Catholic Girl Journey

Grateful and gracious

While the words grateful and gracious may seem to go together, they are less likely to be used in conjunction with struggles and challenges. As Christians, however, we are called to be grateful and gracious in all circumstances, even those that are difficult.

One definition for grateful is to be appreciative of benefits received. Life is a gift, and on most days, it can seem fairly easy to be thankful to God for such a precious gift. In some moments, it may require a deeper look around us to appreciate what we have.

As I was stopped at a red light the other night, the big, full moon shone brightly in the sky. Knowing that it is reflecting the light from the sun, it made me think of how much Mary reflects the light of Jesus. In that moment I was grateful for such a blessing. While it didn’t warm me from the frigid cold that had descended upon my area, it lifted my spirit to be able to brave the walk from the car to my home. It also made me think that I need to thank God for the weather, as it could have been worse, it could have been icy or snowing. Instead it was just blustery and brutally cold. Do we thank God for the days of sunshine? Or do we just complain when the weather is not to our liking? Do we appreciate that we need the rain in order to see the rainbow?

We may be able to find something for which to be thankful amid the storms of life. Being gracious, acting in kindness and courtesy, can often require more intention and effort than we’d like to give. It can be difficult to be courteous when we are treated harshly, rather we want to defend ourselves and prove that we are right and others are wrong. As followers of Jesus, we need to act more like He did, with patience and love. As the just judge, He had every right to condemn those whom He came into contact. As our Savior, both then and now, He instead loves each person as they are, faults and all, and calls them out of sin and into a new life as His disciples. He truly is gracious and asks us to follow His lead with one another.  

I can’t help but think how grace-filled a person can be who exercises gratefulness and graciousness in all aspects of their lives. In our faith journey on the road to sainthood, let us not just practice these attitudes, but really live and breathe them so that we can experience a bit of heaven here and now.

Catholic Girl Journey

Strength in weakness

My muscles are sore. My day job is working with websites, sitting at a desk.  Because I’m moving to Virginia, my spare time has been spent packing boxes and painting to prepare my condo for sale. I can’t do it all alone.

I don’t look at it as a test, something I will either pass or fail, but rather as an opportunity. It’s not practice, as that suggests it doesn’t count in the grand scheme of the game of life. Rather, it’s like a solo performance of my trust in God. I’ve been on my own for almost 25 years; I’m very used to being responsible for myself and doing things alone. I pray the surrender prayer daily, “Jesus, I surrender myself to you, take care of everything.” That’s very easy to say when things are going well, but I’m realizing I’m not as young as when I bought my condo 21 years ago.  I need help to get this place sold.

Sometimes it’s asking for the strength to pack another box. Another time it may be to resist the urge to dump everything in a box instead of thoughtfully sort through it to make the decision to keep it, donate it, or trash it. The biggest moment of surrender was to send out emails to friends to ask them to help me move furniture and paint the remaining rooms. It was a public admission that I can’t do it all myself. It may not seem like a big deal to some, but for me, it was a huge step. I realized God has put people in my life to help me; not asking them for assistance is to refuse His gift. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, rather it is a sign of strength. I know my limits, and yes, I may push my limits, but not so far that I would do injury to myself. When I ask for help in situations, I’m not admitting defeat, but rather I am humbly admitting that I need reinforcements to make it to victory. Defeat would be to say I cannot do this and just stop, which unfortunately has crossed my mind a time or two.

Once I am settled in Virginia, it should be interesting to reflect back on these opportunities of surrendering to God and asking for help. For now, I’m trying to keep the goal in sight and remember the words of St. Paul, “I have the strength for everything through Him who empowers me.” (Phil 4: 13)

Catholic Girl Journey

The depth of change

John the Baptist was the herald for Jesus; he prepared the way not just by instructing people to change their lives, but also by asking them to make an outward sign of their commitment by being baptized in water.  We’ve recently completed the Advent season during which we heard John the Baptist proclaiming the coming of Jesus; how did we do with making changes in our lives?

I’m in the middle of packing my life up, or at least packing up the past 21 years I’ve spent in my condo; I’m preparing to sell it in order to move closer to family in Virginia. I can’t help but draw a parallel between this sorting of things that I’ve accumulated and making a spiritual inventory. It’s a taxing process to look at a book or an item, remember the who, when and why of how it came to me and then make a decision to keep it, donate it, or trash it. Since I don’t know yet where I’ll be living, I don’t know what I’ll need. The instinct is to keep everything. But each item will need to be packed in a box, moved and then unpacked. The question becomes, is it worth taking? If I look at my relationship with God in that same manner, how much unnecessary stuff am I carrying? Is the baggage worth holding onto? Is it making it harder for God to work through me?

While I have purged my belongings before, as recently as two years ago in preparation for adopting my cat, this move is taking me far deeper than I have been before. It is truly an entire home in upheaval. It’s like the previous purges were those called for by John the Baptist, but this one is the one called for by Jesus. As He began His ministry, He proclaimed, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17) It is not a call to listen to His teachings, decide what we like and what we want to follow. It is a call to stop, identify where our relationship is broken with God and to mend our ways so that we are able to do God’s will.

This amount of change is a bit scary. I have no idea what God is asking of me. There is a part of me that just wants things to go back to the way they were and not have to go through this process. It’s at those times that I know I’m doing the right thing and that this depth of change is not just needed, but long overdue. As each box is packed, the donation and trash piles grow, and there is a sense of relief, of hope of something better. I can’t imagine what God has planned for me, and I don’t want to try. His blessings are much more fabulous than anything I can dream of and this is what changing is all about.

Catholic Girl Journey

Christmas every day

Merry Christmas! Wouldn’t it be wonderful if it were Christmas every day? Well, it is.

No, I’m not talking about the gift giving to one another, the feasting, the cookies, or the chocolate. I’m talking about the true Christmas; Jesus coming to us in a tangible way. Every Mass we participate in is like Christmas. In the Eucharist, Jesus is present: Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity — just like in the manger at Bethlehem. Every time we adore Christ in the monstrance, we are just like the shepherds and the wise men who came to pay Him homage. How often do we think about Baby Jesus when we are at Mass or adoration?

The Son of God came down and spent 33 years on earth, and His whole life, from the manager to the cross is encapsulated in the Mass. Jesus came to die, but in order to die He needed to be born. Jesus lived, breathed, ate, laughed, and cried during His time here. It is this whole Person that we celebrate at each and every Mass. With Christmas, we focus on the humility of Christ, that He would become one of us, shedding the appearance of divinity to mingle with creation, not just as a man, but starting out as an infant. Jesus brings to infancy and childhood a sacredness, not something to just be endured, but celebrated.

Coming as a babe, Jesus relied on others for everything. Not from a demanding you-shall-do-this-or-else, but rather gently in appreciation for whatever little we can provide to Him. His Blessed Mother Mary cared for Him as any mother would, and St. Joseph protected and guided Him during His childhood. The Holy Family welcomed both rich and poor who came to celebrate the birth of the Son. Today, we are welcomed to Mass: saint and sinner, rich and poor, bringing whatever it is we have —  joy, sorrow, worry, and we offer it up to Jesus. He receives our littleness and blesses us, just as He did during His ministry on earth.

After the wrapping paper is trashed and the feast consumed, let us remember that is it not the end of the Christmas celebration. It’s always Christmas whenever we see a consecrated host; come, let us adore Him!

Catholic Girl Journey

Gift of time

Gits bought & wrapped? Tree decorated? Cookies baked? During this season time seems more like an enemy than a gift. There’s so much to do AND we also want to spend time enjoying the moments that make the holiday special. Advent is the calendar reminder that we need to prepare, not only just for the secular celebrations of Christmas, but also to take the time to seek the coming of Christ in all His manifestations: past, present and future.

“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption.”

(Gal 4:4-5)

St. Paul reminds us that Jesus’ first coming wasn’t an accident or on a whim, rather it was planned and with purpose. The preparations were made through history, starting with Adam, proceeding through Abraham and David until the time was right. I’m sure there are plenty of Scripture scholars who can detail why Jesus came at the time He did, but only God knows truly why He fulfilled His promises for a Savior at that time. I like the way St. Paul refers to it as “the fullness of time.” The thought that comes to my mind is a fruit that is picked so that it is sweet, juicy and bursting with flavor; like it can barely contain itself. Since God is outside of time and space, it’s hard to imagine Him looking in anticipation for that moment. Jesus’ birth, however, is only the beginning, then there are 33 years of growing, traveling, and teaching that need to pass before the final act on Calvary. It seems that every major moment comes at the climax of many little preparatory ones.

Waiting for Christmas to come seems like an eternity to the young, and to the adults it seems like it comes way too quickly. Yet every second is measured the same. Do we thank God for each moment? The good and the bad, the quick and the slow are all bestowed on us; we deserve nothing. We cannot change how much time has passed, nor how much we have left. It will end in an instant. Will we be prepared? Do we spent the time we are given seeking a relationship with God and doing His will?

We measure the gift of life using the gift of time. The gift of salvation is a journey across human time. It is through the gift of faith that we can thank God for His generosity. No matter how many presents that are under the tree on Christmas morning, none can compete with God who gives us all that we need: life, faith, salvation, and time.

Catholic Girl Journey

Gift of salvation

We can only receive the gift of salvation once we acknowledge that we are sinners.

God did not become man just to be oohed and aahed over as a baby. It was the first step of many to bring us back into a right relationship with God, to heal what was fractured with sin. Ultimately, He was born to die for us, and as St. Paul says to the Romans, “But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:8) It can be very easy in this time of joy to push aside the unpleasant reality of the crucifixion, but even the Church is careful to keep all of Christ’s work in mind, when on December 26 we celebrate the feast of the first martyr, St. Stephen. Before He comes, it is appropriate to prepare ourselves.

As my pastor pointed out in a recent homily, Advent is not a mini-Lent; it is its own season. It shares a penitential perspective, like Lent does, but with a different emphasis. Advent prepares us to celebrate both comings of Christ. Two? Yes, His future coming at the end of the world/end of our life on earth and the remembrance of His first coming in Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago. In the beginning of Advent, the readings are taken from Revelation about the second coming. It’s not meant to scare us, but to be a wake up call. What have we been doing with our lives? Are we prepared to be judged before God? Are we prepared for heaven? As the season moves closer to Christmas, we hear about John the Baptist and his message of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As we reflect on our relationship with God, we see the areas that need attention. Hearing John the Baptist’s message, we know that there is hope. Part of our preparation for Christmas should be celebrating the sacrament of reconciliation.

Our culture wants us to fully celebrate Christmas from Thanksgiving (or even before!) and finish on Christmas so that we can turn our attention on the next holiday. But we cannot fully celebrate Christmas until we prepare properly. The Church carves out the four Sundays before December 25 to help us recognize just what a gift that is being bestowed on us: the opportunity to be saved from a life of slavery to sin and a healed relationship with God.

Catholic Girl Journey

Gift of faith

The measure of our faith is the measure of our relationship with God. Our Creator gives us life, but He just doesn’t turn us loose and forget about us. Rather He wants to have a relationship with us on an individual level, to share with us all He has.

Faith is not an intellectual exercise or an emotional attachment to an idea. It goes deeper than believing in the existence of God and the words of a creed. Faith is both decision and action. God gives us life and offers Himself to us. When we decide to accept Him into our lives, it changes how we makes our choices. As we get to know Him better, He offers us the opportunity to be His emissary to everyone we encounter. We are His smile to welcome a stranger, His hands to offer aid, and His word to educate and inspire. Faith is truly a gift that keeps giving.

During our time on earth, God continuously invites us to be closer to Him. Even when we spurn His outreach, He does not give up. When we accept a relationship with Him, He encourages us to go deeper, to not be content with Him as a mere acquaintance. However, faith has an expiration point when our life on earth concludes. It is then the final question of faith is asked and the answer will determine if we spend eternity with Him or without Him. The choice is ours to make, and we answer it every moment of every day, by seeing Him in the world around us and our experiences, or rejecting His advances.

We may say we “have” faith, but it’s not ours to own. It’s ours to share in a relationship with God, and to share with those around us. In this season of giving, let us remember to share this precious gift of God Himself with those we meet.