How To Survive Valentine’s Day When It’s Also Ash Wednesday

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It’s that time of year again. If you want proof that God has a sick and twisted sense of humor, look at your calendar. Not only does Ash Wednesday fall today, which is also Valentine’s Day, but Easter falls on April Fool’s Day.

For today, I want to focus on how you, fellow Catholics, can survive this day, whether you are single or in a relationship, because Valentine’s Day is hard enough as it is!

  1. If you’re in a relationship, be creative with what you cook for dinner tonight. If dinner is your “big meal,” try making a cheese pizza (no meat) or some nice salmon filets. Or make plans to eat out at a restaurant on Saturday and use today as an opportunity to practice patience!
  2. If you’re single, make breakfast your “big meal.” Having a healthy breakfast will help you have enough energy for the rest of the day.
  3. Drink plenty of liquids throughout the day: water, orange juice, vegetable juice, milk, or hot chocolate if you’re in the Valentine’s mood. Hot chocolate doesn’t count as a meal or a snack, at least not for me.
  4. Whether you’re single or in a relationship, spend time in Adoration today! Check if your local church has the Blessed Sacrament exposed or just spend time in prayer.
  5. Remember that all the Valentine’s Day candy will be very cheap tomorrow. But don’t be a glutton!
  6. Use today as an opportunity to practice charity, which is a higher form of love than just romantic love. Be kind to everyone you meet today, even the person who cuts you off in traffic.
  7. If you’re sick of the Fifty Shades hype, check out Fight The New Drug’s anti-abuse campaign!
  8. If you’re wondering what romantic-related show you should watch today, the 1995 version of Pride and Prejudice is on Hulu, as well as Sense and Sensibility (mini-series, not the Ang Lee version). You can’t beat the classics!
  9. Enjoy these penitential Valentine cards from Jason Bach Cartoons!
  10. #MementoMori: Remember that death is inevitable, even on Valentine’s Day.

 

Happy VaLENTine’s Day, everyone!

 

Lent: It’s Not About Us

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It seems like every Lent, people talk about what they plan on giving up. While I understand that for people who plan on fasting from social media, I think many Catholics try to make Lent all about them, whether consciously or unconsciously.

What is Lent really about?

This passage from Joel from today’s first reading gives us some insight:

Even now, says the LORD,
return to me with your whole heart,
with fasting, and weeping, and mourning;
Rend your hearts, not your garments,
and return to the LORD, your God. (Joel 2:12-13)

This Lent, Jesus asks us to refocus ourselves and center our lives on Him. It doesn’t matter how much money we put into the Rice Bowl or how much we do or don’t eat. It doesn’t matter how much or how little we do for Lent. What matters is that our thoughts and actions are done with Christ in mind. This goes well beyond “What would Jesus do.” Put simply, Lent calls us to do all things for the glory of God.

So what can you do today? Take some advice from today’s Gospel:

“When you fast,
do not look gloomy like the hypocrites.
They neglect their appearance,
so that they may appear to others to be fasting.
Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.
But when you fast,
anoint your head and wash your face,
so that you may not appear to be fasting,
except to your Father who is hidden.
And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.” (Matthew 6:16-18)

So please don’t post a selfie of yourself with the ashes. To quote my friend Katrina Ebersole “Every time someone posts an ‘ashes selfie,’ a kitten slowly dies.” If you’re still using social media, use it to glorify God this Lent.

#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 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.

 

 

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.

Catholic Dating Problem Part 1: Waiting and Finding

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Happy Valentine’s Day! As everyone already knows, single people have a hard enough time dealing with their single status every other day of the year, but there’s something about Valentine’s Day that makes being single even more loathsome. When you’re a single Catholic young adult, the dating scene becomes a lot more complicated and being single is about 10x harder. I shared this article on my Facebook and got the following response:

 

Jillian W.:  I have the exact opposite problem. I don’t understand the concept of a single Catholic man, because they don’t exist. Every Catholic guy I know is either dating, married, or a seminarian. And I don’t get it when people say they are going on a dating fast because how do you get so many people to ask you out that you have to “take a break”. Like, I don’t even know how to get a bloody date in the first place (because there are no single Catholic men, much less ones that have ever shown an interest). I’m not single by choice or because it feels safe, in single because there’s no one to ask me out and even when there are, they don’t because no one is ever interested in me.

 

After asking other young Catholics about their POVVs in regards to the dating scene, I decided that this will be the first of a series called “Catholic Dating Problems.” The first major problem that most single Catholics have when it comes to dating: Finding somebody!

 

Like my friend Jillian, I am not single by choice, nor have I met someone who’s going on a “dating fast.” While I have a good group of single male friends, none of them are interested in me as a girlfriend. Nor do I want them to ask me out because I don’t see every guy out there as potential future husbands. I find it hard to believe that you can just look at a person and just know that he or she is the person you’re gonna be with for the rest of your life. It’s hard enough for me to communicate with someone I don’t know given that I have Asperger’s. How am I supposed to know whether or not the next guy I date is going to be “the one?”

 

One problem with finding the right person is knowing where to look.

 

My friend Clint M. said, “I honestly see a heavily pervasive secular culture influence the way Catholics interact and date. Where some embrace that culture wholeheartedly to the detriment of their faith, others reject it so thoroughly that they fail to provide adequate witness to those who have embraced secular approaches to relationships.”

 

There are a million and one ways to meet someone…the real problem is sifting through all the frogs to find that prince or princess. As hard as this is for me to say, I can’t offer any easy answers to this problem. I do hope, though, that this series will help those who are single deal with the longing that we all suffer with.

 

I  struggle with jealousy whenever other friends talk about how they just clicked with their significant others. I don’t mean wishing harm on those who have what I want. It’s more that I simply want the happiness that people in great relationships have. It’s that old Queen song again: Can anybody find me somebody to love?

 

God can. And no, that’s not an easy answer either. God’s time and will does not bend itself to whatever we want, whenever we want it. I often see posts that say that whenever we feel lonely, it’s God’s way of calling us to be close to Him. And while it helps when it comes to building a personal relationship with Christ, it doesn’t help on Valentine’s Day when we’re watching bad romantic comedies and binge-eating chocolate ice cream.

 

So what can we do when we deal with the Valentine’s Day Blues?

 

Check out this poem about Lent by William Arthur Ward:

 

Fasting and Feasting

Lent should be more than a time of fasting.
It should also be a joyous season of feasting.
Lent is a time to fast from certain things and to feast on others.

It is a season to turn to God:

Fast from judging others; feast on the goodness in them.
Fast from emphasis on differences; feast on unity of all life.
Fast from apparent darkness; feast on the reality of light.
Fast from thoughts of illness; feast on the healing power of God.
Fast from words that pollute; feast on phrases that purify.
Fast from discontent: feast on gratitude. 

Fast from anger; feast on patience.
Fast from pessimism; feast on optimism.
Fast from worry; feast on divine order.
Fast from complaining; feast on appreciation.
Fast from negatives: feast on affirmatives.
Fast from unrelenting pressures; feast on unceasing prayer.

Fast from hostility; feast on non-resistance.
Fast from bitterness; feast on forgiveness.
Fast from self-concern; feast on compassion for others.
Fast from personal anxiety; feast on eternal Truth.
Fast from discouragement; feast on hope.

Fast from facts that depress; feasts on truths that uplift.
Fast from lethargy; feast on enthusiasm.
Fast from suspicion; feast on truth.
Fast from thoughts that weaken; feast on promises that inspire.
Fast from shadows of sorrow; feast on the sunlight of serenity.
Fast from idle gossip; feast on purposeful silence.

Fast from problems that overwhelm; feast on prayer that supports.

No matter how hard it may seem, hold out hope that God will lead you to whatever you are called to do. Until then, find the light in the darkness. It will at least save you some calories and hours wasted on bad movies.