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Ink Slingers

Journey Through The Desert: Lent 2021 Photo Journey

Lent 2021 begins tomorrow. Yes, tomorrow.

Shortly after Ash Wednesday last year, many Catholic churches were closed for a long time due to C*vid. Some are still closed. For many of us, Ash Wednesday and Lent a year ago mark the beginning of a time in spiritual desert; unable to receive the Eucharist for so long. For many of us it’s allowed us to grown in our faith; spurring us on to make greater efforts in our relationship with God. Lent 2020 was hard. Some of us feel like we’ve been living in Lent since March 2020 and haven’t left that  desert. Wherever you fall on the spectrum of where you’re faith is right now, Ash Wednesday 2021 marks a way to re-focus ourselves on Christ. 

Our 2021 Lent “Journey Through the Desert” Catholic Sistas Photo Journey helps us to do that. The words on our Photo Journey prompt remind us to look around our lives and be a little more aware of God’s presence. To reflect on those things present but also those things in the past. The Catholic Sistas Photo Journeys are set up to allow us to reflect on where we see Christ and where we’re lacking Christ and need growth.

 

Join Us

So if you need something to help you re-focus you a little bit more on Christ, or you just enjoy reflecting on your faith visually, consider joining Adrienne, Allison, Anna, Celeste, Laura, Mandi, Rosemary, and me (Rita).

Be sure to use #CSLENTIPJ (Catholic Sistas LENT Instagram Photo Journey)  so we can find your photos and share some of them in our stories!

And just a little side note, say a little prayer for us Texan Catholic Sistas (and many others in the South). We’re struggling right now with unprecedented weather that our state, city, and homes were not built to handle. 1/3 of my city (Austin Texas) has been without power since early Monday morning (parts of the power grid are frozen). So between unprecedented, record- breaking weather and C*vid still things affecting many thing, we’re entering Lent a little differently this year.

How the Lent 2021 Photo Journey works

• Each day has one word associated with it. Most of these words are from the readings for the day, some are about the saint of the day, and some are just related to the season of Lent. Snap a photo or find an old photo related to that word. The photo does not have to be faith-themed, as the goal of our photo challenges is for us to see God in our everyday lives and reflect on Him.

• Use the hashtag #CSLentIPJ and any other appropriate hashtags (#gray, #adore, #suffer, etc) when you post your Photo Challenge photos. This allows us all to search Instagram and other social media platforms for other participants. You can even follow the hashtag on Instagram so you’ll see all the photos posted from everyone participating. We will be sharing participant photos throughout the Photo Challenge, and the way we find them is through the #CSLentIPJ hashtag.

• While our main platforms for the Lent 2021 Photo Journey are Instagram, and Facebook, we are present on many other platforms. Tag us with @CatholicSistas on INSTAGRAMPINTEREST and FACEBOOK. And if you’re blogging about your Lenten Photo Challenge, link back to us or comment below with a link to your post.

• When you use the hashtag #CSLentIPJ on Instagram, it will enable us to find you on Instagram and possibly feature you in our stories!

• Click the graphic below to download the CSLentIPJ graphic for quick reference. Note that the dates of the weekends are a different color to help visually break up the days.

• Lastly, consider joining us on Facebook in our group CATHOLIC SISTAS – THE COFFEE HOUSE. Here we can share pictures of the challenge and we get to know each other in a private setting. Please request to be added and answer the group questions, and you will be approved as soon a moderator is able to add you.

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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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Anni Ink Slingers

Physical or Spiritual Imperfections: Which Ones are We Embracing?

Physical or Spiritual Imperfections: Which Ones are We Embracing?

Our culture is saturated with messages that we, as women, are “not enough.” Everywhere we look, there are billboards or commercials advocating weight loss, looking more “youthful,” or even something as simple as, “being more refreshed,” or having our teeth whitened. Eventually, those subtle, and more often than not, blatantly apparent images begin to toy with our psyche, and the focus shifts from a healthy outlook to one that focuses on our imperfections. The messages begin to take root in our souls, and we find ourselves on a slippery slope of chasing untenable perfection, while offering justification for the focus on outward appearance.

St. Teresa of Avila is credited with saying, “Be gentle to all and stern with yourself.” And, when it comes to chasing the outward perfection, how frequently are we stern with ourselves? One can argue we truly are our greatest critic. When we look in the mirror, it is apparent how quick we are to be stern with ourselves. We give ourselves little compassion when we judge our weight, the size of clothes we can no longer fit into (or, the length we will go to stay the exact same size we were in high school), the crow’s feet developing around our eyes, or the gray hairs lining our head. We are quick to reassure our friends how youthful, how slender, how beautiful they look, while in the next breath, bemoaning (whether verbally or not) our own imperfections.

A long while back, I wrote about loving ourselves as Christ loved us. As He hung on the Cross for our sins, He was loving each and every part of us! He despised the sins we would commit, but when it came to our appearance, He lovingly embraced all the warts, all the bumps, all the bruises, all the moles, and all our seeming imperfections. And, the challenge from that particular article, and the series after that, was to encourage each of us to embrace our imperfections, and the ones in others. What we see as a flaw, Christ sees as radiant beauty.

Taking the sternness with ourselves a further step, too often we, as women, have a tendency to fall into thinking our personality is flawed. We are too meek and too mild, or we are too brash and too bold. We critique how we interact with others, we have a tendency to ruminate on conversations long after they have passed, and we are quick to find fault. Usually, that begins to manifest by putting ourselves down – belittling what may, possibly, be some of the greatest gifts we have been given by our Creator. We begin to shrink back from allowing those gifts to fully develop and grow, too hesitant to see how the gifts will manifest in the society around us. We become too concerned with others’ impressions, and in the words of wise St. John Vianney, we forget that God, the angels, and the saints are our public audience. Or, they should be our public.

This past month, I stumbled on a quote by St. Therese of Lisieux. It reads, “It is enough to humble ourselves, to bear patiently our imperfections. There lies true sanctity for us.” That quote embodies the essence of this particular piece.

Christ loved us as we are today while He hung on the Cross for our sins. He loves us as we are today, while He offers us His companionship on the journey of life. Christ loves us as we are today, while He invites each of us gently into a tender relationship with Him, in which only love is tolerated.

God is love. God created each of us, without reservation, out of love. He invites us into a relationship of love and challenges us to extend that love toward others. Perhaps the greatest challenge, though, is remembering to have love toward ourselves.

When we fall into society’s trap of self-love, we begin to lose sight of the unconditional love God offers to each of us. We begin to forget that we are called to love others unconditionally. 

When we are in a healthy romantic relationship with another person, we often want to better ourselves so that we, as a couple, are the best version of “us.”

Yet, how often do we apply that same principle to our relationship with God?

We focus on putting ourselves down, on tackling our physical imperfections, on making our outward appearance look better. Yet, are we truly focusing on the issues of eternity?

Do we recognize the imperfections that we bring to the spiritual table?

The tendency toward greediness;

The tendency toward lust;

The propensity to have pride in ourselves, or the contribution we bring to those around us;

The quickness with which we turn to someone with wrath in our hearts;

The ease with which we enter into envy of neighbors or even family members;

The comfortability of sliding into sloth.

 

And, when we recognize those, what do we do about them?

Are we quick to run to one of our Sacraments of Healing? Do we humble ourselves and turn to Christ in Confession? Do we accept that we are struggling, and truly focus on ways in which we can be stern with ourselves in order to work on these spiritual imperfections?

Or, do we embrace those spiritual imperfections, and instead focus on the physical, outward imperfections that we try so desperately to change for the sake of the peers around us?  Do we become complacent in seeking eternity with God, and allow our interior imperfections to be overshadowed by the exterior flaws so loved by our Creator?

Only perfection can enter Heaven. Yet, contrary to what our society tells us on a daily basis, it’s not physical perfection which will enter Heaven. Instead, it is spiritual perfection.

Those sins that we would rather avoid discussing, facing, or recognizing? Those sins will keep up from God. Yet, as uncomfortable as it may be, when we accept that we are sinners, and we accept the ways in which we sin on a daily basis, we can find motivation for change. We see the true wisdom behind St. Therese of Lisieux’s words, “…humble ourselves, to bear patiently our imperfections…” because when we take account of those spiritual imperfections, we begin to tackle them.

We begin to root them out.

We begin to orient ourselves toward the public that really matters – God, the angels, and the saints.

So, if it’s been a while since you last sat with your spiritual imperfections, I encourage you to join me in sitting with the Ode to Feminine Genius: the Proverbs 31 Catholic Women Introduction, and truly praying through that embedded examination of conscience.

Squirm a little. Humble yourself a little.

Meet Christ confidently in the Confessional. Humble yourself a lot.

And join me in working toward spiritual, rather than physical, perfection.

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Anni Ink Slingers Vocations

Contemplating Eternity: Living for the Here and Now

I am grieving for a man I have never met.

The news of this man’s death came in the middle of the work day, and as I processed through the many swirling emotions from this news, I began to recognize where my own emotional response was coming from – the root of my response, if you will.

This man is the father of a person who is very close with my family. He’s the father of someone I admire for strength, perseverance, bravery, and fidelity to God’s will. This man has many children, all of them still practicing the Catholic Faith faithfully.

I was – and am – shocked at how this man’s loss on the world has impacted me personally, having never met him.

As I sat in daily Mass after hearing the news, I held my sleeping little boy and watched my eldest going through motions of Mass that he had never done unprompted before. I began marveling at the way our lives impact others – those we meet in person, and those we may never meet.

Our society lives in a time where we rush everything. We want instant gratification, and we want to be everywhere, do everything, and see everything. Rarely do we sit down, take a breath, and simply existwith our thoughts, with our prayers, with our families. We live in the “here and now,” trying to be all and do all for everyone. And, we sometimes have a tendency to forget about the larger picture.

I know I have previously quoted Lieutenant General (Retired) Hal Moore in saying, “I’m in the business of eternity, and I hope I am successful in that business.”

Simply put, eternity is our larger picture.

Heaven is our larger picture.

God is our larger picture.

From the day we are born, we desire something more, and we spend most of our childhood and adult lives seeking that “more.” Yet, it shouldn’t be a surprise when it is argued that we will never be fully satisfied and filled on this side of eternity. We exist for but a blink, on this earth. Eternity is vastly greater than our here and now.

However, if we are to set our sights on eternity, as Hal Moore reminded us to do, then we must first recognize how the “here and now” should effect everythingwe do, and everything we are.

God has called each of us to greatness. He has chosen each of us for this time in history, and asked us to trust His judgment by handing over our own desires, to let His plan unfold.

Our lives, as they are today, are preciselyhow He asks us to grow closer to Him.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-19 states,

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit.

How does this guidance manifest in our lives?

For unmarried individuals, it’s by being faithful to God’s call to focusing on your education, your career, your home life, etc.

For married couples, it’s by strengthening your marriage, focusing on the spiritual, emotional, and physical needsof each other, rather than the desires for bigger and greater.

For parents, God’s will manifests by living bravely as you form your children in spiritual matters, just as much as you focus on giving them their own heart’s desires.

Our commitment to God throughout our various roles in our lives is what will set us apart from others; it will also be how we are most tested, and how we ultimately grow closer to God.

As I considered the man I had never had the opportunity to meet, and his surprising impact on my life, I began to recognize each of us have that opportunity to impact countless others we may never meet.

Just like we have the opportunity to pass along our genetic makeup to our children, and our physical traits to the generations that come after, so too do we have the opportunity to pass along the lessons of what we value most in life.

At the end of my life, I don’t want the biggest house, the best car, or, as much as I may joke, all the chocolate in the world.

Rather, I want the values of loyalty, love, faithfulness, and peace to be seen in the ones I leave behind. I want my children’s children to know that their parents learned how to love God, and be faithful to God, through the actions and prayer of their grandparents.

I want my children to have the faith in God as an ever-present, loving Father, when they can no longer pick up the phone to call me.

There is so much pain, anger, and despair in today’s society. Yet, how much of that can be mitigated by a return to the basics? How much of the pain, anger, and despair can be countered with the focus on knowing and loving God, and trying to be faithful to Hiswill, rather than our own? How much can be balanced when we consider the way we want to impact not just our daily lives, but with a focus on the ones we will leave behind at the end?

If we are focusing on what we want our future generations to know about us, how are we letting it guide our actions today?

Please join me in praying for the repose of the soul of the man I have never met. Please join me in lifting up his family and friends in prayer as they grieve their loss.

And, please join me in rejoicing always, praying unceasingly, and giving thanks to God – for He, and His will, is always good. Let us use this faith to turn to the One Who simply desires a relationship with us, to grow closer to Him.

Let us commit to living for eternity, by shaping the actions of our “here and now.”

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Alyssa Azul Ink Slingers Loss

Loss and Legacy

 

2019 has so far been a year of many losses. I lost my great aunt, my mom’s good friend, and my boss (may they all rest in peace). Losses also came to me in the form of losing a mentor to a layoff, and losing a friendship. I think one of the most sorrowful losses I experienced this year was one that I saw coming: the death of our Lord during Lent.

This Easter was tough for many reasons. All of my losses seemed to fall one after another during Lent and afterwards. The most recent one was quite jarring for me.

I lost my boss this week. I write this in honour of him, who honoured my writing. He was a brilliant architect and an insatiable storyteller; a creative mind that couldn’t be contained. He understood me on that level, and that need to create something that changes the lives of others in whatever form that may take.

I don’t like funerals for obvious reasons. I sit there with a lump stuck in my throat that doesn’t seem to go away. It’s the kind you get when you try not to cry, and it swells up when you attempt to get out a few words. It feels like there is nothing in the world at that moment that can make the pain go away. You look at the faces of the people grieving, and you realize just how loved this person was. That there’s a love even death cannot conquer.

I can’t help but reflect on Jesus, and what it must have been like for Him, who had to die without a ‘loving’ send-off or a funeral. How lonely and devastating His death must have been. Yet he knew that His suffering would have purpose.

Through death I begin to understand what it means to honour someone else’s legacy. Oxford dictionary tells us that a legacy is “something left or handed down by a predecessor.”

What did Jesus leave us when he left this earth? He gave us forgiveness and salvation. As Christians, we understand that we cannot have those two things without love. Jesus left us with perfect love. Just like heirs to a throne, we are called to honour that legacy and pass it on. We pursue holiness through the cross – the passion of His perfect love He left us with.

I picture a brazen warrior suited in gleaming armor on a steed, taking down foes with her bare hands to defend and uphold the king’s legacy. Unfortunately, this is not typically what happens immediately when “moving on” from a great loss. There are days when we are indifferent. Days when we are angry. Days when we forget. Days when we grieve all over again.

At my beloved boss’ funeral, many beautiful tributes were shared, and the word “legacy” came up. They said he left us with a very important legacy- not his awards or accomplishments, but his children. This man left the world suddenly, but not without leaving us his pride and joy, and what one might say, his idea of perfect love itself.

Perhaps in some similar small or big way, we as children of God are a legacy. We have purpose upon being brought into this world. The legacy doesn’t end when the person leaves this earth. We continually deepen a relationship with a God that is not “physically” with us right? Just as my boss’ children will not forget who their father was and what he did in his life.

The future holds a lot more for the people left behind by great tragedy, but I am also of another perspective. I think that part of moving on means never forgetting. It means looking back every once in a while to remember who came before us. Memories are powerful, in that there is a constancy to them. As if a snapshot was frozen in time. We draw on those memories to remind us how important it is to live for others. The resurrection of Jesus transcends this lifetime and the next, and as heirs to the kingdom, how do we make our father proud?

One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts. – Psalm 145:4

 

Loss and Legacy