Grateful and Generous: Tobit Bible Study Day 10

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From Heart of Mary Women’s Fellowship:

Have you ever wanted to repay a friend for their kindness by giving them something in return? I often try to make an effort to remember my friends’ birthdays without checking Facebook and send them some kind of gift, even if it’s just a birthday greeting or a nice picture. There are many ways to show your friends gratitude for the things they’ve done for you. First, figure out your love language and then figure out which love language your friends would respond to the most. It’ll definitely help when it comes time to get them a present!

Raphael chooses to show his gratitude to Tobias and Tobit by giving them some advice. He reminds them to give gratitude to God, to keep doing good, especially through prayer and fasting, and to be generous through almsgiving.

Read the rest here!

How To Avoid Going Through The Motions Of Spiritual Life

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Have you ever felt like your life was like this song:

Granted, you’re not gonna be slaying vampires or demons anytime soon, but the sentiment is still there. Life isn’t always a song or a series of spiritual highs. There will be dry periods. There will be times when you go through the motions of spiritual life without even being aware of it.

It’s normal to not always be focused on the Mass. Sometimes, you forget to pray a day of a novena. And sometimes, we tend to rush through our prayers. Don’t knock yourself down for the little mistakes. What’s important is that you keep praying in spite of how you feel.

If you falter a bit when it comes to prayer, try offering up your prayers for someone in need. Intercessory prayer is a powerful gift. People you can pray for include your family, your friends, your co-workers, the homeless, the unborn, the politicians you hate, the Souls in Purgatory…the list is basically infinite.

This passage from Matthew also helps to keep things in perspective:

When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you. In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask him. – Matthew 6:5-15

While it’s great to pray on the commute, don’t just babble through your prayers. As a cradle Catholic, I grew up with saying my prayers throughout the day. I never knew that being in prayer was supposed to be a state of reverence. Believe me, it’s not easy to feel God’s presence, even when you’re in Mass or Adoration. But the point is just to try.

I’m not advocating a “fake it till you make it.” To quote Amy Cuddy in this seriously awesome TED Talk, it’s more like faking it until you become it. Eventually, you’ll find the rhythm again and join in the dance of prayer. It doesn’t matter how loud or how spiritual you may seem. Prayer is a conversation between you and God. Sometimes that means telling God “I seriously don’t feel like praying right now because…” Sometimes that means telling God about all the negativity and frustrations you feel. God is there to listen.

At the same time, though, use the dry periods of your life as an opportunity to listen to him. Maybe the problem is that you talk too much. God speaks in the silence of our hearts. Silence can be a scary thing for us in this world of constant interruptions and noise. And yet, it’s such a necessity. It helps us to settle down. It brings us calm. Don’t give into whatever fears or negative thoughts that manifest in the silence. “Be still and know that I am God.” – Psalm 46:10

If you don’t feel the desire for God’s presence, that’s ok, too. The Jesuits have a prayer to ask for “the desire for the desire of God’s presence.” (Kinda like “I want to want you,” not to be confused with “I Want You to Want Me.”)

The point of this blog post is that there will be times when we feel ourselves going through the motions. It’s okay to not feel those spiritual highs all the time. In fact, it’s actually more normal to go through long dry periods. The point is to keep going in spite of how we feel and to focus on what matters most.

I’m gonna leave you with this wonderful song that explains spiritual dryness:

The Necessity Of Prayer: Advent Week 1, Day 5

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Photo courtesy of Rachel Penate from the Heart of Mary Women’s Fellowship.

There are days that I just want to hide away inside a cloister and pretend that the outside world doesn’t exist. I usually believe in the best in people, but when tragedies such as the ones in San Bernardino and Colorado happen and with threats of ISIS and other acts of terrorism and all the hatred in the world loom all over the news like the perpetually gray December skies, I can completely understand why Thomas Merton chose to go into monastic life.

What makes me even sadder is when the world condemns those who say that they will pray. Has this world become so cynical that the mere idea of prayer has become offensive? I mean when a verse as lovely as Corinthians 13 sets off a “trigger warning,” what good is left in the world?

It calls to mind this scene from an episode of Buffy called “Lie to Me” in which Buffy deals with the fact that an old friend of hers chose to become a vampire in the hopes of escaping the fact that he has brain cancer.

Buffy: Does it ever get easy?

Giles: You mean life?

Buffy: Yeah, does it get easy?

Giles: What do you want me to say?

Buffy: Lie to me.

Giles: Yes. It’s terribly simple. The good guys are always stalwart and true. The bad guys are easily distinguished by their pointy horns or black hats, and, uh, we always defeat them and save the day. No one ever dies and… everybody lives happily ever after.

Buffy: Liar.

 

Life isn’t easy. It’s messy and complicated and at first glance, prayers may seem like empty promises or a way for politicians to pay lip service to the voters.

But here’s the thing. There is power in prayer. I know this because I’ve experienced it. Prayers aren’t like wishes that magically undo the damages or instantly change the heart of a sinner. Saint Monica can testify that it took a long time for her prayers to finally change Augustine. It took Alessandro Serenelli a long time before he finally repented and admitted that murdering St. Maria Goretti was wrong. Prayers don’t work overnight. The point, however, is that they do work.

It’s easy to believe that the universe is indifferent. It’s easier to try and create our own meaning so that life can be whatever we see it. In the end, though, that kind of existentialist belief is no better than the prisoners in Plato’s cave, who create reality from mere shadows.

I know there are some cynics out there who will say that Christians are really the ones in the cave, creating realities from shadows. Yet look at the lives of people like Mother Teresa, St. Maximilian Kolbe, and Pope John Paul II. The saints all had to endure hardships, living in a world that didn’t make any sense. In spite of that, Mother Teresa was able to make life better for the poorest of the poor in Calcutta. St. Maximilian Kolbe saved the life of an entire family. Pope John Paul II changed an entire generation of people and continues to do so now.

Prayer changes lives, but never in the way that we expect. It is through prayer that we accept that the world is broken. It is through prayer that we can try and find a way to take what is broken and make things whole again. It is through prayer that we can be a light to the world and maybe change the hearts of others along the way.

God is the one who breaks the prisoners free and leads them out of the caves of their illusions. In this first week of Advent, let us keep hope alive through fervent prayer, especially for those who need God’s mercy the most. Pray for the souls of the people who died in San Bernardino. Pray for the conversion of the shooter as well as for the person who attacked the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado. Pray for peace in this world. It may not seem like much, but it’s enough to help restore hope.

I’ll leave you with this poem that I wrote back in April:

Of Monsters and Men

Life is terribly complicated
Sometimes the best of friends
turn out to be people who stab you in the back
The bad guys are not easy to see
because many of these monsters
come in the forms of handsome men
There are battles you can never win
because you can’t stand on your own
There are good days and bad days
and some of them can never be saved.
And sometimes happily ever after
is the farthest thing from your reach.

But somehow, things always turn around
You heal the scars that run down your back
You find some monsters that turn out to be friends
Who help you fight the battles you can’t handle on your own
You look out at the sun as it dawns
and realized that every day starts out fresh and new
even if yesterday couldn’t be saved
And even if you don’t have a happily ever after
You start with what you have now
and find happiness there

10 Ways You Can Pray The Rosary

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October is the month of the Rosary. I was taught how to pray the Rosary in Catholic school, but it wasn’t until I was in college that I really learned the beauty of the prayer. I still don’t pray it every day, but I know I’m not the only one struggling with that. This list will help you if, like me, you want to pray the Rosary every day but aren’t exactly sure how.

1) Start with just a decade a day

If you have kids or are just learning how to pray the Rosary, start with just praying a decade a day. When I was teaching Catechism, I taught the kids to pray the Rosary by praying a decade at the end of class. Once you get comfortable meditating on one decade, you can move on to add more.

2) Use scripture as a companion

Mark Hart said that the Rosary is his favorite Bible Study. I asked him “Which mysteries?” He said “All 20 offer us something unique…that’s the best part – depending on the day or where we are on our faith journey, the Spirit will reveal something different to us.” Great Mathemetician’s Answer there, Mr. Hart. There are sites out there that provide scripture verses that you can meditate on with each Hail Mary such as this one.

3) Pray throughout the day.

You can pray one decade in the morning, pray the second one during your mid-morning coffee break, add another one in the mid-afternoon, pray the fourth one before dinner, and the last one as you get ready for bed. It’s a good way to pray constantly.

4) Pray as you walk/jog/run

Some people pray the rosary as they walk as part of a moving meditation. I realize that jogging and running may leave one out of breath for prayer, but if you’re jogging or running at a slow pace, you can have enough mental energy to meditate and pray. Offer up a Hail Mary when you feel like you’re about to feel exhausted.

5) Pray during the morning/rush hour commute/road trips

Most commutes are about 30-40 minutes depending on where you live. Instead of complaining about the traffic, pray the Rosary and offer up a Hail Mary for anyone who cuts you off. I won’t say it’ll cure you of your road rage, but it’s a lot nicer than making crude gestures or angry remarks. Lighthouse Catholic Media has a wonderful Rosary CD that you can pray along with.

6) Pray during Adoration

Back in college, I would spend the first half hour of Adoration praying the Rosary. And even when I can’t make a whole hour, I would stay long enough for me to pray at least a decade. The Rosary helps you focus your mind and keep you aware of where you are in the present. If you pray the Rosary long enough, you might make it last for the whole Holy Hour.

7) Pray before you sleep or as you sleep.

This was a tip given to me by my dear friend Fr. Keon. If you’re afraid of falling asleep before you finish praying, Elizabeth Scalia says that she asks her guardian angel to finish the Rosary for her if she ends up falling asleep.

8) Pray with family/friends

Praying in a group is always a good way to pray because you don’t have to do the whole Rosary by yourself. Group rosaries often happen in retreats, but you can pray the Rosary with your family after dinner or get some friends together and pray a Rosary in the chapel or in front of an abortion clinic. October is also pro-life month, after all

9) Pray during storms or times of anxiety

When Hurricane Issac was storming close to Texas, I prayed the Rosary as it passed through my town. Praying the Rosary during thunderstorms helped me to calm down. The same calming effect happens when I pray the Rosary during anxiety attacks. It’s a great grounding exercise because you can see the Rosary in your hands, feel the beads between your fingers, and hear the prayers you pray. Some Rosaries even have a nice scent to them.

10) Pray with intentions and gratitude.

One way I pray the Rosary is that I dedicate each decade with a special intention. Most people would start out the Rosary by offering the first Our Father for the intentions of the Holy Father, followed by offering up the first 3 Hail Mary’s for an increase in faith hope and love. What you choose to meditate on is up to you, but here are some suggestions.

For the Joyful mysteries, pray for family members, people you know who are travelling, friends or family who just had kids, students who are graduating or children being baptized, and for missing children.

For the Sorrowful mysteries, pray for people who are undergoing anxiety. Pray for people who struggle with addictions. Pray for those who are persecuted for their beliefs. Pray for those who suffer depression, and pray for the souls of the faithful departed.

For the Luminous mysteries, pray for conversions and reversions. Pray for people who are discerning marriage or about to be married. Pray for an increase in vocations to the priesthood and religious life. Pray for those who are already priests/nuns/monks and pray for a greater devotion to the Holy Eucharist.

For the Glorious mysteries, pray for people you love who’ve passed away. Pray for the souls of aborted children. Pray for children who died in miscarriages. Pray to have a closer relationship with Christ. Pray for a happy death.

It’s also a good idea to pray with gratitude. Give thanks for something with every Hail Mary, no matter what mysteries you’re meditating on. “How exactly do I do that?” you ask.

For the Joyful mysteries, pray with gratitude for all the small things in your everyday life. Pray for your family, your friends, the places you go to, and the things you do on a daily basis.

For the Sorrowful mysteries, pray in gratitude about what you learned from a bad situation. Pray for the times that God helped you in a time of great need. Pray in gratitude for the people in your lives who have passed on. Pray in gratitude that people are being a witness to their faith, even at the cost of their lives.

For the Luminous mysteries, pray in gratitude for the big events of your life, things that you’ve accomplished through God’s help. Even if it’s something as small as graduating high school or passing a test. Pray in gratitude for the moments that changed your life for the better.

For the Glorious mysteries, pray in praise of the holy men and women who are interceding for you. Pray in gratitude for the victories you’ve overcome with God’s help.

I hope this helps you in praying the Rosary.

How to Handle an Anxiety Attack

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Thunderstorms are breaking out all over Houston and it seems like my anxiety has come back right along with them. Sometimes anxieties aren’t exactly triggered by anything. Sometimes, like how I was this morning, a small worry would escalate into a panic-induced meltdown. The anxiety attacks I endure aren’t as frequent as they used to be, but they still happen. So for anyone out there suffering with anxiety issues, know that I am right there with you.

First of all, it’s important to ground yourself. I found a post that has these wonderful tips:

1) Look around you

2) Find 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and one thing you can taste.

 

This morning, when I had my anxiety attack, I focused on the room I was in. I saw the dining room table, the placemat, the bowl of cereal (gluten-free Cheerios), the spoon in the cereal bowl, and the tablet in my hand. I could touch the chair I was sitting in. I could hold the spoon and my tablet. I could grab a bottle of water cooling in the fridge. I could hear the distant thunder, the rain falling, and the praise and worship music I was playing on my tablet. I could smell the rain and the cereal. I could taste the cereal as I ate it.

Once you’ve grounded yourself, you need to take a step back and remember that the problem in your mind isn’t as big as you think it is. Anxiety is like walking through a dark tunnel with just a magnifying glass, making you think that the tunnel is longer and darker than it really is. The worst part is that sometimes, the negative thoughts will lead you into doing something completely irrational if you let them. 

There are a lot of crisis hotlines out there. If your anxiety spirals you into thoughts of suicide, call  1-800-273-TALK (8255) or your local suicide hotline. 

Prayer also helps in anxiety. Send a text or a social media message to your friends and ask them for prayers. If you don’t want them to know about your anxiety, just ask them to pray for a special intention. If you have a small group of friends that you trust to understand, send them some kind of message. They will come to you as soon as they can. 

St. Bernard of Clairvaux (whose feast day is today) said:

Does one of us feel sad? Let the name of Jesus come into his heart, from there let it spring to his mouth, so that shining like the dawn it may dispel all darkness and make a cloudless sky.

There’s also a great prayer to Mary, Mother of Perpetual Help:

Mary, dear Mother of Perpetual Help, I ask that you would walk beside me at all times leading me toward the goal of Heaven. In times of doubt, bring comfort and restore my soul. Help me to make good decisions that reflect my love for your Son. I ask that you would intercede on my behalf for the intentions that I hold in my heart. I desire that I would come to know you better as the Mother of Perpetual Help. Amen.

And if you want some comfort from the Word of God, there are a lot of Bible verses to give you some comfort. I’ll list 10 of them here.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. – Philippians 4:6

Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. – 1 Peter 5:7

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today. – Matthew 2:25-34

Psalm 6 could be interpreted as a prayer about anxiety.

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”- Jeremiah 29:11

Read the story of Jesus calming the storm from the Gospel of Matthew and let him calm the storms of your heart.

But if I wish to boast, I will not be a fool, for I will be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think better of me than what is seen in me or heard from me, even considering the exceptional character of the revelations. Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated.  Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.” – 2 Corinthians 12:6-10

Romans 8:28-39

Isaiah 43:1-8

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.” – 1 John 4:18

Seek out help through counseling or with a spiritual director who specializes in anxiety. Listen to a lot of good encouraging music and find people who will talk you through it even if they’re not professional counselors. And once you’ve calmed down, find something to be grateful for. It doesn’t have to be anything big like a gold medal or a promotion at your job. Sometimes, happiness can be found just by finding gluten-free Cheerios at your grocery store or from a hug from your best friend or knowing it’s the birthday of someone you love.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel. There is hope. Magnify the God who is bigger than your fear and He will carry you out of it.

 

Battle Ready Women!

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My dad and I love listening to Catholic Radio. Oftentimes, we hear advertisements about a program called “Battle Ready” as well as events centering on men. Sometimes, I would hear the radio hosts lamenting about how men aren’t as spiritually active as women.

The Battle Ready website is marketed mostly towards men. There is a page for women, but even though they say that woman are involved in the fight for souls, the emphasis is on women encouraging men, playing more of a supportive role. And I do agree that women need to encourage men who are spiritually struggling. Unfortunately, there’s nothing on the Battle Ready site that addresses women who have the same problems that men do. Because in spite of what you may see at Daily Mass or at Adoration or a youth conference, there are women out there who struggle with having a spiritual life.

I wasn’t always as spiritually active as I am today. When I started college and went to Adoration, I had to ask somebody what the Glorious Mysteries were when I started praying the Rosary. Before college, I only prayed the Rosary as a kid.

I don’t consider myself a feminist in the conventional sense. I see women as equal to men and not as “the weaker sex.” I do agree that men and women have physical and emotional differences. I acknowledge that I am most likely biased about why women should be battle ready. My favorite shows center on strong female characters, after all. But women have their own battles to fight.  And the battle for souls is just as important for women as it is for men.

And just before you think there aren’t any good examples of strong female women in the Catholic Church, I’m gonna turn your attention to one of the most badass female saints ever:

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Joan of Arc led an army in God’s name and defended France. Sure she ended up burning at the stake, but she died a warrior’s death nevertheless. Not to mention she totally owns Miley Cyrus in this Epic Rap Battle.

Other awesome women who embraced a Battle Ready lifestyle include Saint Katherine Drexel, who used her inheritance to create schools and hospitals and organizations that help people in need. Or Dorothy Day, who embraced the Catholic teachings on social justice.  Mother Teresa was also seriously badass in how she survived the harsh Calcutta lifestyle and endured persecution from people who didn’t understand her.

So what are some battles that women have to deal with when it comes to spiritual warfare?

1) Going to extremes when it comes to perspectives on gender

I think the biggest problem with gender politics is that it always feels like a war. A majority of feminists don’t like to consider men as part of the equation and the most extreme ones see men as hostile. Men’s Rights Activists see feminists as extreme as well and many countries in the Middle East have some really horrible perspectives on women to say the least. I still remember when there was a meme going around that went something like this:

“You say not all men are monsters? Imagine a bowl of M&Ms. 10% of them are poisoned. Go ahead. Eat a handful. Not all M&Ms are poison.”

The problem with that kind of mentality is that for one thing, people aren’t candy. They are judging an entire gender for the actions of a handful of people. And for a group of people who claim to be tolerant, they are sure ready to condemn and punish people instead of trying to help the perpetrator understand the wrongness of his actions. But that’s none of my business. I think I’ll take the breadsticks and get outta here now.

We cannot see men as the enemy. Nor should we be competitive with other women over things like jobs and men. Instead, we need to cooperate with them and treat them as, you know, people. Men are human beings which means like every other human being out there, they won’t be perfect and will have flaws and are capable of hurting women. We gotta love them anyway, sisters in Christ, because God created men which means that men are essentially good. And if any men out there are reading this, don’t write off all women for the actions of the girl who broke your heart or the girl who left you in the friendzone. You are not entitled to whatever you want just because you act nice to them. Girls, same thing.

(I’ll probably make a separate post about entitlement applying to both genders later this week.)

2) Modesty/Body Postitivity

I will probably write a separate post on what modesty means to me. But this still falls under spiritual warfare as well. On the one hand, I don’t like seeing women trying to dress like Miley Cyrus nor do I like all the songs that talk about butts. I’ve written about self-esteem issues on this blog before, but the point is that when it comes to what we wear and how we carry ourselves, I want us women to be confident!

Modesty isn’t about how much you cover up. To me, modesty is about knowing what looks best on you and owning what you feel are your best features without being a diva about it. As Coco Chanel said: “Your dresses should be tight enough to show you’re a woman and loose enough to show that you’re a lady.” I think that can easily apply to the way women dress overall.

But all the fashion in the world won’t help if the woman in question still sees herself as invisible. Confidence is more than just loving how one looks on the outside, but also knowing what one is good at. If you’re skilled in engineering, pursue that field. If you know how to play the piano, take the opportunity to show that talent. And men, encourage women in your life (especially if you have daughters) to learn and grow in whatever skill or talent they have, whether it be in science or arts.

3) Emotional chastity

Chasity is usually seen as applying to just physical situations. Emotional chastity however is just as important. Women objectify men just as often as men objectify women, sad to say. (Just spend some time with me and some fellow Buffy fans and watch us drool over Spike and the actor who plays him for example.) But aside from drooling over Ryan Gosling or Chris Pratt or any of the Avengers, women also have a tendency to build up unrealistic expectations when it comes to relationships and about men. Think of the really bad Katherine Heigel movies where she acts like a total control freak. Women have a tendency of building up this idea of a perfect relationship and the perfect romance. When people spend more time daydreaming of perfection, it’s still a way of using a person because they end up just being a set piece in a scenario. I think part of emotional chastity involves accepting that the imperfections of romance as well as making sure you don’t objectify people.

So how can women be Battle Ready?

1) By imitating Mary

One thing I did like about the Battle Ready site is its devotion to Mary, calling her the most valiant of women. The devil hates Mary as this article from The Catholic Gentleman goes into. But while Mary is humble and a great mother, she’s anything but weak. She’s actually sassy. (I also have this headcanon that she’s short. Partially because she was called “Little Mother” and partially because short and sassy go hand in hand. Just read Rebecca Frech’s post if you don’t believe me.)

It’s also why I love writing Bible studies for the Heart of Mary Women’s Fellowship. They encourage having a heart like Mary’s, which includes Marian consecration. And to paraphrase a Catholic pick-up line, doing the Marian consecration may lead to someone marrying you in the future. You never know. (You may also end up going into religious life. Results may vary.)

2) By knowing their own value

One thing that’s majorly important when it comes to spiritual warfare is knowing what you are fighting for. That means knowing what your soul is worth and how much God loves you. It also means finding a balance between knowing your worth and not being full of yourself. The best example of this can be seen in the last episode of Agent Carter, in which Peggy does not pursue taking the credit for saving Howard Stark and New York from Hydra agents. When Sousa gets mad over Thompson taking the credit, Peggy says, “I don’t need a congressional honor. I don’t need Agent Thompson’s approval or the president’s. I know my value. Anyone else’s opinion doesn’t really matter.” It took her a long time for her to get there, but that moment of confidence was just perfect!

3) By choosing the right battles and the right ways to fight

Sometimes, the greatest victory is the battle not fought. Never seek out fights or act aggressively. I’m an advocate in fighting for self-defense. Fight to protect yourself, the ones you love, and what you stand for. The combox trolls and people who will never change their minds aren’t worth attacking. Instead, pray for them. And don’t ever think you have to battle alone. Find people who will support you, from both men and women. And always remember that the God of angel armies is always by your side.

So make your choice. Are you ready to be strong?

The Benefits of Prayer and Mass Journals

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I’ve been a journal writer ever since the first grade and throughout college and afterwards, I’ve been keeping a prayer journal. At this point in my life, I currently have three prayer journals: One is a binder of loose leaf paper that I use when I pray in the morning. The second is a composition notebook that I use when I pray the Examen. The third is a small spiral notebook that I use as a Mass journal.

Keeping a prayer journal is a great way to increase your prayer life. I often call it writing letters to God. Thomas Merton, St. Therese of Lisieux, Pope John XXIII, St. Faustina, St. Ignatius, Mother Teresa, and many other saints have kept journals. Mass journals are more of a recent thing, inspired by Matthew Kelly and promoted by the Heart of Mary Women’s Fellowship.

Being a writer, keeping a journal is a great way for me to get all my thoughts out of my head. I love having social media, don’t get me wrong, but there are things I’d rather keep between me and God. Even if you don’t consider yourself to be good at writing, or even praying, there’s a great sense of relief of getting everything in your head out onto paper.

If you’re not sure where to start, I’ll give you some suggestions, starting with Mass Journaling.

The way I journal at Mass is that I write a verse that particularly stands out to me from the readings and I take notes during the homily, if it’s a good one. If you find yourself in the middle of a bad homily, take note of the readings you heard or read and meditate on them at home. Bishop-Elect Robert Barron always has great homilies on the Word on Fire site. Also ask the Holy Spirit to inspire your pastor when you journal about his homily.

Another way to keep a journal is to address it to your future spouse. No, not in the Megan Trainor “Dear Future Husband” kind of way. Katie Hartfiel and Crystalina Evert both kept a journal, addressing the entries to their future husbands. I actually did a few journals in this style during my last two years of college, but my post-college crisis prompted me to address the journals to a higher power instead.

You can also keep a gratitude journal, in which you write at least one thing that you’re grateful for. I highly recommend keeping a gratitude journal because it’s a great way to remember all the blessings that God put into your life, even if it’s hard to see them at first.

Here’s how I prayer journal right now. In the morning, I set aside time to do a type of journaling that I’ve done since high school: The Morning Pages, as created by Julia Cameron. Now Cameron isn’t a Catholic. She fell away from the Church. But her book, The Artist’s Way is still one of the books that I feel made the most impact on my life. I started writing the Pages as my way of coping with being rejected from Rice University and went through The Artist’s Way for 12 weeks. During those 12 weeks, I got an acceptance letter from The University of St. Thomas, which was the best thing that happened to me in my adolescence. Even though she’s not a Catholic anymore, I feel like God used her as a secondary cause for me to find the best way of journaling out my anxiety. These days, when I do the Morning Pages, I address the letters to Jesus, picturing Him as my best friend and confidant, ready to relieve me of my burdens. Through the Morning Pages, I offer up my worries and offer up the day to Him, asking for His guidance and help. If you feel like writing the Morning Pages as a form of prayer journaling, check out Julia Cameron’s video on them on her website.

At night, I pray the Examen using a composition journal. I have a soft spot for composition notebooks. They may be plain and even childish at times, but they’re also simple and perfectly spaced out. I tend to write big so notebooks with small lines are the worst for me! Anyway, I love writing out the Examen because part of the Examen involves going through the day, thinking about what you’re grateful for as well as recalling the things that you did wrong. Writing helps me sort all of it out. There are many ways to pray the Examen, but my favorite one so far is how Leah Libresco described it in her book Arriving at Amen.

The short version, for those who haven’t read the book yet, goes like this:

  1. Consider your blessings.
  2. Ask God for light.
  3. Review your faults that happened today.
  4. Ask God for forgiveness
  5. Anticipate how you’ll start over.

The Examen journal functions as my gratitude journal as well because it helps me be grateful for all things: the good, the bad, the things I learn, and the things I can do in the future.

 

Rachel and Kateri have a wonderful video about prayer journaling that I highly recommend you watch.

 

One thing that I do with all of my journals is that I write down the date. It doesn’t seem important, but it’s always nice, whenever I look at my journals, to remember what day I gained a certain insight or when something special happened to me. Re-reading my journals has also showed me how much I have changed. My journals are also my way of keeping myself accountable when it comes to things that I need to do.

The point is, give prayer and Mass journaling a chance. You don’t have to be a good writer. You just need to start writing.

Praising God In the Storm

It started with a minor kitchen accident. I was cooking lunch: pork chops marinated with orange juice. Unfortunately, I accidentally spilled some of the marinade over the stove range, causing the pilot light to go out. The constant clicks made me think that my kitchen was going to explode. (That’s what I get for binge-watching Burn Notice.) Thankfully, my mom and my brother were able to handle the situation.

What did I do? I panicked. I never had to deal with a broken pilot light before. I hid out in my mom’s bathroom, wishing I had someone who’d hold me. As I said before, I hate dealing with unfamiliar situations and when situations are outside of my control, my first instinct is to cry and panic.

My brother turned off the power in the kitchen and we waited for my dad to come back from work to fix it. It took a long time, but thankfully, the pilot light was dried out and the stove range was cleaned. However, we had to leave the kitchen off until it was safe. Which meant that for several hours, I was left with the uncertainty of whether or not I would cook. I worried about what I would eat the next morning.

I didn’t have any time to whine about it, though, because given that my mom had a day off from work and her idea of “relaxing” is spring cleaning, I was put in charge of cleaning my bathroom.

But the story doesn’t end there. As the day drew to a close, a major thunderstorm broke out. The power went out for a while. Since I didn’t have the safety blanket of my internet, I curled up in bed with my crucifix, my stake, and my Buffy Funko pop dolls. I know. What am I, twelve?

I prayed the Rosary during stormy situations before, both literal and metaphorical, and last night was no different. I was about halfway through the second joyful mystery when the power came back on. But I kept praying the Rosary even after the power came back because I was still scared of tomorrow.

I didn’t get much sleep, given the constant thunder, lightning, and the clicks from the pilot light, but in the morning, they were all gone. The kitchen was silent and functioning normally again. The sun came out. The streets of my city are sadly flooded, but God kept me and my family safe.

I know that I have to figure out a way to deal with being anxious about uncertainties that don’t involve panicking, but I feel like I’m doing a lot better right now.

One of the lies my so-called best friend from a few years ago told me was that I wouldn’t be able to handle myself on my own if something bad happened to my family. They, of course, said this because they wanted me completely dependent on them. At the time, I believed them. Looking back now, I realized that I faced a lot of situations that were outside of my control like getting my purse stolen and dealing with a broken heart during a retreat. But I was never alone and I didn’t have to deal with those situations by myself.

The great blessing that came out of each of the storms in my life was that I always had my family and my friends and my God. I always had someone to talk to or some task that would keep my mind away from the situation. When my purse got stolen, I ran straight to the church (since it took place in my parish’s parking lot) and told my friends and my pastor about what happened. When I was dealing with a broken heart, I had someone to talk to and made some new friends. And when my pilot light broke, my family was there to fix it and eventually listen.

Most of all, I could pray and offer my anxieties and fears. I can get shaken a lot, but I am never ever stirred to give into my fears. Like the Casting Crowns song goes, in spite of how I feel, I praise God in the storm.

So I guess the question is “Why does God allow me to experience unfamiliar situations or experiences that put me through the emotional wringer?”

The answer is because I learn something from each experience. Whenever I encounter someone who’s hurt, my first instinct is to protect and defend them because I was once in their shoes. Maybe someday, I’ll help someone else who felt betrayed by a friend, lost something important to them, or got their heart broken and I can help them because I understand their suffering.

How I Pray: Monique Ocampo

Today is the International Day of Prayer, so today I want to steal a page from Tom McDonald’s book and talk about how I pray. For the purposes of this post, I’m gonna act as if Tom is interviewing me for his How I Pray series. So here I go. 

 

Who are you?

I’m Buffy, the Vampire Slayer! And you are?

Taken from a convention I went to. That's James Marsters, by the way.

Taken from a convention I went to. That’s James Marsters, by the way.

In reality, I am Monique Ocampo, a cradle Catholic and somewhat of a revert to the Church. I grew up in a huge extended Filipino family, moved around from New Jersey to California, and currently live in the heart of Texas. (Well, southeast Texas, actually.) I have recently taken on the job title of freelance writer. I’ve contributed to a series of Bible study meditations published by the Heart of Mary Women’s Fellowship , which offers online Bible studies for free. When I’m not writing Bible study meditations, I dabble in fanfiction and spend way too much time on Instagram and fangirl over shows like Doctor Who and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

 

What is your vocation?

Ask me again in 10 years. Sorry, but I’m still figuring that out. I haven’t found a convent that I would be a good fit with and I haven’t gone out on a date since college.

Right now, God wants me to continue the life that I have now. For me, that means writing. A lot. I aspire to write and publish a novel, but currently write poetry, Bible study meditations, and this blog. I also teach Catechism at my parish and volunteer for young adult retreats.

 

What is your prayer routine for an average day?

I wake up every morning and write “The Morning Pages,” as described in Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. Back in my high school days, I started the Morning Pages as part of my creative process. Now they have become my morning prayer letters to God.

I also pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet with my dad at 3PM or whenever we’re out running errands.

I visit the Blessed Sacrament often. In my most recent year of teaching Catechism, I took my second graders to the Adoration chapel at the end of class.

I end my nights by praying the Examen using a separate journal. I write 3 things I’m grateful for in another journal. (Noticing a pattern here?) Then, I pray the Rosary as I go to sleep.

 

How well do you achieve it, and how do you handle the moments when you don’t?

I make the Morning Pages most of the time, but writing about what I’m grateful for is more hit and miss, especially on days when I feel like nothing major or interesting happened. I often fall asleep praying the Rosary, which I consider to be good.

Whenever I don’t particularly feel like praying, I write it out or talk to someone or just pray anyway. Usually after praying, I feel a sense of relief.

 

Do you have a devotion that is particularly important to you or effective?

My favorite thing about being Catholic is having Adoration. I recently visited the Blessed Sacrament and stayed there for an hour and a half. I didn’t pray so much as let myself be in God’s presence and all the melancholy I had from yesterday just disappeared.

Going on retreats is also important to me, but being on staff is very different from attending retreats.

I subscribe to PrayMoreNovenas.com, but I’m picky about which novenas to pray, nor do I know for sure if my prayers received an affirmative answer or not.

Also, Marian Consecration. I made my consecration a year ago on the feast of the Annunciation. I feel like it’s had a profound effect on my life. I highly recommend it but will also tell those who are interested to proceed with caution.

 

Do you have a place, habit or way of praying?

I usually pray in my room, but I also have a home altar in my living room. I go to Adoration at various churches in my area.  I also love praying spontaneously. I “free verse” my prayers a lot, venting to God about anything and everything, not really saying anything. I don’t usually think about what physical position I’m in unless I’m at Mass. I can’t kneel for long periods of time.

 

Do you use any tools or sacramentals?

Aside from the Rosary and Holy Water, not really. I collect medals and place them on this beautiful crystal Rosary from Czechlosovakia that I got at a college retreat.

 

What is your relationship with the Rosary?

It’s not as easy for me to pray as the Divine Mercy Chaplet, but it’s also the only thing that helps me get any sleep. I picked up that habit from my dear friend, Fr. Keon.

I learned how to pray the Rosary in Catholic school, but by the time I started college, I totally forgot the Mysteries and had to relearn them again. I bought Fr. Dwight Longnecker’s book Praying the Rosary for Inner Healing and prayed a 54-Day Rosary Novena, which helped me get into the habit of praying the Rosary on a daily basis.

 

Are there any books or spiritual works that are important in your devotional life?

My parents gave me my first Bible and I bragged about being an expert at the ripe old age of 8. To say I was a pretentious girl growing up is a vast understatement. Nowadays, I feel like I’m learning about the Bible all over again and being part of Heart of Mary Women’s Fellowship helps.

In California, I read The Imitation of Christ, which was way beyond my reading level, but kept me afloat. There were times that I didn’t go to Mass during those times, but I still read Imitation. I feel like it helped me cope when it came to bullies.

I also cite The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron and Anne Lammot’s Bird By Bird as having a big influence on my spirituality. Although neither of these books are written by Catholics, my writing is very much linked to my faith and these two books helped me in that process.

But the biggest influence as of recently is 33 Days to Morning Glory by Fr. Michael Gaitley. I read his book as part of my preparation for Marian Consecration and I loved what he wrote about the saints who were devoted to Mary.

 

What is your most recent spiritual or devotional reading?

In recent years, I read the book version of Fr. Robert Barron’s Catholicism, Fr. James Martin’s My Life With the Saints and The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything, and Between Heaven and Mirth.

Books I often go back to include God I Have Issues: 50 Ways to Pray No Matter How You Feel by Fr. Mark Thibodeaux and Geekpreist by Fr. Roderick.

As of this year, all of the books I read have been something Catholic related: Hail Holy Queen by Scott Hahn, My Sisters The Saints by Colleen Carroll Campbell, Chastity is For Lovers by Arleen Spenceley, Angel and Saints  by Scott Hahn, St. Francis of Assisi by GK Chesterton, Everything is Grace by Fr. Joseph Schmidt, St. John Paul The Great: His Five Loves by Jason Evert, and The Way of Serenity by Fr. Jonathan Morris.

I’m currently beginning St. Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle.

 

Are there saints or other figures who inspire your prayer life or act as patrons?

My Confirmation saint was St. Monica. Incidentally, people call me “Monica” a lot. Although I don’t ask for her intercession all the time, I credit her with keeping me out of some bad relationships and for keeping me afloat during the California years.

As stated before, I made my Marian Consecration last year and renewed it last Lent. I gained a devotion to the Holy Family while staffing a recent retreat. St. Teresa of Avila was so right about St. Joseph when she said “I never asked him for anything which he did not obtain for me.”

But right now, my go-to saint is St. Therese of Lisieux. I relate to her the most and ask for her intercession a lot more. But unlike a lot of others who ask for her intercession, Therese’s answers to me are always more subtle or answered in ways I didn’t expect.

 

Have you had any unusual or even miraculous experiences as a result of your prayer life?

Nothing that I would call the Vatican to investigate, but whenever I consider what could’ve happened to me if I wandered any further from my faith than I did, I consider that a type of miracle.

Last year, my purse got stolen and I got the job offer to write for Patheos on the same day. I wouldn’t call it a miracle, but it was definitely unusual.

There was also a recent incident when I found myself in a bout of melancholy. I credit my guardian angel for helping me get out of it through a song coming on at just the right time.
I would like to see ___________________ answer these questions.

All my online Catholic friends, especially those in New Catholic Generation

 

Anything else you’d like to add?

Recently, my favorite Bible verse has been Philippians 4:13. I feel like Christ has strengthened me through what Thomas Aquinas calls “secondary causes.” These secondary causes came in the form of fandoms, particularly Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and being part of retreats. I feel like I still have a long way to go when it comes to this whole “being an adult” thing, but learning new things every day helps.