Monday, April 14, 2014

Hosting Jesus

I've lately been concerning myself with finishing the semester, finalizing all assignments, and crossing my fingers in anticipation of the result.  It's Monday afternoon of Holy Week as I type and Spring has finally arrived in Virginia.  Each morning I awaken to the song of the birds and throw open the window curtains to see the sunrise.  Inevitably, I find myself responding to the early morning's beckoning: "Come! Breathe in the beauty!", and I throw a sweater over my shoulders as I skip down the stairs and immerse myself in the beauty of a brand new day.

A week ago, I'd have told you of my considerations to save prayer for once school is over.  This semester has had me so busy that my usual cut-short, guitar-and-violin-playing finger nails grew out long enough to consider a manicure!  But Spring's arrival did what it always does -- namely, cause me to stop dead in my tracks to take a deep breath, slow down, and walk.  I suddenly realized that Easter is just around the corner.  Then, the words of the centurion in Matthew chapter 8 echoed in my mind: "Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof...".  And just as soon it occurred to me: I can't do this without God's grace!  But I can do all things through him who gives me strength (cf. Philippians 4:13).

Each time we attend Mass, Jesus comes to visit under the roof of our homes; his true presence -- Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.  Are we ready to host him?  Imagine the person of Jesus coming to visit the place you call home.  Have the tables been wiped and the floors been vacuumed and swept?  Are you prepared to use your finest china and your most exquisite recipes?  Or do you present him with your beautiful, everyday recipes, a lounge chair in the backyard, and a carefree afternoon spent in the company of the glorious giggles of the littlest people in your family?  Or do you take him, instead, to a local, fine restaurant?  Which is your scenario and how to you prepare for his coming?
from my Instagram

I know I can finish this semester, but I can do it so much more beautifully, peacefully, and gracefully with his help.  I look out my window and see two squirrels scampering to and fro and am reminded of how easily I could  slip back into the chaos and anxieties of exams...

The sun rises happily in the morning and so will I.  Though the clock is still ticking, assignments still await my attention, and Easter is less than a week away, I will first take a quiet saunter down the road to smile at flowers and whistle with the birds.  As I prepare to lay my weary head to rest as the sun fades away, I will hasten to the arms of my Mama and tell her about my day.  I will ask her to kiss the bumps and bruises of my day and make something beautiful out of nothing.  And when the sun peeks out again to bid my still-sleepy head good morning, I will rise -- ready and eager -- to cherish the gift of today.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Live JOYfully

Perhaps you've seen this acronym for the word joy (Jesus first, Others second, Yourself third).  Perhaps you've considered it to be "nice," but given little thought towards applying it to your own life.  Perhaps you are weighed down by the stress, thefrustration, the anxiety of daily life and see these next 40 days of Lenten penance as more of a burden.

Perhaps it is time to rejuvenate.

My word for 2014 is walk.  Physically, this has been a breeze -- I walk all the time: to class (I am anticipating my May 2014 college graduation), to my car, around the block, through the neighborhoods surrounding mine, and even occasionally to daily Mass.  Emotionally, however, this has proved to be quite the marathon (opposite of a marathon?) and I'm realizing just how out-of-shape (too-in-shape?) I have been.

Remembering Jesus first is sometimes what gets me out of bed in time for morning Mass when I acknowledge that he deserves this time with me and, honestly, the day is so much more beautiful having had received Him first.  Or, on the days when an event conflicts with morning Mass, it helps me remember why it is I love going to Mass so and will motivate me to go to the Holy Sacrifice after a long day of classfollowedbyworkanddrivingeverywherebetween (that is how it feels some days).  It is always what helps me keep perspective and remember that this life... it's not all about me.

Remembering others second reminds me to put my own wants and desires aside, smile, and cheerfully seek the Face of Christ in the beautiful people around me.  Each person whose presence God graces me with is unique and beautiful, unrepeatable and precious in God's eyes... And that realization completely changes my interaction with them.  Countless times, slowing myself down (mentally, physically) has lead to my noticing a twinkle in an eye or a glow in a smile and being completely blown away by God's love reaching me through this, perhaps unknowing, individual.

Remembering myself last is humbling, indeed, but what joy it brings me when I am able to rise above myself and do all for God's glory alone!  Even something as simple as putting away the clean dishes in the dishwasher, picking up a sock from the floor, emptying trashcans, vacuuming the floor, etc. - all of these simplest actions can merit great fruit when done out of love for God!

Perhaps it sounds idealistic or altogether too good to be true, but Saints have proven time and again that a JOYful life makes sanctity attainable to even the littlest soul.  St. Thérèse of Lisieux writes, "Jesus, help me to simplify my life by learning what you want me to be - and becoming that person."  Rarely do I consistently follow this method through an entire day - human nature is not so persevering and oftentimes fatigue presents a roadblock along the path of the virtuous life - but still I continue to strive toward a JOYful life now so that when the trying moments in everyday life arrive, these roots have already been planted and dug deep to help me to weather life's storms.

My challenge this Lent is to apply this method (which is simply St. Thérèse's Little Way in its most basic form) to everyday life.  1 Corinthians 13 explains what love is; a great deal of love, I think, is needed to walk through these penitential days so that we can experience the fullness of Love at the Resurrection on Easter morn.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Prepping for Lent

Can you believe tomorrow is Mardi Gras?! Lent really snuck up on me this year! My husband Frank and I have been discussing all weekend what we're going to give up (or do) for Lent and we still haven't decided.

Frank's theory is, "Whatever your significant other gives up, you kind of give up too," because no one wants to be the jerk noshing alone on ice cream while your spouse casts you baleful glances of envy. (Not that I would ever do that...) So this year we're trying to decide on penances together. We'll see how that goes!

If you're in the same undecided camp as we are, I rounded up a few resources to give you some ideas:

Simcha's list of Lenten rookie mistakes

Kathryn shares How to make Lent 40 days of awesome

Kendra has the greatest list of 66 Things to Give Up or Take Up for Lent (in beginner, intermediate, and advanced)

And in case you want to try a really difficult cool idea, I was inspired by one family's "year without a purchase." Do you think you could make it through Lent without a purchase? I don't know if I could!

These are just a tiny handful of all the great articles out there. What are some of your favorite resources to prepare for Lent?

Have a great Fat Tuesday! We'll be enjoying classic Polish paczki (pronounced punch-key) at our church's Mardi Gras party. What do you and your family do to celebrate Mardi Gras?

Originally published on my blog

Monday, February 10, 2014

Like the First Time

Something such as rain that we consider so ordinary and "everyday" is an exciting new experience to a child. 

This is what it is to be childlike. 

To delight in the beauty of this world as if this is your first experience.

To find a way to turn the dullest situation into a moment to remember.

To cherish the sweet smiles on the faces of the elderly.

To appreciate the hard work of one who has not been home all day.

To say a heartfelt prayer and listen for that still, small voice.

To go about the mundane tasks of the everyday with a happy smile in your heart that is exposed on your face, knowing that there is a purpose.

To be like a child.

To learn from a child.

To experience each child's personality.

To love a child.

To pray with a child.

To guide a child along the way of learning.

Such is the grace that I long to carry out in my everyday life!

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Catholic Young Woman in College: Sarah

Sarah Therese is another one of our contributors currently in community college. Here is her story. I'm so glad that this series is blessing so many of you ladies and I really appreciate all the feedback and comments! God bless. 


What kind of college do you attend? Describe your situation and one thing you love/hate about it.

I attend a local community college and, therefore, live at home.  My major -- Early Childhood Education -- is so small at this school that students have repeat professors semester after semester and half of the students in one class will be in all your other classes that semester and beyond.  Of course, you befriend new students as they come, but you know most of your classmates from previous semesters.  Many of my peers are working professionals who are returning to school for CE (continuing education) credits or to complete a certificate in place of CE credits (because the certificate does not need to be renewed in 2 years and is therefore far less expensive).  And so my time in academia is spent largely in the company of people 10+ years older than me.

What is one of the hardest things about being a Catholic girl in college and upholding some of the ideals we discuss on CYW? Do you have any remedies?

Discussions about things that are immoral are never easy.  I’m thankful that, in my major, the professors are a bit more conservative, but the professors I’ve had for my general education credits are not so much and my natural reaction in such an situation is exterior silence.  I hope against hope that these things are not on the test (they never were), then I pray.  I begin with Hail Mary’s to focus my mind, and then I follow Christ’s example on the cross: “Father, forgive them!  They know not what they do.”  As I walk out of class, I will offer the time to God by praying a Glory Be.  It is hardly the easiest thing in the world because, despite my calm disposition, interiorly I am bewildered after such an experience.  Still, I know that God is the God of love and mercy and that we are called to love the sinner and hate the sin.

Do you have any perspective on choosing good girl friends?

Frankly, I never expected to make any lasting friendships -- with guys or gals -- at the community college because I assumed that I’d never meet any kindred spirit in such a secular environment.  Within my major I can at least befriend women with common interests (namely, children).  Caused primarily by where I happen to sit in a classroom, I’ve befriended 3 or 4 women in my program and have kept contact with them via Facebook between classes.  One of them is even Catholic and we’ve had such discussions during which I am relieved we share the same convictions!  She is 10 years older than me, but I cherish our friendship.

Do you have any perspective on choosing good guy friends?

There are maybe two guys in the Early Childhood program at my school and though I have become acquaintances with several guys through classes outside of my program, I’ve not kept in touch with any of them.  The upside to this situation is that I’m not even subconsciously looking around for a future husband.  I generally befriend those who happen to sit around me in class, and that’s primarily for the sake of study partners and friendly conversation around class time. 

The guy friends that I have in college (and many of my girl friends) are from the Catholic Campus Ministry I attend at the nearby University.  Yup, you read that right -- I double dip!  The University is a 10 minute walk from my house, has a flourishing CCM and FOCUS, and I’ve been blessed to become involved in a FOCUS Bible Study and make many friends there.  If it weren’t for CCM and FOCUS, my faith would not be what it is today.

How can we maintain purity of the heart and body on a college campus (or whatever type of situation you have)?


St. Phillip Neri said “Devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and devotion to the Blessed Virgin are not simply the best way, but in fact the only way to keep purity.  At the age of twenty, nothing but Communion can keep one’s heart pure... Chastity is not possible without the Eucharist.”  

The greatest gift you can give to your life now as a student is daily (or at least once more than Sunday) Mass.  The Mass is the source and summit of our Christian life and frequent union with Christ through the Eucharist is the only thing that will sustain us through life.  If a more frequent Mass schedule is not possible for you, consider making daily spiritual communions.  Truly, I cannot emphasize enough how much prayer and a personal relationship with Jesus has changed my life.

How do you fit your academic work-load into your prayer life, and what’s one of the greatest difficulties for your spiritual life in college?

Earlier on in college, it would have been more accurate to say I [sort of] fit my prayer life into my academic work-load.  Though I’ve long been a daily Communicant and have always said that faith is my first priority, the child-like faith I was graced with during my youth became harder to embrace in high school and the first couple of years in college.  In January 2013, I experienced a re-version and last Advent, I realized the importance of prioritizing one’s prayer life.  The reality is that going to Mass or praying the rosary isn’t simply “going to happen”... You have to actually decide to do it.  

The greatest difficulty for me has been finding the motivation to pray/go out of my way to pray.  Some days you just don’t feel like it or you think you’re too busy.  Well, God would love to hear from you. *smiles*

How do you feel you can use the time in college to strengthen your faith and prepare/discern your vocation for the “real world”?

In light of my answer about prayer, I think the best thing we as Catholics can do during college is to delve deeper into our faith, befriend Jesus and Mary more personally, and build upon the foundation of our baptism so that we can weather the storms of the future (or even the past).  So many lose their faith in college and it’s difficult, to say the least, to go against the current, but your reward will be great in heaven.

Since I’ve never had an interest in pursuing any career, I was careful to choose a major which would directly relate to my future vocation.  This was not my primary reason for declaring Early Childhood Education (I figured if God calls me to a religious order, many teach; or if God calls me to the Sacrament of Matrimony... that’s fairly self-explanatory) but it was a factor.

Above all, I know that all God wants is my happiness and I know that I’ll only be happiest if I follow him.  I am just beginning my final semester in college and I know that by applying myself to my studies, praying, attending Mass, and fulfilling my duties around the house and at work, I will serving the Kingdom if I do all for love of God.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Catholic Young Woman in College: Tess

I initiated this project by sending out a list of questions relating to college experiences. Tess was the first to reply, so here is her story. She graduated from college in May 2011. 
What kind of college did you attend? Describe your situation and one thing you love/hate about it.

I went to a large Catholic university (Notre Dame). I loved having easy access to daily Mass, the Eucharist and Confession. I hated the "party culture" that went on in the dorms and off-campus, much of it influenced by the school's emphasis on its athletic teams.

What is one of the hardest things about being a Catholic girl in college and upholding some of the ideals we discuss on CYW? Do you have any remedies?

Resisting peer pressure to party/drink excessively was tough for me, although practicing my faith was not (again, it was really great having access to Mass at all times of the day!).

My best recommendation is to make good friends with like-minded girls. Having a "wing-woman" who shares your beliefs and a circle of girl friends who understand you (even a very small circle!) can make a huge difference.

Do you have any perspective on choosing good girl friends?

Sometimes they end up being people you wouldn't expect. I think I tried too hard at the beginning of college to control these relationships; I would pick out a specific person and decide, "I want to be friends with her," instead of letting the process happen naturally. In retrospect, I wish I had been more laid-back about that, and worked on building friendships with the people who were already around me naturally in my dorm and classes instead of forcing friendships with people I didn't see very often.

A great place to look for girl friends is in Theology classes and at Mass; see who else is present and paying attention, and then strike up a conversation with her afterwards. Chances are you'll have a lot in common!

Do you have any perspective on choosing good guy friends?

This is such a tricky question for me. My first instinct was to say, "Forget guy friends!" because I was burned a few times in college when I got close to a guy as friends and then one of us would end up having a crush on the other and drama ensued. But then I remembered that I made some amazing and very close guy friends in college, men I am still close to today.

I usually became friends with guys who were in my classes and lived near my dorm, so these friendships tended to grow organically. Again, you can't force these things. I learned that the hard way; I remember asking a new guy friend if he wanted to get dinner together, a question which I meant innocently, and he reacted weirdly and avoided me after that. It might be best to let the guy take the lead in the beginning stages of a friendship, and to hang out in groups—groups of guy friends and groups of girl friends quickly all become friends with each other if they get together often. I remember I made great guy friends through a movie club, and other clubs I was in. We all hung out in a group and it was never awkward.

I would also advise you to keep a bit of a "box" around your male friendships—don't hang out alone late at night, don't eat dinner alone together five nights a week, etc. That might sound a little intense to you, but in my experience, it was in these one-on-one bonding sessions that the feelings would start to come out and the friendship would be sabotaged.

One of my best guy friends and I concluded once that the reason we were able to be such close friends is because we found each other's personalities really unattractive from a romantic point of view. We could talk a lot and hang out as friends, but the thought of dating him made me want to gag (and I believe he felt the same way). It may sound counter-intuitive, but your best guy friends might be the guys who you find unattractive in personality, those guys who are fun to hang out with but who you would never want to date. Again, that won't be true in every case, but for me I find that some of the guys I love most as friends are the guys I would never, ever want to date. When I met a guy friend who I loved hanging out with and wanted to date, I ended up marrying him!

How can we maintain purity of the heart and body on a college campus (or whatever type of situation you have)?

Surround yourself with positive influences. Nothing can keep you on track better than a good friend who will be honest with you when you mess up.

Maintain a strong and vibrant prayer life, and go to Confession often. We all need the graces of that sacrament.

Remember that college is a tiny portion of your life. Try to use this time to prepare for the life you will have after college, and don't get too caught up in what's going on around you on campus. These years go by quickly and the rest of your life is more important.

How do you fit your academic work-load into your prayer life, and what’s one of the greatest difficulties for your spiritual life in college?

It's so hard to find time for spiritual growth in college because the atmosphere on campus is very "go-go-go!" Between classes, extracurriculars, clubs and sports, it's a wonder college students have time to breathe!

I wish I could go back in time and tell my college self, "Go easy on yourself, darling." College really is a busy and stressful time. I've been out of college for 2.5 years, and I have so much more free time now than I ever could have imagined as a college student. Don't judge yourself too harshly if you don't have time for everything you want to do. You will eventually have more time and more freedom to do what you want.

All that said, I found that the best way to strengthen my prayer life was to schedule things in so that I couldn't miss them, like making an appointment to meet a friend at Mass. One semester, I signed up for half-hour slots of Adoration a few times a week at the Eucharistic Adoration chapel next to my dorm. That was one of my best semesters ever. Another semester, I arranged to meet a friend every Tuesday and Thursday after class to pray the Rosary together at the Grotto. Making these appointments was very freeing; I loved having these structured times of prayer built into my day.

How do you feel you can use the time in college to strengthen your faith and prepare/discern your vocation for the “real world”?

Funny story, when I was a senior at Notre Dame, I interviewed a bunch of students who were discerning religious vocations as part of a project for journalism class. I remember they all said that college is a hard place to find the peace, quiet and stillness required for discernment, because the environment is so active. Nonetheless, they all agreed that college can strengthen discernment in a number of other ways. Living in community with others, learning to express your point of view clearly and politely to people who disagree, and learning about history/philosophy/theology are all great ways to prepare for a religious vocation. They're also great ways to prepare for life in general!

I think the best thing you can do in college is to explore a wide variety of interests and learn as much as possible. You never know what will end up being useful. I think of Steve Jobs, who took a calligraphy class for fun in college, and it ended up having a huge impact on his design strategy at Apple. I never expected that my love for grammar could have a use beyond correcting my friends' papers, but a year after graduation I landed a job as a book editor. Before then, I didn't even know jobs as book editors existed anymore!

I would add that I learned more from extracurricular conferences (like the ones at ISI) and internships than from my classes, so follow your interests wherever they lie. Broaden your experience, try new things, and keep doing the things you're good at even if you don't know how they'll ever be useful. Odds are good they'll somehow come in handy someday.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Catholic Young Woman in College: Introduction

"All life lessons are not learned at college," she thought. "Life teaches them everywhere."
~From Anne of the Island~

Even so, college is a very huge and important part of many lives. It's that strange time that doesn't really have a place -- we're adults but not quite thrust into the real world just yet. It's a struggle and a blessing, a challenge and great fun. We make huge decisions, but don't need to do things like pay for electricity or a child.

You may know that I'm currently a sophomore in college and two of our other contributors are in college as well. Many of the older ladies have graduated from college. And we all have a different story. All our experiences were different, and thus, they can teach us different things. Unique.

Because college is such an important part of my life, and because I know we have readers who are near or at college-age, I thought it would be a good idea to run a series here on the blog, detailing some of our life-lessons and experiences of being a Catholic young woman in college. I think this compilation is lacking elsewhere in Catholic circles. What will follow in the near future is a series of posts by some of our contributors talking about particular aspects of college.

Our education is a great blessing and privilege, and something I'm learning to never take advantage of. I sometimes hate my school, my situation, my studies...but we all do. College isn't a fairy tale, it isn't "the best four years of your life." But it is a time of exploration, doubt, extreme excitement, the depths of despair, laughter, spiritual growth, a certainty about our place in this world. [Wow that got dramatic.]

And so I hope we can detail some of our experiences and struggles about living as a Catholic woman in college. Rather than being a how-to guide, we hope to share our stories. Our "college experiences" differ, and thus we have a unique story to share. I hope you'll enjoy this series as much as I did working on it.