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Alyssa Azul Faith Formation Ink Slingers Relatable Vocations

A Heroine’s Journey

When I grow up, I want to be a mermaid.

That was my dream at five, immortalized in the pages of the kindergarten class scrapbook.

My parents would tell you that I had an unhealthy obsession with Disney’s The Little Mermaid, based on countless rewinds of the VHS tape, and hearing “Part of Your World” on a never-ending loop throughout the day.

If I could ask the child version of myself why Ariel was my hero, she would probably say, with the tiniest smirk on her face, “because she’s pretty.” Twenty-four year old me winces.  Ariel was a naïve teenager who rebelled against her father and put herself and her friends in danger. All for what? A boy? 

Yet, we can’t deny that the story was appealing. Disney princesses tend to dream of worlds away from their current realities. Ariel’s fascination with land had begun when she started collecting human paraphernalia from shipwrecks. She had developed a deep yearning to visit the surface. Seeing a human male in the flesh, Prince Eric, sealed the deal. But alas, as the daughter of King Triton, her options for escape from her reality as mermaid were limited. Ariel knew she had to find a way to be presentably human, even if it meant quite literally, making a deal with the devil (sea witch Ursula). 

We like heroines who bend and break the rules. We are captivated by women who defy the narrative and do not always do as they are told – sometimes going as far as sacrificing a part of their being. Heroes must make ultimate sacrifices in order to achieve the highest goal. If men embark on a journey to discover what it is that makes him human and masculine, then what can a heroine’s journey lead to? What makes us feminine? 

In her book Go Bravely, Catholic speaker and author Emily Wilson Hussem says, “I have found that bravery is the main component required for living as a young woman of faith in our world today. If you want to live virtue and proclaim a wholehearted faith in your words and actions, you have to be bold. You have to be brave.”

Authentic femininity requires fearlessness. So even heroines in secular stories might teach us something about being a woman in pursuit of her destiny in the face of setbacks.

Take Meg Cabot’s The Princess Diaries for example. Mia Thermopolis is another free-spirited teenager – but this one hailing from New York City.  It is discovered that by birthright, she is next in line for a life of service to a country that she has never been to. She struggles to adjust and prepare, with seething resistance to fitting into the role of a princess. An arranged marriage would surely be in her future. The idea of being put into a ‘box’ that has been created by generations of people before you has to be incredibly daunting, especially for a 15 year old. A decided future or fate incompatible with one’s present values might be a common fear or burden for women and men alike.

Like Mia, Ariel is a royal daughter. She is reprimanded and expected to behave with a level of propriety, which is a lot to ask from a rebellious teenager (er, mermaid) in love. So she sneaks away, chasing adventure, even if danger lurks around the corner. Ariel’s dream, after all, was to live life on land as a human. To do that, she had to sacrifice her most treasured talent, her voice, in exchange for legs, ie. her freedom. All this for the chance to woo Prince Eric. Careless perhaps, but laudable for what it was worth. We are allowed to desire true love, you know.

Pursuing our destinies will almost always be met with resistance or hardship. We will have doubts about whether it is even the ‘right’ calling. We can’t know what that is for certain, but it is better that we have the courage to seek for ourselves rather than to remain trapped by our circumstances. Emily Wilson is correct – bravery is necessary to leading a purposeful life.

Jane Austen’s Elizabeth Bennet is a heroine we see contend with social conventions of women in the Georgian period in Pride and Prejudice. Her defiance against expectations of love, marriage, and success is impressive, which is typical of Austenian protagonists. Elizabeth was not one to hold back her thoughts, and was often prepared to respond to naysayers – some might even say she made sport of it. Her stubbornness suited her when it came to holding herself with dignity in the face of family pressures and condescension. She was repulsed by the idea of marriage as one of convenience, duty, and political or financial gain. In her world, a marriage for love would be considered a ‘privileged’ dream. Still, she wasn’t going to settle for anything less. Characteristic of many heroines, Elizabeth was willing to sacrifice all social approval and marriage prospects to uphold her own values and protect the people she loved. Was she emotional throughout her journey? Absolutely. She expressed pride, sadness and anger in standing up for herself and her family, and wasn’t afraid of the repercussions of her confrontations. Elizabeth often disarmed those she came across – her mystery being a source of interest for a gentlemen of equal stubbornness and intelligence.

With these heroines we notice a trend; they pursue their dreams, and as a consequence, unlock their freedom. There is often self-discovery and inner healing of sorts that occurs on the journey. Women need the space to be individuals to discover their talents and what bring to the world. As a child, dreaming came like second nature. It seems that as we got older, we either lost that ability, or we simply gave up. We postpone these dreams, which are beautiful and creative expressions of our deepest desires. We can inhibit our own growth by not taking care of these things written on our hearts. In the larger picture, our calling is God’s great dream for us.

Now picture this reality: every young girl will grow up to be her own heroine, starting with a dream. She will discover who she is and what that means for the world. Her journey will involve cultivating strength, intuition, emotional receptivity, intelligence and creativity – all characteristics natural to women which St. John Paul II calls the “feminine genius”. How they’re expressed and lived out looks different on each of us, and that in itself is a gift to others. When women embrace these characteristics, they reveal the Divine, and the mystery of God. Formation of self is key, and who we become along the way is just as important, if not more than reaching our goals. We shouldn’t forget to honour our emotions, which are often seen as a weakness. It’s these emotions and instincts that allow us to make unparalleled sacrifices for others. 

The journey begins with a dream, followed by the bravery to live authentically, ultimately nurturing ourselves towards a unique calling.

In the words of Miss Elizabeth Bennet, “There is a stubbornness about me that never can bear to be frightened at the will of others. My courage always rises at every attempt to intimidate me.”

A Heroine's Journey
Categories
Alyssa Azul Relatable

Modesty: A Stripped Perspective

Growing up modesty was taught to me in relation to what I wore. It was a sin to show too much skin, wear clothing that accentuated curves, or wear too much makeup. I’ve seen girls reprimanded publicly for their clothing, and I also heard that it is a girl’s fault if a guy lusts after her. It’s only a matter of time before she associates modesty with shame, thinking society resents something about the female body. There’s a real problem with this approach.

The truth is, modesty is not simply a way of dress, but a virtue. In my experience raised in the church and serving in ministry for almost 10 years, an open discussion on this topic never happened. Unaddressed, it remained a thorn in my side. My own lack of understanding regarding modesty caused me to be resentful towards men and insecure about my body. 

I’m only scratching the surface, but I’ve taken what I’ve learned from Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body coupled with my lived experience to deepen my understanding of the wounds which a lack of modesty may flow from. 

Why might modesty be a struggle for her?

She feels ashamed.

She feels embarrassed about the parts of her body that she is told to “cover up”. If showing too much skin is a sin, then her breasts, hips, and all parts of her body that make her feminine are wrong. She feels guilty for wanting to look nice. 

Response:

Understand that the aspirations for beauty and adoration is not a sin, or something to be ashamed of. Pope John Paul II said “by modesty the human being manifests almost ‘instinctively’ the need for this ‘I’ to be affirmed and accepted according to its true value.”(General Audience, 1979). The need to be affirmed comes from our deepest desires as women to be seen. When Eve was created, she was first seen by God, then by Adam. Adam, on the other hand, was made to seek. Our desire to be seen is manifested when we choose to present ourselves in ways that attract love. The parts of our bodies that we might feel shame about have a divine function – to create and nurture life. Modesty aims to protect that, so that it is only seen according to its true value. 

She feels repressed.

Believing that it is liberating, she tries to dress in ways that the media or others show as empowering. She feels as though dressing the way that she wants is how she can “take control back” of her body. She may think modesty is not for her.

Response:

Due to our fallen natures as men and women, our good desires have been twisted, which results in the toxicity we see in the world today (ie. the sexual revolution, hook-up culture, etc.) Man’s nature to seek has been distorted to see people as a sum of parts, to objectify for his use. Woman’s desire to be seen is distorted to accept attention from anyone and anywhere, at the expense of her dignity. The world has successfully convinced people that bodies are expendable, which results in the connection between the body and soul being metaphorically “severed”. We all seek to love and be loved, but the truth of authentic love of the person is lost in the noise of a culture that screams self-gratification, loneliness, and pride. Dr. Edward Sri says that “modesty is about inspiring a reaction to the value of the person not just to the sexual values.” Contrary to what many people think, modesty is not repressive, but rather freeing once you understand what you are being freed from.

She is confused.

She doesn’t understand why it’s her responsibility to dress a certain way to keep men from objectifying her.

Response:

As mentioned before, men’s desires are distorted due to their fallen natures, so their journey towards purity looks different than ours. . . a topic of its own for another day! While it’s true that women have a role to play in averting a man’s gaze by dressing in modest attire, I am a firm believer that a woman needs to find the reason to do it for herself. Young girls need to know that they have the power to protect, preserve, and uphold their dignity as a person by making their own choices. Self-esteem is so important. When you have love for yourself, you begin to understand what about you is worth honoring, and what is equally worth honoring in others. A woman who understands that her body is a reflection of her God-given soul and fights to protect that, is frankly, more empowering than who you might find on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Modesty is driven by the commitment to see others and be seen as a whole person, rather than as a sum of parts. With that idea in mind, the conversation on clothing and physical presentation might make more sense.

So what now?

Believe me, no one is perfect. As I write this, I am mulling over whether or not the ripped jeans I’m wearing could even be considered pants. Keeping up with trends and beauty standards today is hard enough, so compassion goes a long way. Clothing decisions are not always black and white because bodies come in all shapes and sizes. This is where building a strong sisterhood is important. I hope we can move towards a place where girls growing up today understand modesty by being taught the beauty and sanctity of their bodies rather than by a slap on the wrist. We’re in this together and we have a responsibility to not only hold our brothers accountable, but our sisters as well. Affirm and uplift each other. Share your wounds. Educate and empower.

Related Resources:

Theology of the Body Explained-Revised Edition by Christopher West

Come, Holy Spirit, Give Us Modesty

 

Categories
Alyssa Azul Current Events Ink Slingers Prayer

Head over Heart: A Quarantine Story

This year so far has been a pilgrimage like no other. I think the COVID-19 pandemic knocked a lot of people out of commission in many different ways. My quarantine story as a Catholic throughout this time was beyond rough. I experienced a crisis of my interior life.

When the lockdown order hit our city, I still carried a rather positive outlook. The introvert inside me thrived for a time of removed distractions and reduced physical movement. Seeking to strengthen my interior life, I prepared to read more and pray more. I was virtually connected to a young adults ministry and we had a daily Divine Mercy Chaplet call to keep us in touch and steadfast in our spiritual lives. I was geared and ready.

It was difficult to ignore the fact that the Lenten season looked and felt different from past ones. Easter was not the same. I did not attend Stations of the Cross or the masses, and did not see friends and extended family. There was a sorrow in the atmosphere that ran concurrent with the passion of Christ, but I dismissed it.

During this time, the Catholic community seemed louder and stronger than ever. My fellow brothers and sisters were serving in the parish with technology, praying novenas, offering up fasts and so on and so forth. They appeared to be on fire with the Spirit, not letting physical barriers and social distancing keep them from completing the “Good Catholic” checklist. I did my best to attend all online masses, virtual conferences, prayer calls, and ministry duties, but the energy to keep my engine running slowly dwindled. Social media played a huge part in allowing everyone to keep tabs on each other’s “progress”. It became mentally demanding.

I wanted to feel good about myself as a Catholic, and like others, I wasn’t going to let the quarantine stop me from serving God. As I was checking off my list of “Good Catholic” duties, I started to feel a deep restlessness and sorrow within myself whenever I was completely alone. When the screens were off and the doors were closed, I couldn’t bring myself to an honest prayer, no matter how hard I tried.

I turned to distractions to numb myself from feeling guilty about being a mediocre Catholic. Everything I did was to avoid being alone with my thoughts, feelings, and most importantly, with Him.

I made every effort to lead using my head in faith, and not my heart.

By guarding my heart from the very real feelings of loneliness, uncertainty, hopelessness, and guilt, I guarded myself in my relationship with Jesus. What resulted was a severe lack of love for myself. The urge to hide myself away was strong.

Was I just completing the “Good Catholic” checklist to feel better about myself? What was I trying to prove? These kinds of questions fuelled what I like to call my mid-quarantine spiral.

Eventually two jarring realizations about authenticity in my faith resurrected.


I needed to be:

  • True to myself, and
  • True to God

Because the sacraments, conferences, volunteer services, etc. were so readily available to us before quarantine, it was easy to fall numb to the repetition and routines of participating in them. I was told by a wise person that we often use them as “band-aid” treatments for our wounds.

All of the above are tools that help us encounter Jesus, but we need to go beyond them to find ourselves so we can be ourselves with Him. In the midst of doing all the right things to pursue the greatest Love, we forget what it feels like to be loved. We forget what and who we are made for. We take the tools for granted and sometimes hide behind them when we are most in need of mercy.

It took missing those sacramental elements of my faith to realize that I needed to lead with my heart to find myself and Jesus again. I’m ready to accept that in some strange way, His plans for my quarantine were greater than my own.

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Alyssa Azul Ink Slingers Prayer Rosary

The Gift of the Rosary

The Gift of the Rosary

My very first rosary was given to me by my grandmother when I was around 5 years old, It was blessed in Rome and had a strong but natural fragrance when from what I remember…roses I’m certain.

My grandmother lived in the Philippines, and she would come to visit us in Canada when I was younger. During one of her first visits, she taught me how to pray. I don’t recall ever learning about how to pray the rosary in church or in school, so I owe it to my grandmother for teaching me, among the many things I learned from her. She had a very specific nighttime routine, and praying the rosary was never left out. Sharing a bed, we would pray out loud together before sleeping. I used to follow her, and eventually as I became more familiar, I’d be able to finish on my own when she fell asleep.

The rosary is more than a tradition, and a connection to my grandmother, but in a very important and profound way, it was my shield. During that time, my parents’ marriage was turbulent. Because of how young I was, I can hardly remember a time when they weren’t fighting. This turmoil was my normal. It’s only reflecting on it as an adult, that I am able to understand more of the picture.

Their fights were the loudest and most intense late at night. I remember that my grandmother would push forward with our bedtime routine. We would pray the rosary every night, despite the noise. She was persistent in the prayers, and I drew that fortitude from her. Truthfully, the memory of praying the rosary is more salient than the environment in which we prayed in. 

Now whenever I pick up the rosary, I feel a sense of strength, like a warrior picking up a sword before going into battle. Reflecting on the holy mysteries and saying the words remind me that the power of prayer is great enough to conquer anything I might be facing, tangibly and intangibly. I’ve come to truly understand the role of Our Lady in my life; she’s a tender and upstanding mother, protecting her child under her mantle. At every age, that is her role in our lives and we are always in need of our mother.

The Holy Rosary for me is also a tool to I use in managing anxiety. Focussing on the beads and the repetition of the prayers takes my mind away from the worry. The rosary brings me closer to understanding the life of Jesus, and that his sorrows and joys are like mine, or even greater. This doesn’t eliminate my stress and anxiety completely, but it reminds me of the most important things in my life. I am validated and loved by the greatest Love, which helps redirect my gaze towards eternity, and off of circumstantial things. 

Whenever I feel vulnerable, I hold on to my rosary. I might not always feel it, but I know in my heart that God’s hand is in my life. Since then I’ve been given the chance to embark on a very different journey, praying the rosary with men and women in prison. Using the rosary to pray for each other a deeply moving and powerful, and it reminds me that even if we had nothing but the shirts on our backs, we would still be able to pray using our fingers, meditating on the life of Jesus, and praying the Our Father’s and Hail Mary’s.

I believe one of the best things you can give to someone else is a rosary.


You can read more about the rosary in our archives.

Categories
Abortion Alyssa Azul Ink Slingers Respect Life

The Plan after Unplanned

The Plan after Unplanned

*Spoiler alert* 

Unplanned was screened in just over 24 cinemas across Canada, and done so despite strong protests against it. In my city, the movie was only shown in two theatres and for less than a week, so you’d better bet I was rushing to go see it. Before I get into the thick of it, one positive outcome was that the movie ended up selling out across the country. Not just because of the amount of pro-lifers wanting to see it, but  because of those who were on the fence, or pro-choice altogether. There were loads of mixed reviews after the movie aired, some quite offensive, but I think that the most powerful thing to come out of that film was the conversation it started.

I was no stranger to the Planned Parenthood controversy before entering the theater. I used to listen to Lila Rose podcasts, of her research and undercover investigations in the clinic. I was also familiar with Abby Johnson’s story: a former clinic director turned impassioned advocate for life and anti-abortion. I thought I would be prepared for this movie. 

The film opened up immediately with a scene of a young girl at about 13 weeks pregnant undergoing an ultrasound-guided abortion. It was the first time that Abby would witness firsthand, what a fighting life looked and felt like (as she was holding the probe).

It was a shockingly graphic scene, and I don’t think there was one woman in the theatre that wasn’t clutching her stomach, or feeling uncomfortable. It felt like somewhat of a physiological response to something deeply unnatural and inhumane.

As overwhelmingly emotional as the movie was, I think it’s so important for women of my generation today be aware and adept at speaking about these issues. What’s more, we as Catholics should learn how to have a conversation about protecting the sanctity of human life without drawing on religious arguments right away. This doesn’t mean we hide the truth, but we have to find a way to open up the ears of our brothers and sisters who are non-believers. We know there are valid non-religious arguments for the existence of human life at conception, but are we equipped to use them? When we have conversations with our coworkers, friends, and family outside of our religious circles, we need to learn how to converse with them and find the moment. I call the moment the tiny door that opens up and allows you to ask a question that crosses into personal territory without raising any sort of debate. People tend to let their guards down when they feel they are being heard. 

I recently found a moment at work. My female coworker and I were casually talking about life goals and ambitions. As she was of a certain age and professional status, my curiosity compelled me to push a tiny bit into that personal territory, with respect of course. 

I asked her, “What are your thoughts on having children?”

I was genuinely curious. I wanted to know what women today truly thought. It stunned me how tough it was, how we often try to censor ourselves when it comes to talking about kids, motherhood, and family. I braced myself for a guarded response, but she instead started talking about why she wouldn’t have kids until she was fully ready. Our conversation spun into one about why people have kids while in unstable relationships, or because of pressures from friends and family, and even pressures from the marriage itself. What I realized was that we actually cared about the same thing: children being raised in a stable home.

We didn’t agree on everything, but I got to see some of the underlying issues as to why men and women divert from the God-designed family structure, and see some of those “where we went wrong” points in society. I never made any comments about what I believed in, I just asked questions. We don’t have these conversations enough, especially with other women. I think some of us are too busy judging each other’s lifestyles that we forget about our common ground.

This connects me to a moment that inspired me from Unplanned. It was the perseverance of Marilisa, the young woman that worked for 40 days for Life on the other side of the fence, praying for and speaking to the girls about to go in to the clinic for appointments. The most ‘scandalous’ thing about her behaviour to me was the relationship she formed with Abby Johnson over the years that Abby ran the clinic. Both women were fully aware that they were on opposite sides of the issue, but both continued to do their work for their causes in front of each others’ eyes, with an unfailing grit and determination . They spoke to each other cordially, and sometimes even crossed lines into personal territory. The scene that intrigued me was when Abby was getting into her car with balloons and such after celebrating her baby shower at the clinic, and Marilisa saw this. Instead of asking pointed or loaded questions, she congratulated her. She spoke to Abby with a gentle, genuine demeanor, as she was also carrying a child herself. I thought it was a powerful moment between the two women, and it’s as if Marilisa saw who Abby Johnson truly was in that moment –  not only two people, but two souls. It was a moment that fueled Marlilisa’s prayers, that Abby would one day wake up and see the truth. It was the respect and love that Marilisa treated Abby with over the years that led to the ultimate action of Abby running into her arms when she finally realized the lie that she had been living, and selling.

It’s a question we all have as pro-lifers: How can we have a meaningful impact on the other side of the fence? I think that genuine love must drive our words and actions. When we speak with people about the value of life, our bodies, motherhood and abortion, we must attempt to listen and empathize before expressing judgement. I am of the belief that small, meaningful conversations can change the game as much as large movements, protests and political sanctions can.

It’s hard to see the scale of the impact that our words have, but changing just one woman’s life is a win in itself. Teaching a girl or woman to love her body is a win. Celebrating children in all families, whether broken, blended, or nuclear is a huge win. Supporting women post-abortion is a win. Sharing information on the biology of sex, hormones, and childbirth is a win. There is so much information about the human body that kids don’t learn in schools anymore…the internet has become a new teacher with lessons that range from real to dangerously ‘fake’. You just never know when your small win can influence something as big as convincing a woman that the fetus inside of her is truly alive.

In my reflection of the film, I recall David’s awe and humiliation in Psalm 139,

If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,”

even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, 

for darkness is as light to you.

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful,

 I know that full well.

My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. 

When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,

your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were 

written in your book before one of them came to be.

Psalm 139, 11-16

I pray that one day every man and woman recognizes how intentionally and intricately designed their bodies are. I pray for the day that every woman sees how precious her body is, and the part it plays in God’s beautiful love story with us. I pray that my sisters all over the world continue to draw strength and grace from our Immaculate Mother in times of confusion and turmoil.  I pray that children are loved completely and without condition, just as Jesus loved. Lastly I pray for the unborn babies. They are loved and not forgotten.