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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
Apologetics Current Events Ink Slingers Victoria K

Social Media is Ruining Social Justice: Here’s Why

Note:  OK, OK, the title of this post was unnecessarily incendiary.  I love social media, you probably got to this post via social media.  Social media could never single-handedly ruin social justice.  What’s happened is I noticed a trend with social justice topics on social media, and I wanted to point it out and talk about what we, with a full understanding of Catholic Social Justice, can do about it.

Social Media is Ruining Social Justice Here’s Why

Already Out of Mind

Take a minute to switch tabs back to your social media feed.  How many articles are there about the children separated from their families at the border?  I hope to goodness it’s not none.  But I wouldn’t be surprised.  After all, it’s been a few weeks since the headlines broke.

You know, a few weeks.  Basically an eternity. 

Definitely enough time for the well-being of children to pass from our attention.

It sounds harsh.   But the reality is harsh.  To be completely transparent, I’m guilty too.  Things slip in and out of my notice – largely based on what’s in my social media feed. 

And that isn’t enough.

This doesn’t just apply to the children at the border.  If our commitment to social justice is SOLELY based on our social media scrolling, if our activism is SOLELY reactionary, we are never. going. to. change. ANYTHING. 

Don’t get me wrong, I was amazed by the initiatives to provide aid for these children and to work towards social justice.  But we must build off of their efforts to build lasting change. 

Everyday Social Justice

You may ask…is lasting change even possible?  I would argue yes.  But it’s going to take a mindset shift.

See, I think that social justice is more achievable that we actually give it credit for.   We’ve just been conditioned to look at it completely the wrong way.   In the social media age, social justice is primarily reactionary, rather than an everyday practice.

Here’s what reactionary social justice looks like: I see a headline: Children that are sleeping on the concrete underneath a blanket of tin foil.  And I go “I can’t fix that!”  Because I can’t.  It’s just the truth.

To contrast, here’s what everyday social justice looks like: I get to know the immigrants in my community (I work at a majority Hispanic school).  Within these relationships, I listen to their stories.  Their experiences make me more aware of the political and cultural issues that impact their lives.

Then, I give of my available time and resources.  There’s a first grader struggling to overcome the language barrier, and I advocate for him.  There’s a community fundraiser to get Christmas gifts for children with parents across the border, and I participate.

And for some of you, that exact path is feasible (if so, totally let me know because I’m curious as to your approach!)

For others, it may be a different community that you have the opportunity and skills to help (and still let me know because that’s awesome and inspiring).  The point is, we take small steps towards justice.

 

Everyday Social Justice is Catholic Social Justice

We must commit to everyday social justice.   Because that’s Catholic Social Justice.  Catholic Social Teaching is not based upon simply reacting and jumping on the bandwagon.   It’s about incorporating the call of Christ into our day to day lives.

You’re probably familiar with the corporal works of mercy.  If not, check them out here.

These aren’t every now and then ideals.  These are Christ’s command to us as Christians. 

Maybe it’s giving food and supplies to children at the border.  Maybe it to bagging up extra baby clothes and donating them to a crisis pregnancy center.  Maybe it’s serving a meal at a homeless shelter.  Maybe it’s investing in the community to ensure safety and security of our kids.  Maybe it’s writing a letter to someone in prison.

Whatever it is — Christ expects commitment.

 

“I’m too busy.”

OK, fair enough.  You’re busy.  We’re all busy.  I’ll be the first to advocate for balance and self-care.

Yet I really feel like we need to pick through our priories.  Do you really want to look at Jesus and tell Him you were too busy to help the children at the border who were not properly dressed, eating uncooked frozen meals?

Really?

For me, this ends up being more of a perspective thing than an actual “I’m too busy” thing.  I can’t do the big things so I end up doing nothing at all.

To counter this, here’s my idea for an “I’m too busy” approach to Catholic Social Justice:

  • Every day: Pray for social justice.
  • Every week: Read an article about a current social justice issue. I would totally recommend posting it on social media and sharing your thoughts.
  • Every month: Donate (within your means) to some social justice cause. This can be money or things: A food donation to a pantry, a clothing donation to a homeless shelter, a diaper donation to a crisis pregnancy shelter.  Extra points for committing to one cause or organization with which you can form a lasting relationship.
  • Every 4-6 months: Complete some larger service project.

You may be able to do more, maybe you have to do a little less.   Start small if you have to – but start.  Christ will take what you give and make it grow – He’s amazing like that.

 

Where are the Catholics?

Your small commitment is so essential.  Because we need to be working.  Every day.  We need to anticipate headlines.  We need to fight for what’s right even before it’s a “hot button” issue.

So that, when someone asks: “Where are the Catholics when…?”

The response should be:

“We’re already here.

And we’d love it if you joined us.”

Categories
Faith Formation Spiritual Growth

6 Things I Wish I’d Known About Obedience

Lions and tigers and obedience…oh my! 

Obedience. The word makes me shudder. To submit your will to another.  To do what someone else tells you to do.

This is always tough.  In our “do anything you want” world, obedience seems ridiculous.  Why would you ever ever ever pick someone else’s will over your own?  No.  Go make your own decisions, live your own life, pick your own truths.  Don’t let anyone else hold you down.  Right?

Pastor’s the Boss

As a youth minister, I work for pastors.  Believe me, it gets tough.  (Imagine getting annoyed with your boss…and remembering that you might have to go to confession with him later).  If there’s anyone you’re supposed to be obedient to…he’s the guy.

Once I left a meeting with my pastor and I just wanted to bang my head against my desk.  He had made a series of program changes—and I hated all of them.  I called a fellow youth minister and she said: “You have to be obedient.”  She was trying to be helpful, but it definitely freaked me out.

Working through these changes was a roller coaster, full of challenges and joys.  Over this time the Holy Spirit definitely schooled me on obedience.  And so, here you have it—the things I wish I had known about obedience before I went through all of this.

 

The Six Things I Wish I had known about Obedience:

  1. Obedience can’t make you sin.  I think this is a big question for a lot of people.  What if I agree to be obedient to someone, and they ask me to do something sinful?  Easy answer: don’t do it.  If your spouse or spiritual director tells you to go rob a bank, your answer should be “Heck no.”  Inherently sinful demands are a no-go.
  2. Jesus was obedient.  Jesus was obedient to His Father’s will.  “Jesus was obedient unto death, even death on a cross…” (Philippians 2:8).  But something I need to remember is that Jesus was also obedient to fallible, human authority.  Just think of Jesus before Pilate (check out John 19:1-16).  Jesus submitted himself to this roman official’s decision (think about that next time your boss makes a dumb call!).
  3. Obedience doesn’t mean “No questions asked.”  I thought obedience meant that you never question the decision. When someone says “go,” you go, and that’s that. Not so!  Mary, our great example of obedience with her “yes” to the Lord, asked questions!  She questioned Gabriel—how the heck was she going to have the son of God? When we’re called to obedience, we should ask questions (if we do it with Mary’s spirit of trust).
  4. Obedience is rooted in honesty.  This point is key to obedience.  Obedience is not blind.  Obedience relies on the honesty of all people involved.  This really could have helped my situation with my pastor.  If I had been honest with him—told him all of my concerns—he could’ve had the opportunity to be honest.  He could’ve explained his reasoning.  Even if he wasn’t swayed, I could have left knowing why.
  5. Obedience is the crazy idea that someone out there might be wiser than you.  (Loosely stolen from a Chesterton quote—he always says it best).  Sometimes I have to admit that someone could have better judgement than I.  Example: I can be a little vain—I really don’t like how I look in glasses.  If I had my way, I’d wear my contacts all the time. But it’s not healthy for my eyes (I almost lost sight in one eye, true story!).  My husband often makes the call when I should take contacts out—and although I don’t want to take my contacts out, I trust that he has better judgement on that.
  6. We’re called to practice obedience with everyonePeople seem to get worked up about obedience “situations: Obedience to church hierarchy, “Wives be subordinate to their husbands…” (Ephesians 5: 22-24), me, the youth minister, obedient to the pastor.  But Christ called us to be servants to everyone (check out the washing of the feet: John 13:1-20).  What does it mean to be a servant? A servant places the will of another above her own.  St. Therese of Liesieux was struggling with a sister in her order.  This bothered the crap out of St. Therese.  Instead of confronting her or avoiding her (my M. O.), St. Therese served this sister. She acted out this sister’s every request with a joyful heart.  Everyone thought St. Therese loved this sister more than the rest!  In your upcoming week, sisters, keep an eye out for people like that annoying sister.  They’re in need of your servant’s heart—so let’s practice a little obedience!

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Categories
Discipleship Faith Formation Ink Slingers It Worked For Me Martina Parenting Vocations

9 Ways to Cultivate a Servant’s Heart in Your Child

9 Ways to Cultivate a Servant's Heart in Your Child

A question I hear from time to time is how to raise your kids Catholic with the undertone of really, how do you get your kids to stay Catholic?

As a cradle Catholic who is a married, homeschooling mom to six kids – the eldest getting closer and closer to 20 and the youngest just three – I finally feel like I can look back and see some parenting trends that through the years have worked for us and I want to touch on one of them today: cultivating a servant’s heart.

Recently, I participated in our parish MOMs group annual experienced moms panel, where this very question came up. As I started to answer the question, I felt the need to preface my response with the following:

You can do all the “right” things and your child may fall away from the Faith, and you might do all the “wrong” things and end up with a child who is completely devoted to the Faith.

You Can Do All The Wrong Things

What I was really trying to do was ease the minds of the mommas present. While there are things we can do to help foster that love of the Faith in their formidable years, in the end, they may stray from the Faith. We know we can always make our prayer to place the care of their soul in God’s hands and ask St. Monica for her intercession. Oh, how I wish there were a way to know for certain that they’d remain Catholic!  

MODELING THE BEHAVIOR WE WANT

Kids can pick up on hypocrisy a mile away, whether it’s in matters of the Faith or everyday stuff. At the root of this question of how to raise and keep our children Catholic should automatically include self reflection:

♦ How is our relationship with God?

♦ Do our daily habits reflect what we want to see from our children?

♦ How often do we speak about Catholicism to our children?

♦ Do we talk about it as a series of goals and bullet points, or do we talk about how it is integrated into our inner being and how that translates into our daily actions?

♦ Do we talk about our spiritual weaknesses honestly with our children?

♦ Do we make sure we have an open line of communication with our kids? 

♦ Do they know they can come talk to us about their problems as raw, broken people and know that we, as their parents, will be there to hug, cry, pray with them, and walk them through their problems instead of brushing them off or simply telling them to only “go pray about it” without giving them a game plan to work through their problems?

The task of creating rich foundational soil for our kids to grow and thrive in starts with us. If we are spiritually running on empty, not making time for God in our own lives, it stands to reason that we cannot properly model the actions we wish to see from our kids.

This is not to say that we won’t have our own spiritual rough patches to work through, but kids often need a tangible, real, honest living example to see, especially and particularly if it isn’t the spit shine perfect example we’d like to give them. I personally think it can be beneficial for kids to see and know we struggle from time to time. It makes living the Faith real for them, and when they face their own dark days as they get older, they will know the Faith isn’t always rosy or fun. It’s hard work. But it’s worth every ounce and pound of hard work we put into it.

HOW TO CREATE A SERVANT’S HEART

What I’m about to share with you should be considered a tool in the parenting arsenal. I hesitate to paint anything as a do this and you will be guaranteed your kids won’t leave the Church! strategy followed by my cheesy attempt to sell you some wares. What I want to share is what seems to be working for us…right now. Parenting is a constantly evolving process that involves employing certain tactics and strategies before bringing in new tactics and strategies. When you have a lot of children, your workload multiplies and the need to be aware of their strengths and weaknesses also increases.  

  1. Momma Mary
    My Miraculous Medal that my youngest loves to kiss and ask Momma Mary to help him be good.

    Teach them to love God…more than you and your spouse. I do a lot of failing as a Catholic. I think the phrase practicing Catholic was coined just for me some days. I do my best to impress upon my children that while my relationship with them collectively and individually will never be perfect, that they always have a loving Father and Mother who will never fail them. I ask them to pray for me to our Blessed Mother and loving Father.

  2. Don’t tell them to pray. Teach them to pray. It’s not enough for them to see you praying. Show them how to pray, when to pray, and the different kinds of prayers: rote prayers, off the cuff, novenas, rosaries, and how to listen for prayer intentions. 
  3. Make sure they {and you} are going to confession frequently and receiving Jesus in the Eucharist at least once a week. 
  4. (You) be in service to others. There are a lot of great ways to be in service to others. If you have little littles at home, you might have to get creative since service and herding cats children can be difficult! Consider taking a meal to a family in need, donating some clothes or baby gear you aren’t currently using, a gas card for a seminarian, or have your littles draw a nice picture for your priest. Find what works for your current state in life and go with that! Here is an article I wrote a couple of years ago on how to manage the Catholic crazy in your life. 
  5. Model that service to your children. Make sure to talk to your kids about your plans to serve others. If the task at hand is simple, ask for their input and help. Homeless bags or food donations to St. Vincent de Paul or your local food pantry are great ways to get their help and model that service to them. If you adopt a family for Christmas, try putting your kids in charge of one item to get so they have that experience, too.
  6. Find opportunities for your children to serve. As your children get older, finding them opportunities to continue what you’ve been modeling to them is really important. Volunteering and serving can be great ways to fight the urge to be selfish or entitled. Mobile Loaves & Fishes is a great one that’s local in my area, but you can also have them help sort food at the food pantry, see if any of your religious orders need help with any work, or having your older kids volunteer for VBS, altar serving, or helping with the parish youth ministry. 
  7. Teach them the importance of honoring their commitments. When they have found something they’d like to do, give them the opportunity to practice discerning their yes or no.  My oldest son – who is in his sixth year as an altar boy – has served more Sundays than not over the course of that time, which required a huge commitment from the whole family. We needed to make sure we could get to church on time so that he could serve and it was and still is a sacrifice our family continues to make. Because we homeschool, he often serves funeral Masses and has recently decided to seek out weddings to serve as well. Before he said yes to weddings, I told him to take some time to think and pray on it. I rarely ask them to give me a yes/no on the spot. They need time to process what that commitment will require from them. The flip side is that once they are committed to doing something, they know not to ask me if they can quit or stop. The time to discern is before you say yes. After that, you need to see your obligation through. 
  8. Teach them not to spread themselves too thin. And the same goes with you, too! Remember, your domestic church is important. God will never call you to service that will cause disruption in your home life or conflict with your primary vocation. 
  9. Respect their commitment schedule. They’ve prayerfully discerned what they’d like to do. Now it’s up to you to help them honor their schedule and time commitment. 

WHAT SEEMS TO BE WORKING IN YOUR FAMILY?

BONUS – here is a neat video clip of some good work being done in our community. The two kiddos, Jacob and Carol, are good friends of our oldest boy and middle girl. 🙂

Categories
Advent Faith Formation Ink Slingers Kerri Liturgical Year Resources Your Handy-Dandy List

Your Handy Dandy List to an Intentional Advent

Intentional Advent picHave you made plans yet for Advent? Is Advent a spiritual time for you or is it all about shopping, decorating the house and the tree, Christmas parties, and so much more? Do you add anything to your spiritual routines during this time (much like we often do during Lent)?

Advent, at least in my experience, often seems to get lost in the shuffle of Christmas. It doesn’t help much that Christmas decorations, Christmas ads/commercials, and Christmas music has been everywhere since Halloween or earlier. Yet, like Lent, Advent is also a penitential season. It’s a time of preparation, but not the kind of preparation the secular world is doing. As Catholics we are preparing for the upcoming birth of our Lord and Savior as well as preparing for His eventual second coming. Advent, therefore, is a good time to help us focus our minds and hearts on Christ. We should do so intentionally, not trying to do too much, but doing at least one thing (more if you can swing it) to help us focus on the true reason for the season.

Thus I decided that this was a good time to put together a new “handy dandy list” in the same vein as the Lenten list I created (with LOTS of help) a few years back. I’ve divided this list into seven broad categories. A few items could have fit easily into more than one, so I had to make a few judgment calls. Overall, it should be easy to scan through each list for ideas.

So, read through the list, pick out one or two or more things you like, and make an intentional effort to have a prayerful Advent. I wish you many blessings as we begin a new liturgical year and spend approximately the next four weeks preparing for the birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Without further ado, here is your Handy Dandy List to an Intentional Advent.

History

Why do we even have a special time set aside in the liturgical calendar to prepare ourselves for Christ’s birth? Why do we even call it Advent? Before the new liturgical year starts, how about checking out a bit of Catholic Church history using these resources:

Spirituality

  • St. Andrew Christmas novena, see the November 30-December 24 version here and the nine day version here
  • Celebrate St. Nicholas Day (Dec. 6), see here for a variety of traditions around the world
  • Attend Mass on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (Dec. 8)
  • Go to confession and/or a Reconciliation service before Christmas
  • Fast (one day a week, three days a week, the whole season, whatever works for you) or abstain from meat (or another food of your choice)
  • CRS Fair Trade Advent prayers
  • Daily Advent reflections from Fr. Barron and Word on Fire (follow the link to sign up for them to arrive in your email daily)
  • Attend a Parish Retreat at your parish or a neighboring parish, or find a one day or a weekend retreat in your area
  • Give something up for Advent (who says you can only do that during Lent?)

Family or Group Activities

  • Advent Calendar 2015NEW for 2015 – download and print this Advent calendar chock full of great ideas to keep you focused on the season.
  • Do a Jesse tree with your family, Catechism class, homeschool group, or other group
  • Keep an Advent wreath in your home. My family lights it each night before dinner. Alternatively, if you’re a teacher (Catholic school or in a catechism class) you can do an Advent wreath by cutting out leaves from construction paper, have children write their sacrifices on them, make an Advent wreath out of the leaves (posted on a door or wall), and then make Advent candles out of construction paper to adorn the wreath.
  • Get each child a paper Advent calendar (especially those with pieces of chocolate in them!) or create one of those paper chains to count down the days until Advent.
  • Join in on the Advent Photo Journey on Instagram sponsored by Catholic Sistas (details coming soon so stay tuned!)
  • Do an Advent version of Secret Santa. I’ve seen various names, including Secret Saints or Advent Angels. Pull together a small group of friends, arrange a way to pull names so that everyone has a person to pray for during the Advent season (Elfster is a great resource for matching people up without anyone knowing who has who). You can have participants pray for each other, do a small gift exchange, exchange favorite holiday recipes, or any combination or anything else that you and your group wants to do. Whatever you do, make it simple, cost effective, and fun and meaningful for participants
  • Make a manger out of any used container, shoebox, etc. and allow children to place a piece of straw in it for each act of kindness during the season. Place a baby Jesus in the manger on Christmas Eve.
  • Get the AdventAdventure.com from Holy Heroes.
  • Our very own Ink Slinger Christi has written an Advent book that families can do together. Check out her website Advent Journey with Mary and Joseph to buy the book and use the free online resources.
  • Check out lots of free coloring pages, including Advent wreath pages, an Advent Calendar coloring page, Christmas coloring pages, and much more at Saint Anne’s Helper.

Community Service

Advent is a great time to get involved in some form of community service.

  • Make gift bags for the homeless (toiletries, non-perishable foods, etc.) and donate to a shelter (call ahead to find out what their needs are)
  • Volunteer to serve a meal at a soup kitchen or other type of shelter
  • Participate in an adopt-a-family or adopt-a-child program, many churches will have special programs at this time of year
  • Bring your kids along and donate to Toys for Tots
  • Visit a local nursing home, even better get a group together to go sing Christmas carols for the residents
  • Invite someone to your home for Christmas who otherwise has no where else to go (an elderly parishioner, a neighbor, college students, particularly international students, who may not be able to go home for the holidays)

More Books

Besides the books already mentioned in the sections above, here are some more that I am aware of or have recently heard about. All of these can be helpful in having an intentional Advent.

Music or other Entertainment

There’s nothing like relaxing with some nice music. For this Advent season, here is some suggested music that help set a contemplative atmosphere.

  • Advent at Ephesus by the Benedictines of Mary Queen of Apostles
  • Puer Natus Est: Tudor Music for Advent and Christmas
  • A traditional Advent tradition is the chanting of what is known as the O antiphons. These seven antiphons are sung, one each night, from December 17 to 23 at Vespers (evening prayer). They are included on a variety of sound recordings, one I found that received good reviews is The Great “O” Antiphons by the Choirs of Saint Mark’s Cathedral in Seattle, WA.
  • NEW ADDITION: I just discovered a free app available for iOS devises (iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch) and Android called Musical Advent Calendar 2014 (Google store version HERE) from Naxos Digital Services. It contains 25 “doors” you can open starting on December 1 (so not true to the Advent season as us Catholics define it) with a musical selection for each day. Worth checking out, I just downloaded it myself.
  • Attend a Christmas performance of Handel’s Messiah, the Nutcracker, A Christmas Carol, or any other Christmas production being performed in your area

More Blog Posts and Articles on Advent

Want more Advent inspiration? Here are more articles and blog posts to enjoy:

Your turn: what would you add to this list?