim Staples

What It’s About: Staples provides “biblical evidence for Marian doctrine and devotion, answers common objections to Catholic teachings, and guidance on how to imitate Christ – which we should do in all things – by loving and honoring his mother.”

The Good: This book draws from a number of different resources (Scripture, Early Church, etc.) and covers a wide array of the common misconceptions about Mary. I also felt what made this book especially beneficial to readers was Tim Staples’ perspective as a Catholic convert. Because he came from a Fundamentalist background, he was able to address the concerns about Mary more effectively than someone who always felt close to Mary.

The Opportunities for Improvement: The only thing I didn’t like about this book was some of the Bible verses got repetitive. Though they were still relevant, I think a simple verse reference would have sufficed.

Why You should Read it: If you want to grow closer to Mary, I think you first need to get rid of all the misconceptions surrounding her. There is so much misinformation surrounding the practice of honoring to Mary, and this book provides clear responses to correct this. If you start turning to Mary with uncertainty or fear fueled by misconceptions, it will be a much more difficult road. Starting by learning will make the path smoother, so this book is a great place to start.

Link to my Full Review: https://stumblingtowardsainthood.com/book-review-mary/

 Mary: Help in Hard Times by Marianne Lorraine Trouve

What It’s About: “No matter what challenges we may face in life, Mary is always there to help us….Let the prayers and real-life stories of how others have experienced Mary’s intercession open your heart to the care she can provide for you.”

The Good: This is probably the second best book on Mary I have read (only overshadowed by the last book I will recommend). It starts by addressing who Mary is, moves into people’s experiences with the Blessed Mother, and concludes with different practices to connect with Mary. I thought the level of detail was fantastic, and this book was very encouraging.

The Opportunities for Improvement: This is such a small criticism, but I did not like the Bible translation they used for The Annunciation because the explanation of it referenced a different translation.

Why You should Read it: If you only want to read one book on Mary, this is the book to pick; it is a good blend of apologetics and devotions. This book was also very practical. For example, when discussing the personal experiences people had with Mary, it didn’t lean heavily on miracles; instead, it focused on how dedicated prayer brought about fruit. It’s also a great starting point for Marian prayer if you have no idea where to start.

Link to my Full Review: https://stumblingtowardsainthood.com/book-review-mary-help-hard-times/

Praying the Rosary Like Never Before by Edward Sri

What It’s About: “Do you struggle with praying the rosary: finding time, fighting distractions, worrying about your mind wandering? In Praying the Rosary Like Never Before, Edward Sri offers practical suggestions that come from the rosary’s tradition and, most especially, St. John Paul II. These helpful tips will make the rosary a constant companions through the different seasons, moments, and challenges we all face. These tips serve as easy on-ramps for those who don’t pray the rosary regularly motivate avid devotees of the rosary to go deeper with the Lord.” In the interest of transparency, I want to make it clear that I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

The Good: This book was very intelligently written without being intimidating. Whether you and Mary are BFFs or you just got past the “Catholics worship Mary” falsity, you can find growth from this book. Though the beginning of the book was solid with its blend of apologetics and history, what really made this book special was the beautiful rosary meditations. If you think that the rosary is boring, these beautiful mediations will change your mind. If you fear that the rosary focuses too much on Mary, the explanations of the mystery in the context of Scripture and Christ’s salvific plan will also change your mind. This was my favorite book from 2017.

The Opportunities for Improvement: This is an even smaller criticism than before, but there was one graphic in the book that was blurry. I really had to dig to find something wrong with it.

Why You should Read it: This book is just beautiful. It’s hard to articulate how much I loved it. The rosary seems like an outdated prayer, but this book shines the spotlight this amazing spiritual practice. It’s hard to read this book and not feel some kind of change.

Link to my Full Review: https://stumblingtowardsainthood.com/book-review-pray-rosary-like-never/ 

***

Getting to know Mary can be intimidating, but these books lay some groundwork. Mary gives you the most basic information you need about our Blessed Mother. Mary: Help in Hard Times reassures you of her love for her children and gives some steps for growing closer to her. Praying the Rosary Like Never Before will lead you to fall in love with this incredible prayer. Though there are many great books about Mary out there, you can’t go wrong with starting with these three.

***

Kate Hendrick lives in Wisconsin with her husband and two cats. She works as an engineer full-time. Kate writes on her blog, Stumbling Toward Sainthood, which discusses the challenges we face as we strive to live authentically Catholic lives. When Kate isn’t sharing her love for Christ and His Church online, you can find her reading, crocheting, or playing nerdy board games with her friends. You can also find Kate on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram.

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13 Day Rosary Challenge: February 1st – 13th, 2018

Can you believe that January is almost over? Even more, can you believe that Lent is almost upon us again? On February 14th, the season of Lent will begin and stretch through the last week of March. While Lent is designated as a time of penitence and sacrifice in preparation for Easter, how often do we prepare for the preparation?

From February 1st through February 13th, I encourage you to join my Two Hearts Rosary Challenge. Each day, you will receive an email with daily intentions to help you grow in prayerful devotion as you approach the Lenten season. For more information and to join the challenge, click the link below:

https://mailchi.mp/08651a63d476/two-hearts-rosary-challenge

Words on Wednesday

Hi everyone! It’s been a few days since I’ve posted anything. Life, as it is, keeps on rolling and sometimes it’s hard to throw on the brakes to post. For me, this week has been tediously long: my school district’s fall break is looming ahead within 8 school days, and I have a trip planned. It’s hard to stay focused when you’ve got endless work and vacation planned.

To break up this monotonous grind, I plan to go to Adoration this afternoon. I haven’t been able to go in the past two weeks, and I can definitely see the difference. It’s amazing how one little habit can transform your life. What’s even more amazing is when you stop that one little habit, you see what a blessing it was. Anyway, wherever you are, go to Adoration and receive a blessing this week.

Also, today is the Feast of Korean Martyrs and St. Andrew Kim Taegon, the first native Korean priest. Everyone who knows me knows I have a soft spot for Korea in my heart. I lived there with a Korean family as an English teacher, and it’s truly one of my favorite places in the world. I consider my time in Korea as the beginning of my walk into the Catholic Church. Moreover, I have visited the country almost every year since my return four years ago.

Today, please take a moment to pray for the Korean people, that the atheism that is prominent on the peninsula would turn to conversions for the Lord. Especially pray for North Korea, that the tyranny of communism would come to an end.

kofc.org/en/columbia/detail/korea-church-martyrs.html

Martyrs of Korea and St. Andrew Kim Taegon, pray for us and the Korean people!

I urge you to remain steadfast in faith, so that at last we will all reach heaven and there rejoice together. // St. Andrew Kim Taegon

When She Shows You Her Son: A Life with Mary

About three weeks ago, my fiance and I were privileged to visit the Shrine of Our Lady of the Island in Manorville, New York. This was my very first visit to a Marian shrine, and as a recent convert to the Catholic faith, I found a particular warmth to the shrine property (I’ll talk about my visit in another post). As we walked among the trees and rain, I was so happy to have a space to reflect upon Mary’s role in my Christian journey.

Prior to my conversion, I possessed a deep admiration for Mary. “How special, I thought, for her to be chosen as Jesus’ mother! She just simply cannot be an ordinary person; There’s

Virgin, Mary, Madonna, Jesus, Baby
pixabay.com

much more to her than we could imagine,” I often pondered. Yet, my faith community viewed Mary as someone who was just “nice.” We would dress up as her for the Christmas play and someone would sing “Mary Did You Know?” On December 26th, Mary would go back into the Nativity scene box, never to be spoke of or seen again until after Thanksgiving.

Unfortunately, many Protestants see Catholic devotion to Mary as unnecessary, or even worse, idolatrous.

A friend once mentioned, “I just don’t like the Catholic emphasis on Mary. It takes away from Jesus.” To this, I responded by saying that Mary doesn’t distract us from Jesus. Instead, she shows us the way to her Son.

For example, in John 2, we see the wedding feast at Cana. The wedding has run out of wine, and Mary tells Jesus this news. He replies with “Woman, what does this have to do with me?” Mary then responds to the servants, telling them, “Do whatever He tells you.” As the story concludes, Jesus performs His first miracle at Cana, turning water into the finest wine.

This is a powerful testament to Mary’s example for Christians. It seems, rather than fume that Jesus won’t comply with her immediately, she is patient, turning to the servants, saying “Do whatever He tells you.” In one simple statement, Mary spoke the essence of Christian life: to follow Jesus and submit our will to His. In today’s world, following Jesus unconditionally is difficult. We have so many distractions: cell phones, social media, our work, plans, worries, and anxieties. It’s hard to follow Jesus when we are preoccupied in our minds with everyday monotony.

Mary, Virgin, Jesus
Jesus and Mary: Depicted in traditional Korean attire (pixabay.com)

As a personal example, I struggle with anxiety. Daily, I find myself worried over things both big and small. Little, nagging worries occupy my mind. Obviously, Holy Scriptures tell us not to worry. We are told not to fear (365 times, actually!). At yet, at this, I fail. In spite of my failures, each day, I like to remember the words of the Blessed Mother, just as she told the servants at Cana: Do whatever He tells you. These words encourage me to not worry and to put my trust in Christ. Mary always points you and I towards her Son, towards obedience towards Him, and to the knowledge of Him. I’m not a professional Catholic apologist or theologian, and there are so many more writings about Mary you could read that surpass my skill. However, for my Catholic and Protestant friends alike, remember that a Biblical Mary will always point you to Jesus, never to herself.

As I stood in front of the shrine in New York, I was amazed at the detail. As Mary stood tall, she carried the infant Jesus in her arms. Rather than hold Jesus to the side, Mary held Him in front of her, the center of our visual focus. As I looked up, I said a prayer that day, thanking Our Lord His mother’s life and for her fiat. May you and I both, as the faithful on earth, always do as He tells us with joyful, hopeful hearts.

 

Church in the Wildwood: A Story

I originally wrote this post on June 4th, 2017 or Pentecost. It took me a very long time to write this, and an even longer time to decide to publish it. When I announced my conversion to Catholicism on social media, the situation became very nasty, very quickly. I know that whatever is put on social media is for the world’s consumption, and I didn’t expect everyone to agree with my choice. I even expected a few objections.

However, I just didn’t expect the enormous social media blow back. Facebook statuses were composed, indirectly directed towards me. Other posts were written, with my name not used. I was unfriended. It was open season. I’m no martyr for the Faith, but those actions and words hurt. I know some of these people may see this post, and that’s fine. I forgive them, not for their theological opinions and beliefs that they are free to have and express, but for their nasty outreach tactics.

For you dear readers, I pray you find your way to Jesus, Our Eternal Hope.

-Sarah, July 10, 2017

Chapel, Eifel, Germany, Wayside Chapel
pixabay.com

An April 2002 quote by the late Richard John Neuhaus, founder and editor of First Things, captures the spirit of my post in complete clarity (changes my own):

I became a Catholic in order to be more fully what I was and who I was [in the Churches of Christ].

If you’ve followed my writing for a while, you probably know I’m a decent writer, but I’m not terribly eloquent or convincing. I’m not a trained Catholic apologist, and I’m not as intelligent as I once thought I was. That’s why it’s taken a while for me to put my mind and thoughts to the page regarding my decision to join the Catholic Church. On Pentecost, today’s feast commemorating the descent of the Holy Spirit after Jesus’ resurrection, I want to talk with you about church, changes, and the joy of the Lord.

I was raised in the Churches of Christ. My little church, however, was different that other Churches of Christ. While we didn’t use instruments in corporate worship, we didn’t believe that those who chose to attend other congregations in town (Baptist, Methodist, Christian), were bound for hell because of they are worshiped in  “denominational churches” or had piano accompaniment.

Like Neuhaus, who was raised Lutheran, I cherish, and still cherish, my spiritual heritage in the Churches of Christ. The little Church of Christ around the corner is where I was baptized, took communion on a weekly basis, and was instructed the in the tenets of Christian orthodoxy. I truly do not remember a time when I did not know of Jesus Christ and His presence in my life.

Yet, I struggled with a strange emptiness. I am a firm believer that if you have a problem with whatever church you’re attending, the first step is to look in the mirror. Usually 95% of the time, you and I are our own problems in any given situation. Despite my own self-assessments, this emptiness followed me to college where I faithfully church-hopped for four years. I went to churches in traditional buildings with stained glasses and padded pews, I went to churches in store-fronts and refurbished supermarkets with rock bands. (At one church, the minister and his wife took me out for lunch, and I never returned. I still feel guilty about it).

But, the one time in the four years I attended Catholic Mass with my friends, I was at peace. In high school, my Catholic friends would talk about their Lenten fasts, Ash Wednesday, Advent, and liturgy. In my heart, I wanted what I saw as a fullness of the faith. But, I stayed away. In college, I continued to bury my feelings about Catholicism, but voraciously devoured the writings of and by the saints. In the courses for my religion minor, I almost always wrote about topics regarding Catholicism. For my English oral exam my senior year, my exam partner and I talked for the better part of an hour about female martyr saints. I admired and knew so much about the Catholic faith, but I hadn’t taken a step.

Several months after college, while beginning a Fulbright year in Korea, a few other grantees and I were looking for a local church to attend. I watched as two of my fellow teachers boarded a bus to a local Catholic church. I so badly wanted to go with them, but instead I traveled with the majority of Christian teachers to a local Methodist church. I struggled with my faith. Not in a “I don’t know if I believe who Jesus said He is,” but in a “I don’t know where I belong in my faith journey.”

I asked (maybe hinted to) God about my feelings.

For the next ten months, I lived with a host family: Catholic mom, non-religious dad, and two kids. It was some of the best months of my life. In July 2013, I returned back to the States and taught in Western Kentucky for two years. During my second year in Western Kentucky, on Thursday afternoons I tutored English language learners at the local Catholic school for a semester. I yearned to be part of the Catholic Church even more.

At this point, you may wonder: Sarah, why didn’t you just start going to a Catholic parish? The short answer: My faith was inhibited by anxiety. Though firm in faith, the Churches of Christ tend to emphasize dotting every “I” and crossing every “T,” lest one lose his salvation. Growing up, Catholicism was cast in such a negative light (not necessarily by my parents), and I was scared of the thoughts I was having about the Catholic faith. For years, I was between a rock and a hard place.

Fast forward to November 2016, and I found my courage and decided to enroll in the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults or RCIA. The first Sunday I was to attend, I chickened out. Seriously. I was that afraid. I curled up in bed when I should have been in my formation class. I was like a dog who had finally caught the car she had been chasing, only to wondering “Wait, what?”

After the next Sunday, the rest was history. I cannot tell you how many times I found myself near tears or in tears during the Mass, or how many “Aha!” moments I’ve experienced before and after my Confirmation this past Easter. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve felt sweet relief from anxiety and pain (imagined and real) after receiving the Eucharist. I cannot tell you how sweet it is to spend an hour with Jesus during Adoration. I cannot tell you how simply wonderful and full my faith is. I believe that God was calling me to the Catholic faith for years, and in His blessed timing, I was able to find my place. I am home, and I am in a state of peace I simply cannot put into words.

To conclude, I’ll leave you with this:

Maybe you don’t know Jesus. Maybe you do, but you’re not sure what to do next. Maybe you’re in a very difficult spot in your life and you’re not sure where God is. You scroll through Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, and see a perfect world that others are living. You feel alone and forgotten and full of fear. But, here’s the catch: everyone is broken.

There is no perfection. Only Jesus.

I encourage you to say, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13). I can’t promise you that life will become a bed of roses, in fact, after choosing to follow Jesus, your life may become more difficult. Why? Because our enemy, the devil, hates it when he loses. Don’t be fooled: evil will work overtime when you surrender yourself to the King of the Universe.

Jesus did not promise us a carefree life, but He did promise that He would be there as we go through the difficulties. I encourage you to hand yourself over to Him, and to listen to His call on your life. You are worth so much to Him. You were created in His image.

Finally, to paraphrase quote my friends over at Catholic Bridge,

If you are not a Catholic we suggest that you ask Jesus what he would have you do next. We trust He will guide you. Ask him where he wants you. Ask him to surround you with believers. Ask him to guide you to the church that He would have you attend. We believe the answers will come if you sincerely ask. We encourage you to read the Bible every day and ask Jesus to guide your every step. Jesus led me to the Catholic Church. Perhaps that will be where your road will lead also. If it does, I hope to meet you some day. I put that in God’s hands. May God bless you and keep you until that time.

May God bless you, friends. I pray that my story can help you find the faith you need or encourages you in the faith you already have. Praise be Jesus Christ, now and forever!