26 February 2016

My Favorite Female Saints

I love that the Catholic Church gives us examples of lives well lived in the saints. Especially since I was a convert who did not know many Catholics, reading about saints made me feel that I wasn't truly alone. Others before me had made great changes, sought God above all else and exhibited heroic virtue. Over time, I have met some saints who have stood out to me, whether because I admire what sacrifices they made, found something of them in myself, or just been drawn to them. Here is my list of (a few of my) favorite female saints.

1. Blessed Virgin Mary

We all know the BVM, don't we? To be honest, I didn't really know her before I started investigating Catholicism. In my Protestant upbringing, Mary was only really mentioned at Christmas-time. As a Catholic, I began to learn more about her life: her parents' names (Anne and Joachim), her significance at the Wedding of Cana, and her sorrow at the Crucifixion. The apostle John took care of her after Christ's death, and she was assumed body and soul at the end of her life. It is difficult now to imagine not knowing her and following her life along her son's. The Rosary was a great help when I wanted to get to know Mary better. The prayers guide you through moments of Christ's life, plenty of which show Mary's role as well. What was once a flat image became three-dimensional and filled out. Mary is a good woman to follow the example of: humility, patience, perseverance, trust, sacrifice...they're all in her.

Patronage: EVERYTHING + EVERYWHERE. But also: bicyclists, nuns, sailors, travelers
Feast Day: MANY. A few: Mary, Mother of God (1 January), Annunciation (25 March), Assumption (15 August), Nativity of Mary (8 September), Immaculate Conception (8 December)
Quotation: "Be it done to me according to thy word." / "My spirit rejoices in God my savior."

2. St. Thérèse of Lisieux

Thérèse Martin was born in France on 2 January 1873, the ninth child to her parents Louis and Zelie (now also canonized). She was only four when her mother died, and her sisters joined the Carmelites one by one as she grew up. This left her feeling motherless and, after her sister Pauline left to the convent, Thérèse became ill. It was only after many months that Thérèse one day looked up at a statue of the Virgin Mary and saw her face radiating in love. Thérèse was cured and took Mary as her mother. She decided at a young age to join the Carmelites and even traveled to Rome in November 1887 to meet Pope Leo XIII to ask his permission to let her enter (she had been turned away on account of her age). She joined the convent at Lisieux on 9 April 1888 and took the habit 10 October 1889. The decreased health and eventual death of her father in 1894 brought her much sorrow. Afterwards, however, her last sister joined the convent. She had what appears to be a good life at Carmel: she painted, cleaned and wrote poems, eventually writing down her autobiography at the request of her sister Pauline. In 1896, she began battling tuberculosis and struggled with depressive and suicidal thoughts. However, she stayed focused on God and Heaven and doing good for others. She died on 30 September 1897 at the age of 24.

Of course, I should need to include my confirmation saint. When I first read the words of St. Thérèse's autobiography, or even small quotations posted elsewhere, I found something alike between us. Also called the Little Flower, her simple humility, embrace of suffering and compassion for others appealed to my own temperament (which still needs a good deal of work to become like hers). I thought, "Here is a girl who I can see in myself, the kind of person I want to be, a good older sister to guide me by example."

Thérèse seems to polarize people. Some think she is fantastic, as I do, while others think she is overrated. I would challenge the latter to reconsider this little soul. "Though she be but little, she is fierce." There is strength under the surface of Thérèse, like a delicate looking flower whose roots dig deep into the soil. She clings to God and there finds her strength. I feel I can face any trials because Thérèse, who appears as small as I sometimes feel, held her ground in God's love. If I don't feel strong, that is okay: I am weak. But He is strong.

Patronage: missionaries, florists, HIV/AIDS sufferers
Feast Day: 1 October

St. Therese . Notre Dame Cathedral . Paris, France

3. St. Elizabeth of Hungary

Elizabeth was born in 1207 and was the daughter of the King of Hungary, Alexander II. She was married to Louis of Thuringia at the age of 14 and with him had three children. She is often depicted in art carrying bread and roses, because she would often go out to feed the poor. On one occasion, she was stopped and when she opened her apron, the bread was replaced by roses. Her husband approved of her simple and charitable way of living, and they had a happy marriage. It was cut short at six years, however, when Louis was killed in the Crusades. Elizabeth left court and joined the Franciscans, continuing to work for the poorest and the sick at a hospital. She died in 1231 at the age of 24.

Elizabeth was one of the saints I looked into when considering a confirmation saint. She struck my as a strong, devout woman. I admired her tireless work and the way she carried out the corporal works of mercy. I also thought on her life and wondered if I could act with as much apparent trust in God. She suffered, but lived a life devoted to God in spite of that suffering. I should like to embrace suffering in that way.

Patronage: widows, young brides, death of children, bakers
Feast Day: 17 November
Quotation: "How could I bear a crown of gold when the Lord bears a crown of thorns?"

4. St. Agatha

Agatha was born in Sicily in 231 to a rich family but at a time of persecution. At a young age, she dedicated herself to God and did not want to marry. One man wanted her so much that he, as a judge, imprisoned her at a brothel and later a jail cell (where St. Peter appeared to her), as an attempt to make her succumb to his plans to marry her. When these methods did not break her, she was subjected to torture, at one point having her breasts cut off. She died in prison in 251 at the age of 20.

Saint Agatha was one of the very first saints I ever read about. I cannot remember the exact book now, but at some point I owned a book in which the author talked about her martyrdom. I cannot remember why he brought it up, for it was not a book about saints or about martyrs, but there she was. I now wish I could remember the book, but, since I can not, I can use my time to learn more about her and seek to imitate her steadfastness in the face of persecution. Agatha is a heroic woman and (fun fact) commemorated in the Mass, so I can grow close to her every week.

Patronage: martyrs, breast cancer patients, fire, rape victims
Feast Day: 5 February
Quotation: "Lord, my Creator, you have always protected me from the cradle; you have taken me from the love of the world and given me patience to suffer. Receive my soul."

5. St. Veronica

Veronica is actually named Bernice (surprise!). "Veronica" came from "vera icon," meaning true image, a nod to when she wiped Jesus' face with her veil and retrained the image of his face when He carried the cross. She is featured in the Stations of the Cross (sixth station).

I think often of Saint Veronica, especially when I go through the forth Sorrowful Mystery of the Rosary: Christ's carrying of the cross. It seems like such a little thing to wipe someone's face (mothers perform this task multiple times a day), but it is the simplicity of the gesture which always makes me pause and think on what that moment must have been like. For only a moment, Jesus was comforted during His Passion, by a woman who seemingly had no connection with Him (some say she is the woman cured of a blood issue in Luke 8, which would make her story even more amazing). A small act done with compassion becomes great.

Patronage: photographers (naturally), laundry workers
Feast Day: 12 July
Quotation: (possibly, given above) "If I shall touch only his garment, I shall be healed."

I always enjoy learning about new (or old!) saints. Have a favorite? Tell me about them in the comments.

23 February 2016

Lent 2016: Week Two (On Thankfulness)

Two Weeks Down

First things first: let this second week of Lent be known as the week I discovered orange and chocolate milano cookies. Best flavor combination ever.

This week seemed to go by insanely quickly, which is always good news for the work week. This weekend saw a good deal of activity. I meet with a women's group each Thursday evening, most of whose members are in some way connected to the university (if not also the philosophy department). This past week, we made crepes and just had a good chat together. One woman in particular had been absent recently from our meetings (for good reason, if you ultimately think, as I, that morning sickness is a good reason) and was able to make it!

We also purchased a little blue side table, which I like very much.

On Friday morning I attended another philosophy colloquium (the speaker was a fellow first year, so that was pretty cool), followed by a trip to the library to pick out some new books. I finished Kristin Lavransdatter this week and feel like I've accomplished some great mile stone, not only because of the more than one thousand pages I read, but also because it threw me into an emotional whirlwind in the last hundred or so pages. It was very bittersweet to finish. Luckily, I looked into some other books by Sigrid Undset and came upon Jenny, about a young painter in Rome. This book is the marriage of Kristin Lavransdatter and my love for Roma, so I am very happy (and already almost half done with the book). Friday evening was spent having dinner with a couple women at a local Italian place, then going to another woman's apartment. She was a good hostess and has her living room styled very nicely with some custom artwork and mementos which speak to the traveling she and her husband have done.

Rosé French 75 and honey goat cheese? Don't mind if I do.

C and I slept in quite a bit on Saturday, but I eventually rolled out of bed to make nutella cookies for that evening's potluck. The department puts on monthly potlucks which I have come to love not least because there is fried chicken. I do a bit of an internal happy dance when I get fried chicken, let me tell you. When the actual eating at the potluck wound down, we started up a game of poker that I fantastically lost at, even after buying in again. Losing isn't such a bother to me, considering I spent the rest of the time talking about personality types (Myers-Briggs and enneagrams) with the potluck hosts.

This succession of social activity, which would usually be exhausting to the introvert that I am, actually made me realize just how good it is to be where I am in life. I have quite possibly the most patient, constant and loving of husbands. I am happy with the work that I have found and excited about my many little hobbies. I have made friends who have already taught me so much, not only about Texan life, but also about academics, hospitality, craftiness, painting, mixology and child-rearing. They have listened to my ideas and let me listen to their concerns. They have made me more compassionate and more comfortable with myself. I am finding life-long friends here, which for some reason wasn't something I thought was a possibility (note: not that I thought I would hate everyone here. Haha. Rather, that it wasn't even a consideration.). I am incredibly thankful for each of them. I am likewise constantly reminded of Who I owe all my gratitude. Thanks be to God!

Me and all my new chums. Ha.


I am finding inspiration this Lent from more than the Imitation, so I am changing this section's title.

  • "King of glory, Lord of power and might, cleanse our hearts from all sin, preserve the innocence of our hands, and keep our minds from vanity, so that we may deserve your blessing in your holy place." (Psalm Prayer 1, Lauds. 16 Feb 2016)
  • "Never be entirely idle; but either be reading, or writing, or praying, or meditation, or endeavouring something for the public good." (Imitation of Christ 1. XIX)
  • "Spare not, we pray, to send us here some penance kindly but severe, so let your gift of pardoning grace our grievous sinfulness efface." (Iam, Christe, sol iustitiae)
  • "In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace." (Luke 1:78-79)
  • "If thou knowest how to be silent and suffer, without doubt thou shalt see the help of the Lord." (IOC. 2. II)
  • "God alone is everlasting, and of infinite greatness, filling all things; the soul's solace, and the true joy of the heart." (IOC. 2. V)

I wish all readers a holy Lent, a time of growth and renewal. May you take account of all you have to be thankful for.

19 February 2016

This Does Not Rule Me: A Lenten Reflection

One of the first things I looked into when I learned we would move to Texas was finding a Catholic church to attend. The nice thing about Catholic Mass is that you know what is happening at every parish: the liturgies (of the word and of the Eucharist) are all the same (or close: there are different Eucharistic prayers). We were thankful to find that the university parish is solid. It isn't very large or decorative and has only one priest (complete opposite of the Cathedral in Philly), but this priest is awesome. He loves the liturgy, offers the Latin Mass, hears Confessions almost every day and includes people like Benedict XVI and Abp. Ven. Fulton Sheen in his homilies.

Fr. L's homilies are often quite long, so there are many things to pick out and think on for the next week. During his homily this Sunday, he talked about Lent (of course). When talking about the things we give up, whether good or bad (you can do both or either for Lent, fyi), he said we should say to ourselves, "This does not rule me."

It was only a few words, but those words struck a chord with me. "This does not rule me."

For the first Lent that I ever observed, I gave up something that was and encouraged addictive behavior. For years, I had let this control me. It was a part of my daily life for so long that, when it came time for Lent, I thought, "Can I really let go of this?"

I've heard it said that it takes two weeks to form a habit. If you're trying to return to a fitness regime, give it two weeks and by the third, you should be reaching for your gear automatically. If you want to stick to a prayer schedule, pretty soon you'll feel weird after being awake for too long without praying. The same happened in this case. Each day I made a concerted effort to steer clear of this behavior which, on its own, was not sinful, but which gave me a sinful mindset, which could then play out in sinful work. If my mind started to wander, I'd reel it back in, focus on something else, remember the promise I made to myself and to God for this Lent. I believe that without the aid of God, even if that was only thinking on Him, I could not have overcome this as I did, in what seemed such a short span of time.

"Occasions of adversity best discover how great virtue each one hath. For occasions do not make a man frail, but they shew of what sort he is." (Imitation of Christ 1. XVI)

On many occasions, I have not shown how great virtue I have. I suspect that is much of how my life has gone. Instead of cutting temptations down when they first rear their heads, I have let them linger before I think to vanquish them, at which point sin has already come. Only by trying again and again can I hope to show any virtue I have. Only by repeatedly calling on God's help and denying myself can I have such hope.

Lent is a good time to try again and again. Lent is a good time to call on God's help. Lent is a good time to deny oneself. Lent is a good time to say, "This does not rule me." 

16 February 2016

Lent 2016: Week One Roundup

One Week Down

Only a few days into Lent and I've already been jonesing for a Twitter fix. As one of my friends would tell her young son about raw meat, it's no joke. (Ground beef is no joke, baby J!) It is absurd how much time I can waste on social media. I pick up my phone and get ready to click on an app out of reflex. I also notice how often I will turn to the internet when I'm bored.

Instead, I've been filling my time with (hopefully) better options. My rough schedule: wake up, say morning prayer, read daily readings, breakfast, shower, clean, read fiction, work, evening prayer, dinner, read Imitation of Christ, recreation, bed. Recreation is playing a game or watching a show with the husband, meeting up with a friend or, now that I've purchased more canvases, painting. Sometimes the schedule switches up, like on Friday when I went to a philosophy colloquium (which I should do more often).

The weather must not have gotten the Lent memo, because it is anything but somber outside. We're talking seventies and sunny. It was so nice this week that my husband and I took a few walks around campus. Students were playing ball games, relaxing on the quad with puppies and going for runs. The South certainly is different.

This past weekend included Valentine's day which, for the most part, I've not recognized in my life as the romantic, commercialized day the world usually makes it to be. In fact, in high school I had friends who made the day an anti-Valentine's day (I'm not sure why, but it was probably just to feel cool. We're weird when we're teenagers.). After becoming Catholic, it felt especially strange to consider the day in light of the fact that the day is named for SAINT Valentine, who is the patron of couples. This year, however, I did want Valentine's day to be recognized a little, especially as it's the first year of marriage. The husband was rather nice and complied with my wishes by getting me some very pretty flowers, which I split up into three jars, so there are flowers in every room now. Some of them are purple, so that's nice and liturgical, isn't it? I wish I had a garden so that I could grow flowers and have them in our home all the time.

For a bit of fun, here's a picture of the pet turtle from the school I work at. His name is Tertullian (awesome, right?). He's a pretty alert and active fellow and was following me back and forth in his tank, probably hoping I'd sneak him some food. Sorry, buddy. I had a turtle once and that little lady got super fat (my sister and I blame the overfeeding on her dad). And then we let her play in the garden for a while and she snuck out of the fence and ran away. Not even joking. Anyway, the good, not running away turtle:

The Imitation of Christ

I've started to keep a notebook for Lent to write down my thoughts throughout the season. Likely, it will mostly contain quotations that I like from IoC.
  • "Vanity it is to set thy love on that which speedily passeth away, and not to hasten thither where everlasting joy abideth." (1. I)
  • "This ought to be our endeavour, to conquer ourselves, and daily to wax stronger than ourselves, and to make some progress for good." (I. III)
  • "True peace of heart therefore is found by resisting our passions, not by obeying them." (1. VI)
  • "Glory...in God who giveth all things, and above all desireth to give thee Himself." (1. VII)
  • "Speak those things that may edify." (1. X)
  • "Many seek to fly temptations, and do fall more grievously into them. By flight alone we cannot overcome, but by patience and true humility we are made stronger than all our enemies." (1. XIII)

Hope you all are having a good and holy start to Lent!

12 February 2016

I Don't Want to Be in Love

"I love you, I'm just not sure that I'm in love with you."

If you have been in a relationship, had a friend explain their troubles or watched a romance play out on television, you have probably heard this line. The people involved are looking for something which is hard to describe. "In love is a feeling," they might say, and then go on about heart-warming, stomach-flipping, can't-think-about-anything-else sensations. Being "in love" is supposed to be the pinnacle of all states of being.

In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis says, "Being in love is a good thing, but it is not the best thing. There are many things below it, but there are also things above it. You cannot make it the basis of a whole life. It is a noble feeling, but it is still a feeling." If you go off of what the sitcoms say, the feeling of being in love is the highest ideal we could attain. Their characters look for soulmates and switch from partner to partner in order to find whoever it is that really makes them feel fulfilled. But if we have only this understanding of love, we truly miss out by avoiding the Source of all Love, God.

"What a Christian thing to say," one might scoff. But I think it is a far cry better than what the words and the world suggests. In the first case, we often speak of "falling in love," as if we could just as easily and accidentally "fall" for someone else. This is a passive relationship with love; it is something that happens to us, beyond our control, even against our wishes. As a result, such a love might rule us, rather than us ruling our own lives. In the second case, the "in love" culture of the world feeds other cultures: the "being in love is more important than just loving a person" culture, the "I'm not in love with you anymore, so we have to split up" culture and the "I won't be complete until I'm in love with someone who is in love with me" culture. These cultures encourage skewed logic, flightiness and unhealthy dependence. Is it any wonder that the divorce rate is so high when we think if we are no long "in love" with someone, we should no longer commit to the person? We should not rely only upon such feelings, for they shift and change even over the course of a day. We should not submit to ideas which perpetuate restlessness, for our hearts are restless until they rest in God (St. Augustine).

Now, being "in love" is not a completely abhorrent thing. C.S. Lewis continues:

"But, of course, ceasing to be 'in love' need not mean ceasing to love. Love in this second senselove as distinct from 'being in love'is not merely a feeling. It is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by (in Christian marriages) the grace which both partners ask, and receive, from God. They can have this love for each other even at those moments when they do not like each other; as you love yourself even when you do not like yourself."

If falling in love is chance, loving is choice. Each day, we can choose to give love to another, whether that is in a romantic sense or a filial sense. We are in charge of the love we have to give to others. This can be difficult, especially when our loved ones seem difficult. Just ask my husband: he can tell you about the times I have been difficult to love (maybe he would if he wasn't too much of a gentleman). And I can attest to the times that he has been frustrating (granted, I am an impatient person). It is the ones who know us best, who we love best, who know exactly which buttons to press.

Choosing to love is not always a simple task. Loving, as Cardinal Karol Wojtyla (later Pope John Paul II) wrote, is demanding. "Love consists of a commitment which limits one's freedom," he wrote in his book Love and Responsibility. This limitation could be as minor as redirecting our plans for the sake of what a loved one wants to do, or it can be major. Have you ever heard a man refer to his wife as the old "ball and chain?" If we view people we love as a punishment rather than a joy, we completely miss the point of love. Wojtyla continues, "Limitation of one's freedom might seem to be something negative and unpleasant, but love makes it a positive, joyful and creative thing.... If freedom is not used, is not taken advantage of by love, it becomes a negative thing and gives human beings a feeling of emptiness and unfulfillment." Not only is there freedom in love, freedom requires love in order to be directed toward a life worth living.

Loving, then, is not a burden, nor is it deficient when compared to being in love. Love has the power to order our whole life, to give us the opportunity to live well. This is a great joy and something we should strive after, rather than be barely content with. Our greatest Love gave Himself over to great suffering and death, so that we might be made free. By so doing, He has taught us what it is to Love and what true freedom is.

Where does our beginning quotation stand now? "I love you, I'm just not sure that I'm in love with you." It wasn't enough for person A to love person B. But for me, I don't want someone to only be in love with me. In love isn't enough. In love is fleeting and temporary. I want permanence, choice and freedom. I want to be made better by love, not merely feel something for a time. I don't want to be in love. Only love is enough.

*Thank you to Fr. L for his homily which was the inspiration behind this post.

08 February 2016

Lent 2016 (and many ideas!)

With Ash Wednesday on one of the earliest possible days this year, Lent is going to be upon us in a quick second. I always think it sounds strange (but I have heard others echo the sentiment as well) that Lent is one of my favorite times of the liturgical year. It is an opportunity to simplify our lives and redirect our hearts to God in preparation for the celebration of Easter. Hopefully, we've had the time to think about what we're doing for Lent. Here are my plans as well as some ideas for you.

My plans are as follows:

  • SPIRITUAL READING: Read The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis. I have read snippets in the past and every time I would think to myself, "This is so great. Why do I not read this more often?" I'd like to complete it in the forty days of Lent by reading a few chapters each day. I also intend to read the daily scripture readings.
  • PRAYER: Pray Lauds (Morning Prayer) and Vespers (Evening Prayer). I used to do this consistently, but have fallen away from the practice. I love the Liturgy of Hours because it helps me to organize the day and will more easily help me to carve out times in the day to devote to my spiritual needs.
  • GIVE UP: As of late (i.e. the last several months), I have been a little too enthralled with the internet (i.e. spending several hours with it?!). I will be using my phone only for email and correspondence (and any Catholic apps) and my computer only for blogging and Catholic-oriented research. No more games, silly article reading, bored social media scrolling, or Netflix binges (I'll make exceptions for Netflix "dates" with the husband, since that is one thing we like to do together, but even then, I want to limit those as well). I also remember reading about St. Therese sitting very straight and not resting on the pew during Mass, for example, as a small penance (we're talking, "I'm just going to do some penance in ordinary life," not "This is my complete Lenten penance") and want to take that on as well.

There are so many things you can do for Lent. Do make sure, however, to keep in mind the following guidelines of the Church:

  1. One should fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. The "rules" allow one meal and snacks which, when combined, do not equal the size of the meal. This way of fasting may seem like a normal day for some people, so I would encourage you to completely fast from all food on these days if you can. The ill, pregnant and nursing are exempt.
  2. One should abstain from meat on all Fridays of Lent as well as Ash Wednesday. Fish is permitted on these days. In the olden days, Catholics abstained from all animal products, including butter, eggs and milk. This is why eggs feature greatly in Easter traditions (hidden eggs, chocolate eggs) and Fat Tuesday/Shrove Tuesday has been celebrated as Pancake Tuesday to use up these ingredients.
  3. One might think of Lent as a time to give up something that isn't very good for them (excessive chocolate/internet use), but you can also give up something you enjoy (drinking coffee/reading fiction). Catholics are also urged to take on spiritual practices, like prayer (Rosary), devotional reading (literally thousands of options), and almsgiving (give more at Mass).
  4. Remember that Sundays are not in the 40 days of Lent, because on Sunday we remember the Resurrection, not the suffering of Christ to which we are aligning ourselves. Take these days to go to Mass, relax with your family, and enjoy a little of whatever you have been giving up.

Lent can be a good time to root out sin in your life. Addiction, gluttony, laziness, anger... They all can inhibit our spiritual lives. If your vice is pride, service, self-denial and thankfulness are good things to take on. Maybe you just want some more holy practices. Or you need to learn to accept suffering, which will all the more help you endure suffering later on. Lent is beautiful in its versatility. Here are some ideas for you:

  • skip the snooze button and get. on. up.
  • start your day with prayer instead of caffeine
  • cut out all sugar (you can do it!)
  • take only cold showers
  • do your least favorite chore without hesitation or complaint
  • simplify your diet: beans, rice, veg. no indulgences (boxed cereals, candy, seasoning)
  • forego entertainment/going out and give that money to the Church or an organization
  • decrease meat consumption to two/three days per week. you may do the same as above with saved money.
  • pray the Rosary
  • cut back on negativity and envy by giving compliments
  • learn to be thankful by thanking God for three new things a day
  • only eat meals you have prepared instead of fast food
  • increase daily Mass attendance
  • treat Lent as a semester to dig into a Church topic you are confused about
  • pray on your way to work/school instead of listening to music or making a phone call
  • listen to only sacred music
  • do chores you know your family member dislikes
  • turn off the television. for forty days.
  • do not choose your favorite flavor/first choice entree
  • if you are married, abstain from sex (I've heard of people taking on this idea. Some might say that would shirk marital duties, but hey, if it's become something that you've let sin get in the way of, it might be good to be a little more chaste.)
  • fast until you receive the Eucharist at daily Mass
  • do the Stations of the Cross on Fridays
  • make cuts to your social calendar and spend that time with God
  • dress slightly too warm or slightly too cold for the weather
  • avoid saying, "I" in conversations. focus on someone besides yourself
  • pray the OF, HM, GB very slowly, meditating on each word or short phrase
  • journal about the reading/prayer/spiritual time you've had each day
  • limit/eliminate recreational computer usage
  • when you worry, redirect your mind to prayer or real, helpful action
  • stop weighing yourself/counting calories (if this is a problem area for you)
  • de-clutter your home and donate the items
  • hold your tongue when it comes to sarcasm and criticism
  • use your phone for calls, texts and emails. no other apps!
  • be present in the moment. give someone your full attention. practice patience.
  • create a simple wardrobe for Lent. learn to be grateful for what you have and not care excessively about appearance
  • practice corporal works of mercy (feed, clothe, visit the hungry, homeless, sick)
  • give up cosmetic luxuries (makeup, perfume, heat hair styling, nail polish)
  • who irritates you? find ways to serve them. talk, listen, give.
  • go to Adoration
  • go to Confession to prepare yourself to receive the Eucharist at Easter, accomplishing two precepts of the Church
  • get involved at your parish with opportunities to serve the community
  • pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy
  • read Scripture or daily readings (blessed is she is good). you could finish the Gospels!
  • pray for priests
  • pray for the persecuted
  • pray for the holy souls in Purgatory
  • pray for conversions
  • pray for women considering and who have had an abortion
  • pray for the Pope
  • pray for Papa Benny
  • pray for your family

Choose one of these or choose a few of these. Whatever you decide, spend time with God first and try to discern what He is calling you to. Do not try to push yourself with too many tasks: it is better to do a penance well than to do many poorly. A great tip I heard if you are struggling to figure out what to do is ask those you live with (family/friend/roommate) what you could work on. They can see your habits.

Still looking for more resources?

02 February 2016

Silence and Solitude

When was the last time you were alone?

No family talking around the table, no friends laughing at your side, no barking dogs, no social media notifications. Just you in the stillness of your house or your street or your office.

Recently, my husband was away from home, giving me multiple days of alone time. Some wives would take full advantage of such a time to watch trashy shows, cook food their husband doesn't like and refuse to make the bed (I identify with you women!). Still, there is a time, usually late at night, where I find myself in silence. No body breathing next to me, asking how I am, typing up a paper, taking a drink. No one whose thoughts whir or about whose thoughts I wonder. It isn't until even these barest indications of another human presence are gone that I realize how dependent I am on the presence of another. This is not a parasitic dependence, but a very human dependence I imagine many can relate to.

In these moments, I sometimes think of priests. While they have parishioners, family and friends of their own, how often do priests spend time alone? How often do priests sit in silence? How much more for contemplative orders?

Our world does not know how to handle silence. We turn on our stereos while we shower or clean the house. We put headphones in on our way to work and class. We keep televisions on for white noise as we sleep. We stumble verbally to fill lulls in conversation. We laugh too enthusiastically, ask too many questions, maybe even speak to ourselves out loud. Silence is awkward and uncomfortable.

Our world does not know how to handle being alone. We check and recheck and triple check social media. We go out at night in hopes of meeting someone new. We send a few text messages because surely one of these people will respond. We are out of a relationship for a while and wonder with dread whether some people are meant to stay single their whole lives.

But silence and solitude are not things we should fear.
"And rising very early, going out, he went into a desert place: and there he prayed." (Mark 1:35)
"He retired into the desert, and prayed." (Luke 5:16) 
"And it came to pass in those days, that he went out into a mountain to pray, and he passed the whole night in the prayer of God." (Luke 6:12)

In the Scriptures, we frequently see Jesus go off by Himself. And boy, do I get it: if I were routinely surrounded by crowds in the thousands (Matthew 14:22), my introvert self would run for the hills. But Jesus wasn't retreating for the sake of quenching anxiety. Furthermore, Jesus wasn't going off to really be alone: He was going away to be with the Father.

Whenever we are alone, we should get into the habit not of thinking that we are completely solitary, but that we are with God. With the world so full of distractions, retreating is good for the health of our souls. Let's get into the habit of retreating, just a little, every day.

  • Build miniature retreats of reading and prayer into your morning routine (I subscribe to Blessed Is She devotions; the Liturgy of Hours is also a favorite of mine.).
  • Pause at noon to reflect on the first part of your day.
  • Close the evening with a moment to examine your conscience and make resolutions for tomorrow.

Take advantage of each moment of silence and solitude to sanctify your life.