Lent Day 15: St. Joseph is Awesome!

Fr. Robert Barron’s Lenten meditation for today talks about how the ego gets in the way of becoming holier. If you ever encounter a person who has this “I’m holier than thou!” vibe, they’re doing it wrong!

A wonderful example of someone who lived a wonderful holy, humble life is St. Joseph whose feast day is today.

My friends Rachel and Kateri made this wonderful video about St. Joseph that goes beyond the images we usually associate with the foster father of Jesus.

The usual assumption about St. Joseph was that he was a widower, possibly old enough to be Mary’s father, and died sometime between Jesus’s preteen years and full adulthood, which could be supported by the fact that he doesn’t appear in the Gospels when Jesus officially began his ministry or at the Cross at Jesus’s death. Besides that, Catholics believe that Mary stayed a virgin after she was married. That could only happen if she was married to someone who wasn’t sexually interested in her, right?

But what if he wasn’t? What if Joseph was around the same age as Mary? After all, the child Jesus would need a role model, an example of the man he would eventually become. It would be hard to picture a child thinking of becoming a grown man if the prominent example is past his prime. Archbishop Fulton Sheen instead has his own theory: That Joseph was a young man, prime marriage material, and able to provide a living for Mary and Jesus.

But what would explain Joseph’s death? The fact that back then, men tended to have shorter life spans than women. Still applies to today, but back then the life expectancy gap was even more extreme. 

Point is this: Picture Mary as a teenager (12-14), since that was how old she could’ve been to marry at that time. And picture Joseph as somewhere close to that (say 13-16). And picture ALL of the things you heard about the things leading to Jesus’s birth and picture yourself as a teenager or a teenager in your life. Could you do the same things Joseph and Mary did in those circumstances? Probably not.

If Joseph and Mary were around today, their relationship status would be: “Joseph and Mary are in a relationship and it’s complicated” because according to the Catholic church, Mary was conceived without sin and they will raise God made flesh. So yeah, complicated relationship, but they made it work because they put God’s needs before their own. Mary and Joseph are the Gospel’s OTP! (That means one true pairing!)

Joseph as a young man provides a great testament to the fact that men can in fact be in control of their hormones. Read about how Joseph reacted to everything that happened to Mary and all the things God asked him to do. Notice that he doesn’t say a single word in the New Testament, but instead listens and obeys God. If men and women put God first and treat each other with the dignity and respect that God created us with, there would be a lot less conflict between the genders.

Lent Day 14: Faith, Fandoms, and Fairy Tales

Although Fr. Robert’s meditation for today has nothing to do with my post, I’m gonna share it anyway.

While surfing the internet, I found a series of videos from the Preaching Friars YouTube that looks at Harry Potter through a Catholic perspective. You have no idea how awesome it is when things in culture can be seen through the eyes of faith.

In my college days, I had 2 sets of friends: one group of friends were Catholic, strong in their faith. The only problem was that excluding a handful of people, it was hard to talk about stuff other than religion, literature, and current events. It was good that I was growing in my faith, but back then I loved watching Glee and listened to Top 40 music. (Mea culpa.) The other set of friends shared my interests in TV and movies, but weren’t as religious as I was.

Now I find that I’m not the only one out there who compares popes to Time Lords  and sees a lot of Catholicism in everything I watch like anime and video games.

But why the desire to integrate faith and culture?

Fiction as a whole was born from mythology and fairy tales. Myths were stories told to explain why things happened or to inspire the people through the examples of characters like Odysseus. Fairy tales were told for similar reasons. Tolkein wrote this awesome essay about fairy tales that I highly recommend you guys read. GK Chesterton said: “Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.”

In a similar way, Harry Potter and all the other fandoms in mainstream culture have become our fairy tales. They all teach us to have courage or something else about life that we have to overcome.

But we can’t let our fandoms blind us or consume us because in the end, they are fiction. They can’t become an escape from reality. Doug Walker of Channel Awesome goes into this in his video “When is a Movie Just a Movie?” Only apply what he said about film to anything that has a following, like a TV show or books. When it comes to anything we love, we have to practice the idea of detachment and indifference, which I will go into further detail sometime this week.

Today, I want you to think about how the things you love could be seen in the eyes of faith. If it doesn’t seem to be such, why is that thing in your life?

Lent Day 13: Aftermath

At the end of the retreat I staffed yesterday, there was a talk about how to take what you’ve learned from the retreat and carry it with you. 

It seems like after a retreat, there are five stages that retreaters go through.

  1. Adding everyone you met at the retreat onto social media accounts, whether you really bonded with them or not
  2. Having a spiritual high, feeling totally motivated to go out into the world and spread the good news.
  3. Getting caught up in everyday life and eventually slipping up
  4. Feeling guilty about slipping up
  5. Realizing that God’s mercy is infinite and all the stuff you heard at the retreat was seriously true.

But as the awesome young adults at Blimey Cow pointed out, a spiritual high is just a feeling. And feelings, as I’ve learned recently are not always reliable. However, as I said before, pushing away emotions is just as unhealthy as dwelling on your emotions.

So the question remains: What exactly can you do when the spiritual high is gone?

One suggestion from Fr. Robert Barron is to take prayer with you on your daily commute. Pope Francis suggested something similar, only he used a train ride as a hypothetical situation instead of a car. Think of it as a tiny spiritual energy boost. It saves you from being rude to other drivers and you can forgive said other drivers if and when they are ever rude to you.

But that’s everyday life, you say. What about when we find ourselves at our lowest point?

“Hand it over.” Also known as “Offer it up.” Catholics say either one of these phrases a lot. But what does it mean?

Handing your problems over or offering up your sufferings means sharing in Christ’s suffering, putting meaning to your suffering. Also, be joyful in your suffering. NOTE: THIS IS NOT A FORM OF MASOCHISM! Being joyful in your suffering means acknowledging that whatever bad things are happening in your life are temporary. Even if the entire year seems to suck for you, eventually it will pass over and a new year will begin.

This is definitely easier said than done, I know. But I put that list of songs yesterday for anyone who felt like they were at their lowest point.

After all, according to The Legend of Korra, “When we hit our lowest point, we are open to the greatest change.”

Since today is St. Patrick’s Day, I will end this post with a prayer attributed to him:

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Lent Days 10-12: The Post-Retreat Reflection/Megapost

If any of y’all are wondering why I didn’t blog for the past three days, it was because I was away on retreat. However, I wasn’t a participant, but a staff member. Due to confidentiality, I can’t talk about what I did this weekend in detail, but I can divulge everything I felt that weekend. 

I should tell you that before this retreat, I have never been a staff member. Heck, I was never a staff member for anything in high school or college. But I was eager to do my part and help create the best weekend for 40+ young adults. 

In theatre, there’s a saying: “There are no small parts, only small actors.” This applies to retreats as well as to life itself. One of Fr. Robert Barron’s Lenten meditations this weekend talks about how people are often so caught up in having life revolve around them rather than try a role that God wants them to try. In my case, although I was a volunteer, I was assigned a position that I did not ask for. However, I decided to accept it and offer it up.

At first, it was a lot of fun. I got to be hands-on, involved in preparing many events and activities. By the end of the first day, my legs were totally sore from being on my feet the whole day, but I felt that it was totally worth it.

The next day was more intense than the first, for both the retreaters and for me. It started off well, with me helping the retreaters grow in their faith and assisting in a Bible study. But a lot of little disappointments happened throughout the day. I was a newcomer to the staff, so there were times that I felt left out amidst the more experienced workers. It built up to a point that by the time dinner came around, I found that I had nowhere to sit. I went off to a staff-only room and started crying.

I hated that I felt left out and invisible. I wanted to be okay with the idea of not being noticed or belonging, but I wasn’t. Throughout the day, I kept pushing aside those small times when I hated being unacknowledged and dinnertime was the breaking point. I didn’t understand why I felt forgotten even though I prayed to have that fear of being forgotten taken away from me. Then, a few people came into the room: two acquaintances and a priest. I told them about how I was feeling, how I hated how I felt, and how I wished I felt something else.

I don’t remember the specific words that the priest said, but he did say something about how the Lord might be testing me in my desire for humility. My acquaintances reassured me that even though I didn’t think my actions went unnoticed, they did notice and, more importantly, God noticed. I realized two things after venting: 

1) I had to acknowledge how I felt with indifference. Acknowledging an emotion, positive or negative, means identifying how you feel. However, you can’t think that the emotion you feel is good or bad, you just have to accept that it’s there.

2) I was finally experiencing everything I was writing about for the past week. I now know what it’s like to live out my faith, what it meant to be humble, what it meant to empty and completely surrender myself.

In other words, the priest was right. I was being tested by God. But God was there even when I wasn’t aware of Him. Fr. Robert Barron’s Friday meditation says that Christ crucified is where God finds us when we are at our darkest. It’s no coincidence that the staff room I hid in had a crucifix and that I was crying underneath it. God was with me there and then.

Earlier in this blog, I compared challenging yourself in Lent to learning how to swim. During this weekend, I felt like I was swimming myself over a waterfall. But after focusing myself on God, I found my center with Him. I realized that I needed Him and that He would always be with me. I meditated on Psalm 139 that night during Adoration. Then, the same priest who consoled me read a passage from the Gospel of Luke, the story of the bleeding woman. One verse resonated with me: “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.” I felt healed as soon as I heard it. Like Fr. Robert Barron said in his meditation for today, my life felt elevated because I encountered Christ alongside everyone else.

The rest of the night was wonderful. I got to know more people and felt excited for the upcoming day.

But it wouldn’t be long before I would be tested again.

Towards the end of the retreat, I started to feel left out again. This time, it was because it didn’t seem like there was any material proof the words my friends told me yesterday were true. This time, I knew I was being tempted, but I felt the tears coming around again. This time, I pulled one of my friends aside and went to a staff-only room with her. She became that material proof that took the doubts away, telling me that I was appreciated and that my work hasn’t gone unnoticed. She wanted to hang out with me after the retreat. That was all I needed. I know, I’m a doubting Thomas. But I got over myself a lot faster this time.

The last day of the retreat involved a lot of prayer and amazing music. I’ll end this blog entry with a few songs from the retreat and pictures that I took today that reminded me of everything I experienced.

 

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May the blessing of the Lord be upon you, the blessing of the Father and the Son and may the spirit of God, the spirit of love be with you all your days.

God will give you more than you can handle: I guarantee it.

all our lemmony things

There’s a certain phrase I’ve come to really dislike.

All my life, I’ve heard this phrase whenever I go through a rough patch. *And by rough patch, I mean a prickly, gnarly patch that leaves me bleeding to near death*. You’re probably familiar with those kinds of “patches”.

“God will never give you more than you can handle” is the phrase I’m referring to.

more than to bear

And it’s a sweet sentiment, really. The people who say it are speaking from caring and concerned hearts.

BUT–it isn’t true.

I know that sounds harsh, but I promise I haven’t suddenly lost my mind or have become an angry-with-God bitter woman who hates the world. Actually, when I realized the simple fact that God can–and will–give us more than we can possibly bear, it got easier.

And it all started to make more sense.

I’ve often trudged through trials that overwhelm me. Ever since my…

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Lent Day 9: For Such a Time as This

One of my favorite Old Testament books is the book of Esther. The Jewish holiday of Purim begins Saturday night. Today’s First Reading features Esther in a time of prayer. 

Sometimes, things happen that inspire us to change our perspectives, which Fr. Robert Barron talks about in his Lent Reflection. For Esther, she realized that it was no coincidence that she was chosen to become queen at a time when her people needed someone to save them from Haman’s genocide. Last year, it was no coincidence that the 50th Anniversary of Vatican II happened at the same year that Pope Benedict decided to abdicate and Pope Francis was elected.

Timing is everything and since God is the creator and master of time, it was His will that all of these things happened. To this day, I still wonder why Benedict chose to retire, even though I know that he wanted to retire before he was elected. He chose to be pope for eight years, setting the foundation for some changes in the Church that were more interior than exterior. Because of Benedict, the Mass has changed and I’m starting to forget the times before the new Roman Missal.

I’ll be honest when I say that I took him for granted at the time. #cradleCatholicproblems, I know. But I took the pope for granted even back as a kid when John Paul II was pope. I took both popes for granted for different reasons. When John Paul II was pope, I was a little kid who saw him as an old man. He was past his prime, struggling with Parkinsons, and I didn’t know any better. When Benedict became pope, I was a teenager and I was holding onto my faith during a really hard time, but the problem was I didn’t know what it really meant to be Catholic and there wasn’t really anyone around to help me because I was in public school. In college, I realized how amazing both of these popes were and I figured that Benedict would lead the church until God called him home.

Of course, that didn’t happen. And I’ll be honest: I cried when I heard the news. I knew the news could’ve been worse, but I had no idea that popes could choose to not be pope. I felt abandoned and confused. I wasn’t alone in how I felt, either. It was like Lent had started early. I still miss Pope Benedict today, but I always love seeing him, just knowing that he’s alive and well, even though he’s retired.

Fast forward to March 13, 2013.

I was in the living room, watching the Sistine Chapel’s chimney, waiting for the white smoke to come. So far, I have only seen black smoke and it felt like an answer was taking forever. I knew the times that the smoke was likely to appear, but that morning, it took forever

And then at 1:07PM CST (7:07 Vatican time), the white smoke finally came out.

I started dancing in my living room and I wasn’t the only one. St. Peter’s square was screaming and every Catholic on the internet was rejoicing. Ain’t no party like a Catholic party, people, because we are all connected through our shared baptism and when something like this happens, we can’t help but celebrate.

My mom told me that when God chose the pope in the conclave, he wasn’t just choosing a pope for the 1.2 billion Catholics in the world, but that He also chose the new pope for me. God’s timing was working in my life because as I said before, the fact that there was going to be a new pope lifted me up from the sad part of my life. And this was before I even knew who the new pope was going to be.

My first impression of Pope Francis was “He’s kind of awkward and shy.” What I didn’t realize was that he was taking in the crowd and I soon learned just how not awkward or shy Pope Francis was.

Now while people think that Pope Francis is turning the Catholic Church upside-down, I’ll tell you right now, he’s not. The song is the same, but the way the song is played has changed. Think of it this way: if Jesus’s message is like the original version of the best song you’ve ever heard, every pope since then is that band that tries to make their best cover version of that song. Some have made horrible covers, some are okay, and some covers are as awesome as the original. John Paul II’s song was like the showstopping number of an amazing musical. Benedict’s song was a lot more quiet, like a piano sonata. Francis’s song has just begun, but I compare it to an indie pop song that made its way onto the Billboard Top 40. And all of them are equally beautiful in their own way.

But in the end, all popes are striving to sing the same song: follow the example of Christ and live out His message. 

Today, think about how God’s timing has worked its way into your life and pray for all the popes that have come before. Also, pray for Pope Francis, since he asked us so nicely.

Lent Day 8: Sink or Swim

The first week of Lent for some people can be a period of denial. “I only have to fast once a week. I can wait for the Penitential Service to go to Confession. I just have to give a little more at the collection plate, right?”

Sorry, buddy, but during this time of Lent, we are at the deep end of the swimming pool of life and it’s sink or swim. 

Now I know there’s that quote that goes: “If grace is an ocean, then we’re all sinking.” This is true. But guess who knows how to walk on water and becomes our lifeguard and swimming coach? That’s right, Jesus.

In the words of Patheos blogger Billy Kangas, “Lent is about God helping us.”

Lent is a time that God challenges us to push ourselves. Sometimes, that comes with suffering. But in the words of Harry Potter: 

And if you’re not a Harry Potter fan, here’s some encouragement from St. Philip Neri:

Do not grieve over the temptations you suffer. When the Lord intends to bestow a particular virtue on us, He often permits us first to be tempted by the opposite vice. Therefore, look upon every temptation as an invitation to grow in a particular virtue and a promise by God that you will be successful, if only you stand fast.
— St. Philip Neri

One challenge offered by Fr. Robert Barron comes in the form of almsgiving. Catholic website Busted Halo offers micro-challenges everyday in their Lenten Calendar

My challenge for you today is for you to break a bad habit. Go beyond giving up smoking or drinking. Think of the worst habit you have, whether it’s wasting time on the internet or snacking between meals. (Incidentally that’s the tip of the iceberg of my personal vice.) Pray to God for the strength to overcome these bad habits.

Lent Day 7: Distracted

Fr. Robert Barron’s Lent Reflection for today advised the subscribers to try and reduce distractions so that there would be time to focus on more important things. Too bad I got that e-mail late into the afternoon, during which I was drowning myself in distractions. 

Time for some honesty: I like being distracted. I like planning, but procrastinating is just as fun. This is especially true on days when there’s nothing immediate around the corner.

The problem is that this time, there is something coming around: my weekend retreat. I can’t give away details (confidentiality agreement), but I’ll be on staff for a retreat this weekend and part of the process involves writing affirmation letters. I have been procrastinating on finishing these letters because right now, I don’t feel like I’m being sincere. I also feel like I’m being fake when I write these because I am writing to strangers, but I know that these letters are important.

It doesn’t help that I didn’t get up when my alarm went off and that I totally forgot to do my morning prayers. But this is all part of Lent. We fall so that we can get back up again.

In true procrastinator fashion, I will strive to do my best to finish these letters first thing tomorrow morning. I pray that I actually get up when my alarm goes off and spend my day productively.

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Lent Day 6: Ways to Pray

Fr. Robert Barron’s Lenten reflection today gives some prayer suggestions to use for Lent as part of the tradition of prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

But here’s a question: Why do we pray?

Most Christians believe that God knows everything. Also, he’s not a genie so it’s not like if we pray, that prayer will be answered right away or even in the way we want it to happen.

Prayer is more for the person praying. It’s the best way to develop a closer relationship with God by telling Him how we feel, what we want, and maybe intercede on behalf of other people. Through prayer, people have received physical, mental, and emotional healing. It’s a form of meditation and it relieves stress. Most of all, it reminds us to be humble because we can’t solve every problem in our lives by ourselves. In times of grief, prayer is one of the few ways that can help a grieving heart that doesn’t require medication or therapy.

There are so many ways to pray. Fr. Robert Barron’s reflection offers some simple ways, but if you want a challenge, try going on a retreat.

Pope Francis is off on retreat this week. Retreats are a time that includes a lot of prayer. I highly recommend going on a retreat during this Lenten season. I did retreats during Lent back when I was in college and they were seriously awesome. This weekend, I’ll be on staff for a retreat for college students. It should be fun.

Another way to pray is to do a meditative walk. It doesn’t have to be anywhere special as long as you can be alone with God. Pray the Rosary or Litany or the start of a novena. (PS: St. Joseph’s novena starts today. If you want to pray for a job, St. Joseph is the guy to ask.)

I went on a walk today on the path around the local reservoir seen in the picture below. It was a lot of fun.

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My challenge for you: Find a prayer that you’re unfamiliar with and pray it during this Lenten season.

Lent Day 5: The Marathon to the Finish

Fr. Robert Barron’s Lent Reflection today talks about what the finish line for Lent is: eventually celebrating Christ’s Resurrection. But that’s the finish line and we are only at the start of Lent and it seems like Easter will take forever.

It helps to view Lent not as a race to get to the “happy ending,” but a marathon. My friends Kateri and Rachel compared Lent to spiritual training. The end goal of Lent is that by the time we get to celebrating Christ’s Resurrection, we will have grown closer to God. The fasting, prayer, and almsgiving is part of our training.

Now if you’re like me and the thought of anything relating to athletics makes you feel exhausted, it’s okay. Just think of a 40-day long term project that requires complete and total commitment towards becoming a better person. 

There are times in this marathon that we might fall down, but that’s part of the process. That’s why churches offer Confessions after Stations of the Cross or have Penitential services. There are also retreats, Bible studies, fish fries, and other community-oriented events that take place during this time of year. So even though we are in this marathon, we’re not running alone. 

Keep your eyes on the goal this Lent. This picture of Christ in the form of the Eucharist represents Christ’s presence within our realm and what we are all running towards.

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