Saint Gemma Galgani: Women of Christ Wednesday

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Sometimes, people discover saints, like how many teenagers and young adults search for a good saint for their Confirmation name. And other times, the saints have a way of finding you. For me, I got introduced to Saint Gemma Galgani through my friend Amy over on Catholic Girl Bloggin.

I learned a lot more about Saint Gemma on her feast day, which was about a month ago. It comforted me when I learned that Gemma never became a religious sister. She was in poor health and didn’t qualify to be a Passionist Nun like she wanted to be. Instead, she became a lay Passionist, wearing all-black and keeping the badge of the Passionists close to her. She never officially took any vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, but she essentially lived out the life of a nun. She chose to stay single, to devote her entire life to serving Christ. It’s very inspiring to me, as a modern day single woman. I don’t have to be married or be part of a religious order if I want to serve Christ. As Saint Therese said, “My vocation is love.”

Back to Saint Gemma, though. Like my other Sister Saint, Saint Gemma had a great devotion to Saint Gabriel Possenti, who, like her, died young, but lived his life serving Christ as a Passionist. She also lost her mother at a very early age and her father passed away when she was 19. She was adopted into the Giannini family and lived a simple life. By modern standards, Gemma seems too perfect, too sheltered, too good to be true. As the saying goes, however, still waters run deep.

The aspect of Saint Gemma’s life that I admire the most is her interior life, especially her periods of spiritual warfare. Like a Slayer, she constantly battled demons who attacked her on a daily basis. This fight would go on and off up until her death. The last battle she had was the worst because she experienced a heartbreaking desolation, the kind that Mother Teresa would endure. And yet, she kept to her resolve, her loyalty, her devotion to Christ. It’s no wonder that I call her “the little ninja saint” because while her life wasn’t anything that would stand out in worldly terms, she fought evil in the shadows. As of now, she’s one of my go-to saints whenever I have to deal with my own spiritual warfare.

If you want to know more about Saint Gemma, check out this website that has tons of pictures and biographical information. Also, check out Amy’s Victim Soul series on her blog, which dives into Gemma’s spiritual warfare with epic dramatic detail.

The Spiritual Journey of "Out of the Woods"

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Welcome to 2016 everyone! Like most people during this time of year, I want to reflect on the past year and make resolutions for 2016. But since, like most people, I watched Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin Eve in anticipation of the countdown, I got to watch the premiere of Taylor Swift’s latest music video “Out of the Woods.”

Out of all of the videos that Taylor has released from her 1989 album, this is by far my favorite since “Bad Blood.” It takes me back to the Taylor I knew: the Taylor who wore long, beautiful dresses and tried to figure out what love meant. The video itself is reminiscent of a spiritual journey.

It starts out with the words “She lost him” and opens with Taylor standing on the beach in a long light blue dress. As the song begins, a forest starts growing around her. This symbolizes the beginning of a spiritual journey, being led into a seemingly dangerous place where wolves (which could represent opposition or anxiety) and tangling vines (which represents sin) are out to get you at every corner. Day turns to night as Taylor weaves her way through the woods and runs from the wolves and through the tangling thorns. In the chase, she falls and her dress gets torn, representing the first stumbling.

All of a sudden, Taylor is on top of a mountain. The wolves are still chasing her. Taylor rips the necklace she was wearing off and tosses it over the mountain. Then she takes a leap and dives into the ocean below. This represents the second part of the spiritual journey: taking a leap of faith and letting yourself be submerged into an ocean of grace. I also saw her taking the necklace off as letting go of what you used to love in order to immerse yourself into a deeper love.

But just as Taylor is in the ocean, she’s suddenly in a desert. She touches a tree and then finds herself frozen in the middle of an icy forest, running from an avalanche. Both of these can represent spiritual dryness. Spiritual highs don’t last long and the dry periods of spiritual life can either feel as barren as a desert or as cold and bitter as winter. Either way, these dry periods prompt us to reflect and have faith in spite of how we feel.

The bridge of the song finds Taylor crawling through a muddy swamp as vines entangle around her in every different setting. This is the fallen state of grace, when we are covered in sin. Like the vines, sin paralyzes us. But as the song transitions towards the last chorus, little lights surround Taylor and even though she keeps getting thrown down and finds herself surrounded by fire, the vines don’t try to entangle her anymore. Instead, she gets up and gets out of the woods. The music video ends with Taylor back at the beach as the forest disappears behind her. Her dress is shorter, but her eyes are so much wiser. She sees her old self looking out into the ocean and reaches out to touch her.

Then these words flash on the screen: “She lost him but she found herself and somehow that was everything.”

The last part of the music video to me represents the sense of renewal which leads to finding the best version of yourself again. You return to where you started because God draws straight with crooked lines.

Fellow Swifties will recognize the words from the end of the video as the secret message from the song “Clean.” In a way, this message combined with the music video basically describes what 2015 was to me. I didn’t lose a person so much as ideas on what I thought my life should’ve been. I met with a lot of disappointments in 2015. And yet, through my own spiritual journey, I found myself again. I let go of all of my preconceptions on how things were “supposed to be” and took a leap of faith, entering into this new life where nothing’s quite as certain, and yet my faith and trust in God remain constant.

And somehow, that faith and trust was everything. It led to me making new friends. It helped me to grow as a writer. Most surprisingly of all, I became a more forgiving and hopeful person.

It’s hard for me to choose one word that will be my constant throughout 2016. Mercy is a good contender since this is the Year of Mercy. I’m reading Mother Teresa’s Come Be My Light, so light is also a potential word. I’m still on this spiritual journey towards finding my vocation, which makes the word “direction” quite appealing. However, what resonates the most with me right now is love. Bishop Robert Barron said that “Mercy is what the Divine Love looks like when turned towards the sinner.” Mother Teresa was called to be a light of love to the streets of Calcutta. And in this journey that I’m taking, I feel like love will be what will lead me to wherever I end up next.

I don’t just mean romantic love, although I find myself longing for that more than usual. I also want to learn how to balance love of God and love for myself in a healthy way. To be humble but at the same time be self-assured and hold my ground to protect myself from creeps and devils. “Love” also applies to my writing. I want to finish all of my writing projects, pour my love into every single word and share that love with the world. Most of all, I want to be able to get past my cynicism and be able to love my neighbor and see the best in them.

So here are some questions for you: Where are you on your spiritual journey right now? What do you think is your word for 2016?

I pray that God will help lead you out of whatever woods you happen to find yourself in. Happy New Year everyone!

Screenshots from “Out of the Woods” are copyright to Big Machine Records, Taylor Swift, and Joseph Kahn and are used for editorial purposes only.

Gratitude in Victory

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From Heart of Mary Women’s Fellowship

Whether you’re struggling with a temptation, an addiction, hoping to lose weight or get fit, all of these things are rooted in a sense of self-worth. We can’t fight for others if we don’t value ourselves. I’m not just talking about appreciating the way we look on the outside, but learning how to define yourself. The greatest battle we’ll ever have to fight is the fight over our soul. Once we know how to define ourselves and understand who we are and whose we are, we will accomplish a great victory!

Read the rest here!

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?