Category Archives: Prayer

Entries dealing with prayer.

Emotional Catholics – How to Deal with Your Feelings

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Colored-Signs
Have you ever been confused by emotions — yours or someone else’s?

(I’m guessing 100% YES.)

You’re not alone; this is a common problem.  I struggle with it daily.  Why are emotions so confusing?  Well, the world is no longer the place God created it to be; originally, everything and everyone was in harmony with God.  As a result of free will, however, division reared its ugly head.  Now, the human condition suffers because of sin.

Our emotions are affected by all this.  Can you relate? — Spiritual director Father John Bartunek, LC, points out:

Our feelings often seem to have a mind of their own, independent of what we know to be true by reason or by faith.  At times, for example, I feel drawn to things that my conscience deems wrong and damaging but my emotions deem desirable (like sleeping in when I have important work to do…). At other times, I feel repulsed by things that my reason or my faith tells me are good and important but my emotions label as undesirable (like taking time out of my busy schedule to simply sit with the Lord and pray, or making a difficult but necessary phone call).
At still other times, the intensity of my emotions seems to have no basis in reality, and my moods swing wildly up and down, making life turbulent and chaotic (as when I take out my internal frustrations on someone I love, someone who has nothing to do with the real cause of those frustrations).

What’s the point of all this chaos??

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that our emotions are a bridge between A.) the world we experience, and B.) our mind (see CCC pp. 1764).  God gave us emotions for a reason: to help us process and express our experiences.

Often, we blame ‘negative’ emotions like fear, anger, and sadness as the source of our problems… “I wish I didn’t feel so _____.”

Widely-known Catholic psychologist Dr. Gregory Popcak explains : “The feeling isn’t the problem. The feeling is the warning light telling you to look for the problem.”  He continues:

Our emotions remind us of the need to strive for the Original Unity in which we were created to live.  Emotions are not the enemy.  In fact, they can serve us well as long as we don’t try to shut them down by rashly cutting people out of our lives, or by drinking, drugging, indulging our passions, or taking foolish risks in a desperate, reactionary attempt to plug our ears to the warning bells and blindfold ourselves so we can’t see the flashing red lights.

This used to be my hidden problem. I would often bury my feelings rather than face them and examine their cause.  When I got married, my husband began to teach me how to healthily deal with my emotions.  However, I came to learn that in our imperfect world, none of us have perfectly-formed emotions.  When my anxiety began to exceed the understanding of both myself and my spouse, my husband urged me to seek professional help.

I did not like that advice at all.  Pride and vanity kept me away; our society tends to see counseling as something ‘desperate people’ or ‘messed up people’ need.  ‘Those people’ were below me, I thought.  On top of that lay the fear of the unknown.  Thankfully, I did muster up the courage to begin sessions with a professional counselor.  I wish I hadn’t waited so long!

—> So, how can a Catholic deal with the chaos of his or her emotions?

  1. Take care of yourself.  As Catholics, we believe that body and soul are integrated. “The unity of soul and body is so profound that one has to consider the soul to be the ‘form’ of the body” (CCC pp. 365).  So, whatever we do to our bodies will affect our emotions.   Sometimes all you need is a good night’s sleep to regulate those out-of-whack feelings.
  2. Make time to pray and be silent.  Recent psychological research has demonstrated that spiritual meditation, prayer, and feeling close to God helps regulate one’s emotions (see source below).  Think about it: If your emotions are a God-given gift, then spending time with God can help us understand that gift.  Moreover, the ‘information overload’ we experience in today’s world can not only be distracting and disorienting, but researchers have evidence that it actually tires out the brain worse than marijuana use.  Silence and prayer are so important.
  3. Stop and listen to your emotions.  What are they telling you?  Journaling may help.  If your emotions seem overwhelming or somehow disordered, don’t hesitate to ask for expert guidance.  Email Christopher Stravitsch with Rejoice Family Apostolate for a Catholic counselor recommendation in the San Antonio or Houston area.  Live elsewhere? Use CatholicTherapists.com.
  4.  Thank God.  Your emotions are a gift.  Thank God for the time, people, and resources he has provided you to help sort them out.  Have hope!  Though your feelings may be confusing now, remember that through discipline and seeking help, you will draw closer to peace and union with God thanks to more healthy, well-formed emotions.  What an awesome gift!

Research source cited: Carolyn M. Aldwin, Crystal L. Park, Yu-Jin Jeong, Ritwik Nath. Differing pathways between religiousness, spirituality, and health: A self-regulation perspective.. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, 2014; 6 (1): 9 DOI: 10.1037/a0034416

How do Catholics have a “personal” relationship with Jesus?

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Emmaus

From “Christ on the Road to Emmaus” by Duccio (1311)

Just a few days ago, an acquaintance asked me and some other friends, “How do you develop and foster your personal relationship with Jesus?

That phrase — “personal relationship with Jesus” — might remind us of evangelical Protestants more than Catholics.  But Pope Benedict XVI, addressing the world’s youth in 2011, confirmed that our faith “is not only a matter of believing that certain things are true, but above all a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. […] When we enter into a personal relationship with him, Christ reveals our true identity and, in friendship with him, our life grows towards complete fulfillment.”

To answer Krystin’s question, I reflected: What makes any relationship “personal”?

  1. We get to know one another.
  2. We have heartfelt, authentic conversations.
  3. We listen to each other.
  4. We forgive one another.
  5. We visit each other.

1. Get Acquainted.

How much do you know about Jesus?  As with any relationship, the foundation of our relationship with Jesus is built on ‘getting to know’ him.

Each morning before breakfast, I spend 10 – 20 minutes reading the Bible.  You can find the Daily Readings on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website.  The Old Testament teaches us about our Heavenly Father and how he prepared us for his Son.  The New Testament reveals Jesus’ earthly life, his hometown, his family, and his friends.

I also learned so much about Jesus by making a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.  Our small group ate some of the foods Jesus ate, walked the terrain, visited important sites related to his life, and so on.  What a difference it makes to visit a loved one’s neighborhood and homeland — especially that of Jesus.

There are many other ways to learn about Jesus, like reading the pope’s daily teachings, signing up for a Bible study, or other class at your parish.

2. Heart-to-Heart Conversation

What distinguishes “personal” relationships from relationships we have with coworkers or neighbors?  I say it’s the ability to speak honestly and openly, sharing our deepest concerns.  Throughout my day, I speak this way with Jesus – either aloud or in my heart – about anything / everything, including my concerns and my joys.

But how did this habit begin if I can’t physically see Jesus’ face and speak with him, like I do with others?  How can I remember to speak with Jesus throughout a busy day?

As I was growing up, my parents surrounded my sister and I with ‘holy reminders’: pictures and statues of Jesus in every room of the house.  We had many conversations about Jesus, and our parents taught us to speak with Jesus.  Since Jesus has always been a member of our family, always on my mind and heart, it was easy for me to continue this habit of welcoming Jesus into my daily, adult life.

If this wasn’t your story, set up your own ‘holy reminders’!  Place images of Jesus throughout your home. Have one at your desk, on your smartphone background, in your car.  Let these remind you to converse with him.  He is always ready to listen.

3. Listen.

Of course, any close relationship requires that we listen to one another.  Listening to Jesus – who is not only our friend, but our God – is essential.

During weekdays, I make a few minutes of ‘quiet time’ in the morning, mid-day, and evening.  I sit in a designated place, remain still, and open myself to listen.  Journaling with Scripture helps me focus on this in the mornings. It can be very difficult, with all my responsibilities and daily distractions, to stay committed to these ‘listening times’.  I’ve learned, however, that when I don’t schedule time to listen, my life becomes even more chaotic and stressful.

As Pope Benedict XVI said, Jesus helps us understand our true selves.  He is our Lord and God, who loves us and has a purpose for our life.  When I don’t listen to Jesus, I easily get caught up in the circumstances of my life, lose sight of his love, and forget life’s ultimate, deeper meaning.  When we don’t listen to Jesus, we can’t order our lives according to his mission for us.  Our life will become disordered.

4. Forgiveness

When someone hurts us and seeks our forgiveness, we repair our relationship by forgiving them.  Hearing a loved one forgive us is an enormous relief.  Why wouldn’t Jesus want the same for our relationship with him?

He does.  This is why he gave us the Sacrament of Reconciliation (cf. John 20:21-23), so that we can not only seek his forgiveness, but also hear and even see Jesus forgiving us through the ministry of the priest.  Not only that, but participating in this Sacrament shows Jesus that we ‘forgive’ him for the times we felt hurt by him — I recall the time I was so angry at God for allowing my chronic pain condition.

Coming to Jesus in the Sacrament of Reconciliation is such a profound gift to our relationship with him.

5. Visit.

Perhaps the most life-giving and important way that I deepen my relationship with Jesus is spending time with him.  Weekdays, I sit and visit Jesus in a Eucharistic Chapel for a few minutes.  On Sundays, I go to church early so that I can spend a few quiet minutes visiting with him.

Jesus also comes to visit me, especially when I welcome him “under my roof” during Holy Communion.

If I solely talked with Jesus in prayer, but never visited him physically, it would be like having a relationship with someone over the phone or online. We would be capable of becoming very close to each other, but missing the element of touch and physical presence.  The Eucharist allows our relationship with Jesus to become far more intimate.

Getting to Know the Holy Spirit

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"Pentecost" by Titian (c. 1545)

“Pentecost” by Titian (c. 1545)

Last weekend, I was privileged to assist at a retreat for teens preparing to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation.  Although I began working in high school ministry about eight years ago, I experienced something on this retreat that I’ve never encountered.

Our parish is involved with the Catholic Charismatic Renewal movement, colloquially known for its “Pentecostal” style of prayer.  I, however, am still quite new to ‘extraordinary’ manifestations of the Holy Spirit, since I was raised without exposure to charismatic prayer, and have only recently begun attending this parish.

The teens had gone to Confession, and after celebrating Mass, our retreat had reached its climax.  Four teams of adults and youth leaders were to pray over individual retreatants, invoking the Holy Spirit.  Not five minutes after this began, I was asked to lead one of those prayer teams!

My mind became a bit scrambled.  We’d all received instruction for this moment, but I’d never been in such a position, and I don’t consider myself “a charismatic Catholic”.  Nevertheless, I pushed aside my qualms and trusted that God knew what He was doing.

That’s when it began to happen.

I raised my hand over a teen’s forehead, and began to praise God.  Slowly, I felt like God was whispering words into my heart, and my mouth would speak them: prayers for healing, prayers for joy, words of encouragement and love.  Sometimes, our team would stand and wait for a retreatant to approach us.  In that silence, I would “hear” God speaking to my heart.  “The next teen has fear—much fear—in their life. Assure them that my family is their family.”  These words stirred in my heart until a teen approachedand asked us to pray for his incarcerated family member.

I received many such “words of knowledge” in my heart.  Sometimes, the truth of those words were confirmed by the teen’s specific prayer request.  Other times, I saw confirmation only in their tear-filled eyes.  Several teens initially seemed astonished at what had just occurred.  That would quickly morph into an incredibly peaceful smile, and they’d hug us in gratitude.  Some of them would “rest in the Spirit” as I prayed, falling down or backwards, and my husband would gently catch them.  Many later testified that they’d seen beautiful visions or experienced a release of their anger, pain, worries, or fears — a feeling they described as “light” and having been touched by Jesus’ love.

Perhaps this all seems strange to you.  If so, I understand!  From that night, I learned several truths experientially which I had previously known intellectually:

The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26) – Interpersonal communication intimidates me; especially with people I don’t know well.  Yet, the Holy Spirit made up for my weakness 1,000-fold!  While prayers came from my heart and mouth, I knew without a doubt that it was God working through me.

There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit…To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.” (1 Corinthians 12:4,7) – God gave me extraordinary gifts that night.  Those gifts were not meant for me to keep; they were meant for me to share.  I felt as if God’s goodness flowed through me.  I didn’t know why I said certain things, but I trusted that God had placed those words in my mouth for that teen.  Other leaders exhibited other spiritual gifts; only God knows why!

All of us who have received one and the same Spirit, that is, the Holy Spirit, are in a sense blended together with one another and with God.” (St. Cyril of Alexandria) – A profound unity grew among the teens. We saw imaginary lines created by stereotypes and cliques, dissolve, as they comforted and cared for one another. I myself felt exactly as Cyril describes: “blended together” with everyone.

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” (Galatians 5:22) – As I prayed, I exhibited all of these.  No words can describe exactly what that felt like.  All I could do was praise and thank God.

If you’re in need of hope, comfort, joy, patience, or anything… pray to the Holy Spirit.  Open yourself to the Holy Spirit.  Say a simple prayer and invite the Holy Spirit into your heart.  As someone who once felt unsure when speaking about the Holy Spiritand who considered charismatic prayer downright strange, I want to encourage you to not be afraid of the Spirit.   The Holy Spirit is the Father & Jesus’ gift to us.  You received this same Spirit when you were baptized.  Don’t be afraid… don’t hesitate any longer: unwrap your gift!

The Ultimate Personality Test

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Have you ever taken a personality test?  They ask you a few questions, and then “reveal” something about who you are…

  • Myers-Briggs Type Indicator
  • Which Color Are You?
  • The 5 Love Languages (9 million copies sold)
  • Keirsey Temperament Sorter
  • Strengthsfinder 2.0 (Wall Street Journal #1 and BusinessWeek #1 bestseller)

I used to gleefully spend hours taking personality tests.  Some were even school course requirements.   While they can offer some helpful insights, personality tests can also – especially for Christians – distract us from where we should find our identity.

John the Baptist’s Test

Jordan River wilderness

My fellow pilgrims walking to the site of Christ’s baptism, in Jordan.

In November 2010, I remember walking through the tall grass of the Jordanian wilderness, accompanying my fellow pilgrims to the site of Christ’s baptism.  We were privileged to trek there, rather than the typical Jordan River ‘pilgrim stop’ in Israel which is busy and developed.  Here, though, it seemed we were discovering uncharted territory.  As we walked, our shoes crushing rock and fallen foliage, and I almost expected to hear the voice of hairy, wild John the Baptist shouting, “Prepare the way for the Lord!”

On Gaudete Sunday, we read that Jewish priests and Levites tested John the Baptist about his identity. I am amazed by his disarming authenticity and self-knowledge:

He admitted and did not deny it,
but admitted, “I am not the Christ.”
So they asked him,
“What are you then? Are you Elijah?”
And he said, “I am not.”
“Are you the Prophet?”
He answered, “No.”

Three times, John affirms who he is not. Then, he answers them:

“I am the voice of one crying out in the desert,
‘make straight the way of the Lord,’

as Isaiah the prophet said.”

I wonder if John’s mother, Elizabeth, ever told him the story of his name.  He would know that instead of being named after his father, זְכַרְיָה – meaning “YHWH has remembered” – the Lord sent an angel to ensure that John would be named יוֹחָנָן – “YHWH is gracious”.

God wanted John’s name to say something: That he was sent to call people toward repentance and conversion.  John prepared the way for Jesus, who would eat with sinners, forgive them, and die for them, revealing that God is gracious.  John’s entire life was directed toward preparing people for Jesus’ coming.

Hence, John found his identity in his relationship to Jesus, and to his fellow man: “I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘make straight the way of the Lord.'”

Discovering Who We Are

From John, we learn that the ultimate personality test consists of two simple questions:  What is my relationship to Jesus Christ?  How does that inform my relationships with other people?

Pope Benedict XVI once said, “The Christian rediscovers his true identity in Christ […] In identifying with him, in being one with him, I rediscover my personal identity…” Benedict also taught us in his encyclical Charity in Truth, “As a spiritual being, the human creature is defined through interpersonal relations. The more authentically he or she lives these relations, the more his or her own personal identity matures. It is not by isolation that man establishes his worth, but by placing himself in relation with others and with God. Hence these relations take on fundamental importance.”

This Advent and Christmas, take time to rediscover your true identity. Consider journaling or sitting in silence to reflect:

  • How did my relationship with Jesus begin? How has it grown?
  • How would I describe my relationship with Jesus today?  (Who is Jesus to me?)
  • How has Jesus transformed my relationship with others?
  • In what ways might Jesus be calling me to be more authentic in my relationship with Him?  In my relationships with others?

Thank you, Lord Jesus – for becoming human, for being gracious, and for showing me who I truly am.  Amen.

What do Catholic church buildings teach us?

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I’ve heard so many stories from Catholic converts about how they felt mysteriously drawn to Catholic church buildings, even before they knew what everything inside the buildings meant. Catholic church buildings are markedly different from other places of worship…but what does it all mean?

When I started learning the remarkable symbolism behind Catholic churches and their elements inside, I felt like I was discovering an entirely new (yet ancient) world!  Allow me to share just a taste of this with you.

“Visible churches are not simply gathering places but signify and make visible the Church living in this place, the dwelling of God with men reconciled and united in Christ… In this ‘house of God’ the truth and the harmony of the signs that make it up should show Christ to be present and active in this place.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, pp. 1180-81)

Beginning a Journey…

As you enter most Catholic churches, you’ll step into a “foyer” area, or a large front porch. This is called the narthex, where we transition from the outside world into the House of God. It is where liturgical processions begin. Because of its transitory nature, the narthex is also known as the galilee; reminding us of Christ’s journey to the Cross, from Israel’s Galilee area into Jerusalem.

 …To the Water, To the Ship…

As we enter the church, we dip our fingers into holy water fonts, making the Sign of the Cross over ourselves to remind us of our Baptism. Some churches have a separate baptistry area, with a large, octagonal baptismal font. Its eight sides refer to Christ’s resurrection on the eighth day (Sunday).

We often think of the next area – where people sit – as the “congregation,” or even the sanctuary.  However, the proper name is the nave, the Latin word for “ship” (think of “navy” / “naval”).  Why a ship?  The Church is the “ark of salvation,” the ship that carries us to Heaven over the stormy seas of life.  Our Pilgrim Center of Hope logo is a ship for this very reason.

Up to Jerusalem

During Mass, we see the liturgical ministers process up to the front of the building, to a place many might refer to as the “stage” or the “altar”.  This area is actually the sanctuary, from the Latin for “holy place”.  The sanctuary area is raised higher than the nave to signify…

  • The head of Christ (the nave signifies His Body, the people)
  • Mount Zion – where King David’s fortress was located, and also the location of the Upper Room where Jesus celebrated the Last Supper (instituting the Holy Eucharist)
  • Jerusalem – the location of the Jewish Temple, and of Christ’s crucifixion
  • Heaven – the “New Jerusalem” where we will celebrate the Wedding Feast of the Lamb (Christ) forever

To receive Holy Communion, we always process toward the sanctuary because it reminds that we are pilgrims journeying toward Heaven.

TabernacleThe Old and the New

In the sanctuary, we see our Jewish roots married to our Christian identity.

  • TabernacleTabernacle means “tent”.  The first Jewish Tabernacle was built by the Israelites after they were freed from slavery, as God’s dwelling place among them. Our Tabernacle is an ornate “box” commonly made of precious metals, containing the Body of Christ (bread consecrated during Mass that Catholics believe becomes the real Body of Jesus Christ).
  • Sanctuary Lamp – The (often red) candle which, when lit, indicates God’s presence in the Tabernacle.  The ancient Jewish Sanctuary also contained a sanctuary lamp. It was kept just outside the Holy of Holies, the place where God dwelt.
  • Altar – The altar is no ordinary table.  Ancient Jews slaughtered an unblemished lamb on an altar as sacrifice for their sins.  Jesus came to become the Lamb of God, who was slaughtered as a sacrifice for all sins.  Today, the altar is where we offer bread and wine that become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, who is the Lamb of God.  At the altar, time and space are no barrier; by the Holy Spirit’s power, we are present at Jesus’ Crucifixion.
  • Presider’s Chair – Whereas the altar represents Christ’s priesthood, the chair represents his kingship.  In ancient writings, a seated figure was a figure of authority.  The presider’s chair is where the priest or bishop who is celebrating the Mass, sits.
  • Ambo – Represents Christ as prophet. This “podium” is where God’s word is proclaimed to the people.  It may jut out from the sanctuary into the nave, symbolizing the prophet going out to the people with God’s word.
  • Crucifix – Cross with the body of the suffering Christ. During Mass, a crucifix must be present.  It reminds us to unite ourselves to Christ’s sufferings*, and points to the reality of what is taking place on the altar during Mass.

Many modern churches lack an altar rail around the sanctuary.  This is a beautiful “table-like” rail designed as an extension of the altar.  At the altar rail, people would receive Holy Communion.  Thus, the altar rail is not designed as a mere barrier around the sanctuary; it is a table where the Banquet of the Lord is given to the people.

Earth and Heaven

Catholic churches’ beauty and art are essential to Catholic worship.  Statues, paintings, mosaics, and stained glass of the saints, angels, and Biblical scenes remind us of the family we have which spans history – past, present, future – and space – across the globe, in Purgatory, and in Heaven.  Catholic Mass is where “Earth and Heaven kiss”.  The ornamentation, marble, precious metals, jewels, etc., communicate this supernatural reality.

God does not need our beautiful things.  Yet, from the beginning of Judeo-Christian history, God has asked us to make sacrifices and create beautiful religious articles / structures.  Why?  Our physical, human nature needs physical reminders of what cannot be known by our senses.

This is all just the “tip of the iceberg”!  I encourage you to seek out resources and continue learning.  Here are a few:

* See 1 Peter 2:21-24, 1 Corinthians 2:2, Romans 6:3-5, and Colossians 1:24.

ABC’s of Catholic Living – Simple outline for a faithful home

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One of the most common questions we encounter in evangelization work is: “How can I bring up my children Catholic?” or “How can we strengthen our family’s faith?”

When my husband and I were married, we were determined to establish a Catholic household — a household in which the Catholic faith is seamlessly integrated into daily life. I’ve attempted to capture some of our guiding principles in this alphabetical list. What are your suggestions?

HolyFamily

“The Holy Family with the Infant St. John” by Bartolome Esteban Murillo

ADORATION – Adore God, individually and together.
We often ask God for favors, and forget to adore. “To adore God is to acknowledge him as God, as the Creator and Savior, the Lord and Master of everything that exists, as infinite and merciful Love.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church #2096) Take time to lift your mind and heart to God, without asking anything. When you take this time, your children will notice! I remember often walking in on my mom during her prayer. Consider taking a trip to a local parish for Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Whatever you do, develop your relationship with God as an individual and as a family.

BIBLE – Incorporate the Bible into your home life.
Many adults have told me that they remember a large Bible in their grandparents’ home that was displayed in a place of honor…but never seemed to be read! Do keep your family Bible in a central location, but make sure to read from it. This is easier when you develop a habit and have time set aside to do so. My husband and I established a time to read Scripture together when we come home from work, before preparing dinner.

COLORS – Use liturgical colors to decorate.
This is a fun and easy way to remain united with the Church around the world. Is today a martyr’s day? Wear red! I like to use green place mats on our dining room table during Ordinary Time. These are simple things, but they are visible ways to bridge our time in church with our time at home. See the calendar with liturgical colors at the U.S. Bishops’ website.

DINE TOGETHER – Make meal time family time.
Sharing a meal together means sitting down at the table together, face-to-face. This helps naturally develop relationships among family members. Research has shown that your family will reap many benefits.

EXAMINATION OF CONSCIENCE – Encourage family members to regularly examine their conscience.
Generally, we do so in silence for a few minutes, at the beginning of Night Prayer before bedtime. My husband will simply prompt, “Let’s pause for an examination of conscience.” Click here for one of my preferred examination methods.

FEAST DAYS – Celebrate feast days.
For example, on one of the apostles’ feast days we might make a special meal (pot roast with wine). You could also consider using special place settings for meals, having a dessert, or playing a game together.

GRACE – Say ‘grace’ before meals.
Speaking of meals, always pray before your meal! We like to thank God for our food and all involved in preparing it (farmers, truck drivers, grocery store workers, etc.). We ask Him to help us remain grateful for what we have been given, and to help us to share our resources with others. Praying before meals helps cultivate a spirit of thankfulness in each family member.

HOLY FATHER – Love and pray for the Pope.
Keeping a picture of the Pope in your home as a reminder of his spiritual leadership, as well as a reminder to pray for him. Keeping a photo of the Pope in your home can also help educate children about your family’s unity with all Catholics under the “shepherding” of the Holy Father.

IMAGES / ICONS – Have sacred images or icons in your home.
We enjoy having Eastern Christian icons in our home, especially ones that have particular meaning to us: The Last Supper, the Wedding at Cana, the Holy Family, etc. Each one invites us to contemplate the subject matter. Christian / Catholic artwork in your home will help remind family members that our faith is important to us, and that it is beautiful!

JUSTICE – Discern how your family should live Catholic social teachings.
How much does your family know about the Church’s social teachings? My husband and I try to challenge ourselves to attend occasional presentations on topics like immigration, war, homelessness, etc. When we clean out our closets, we donate to St. Vincent de Paul instead of selling those items. We also contribute to charities that assist individuals in difficult situations. What can your family do? There are so many options, you can find a way that suits your family. Look into ministry or charity programs / activities in your area. Let prayer guide your decisions.

KNOWLEDGE – Grow in knowledge of Church teachings.
Our Faith has always encouraged individuals who seek to understand. Encourage one another to ask questions about Church teaching. Keep reference books in your home, such as the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the YOUCat (youth catechism), subject-specific books, etc. Attend presentations together at your parish or diocese. Watch or listen to Catholic programming. One of the greatest lessons you can teach your children is having the humility to say, “I don’t know the answer. Let’s find out together.”

LOVE – Foster a loving environment in your home.
Learn to communicate lovingly with one another.  If you need help, don’t be ashamed to seek out resources or counseling; communicating well with your family is your calling from God! Families reflect God (Love) to the world.

MASS – Attend Mass Together.
If it’s possible for your entire family to attend Mass together, do so. Mass is the most important ‘moment’ in our lives. Try to prepare by reading the Mass readings beforehand, so you can listen to them more prayerfully during Mass. Ask each other, “What struck you about the homily?” Stay a few minutes after Mass to thank God for this special time with him.

NATURE – Practice good stewardship of nature.
God has entrusted Creation to us. We need to practice good stewardship habits, like reducing our food / water waste, re-using materials, and recycling whatever we can.

OBEDIENCE – Practice healthy and holy obedience.
This is a doozie! Obedience is a ‘bad word’ in modern society, but in Scripture and our faith Tradition it’s a healthy virtue. Obedience is not to be mistaken for condoning abuse of power. Rather, it means that each family member has a specific role, and we maintain peace in our homes by honoring the natural structure of those roles. Family members with the most authority are responsible for loving as Christ loves. See a reflection on this by Father Chris Rengers, OFM.

PRAYER – Pray all ways. Pray always!
When and how can families pray together? Maybe we should ask: “When can we not pray together??” Use any opportunity to pray; all it takes is saying, “Can we take a moment to pray?” or, “Let’s offer this time (ex: stuck in traffic) as a prayer. Who can we pray for?” Learn the Guardian Angel prayer. Pray the three expressions of prayer: Vocal prayer, meditation, and contemplation.

QUIET – Build quiet times into your family life.
Not all noise is bad. In fact, some noises are very good! But generally speaking, our society tends toward “productivity” and if we’re always busy, we will miss God’s “still, small voice” whispering to us. Our Catholic faith has a long history of appreciating silence, so let’s keep it alive in our family life. I know of families with small children that designate a few hours on Sunday as “unplugged” time: no electronics! Family members are encouraged to read, pray, take a walk, etc.

RECONCILIATION – Schedule times to participate in the Sacrament of Reconciliation – and reconcile with one another at home.
Confession can be scary, but it’s important that we make it a part of our lives. Adults can teach youth about the wonders of this sacrament by making it a priority and a regular habit. Go to the church as a family. Encourage (but do not force) children to participate in this sacrament. Demonstrate God’s mercy at home: When husband and wife have a conflict, work to reconcile as soon as possible. Teach children to apologize. Don’t be afraid of apologizing to children when you’re out of line; modeling humility and love is crucial. “Parents have a grave responsibility to give good example to their children. By knowing how to acknowledge their own failings to their children, parents will be better able to guide and correct them.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2223)

SACRAMENTALS – Use sacramentals.
Sacramentals are small signs and instruments of grace, like a blessed Rosary, Holy Water, blessed Holy Medal, or Blessed Salt. My husband and I started a ritual in which we bless each other with Holy Water every morning before heading out the door, and every evening before bedtime. We also have many other sacramentals that help us remain close to our faith during prayer, in times of difficulty, or in everyday life.

TITHE – Give to the Church and charity before everything else.
Tithing is a Biblical practice based in ancient Jewish life that continues in Christian life. Traditionally, tithing is giving 10 percent of one’s income to God. This requires prayerful discernment for each family. For us, that 10 percent equals 1 percent to our Archbishop’s annual appeal, 5 percent to our parish, and 4 percent to other charitable causes. Tithing may seem challenging at first, but we have found it to be a freeing practice. It keeps us accountable to contributing to our community’s well-being, and reminds us of the proper ordering of our priorities.

UNION – Live as members of the Communion of Saints.
Keep pictures of the saints in your home. We have them all over; the refrigerator, living room, bedroom. They are family members, role models, and prayer intercessors for us. Read the lives of the Saints with your children, and talk about your favorite saints. Ask the saints for their prayers.

VIRGIN MARY – Practice devotion to Our Blessed Mother.
Jesus entrusted Mary to Saint John, the “beloved disciple.” She is the Mother of Christ and our spiritual mother. Have a special picture of Mary in your home. Teach children the Rosary prayers, and pray together. Perhaps they would like to learn the Angelus prayer, or the Salve Regina – like this little boy!

WHIMSY – Enjoy life!
Pope Francis and many of the saints have reminded us to live joyfully as Christ’s followers. Sing, dance, play, laugh, tell stories… enjoy the good things of life in moderation.

CRUCIFIX – Have a Crucifix in your home.
Saint Paul spoke on the importance of preaching Christ crucified, and Catholic tradition has long used the crucifix to remind us of God’s love. The crucifix is a powerful sacramental that, when honored and matched with a Christian life, can help our family fight temptation.

YES, LORD – Encourage each member of the family to live their vocation.
Introduce your children to priests, religious sisters, nuns, brothers, consecrated people, and other families. Share a meal with them. Help children understand that God calls each of us to a certain life; the life for which we’re best suited. During family prayer, ask the Holy Spirit to help each family member discover and “say yes” to this calling.

ZEAL – Demonstrate authentic enthusiasm for your faith.
Zeal is not “nice feelings” or “warm fuzzies” about being Catholic. It’s the fire that burns within us; the Holy Spirit’s work, that drives us to live as Catholics no matter what situation we find ourselves in. How can we live this in family life? Discuss what you appreciate most about our Faith, or what motivates you to do what’s right. When you make a decision, explain to children how our Catholic faith has affected your decision. Tell them why you are glad to be Catholic, even when you don’t “feel” excited. Children (and adults!) need to learn that our experience as Catholics will include times of strong emotions and other, more challenging times; but we maintain a zeal for faith thanks to our relationship with the Holy Spirit.

When Boldness Bears Fruit

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“Christ and the Canaanite Woman” by Jacolpo Palmer the Elder (1480 – 1528)

There is a story of a woman from Canaan that heard about Jesus. In her desperate concern for her daughter’s healing, she ran after Jesus calling out “Have pity on me, Lord, ..! My daughter is tormented by a demon!” Jesus doesn’t respond immediately and others around Him were ‘bothered’ by the woman and asked Jesus to send her away. Jesus appears to be harsh at first (you have to read the entire passage in Matthew 15:21-28), but he does so in order to strengthen the woman’s faith.

Her perseverance is recognized by Jesus and he tells her “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And the woman’s daughter was healed from that hour.

This story is a good lesson for us all. The woman’s confidence in Jesus whom she believed was the Messiah, and her boldness bore fruit – her request for her daughter’s healing was answered.

The woman’s boldness came from her deep humility, her love for her daughter, and her trust that Jesus could heal her daughter. This is a good formula for our prayer as well. We must recognize our insignificance in our relationship with Almighty God, and that God who is almighty still desires us to have a personal, intimate relationship with Him.

We begin by recognizing that we need God, not only for our own well being but also for the people we love and share our lives with. Humility will lead us into obedience to the Word of God, and obedience will be the source of the hope we long for and the peace that only Christ can give.

Let us remember this story of this woman from Canaan; our faith and trust in Jesus will bear fruit. 

“Persevere in prayer. Persevere, even when your efforts seem barren. Prayer is always fruitful.”
(
St. Jose Maria Escriva, The Way, p. 101)

“What If We All Prayed for Just One Person?” + Radio Prayer Service for Middle East

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I am tempted – and perhaps all of us in the U.S. are tempted – to allow headlines regarding tragedy in the Middle East to “go in one ear…and out the other”.

There is just so much tragedy.

Oftentimes, we feel overwhelmed by life’s events — whether in distant lands, or in our own homes and offices. In those times, I’m reminded of Mother Teresa’s words: “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.” That goes for everything — clothe just one person, hug just one person — and pray, too. If you can’t possibly pray for all the suffering people in the world, pray for just one.

In fact, it was only after my pilgrimage to the Holy Land, that I realized the Christians there are not just statistics. They are Johnny the tour guide with a sharp wit, Hanan the gracious relief worker, Rabab the singing English teacher.

Today I received an email from Brother Stephen, who works at Bethlehem University in the West Bank. He was passing along the news that one of the university’s graduates, Hashem, a husband and father of two little girls and a boy, was killed while peacefully protesting the violence in that region.

There are many stories like Hashem’s — of one person who is in need of prayer.  What if we all joined together and prayed for just one person?

For Hashem…
or for Ayham, his 11 year old who is now ‘man of the house’…
or for Sharna, the 23 year old pregnant mother killed in Gaza…
or for her baby girl, who was delivered by emergency C-section…

As Mother Teresa said, “Do not wait for leaders. Do it… person to person.” So we will. Please join in a special prayer service this week:

Live Radio Broadcast: Prayer for Our Brothers and Sisters in the Middle East
on Catholicism Live! hosted by Deacon Tom and Mary Jane Fox
Wednesday, August 13, 2014
8:00 PM – 9:00 PM (Central Standard Time)

We invite you to have a crucifix or image of Christ with you, as you listen and participate. Together, let’s follow the example of our shepherd Pope Francis, and these holy bishops:

“Let us pray much for peace in the Middle East: please pray!” – Pope Francis

“We cannot be Christian but to be for the other.”
– Bishop Barnaba Yousif Habash, Syriac Diocese of Our Lady of Deliverance

“I believe in the effect of prayer even though in the immediate moment we don’t feel any result. We have to continue tirelessly to pray for peace.” – Bishop William Shomali, Auxiliary to the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem

“The whole church of the Middle East is a church of Calvary. Do not leave us alone.”
– Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouad Twal

“Pray for us.” – Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako (Iraq)

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Encountering Christ in Prayer on the Via Dolorosa

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Imagine carrying a six by four foot wooden cross on Via Dolorosa (Latin for the Way of Suffering), commemorating Christ’s passion as He walked carrying his Cross from the Antonia Fortress not far from the Temple through the streets of Jerusalem, and then to Calvary. Remembering our Lord’s passion and His walk to Calvary has long been and continues to be an ‘active prayer’ in Jerusalem. Many pilgrims walk the Via Dolorosa each year.

Today, Via Dolorosa in the Old City of Jerusalem has Roman numerals on bronze disks along the walls of buildings marking the way the Lord carried His cross.  Each Roman numeral signifies a “station”. For example, the First Station, “Jesus takes up His Cross”, is marked outside the ancient ruins of the Antonia Fortress.  There are fourteen Stations of the Cross, the first nine are along Via Dolorosa and the last five are in the Holy Sepulcher Church built over Calvary and the area of the Tomb of Christ.    

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My husband and I just led a pilgrimage to the Holy Land where all the pilgrims had the opportunity to carry the large wooden cross along the Via Dolorosa.  Some of the marked Stations have small chapels maintained by various religious communities living in Jerusalem such as the Franciscans, the Armenian Catholics and Little Brothers and Sisters of Jesus founded by Charles de Foucauld.

One morning, Tom and I were walking along the Via Dolorosa with a dear friend living in Jerusalem, we were planning to have coffee at the Austrian Guesthouse near the Fourth Station.  Our friend who is a devout Catholic with Armenian roots invited us to visit the Fourth Station Church under the jurisdiction of the Armenian Church dedicated to the Armenian genocide that occurred around 1915.  The church’s crypt marked the site of the fourth station where Jesus met His Mother as He carried the Cross to Calvary. The foundation, part mosaic from the 5th century, had a pair of ‘sandals’ marking the spot where Mary stood.

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On the other side was a section with a modern sacred art piece with the Eucharist, the Blessed Sacrament exposed in a unique monstrance.  There was a large rug for kneeling, a few chairs and a religious nun praying.  We decided to spend an hour with Jesus there in silent prayer, adoring Him in His Eucharistic Presence.  I thought… “Lord!  I am here with you in a special way where you met your mother on your way to Calvary!”  Tom and I enjoyed our quiet one hour.

Meanwhile, on the upper level, life went on along the Via Dolorosa.  Muslim women were purchasing fresh vegetables and pastries to prepare for their Ramadan meal after Sundown, tourists with open maps wondering about, a group of Italian Catholics praying the Stations of the Cross, and the market along the Via Dolorosa open for business.

The Son of God in His Eucharistic Presence was present in silence only a few yards away.  Our hour with Jesus on Via Dolorosa will be one I’ll always remember.

To learn more about the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem, visit the Franciscan Website (Custody of the Holy Land).

Want to experience a journey to the Holy Land?  Contact us!

Catholic Confession: Paralyzing fear to new life

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Have you ever been afraid? I mean, really afraid? For about two years, I went through professional counseling for past trauma that induced panic attacks. That experience helps me relate to the disciples we read about in Sunday’s Gospel. After the Crucifixion of Jesus — the man whom they believed would liberate Israel — his mortified followers gathered together, shut and locked the doors out of fear.

Little did I know how powerful fear could be until I was a grown woman, hiding from my emotions in my bedroom closet with the door closed. I would sit on the floor and cover my head with my arms, the fear was so intense. How could I hide from it? I couldn’t. My wounds would taunt me, ‘You cannot escape us. We have marked you forever. You will never be whole again; always wounded.’

Imagine the disciples going through a similar struggle, when suddenly

Jesus came and stood in their midst
and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side.

Exposing his glorified wounds, Jesus shows them that he has heard the taunts and jeers of woundedness and fear. But he proves that wounds do not have the last laugh. By exposing his wounds, Jesus says, ‘I have been through hell. Yet here I am, more alive than ever before. I have peace, and I give it to you.’

The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.

That moment must have been when the disciples realized: the Messiah did not come to conquer political forces, or lands, as they once thought. He did not come to reign in a fortress of stone. Jesus, God’s Chosen One, came for the ultimate victory: to free human hearts from fear. He came to reign in hearts. This was God’s Master Plan; a plan to free all of humanity from the ultimate enslavement — the interior kind.

Blessed is Sunday, for on it were opened the gates of paradise so that Adam and all the exiles might enter it without fear. (Catechism of the Catholic Church pp. 1167)

This is what the disciples must have known at that moment, and so they rejoiced.

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you.
As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them,
“Receive the Holy Spirit.
Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them,
and whose sins you retain are retained.”

When I would sit in the darkness of my closet, writhing from the torture of emotional wounds, one of the worst pains I felt were feelings of guilt and shame. Feelings of having permanently lost my dignity and beauty and freedom.

In the Gospel, the apostles — men who had known the dank prison cells of fear, and experienced the liberation of Christ’s victory over wounds — are now empowered and sent to liberate others. Jesus charges them to go and break the shackles of fear, for those who wish to be free.

For Freedom, Christ Set You Free

My encounter with Jesus and his glorified wounds was (and continues to be) so important in my salvation, my healing, my liberation. That is why I am so grateful for the ‘birthday of the Church’ which Christians celebrated Sunday. Pentecost marks fifty days after the Passover; a Jewish feast called Shevuot commemorating God giving the Torah to his people. For Christians, we celebrate that First Covenant and the New Covenant; on Pentecost, God poured out the Holy Spirit on the apostles, fulfilling his promise:

But this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days… I will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people. (Jeremiah 31:33)

So, why am I grateful for this day? Because when the apostles received the Holy Spirit, they were empowered to go out and free hearts likewise. They became ekklesia — people sent out (translated “church”). Today, the Church exercises this mission especially through the sacraments.

As I went through years of counseling, I also participated in the Sacrament of Confession, which is called a Sacrament of Healing and the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I’m sad — and frustrated — that Confession is poorly (and grossly) depicted in pop culture, because I and countless others have there encountered Jesus and his glorified wounds.

Confession is often portrayed as dark, eerie, and devoid of emotion. I did associate those things with Confession once; when I felt trapped in an abusive relationship for over a year. My life was like a maze I couldn’t escape; I often felt like I was living a nightmarish Groundhog Day. As the weeks and months went by, I would visit Confession more frequently than before. I hated that I could not seem to escape this nightmarish cycle of hurt. That’s when I began to associate Confession with self-loathing.

Finding Freedom

A miracle released me from that relationship. But I still carried intense, negative, emotional baggage associated with Confession. Thus began my uphill battle to separate that baggage from the reality of Confession.

Thanks to professional help, hard work, and prayer, my experience of Confession now reflects what Confession truly is: light-filled, loving encounters with a God who loves more truly and beautifully than anyone else.

Unfortunately, I have heard many Catholics say: “People today go to therapists and unload all their problems, but Catholics don’t need that; we have Confession!” I admire their enthusiasm, but this attitude can be very dangerous. Confession is absolutely a place of healing. At the same time, God chooses to heal us in many ways. I hope that, if you are a Catholic who experiences intense fear, anxiety or shame, you’ll seek out a Catholic counselor. (This can feel embarrassing, but is entirely worth your effort.) He or she can help you shed light on the source of your pain and become free from any misplaced guilt or shame that may weigh you down.

Through counseling paired with the Sacraments of Confession and Eucharist, I realized: God wants me to be healed and free. He wants that for you, too.

Confession, experienced in a healthy manner, is truly a Sacrament of Healing. Jesus comes and offers you true peace. He shows you the wounds he suffered so that you don’t have to suffer them, too. He shows you that those wounds are glorified. He offers you a life that is new and fully-alive.

I pray that you will take his hand today.

Heal our wounds, our strength renew;
On our dryness pour your dew;
Wash the stains of guilt away
– Pentecost Sequence

"The Incredulity of St. Thomas" by Caravaggio (1602)

“The Incredulity of St. Thomas” by Caravaggio (1602)