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Books Faith Formation Ink Slingers Michelle Reviews Saints Spiritual Growth

Reform Yourself! A New Year’s Resolution and Book Review

As the New Year rolls in many of us are taking a long, hard look at our lives. If we are honest with ourselves we can see many areas where we could use improvement and where we long for change. Some of us may want to get our health in order; others may want to seek a new job- one that is more fulfilling and helps to provide for their families more. There are some who may wish to be a better spouse, parent, or friend and still others who to serve their communities more. Finally, there are many who wish to strengthen their faith lives and become connected with Christ in a more meaningful and personal way.

Change can be very good for us but it is often hard to follow through to achieve that change. There is so much that can get in our way from achieving our goals. It is sometimes easier to give up than to follow our dreams to fruition. There is a quote by Maya Angelou that I love which says, “We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.” Change takes time and it takes effort. It can be daunting and overwhelming. We may decide that it’s just too hard to endure what it takes to turn into that beautiful butterfly.

How can we make change easier and more attainable? They say that having an accountability partner can help boost our success in achieving the goals we set for ourselves. As Catholic Christians we are fortunate to have not only our family and friends here to support us and urge us on, but we also have access to the community of Saints in heaven too. There are so many who have gone before us who can lead the way through the example of their lives and through their prayers for us.

I was recently blessed to have been asked to review a new book by Shaun McAfee called ReformYourself! How to pray, Find Peace, and Grow in Faith with the Saints of the Counter-Reformation. It focuses on the saints of the Counter-Reformation (the much needed reformation that took place in the Catholic Church during the same time the Protestant Reformation was taking place), how these saints are relevant today, and how they, through their teachings and example, can help us to achieve long-lasting reformation in our own lives.

Like Mr. McAfee’s previous book (Filling Our Father’s House), this book is an easy and enjoyable read. The book does not have to be read in chronological order and to be honest it seems as if it is better when read as the Holy Spirit guides you, allowing Him to bring you to the saint He knows you need to connect with right now.

The chapters highlight ten different saints from the Counter-Reformation including St. Francis de Sales, St. Ignatius, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Robert Bellarmine, St. Aloysius Gonzaga, Pope St. Pius V, St. Philip Neri, St. John of the Cross, St. Jane Frances de Chantal, and St. Charles Borromeo. Mr. McAfee did an amazing amount of research into the saints’ lives. He shows how they were important to the Counter-Reformation happening within the Church, he masterfully translates their stories into very intriguing and relatable lessons for today’s Christians, and then he connects it all through prayer.

So many of us want change in our lives and yet we are scared to actively seek out that change. We worry that we will fail. We think it is too difficult. We feel we don’t have the support we need. Thankfully we are not alone! There are some pretty amazing saints who have gone before us whom we can look up to as we strive to institute reformation in our own lives. I talked about how having an accountability partner can boost your chances of success… in his book Mr. McAfee provides us 10 different accountability partners who are eager to inspire us and pray for us as we work to change our hearts and lives for the better.

As you think about how you want to change your life in this New Year I encourage you to look to the saints for guidance and encouragement. It can seem as if change is just too far out of reach, but if you have the support and prayers of those around you plus the saints in heaven, well, there’s no telling what you can accomplish!

I was given this book in exchange for an honest review, but I can tell you that I would definitely buy this book. The insights provided here are invaluable. As Mr. McAfee states, “… the man who moves a mountain begins with carrying away small stones” (98). If we wish to change ourselves we have to begin somewhere and the easiest place to start is with small changes- picking up one stone and moving it. Eventually those small changes become big changes and suddenly we realize we have moved mountains! Studying the saints’ lives, looking to them for inspiration, and asking for their prayers can all help us take that first step and to continue on the path towards personal reformation.

This year if you want to change something about yourself and your relationship with God or with others begin by moving that first stone. Don’t think about the entire task ahead, simply pick up that first stone and move it. As the journey becomes more arduous ask those around you to help but also ask the saints to help too. You will be surprised at how eager they are to guide you and how amazing your reformation can be when you have a little help from your heavenly friends.

Interested in Shaun McAfee’s book? You can find it here. Don’t be afraid to Reform Yourself!

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Anni Books Ink Slingers Reviews Spiritual Growth Testimonials

The Importance of a Faith-Filled Life: A Book Review

 

When I was a teenager, the Roma Downey series, Touched by An Angel, was all the rage. Millions, my family included, would tune in every week to watch how God’s angels touched the lives of everyday people – people like you and me. We would watch and wait for the last scene, when the angel looked into the heart of the one God had helped to say assuringly, “God loves you.”

At that point in my life, I devoured one angelic testimony after another, savoring each tale of how an angel guided someone through difficult trials. These books were more than just testimony to the incredible nature of God’s creatures… they provided hope for the readers. They reminded us that God is around us, providing miracles as signs of his presence for those of us trudging through life.

Therefore, when I was provided a free copy of Once I Was Blind But Now I See, a testimonial by Charles Piccirilli with Kimberly Cook, in exchange for an honest review, I jumped at the chance. To read about a man who, having dabbled in the occult, made his way back to God through to the Catholic Faith, and experienced God’s hand and voice in his life? Of course I had to review that book!

Mr. Piccirilli actually doesn’t go into depth about his life with the occult. He chooses instead to gloss over that dark life so that he may focus on what came after; adamant that once he banished the demons which used to invade his space and embraced a life with Jesus, his life turned around.

As I read how Jesus has physically, emotionally, and spiritually touched Mr. Piccirilli, I was moved, but in ways I did not expect.

Mr. Piccirilli’s experiences were just as hopeful and well-written as the best angelic testimonies, and made for a real page turner. I read the entire book in one day.

Simply put, Mr. Piccirilli’s story is amazing!

For one who reads this book, however, I must caution that Mr. Piccirilli’s experiences are outside the normative experience for most of the faithful. But, it does not mean it can’t be true. Throughout the bible, we are told of prophets who will be in our midst – and, simply because a man may be a prophet, does not mean his faith will not be tested like the rest of us. There is no discussion of Mr. Piccirilli’s test of faith, but it can be argued his time with the occult is test enough.

When reading this book, I wondered how Mr. Piccirilli’s claims can be true? How is it that God could bless this man’s life so much? What could Mr. Piccirilli have done to deserve these incredible and miraculous experiences?

Reading Once I Was Blind But Now I See challenged me, in a positive manner, as well. I asked myself where my faith had gone – the faith of my childhood, which led me stay up hours past my bedtime to finish a book of angelic miracles I had purchased that morning?

As I sat in prayer on this book, I was gently reminded of one of my favorite bible passages. 1 Corinthians 12:4-11 highlights the gifts of the Holy Spirit. While one of my gifts may be writing, Mr. Piccirilli’s gifts seem to be healing, working of miracles, and prophecy. While that may be uncomfortable to some, it’s a good reminder that we are all called to recognize the gifts we have been given, embrace those gifts, hone them, and then use them for the glory of God.

Like any gift from God, there is nothing neither I nor Mr. Piccirilli could possibly to do to deserve what was received through His grace.

Once I Was Blind But Now I See serves as a reminder that God does answer prayers – perhaps not on our schedule or in the manner we would like, But He answers them in the ways that are in accord with His plan. This book also highlights how God allows for us to use our free will… to choose to follow His directions and His plans for us.

It is a testament to how loving and forgiving God remains, even when we try to strike our own course, instead of following His path.

In a manner which is engaging and easy to read, Mr. Piccirilli shares how he has been touched and immensely blessed by God. His book reminds readers of the importance of living a life filled with faith – not in expectation of the miraculous, but rather because God is here, providing miracles all around us each and every day.

And, no matter what way miracles may manifest in this world, this book is a testimony to the greatness of the glory of God.

Because, with God, all things are possible.

**This book was provided free of charge to the author of this piece, in exchange for an honest review. If you are interested in further information about this book, or would like to purchase this book, please visit The Lion of Design.**
Categories
Anni Ink Slingers Marriage Matrimony Sacraments Vocations

Working Toward Sainthood: 5 Steps to Enhancing Your Catholic Christian Marriage

 

Like many military couples, my husband and I were first married by the local Justice of the Peace. We already had our “church wedding” date set, so we chose the same month and day, only a year early, in order to make everything legal. In the year leading up to our Convalidation, we took part in the local diocese’s mandatory pre-marriage classes, meeting as a couple with another couple, a few times each month.

Looking back on it now, almost a decade later, I realize our learning and growth, both as individuals and as a couple, did not stop at either wedding. And, there is immense value, wisdom, and love in the teachings of the Catholic Church, as it pertains to Sacramental unions. From my years of study and lived experience, allow me to impart some wisdom to those just starting out, and perhaps remind those of us solidly entrenched in this sacrament.

1.) Pray for your spouse. Many couples, and the Church itself, advocates family prayer – the family is known as the Domestic Church, after all! But, just as important as praying together, is the act of praying individually for our spouses. A wiser Catholic wife shared once she has an alarm set, and I took her recommendation to do the same. My phone reminds me every day, usually set for a time my husband would be headed home (if he had a typical 9-5 job) to pray for him. Sometimes, the prayer is lengthy; other times, it is a brief, “Jesus, watch over my husband on his way home.”

2.) Familiarize yourself with the concept and beauty of the teaching of Theology of the Body. St. John Paul II wrote extensively on the beauty and dignity of women… and the Sacrament of Matrimony. He reassured Catholics that sex is a pleasurable act, to be saved until marriage so that we are able to join with God as co-creators of life – because at the moment we are giving ourself wholly to our spouse, God is with us. Realizing God is truly in that moment is a beautiful and powerful realization… which is also a difficult one to remember when we internalize our secular culture’s view on sex as being solely an act of pleasure. It is so much more than pleasure-based, which is part of the added beauty of the procreative act.

3.) Learn about love – from Catholic writers and speakers… and, the Catholic saints! Christopher West, renowned for his work on Theology of the Body explains how our marital love is but a foreshadow of the love we experience from God. So, what we give to, and receive from our spouse is just a taste of what we aim to receive in our life after death. St. Teresa of Calcutta, a woman who lived in the world, giving herself entirely and devotedly to the world, reminds us that, while “Not all of us can do great things, but we can do small things with great love…” She also directs us to, “Wash the plate not because it is dirty, nor because you are told to wash it, but because you love the person who will use it next.” St. Frances of Rome also shares wisdom with wives, reminding us, “It is most laudable in a married woman that she be devout, but she must never forget that she is a housewife. And sometimes she must leave God at the altar to find Him in her housekeeping.” The saints wrote about love extensively – both God’s love for us, and ways in which we can better love our own spouses.

4.) Model God’s love and mercy for us, to our spouse. God doesn’t always like the choices we make. Sometimes, He wonders what we are thinking, and He shakes His head disapprovingly. But, He also recognizes our free will and has infinite love, and more importantly, mercy – if we are willing to seek it. Because we are called to sanctification through our vocation of marriage, we are challenged to be God’s tangible love and mercy to our spouse. This is not to say there aren’t consequences for our behavior or actions, but we are called to be loving and merciful to our spouse, even if we may not like their choices or actions. This advice also presupposes the Sacrament of Matrimony is healthy, and there is no physical, sexual, or emotional abuse – because abuse is never justifiable. The Church even acknowledges there is no room for abuse in a sacramental marriage.

5.) Manage your roles and expectations. Keep in mind, the roles and expectations you have at the outset of the marriage may shift. Every change during a marriage, i.e. change in employment, adding a family member, moving, etc., brings the necessity to manage the roles and expectations each person has in their marriage. Your roles and expectations may change over time. And, that is okay! Keeping an open dialogue, and being honest with yourself and your spouse, is a guaranteed way to meet the ebb and flow of marriage. Because you are a team, united with God, it is important to keep the avenues of communication open, and have the discussions of each others’ roles and expectations (for both yourself, and your spouse) together.

In our culture, it is easy to lose focus on the beauty of the Sacrament of Matrimony. It is easy to get stuck in noticing the imperfections of our spouse, while overlooking our own contribution to the state of our marriage. But, as Catholic Christians, we are striving to achieve sainthood.

As married couples, we are called to the path of sainthood through our vocation as wives or husbands. Furthermore, we are challenged, sometimes more than others, to help our spouse achieve sainthood with us. Yet, putting these five steps in the forefront of your mind may just help ease some of the work toward sainthood, and may in fact help enhance the journey!

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Anni Ink Slingers Marriage Motherhood Prayer Spiritual Growth Vocations

By Faith, With Hope, To Love

Recently, I found myself confronted by some fairly powerful, negative emotions centering on an incident which I felt to be a betrayal from someone I knew. Part of the emotional response was easily identified – it rested in my wounded pride. The other part of my emotional response was driven by a broken friendship – admittedly, one that had failed long before the knowledge of the perceived betrayal. The more I rationalized the deep hurt I felt, and crafted my plan to move through the pain and into a more centered place, one phrase kept coming back to me…

 


As I processed the situation, I recognized the need to heed advice that I have often given to others – I needed to have faith, hope, and love.

Life doesn’t often go according to our own plans. When those plans go awry and we begin to spin our wheels, we are often times left to ask God why – why our plans must change, why they fell through, why they did not come to fruition as envisioned.

One of my favorite devotions is that of the Divine Mercy. The five word prayer, “Jesus, I trust in You,” has become my mantra, building my strength in the face of altered plans. It also has come to remind me of the strength Our Lord provides when I trust in Him, accepting His plans are greater than mine.

God asks us to have faith in Him… even when we don’t understand.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Hope is the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit” (CCC, 1817). As I spent time reflecting on the situation which caused me so much hurt, I recognized that my faith grants me the opportunity to shift my focus from hurt and sadness, to hope.

You see, there is a reason for what transpired. This incident solidified in my heart how my primary focus should be my vocation as a wife, and my avocation as a mother. My focus should not be externally driven, and instead, should center on those closest to me. I was reminded of the quote attributed to St. John Bosco,


My hope must center on doing for my family the best job I am able to do, since I know I will be held to account for my actions toward them when I seek to enter eternal life.

As I hope for the reward of everlasting life, my actions for my family are the ones which will be the weightiest in the decision.

The lost friendship I mourned reminded me of the final instruction by St. Paul to the Corinthians – love. We must love without hesitation, without reservation, and without  condition. Sometimes though, I admit that can be a tall order, especially when we examine situations where we feel betrayed.

However, as I thought of betrayal and love, and how they blend so seamlessly at times, I recalled the betrayal of Christ. Perhaps it is because of the time I recently spent participating in the Stations of the Cross during Lent, but my thoughts immediately turned toward how my actions, as a friend to Christ, have at times betrayed Him.

And yet, He loves me. Without reservation, without hesitation, and without condition.

I want to live like Christ. I want to model myself after His example. I want to be joined with Him for all eternity. He does not promise us that following in His footsteps will be an easy path. But, He does ask for us to live as He lived.

Which means through the pain, the hurt, the disappointment, the challenges and the difficult moments, I am called to love like Christ.

We are all called to love like Christ.

So, my pride is still a little bruised, and I expect that it will take a little time to heal.

But, my perspective has changed, and I am finding clarity and strength in knowing that I am choosing to live 
                                                                                      by faith…
                                                                                                         …with hope…
                                                                                                                                …to love.

Anni Harry

 

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Ink Slingers Michelle Spiritual Growth

15 Quotes to Bring Hope During Troubled Times

Have you ever felt completely hopeless? Have you ever felt that the trouble you face is just too much? I think if we are honest each of us would say that we have felt this way at least once or twice.

We know that we have hope in God and that He is always beside us, so why do we despair?

I think that often the noise of our lives drowns out God’s gentle, quiet voice and we find ourselves unable to hear Him. It is then that we begin to feel hopeless. It is then that we question if God loves us. It is then that we wonder where in the world He is.

Recently my family and I began a service project called Mission to Inspire {you can read about it here}.  We decided that there were many people in our community who were suffering and we wanted to bring them hope and peace. Without saying a word to those who would pass us, we stood quietly holding signs of encouragement and smiling at those who read our signs. It was a wonderful experience that we plan to do again.

What is ironic to me is that while I can clearly see to help others and to uplift them, often I can’t see past my own pain and my own worries. I think that God does this for us so that we will trust and rely on others too. If I could solve all my own problems I would never need God or need anyone else. Instead, I believe He allows our struggles so that we will draw closer to Him and to the people He puts in our lives to help us- and He always puts the right people in our lives at the right time, we simply have to open our eyes to recognize His handiwork and be humble enough to accept it!

Perhaps you are struggling today. Maybe you don’t know where to go or what to do; maybe you feel alone and overwhelmed. If you are, I hope that some of the following quotes will help inspire you, uplift you, and help keep you going. I have stumbled across these at various times when I have been at low points in my life and just needed a little bit of hope to see me through. I pray one will inspire you to keep going, to keep trying, and to trust in God.

“Consider the postage stamp: It secures success by sticking to one thing until it gets there.” –Josh Billings (Don’t give up! You can do it!)

“The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson (It only takes one small step to create something amazing! Take that first step!)

“Most persons would succeed in small things if they were not troubled with great ambitions.” –Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (Don’t worry about what everyone else is good at. Focus on your strengths and go nurture them!)

“There are strange ways of serving God; you sweep a room or turn a sod, and suddenly, to your surprise, you hear the whirr of seraphim, and find you’re under God’s own eyes and building palaces for Him.” –Herman Hagedorn (We serve God in the routine. Everything we do, from sweeping to changing diapers to working our job can and should lead us to Him! It is all worthwhile!)

“All common things- each day’s events, that with the hour begin and end; our pleasures and our discontents, are rounds by which we may ascend.” –Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (All our trials and our successes lead us to God and to Heaven!

“We must never get into the habit of being preoccupied with the future. There is no reason to do so. God is there.” –St. Teresa of Calcutta (Take care of the here and now and stop worrying about a future that we have no control over… God is already there and has it handled for us!)

“The road is narrow. He who wishes to travel it more easily must cast off all things and use the cross as his cane. In other words, he must be truly resolved to suffer willingly for the love of God in all things.” – St. John of the Cross (Your suffering has merit! Join it to Christ’s!)

“Joy is one of the best safeguards against temptation. The devil is a carrier of dust and dirt; he uses every chance to throw what he has at us. A joyful heart knows how to protect herself from such dirt. Jesus can take full possession of our soul only if it surrenders itself joyfully.” –St. Teresa of Calcutta (Don’t let the devil steal your joy! Even in troubles we can be joyful in Christ!)

“God had one son on earth without sin, but never one without suffering.” – St. Augustine (Christ understands your suffering. Give it to Him so that He can carry it for you!)

“Suffering, pain, sorrow, humiliation, feelings of loneliness are nothing but a sign that you have come so close to Jesus that He can kiss you.” –St. Teresa of Calcutta (Christ is with us in our deepest pain and sorrow! He kisses us on our cheeks and He holds us close to Him.)

“Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance.” –Psalm 42:5 (God is always with you! Don’t give up hope!)

“For I know the thoughts that I think towards you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” –Jeremiah 29:11 (God loves you and wants good things for you!)

“Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal comfort and good hope by grace, comfort and strengthen your hearts in every good work and word.” -2 Thessalonians 2:16-17 (God will strengthen you! He will bring you comfort and peace!)

“For You are my hope; O Lord God, You are my confidence from my youth.” Psalm 71:5 (God is always there! Put your hope in Him alone!)

“As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, And at the last He will take His stand on the earth. Even after my skin is destroyed, Yet from my flesh I shall see God.” –Job 19:25-26 (Even in your darkest days God is there beside you! He will never abandon you!)

Do you have a favorite quote or bible verse that has helped you when you are struggling? Please share with us, we’d love to hear it!