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Feast Days Saints Sarah

Navigating Heartbreak: Novena to St. Valentine

When we think of Valentine’s Day, we often think of big romantic gestures. Maybe a candlelit dinner or a gift of roses.

The reality is that I have never experienced any of those things. Most Valentine’s Days I have been single.

The only exception to the rule was my one-year relationship. Given that we broke up over the Christmas holiday, I know that this Valentine’s Day will be rough.

Maybe you also went through a breakup or you’re still waiting for a special man to ask you out, I want to introduce you to my new favorite saint, St. Valentine. Before I do, I need to share a little bit of relationship history.

My Relationship: How it Ended

Spoiler alert: I emotionally cheated on my boyfriend. I am grateful for the godly people in my life, who showed me the dangerous path that I was undertaking. I confessed to my boyfriend and we broke up.

I think any relationship requires vulnerability and trust. I know for myself I was not honest about the insecurities about the relationship. Rather than voicing my insecurities, I sought the comfort of another.

This was wrong!

I feel bad about how it ended.

Chastity is Hard!

A word about Chasity: nobody can help you. I consulted numerous dating books. Heck, my ex-boyfriend and I read Theology of the Body together. At the end of the day, it still doesn’t help you define the line.

The most I can say is have a set of non-negotiable ground rules. Once you start physical activity it is hard to stop.

I would say that if we were imperfect in any way, it would be because of chastity. We gave away our hearts too soon without a sense of future together.

The pain of Breaking Up

As the dumper, I didn’t expect to feel pain or loss. After all, it was my decision. Yet regret hit me like a flood. I lost and hurt the person I supposedly loved.

I’m a fixer by nature.

I want to fix my mistakes. I’m learning slowly that some mistakes can’t be taken back easily.

Thus I turn to the only source of comfort I have, Jesus Christ.

St Valentine’s Novena

I wanted a novena. I wanted something I could pray every day for nine days. I wanted it to be about relationships and dating.

I know that Saint Raphael the Archangel is usually the go-to person when it comes to relationships. Yet Saint Raphael’s novena did not speak to me. I had nearly given up when I stumbled on this,

“Loving Father, You know that the deepest desire of my heart is to meet someone that I can share my life with. I trust in your loving plan for me and ask that I might meet soon the person that you have prepared for me. Through the power of your Holy Spirit, open my heart and mind so that I recognize my soulmate. Remove any obstacles that may be in the way of this happy encounter, So that I might find a new sense of wholeness, joy, and peace. Give me the grace too, to know and accept, if you have another plan for my life. I surrender my past, present, and future into the tender heart of your Son, Jesus, Confident that my prayer will be heard and answered. Amen. Sacred Heart of Jesus, I place all my trust in you. Valentine, pray for me.

Legend has it that St. Valentine was arrested, beaten and killed for helping Christians get married.

Thus the guy knew a thing or two about obstacles.

My favorite line is, “Remove any obstacles that may be in the way of this happy encounter So that I might find a new sense of wholeness, joy, and peace.”

This line reminds me that ultimately God is in control. Yes, I messed up. Yet if the relationship was meant to be then God can remove all obstacles; even the ones I placed myself.

If you find yourself single for Valentine’s day, please spend some time with Jesus. Ask him to help you trust in his loving plan. Consider praying to St. Valentine.

There is no obstacle God cannot remove!

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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!

Categories
Ink Slingers

Life Goals

It happens to me every time I attend a funeral, especially a Catholic funeral Mass. I cry, I mourn and I thank God for the Catholic Church. A Requiem Mass is not just a ceremony but a prayer filled, beautiful sending home. While the loss of a loved one is always sorrowful, this goodbye always leaves me filled with hope. And, without exception, I find myself thinking on the spoken remembrances of the deceased. I am always moved to hear the story of their life and how they touched the lives of others. I enter into a reflection of my own life; am I living the best life I am capable of? Am I fulfilling what I was created for? Or, am I so busy living for today that I have forgotten I am not meant for this world?

Who do I say I am?

Would I be recognized as being a woman who knows who I am and whose I am? My identity is to be found in Christ.  I am a child of God. I am a wife, a mother, sister and friend loved into being by God. My faith in God is the core of who I am. I have finally come to understand, that my strength as a woman, wife and mother originates and stands firm in the knowledge that I am first a daughter of our heavenly Father. The deeper I trust in this, the better equipped I am to completely let go of the unrealistic worldly expectations placed on me as a woman. I can abandon myself to Him. I have nothing to fear knowing He will never leave me.  I am certain that if God is not the center of my life, it’s not a fruitful life.   I have tried doing life without keeping my gaze on Christ and found little success in living joyfully or peacefully.  Without God as my anchor, my spiritual and mental well-being is so easily disturbed. When I rely solely on my own power, I close myself off to allowing the Spirit to move in me and through me. I become so easily distracted by the unnecessary flighty things of today. Disappointments and frustrations follow me when I am solely focused on seeking worldly approval and accolades. As Fr. Henri J.M. Nouwen, reminds me “we must daily claim the love of God” by cooperating with His desire to draw me in closer and closer to Himself, the source of Truth and Love. I am beloved.

We are all saints in training.

For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be. (Matthew 6:21)  I am thankful for a great many things in my life, next to faith; motherhood has been the greatest gift I have received.  Becoming a wife and a mother has both ruined and transformed me. I can think of nothing that compares to the joy of embracing my babies, growing with them as my heart stretches near to breaking and overflows with all that is bittersweet on the journey of motherhood. Sharing in this blessing with my husband has magnified the wonder of it all.  I have always wanted to be a mother and to have a family; this vocation has fulfilled the desire of my heart. Marriage and motherhood are intensely beautiful, although neither is easy nor perfect. Ever. But, the beauty is, I am being refined and perfected in these roles. God is using the people and the relationships I cherish to teach me to love better, to forgive more and to grow in mercy. It is in persevering in this tiring and trying work of caring for and loving my family well that I am growing in holiness. They are my treasures on this journey. And, every instance that I am able to be generous in self-giving it is as my grandmother would often say, “another jewel in my crown”.  Family life and relationships are the place we learn to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48). God’s will is that all of His children become holy. We are called to live courageously as saints in training, that we may receive our crown of glory.

It is good to keep the end in mind.

Do I acknowledge and share with others that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life? Am I living as if He is my only hope? Am I greeting each new day with the end of this life in mind? I know, who wants to think of their death? It is not pleasant, demanding really. But, I hope that as my life is running its course towards its eventual unknown end, I am clinging hard to my faith while keeping my heart wide open. The example of my life is certainly not always pretty; I can be hard of heart, stubborn and judgmental. That friend I have been giving the silent treatment, the child I exasperatedly snapped at, the disrespect I threw at my husband,… these are the moments I need the Holy Spirit to remind me I have taken my eyes off Jesus and it is time to turn and plead forgiveness. The gate is narrow. The way is strenuous. I have found great help in leaning on Mary, our Blessed Mother, who proclaimed do whatever He tells you. Our Lady is a constant, gentle guide along the way, leading her children to her Son. In the end, when I arrive at my eternal destination, I pray I am bruised and exhausted from persevering in the loving and serving that has been asked of me, so that it is in the glorious beatific vision I find myself resting.

Heaven “is neither an abstraction not a physical place in the clouds, but a living, personal relationship with the Holy Trinity.
It is our meeting with the Father which takes place in the risen Christ through the communion of the Holy Spirit.”
-Pope St. John Paul II 

Categories
Faith Formation Ink Slingers Saints Spiritual Growth Stephanie Vocations

Friends in {Really} High Places

When you love good and holy people it makes you want to be like them. Their words and deeds are admirable, they live their lives with such beautiful grace, and their service to the Lord and their neighbors is inspiring. I know some key people in my own life that continue to help shape my own soul as I truck along in my vocation as wife, mother, daughter, friend, etc. When you have the chance to really get to know someone well and can reach a spiritual intimacy with them, then they become critical to your very salvation and can help you become an instrument in the salvations of others as well. One such person has been an invaluable friend and model for holiness since I was 11 years old. She happens to be pretty famous—St. Maria Goretti.

I remember being very enthralled with the lives of the saints as a child and loved to flip through books to see beautiful pictures of these special people and read about their heavenly strength. They captured my imagination and I recall wanting to become saints just like them (I may have been slightly enamored with their fame, too!). Then at age 11, my religion teacher assigned a project where we had to give a presentation on a saint. I think I asked my mom whether there had been a St. Stephanie (my name, how modest) I could learn about to which she replied that there is a young saint named Maria Goretti, which is almost my middle name, Marie.

I struggled through the painful story of her attack and absolutely marveled at her purity, her bravery, and ultimately her supernatural powers of forgiveness. This girl had much to teach a kid like me. So, from then on, I thought about her often, prayed to her at night, and invited her to prayerful dialogue. Very naturally and without thinking (as kids can do so well) I became dear friends with a great saint. I had drawn so closely to her that I felt the kind of possessiveness you can feel toward family or friends, like, she was my saint. She was my Confirmation saint when I was 16, but I allowed myself to drift from her throughout my high school years. 

Fast forward to college and during my very first semester I met my future husband. It’s pretty cliche but I knew I’d marry him. Or, I knew it was likely that if this didn’t work out like I suspected then it would be time for serious discernment (again) regarding religious life. This was my first real relationship and we faced college life and young adulthood together. We determined to remain abstinent until marriage and I can safely say that this. got. tough. To be completely honest, it took a good two or three years into our relationship before I finally became un-oblivious of my own sexuality and it was like, alrighty then, now I get it. Extra graces were required to keep us as pure as possible and I was sort of surprised at how we were able keep up with our promise.

Then at some point it hit me- this is no accident or coincidence. My dear friend St. Maria Goretti had been preparing my heart from childhood and she never left my side. I began to cling to her again as we approached the Sacrament of Marriage and she saw us right on through until we exchanged vows (major props to St. Joseph for protecting my husband—hubby was born on St. Joe’s feast day). What a nice story, right?

Well, I VERY naively thought that our wedding day would be some sort of finish line. In fact, the good fight became even trickier once we became husband and wife and began to practice natural family planning. My weaknesses and temptations are as present as always and St. Maria Goretti is a major aid in my daily struggle for chastity within marriage—yes, that’s a thing!

Her example is the perfect model for me as I navigate my vocation as a Catholic wife and it all started with becoming friends a long time ago. In addition to the aid she’s provided, our friendship inspired me to seek out other saints now that I’m an adult and to get to know them. If they had phones, St. Francis de Sales would be on speed dial. St. Maria taught me that prayers do mean something and that we are never out of the presence of God and all the divine company.

 

Categories
Liz The Crossroads - Where Faith Meets Mental Health

I Washed My Face

wash

St. Kateri Tekakwitha slept on a bed of thorns.

St. Rose of Lima cropped her hair and disfigured her skin.

Blessed Alexandrina de Costa refused all food except the Eucharist.

The other day, I got out of bed and washed my face.

This is the most laughable comparison ever made, amirite? I am NOT a saint. Not even close. I did not complete a holy act of mortification. Not even close. To add my name and my deed to the bottom of that list, even for the purposes of contrast, makes me squirm and blush and repent.

Nevertheless, I got out of bed. I washed my face. And it was the start, the millionth start, of my climb out of depression.

When some women become pregnant, God sends them the cross of vomiting, or high blood pressure, or problems with the health of the child. Me, I get the cross that I always get, pregnant or not: another round of depression.  My hormones shift like a Tilt-a-Whirl and my body and brain go spinning away into despair and anxiety and exhaustion and muscle aches. There’s no emergency button to push to make it stop, and no clues as to when the operator will end the ride. Intellectually I know that it can’t last forever (and in my pregnancies, it does end abruptly during the second trimester!). But in those first long weeks, to my heart and soul, it feels like I’m just whirling around in the dark, myself and a baby, with no end in sight. This type of pre-natal depression may happen to as many as one in every five pregnant women. 

depressionOne of the many signs of serious depression is a nagging inner voice that you can’t shut out, whispering to you constantly as you try to live your life: “The things you do aren’t good enough, nothing matters, you aren’t good enough. Achieved something tough? Nobody cares. There’s a million people who’ve done better. Made a mistake? Of course you would. You fail at everything. Don’t care, don’t try, don’t love, hey, don’t even get out of bed! You’re not worth it. Nobody will notice. In fact, the world might be better off if you weren’t around …” 

This monologue, which is really your disease, goes on and on, wearing at you and convincing you and telling you lies. You stop your hobbies, shut out your loved ones, and eventually, you might even stop caring for yourself. Eating right, sleeping, showering, brushing your teeth, all seem pointless and difficult. Besides, you are so tired. And your body aches. So you skip it, again. And the little voice says, ” It doesn’t matter anyway. You don’t matter anyway.”


Asceticism, says the New Advent encyclopedia, “is the practice of the spiritual things, or spiritual exercises performed for the purpose of acquiring the habits of virtue.” It is the denial of of ourselves and our natural desires for the love of God and our neighbor. For most of us, it involves regular habits of prayer and fasting. For some very special saints, like those mentioned above, it also includes physical mortifications that go beyond the norm and require the approval of a spiritual director: radical self-denials of comfort, self-care and daily necessities. Properly practiced and undertaken with obedience, acts of asceticism and self-denial focus us on what’s really important in life: loving the Lord our God with all our heart, mind and strength; and loving our neighbor as ourselves. 

But what about us, the seven percent of adults with clinical depression, the one in five women with prenatal depression, the 600,000 women per year with postpartum? What should we do, those whose default is unhealthy self-denial? What should we practice, whose disordered desires are already to go alone, uncared for and unnoticed? How can we draw closer to God through asceticism? What act can we make that isn’t meaningless and worthless to everyone?

you-are-not-aloneThe toughest and most amazing saints didn’t go to great lengths to discipline their bodies because they wanted attention. They didn’t endure discomfort and pain to “be tough” or prove how holy they were. They did it because Jesus called them to be close to him in a radical way. They did it to show their love for God and neighbor. They did it because the temptations which drew them away from Christ were comfort, beauty, and the lull of daily life. So if your temptations, like mine, are to listen to the nagging little voice in your ear that tells you to give up, stop trying, and stop living your God-given life, I humbly submit that you turn the concept of asceticism and mortification on its head. For the millionth time, try again to deny that voice and take care of your mind, body and spirit. If you can’t do it for you, do it for God and your neighbor. No matter what the little voice says, even the smallest, most insignificant act of love matters. It will make a difference. 

So, where St. Kateri slept on a bed of thorns, rest a full eight hours in a warm bed.

Where Blessed Alexandrina ate nothing, eat three square, simple meals a day.

Where Rose of Lima cut her hair, brush yours. Where she scarred her face, get up, take up your cross, and wash.

DBSA {Depression, Bipolar Support Alliance}

NAMI {National Alliance of Mental Illness}

NATIONAL SUICIDE PREVENTION HOTLINE

MTHFR {genetic mutation associated with depression, bipolar, and schizophrenia}