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: Delight Yourself in the Lord by Allison Gingras

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

Delight Yourself in the Lord

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

Continue reading “GUEST POST: Delight Yourself in the Lord by Allison Gingras”

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

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

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

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

For me, the experience was a little different.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Food For Thought

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

 

 

Remembering St. Andrew

Last night, I was privileged to attend a vigil mass honoring St. Andrew, one of Jesus’ first disciples and patron of my home parish. (After mass, I ate lasagna and homemade tamales at the parish potluck. Reason #4569 to be Catholic. I digress.).

Before I was a confirmed Catholic, I entered my RCIA classes believing I was very Biblically literate. As the weeks and months progressed, it turns out I didn’t know as much about the Bible and its contents as I thought. For example, last night I learned that St. Andrew  was a disciple of John the Baptist, the brother of Peter, and is the one who introduced the message of Jesus to Peter. I’ve gone years hearing the story of St. Andrew, but I didn’t really know about the earthly life of our heavenly friend.

However, what I did know is that Andrew was called to become a “fisher of men.” In Matthew 4, Jesus approaches both Andrew and Peter, hard at work in a boat, casting their nets for fish. In verse 19, Jesus simply says “Come after Me, and I will make you fishers of men” (NABRE). According to Scripture, Peter and Andrew “left their nets at once and followed Him” (4:19, NABRE). No hesitation, no “Hmm, let me think about it.” No, “Yeah, let me get back with you, Jesus. I’ve got to lock up the house.” They dropped their nets and followed Him.

Related image
oramaworld.com

Andrew’s decision to follow Christ is radical, especially in our modern era. We are, in one form of another, obsessed with comfort and security. I often wonder what Andrew and Peter thought as they literally cast away their livelihoods for the Kingdom. We will never know on this side of Heaven. Yet, can you imagine if Jesus walked into your workplace today and said, “Come after me?” Would you hesitate? What would it take for you to drop everything and follow Jesus? I often think about myself. Foolishly, I assume that I wouldn’t think twice about dropping my “nets” and following after Jesus.

In reality, I probably would think more than twice.

Today, I can think of every excuse in the book. I feel the Holy Spirit’s nudge to give my grocery store cashier an evangelization holy card and I retort: “That would be really awkward and there’s five people behind me waiting in line.” Or, “Yes, I’d love to pray for Mrs. XYZ, but I’ll do it when I’m not angry at her. I want my prayer to be really, really good.” I ask that the Lord will help me grow into His likeness. However, when He presents me an opportunity to grow, I fluster and think, “Seriously?!” Unfortunately, we all have hesitations and comforts that we must overcome in order to become saints.

Like all of Jesus’ apostles (save for John), Andrew was welcomed into Heaven with a martyr’s death. The day was November 30th, 60 AD. It is noted in history that he died in Patras, Greece after suffering crucifixion on an x-shaped cross (now known as St. Andrew’s Cross). Today, St. Andrew is recognized as the patron saint of Russia, Scotland, Barbados, fishermen, pregnant women, and protection against whooping cough. On the anniversary of his martyrdom, we remember St. Andrew for his courage to say “Yes” to Jesus.

St. Andrew, pray for us that we may imitate your courage and abandon comfort in order to bring more souls to Jesus. 

O good Cross, made beautiful by the body of the Lord: long have I desired you, ardently have I loved you, unceasingly have I sought you out; and now you are ready for my eager soul. // Attributed to St. Andrew, “Prayer of St. Andrew”

Come after Me, and I will make you fishers of Men. // Matthew 4:18

 

 

 

 

One Hour

Image result for eucharistic adoration
integratedcatholiclife.org

When I was a girl, my family regularly attended church three times a week. Here was the schedule: Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night. For my childhood and into young adulthood, this was the rhythm of my life. My weeks were punctuated with prayer services and youth group.

Though it was worthy and notable to attend worship as much as possible, I didn’t always see it as such. Sunday night prayer service interrupted my peaceful Sunday afternoons. I’d have to wake up from a nap, put on my church clothes (again!), and return to church to sit for an hour. I didn’t have much regard for Wednesday nights, either. For years, my parents led our small youth group, and I enjoyed the time spent with my friends. Other than that, I could have cared less to go to church on a Wednesday night. Even though my mother explained Wednesday night prayer service as the mid-week fuel in our spiritual gas tanks, she hadn’t convinced me. For me, church on anything but Sunday morning was a nuisance.

I tell you that story to tell you this story: One Hour of Eucharistic Adoration.

Catholic teaching affirms that Jesus is “literally and wholly present- body, blood, soul, and divinity – under the appearance of bread and wine” (1 Cor. 10:16–17, 11:23–29; John 6:32–71, Catholic Answers). Catholics call this “The Real Presence.” When a Catholic attends Eucharist Adoration, she understands that she kneels and prays before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. As you can imagine, to spend time with the Lord is truly a gift.

I consider myself so very blessed to attend a parish that has one of the few perpetual adoration chapels in our rural diocese. At any time of the day or night, I can access the chapel, and sit before the Lord with my thoughts and prayers. In addition to chapel access, my parish also has formal adoration hours with a benediction on Wednesdays. The typical time that one spends in Eucharistic Adoration is one hour, though it can be more or less. However, I will argue below that an hour is an ideal amount of time to spend before the Sacrament.

In the Gospel of Matthew (chapter 26), Jesus is depicted suffering with agony in the Garden of Gethsemane before His betrayal and crucifixion. He asks his disciples to sit and watch while He prays alone. After praying, Jesus returns to His friends, only to find them sleeping.

He asks Peter:

“So you could not keep watch with Me for one hour? Watch and pray that you may not undergo the test. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (26: 40-41, NAB)

Ouch.

How often are we like Peter? How often do we shirk our responsibilities to the Lord? It’s easy on Wednesdays, when I’ve had a terrible week, to go into my house and not leave again until work the next morning. But, ultimately, what would be better for me? Hiding and “sleeping,” or keeping watch for one hour with the Lord in the chapel? Our spirits are willing and excited about spiritual growth, but when the rubber hits the road, often it’s much easier to break down and remain stagnant. And believe me, those weeks I don’t attend Adoration, I see the effects of it.

If you’re a Catholic, and you haven’t been to adoration before, consider visiting your local parish or nearest adoration chapel. If you’re a Catholic who hasn’t been in a while, today is the perfect day to visit the Lord and to revamp your devotion. Finally, another beautiful gift of adoration is that you don’t even have to be Catholic to participate. The Lord may truly surprise you in ways you can’t imagine.

So, do you have one hour?

 

Three Tips for a Better Prayer Life

Candles, Church, Light, Lights, Prayer
Pixabay.com
If you’re involved with fellow Christians and you frequent social media, you’ve probably run into this familiar scene: a well-cropped photo with an alluring filter, an open Bible’s pages gently opened to an inspiring message, a highlighted line, a appropriately worn journal angled to the side, and a cup of coffee in the top corner. Yes, the Bible study picture. We’ve all witnessed it. Most of us have probably posted it. The likes and hearts validate us and our pursuit of faith.

Outside of the picture, though, how deliberate are our prayer lives? Do we spend more time curating the picture of the Bible and coffee than we do actually studying and praying? For the past month, I have taken steps to become more intentional in my prayer life. By intentional, I mean making prayer a priority, not just a passing breath as I roll out of bed or ready myself for sleep. But rather solid, uninterrupted time talking to the Lord.

Here are a few tips to help you cultivate your prayer life from passive to intentional:

1. Find a Companion Book. One of the best tools for prayer you can use is a book (or ebook). Personally, I prefer to use the daily Mass readings as a prayer support. I receive a dose of the Old Testament, the Psalms, a second reading from the New Testament (most days), and a message from the Gospels each day. While I highly recommend Abide in My Word for daily Bible readings, you can use any translation you’d like. I will read, and then pray for the needs on my heart based on the passages.

As of yesterday, I began reading the daily meditations in Rediscover Jesus by Matthew Kelly of the Dynamic Catholic Institute. It’s a 40-day devotional series designed for Lent, but it appropriate for anytime of the year. It’s already challenging how much I thought I knew about Christ and the Faith.

2. Timing is Everything. I’ve heard an old saying that says “People have money for the things they want.” I believe this phrase is appropriate for our time: We have time for the things we want time for. We have time for the gym, to go out with our friends, and to watch our favorite television shows. But when it comes to intentional prayer, it’s “Sorry Lord, I just don’t have the time!”

How can we beat this trend? Simple: Find a time and stick to it. What works best for you? For me, it’s the morning. I set my alarm a few minutes early so I can pray and read without feeling rushed. Often, once I’m in the thick of prayer, I don’t miss those few minutes of sleep. I keep this timing consistent each day, even if it’s a day when I sleep in.

For you, mornings may not be the best timing. You may work nights, so the afternoon may be more applicable. Yet, I would still argue for the benefits of morning prayer time. You’ll find that when you start your mornings talking to the King of the Universe, the day flows with much more grace.

3. Use Technology. You thought I would tell you to hide your phone during prayer time, right? Partially. Technology can be a distraction during prayer time, but it can also be a great help to enriching your intentional time with God. Thankfully, there are many apps that can help you find your way to better prayer.

First, Catholics often get a bad rap for “vain repetitions” and scripted prayers as if we don’t pray from the heart (Spoiler alert: The book of Psalms is written prayers). I have found that the use of written prayers has helped me tremendously, and I am able to voice praises and concerns I wouldn’t have thought of on my own. With that in mind, my favorite app is Laudate. You can find it in the Apple Store and Google Play. One of my favorite prayers to pray using the app is the Litany to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. What a great way to pray and meditate on the heart and love of Our Lord!

Other apps I enjoy are Relevant Radio and Echo. Each of these apps connect me to audio prayer, interactive prayers, and prayer reminders.

If you’re looking to boost your prayer life, don’t wait. Start today! Jesus is waiting for you to talk to Him, and when you choose to be deliberate in His presence, you won’t find disappointment. May God bless you as you begin (or recharge) your routine.

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.