The Hard Thing About Humility

Mutter Teresa, lachend, Dezember 1985

Since the official date of Mother Teresa’s canonization has been announced, I want to look into her insights on humility today.

Practicing humility is not an easy feat. It’s one thing to imagine the concept of humility, but actually living it out is hard.

“These are the few ways we can practice humility:

To speak as little as possible of one’s self.”

In this social media-saturated world, we always love to talk about ourselves. It can be as vague as a passive-aggressive Facebook status or as blatant as a duckface selfie. I’m not immune to this given that part of my job involves promoting myself. It’s one thing to promote one’s work out of necessity. We all have to make a living somehow. But when your conversations consist of constant whining or bragging about your accomplishments, you have little room in your heart for anything else.

Since we’re close to Holy Week, if you’re gonna spend time on social media, I hope that you can contribute more positive things to your feed instead of another selfie.

 

“To mind one’s own business.”

When we’re not talking about ourselves, America’s actual favorite pastime is gossip. It’s basically the only reason why anyone knows who Kim Kardashian is. I love learning the latest news in regards to my favorite actors and singers, but I try my best to limit things. I think this also applies to people who get too involved in political debates and office gossip.

Pope Francis had some harsh words to say about gossiping. His words are harsh and blunt, I know. But try going a day without gossiping and see what a difference it can make in your life.

 

“Not to want to manage other people’s affairs.”

How often do we try to micromanage other people’s lives? How often do we act like we’re somebody’s mother in the worst way possible through constant nagging and unsolicited advice? Unless we are given actual positions of authority, intervening in other people’s lives is usually best reserved for emergency situations.

It’s okay to give advice if you are asked and if you feel like you can give a sound answer. But what’s more important is to listen intently. You’d be surprised at how things can change when you actually listen to others.

 

“To avoid curiosity.”

This one is especially hard for me. I was given insatiable curiosity from the time I learned how to read. I always want to know the story behind something. But I understand why curiosity can be a bad thing. Not all information out there is worth knowing about. There are things people do behind closed doors that I’d rather be blissfully unaware of. Insatiable curiosity can open up the door to temptation.

Avoiding curiosity doesn’t mean to close yourself off from current events, though. It just means knowing that there are limits to what you already know and trying not to overload yourself with too much information. The main villain in Avengers: Age of Ultron became arrogant because of all the knowledge he gained and saw destroying the world as the best way to maintain order. Vision stood as a contrast to Ultron because he’s aware of his own limits.

 

“To accept contradictions and correction cheerfully.”

As a writer, it was really hard for me to accept criticism, even of the constructive kind. Writing this blog has helped to an extent, but I’m still learning how to take the feedback I get from comments and other writers. I really appreciate my local writing group because we’ve worked out a way to give feedback that mixes positive remarks with things that we all need to improve on.

 

“To pass over the mistakes of others.”

It’s not easy to overlook people’s little faults. It’s also not easy to look at the latest Buzzfeed article and wonder “where the hell do they find these people?”

This does not mean to excuse abusive behavior or just let bad things slide. I choose to interpret this idea as choosing what to get angry about. We can’t fix every little flaw in every person we see.

I totally get that “Judge not” gets taken out of context a lot. But the best way to actually practice the act of admonishing others while still being humble is to meet people where they are and treat them as friends, not as projects.

 

“To accept insults and injuries.”

Scroll around the internet long enough and you’ll probably find something insulting the Catholic Church. It’s even worse when people who claim to be Catholic insult other Catholics and injure others with their words or actions. Mother Teresa dealt with her own share of insults and injuries, but she never took them lying down. She always responded with a firm voice and a bit of sass for good measure. If you don’t believe me, there’s a story about her in Catholicism in which she tries getting some food for a poor child only to be met with a baker spitting in her face. She responded with “Thanks for the nice gift, now how about something for the child?”

 

“To accept being slighted, forgotten and disliked.”

Dear Aaron Burr should’ve learned a bit about dealing with always coming short of Hamilton’s success. Hamilton himself was almost lost to history, forgotten because of what the other Founding Fathers said about him. I also dealt with my share of being overlooked. But the thing is that we can’t take neglect personally. When one door closes, another opportunity comes around soon enough.

Whenever I serve on retreat, I go there knowing that I probably won’t be acknowledged for the work that I’ve done. But I see the results of my generosity whenever the retreaters talk about how much fun they had at the end. It’s enough for me to know that I helped contribute to their happiness.

 

“To be kind and gentle even under provocation.”

It’s really hard to maintain a kind attitude when people are acting nasty. I have no idea how these riots at Trump’s rallies happen and yet you’d think that a presidential candidate would discourage that kind of behavior. But if I could say something to Trump supporters, it would be this: If you really want to make America great again, try practicing kindness and actual generosity to those you don’t like.

 

“Never to stand on one’s dignity.”

There’s a line from a song in Rent that goes “Will I lose my dignity?” It’s part of a round that asks about the uncertainties of life. In a musical where the majority of characters suffer from AIDS, that question is a legitimate one. And yet, in the musical, we see all the characters lose their dignity in some way. In spite of that, the seven friends are able to find happiness. It just took them a long time to get there.

 

“To choose always the hardest.”

It’s hard to be humble. It’s hard to do all the things that Mother Teresa has listed here. But as my favorite TV show has said “The hardest thing in this world is to live in it. Be brave. Live.”

I hope that you take the time to reflect on the idea of humility and that you can practice humility in your lives.

Being on "God's Time"

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I never thought I would be so annoyed about setting the clocks forward. Since I already wake up earlier than usual as part of my Lenten resolution, I’ve lost a little more sleep now that Daylight Savings Time has started. And I really could’ve used some extra sleep since my retreat ended on Saturday night.

But as I’ve learned on retreats, you are never really on your own time, but actually “God’s time.” Retreats have schedules, but things rarely go as planned or go as smoothly as we want them to. The same thing applies to real life. We may have all these plans about how we want our day to go, but something always throws us off our schedule. It could be the kids crying, rush hour traffic, an unexpected request from a co-worker, etc. As Taylor Swift said “Life is full of little interruptions.”

One thing I struggle with is how to be flexible with my time while trying to stick to a schedule. I used to plan everything down to the minute to the point that one tiny distraction or interruption would throw me off completely. Now that I work from home, I have to make my own schedule and structure my day in small ways.

Another thing that I also struggle with, when it comes to God’s timing, is trusting in his providence. I have the very awful tendency to compare my life to other people’s. It seems like everyone I know is in a relationship, getting married, having babies, working full-time…and I’m stuck at home, waiting for my life to start.

It wasn’t until I watched Yulin Kuang recap how 2015 was for her that I learned the meaning behind the idea of “Don’t compare your behind the scenes to everyone else’s highlight reel.” She pointed out that she didn’t document her disappointments and that a lot of her year was spent waiting. “So much so that you couldn’t stand it.” It made me realize that everyone has long waiting periods at some point or another. Rome wasn’t built in a day and there’s no such thing as an actual overnight sensation.

I’m only three months into 2016 and I’ve already been on one retreat. I have plans for travelling next month as well as this summer. I contributed to a Bible study and am trying to be consistent with my goals and my prayer life. A lot of my blessings have been of the interior, both this year and throughout my post-college life. But all that waiting led to amazing things in the long run.

I am always on God’s time, even when I don’t want to be. After all, Romans 8:28 says “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”

So let’s hope that whatever God has in store for me this year was worth waiting for.

Advancing While Retreating

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Last weekend, I was away on a 2-day Ignatian retreat. This retreat was unique from all the others I attended or staffed in a few ways.

For one thing, the retreat was more contemplative, focusing on a series of reflections that centered on who we thought Christ was, forgiveness, and the idea of dying to oneself and rising in Christ.

I spent a lot more time in silence during this retreat than any other retreat. It wasn’t a silent retreat, but the contemplative nature of the retreat and the gorgeous almost-spring weather prompted me to forget about trying to make small talk and enjoy my surroundings. This was especially true on Friday evening, when I caught sight of the night sky as I was walking towards the Stations of the Cross. It’s true what they say, y’all. The stars at night are bigger and brighter in Texas. It was like seeing them for the first time. When there was a long break on Saturday afternoon, I walked around the retreat property, appreciating all the wildflowers and trees. But my favorite place was a small lake that was perfect for skipping rocks. It was so nice and quiet there.

One thing I learned in this retreat is that when you spend time in silence, there is nothing standing between you and God. During the times I spent in silence, I realized that I was still holding parts of myself back from God. I also had problems enjoying the moment because on the one hand, I didn’t want the retreat to end. On the other hand, I was already longing for the trip home and the promise of fries and ICEEs from Buc-ees.

I went to this retreat seeking out answers and came home with my heart and conscience clear, but my future still uncertain. In spite of the uncertainty, though, I feel like I found a starting point. My life with Christ starts with me dying to myself and letting Christ have all of my heart. I found detachment from a lot of things I was obsessing over, but I also missed my friends. I found a sense of balance.

I highly recommend that if you get the opportunity this Lent, go on retreat or spend at least an hour in silence with God. You’ll be amazed at what you will find.

On Retreat With Pope Francis

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Tomorrow and Saturday, I will be on retreat and it’ll be a different experience from my usual retreats. For one thing, I’m going as an attendant and not as part of the volunteer staff. The other thing that makes this particular retreat different from the ones in the past is that it’s an Ignatian retreat. While I did an Ignatian Spiritual Exercise during one college retreat, I never had the full Ignatian retreat experience.

In anticipation of my upcoming retreat, I’m reflecting on the 10 questions Pope Francis had to reflect on during his own retreat this week.

 

1. “What are you looking for?” (John 1:38)

This will be the question on my mind when I start my retreat. What am I looking for? I want so much out of life, and yet are any of these desires compatible with God’s will? Will the things I want help me further on my road to holiness?

As far as the retreat is concerned, I am looking for a closer relationship with Christ. I also want to know how I can integrate my faith into my daily life, especially when I go into places where people might be hostile towards the Catholic Church. Can I evangelize incognito? If so, how?

 

2. “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (Mark 4:40)

Even though I don’t have anxiety attacks on a daily basis anymore, the attacks can still come when I least expect it. There are things that I am still afraid of that I’m not sure God can fix, in spite of what I already know. When I think of all the things I’m afraid of, though, I offer these fears up and ask God to help me handle my fears.

This quote from Saint Teresa of Avila also comes to mind:

Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.

 

3. “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again?” (Matthew 5:13)

Whenever millennials say that a person is acting “salty,” they mean that a person is acting upset, jealous, or bitter. This Bible verse, however, refers to how salt makes people thirsty. In modern day terms, “thirsty” means longing for something. It’s usually used when someone wants to be in a relationship.

People who are the salt of the earth help others long for a relationship with Christ. Unfortunately, there are times that even the best of Christians and Catholics can act “salty” instead of being the salt of the earth. In my experience, praying the Litany of Humility helped as a counter to that upset, jealous, or bitter attitude.

 

4. “But who do you say that I am?” (Luke 9:20)

So many misconceptions of who Jesus is. They see the Son of Man, the Word made flesh as just “a nice guy,” or “a spiritual guru,” or “a teacher.” Then there are others who use Jesus to justify their political platforms, whether they be conservative or liberal. One recently bad instance of this is an abortion clinic owner who said that she grew up believing in a Jesus who would just be okay with women who chose to terminate the lives of their children. Jesus represents God’s mercy, but He would not just be “okay” with the death of innocents.

Who do you think Jesus is? If your answer can fit into a neat little box, you’ve got the wrong answer.

 

5. “Then, turning to the woman, he told Simon, ‘Do you see this woman?’” (Luke 7:44)

One unique thing about the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises is that they provide a way to immerse yourself into scripture, using the power of the imagination. This particular quote comes from the story of the woman with the alabaster jar who showered Jesus’s feet with her tears and kisses, wiped the tears away with her hair, and anointed them with perfume.

Simon, a Pharisee, didn’t see the woman’s loving actions or her quiet penitential attitude. Instead, he saw her as just a prostitute, a sinful woman, and judged her. Jesus compelled Simon to see the sinful woman through the eyes of mercy.

How often do we brush aside people who are trying to make a better life for themselves because we can’t see past our own prejudices? I particularly remember how an acquaintance of mine received a lot of harsh judgment for his struggles with addiction and depression. I’m really glad that he found help, but I ask for God’s mercy for those who label him a lost cause.

Do you see everyone in your life as your fellow brother and sister in Christ?

 

6. “How many loaves do you have?” (Mark 6:38, Matthew 15:34)

This is a weird Bible verse to meditate on at first glance. Most Catholics are very familiar with the miracle of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fish. So why would we focus on the part when Jesus asks his apostles about how much food was available?

This article from Aleteia gives a wonderful insight to this particular question. In this particular verse, Jesus is calling us to look at what we have and offer it all to Him.

My local parish is currently asking me and my fellow parishioners to consider tithing in the coming months due to financial issues that I won’t go into here. Needless to say, I feel like this Bible verse comes to mind. How much should we give to God, financially and spiritually?

At the very least, 10%. At most? Nothing short of everything.

 

7. “Straightening up, Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?’” (John 8:10)

This verse comes from this Sunday’s Gospel, which recounts the story of the woman caught in adultery. I am constantly fascinated by the details of this Gospel passage. For one thing, according to Bishop Robert Barron, the fact that this takes place in or in front of the temple represents how Jesus is restoring God’s law to its proper use. Then, of course, there’s the matter of what the heck Jesus wrote on the ground. (Where’s Instagram when you need it?!)

But this particular verse goes out to those who are most in need of God’s mercy. This is for those who dwell on the guilt of their sin too much. Don’t be plagued by people who constantly keep a record of wrongs and remind you of your past faults. God’s mercy is waiting for you.

 

8. “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” (John 20:15)

This question is asked to Mary Magdalene, who is crying because she doesn’t know where Jesus is.

Who is she seeking? Her friend and teacher. The man who cured her of the seven demons that possessed her. The Savior who changed her life forever.

She didn’t know, at that moment, that Jesus was with her. That he conquered death and will ask her to share the news of his resurrection to his Apostles.

It reminds me of Audrey Assad’s “Slow,” which starts out with these lyrics:

You’ve drawn so close that it’s hard to see you
And you speak so softly that it’s hard to hear you

Give the song a listen and see how Mary Magdalene’s experience ties into it.

 

9.“Simon, son of John, do you love me?” (John 21:16)

Dear Protestant brothers and sisters: If you want proof that Peter was always going to be head of the Church, in spite of the fact that he denied Christ three times, read this passage from the Gospel of John.

Jesus asks Peter three times “Do you love me?” The same number of times that Peter denied Christ. In this moment, Jesus showed Peter forgiveness and told Peter his mission. Jesus is basically telling Peter “History Has Its Eyes On You.” And like Hamilton, Peter had no control over who lived, who died, and who would tell his story.

This passage compels us to put ourselves in Peter’s shoes. In spite of the times that we deny Christ, do we still love Him?

 

10. “Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be?’” (Luke 1:34).

It’s funny that the last question of the retreat focuses on the beginning of Jesus’s story, at his conception in the Annunciation. It’s also very strange that Good Friday and the feast of the Annunciation are happening on the same day this year. “How can this be?” is indeed the question of the day.

I had my own Annunciation experience recently when an opportunity for a vocations retreat came my way. This time, a particular order sought me out instead of me finding one. During the phone interview, I told the sister that I felt as if I was experiencing what Mary went through in the Annunciation: astonishment, wonder, anticipation. I was also afraid, but I wasn’t anxious, because I knew that God would be with me. It’s no surprise, then, that after that phone interview, I was guaranteed a spot for the vocations retreat.

When God sends an opportunity your way, it may feel surprising at first. But like Mary, it’s good to ask questions. Once they’ve been asked, though, let go of all doubt and let God in.

I Am A Woman: A Poem

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I am a woman facing uncertainty
Sometimes my best laid plains are just castles in the sky
Other times, my desires are like flowers
I learn to bloom where I’m planted

I am a woman like a tree covered with scars
I am not broken by those who caused them
Like a soda bottle, I get shaken a lot
Like a vodka martini, I never get stirred

I am a woman whose feelings stir her heart like the currents of the sea
I’m caught in their riptide, but i’m not drowning
I’m swimming for my life in an ocean of grace
More often than not, I find myself sinking

I am a woman who sinks down at the party, wearing a mask
Acting like a monster to scare people away
Sometimes I do this to see who’s left standing
Other times I do it so that they’ll leave me alone

I am a woman who feels lonely a lot
Trying to find belonging from anywhere and everywhere
Getting nowhere with my charade
Wishing for companions like how girls wish for horses

I am a woman who knows what she wants
My dreams become stories and I write them all down
Hoping that my words will resonate with others
I’m writing in the hope, in the knowledge that I am not alone

I am a woman

#TransformationTuesday: Walking Through The Rainstorms

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My current favorite song from Taylor Swift is not one of her big hit singles. It’s the 13th song of her album 1989 “Clean.”  When she went on the 1989 tour, she did a speech before performing this particular song. Here’s a variation of one of them:

I still remember how lost I felt a few years ago. I was so trapped by all the anxieties and lies that almost lost myself. And if it wasn’t for God holding me in his arms and leading me out of that dark place, I don’t know where I would be. The most astonishing thing, though, is that the pain I felt all those years ago is not there anymore. I don’t even imagine that memory in the same way anymore.

I still see the girl I used to be huddled in the backseat of the car, parked at a rest stop, hyperventilating while clutching my phone. I still remember the rain falling down. There weren’t any divine interventions. Just the smallest realization that I had to stop giving into the lies. I was a child of God. And nobody was going to decide what I would do or how I would feel except me. It was a quiet revelation. The way I choose to remember it now is that all the prayers from my family, the saints, and friends that I haven’t met yet came down on me just like the rain on the car. These prayers became my strength. I had a song in my heart that I didn’t know the words to, but it was there.

I never expected that the scars would fade. I never thought I would ever get out of the dark. But I did. And this was not a journey I took by myself. God led me out. So many saints intervened. My parents pushed me to volunteer and get myself out there. The healing was a long and slow process, but I feel so much stronger now. The broken pieces of my heart have been put back together, held by the grace of God. I’m no longer lost in the dark. It’s very much like what Jenny Williams said on her “Modern Day Ruth” blog: God’s love encountered me every day that I felt lost and now he’s given me wings to fly.

Since today is International Women’s Day, here’s my message to all women who are in a dark place right now, who find themselves walking through torrential rain or a firestorm of pain: You are not alone. You will get out. There is a light that is shining through this darkness. Choose to be strong in Christ and walk through all the storms with Him. Eventually you’ll find yourself again. And you’ll find that you are so much stronger than you ever thought you’d be.

Photo attributed to Jenny Williams from “A Modern Day Ruth” and “Ruby Wives.”

Jesus Falls For The 3rd Time: Lent Day 23

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From Heart of Mary Women’s Fellowship:

Who is Mary Magdalene? She’s a saint that’s shrouded in mystery. She’s a woman who’s been  labeled as everything from a prostitute, to Jesus’s secret wife, to a goddess. Let me tell you right now, no matter what you may have heard about Mary Magdalene, the Apostle to the Apostles was none of those things.

So who was Mary Magdalene?

Find out here!

 

Jesus Falls a Third Time: Lent Bible Study Day 21

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From Heart of Mary Women’s Fellowship:

The hard part of living a Christian life isn’t when we make mistakes or find ourselves struggling. It’s regaining the will to try again. We live in a society that sells this illusion of unattainable perfection, that we can’t let anyone see our problems or else end up being mocked and ridiculed or worse, written off as a lost cause.

But this particular station shows us that as human beings, we are bound to fall down at one point or another. Sometimes, we fall constantly. But the important part is getting back up again. Having perseverance and the conviction to press on in spite of the constant struggles and trials that we face isn’t easy.

Read the rest here!

Jesus Meets the Women of Jerusalem: Lent Day 19

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From Heart of Mary Women’s Fellowship

“Blessed are the barren, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed.”  

Whenever I look at this verse, I can’t help but think that Jesus knew about the ongoing battle to  keep babies alive in the womb. It calls to mind how there are videos out there of people who  work at abortion clinics negotiating prices for the body parts of aborted babies. It calls to mind  how often large families get mocked and criticized. It calls to mind celebrities who promote a  freewheeling, self-centered lifestyle at the expense of everyone else.

Yep. I went there. Speaking out against abortion in a Lent Bible study. Read the rest here.