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.

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.

Jesus Falls For the Second Time: Lent Bible Study Day 17

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From Heart of Mary Women’s Fellowship:

It breaks our heart when we see Jesus fall for the first time because his broken, beaten,  battered body has to bear the burden of the cross. When he falls for a second time, it hurts  again because at this point, he has met his mother, received help from Simon of Cyrene, and  found a moment of relief with Veronica, who wiped his face clean. And yet, in spite of the  support, he still falls for a second time.

There are many people out there who struggle with all sorts of addictions: drugs, alcohol,  pornography, etc. One thing that many people do when they want to break free from addictions  is get some kind of help through a support group. However, entering into rehabilitation doesn’t guarantee that people will stay on the straight and narrow.

Read the rest here!

Walking By Faith: 5 Songs for a Lenten Season

Not an actual picture of me. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Not an actual picture of me. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

While I love Audrey Assad’s latest album, Inheritance, there are a lot of other songs on my playlist that I’m listening to this Lent. Today, I want to share you ten songs from my Lenten Playlist “Walking By Faith.” If you want to see the whole playlist, check it out here.

The first song I want to share with you is Matt Maher’s “Everything is Grace.” I already loved this song because of its association with St. Therese of Lisieux, but when I read this particular meditation about Simon of Cyrene from the Heart of Mary Women’s Fellowship’s Lent Bible study, the song took on a whole new meaning.

Danielle Rose’s “Holiness is Faithfulness” is another song that is also associated with the Lent Bible study from Heart of Mary. It’s a song that meditates on the 4th Sorrowful Mystery of Jesus carrying his cross, incorporating the Stations of the Cross that lead up Jesus being nailed to the cross.

This next song is a bit of an unusual choice. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was created by an atheist and Season 6 was a heart-wrecker in the best way possible. But one major theme about Season 6 is that it empahsizes the nature of suffering a lot more. “Once More With Feeling” is an episode that conveys apathy, uncertainty, and a longing for purpose that sadly isn’t found until the very end of the season. The reason why I chose this particular song is that it conveys that resolve to keep moving on in spite of the trials that we all face. I hope you like the song without the context of the episode.

And since I started this post with Audrey Assad, it’s only fair that I end it with a song of hers from another album. “Lament” is a bit of a downer song to end on, but it’s a song I often relate to because it represents a longing for home, a longing for rest.

 

I hope you enjoy my song choices.

 

 

Side Effects of Spending Time With God

mountain high

 

Luke 6:45

“A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good, but an evil person out of a store of evil produces evil; for from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.”

 

When we love something, we have a tendency to talk non-stop about it. Think of your local sports fanatic, a friend who is about to get married, or look on tumblr at all the fans swooning over Hamilton and the endless comic book adaptations on TV and in the movies. For me, especially, I can’t stop talking about how much I love or hate something.

Last week, however, I couldn’t seem to stop talking about how much I love God. I spent so much time in Daily Mass, Adoration, Stations of the Cross, and praying in general last week that I ended up talking about my faith in a job interview and offering prayers to people who aren’t particularly religious. This is not something that I would often do, nor was it something that happened intentionally. I was so filled up with God that He comes pouring out of me.

In other words, I was basically on a spiritual high. I was receiving a lot of consolations as a side effect of spending so much time with God. But it makes sense. When you spend so much time doing something or thinking about something, it becomes all that you talk about.

In last Sunday’s gospel, Peter, James, and John had their own version of this experience during the Transfiguration. Peter wanted to stay in that moment so much, he wanted to build three tents for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. As moronic as he was (since the Gospel even said he didn’t even know what he was saying), I can totally relate to it. I wanted that feeling I had to stay with me for the rest of Lent. Alas, it didn’t.

I still feel God’s presence in my life, even if it’s not as strong as it used to be. Besides that, I’m in my first week of renewing my Marian Consecration, so there are still many graces that will hopefully come my way this Lenten season. In the meantime, here’s a little reminder about spiritual highs from Blimey Cow:

Life Unplugged: Lent Progress Report Week 1

 

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One of my Lenten resolutions was to spend less time on social media. I limited my computer browser’s time to just one hour a day using the Google Chrome extension “StayFocusd” and it’s helped a lot. The time that I would usually waste scrolling through my social media feed has been spent going to Daily Mass, Adoration, and working on my novel.

Something I noticed as I considered social activities in town is that while I love having my online friends, I don’t have a lot of friends who live closeby. Most of the time, I would see them during retreats or volunteer with them for young adult events, but I don’t see my local friends more than once a month. And since I’m considering doing another open mic night, I need a bigger crowd of moral support.

Another thing I’ve been learning is that I can offer up my non-traditional fasting (1 hr internet time, waking up at 5:30AM everyday, not reading fanfiction except on Sundays, etc.) for the sake of someone else. I learned this from the Ascension Presents YouTube channel. Check it out:

One thing I learned from fasting from fanfiction sites in particular was a sense of detachment. I’ve grown overly dependent on approval from people, especially when it came to my writing. When somebody gave me a review of a short story I wrote that I didn’t like, their harsh words would wound my heart. I also grew jealous of people who received various awards or a large amount of reviews. In contrast, spending time with my offline writing group helps me receive feedback on my novel that I can handle better. My friends are all writers and whenever they give me constructive criticism, I’m more open to listening to them. It’s helping me build a thicker skin.

At the same time, I actually got a spiritual high from all the time I spent at Daily Mass, Adoration, and in general prayer. Who knew you could get a spiritual high during Lent of all times?! I felt God’s presence in my heart for the first time in what felt like a very, very, very long time. It’s kind of awesome.

Granted, I didn’t start off Lent as well as I am doing now. For the first couple mornings, I slept through my alarm. I had to deal with the death of my grandmother and all the questions that her death brought up. My spiritual high right now is not as strong as it was a few days ago. I still miss my online friends. And unfortunately, news from the mainstream media is hard to avoid, especially when it comes to the fact that they will never understand the church. But I’m starting to discern how to establish my boundaries.  I’m slowly spending more time reading books and improving on my writing.

Next week, I start my renewal of my Consecration to Jesus Through Mary. I’m planning on using St. Louis de Montfort’s method instead of the 33 Days to Morning Glory that I used the past few years. Interestingly enough, the feast of the Annunciation falls on Good Friday. It’s an odd juxtaposition, but at the same time, the death/rebirth theme seems to be a prominent one for me this year.

Photo credit: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/shitsuren/8227704742/”>Silvia Sala</a> via <a href=”https://visualhunt.com”>Visualhunt.com</a&gt; / <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>CC BY-NC-ND</a>

Why I Refuse to Call Myself "Trash"

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I have a love-hate relationship with modern day slang. I had to deal with “swagger” being a thing during my college days, but nowadays, the latest millenial slang is pretty good. I love how “goals” is a thing along with “#squadgoals” and #relationshipgoals.” We all should have goals and aspire to have an awesome life. I also love “slay,” cuz, you know, vampire slayer lover here!

There is one word I refuse to use in reference to myself, though: Trash.

Whenever someone refers to themselves as “trash,” it means that they devote themselves so much to a fandom such as the DC shows, or to a celebrity.

It’s kind of ironic that the generation that gets called “narcissistic” refers to itself as “trash.” As if millenials don’t have enough self-esteem issues!  I get that the people of Tumblr and Twitter don’t actually mean to compare themselves to garbage, but the problem is that they forgotten that the words that we choose to call ourselves have a powerful impact on ourselves.

You know what else gets called trash? Homeless people, prostitutes, and aborted babies. No, you’re not special snowflakes, fellow millenials. You’re not entitled to whatever you want just because you want it. But at the same time, stop calling yourselves trash when you talk about how much you love something. Every single human life, no matter who they are or where they live, has a God-given intrinsic value. It’s like what Peggy Carter said in the Agent Carter season 1 finale: “I know my value. Anyone else’s opinion doesn’t really matter.”

Millenials of all ages, know what you are worth by being humble.

“Wait, what?” you ask. “How does being humble help us understand what we are worth?”

Once again, we come to a seemingly impossible paradox. Humility is not thinking the worst of yourself. It’s knowing that you can always do better. It means not seeking out attention for the sake of stroking your own vanity, but at the same time learning to give credit when credit is due. Be proud of your accomplishments, but don’t rub them into everyone’s face. And most of all, don’t go for a minimalist spirituality by thinking “Oh as long as I don’t do bad things, I won’t go to Hell.” That’s not how it works, honey.

There’s a wonderful prayer called the “Litany of Humility” that spells out what it means to be humble. It’s a prayer I highly recommend you contemplate this Lent. I often pray this during retreats. My favorite part of the prayer is “That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should…Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.” It reminds me that we are all called to holiness and that God wants us to love ourselves as much as He loves us. That does not mean referring to ourselves as trash or by becoming narcissists. It simply means knowing our own value. We are worth dying for and as such, we need to live for Him.