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Domestic Church Ink Slingers Karen Motherhood Vocations

Do You Know Who You Are in the Father’s Eyes?

Recently, I attended a monthly diocesan women’s night where women from the area are invited to listen to a speaker on a topic related to our Catholic faith, as well as have a chance for confession and Eucharistic adoration. It is a wonderfully enriching time!

On this particular night, Father Prentice Tipton spoke to our group on the topic of Jesus and the Baptism of the Lord, and specifically the the moment when God speaks to Jesus saying, “This is my beloved son with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). -This is my beloved Sonwith whom I am well pleased.- When the Father said this to Jesus, it grounded Jesus. His identity was not wrapped up in how men viewed him, but in the love of His Father. His relationship with God and his identity as His Beloved Son came before ministry to others, and certainly took priority over the accolades of man. This carried him at every point of His ministry, both when crowds gathered to see him, and when the crowds called for His death on the Cross.

Just as Jesus found relationship and identity in the Father’s love for Him, we must also find the same validation through God the Father, Fr. Tipton went on to share.  We must believe that we are the beloved children of God and that He is well pleased with us too.

As God’s creation, He is pleased with what He has made. We did not have to earn that. We have His eternal Love regardless of our actions or self-perception. Whether we stay home with our children, work outside the home, get a PhD, are homeless, wealthy, a criminal, or a saint on Earth, we are loved by God. Certainly our actions impact whether we attain heaven– but those are choices we make, not measures of our Father’s love for us.

But how many of us truly rest in that fact? Satan would have us believe that we are never going to be worthy of God’s love; even that Heaven is unattainable entirely. Satan would have us believe that the whisperings of disapproval from others is the measure of our worth.

We need to instead trust God when He sends the message to us that we are loved and only need to follow Him and rest in Him to have a relationship and identity rooted in Him that gives us peace. It was this peace that pulled Mother Teresa through when she went through spiritual darkness. Even when she didn’t think she could hear God speaking to her, she knew her value was that of God’s daughter, doing His work. She might not have had constant exuberant joy, but she had peace in her role as God’s beloved daughter.

Fr. Tipton closed his talk by asking of us, “Do you know who you are in the Father’s eyes?”

Do you know

And so I ask of you, do you?

As mothers we are drawn, by the nature of our vocation, to sacrifice for our children. We sacrifice our bodies in pregnancy and nursing, and in sheer physical exertion in caring for kids and keeping them safe. We sacrifice our sleep when our children wake at night.  We sacrifice our selfish desires in those times where we comfort our crying child rather than taking that long shower we yearn for. We sacrifice our time when we play with PlayDoh with our child instead of reading a book we were interested in. We even sacrifice spiritual practices when we walk a crying baby in the narthex during Mass, missing the readings and homily. Some mothers had careers they sacrifice to stay at home. Other mothers have to work to help their family financially. We often sacrifice to the point of feeling exhausted and drained.

All this sacrifice is very sanctifying. It prepares us for heaven by allowing us to infect our selfish urges with a spirit of giving. It forces us to use our God-given abilities to help others, often without a second thought.

But much of the time, those tiny people never say thank you. That stranger at the grocery store gives you a thorough disgruntled once over with any number of reasons for their disapproval. Your extended family members tell you how you should parent your children. Moms at the playground give unwelcome advice or admonition about a perceived trouble, or brag about their child’s advancements in light of your child’s average skills.

Are you rattled when this happens? Rest in the Father’s love. You are doing His work. You do not raise your children the best you can so as to please your children, neighbor, spouse, friends, or family members. You are raising your children up because it is God’s will for you to do so. It is too easy to allow Satan to work in you with your doubts about your mothering when you experience the disapproval of others. All this sacrifice isn’t about them or for them. And your worth does not rest in them.

Focus on God. He is the One who laid out this vocation for you, and who gives this hard road to you in order that you may become sanctified and able to enter His Kingdom. He is calling out to you as his beloved child, and He is well pleased with you.

 

Do you know who you are in the Father’s eyes?

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Advent Christmas Ink Slingers Liturgical Year Mary P.

A Guide to Intentional Christmas Giving

guide to intentional giving image

A few years ago, I started making an effort to do my all my Christmas shopping before the start of Advent. I wanted to be free during Advent to focus on spiritual preparation for Christmas, rather than rushing around trying to buy everyone’s gifts at the last minute. As a born procrastinator, this proved to be a difficult task, and I have not yet had a year where I reached my goal. This year, between being in my first trimester of my fourth pregnancy, and being sick with a cold, I barely even got started on the Christmas shopping before Advent began. If you are one of those organized people who has your shopping and wrapping done already, I bow down to you (in a totally non-idolatrous way of course). I hope to be like you one day. But I have a feeling that there are a lot of people out there like me – people who, despite their best intentions, have barely even gotten started shopping.

Sometimes, it’s difficult to know where to begin. Christmas gift-buying can feel overwhelming, even onerous and unpleasant (which is not exactly how a charitable act should feel). I have written before about my desire to be more of a minimalist. Ever since I’ve realized the burden of “stuff” in my life, Christmas shopping has been even more difficult. It’s a bit easier to buy things for people who don’t live under the same roof as I do; but even still, I feel a sense of responsibility not to add to other people’s stuff problem as well. It can be a challenge to figure out gifts that are going to be meaningful, and are not going to add more clutter to people’s lives. It’s definitely easier to buy indiscriminately, without thinking much about the true value of the gift for its recipient, or about what will happen to it after the initial excitement of opening it wears off. But when I’ve shopped that way, I always have regretted it later. I believe that gift-giving, especially at Christmas, should be very intentional. 

Besides reducing clutter and pre-holiday stress, intentional gift-giving can help focus the giver on the reason they are buying the gifts, and the recipient on the reason theynativity silhouette are receiving – that is, love, inspired by the birth of Love Himself. We Christians are giving and receiving in the name of Jesus at Christmas. We can’t let consumerism make us forget that. It’s easy to get stressed out and even resentful when you are in the midst of chaotic Christmas shopping. But, intentionality helps restore the good will, thoughtfulness, and generosity that should be hallmarks of giving. And opening a limited quantity of thoughtful, useful gifts is more conducive to the gratitude we should have as gift recipients.  With that in mind, I’ve written some ideas on how to simplify the gift-giving portion of Christmas, so that both giver and receiver will be less distracted by stuff and more free to focus on the Lord.

  • Limit the number of gifts. A popular number for children is three, because that is how many gifts baby Jesus received at his birth. I like this idea a lot because it’s inherently a reminder of why we have presents on Christmas at all. I have also heard of people giving one single gift to each of their children. This is sometimes out of necessity, but oftentimes is done on principle. Usually, the more gifts someone receives, the less each one will mean to them, the less appreciative they are, and the less they remember what Christmas is really all about.
  • Have a formula to follow. Last year we used “want, need, wear, read” for our children. This gave me direction, and made me think long and hard about each gift I purchased. We will probably do the same this year. I have also seen “play, wear, read, share,” and various other formulations of the same concept. The point is to both limit the number of gifts and give you a simple guide to what gifts to purchase. For some people (me), just limiting the number without having any specific direction about what to get makes the process much more complicated and challenging for me. Should I buy two toys and a book? Should I buy a toy, an outfit, and a book? Should I buy three toys? But the beauty of the formula is that it’s not too limiting. For example, “something to wear” isn’t limited to everyday clothing. It can be something fun like dress up clothes (which is what my kids got last year) or a piece of jewelry. Don’t tell my oldest, but she is probably getting a miraculous medal for the “wear” category this year.
  • Cut back on your budget (if you’re not already being thrifty out of necessity). Just because you have $100+ to spend on each person on your list doesn’t mean you have to spend it. If you vow to stay within a smaller budget than what you are used to and can afford, then you have to be more creative and considerate about how you spend your money. It’s difficult to buy indiscriminately on a tight budget.
  • Give the gift of an experience. A zoo or museum membership, movie tickets, restaurant gift cards, ballet (gymnastics, karate, sewing, art, etc.) lessons, are all clutter-free gifts that are likely to be appreciated more than something you picked up off a shelf.
  • Make all your gifts. When you make a gift for someone, it automatically forces you to be intentional and thoughtful about the gift. Instead of giving your sister in-law another infinity scarf from Old Navy, how about a basket of homemade goodies, which will be consumed, leaving behind no clutter? These goodies can be food or personal care products. There are plenty of ideas and recipes for the latter floating around the internet. For years, I’ve had the intention of making homemade vanilla extract to give out as gifts at Christmas, but I have yet to do it. I told you I was a procrastinator!

I’m sure there are many other ways that people simplify their Christmas and keep the focus where it belongs – on Jesus. I’d love for you to share your secrets for combating the consumerism, stress, and ingratitude that can be a by-product of Christmas present mania. 

Categories
Ink Slingers Michelle Motherhood Spiritual Growth Vocations

Get Over Yourself!

A few weeks ago while I was in Kansas City I visited my sister’s church for the sacrament of Confession. There the priest handed out little rubbery bracelets to those of us waiting. My niece and I sat together in the pew wondering if he would hand us one. There were white ones and purple ones. He looked at me, smiled, and then handed me a white one. I read it. I smiled to myself.  A tear formed in the corner of my eye and knew that God was indeed talking to me. The words inscribed said, “Stay Strong”. It was definitely a message I needed to hear after a very long and heart-wrenching week. I put the bracelet on and ran my fingers over the words many times through the day.

The following morning my children and I attended Mass with my sister and her family. At the end of Mass we noticed the priest had put both white and purple bracelets beside the doors in baskets. I decided I wanted to see what the purple bracelet said too. As we walked out the door at the end of Mass I stopped and picked up a bracelet. Upon reading the inscription I knew I needed one of them as well… maybe even more so than the white bracelet that encouraged me to stay strong.

get-over-yourself“Get Over Yourself” it read. Get. over. yourself. Actually it screamed at me- GET OVER YOURSELF! I put the bracelet on my wrist and ran my fingers over the words. Throughout the day I would glance down at my hands, see the purple ring slung around my wrist and whisper the words under my breath… get over yourself. I knew it needed to become my personal motto.

It seems lately that I have been giving into the notion that perhaps my needs are more important than others. I’ve been lazy. I’ve been whiny. I’ve been not the mother, wife, and friend I don't want toI should be. I was feeling run down and broken. I would question, “Why should I have to take on so much?” “ Why do I have to do this again?” “Why me, Lord? It’s always me!” It was affecting everything I was doing (or not doing really). I knew something needed to change but I was stuck in a rut and couldn’t figure how to get out of it. And then I saw those words- Get Over Yourself. A light came on and I felt immediately ashamed. Yes, I needed to get over myself.

But how do we do this? How do we get over putting ourselves above others? Simple, we begin to put others first. We become servants of the Lord and servants of those He puts in our lives. I’m not talking about servitude in the sense of waiting on others hand and foot, responding to a ringing bell, and saying “Why yes mam.” No, I mean looking at our everyday duties and responsibilities and doing them to the best of our ability. I mean serving our little ones with a love in our heart that is reflected in how we speak to them; it’s in how we cuddle them; it’s in how we give them a bath or feed them dinner; it’s patience in answering the same question 13 times in an hour. It’s serving our spouses with an open heart and a smile on our faces. It’s listening with understanding and being there in the moment- not being distracted by the computer, phone, or television. It’s relieving them of worries and taking our time to make sure they are happy. It’s asking our friends if they need help, do they need a shoulder to cry on, or what can we do to make their life a little easier. It’s sharing in their happiness and crying in sorrow with them. It’s making time in spite of our busy lives just to reconnect with them.

Ultimately, getting over yourself means becoming a servant of the Lord. It is opening your life to His will. It’s answering His call and saying to Him, “As you wish, my Lord.” We need to remember that God is in control and when we give ourselves over to Him He will transform us. He will soften our hardened hearts and He will give us strength to get through each day. As servants of God we are often called to do the hard work, the dirty work. It will challenge us and there will be times we feel defeated. But there will also be times when it will uplift us and inspire us. However, it is only through complete trust in Him that we are able to complete this work.

In Matthew 20: 26-28 we read, “It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” If Christ came to serve others shouldn’t that be our clue that we are called to serve as well? When we begin to serve God and serve others, especially with an open and happy heart, we soon find that there is no more room for worrying about “me”.

what about meBut you may be asking yourself, “But what about me? What about my needs? Aren’t I important too?” The answer is yes, you are important as are your needs. However, the paradox of putting God and others before yourself is that when we do this others begin to put us first in their lives. But how can this be? Christ tells us in Luke 6:38 “Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure- pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.” Christ tells us that when we care for others our needs will in turn be taken care of as well!

It’s hard to give up ourselves for others. We worry that in the process we will lose ourselves. In fact, the opposite is true. When we give up ourselves we in turn find our true selves. We allow God to transform us into better people. We see His light reflected in our words and actions. We see His love in all we do. When we live for God and for others we experience a love like no other.

Get over yourself- three little words that can transform your life. I am trying my best to live these words. I am trying my best to remember that when I serve God and others my life is infinitely better than when I try to serve my own needs and wants. Still, it can be a struggle when I feel like no one notices or appreciates my gift of self. But despite the struggle it is so worth the effort. If we remain dedicated to serving God and serving others we stand to reap what we sow- that is a love that knows no bounds and that will sustain us through the best and worst days of our lives.

gandhi

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Alessandra Catechism Communion Confirmation Faith Formation Mass Offering your suffering Prayer Purgatory Sacred Scripture Spiritual Growth

Redemptive Suffering: The Ultimate Act of Love

As we walked back into my homeroom classroom and my seventh graders marched in the door to their seats, they knew my mood had changed.  Erasing everything from the board I wrote in capital letters:

S-A-C-R-I-F-I-C-E

Then I turned around and waited as everyone took their seats quickly and quietly.  With a perfectly-serious-teacher-face I asked, “Can someone read this word, please?”  Marisol raised her hand first, as usual, and when called on she said, “sacrifice.”  “Perfect!” I said, “now could someone please give me the definition of this word, please?”  A bunch of hands shot up in the air, I called on three or four and the definitions were spot on.    Some said, “the state or experience where one suffers,”  others gave some version of “suffering pain.”  “So most if not all of you know the definition of this word, very good.”  (I cracked a half smile.)  “So when you think of this word, who is the first person that comes to mind?”  Thankfully, most hands shot into the air and I gave a nod which they knew meant “go ahead give me the answer” and in unison, all the children ages thirteen and fourteen who, by the way, were preparing for the Sacrament of Confirmation that same year, shouted “Jesus Christ!”  “That is right,” I confirmed, but proceeded with, “so why is it so hard for young ladies and gentlemen to kneel for a holy hour in honor of our Lord and Savior at Adoration?  Why is it that you can’t make it through without complaining, or whining, or slouching?  What is it that He has to do more for you, besides giving up His life and giving you Salvation, so that you can offer Him some sort of sacrifice?”

::silence::  

Some students looked down to the floor in shame.  They realized that the question that their eight-month-then-pregnant homeroom teacher was asking was a valid one.  I let the room go silent for some time.  Then I asked the children to take out their journals and write this word at the top.  They were to write as many words that came to mind when they thought of this word.  The bell rang before we could discuss this any further which was fine, I prayed the Holy Ghost would plant a seed in their young hearts.

The next day was Mass, a Friday, when the Consecration came all of the children in my homeroom class knelt almost on cue, it really looked rehearsed.  They remained on their knees until Communion time, some went up, others didn’t which wasn’t common.  “Good, I thought, they are examining their conscience from the event the day prior.”  When they returned to their pews, they all knelt again and remained there until the Blessed Sacrament was back in the Tabernacle and Father sat down.  All remained focused in prayer, with eyes closed and hands folded, even the ones that didn’t receive.  When we got back to class, they all sat waiting for our mini lesson to resume.  I wrote on the board in big letters:

“REDEMPTIVE  SUFFERING”
and in smaller print
“thank you”

This happened seven years ago.  It was the only time I ever spoke to my beloved students about this – after all, I was their Language Arts teacher, not their religion teacher – but it was a Catholic School, so I took the liberty to talk with them about something that maybe hadn’t been shared or spoken about in religion class or at home.  This past week, my home was in the path of the “frankenstorm” Sandy and we suffered a power outage from Monday around 8:30pm.  Being a native of Florida, we were prepared for this Category One storm as if it was a Category Five.  Candles went on immediately and each child received a small flash light in hand.  Initially, my thoughts went to “Dear Lord, bring our power back as soon as possible” but as the night went on and the storm passed our home making the trees, windows, and roof creak in all sorts of ways I’d never thought possible, I was given time to think about this further.  As I laid in the dark, children all around me in sleeping bags in our bedroom.  Our five kids feel asleep right away, they were sound asleep, had no worries, my husband and I had made them feel very safe despite the situation.  This didn’t mean we weren’t worried ourselves, as we had to come up with creative and resourceful ways of how would we flush toilets, take showers, eat food, you know the basics needed with children age fourteen, seven, six, four, and two.

We were able to endure three nights without power; sporadically I gave updates on my cell phone on Facebook or through instant message with family and close friends.  “I’m praying you get power soon,” they said.  We spent two nights without heat; it was about 40 outside, maybe a little colder, I wasn’t sure.  The first night of the cold was the moment when this classroom scene came to mind and I realized what a wonderful opportunity these next couple of nights would bring for our souls.  I had two choices, complain, and cry or endure it with a smile and some prayers.  Okay, I didn’t really smile, but I did offer my coldness for those poor souls in Purgatory, for my friends whom are enduring real suffering, and for those families in New York and New Jersey who were left with nothing but the clothes on their backs and lost loved ones.  So with flashlight in hand, I grabbed my Bible and flipped it open, a smile did come to my face when I read Job 2:10, “… if we have received good things at the hand of God, why should we not receive evil?”

Suffering and sacrifice seem like such foreign words to us these days.  Everything is instant and easy.  Suffering or sacrificing to many religions is seen as a sign of fortitude or strength.  In Christianity, like the children in my homeroom shouted back in 2006, Christ was the ultimate example of Redemptive Suffering.  We are ALL called to be saints, we are all to share in the holy priesthood of Christ, our spotless victim, and together we make up the mystical body of Christ.  We are called to be non-ministerial priests which in essence means to offer ourselves up for something or someone constantly, after all, that is why God created us.  Our works, joys, pains, sufferings, praise, gratitude, and work should be offered over to God in all we do and say, especially in those hardest of times.  When we do this, we take part in the Divine Nature of Christ, we share the fruits of Calvary.

“In all things we suffer tribulation: but are not distressed. We are straitened: but are not destitute. We suffer persecution: but are not forsaken. We are cast down: but we perish not. Always bearing about in our body the mortification of Jesus, that the life also of Jesus may be made manifest in our bodies. For we who live are always delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake: that the life also of Jesus may be made manifest in our mortal flesh. So then death worketh in us: but life in you.”
~ II Corinthians 4:8-12 

If Christ suffered in His human nature, why should we be spared?  The Passion of the Christ by Mel Gibson offers us a vivid image of Christ’s suffering even to the point of sweating blood in the Garden.  Our imitating Him strengthens the body of Christ, the Holy Church.  Paul tells us this in I Corinthians 12:26, “And if one member suffer any thing, all the members suffer with it: or if one member glory, all the members rejoice with it.”  By these actions of redemptive suffering, we are coordinating with God in very profound and spiritual ways and it will benefit others.  Think about it, when a friend suffers just a little for you, it builds you up.  Parents who suffer for their children, children who suffer the loss of a parent, or those of die a happy death.  When I think of this I also think of the victim souls like those saints who shared in the suffering of Christ through the Stigmata.  When they faced this “cross” they embraced and then used it to “offer it up” for others.

My favorite saint taught me so much about redemptive suffering in her book, Story of a Soul.  Saint Therese said, on page 27:

“I understood that to become a saint one had to suffer much, seek out always the most perfect thing to do, and forget self. I understood, too, that there are many degrees of perfection and each soul was free to respond to the advances of the Our Lord, to do little or much for Him, in a word, to choose among the sacrifices He was asking. Then, as in the days of my childhood, I cried out: ‘My God I choose all!’ I do not want to be a saint by halves. I’m not afraid to suffer for You. I fear only one thing: to keep my own will; so take it, for I choose all that You will!”

I invite you to embrace your crosses and offer them for others.  It brings so much healing for yourself, brings you closer to God, and it is so pleasing to the heart and soul when you hear a friend whom you have suffered for also is healed in some way.  Saint Catherine of Siena summed this up best when she said, “The only cause of my death is my zeal for the Church of God, which devours and consumes me. Accept, O Lord, the sacrifice of my life for the Mystical Body of Thy holy Church.”

Be joyful in your redemptive suffering, my brothers and sisters in Christ because the rewards are priceless!
For further reading on Sacrifice and Martyrdom:

Redemptive Suffering, John Paul II and the Meaning of Suffering by Father John Hardon, S.J.

The Eucharist, Mary, and Redemptive Suffering by Shane Kapler on Catholic Exchange.

To Love and To Suffer, the Science of Saints on Religious Vocations.com