The Feast of Saint Valentine

This is a PSA to all the gentlemen looking to surprise their wives and girlfriends this year. Tomorrow is the feast of Saint Valentine, the patron saint of love and happy marriages among many other things. Don’t forget to show your special someone how truly loved they are. Just a few short years ago I never would have guessed that I’d now be among the ranks of happily married women but by God’s grace, that is one of the greatest blessings I’ve ever been granted. During my days as a single lady I had my share of frustrating dead end first dates but I prayed that just one of them would sweep me off my feet. Nearly two years later I’m still marveling at God’s goodness in that answered prayer as I fall more in love with my husband every single day.


Mom’s Garden

Although my mom has been known to gripe about the difficulties of Colorado growing seasons, the stalwart weeds ever seeking to overwhelm her backyard efforts, and the neighborhood deer that annually invade to lay waste to her tulips, I’ve received hours of pleasure capturing colorful blooms like these which she keeps in her garden, little bright reminders of God’s work.

The Real Presence

I attended a theology uncorked event recently where the associate pastor gave a presentation on the Eucharist. His talk was full of calls to live our faith in small everyday ways and to embrace all doctrines of the Catholic church. This was truly more of a plea than a demand as he cited studies showing an overwhelming majority of Catholics do not believe in the real presence. How can this be?

Along my journey to faith terms like ‘benchwarmers’ and ‘piecemeal Catholics’ came up. There will always be those who struggle to practice what they preach or see fit to only follow certain teachings of the faith which they find most to their liking. But when did they become the rule instead of the exception? 

How can we help them? As a member of several ministries within our parish and as a newly devout Catholic myself I’ve been asking this question a lot lately. Sometimes I still struggle to find the balance between being pious and preachy and being a loving disciple of Christ. Of course everyone must accept Christ’s teachings in their own time and of their own free will. We can’t force people to believe in the real presence at mass. But as Catholics we are called to love our neighbors which includes spreading God’s word and love and speaking up when we see our brothers and sisters going wrong in their faith. 

Through transubstantiation, the consecrated host and wine at mass truly become the body and blood of Christ. As the associate pastor reminded us, we do not go to mass for the music or the aesthetic or even the homily. All of these things help us to worship and praise God but they are not the purpose of the Catholic mass. We attend church every Sunday to receive Christ through the Holy Eucharist. We become living hosts of God and subject to all the graces which come with that. 

Mass is not simply an empty routine to fill an hour every Sunday. Mass is where we go to worship God. Whether we enjoy the homily or are pleased with the choir’s performance, we always receive Christ.  

Starved for Holiness, Not Pop Culture

Photo by David Dibert

In every parish I visit there seems to be a huge emphasis on attracting new young Catholics to the faith. It’s no surprise. They are the future of the church and are desperately needed. However, nearly every appeal to these young people that I’ve witnessed has been a play on modern pop culture and precisely the opposite of what drew me to the faith as a 21 year old fresh out of college.

It wasn’t the rocking drums and electric bass from our parish Life Teen band that I found so enticing. Although those musicians are certainly talented and their music is something that I still enjoy in the car on my way to work, it is at odds with the quiet, reverent beauty to be found inside a Catholic church. I wasn’t starved for pop culture. I was desperate for holiness, peace and Christ in my life, even before I consciously accepted that fact. 

The moments which ignited my faith were all moments of quiet reflection. The first of these came during an advent vespers service led by our former associate priest. It was an eye-opening experience which I will never forget. The sanctuary was completely dark except for the altar which was ablaze with the warm flickering glow of dozens of candles. The entire service was conducted in a reverent silence broken only by the sweet tenor of the associate priest as he guided the assembly in musical hymns at the beginning of the service.After group prayer was finished there was a time of silent prayer for parishioners to light candles in front of the altar for their own prayer intentions. 

In that darkened, quiet sanctuary I finally felt the presence of God. I consciously accepted Catholic teachings very early in my faith journey but it took a bit longer for my heart to catch up. I understood these teachings to be true months before emotionally investing in them. This advent vespers service was the first time that I truly felt the presence of the Holy Spirit. 

Everyone is so quick to fill the silence these days. There seems to be a persistent assumption that we can’t possibly focus in absolute quiet and that we must fill every waking moment with noise, in particular, the hip guitar music that all those young folks are so fond of but if we are constantly surrounded by all of this noise and activity, how then will we hear the voice of God when he speaks to us? We need peace in our lives, the kind of peace that only silent and sincere prayer can bring. We grow up learning how to clap in time to our favorite tunes. What we need now is to learn to stop and listen. Church isn’t where we come to be moved by the music. It’s where we come to be moved by Christ.

Giving It Up To God

We all go through slumps in life whether it be due to relationship difficulties, workplace frustration, or simply the occasional day-to-day monotony which can creep into our activities if we’re not careful. Everyone has a cross to bear in this life but in turning to God during our times of woe, our suffering is not in vain.

Just as God used the suffering of His only son on the cross to forgive our sins, He uses our own personal sufferings on Earth for good. It’s easy to look at our lives and bemoan all the things that aren’t going our way. I know I struggle to see the silver lining sometimes. I’m a verbal thinker and rarely hesitate to vent my frustrations to my husband or my mom as a means of processing it all. This can be a helpful practice but there is a fine line between venting and whining. 

As Catholics we are called to trust in God in all things even when we struggle to see a good outcome. Sometimes the very best thing we can do is offer all of our discomforts and frustrations to God. We are not all made for great glory or fame despite the fact that, on some level, I think most people daydream about changing the world. But what could be more glorious than being a good spouse, parent, friend, employee? What could be grander than doing your very best in the life that God gave you, bearing your lumps without complaint?

This is not a lesson that’s easy for me to embrace. As stated earlier, I’m quick to vent (complain) about my lumps. I was raised to be very solution oriented and upon encountering situations that I find distasteful, I’m equally as quick to start dreaming up ways to change my life in order to avoid similar future situations. This kind of thinking isn’t necessarily wrong but sometimes the true test of character is not to search for the nearest exit when discovering a problem.

Of course God wants us to be happy, successful and fulfilled in life. This is evidenced through the individual talents which he blesses us with. We are each called to give glory to God in our own ways and through our own gifts. But even in this there are trials and obstacles to overcome. Imagine all the good we might see in the world if we all offered it up to God a little more.

A Tragedy of Modern Intelligence

Photo by Keenan Constance

I recently heard a news story that struck a nerve with me. It was a recount of a young woman who had been hospitalized for frightening symptoms including an extended blinding migraine which was the result of a blood clot in her brain caused by her use of hormonal birth control. Although such symptoms are certainly not guaranteed and many women use birth control without a visit to the emergency room, its physical and moral dangers are hardly ever communicated to women who are simply trying to be smart and responsible.

Before my conversion to the Catholic faith I was among these women. We grow up in a society which tells women that an accidental baby will be the end of their careers, their ambition and their lives and that the surest safeguard is a magical pill which will suppress their bodies’ natural inclination for reproduction. Even women who have no intention of engaging in sexual activity are encouraged to be on birth control just in case and also to regulate menstrual pains and cycles. 

To the many women who preach the menstrual regulation logic, it is a cheap and ridiculous cop-out. You are not exempt from the moral perils of birth control simply because you haven’t found someone you’re willing to sleep with yet. If you really want to regulate your cycle try keeping healthy habits. Stick to consistent sleep and exercise schedules and adhere to a healthy diet. In all likelihood, your cycle will eventually regulate itself. As for the horrific menstrual cramps that some women are plagued with, there are many far less cumbersome and damaging pain relieving options. 

However, the only alternative to birth control that we hear of is total abstinence which is only briefly, and somewhat sarcastically, encouraged in our high school health classes and often only spoken of as a means to avoid becoming pregnant. Our entire society tells us that the smart, responsible thing to do is to go on hormonal birth control and we’re led to believe that it’s generally harmless. 

In addition to the potentially life threatening dangers of birth control, there’s also a moral question to be asked. What does it do to your soul? Many Catholics are quick to respond that it closes a person off to the possibility of life which is a deliberate turning away from God and is therefore sinful. It’s true. By engaging in practices which deprive you of God’s gifts and blessings purely for your own pleasure you practice saying no to God himself. People today act as if sex is good for only one thing which is personal pleasure when in fact, the purpose of sex is to have children. You simply cannot approach it casually with this understanding in mind. God gave us free will but that does not free us from our holy and moral obligations. We don’t get to do whatever we want whenever we want with whoever we want without reaping the consequences. 

I think it is a terrible disservice we do to women to make them feel that their lives will be over if they have a baby, whether or not they’re mentally prepared for one. We see movies and read books about women who had to drop out of college and work three frustrating, mediocre jobs to care and provide for their surprise newborn. Very rarely do we see happy, married, stable, successful mothers portrayed with the same enthusiasm. This is where I feel unbelievably blessed to have been raised by such a lady. 

Although I am not yet a mother, I grew up with two wonderful, loving parents who encouraged me in all my endeavors while touting the joys and virtues of family. Never once in my entire life have I detected a shred of bitterness or regret from my mom about her decision to leave a promising and lucrative career in order to raise my sister and I. To this day she maintains that having kids was one of the best things to ever happen to her. That’s not to say that it was all sunshine and rainbows. My dad dedicated himself to providing for us which sometimes meant long hours at the office and occasionally we all had to tighten our belts a little with economic downturns. Our lives weren’t always perfect or easy but we loved each other and weathered our lumps together. 

It’s true that some women are less suited to motherhood, more fulfilled by other worthy pursuits, but so often we are led by society to make the grievous assumption that these women are the rule rather than the exception. High powered careers are not everything they’re cracked up to be and marriage and children are not the all consuming indentured servitude that we see in the movies. As my sister, a medical student and aspiring doctor once said, what could possibly be more worthwhile than raising good people?

I know that many of these views are not widely shared or expressed and they may seem pious or harsh to some. I may not change anyone’s mind but I wish that someone had said all this to me when I was a freshman in college. I wish I’d been given cause to hesitate when visiting my campus health center to acquire my prescription for the pill.