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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.

Categories
Faith Formation Ink Slingers Lent Liturgical Year Lydia B. Spiritual Growth

Lenten Lessons Learned

Lenten Lessons Learned

 

Lenten Lessons Learned
The decade rosary that stays under my pillow, my faithful prayer companion each morning and night.

As I prepared myself for the next introspective soul searching that marches in during this year’s upcoming Lent, I wanted to share my lessons learned from 2018. Or, more honestly, lessons I should have learned. Sometimes I feel sorry for God. If only I were not so obtuse…

Last year I signed up for Dynamic Catholic’s “Best Lent Ever” emails, which suggested journaling. As I type this, the black leather-bound book is sitting open on the airplane tray table to my right. I know what you are thinking–how did I get a flight that was not purposely overbooked? Divine intervention. But seriously, I have this journal open and my heart is beating up a storm. I just read the words, “This Lent, I am examining why I feel joyless—angry even.” Aren’t those some uplifting words?

Let me take you back to Day One of Lent 2018. I was six months postpartum, desperately working to get my waist from 38 inches to at least 32 inches. As a female in the military, I can get fired and lose my job if my waist is larger than 34 inches by the time my annual physical fitness test rolls around. No pressure, right? Combine that with my husband deployed for the fifth time, a new sexual assault victim advocacy role, three kids five and under (none in school, of course), 19 hours of Alaskan darkness, and apparently, deep-seated anger issues.

Day Three of Lent was a list of all my worries. Looks like I ran out of room and went to page two with the laundry list of everything bothering me. The twist to day three’s journaling was to list the beauty in my life, which was a real struggle. During that moment, I turned off my go-to program, “Forensic Files,” and turned on “Joy of Painting” by Bob Ross. It may seem like a small thing, but someone told me the little things in life prepare us for accomplishing the rare, extraordinary thing that comes our way. I was told progress is cumulative, so do a little each day. My Catholic sponsor also reminded me, “Garbage in–garbage out.” Who and what we surround ourselves with is who and what we become.

Rounding out Day Seven of Lent, I saw a tiny note scribbled in the margin: “Progress, not perfection.” I know I am not alone in feeling like I am a failure if life is not perfectly balanced. At this point in Lent, it was clear to me the four basic pillars–spiritual, physical, emotional, and intellectual–had violently collapsed. The realization of this failure hit me hard. I rallied back to the Cross.

I began the Dynamic Catholic seven-step prayer process each morning: (1) Gratitude: Thank God for what you are most grateful for today, (2) Awareness: Revisit the times in the past 24 hours when you were/were not the greatest version of yourself; talk to God about what you learned, (3) Significant Moments: Identify something in the past 24 hours and explore what God might be saying to you through that person or event, (4) Peace: Ask God to forgive any wrongs you have committed and fill you with peace, (5) Freedom: Speak with God about how He is inviting you to change your life, so you can experience the freedom to be the best version of yourself, (6) Others: Pray for anyone you feel called to pray for; ask God to bless and guide him or her, and (7) Pray the Our Father.

Being a wife, mother, and employee isn’t easy. But it helps to start the day adoring Christ and asking for Mary’s help.

Fast forward to nearly one year later. Honestly, I do not hit all seven steps every time I pray. Prior to my three kids waking, I aim to spend 45 minutes talking with God. Most of the time, I end up with only 10 minutes because my kids seem to have a master plan to thwart any alone time I might have envisioned. Isn’t that life as a mom? So I have improvised. Before I get out of bed, I grab the decade rosary I keep under my pillow. I practice the Nicene Creed (I only have a quarter of it memorized), and pray the Our Father and a Hail Mary. Then I pray motivation to get up. Next, as I am putting make-up on, I read a Catholic quote-of-the-day. If the quote doesn’t speak to me, I listen to 10 minutes of a Catholic podcast.

When I hear the pitter patter of little feet, I start the morning routine. I go into my daughters’ room where I have a blessed Crucifix hanging and a Miraculous Medal. I bow, cross my arms for a blessing, and place a kiss on Jesus’ face with my fingers. I glance to the calendar in the kids’ room. Every day or so I write in a new name of someone who needs prayer. I touch the Miraculous Medal and pray a novena for those people. Then I bow and thank God for creating me. I tell Jesus I love him and ask Mary to pray for me.

In the quiet moments after I drop off all the kids to school and daycare, I think about what I did great and not-so-great the day before. I pray for courage and humility. I ask for signs. As my day unfolds, I stop and pray when I feel my composure slipping or my ego cropping up. At 3:00 p.m., I pray a Hail Mary and Our Father in unity with a Catholic Facebook group. Our prayers join together as our collective spirit asks for the healing of the Catholic Church, justice for those who have abused others, and accountability for their abusers.

Finally, at bedtime, I pray. I reach under my pillow for the decade rosary. When I get to the Hail Mary beads, my mind brings forward an image of a person that needs prayer. This week it was for the souls of a 97 year-old grandmother of a friend, a 22 year-old military service member who died of suicide, and 40-year-old friend who died of a rare cancer and left a family behind. I see each of their faces, one for every bead. Visualization is powerful and I can feel my soul merging with those in the next world.

In the end, my Lent Lessons from 2018 translated into new ways of prayer for me. While the journaling approach seemed daunting, I am glad I did it. There is now a tangible, physical testament of who I was and what I have become. I encourage you to use this upcoming Lent to change one thing about yourself. Shine a flashlight into a dark corner. Have a serious conversation with you and God.

Be still.

Categories
Domestic Church Faith Formation Ink Slingers Motherhood Nicole B Single Parents Vocations

Striving, Growing, Rejoicing: Be Your Own Holy Family

A few weeks ago we celebrated the Solemnity of the Holy Family. It is a beautiful celebration of the Blessed Mother, Joseph, and the Christ Child. Unfortunately, in the past few years since becoming a single mother, it has become a solemnity of bitterness and disdain for me. Deep inside I saw it as nothing but a feast to enhance my shortcomings. A reminder of how he left us and continues to destroy my Catholic vision of family life.

Fortunately, this year there was a change in my thinking, a shift in my heart that encouraged me to celebrate the solemnity as the paramount liturgical celebration that it is meant to be.

In the Gospel for the day, one hears the customs of the time – Mary and Joseph bring Jesus to the Temple, as was the tradition – and it may seem like an easily forgettable passage. However in Luke 2:40 it states, “The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him”.

Growth. From verse 40 it screams to me. I think about the growth I have experienced in the past three years. I think about the growth of my children and how they are thriving. I think about the wisdom I have gained. I think about how we may not have the look of the Holy Family in our living room, yet in our home, we are growing closer to God each day.

Coupled with the Gospel, I heard an exceptional homily on that day as well. It is was one of those moments where the priest was speaking directly to me. He said, “Our own families truly can be holy families. All we need to do is strive. To grow ourselves. One step at a time. And to rejoice when we see growth.”

Striving. Growing. Rejoicing. How beautiful is this message of the Holy Family? How important is it to teach our children that no matter the situation we must continue to strive, grow, and rejoice in the Lord?

No family can compare to the Holy Family. It is laughable for me to think that I can. And, for me to focus on the shortcomings of my own beautiful family is detrimental. Instead, I must continue to strive, grow, and rejoice in our faith-filled life no matter the circumstances.   

Categories
Annette Ink Slingers Spiritual Growth

Shaped in His Image

O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.” Isaiah 64:8

If you’ve ever seen a potter in action, plopping the clay onto the potter’s wheel, it’s easy to see that there is a plan. The potter owns the clay, commands the wheel, and the vision belongs to him alone. The potter sees what the lump of clay in his hands can become after he has thrown, fired, glazed and refined it. His intention is to create a work of art.

The same is true with us. God, as the Master Potter, beholds us as lumps of clay, but He has vision. He sees what we will become in time, after we have gone through the firing, glazing, and refining process – even when we cannot.

God creates us with a purpose, with a plan in mind. We are as God intended for us to be, even when we ourselves feel that we are imperfect or weak. God sees beyond that, and as his daughters, we need to trust in God’s plan for our lives and that he is molding us, in his time. The process of making pottery involves several steps. The first step is Centering. A vessel is only as true and strong as its center; our center is the cross. We need to be centered in order to do God’s will, and as Catholics, that center is the cross of Jesus. The cross is a constant reminder of the sacrifice that Jesus made and how we too, as Christians, are called to carry our crosses and follow him. Our tiny, daily sacrifices united to Christ’s have infinite strength and possibility to change our circumstances in life, our perspective, and save many souls. But in order to do that, we must remain centered and model our lives after the Savior himself – with love, courage, sacrifice and humility.

The second step is Opening. Once the lump of clay is centered on the wheel, the potter begins to open it, which requires hands-on, individual attention. God spends his time on us, making us unique. God didn’t assemble us in a mass production line. Not everyone is the same, and we all have a different purpose in life and our own way to achieve holiness. Just look at the saints. St. Therese of Lisieux had “the little way.” St. Francis of Assisi renounced his riches and began an order. St. Vincent de Paul served the poor. Our path to holiness may very well be through our marriages and families, our jobs, or any state of life to which God has called us.

Throughout the shaping process, the clay must be kept moist or it will lose its elasticity. In extreme cases, the entire vessel may break apart. God shapes us, even as he uses us to help shape people. Jesus once compared the Holy Spirit to water. In the Gospel of John, Chapter 4, verse 14, Jesus said, “Whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” We need to be pliable to the Holy Spirit’s work in us, to the graces that God so lovingly wants to bestow on us. We often interfere with the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives, either because we don’t ask for the graces or we are afraid or reluctant. But if we are going to let the Master Potter work on us, we need to make sure that we, the clay, remain moveable, moldable, and allow Him to work.

Then comes the most challenging stage in the process: Firing. Once the vessel has taken the shape the potter intends for it, fire begins to roar in the kiln. The potter uses the kiln to remove impurities from the clay. The fire makes the vessel even more beautiful than before. As we spend time in the fire with our Lord beside us, we mature. The firing process is very difficult for us.

When life gets tough, our first tendency is often to jump out of the kiln, to settle for less than being like Christ in our hearts, minds and character. However, God has promised to be with us in our trials and troubles. He tells us in Isaiah 43: 2-3:

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
And when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; The flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”

These promises have power. As we spend time in the fire with our Lord beside us, we mature. We grow stronger in faith and more suitable for the service into which God places us. But to do this, we must first go “through” the fire. We don’t stay there, and we often lose sight of this. Our Master Potter is our Savior – the one who uses even the fire to shape us for his service.