Imitating Peter- get out of the boat!

I love St. Peter.

I admire and deeply relate to his extreme responses to Christ’s teachings.

I know he gets a lot of negative attention in the Gospels, but it’s speculated that this is mostly due to his own influence of the Evangelists (Matthew and John were his friends and Mark was his disciple).

Most homilists pick on him, and are quick to point out where St Peter failed (like today when he doubts)… and it kind of lights a fire in my belly… probably because I relate to him so strongly. Peter had some big failings…but didn’t he fail because he was actually trying?

Take today’s gospel for instance. Jesus really needed some alone time after learning about the death of John the Baptist and then feeding 5000 people.  He made the disciples get in their boat and leave him. He went up a mountain to pray. Lo’ and behold- a storm arises in the middle of the night.

ocean-storm

Matthew tells us that their boat was being tossed by the waves. The wind was blowing against them. Both the boat and their sense of calm were being rocked. Clearly, this was not a little drizzle.

What I think is somewhat comical is that Jesus decides to walk across the sea while it’s storming. I mean, he did agree to meet up with the apostles on the other side. He doesn’t have another boat. He’s God, he has control over the sea. He can walk on the water, he won’t drown. But my imagination can only come up with comical imagery when trying to make sense of the circumstances. Scripture tells us the waves were rolling… so, what exactly did Jesus walking on water, in the middle of the night, during a giant squall look like?

ghost

Was he kind of “rolling with the tide?” Or did the waves on which he walked settle? I wish Matthew had gone into a little more detail with this! The only clue we get into what it looked like is that the apostles assumed the figure was a ghost. In all the ghostly appearances I’ve read about, ghosts move very smoothly, almost “floating.” Is that how Jesus moved on the water?

One thing is for certain– no one had ever seen anything like this before. It was totally abnormal, which is exactly why the apostles are freaking out.

Hearing them voice their fears, Jesus calls out to them to try and calm them: “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”

Peter (and only Peter) responds, “Lord, if it is you, bid me come to you on the water.” Jesus tells him to come, and Peter steps out of the boat.

Um…HOLD ON A SECOND….

All this ghostly figure says in response to Peter is, “come” and Peter gets out of the boat?! Couldn’t a ghost have given him that same command?

I think the real reason that Peter gets out of the boat is because this sheep knows the voice of his Shepherd; and when his Shepherd calls him, Peter follows.

He steps out of the boat.

…in a storm…

…while the surf is rushing about and the wind is blowing cylindrically.

peter

This is one of those moments where Peter’s bravery and faith in Jesus just fuels the fire in my soul.

Peter. Walked. On. Water.

…while it was dark and the waves were crashing all because his Shepherd called him, and he believed in Jesus’ power and might.

Peter, a regular, sinful, human person walked on water. The only other person who has ever done this is God!

WHY DON’T WE MAKE A BIGGER DEAL OUT OF THIS?!

Oh right… because of this…

sinking.jpg

 

While Peter was the only one of the apostles who actually “took courage” and got out of the boat, he loses his focus. Instead of marveling because he is walking on water, he remembers that people can’t usually walk on water…

The wind picks up and Peter takes his eyes off the Lord. Instead he fixates on the waves… and realizes he’s being tossed about… and all of the sudden he’s no longer on top of the water… he’s slowly sinking.

Doubt

Oh Peter… me too. I do this all the time as well. This story is the perfect illustration of my own response to God. I am the kind of person who truly believes God can do anything… I’ll get out of the boat and walk on an ocean during a hurricane if I hear God call me to do it— even though all other reason and logic tells me not too. I glide along, focused on the one who called me, amazed at my success… and then the wind picks up. The storm gets worse, and my focus shifts. Like Peter, I fixate on the squall and slowly I start to descend. I let myself continue to sink… trying to swim and stay afloat by myself since I am a very capable person… until it gets so bad that I can’t breath and then I cry out, “Lord– I’m drowning!” and he immediatly says, “so grab my hand!”

jesus

Why did I doubt?

Able to breath once more, my focus realigns to where it should have been all along, and once again, I am walking on water with my God. He’d been reaching out to me all along, I was just too “capable.” For some reason I wanted to swim across the sea by myself when I could have been walking across it with him. I imagine Peter felt the same after his near drowning.

Peter-Walks-On-Water,-1806

Peter may have done some stupid things during the three years of Jesus’ public ministry (denying Jesus, cutting off a dude’s ear, forbidding Jesus to die, etc.)… but he also continually showed more courage than the other 11 apostles combined. He shows up. He gets out of the boat. and when he fails… he calls out to the one who can help.

Then he walks on water again.

curl-page-break

And I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise, my soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine

 

Humdingers from the Saints: St Lawrence

On his twitter feed a couple years back, Cardinal Dolan remarked, “To be a Catholic should be something liberating. Something fun. We aren’t Puritans, are we? Joy is what attracts people to the Church.” 

Amen, Cardinal Dolan. Amen!

I think sometimes we take ourselves, the saints, and our personal quests for holiness far too seriously. Holiness is far simpler and far more enjoyable than we make it out to be.

Below is a detail from Pellegrino Tibaldi's Martyrdom of St Lawrence (1592) An uncorroborated tradition holds that Lawrence was grilled to death in Rome, and that while being grilled he joked about being cooked well enough to eat, saying "Turn me over. I'm done on this side".  He is the patron saint of cooks and chefs.

I love reading about the saints and learning of their humor, especially in the face of adversity. For example, take St Lawrence, a deacon in the early church whose feast we celebrate every year on August 10. The Prefect of Rome believed the Church to be in possession of great material wealth and demanded that Lawrence bring him the Church’s treasure. Lawrence returned the next day with all the poor and the sick people of Rome whom he so lovingly served. Needless to say, the Prefect was a little “put-out.”

The Prefect was so infuriated that he ordered Lawrence’s death. Wanting it to be especially cruel, Lawrence was tied on top of an iron grill over a slow fire that roasted his flesh little by little. Apparently Lawrence felt nothing, as he was was burning with so much love of God. At one point, he even famously joked,

“Turn me over, I’m done on this side.” 

Ironically- he is now the patron saint of cooks…

You can’t say the Church does not have a sense of humor…

What are your favorite one-liners from the saints? Comment below-I’d love to hear from you!

Three Insightful Books that Read Easy

A Common Catholic Dilemma: finding a spiritual read that helps you grow but doesn’t take months, or even years to finish.

Even with my formal training, there are times when Augustine and Aquinas are simply too taxing when it comes to reading in my spare time.

In the midst of my own search for an accessible Catholic read, I thought I’d start making my own recommendations for anyone who finds themselves in a similar circumstance.

Here are three books that were a breeze to read yet made an impression on my personal faith formation.

Image result for st patrick's summer

St Patrick’s Summer: A Children’s Adventure Catechism by Marigold Hunt

This book was written by Marigold Hunt in the 1950s. As the title indicates, it is a children’s chapter book. Despite its intended audience, it was also required reading for one of my catechetics courses in college. I was amazed by the simplicity and skill with which Marigold Hunt was able to explain the mysteries of our faith within an action-packed story. St Patrick and many other heavenly visitors appear to Michael and Cecilia, explaining the catechism over the course of the summer as the youth prepare for their First Communion. Though the story was not as “thrilling” for me as an adult, the explanations were absolutely worthwhile. I gained a much deeper–and simpler– understanding of mysteries like the Trinity, the angels and the graces of Baptism. She not only helped me understand my own faith better, but she portrayed a standard of evangelization to which I aspire. I am actually amazed that St. Patrick’s Summer is not super well known among this generation of Catholics. In my opinion, it should be in every Catholic household, especially those with young children.

Image result for between the savior and the sea

Between the Savior and the Sea by Bob Rice

Y’all, I loved this book…

If you’re unfamiliar with Bob Rice, you are truly missing out.

This book is a novel adaption of the Gospels told from the perspective of St Peter. Everything within this novel is solid scholarship. Bob Rice does not sway from the truths of the Gospel, but he uses his own prayerful imagination to take us into the places and events that the Gospels do not reveal. This novel is truly a piece of art, leading its readers to the heights of wonder and the depths of prayer. It magnified my love for Christ and St Peter. Most importantly, it helped me to see that my doubts and failings were not powerful enough to keep me from being a true disciple of Christ… since this book highlights the human struggles of the apostles and the transforming power of grace (aka, “the swap”).

Related image

A Travel Guide to Heaven by Anthony DeStefano

Anthony DeStefano loves to travel- and he loves reading guide books about what his destination offers before he arrives. He wrote this book as a “guide” for those of us who are considering a trip to heaven. He saw this book as a necessity, since to most of us, the Gospel is not longer “good news”, but more “old news.” He claims that in this case, our familiarity with heaven has not bred contempt, but it has certainly bred boredom and maybe even apathy. He’s a faithful Catholic, true to Church teachings and what’s found in Scripture, but as a layman writes without a formal theological style.

This book was a game changer for me. I read it when I was 18 and about to graduate from high school. Every morning I would wake up and read a chapter before school, and almost everyday, I cried tears of joy.  I was just so in awe of God and his generosity. It made me want to go to heaven simply for heaven’s sake… I hope that’s not unholy to say… I also wanted to go to spend eternity with God… but this book made heaven sound freaking amazing. 

According to Saints, if you want to make it to Heaven, meditating about heaven is a sure-fire way to get you there… not that the meditation makes you holy. The meditation makes you long for heaven. As a result, your attitude towards God changes, and your actions reflect that.

If you’re someone who has never really pondered heaven from a scholarly perspective, I highly recommend this book.

P.S. There’s a picture book version for children!

Image result for a travel guide to heaven

A Travel Guide to Heaven for Kids 

Being Afraid is not a Sin

I have a confession to make:

I am a big, fat, scaredy-cat.BLACK AND WHITE

I was not always this way, but one rotten mistake from my past has left a mark that makes new situations and new people very nerve-wracking for me. Even though I have put this blunder behind me, I still struggle with angst almost everyday. There’s still a part of my subconscious which doesn’t trust my conscious decision making skills. I am afraid that I might inadvertently “screw-up” big time once again.

Depending on the severity of the situation, the intensity of these fearful emotions waxes and wanes…. Still, a habit of fear has become the consistent pattern for how my brain assesses new information. I’m not proud of it, but I also can’t really change it either. It’s not a conscious choice on my part to react in fear…

Thankfully,  I have found the grace to overcome every uneasiness I face, a silver lining laced within my timid ways.

It starts with the recognition that feelings cannot be controlled. If fear “pops up” when I am trying to make a decision… it doesn’t mean I’m not brave, or that I don’t have enough faith, or even that I am about to make a mistake. It means that I are a fallen member of the human race… and I am being tempted.

Fear is just that… a temptation (not a sin)…and Satan uses it as a tool to disturb our peace, slow us down, stop us dead in our tracks, and if possible– to get us to run away.

Once, in college, I took a big risk and changed my major. I switched it from nursing– a career which was sure to offer me stability– to theology– a field of study that would not even guarantee a job after graduation. Now,  my decision wasn’t on a whim, there was a huge “God-moment” during which God made it very clear that he wanted me to make this about-face… but that clarity didn’t stop my nerves once everything became official. Fear surfaced… and I didn’t know why! I knew that this was what God wanted! Why was I afraid?!

Later that day, I was doing some spiritual reading and I found my answer.
Prayer to St. John Paul II Oh, St. John Paul, from the window of heaven, grant us your blessing! Bless the church that you loved and served and guided, courageously leading it along the paths of the world in order to bring Jesus to everyone and everyone to Jesus. Bless the young, who were your great passion. Help them dream again, help them look up high again to find the light that illuminates the paths of life here on earth.  May you bless families, bless each family! You warned of Satan's a...

 

In a letter to one of his spiritual directees who was struggling with a decision she had already made, Padre Pio explained the phenomenon of “holy fear.” Based on the difficulties she foresaw in the coming months and years because of this said choice, she thought she had made a mistake in her discernment. She was panicking. Padre Pio assured her otherwise. Her ability to see her impending crosses did not mean she had goofed and chosen the wrong course. No matter what she chose, she would have faced suffering. If she had chosen another course, she would still be facing a cross… just a different one. And she probably still would have been worrying about it!

The fear of this woman was the simple awareness of the pain and the sacrifices that awaited her in the future, and at that point in my life, I could certainly relate. Padre Pio assured her (and me) of the grace within this realization… there was virtue in knowing the pain before us, but moving forward and facing it anyway. St. Padre Pio

Padre Pio’s take on this issue confirmed fo me that my fear was not due to a lack of faith. In actuality, the fact that I was being tempted to run from my decision was a sign that what I had done was very pleasing to God…and would probably bear much fruit.

So with this post, I just want to affirm any readers who may be experiencing something similar, that fear itself does not portray a lack of trust …

The lack of trust comes about when we run from our fear, or allow it to paralyze us.

Think of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. His time spent praying the night before he died is commonly referred to as his agony in the garden.

Image result for agony in the garden

He knew what suffering awaited him in just a few short hours, and he was so terrified he was sweating blood. But when the time came, he stood up and chose to face his fear.

It seems almost “un-Christian” to be afraid. For a long time I thought so, since there are numerous times Scripture commands us to, “take courage” (Mt 14:27, Mk 6:50, Mk 10:49, Mt 9:2, Mt 9:22, Acts 27:22, Acts 27:25). However, how can it be “un-Christian” if Christ himself was once afraid? Maybe fear itself is not the problem….

By it’s very definition, to be courageous is to do something that frightens you. It is also said to be the recognition that something else is more important than the fear. To “take courage” doesn’t mean you aren’t apprehensive… it simply means that you are able to move beyond your fear.

Jesus is perfect embodiment of this truth. Fear should never keep us from doing the task that lies before us. Though Jesus was afraid of his cross, he knew that it did not mean he was not capable of bearing it.

So, whenever you feel afraid– be like Jesus.

Acknowledge your fear.

Pray for help.

Stomp that serpent

and go face your cross.

You’ll triumph like he did (Is. 55:11).

 

God, why don’t you just fix it?

Ever had a period of life that can only be accurately described by the old cliche, “when it rains, it pours”?

Last fall was like that for me. My relationship with my then-fiancé was being stretched. Both of us were truly doing our best; it was just a season of our relationship that we had to grow through. And in our case, the growing pains felt exceptional.

I remember praying in the shower at the end of a particularly rough day… crying…when something my mom always says surfaced in my thoughts:

Feelings are like clouds,

they come and they go.

But God is like the sun; his light is always shining,

even if the clouds make it seem not so.”

While I have always loved this image, that particular evening, I was just supremely annoyed by it.

“It’s been cloudy and pouring for days,” I said to myself/God (whom I knew knows my thoughts), “why do you let it to storm this much?” 

Rainy days in Carlow, Co Clare, Ireland

Immediately an image of Ireland flooded my mind.

If you’ve never been to Ireland, you should know that it’s perpetually cloudy and gray.

It rains just about everyday…

Sometimes it’s just a little drizzle…

Sometimes it rains “off and on” multiple times a day…

Sometimes it’s a steady downpour the whole day…

 

 

 

But when the clouds break and the wind stops blowing, Ireland almost seems to be an entirely new place…

#IrishKisses - ich bin im Irland-Fieber. Ireland - Beautiful landscape - This is what success looks like. Up, down, sideways, fast and slow.

This was the memory God placed in my mind that day as I struggled to suffer graciously.

In response to my defiance, he wasn’t cruel, or unhappy with me. He simply responded ever-so-sweetly and said,

“Remember what I can bring from the rain…”

Howth, Ireland. Love to go there for a cliff walk. If you are lucky you can see dolphins and seals. And afterwards a fish soup in the harbor.

The image I received was one of Irish wildflowers I had seen the semester I studied abroad… God reminded me that those flowers would not grow if it wasn’t for their climate

If you’re anything like me, you might also be quick to ask God to relieve you of your suffering.

I always want him to take it away… I never want to suffer. I have faith in his supreme power… in my bones, I know that he can do anything…

For some reason, I think he should take away uneasiness I experience… that because of my faith in him, I should be exempt from the slightest of discomforts…

My emotions cry out, “Why do we need this?! Get us away from the pain!” 

I am eager to believe I shouldn’t have to suffer…. quick to conclude that there’s no good reason for my struggle… prideful enough to think that I deserve to be excused from any uncomfortable situation.

And so I challenge my God, “why don’t you fix this?!”

And it’s then I realize who I’m acting like…

“Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” (Luke 23:39)

Ouch…. ouch. 

“I don’t deserve this”? Of course I deserve this! I am the one who is lacking!

Even when my suffering is not the result of my own wrong-doings, my rebuke and dismissive attitude towards my cross is prideful and sinful.

Why do I think I shouldn’t have to suffer?

Why do I think I should be exempt from pain, when Christ himself was not?

Image result for melancholy

Despite my pride, God’s love does not condemn me. He did not lash out at the thief… and he did not lash out at me.

Instead, he reminded me that he can do more than alleviate my sufferings… he can transform them. He can take something ugly, that Satan only meant for harm, and his grace can make it something his enemy never intended for it to be.

Can you imagine how infuriating that must be for Satan? No wonder he tries to make us give up hope, turn away from God and shut ourselves off from his grace!

When we hold fast to the idea of the “Son” shining behind the clouds, we keep our hearts open to grace. We allow God to transform the tactics of his enemy, bringing about our good, instead of destruction. By turning away from God, it’s as if we are turning our backs on the sun, and then complaining that it is not shining…

Image result for grace like rain

Like the washing of monotonous Irish rains results in unexpected beauty, God takes the drizzles and darkness of life, and brings about beauty and righteousness.

Image result for ireland landscape

My God, My God… I thought I didn’t deserve my suffering.

But the truth is, I do not deserve you.

 

“You are a refuge to the poor, a refuge to the needy in distress; shelter from the rain, shade from the heat.” ~Isaiah 25:4

Do you travel a lot? I’ve got the prayer for you!

When I graduated from college, I moved to Knoxville, TN for my first “big-girl” job. I loved the area, my boss, my co-workers… everything about it was a perfect fit. Except for the fact that I was eight hours away from family.

tumblr mhn1mgD6bP1qg87eyo1 500 Random Inspiration 113 | Architecture, Cars, Girls, Style & GearLiving two states away from them resulted in a lot of driving (in fact, I’ve put about 90,000 miles on my car in just 5 years). Traveling by myself was so stressful… a lot of the time I would leave right after work, meaning I would not arrive at my destination until the wee hours of the morning. There was no one to help with the drive… and I had to be alert the whole time. My route was saturated with semi trucks. And I have to tell you there is nothing more frustrating or terrifying than a semi on a mountain road.

Besides being so far away from family, my best friends also scattered all over the country. In the past 5 years, I’ve traveled to Colorado, Kentucky (twice), Ohio, Wisconsin, Florida, and Tennessee all for weddings. I’ve also been to Georgia, DC, North Carolina and New York multiple times to visit family.

I’m sure one day, when I have children, I will laugh at myself for being such a wimp about traveling by myself and talking about how stressful it is. However, it was an emotional and mental strain for me at that time. And now that I am married and have my own personal chauffeur for the longer trips, I am even more of a wimp about traveling by myself.

That being said, I do have a way of coping… and I thought I might share it today since my own mom is making a long drive to visit my sister. My coping method relies on a prayer I was taught by my middle school religion teacher. In Italian, her last name literally means, “good friend” and she lived up to it.

She wanted all of us to arrive at our destinations safely after school. She taught hundreds- maybe thousands- of students this prayer. We’d all pray it together before we left school at the end of everyday: Image result for our lady of the highways

“Our Lady of the Highways,

be with us on our journeys.

For all your ways are beautiful

and all your paths are peace.”

To this day, my whole family uses this prayer. When I use it myself, I imagine Our Lady, riding shotgun next to me… like one of my best friends… and her grace and peace forming a kind of bubble around the car… protecting me as I go. It’s lovely.

 

(While writing this post I discovered there is a longer version of this prayer. If you’d like to see it, click on the link!)

 

 

Why I think Fashion is Useful for Evangelization

I grew up in small town Ohio and spent the majority of my time at school and sporting events. Either I was in my uniform, or athletic gear. When I went to college, it was the first time in my life that I didn’t have to wear required attire. It definitely sounds dramatic, but something about that really caused a change inside me.

Image result for catholic uniformsNow, I’m not knocking uniforms at all. I liked wearing a uniform; I think they’re pretty classy. Sometimes I even still wish I had one to fall back on when I feel like I have nothing to wear. However, I can’t deny that I saw inner growth once I was given free reign of my wardrobe. I actually did my hair, and put make-up on– neither of which I took the time to do in high school. My self-esteem grew, for some reason it helped me to realize my worth. I wasn’t basing my worth on how I looked… I think I just finally saw my own beauty…the beauty that was a reflection of my Creator and was meant to be a gift to this world. I enjoyed taking pride in my appearance.I felt stronger and more confidant, and the way I approached my daily responsibilities changed because of it. The way I approached people changed because of it… I felt as though I was dressed for the occasion– sort of like how we wrap gifts before we give them to our loved ones. It’s not the wrapping that is the gift, but it does seem to draw our attention to the fact that it is something special.

Once upon a time, I would have thought of my concern for my hair and my clothes as nothing more than vanity. Growing up active in my faith, I remember being told time and time again that inner beauty was more important than being physically pretty… especially during my preteen years, when all us females seemed to be going through our most awkward stages. I don’t know how or why, but my little brain misconstrued that message. Maybe it was to make my self feel better about my baby fat and baby face… but I took that message to mean that outward beauty didn’t matter at all. From that conclusion stemmed the thought that being concerned about my looks in anyway shape or form was vanity.

Obviously, I have since realized that this is untrue… and I think I have to give credit to two places: Our Lady of Guadalupe & The Song of Songs. These thoughts of vanity surfaced during a time when my self-esteem was low, and my scrupulous view of my life was high… Seeing these religious presentations of beauty, and the effect they had on their intended audience was both healing and freeing for me.

Our Lady of Guadalupe

In 1531, Mary appeared near modern day Mexico city dressed as an Aztec princess– her beauty and loving message sparked the conversion of 6 MILLION native people who had rejected Catholicism due to the mistakes of the Conquistadors. Partial credit for the attention she got from these peoples must be given to the fact that when she appeared to Juan Diego, she was  dressed as one of their own.

Our Lady of Guadalupe - notice the light in her belly - this is one of my favorites, for Advent.

By no means do I think that trendy tops, skinny jeans, and booties are going to cause anyone to convert, but I do believe that  on some level, it affirms the fact that the Truths we proclaim and live are not “old-fashioned” or “out-of date.” Just as Our Lady did, we should dress as a true member of the culture, and that draws attention in and of itself, giving the impression that we are “relatable” and that desiring holiness is not something that has to make one awkward. One can still be “normal,” enjoy the goodness within the current culture and be striving for sainthood.

The Song of Songs

The Song of Songs is a beautiful “mosaic” of poems in the Old Testament about a young bride and groom that are madly in love with one another.

In the poem, the bride comes before her  husband completely decked out….

Image result for bride in song of songs

She’s tan (Song 1:6), healthy, & strong (Song 1:9)

She is freshly bathed (Song 5:2-3)

Her breath smells good (Song 7:8)

She’s wearing a lot of perfume (Song 1:12-14)

Her hands are dripping with precious, expensive oils (Song 5:5)

She’s adorned with jewelry (Song 1:10-11)

Her husband thinks she’s the prettiest woman alive (Song 1:8), compares her beauty to that of both the dawn and the moon (Song 6:10) and praises every inch of her body (Song 4:1-5)

As a woman, I love that this bride is adorned from head to toe– and it’s not out of vanity! It’s out of love! She is completely dolled up as a gift for him! She knows her worth, and is using all the scents and ornaments to accentuate and communicate the enormity of the gift that is herself. The groom is mesmerized, showering her with praise, jewels and gifts of all kinds.

Isn’t this how our love for others should be– mesmerizing? Shouldn’t it be attractive, drawing people close in wonder and awe? We are material beings- the more senses that can be used to communicate a message of love to those around us the better!

Fashionable Saints 

I found further affirmation of beauty’s goodness while reading about different Saints… especially the more modern ladies. Venerable Teresita Quevedo was voted “best dressed” by her senior class before they graduated. St Gianna Beretta Molla would have her husband bring home fashion magazines when he was traveling out of the country on business. St Zelie Martin owned and operated a renowned lace-making business in the mid 1800s. While fashion was not the main focus of their lives, it was obviously still important to them, and they were able to incorporate it into their lives in a virtuous way.

Today, I even see “living saints” (with a lowercase “s”)– individuals striving to live holy and virtuous lives. In my opinion, these ladies are a few solid examples of faithful Catholics whose fashion and style make their messages all the more attractive.

Related image

 

Immaculee Ilibagiza – A survivor of the Rwanda Genocide, Immaculee is an author and motivational speaker whose story stresses the importance of the rosary, mercy and forgiveness.

 

 

 

Related image

Leah Darrow – Once a contestant on America’s Next Top Model, as well as a professional model in NYC, Leah now travels the country speaking about her experiences, her conversion, and the virtues of modesty and chastity in light of Pope John Paul II’s theology of the body.

 

 

 

 

Image result for lila rose

 

Lila Rose – President and Founder of Live Action, a human rights organization dedicated to ending abortion and inspiring a culture that respects and protects life.

 

 

Even just by reading a little bit about these women and glancing at their pictures, it’s clear that their stylish appearance only accentuates what is on the inside….

 

 

But, what happens when this is not the case? What happens if we misuse this gift?

 

 

Look at this photo…

 

 

Rosie Huntington-Whiteley's laid back denim look is all we want right now.

 

 

 

How does it make you feel?

 

 

 

 

(please keep that thought in your head for comparison)

 

 

 

 

Now look at this photo….

 

 

 

Beautiful picture of Mother Teresa, who once said, "If you want to change the world, go home and love your family!!"

 

 

I’d bet money you felt better about looking at the second one…

 

Maybe it made you feel peaceful…

while the first photo might have made you feel a little uneasy… maybe even self-concious…

 

Was it a bad idea to use a picture of a nun in a post about the importance of fashion…? Maybe…

The point I am attempting to get across is that our physical beauty and the way that we dress does have an effect on those with whom we come in contact. Mother Teresa’s habit might not be the most fashionable, but I think it is still “attractive” in that it is inviting… When I look at her, I am drawn to her. When I look at the picture of the woman above her, I almost want to look away…

What kind of message does our daily ensemble proclaim? Do we look warm and inviting? Or cold? Or outdated?

It remains a simple reality that people judge us by our appearance. Whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing, fashion sends a message about who we are to those around us. I believe we have a responsibility to do everything we can to “accentuate” the Gospel. If wearing cute clothes helps– why wouldn’t we do that? If we have an opportunity to present ourselves as being “current with the times,” I believe we should take it.

 This is not to say that the Gospel will only be accepted if proclaimed by a woman in Gucci stilettos and a Dolce outfit from this season, but I think the way we take care of our bodies, as well as our overall appearance can greatly reflect the wholeness of Christianity.  Of course, someone with a “faulty” sense of fashion can still be a powerful tool for evangelization (hello- John the Baptist dressed himself in camel hair); but by-and-large, I think fashion plays a role in helping people be open to the concept of a God who isn’t stuck in the 15th century, especially in today’s Western culture.

St. Paul says, “… become all things to all men, that [you] might by all means save some”  (1 Cor 9:22). 

I think a trip to T.J. Maxx is in order…

Image result for page break

Uprooting the Weeds is not our Job

My husband and I went to the Saturday night vigil Mass this weekend and the gospel was a familiar one: the parable of the weeds among the wheat (Mt 13:24-43).

The servants ask the master– “didn’t you sow good seed? Where did the weeds come from?”

He tells them, “An enemy has done this.”

The servants, wanting to defend their master and save the seed he planted,  ask another question– “Do you want us to go and pull them up?”

As someone who has spent time weeding in my parent’s garden, I find the master’s response surprising…

“No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along wRelated imageith them.”

The type of wheat that Jesus’ audience would have been most familiar with is barley. It was the most prevalent in that part of the world… and while I didn’t remember the name of the weed and had to look it up, I did remember that at it’s earliest stages it looks identical to the wheat it is growing alongside…

That is why the master doesn’t want the servants to go back and pull out the weeds… they might tear out the wrong plant by mistake.

He also doesn’t want them to wait until the weeds and the wheat are distinguishable from one another, and then go pull them up. By then, the roots of both plants will be deep and intertwined. Pulling up the weed in this case will either harm or kill the wheat. The master doesn’t want to loose a single stalk.

“Let them grow together until harvest,” he says… at which time he will separate the good from the bad. The weeds are burned, since consuming them would cause death by poison. The wheat will become bread and give life.

Related image

I’m not entirely sure why, but last night I realized that I had missed an understanding of this parable my whole life.

I had always remembered it as a parallel to the parable of the sheep and the goats from Matthew 25; I thought that the weeds and the wheat were exactly like the goats and the sheep– two different kinds of persons.

Since the goats and the sheep represent us, mankind, I had always assumed the weeds and the wheat did too. The weeds were the wicked people, and the wheat were the virtuous people. The wicked people will burn at harvest and the good people get to go to the barn/heaven.

That’s where I messed up. That’s only one meaning behind the parable. Last night, our pastor shared another lesson that can be drawn from this passage.

Mankind is the wheat, but the weeds are not.

The weeds are original sin and the results of it… seeds scattered by the Master’s enemy.

I am the wheat…good seed planted by the Master, with roots intertwined with sin and vice. No matter how strong I become, I will always have my own weeds to deal with and slow me down in my progress upwards, towards the “Son”. In this struggle, what a comfort to know how much the Master cares!  He wants to give me every opportunity to survive until harvest (ie: the Church and the Sacraments). At that time, and only then, will I be completely free from the roots of my weakness, my vices and my sin. His “sorting” frees me.

Related image

[Side note: this passage supports the doctrine of purgatory; the weeds in the parable are separated from the wheat and burned… just as sin is separated from the faithful who die in a state of grace. Until those sinful roots are destroyed, one cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.]

I continued to meditate on this passage and I saw a second meaning…

As a Catholic, a disciple of Christ, I am also a servant of the master. I used to feel that as a Christian, it was my duty to serve the Master and love my fellow man by trying to “uproot” his vice. I was only trying to get rid of the seeds sown by my Master’s enemy. But after years in ministry, and hearing stories from my students past experiences, I realized how damaging this approach really was. It uprooted a lot of the good that already resided within these individuals– even resulting in bitterness towards Catholicism.

That is exactly what the Master didn’t want to happen…Image result for bad evangelism picture

The Master’s main concern was with nourishing the good seed. As disciples and evangelists, ours should be too. Even when we are aware of the sin of another, our focus should always be on the good, and making sure that it is exposed to Water (John 4:10) and the Light (John 8:12). In this way, that wheat will make it into the Master’s barn.

Now by drawing this conclusion, I do not mean to say that we cannot speak of sin and vice. They are there and they are harmful, just like the weeds. Think of Mary Magdalene. The weeds around her were plentiful. Western Christianity has long regarded her as a prostitute, but there is actually no evidence of this in Scripture. Still, she is the patron saint of sexual temptations. It’s probably safe to say that even if she was not charging money, she most likely slept with many men who were not her husband.

We don’t know for sure, and I know many Theologians think otherwise, but Mary Magdalene could have been the woman caught in adultery… the one the Pharisees bring before Jesus and are about to stone. The weeds of her life were so obvious, the mob was failing to see the good wheat that was also present.

Jesus keeps them from uprooting everything…

“Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

The mob leaves… begrudgingly… and Jesus is left alone with the woman.

“Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” he asks.

She replies, “No one, sir.”

Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, from now on do not sin any more.”

Jesus did not condone her sin, but he also did not condemn her. He did not act as though she was not at fault… she was, and she knew that he knew that. He simply loved her anyway.

She had been looking for love all along, in all the wrong places… she had been looking for acceptance, happiness, fulfillment, and love among the weeds…

Then she experienced it fully for the first time in her encounter with Christ.

That is good evangelization.

He loved her. He encouraged her. He nourished her… reminding her that she was wheat, not a weed… and that the weeds were never meant to be a part of her…

.Related image..and sin did not win. She changed her life–completely— and became one of Jesus’ most faithful followers. Most likely she was there when he was crucified… and she was there Sunday morning to finish the burial process. She found the empty tomb. She ran to tell Peter and the Apostles. She wept, mourning the disappearance of the body, and the loss of the man who had changed her life. She was the first to hear see the Resurrected Lord, the first to hear him speak. She was the first evangelist, delivering the good news of the Resurrection to the Apostles. She is a legendary example of God’s mercy and grace, so much so that she is also the patron saint of converts and repentant sinners.

Jesus’ approach is the one we should imitate, being more concerned with the saving the wheat than pulling out the weeds. Just like Mary Magdalene, most people are caught up in their sin because they are searching… seeking happiness… fulfillment… acceptance…love…

Rather than vocalizing their wrong, we can give them what they seek, and put them in contact with the Master… who planted the good seed and has good plans for them. Don’t judge someone just because they sin differently than you do.

Love changes hearts… not correction.

That is what the New Evangelization is all about… this is the kind of evangelization Pope Francis has promoted since the beginning of his papacy.

Heal wounds, nourish growth, pour out love and acceptance, and hearts will soften. Conversion will happen.

Remember… the Master doesn’t want to loose a single stalk.

The Origins of the Name

I don’t think there’s really anything extraordinary about me– and I don’t mean this in sad way. What I mean to say is that I feel as if I am a lot like other people.

My life is run-of-the-mill; nothing too flashy or exciting. The details of my everyday life won’t keep anyone on the edge of their seat.

I’m a young wife and working professional who spends way too much time watching  TV…

The Office is my favorite TV show. For me, it’s a rare day in which I do not quote from it.

Image result for best office quotes illustrated

The show is  a gold mine of sarcasm, wit, and wisdom. Which is why it should come as no surprise that this blog begins with a quote from one of my favorite characters, Pamela Beesley Halpurt.

If anyone reading this is also a fan of The Office, you probably remember the last line of the show. Pam is speaking to the documentary crew for perhaps the last time, and expressing her original thoughts from the beginning of filming. She found it weird that they picked a boring, mid-west paper company to follow around and film. But in that moment, as she reminisces about the past nine years…and all the ways in which her life changed, and all the memories the crew was able to capture… she says,

“There’s a lot of beauty in ordinary things… Isn’t that kind of the point?”

Like Pam, I believe my ordinary life is beautiful.

I think that every life is beautiful.

I think our world, with all its faults and failings, is still beautiful.

I see God…beauty himself… in the ordinary happenings of every day.

And though I  believe this, too easily I forget. I start to love the beauty of the things around me for their own sake… and slowly… slowly… slowly… I become unhappy.

I am fully aware of what causes this slip because it has happened too many times:

a lack of prayer.

How does one find beauty without knowing beauty himself?

I should know better… a cradle Catholic who’s always loved and practiced her faith… who’s had majorly profound experiences in prayer…who has a theology degree and spends a lot of time evangelizing and catechizing, both professionally and as a volunteer… I should know better than to fall back into the same old trap…

…at least that’s what I tell myself. Although, judging from the fact that these thoughts result in my hiding from prayer in shame… it seems most likely that these words are lies from my own personal Screwtape.

But when I turn to Christ– whether it’s been a few days, weeks or months– he restores me. He tells me I am lovely, and though I’ve chased and chosen lesser loves over Him, nothing will ever change the fact that I belong to him.

He takes my faults and failings… and all the lies that I’ve been believing… and he swaps them out with his grace.

That is how this blog got its name. My hope for The Swap, is that it will serve as a reminder, for myself and anyone who wants to follow along, to consciously exchange weakness for grace during the fragile and frustrating moments of every day life.