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A Recipe for Catholicism

Being Christian is tough at times. Being Catholic? Even harder most times!

Sometimes, as Catholics, it can be difficult to explain our Faith, let alone convince others about our beliefs. As I have explained to my husband (who is Methodist), as a Catholic, there are more things I am called to pay attention to – not because I think we are better than anybody else, but rather, because I have firm belief that my Catholic Faith and Traditions will open my soul to be truly transformed by Christ!

To use a cooking analogy – I believe the Catholic Faith has the complete recipe, with generations of those who have gone before having filled in the recipe card with handwritten notes of love, encouragement, and tried-‘n-true tweaks.

When we look at the recipe of Catholicism, the (arguably) Six Precepts of the Catholic Church are outlined on the Vatican website, and are the pen on the recipe card:

1.) Participate in the Eucharistic Celebration (a.k.a. the Mass) on Sundays and all other Holy Days of Obligation;

2.) Participate in the Sacrament of Reconciliation (a.k.a. Confession) once a year;

3.) At a minimum, receive the Eucharist once a year, during the Easter season, making the second precept annual to ensure reception of Christ’s Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity is received under a state of grace;

4.) Keep holy ALL Holy Days of Obligation by attending Mass;

5.) Fast and abstain on all Church designated days;

6.) According to ability, contribute to the support of the Church.

The other penned ingredients include the belief found in the words of the Apostles’ Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the Bible.

Further down on the recipe card are instructions, in which we find the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy, the Theological and Cardinal Virtues, and the Fruits and Gifts of the Holy Spirit.

But, written in the margins?

The writing left from those who have come before us, and traveled the rocky, hilly terrain to God?

In the margins, tucked between the ingredients and steps of the recipe, we are given the devotions promoted by the Catholic Church!

Just like our generational recipes for cooking and baking, things will still turn out okay if we just stick to the black and white print… if we just stick to the basics. However, without the devotions, we may miss out on that extra sweetness, fuller depth, richer relationship with God!

Nowhere is the uniqueness of the Catholic Faith more acutely felt, than when one considers the vast devotions applicable to living and being transformed by one’s Catholic Faith.

Whether it is a special devotion to the Rosary, to the First Fridays or First Saturdays, Divine Mercy, or Brown Scapular, there is no right or wrong! Sometimes, devotions can begin to weigh you down, literally, as you add the Miraculous Medal to the one worn by the Angelic Warfare Confraternity, to the St. Christopher Medal, or medals for other special causes or saints.

Each of us have our own call to particular devotions – one person may feel drawn to the Immaculate Heart devotion, while another may feel drawn toward the Divine Mercy devotion. The beauty is that we don’t have to adhere to every special devotion, but we can learn from each other, and share those treasures – those notes in the margins – with each other!

The point of this is to not discount the handwriting in the margins.

Instead, keeping the ingredients written in pen, read the extra handwriting, take note of added ingredients, and tinker with your own recipe!

Devotions serve to enhance our transformation into followers of Christ. They are present to allow us into a deeper relationship with Him! 

Through our Catholic Faith, we see a transformation in our lives as we seek, find, and get to know God. Through that transformation that occurs, we are challenged to be Christ’s hands and feet, bringing Him to others through our thoughts, our words, and our actions. 

Devotions serve as a (mostly) daily reminder of the added benefit of knowing Christ, and being Christ-like to others. They serve as a way to recognize Christ in our neighbors, and become a representation for us, of the reward of knowing and keeping Christ close.

When was the last time you researched a new devotion?

When was the last time you considered adding a new devotion to your faith life?

Do you have a special devotion?

I’d love to hear your devotions in the comments below!

Bible Communion Confession Faith Formation Ink Slingers Michelle Sacred Scripture Spiritual Growth

Guarding our Hearts and Minds: We Become What We Think About

Since the time my children were little I have always told them that they will become the people they surround themselves with. This means that if they surround themselves with racists, they will begin to accept that ideology. If they surround themselves with people who think drug use is ok, they will begin to think this too. If they surround themselves with people who think God is not important, well, God will soon cease to be important in their lives as well. On the flip side, if they surround themselves with those who wish to serve God and others, they will see the good in doing so and will lead that life as well. If they surround themselves with people who see Christ’s face in the faces of all those they encounter, they too will see Christ clearly in those around them.

Of course, it’s not just our children who are vulnerable to this metamorphosis. If you are like me you may have been more likely to gossip, to swear, or to do any number of other undesirable {read sinful} activities when you are hanging out with people who engage in these activities. It’s easy to get sucked into behaviors we know are contrary to what our faith tells us is right and good.

But it’s not just surrounding ourselves with the wrong people that can change who we are and what we do. Sometimes it takes no one but ourselves to bring about a negative change in our lives; sometimes we are our own worst enemies.

Proverbs 4:23 says, “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.”

What we allow to enter our minds can have a tremendous effect on our lives. Our thoughts shape our beliefs and our attitudes.

Have you ever had a day that was going good and then something went wrong and your mood immediately soured? As negative thoughts flooded your mind, what did that do to the rest of your day? Did you continue to focus on the bad and ignore the good that had happened to you? Did the negative thoughts fill your mind and push out any positive thoughts that might be trying to form? How did it affect the way you interacted with others? Were you more likely to engage in sinful behavior because of it?

What about other thoughts that might take over our minds? Christ taught that it wasn’t what we put into our bodies that defiles us but what comes out of us from our hearts which corrupts us… “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness” (Mark 7:21-22).

We become what we think about.

When our minds are focused on God and on holiness, we become holy. But when our minds are preoccupied with the very things that can corrupt us- anger, fornication, deceit, gossip, envy, slander, pride- we become those things. We may not even see it happening to us; but it always will.

It is these sins which we allow to occupy our hearts and minds that ultimately lead us away from God. We absolutely become whom we surround ourselves with but only because we have allowed our hearts and minds to dwell on things that are not holy nor righteous and good.

How do we fight the battle that is being waged for our hearts and minds? First we must recognize sinful activity when we encounter it. Then we must separate ourselves from it even when separating means losing out on friends or things we otherwise enjoy. If we can look objectively at the issue and realize that the people we are encountering or the thoughts we are having or the activities we are engaging in are leading us further into negative thoughts and away from God, then we have made the first step in being able to conquer the problem.

I know that it is probably easier for someone like me who has an “I can see the silver lining in just about anything” kind of attitude to be able to turn my back on negative thoughts and to search out the good in all situations; however, it is a skill that is imperative for all of us to learn if we wish to be able to conquer our sinful thoughts. If we wish to become holy we must allow our thoughts to be holy.

“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:2

Is it a tall order to think we can protect our minds and thus protect our hearts and ultimately our souls? In our sinful, broken world it can seem next to impossible. But whereas the world is broken and sinful, Christ is not. He gives us the strength and the wisdom to be able to live up to this calling. When we cling to Him and to His teachings the struggle gains purpose and we become strengthened. It’s not to say it will be easy to purge sinful thoughts and desires from our minds, but it is to say that Christ will always be there to help us.

When we are struggling to do what is right or if we begin to slip back into old, sinful habits, Christ asks us to call on Him. He has given us His Spirit to guide us and help us through; He has given us His body and blood in the Eucharist as true food to nourish us; He has given us the Sacrament of Penance for when we fail to live up to His calling; and He has given us His sacred Word to follow. He has given us all we need to change our hearts and minds.

We are what we think about.

What will you allow to occupy your heart and your mind? Who will you become?

“Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” Phil 4:8

Ink Slingers Michelle Spiritual Growth

The Magnificent Tree: A Transformation Fable

The Magnificent Tree

There once was a magnificent tree standing tall and strong in the middle of the forest. Its trunk was wide and sturdy and reached toward the sky with branches heavy with large leaves that soaked up the sunshine. Throughout the summer they provided much needed shade for anyone who wished to stay a moment beneath them. In the fall, those same leaves turned scarlet and adorned the landscape with their fiery beauty. In all the forest there was nothing more grandiose or nobler than the majestic tree.

The tree could not imagine a more splendid life.

It happened one day that a man visited the forest. Surveying the trees before him, he chose the mighty oak that stood tall and proud. Marking it, he left. The tree wondered what the man had wanted. He supposed that the man had seen its beauty and had been in awe. It stood proudly, thankful it was so glorious.

The man returned the next day with other men. He pointed to the tree and then approached it. They each looked over the tree with awe and approval. The tree was pleased with their reactions to its splendor.

Without warning they began cutting down the tree with sharp axes. Oh the pain the tree felt! It couldn’t understand why the men were doing this to it; why they were causing this pain.

It was tiring work for the men. They took turns delivering blow after blow, often pausing to sharpen their blades. Each impact reverberated through the tree. Soon their blades found their way straight through the trunk of the tree.

Once the most majestic hardwood in the entire forest, the tree fell upon the woodland floor; no longer regal or imposing. Instead, it was broken.

When the men took it from the forest they began to dispatch it further. Soon it was in pieces- it no longer resembled what it had before. Its splendor, its glory, its pride were all gone. It could not make sense of what had happened. It felt despair.

house in the woodsIt wasn’t long until the man began to take the pieces of the tree and fashion them into something else. The work was slow and tedious. But still, the man labored. Soon the tree could see that the man was fashioning a house out of its parts. As the walls were constructed, it could see how sturdy they would be. Just as its trunk had supported the branches, the walls would support the house. As the roof was built it could see how they would protect the man from the elements. Its branches and leaves had done the same for those who stopped underneath them in the forest.

Finally the man was done. He stood back and looked at the home he had built out of the majestic oak. The man knew it would serve his family well. As he moved his family into the house suddenly the tree also understood the importance of its transformation.

Once the most majestic and imposing figure in the forest, now the tree was a simple and practical home for the man and his family. It would provide safety and warmth as well as a place for the family to grow in love and happiness. The tree had to endure a dramatic and painful transformation to become more than it was before.

We are often like the tree. We stay firmly rooted where we are, complacent with who we are and what we are doing. We are proud of our accomplishments and who we’ve become. We are thankful that others see our beauty, our grace, and our worth. We stand like the oak, majestic and proud, not realizing that we can be something more.

Many times God is like the man who came and chopped down the tree. He looks us over, sees our true worth, marks us, and then begins His work on us.

Oh it can be painful! We may even be caught off guard at the intensity of the pain we go through. We are brought to our knees just as the magnificent tree was toppled. But the work and the pain don’t stop there.

While we can’t see the full picture, God has a blueprint laid out in front of Him. He knows what plans He has in store for us (Jeremiah 29:11) and why this transformation is so important. He wants what is best for us. He knows what it will take for us to become the best version of ourselves.

We may look around and not understand a single thing. We may cry out asking for mercy. We may even doubt that God’s plans are the best ones. We may long for the person we were before. It is not until God is done molding us during this time that we can see how much better we’ve become.

God looks at us and sees our worth. He sees what we can become and He initiates life changing moments that will help us transform into something more than we are. There are times this is painful and we don’t understand. But if we trust Him, He will transform us into something more than we ever could imagine.

Often we must first become broken, a mere shell of what we were previously, before we can understand how God is calling us to become better… to become more.

jeremiah 29:11


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Mass Confusion: Interference

Earlier today I was driving down the road listening to my local Catholic station. Every so often a popular rock station would bleed in and cover the beautiful sounds of a Mass with Fr. Mitch Pacwa. Talk about Mass confusion***! I couldn’t seem to help myself, even as I listened to him intone the words of Consecration, from singing along with the popular rock songs. As I caught myself doing so, time and time again, I was reminded that this is somewhat “normal” for me and many other Catholics, Christians, and/or any faithful throughout our faith-lives to be so easily distracted by secular things.

On a basic level, this distraction has roots in Satan. The more concentrated we become on God, the more frustrated Satan is. So, in an effort to separate us from God, Satan throws little distractions at us. Physically, my Mass confusion was caused by two local radio stations sharing the same frequency; however, spiritually, each time I sang the words to a popular rock song instead of staying focused on the Mass, Satan was winning. Of course, this makes me wonder if perhaps God also uses the physical effects of a Catholic station sharing the frequency with a popular rock station to gain followers from the crowd of rockers.

Even through my Mass confusion I began to wonder about other things that distract us from the beauty of Mass and therefore from God: liturgical abuses**. Recently, my mother and I were discussing various experiences we’ve had on vacations with local Masses. She recounted one particular Mass, where the Eucharist was basically reduced to ‘chips and dip’, from which my whole family emerged silent and disturbed.If we err by thinking we are the center of the Liturgy, the Mass will lead to a loss of Faith ~ Cardinal Raymond Burke We were hours from our home with three children in the car, yet none of us spoke on the way home. I remembered another experience where we spent the entire Mass trying to find anything familiar besides some of the words – the Tabernacle was nowhere to be seen, the Crucifix was MIA, rubric defined words of Consecration were changed, and the layout of the church itself was in the round. We had other experiences with fewer abuses as well. Locally, we have a diverse celebration of Mass as well, but no where near the levels experienced outside our home area. Such Mass confusion dilutes the Word of God, Jesus, to our image of Him instead of transforming us into the Image of Him.

Some seem to thrive on Mass confusion in an effort to be more tolerant, entertaining, diverse, etc. Often, those faithful to the rubrics and to both ‘t’ and ‘T’ traditions are accused of being “rubric-Nazis”, “holier-than-thou”, “intolerant”, “behind the times”, and “divisive”. Yet Scripture tells us to stay faithful to the traditions given to us by Jesus and the Apostles as well as to avoid leading others astray. God is the ultimate in constancy whereas Satan is ever changing to tempt us away from God. Yes, we are called to be welcoming and universal, but we don’t do that by abandoning 2000 years of traditions and making Mass less about God and more about ourselves. Just as I experienced Mass confusion with my radio stations blending with one another, we all experience Mass confusion when we try to bend Mass to secular understanding.

Have veneration and respect for the holy Liturgy of the church and for its ceremonies. Observe them faithfully. Don't you see that, for us poor men, even what is greatest and most noble must enter through the senses? ~ St Josemaria EscrivaThere are many questions in my mind — that I’m unsure how answer. Have any of these changes to the Mass increased vocations, faithfulness, tolerance, holiness, etc?  When we knowingly participate in a less-than-stellar Mass (according to rubrics & Tradition) do we still gain the graces given to us through Mass? By knowingly (for convenience-sake*) choosing a Mass where there is less adherence to the rubrics and Tradition, am I putting my soul at stake or am I just exposing myself to disdain (since I veil in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament) and Mass confusion? Do I mitigate whatever harm going to a confused Mass because I chose to do so based on getting my reluctant Catholic husband to Mass? Or do I add to the harm (to my soul and perhaps his) by exposing him to Mass confusion?

* Obviously, when we only have one option available for Mass, whether on vacation or due to lack of churches, we are filled with all the graces available from Mass. However, in my area, we have many available options for Mass. I live 20 miles outside of the nearest ‘big’ town, yet there are 3 Catholic churches with different pastors within 2 miles of my home. If I were to drive all the way to town I’d add at least another dozen Catholic churches to the list of available options.

** More information on common liturgical abuses:

*** As I was writing this post I was completely unaware of a book published with this same title about liturgical abuses.