Who Do You Say We Are?
When I look outside when it rains, I try to find a colorful rainbow. A rainbow is bright, beautiful, and you always think there is something better at the end of that rainbow, possibly even treasure beyond imagining.
I have been thinking a lot lately about diversity in the world. I haven’t seen it much, especially since March. My heart is heavy knowing we are not kind to one another. Matthew 22:39 states, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself" (NRSVCE). I don’t see love, all I have seen is hatred amongst our brothers and sisters. Why? Aren’t we all one body in Christ?
I was born and raised in Kentucky. A lot of people’s first thought is Kentucky is so backward, especially with their views. But what I remember from living in Kentucky is all the diversity. It was a melting pot of the world, and that is how I look back at my hometown of Elizabethtown. Elizabethtown is next to the Fort Knox military base. I remember seeing people of all shapes, sizes, colors, and religions. This town and the people around me that I encountered while growing up shaped me to be the person, the human being I am. It didn’t matter to my friends (or to me, for that matter) what race they were, their family’s political affiliation, religion, or whether they were cheerleaders, football players, or baseball players. Those were just titles. My mother raised me to see the good in others’ hearts, and not to disregard the differences, but to recognize the differences between us strengthen the whole body of Christ. Titles and other characteristics do not define who we are.
What is more important? That you are in a particular political party or that you are a kind and loving person? As Galatians 3:28 states, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male or female; for you are all one in Jesus Christ" (NRSVCE). When I encounter someone, I do not see classifications; I only see Christ in that person. This begs the question: Who do we say that we are?
I am Amy - a government employee, a part of a political party, a white woman. But, these titles and characteristics are not who we are. We are children of God, and we all need to be able to look past individual characteristics or group associations and look at their hearts.
I recently saw that a journalist told another journalist he had decided to remove people that didn’t go along with his political views from his life. I thought, why? What does politics have to do with who that person really is? I have people in my life with views that are very different from mine, including politics, religion, and other beliefs. I am not going to push anyone away just because their opinions are different from mine. I wouldn’t be the person I am today if it weren’t for all my friends and family’s various backgrounds, religious beliefs, and cultures. I have a multicultural blend of friends from countries such as Ecuador to India, to Japan. My friends and family come from different religious backgrounds as well, from Buddhists to atheists. I have learned so much from all of them. I just wouldn’t be Amy without them. Apart from learning from them, God placed them in my life to serve them, and by serving them, I serve Christ.
"Maybe this is why we’re seeing so much hatred and division these days: we’re no longer seeing Jesus when we look at our brothers and sisters."
There is a song called “Bleed the Same” by Kirk Franklin, Toby Mac, and Mandisa. The words “we all bleed the same” is in an incredibly moving part of the song. As human beings, we all have different personalities and points of view, based on our cultural backgrounds and life events we’ve experienced, even as Catholics. But seeing fellow Catholics bad-mouthing each other on social media has been heartbreaking. We have to ask ourselves, what really matters? What matters is we are all one body, and we all bleed the same color - the color of love. Jesus shed his blood for us so that we can spread the Gospel of love. When we come together despite our differences, we show (not just tell) the world of this love.
If we didn’t have all kinds of people in our lives, we wouldn’t be who we are. I am who I am because of the people who have shaped me into being Amy. The titles or group affiliations that I have don’t define who I am, it’s the love that people have shown me that I spread to others.
As we go into the Advent season, look to Jesus in prayer, and show more kindness and love to others. God knows that each of us has much to pray for. God has called us each by name to spread his message of love. Finding the treasure at the end of the rainbow is the best feeling. At the end of the rainbow, that gift of treasure is the glory of the Child Jesus - given to us at Christmas. May we all find love again in this season of renewal and joy. By grace, may God empower us to follow in the footsteps of our Lord, who walked this earth and showed us how to love by his actions. May we always remember who we are! Children of God.
Let us always see the best version of ourselves, see the best in each other, and love even when it hurts - let us truly be the Body of Christ.
Are You Reaching Out To God?
As the very beloved Fr. Savio said to me recently, when you feel the weight of anxieties, all you have to do is reach out to God. When you feel anxious, the devil is trying to weigh you down. You can overcome him by taking that small step and reaching out to God. As Fr. Savio exhibits so well, there is always a positive outlook to our troubles…God is always with you.
So, how? How do we reach out to God? I would like to give you a few ways that the saints and fathers of our church recommend and ones that I find helpful for me when I am feeling the weight of the world:
The beauty of prayer is that it can be done anytime, anywhere. If you don’t know what to say, that’s okay! You can talk to God like you are talking to a friend. He will always have time to listen to you. A simple prayer, found in Matthew 6:9, "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one." Also, don’t forget your rosary, as it can be helpful for many scripted prayers. (Mathew 6:9-13, NRSVCE)
Read the Bible –
We have so many lessons to learn. Even as we get older, our perspectives change, and we view stories differently and ask different questions. I challenge you to look up one of your favorite childhood Bible stories. I bet you think about something differently or ask a question you may not have asked before. By spending time in the Word, we can learn something new, which may help us overcome or, at the very least, bring peace to our current situation. One of my favorites out of Matthew, Mark, or Luke is when Jesus ventures out with the disciples on a lake, when a raging storm overcomes them, and Jesus is fast asleep. The disciples woke him in fear of their lives. Then Jesus replied to them, “Where is your faith?” When Jesus calmed the raging winds and rocky water, the disciples were in amazement. What would you have thought if you were on the boat? Would you have feared the weather or held faith in the Lord? What would have been your reaction to Jesus walking on water!? (Mark 4:35-41, NRSVCE)
I have been told that often people carry around cumbersome burdens as they simply feel like they have no one to talk to. Talk to God. I would also encourage you to reach out to your local parish for spiritual direction or confession. In the meantime, write all your thoughts and feelings down. It can help you process the emotions you are feeling. Often, just writing it down can help you feel some relief.
Listen to Songs/Sing –
As many before me have said, music can draw us out of difficult emotions…and the beauty of music can bring us closer to God. We are not alone in our feelings. Music can help in expressing what we feel. There are so many songs in which you may feel a connection, and often the genres do not distinctly matter. Whether you are cruising down the road with the radio blaring or finding a quiet place to sit and reflect with soft background music, it can help you relax and clear your mind. A recommendation of mine is Lauren Daigle’s Turn Your Eyes. An old song with a new twist. The song goes a little like this, “Oh soul, are you weary and troubled? No light in the darkness you see?, There’s light for a look at the Savior, And life more abundant and free.”
I hope that these recommended opportunities to reach out and connect with God help you find comfort. The last thing I want to leave as an encouragement. The Lord replies to the disciples in John 16:33, “I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world! (NRSVCE)” We can turn our grief in to joy, turn that negative into positive, turn the closed door into an open one.
May we always find peace in knowing that Christ the King is in control.
Finding Grace Amidst a Trying Year...
Integrity, kindness, humility, and grace are qualities I strive for in my little life. At times, it seems impossible to exhibit such virtues in the face of pride, hatred, and incivility, and, yet as followers of Christ, we are called to do exactly that - the impossible.
Emotions have been running high for a nation torn apart by civil unrest, injustice, a virus that has killed hundreds of thousands of people, and a presidential race that affects the world, not just our fifty states. Our common home is most certainly and continuously under attack from our greatest enemy, Satan. Lately, it feels unrelenting as a fire of animosity is lit and stoked by politicians, news anchors, neighbors, coworkers, friends, and family, most egregiously pitting Christian against Christian. A divisive, disoriented, and disconnected Body of Christ cannot function fully, which is precisely what our enemy, the devil, wants. It is sometimes hard for me to wrap my brain around Christians having such different political views. Still, I then remember that God is a lover of variety and our opinions, personalities, and passions provide a balance in the Body of Christ, albeit sometimes a frustrating balance.
What do we do when we feel that deep pang of injustice and our zeal for goodness turns sour in our words and hearts? My initial response to this question was not Christ-like. I wish I had the grace, patience, wisdom, and love of St. Paul or St. Teresa of Calcutta. But instead, my blood boiled, and I wanted to reject the world that can be so thoughtless and cruel. The sin that has marred the world since Adam and Eve blooms in mind as I focus on the world’s brokenness and mourn a world that will never come to pass. Even in my yearning for peace, my thoughts are corrupted, and instead of treating others with grace, I become angry.
Only in heaven will righteousness truly reign. Injustice will always rule on earth because of the sin that entered the world. That is not to say that we should give up the fight for justice. Just the opposite, we are called to serve and be the hands and feet of Jesus on earth. I often struggle with the following: finding hope and trusting that our sovereign Lord is in control and resigning myself to rely upon and trust in his care of all things.
I repeatedly have to remind myself that ultimately all evil will end. Christ has already won. I have to remember that I cannot wage war against unfairness and oppression on my own, as I also pray for the grace to exude kindness and patience to those who would be against me.
While waiting for the Second Coming of Christ, Christians are called in for damage control and to demonstrate the love of God through our works and words. As Christians are called to be the hands and feet of Jesus on earth, we are also called to find and hone our own unique skills, which can be used to win others to Christ and show the goodness of our God.
“To each individual, the manifestation of the Spirit has been given for some benefit. To one is given through the Spirit the expression of wisdom; to another the expression of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit; to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit”. - (1 Corinthians 12: 7-9, NRSVCE)
This verse continues to list many more skills and ways the Spirit works in each of us. If all of us find our unique calling, our extraordinary God-given talents that can be used to support the Church and assist our broken world, the world will be better because of it. One of my favorite populations to work with is senior citizens. I don’t know why, but when I see wrinkly seniors in walkers and wheelchairs, I want to give them a big hug and remind them they are loved. That is God’s Spirit working in me, reminding these individuals they are not unloved or unwanted.
If you want a hand finding your unique gifts, I encourage you to take the S.H.A.P.E personality quiz. Designed by Pastor Rick Warren, S.H.A.P.E. stands for skills, heart, ability, personality, and experience and can help you realize your full potential. The gifts the Spirit has given you to make a mark on our broken world. Take the quiz at http://freeshapetest.com.
God bless and let’s get to work!
“I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.” - Rabindranath Tagore
And the Two Became One
Erin Elizabeth Park
I come from a strong Catholic family of 7. Growing up, my sisters and I were always told of the importance of the vocation of marriage. I remember my mother reading from The New Saint Joseph Baltimore Catechism about vocations, specifically holy matrimony. In that book, it talks about the chief duties of a husband and a wife. The primary responsibilities of being faithful to each other and providing in every way for the children God may give them. As a child, hearing this sounded very appealing. I think most children, at some point, think about marriage or at least parenthood.
As I got older, my desire for marriage faded and was replaced by a powerful urge to join a religious order. To me, there was no greater form of happiness than to dedicate my entire life to God. In 2016, I had the honor of attending World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland. One of our stops before attending the event was Rome, Italy. Our diocese was blessed enough to be able to celebrate mass in Saint Peter’s Basilica. We were urged to pray about our vocation and holdfast to our callings/awakenings from the trip’s outset. I went on the trip, thinking that my desire to join a religious order would be solidified, but the exact opposite happened. During the celebration of mass at the basilica, I had an awakening. It felt as though someone was speaking to me directly, and a feeling of warmth and intense light came from the altar as the consecration took place. The voice repeatedly said, “You are called to enter into the married life, stay chaste.” This went on until I received Communion.
And the Lord came and stood forth, calling as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for thy servant is listening.” - (1 Samuel 3:10, NRSVCE)
Not everyone has such stories. Some feel this calling at a young age; others felt they had come to understand their vocation like this over time. It does not matter how you felt the calling or when it happened, but the important thing is to follow it. At the time, I remember feeling directly defeated. I had my heart set on joining the Missionaries of Charity. Though it took many months and dedicated prayer, I finally came to accept my vocation of marriage.
Three years and many failed relationships later, I felt like maybe my vocation had changed. It is hard to not fall into a state of disparity when it seems like trying to find your future significant-other is an impossible task. I continued to stay chaste, and I stopped looking for a relationship. Those two things I feel sculpted me into a better woman, not to mention a better wife. You hear people say that when you stop looking for love, you will find it. In my personal experience, this happened to be true.
After taking a dating hiatus in 2019, I started dating a man that came from a very different religious background than me. Knowing the difficulties of inter-faith marriages, I went into this relationship with a very pessimistic view. During the first month of dating this man, though he did not have any strong religious beliefs, I found myself reading the Bible quite often, which was not a regular habit. I started praying more and almost felt my relationship with God being strengthened through every interaction I had with this man. I found myself continually thinking about my vocation. My prayers consisted of “God, may Your will be done.”
You ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and we shall do this or that.” - (James 4:15, NRSVCE)
By the second month of dating, I had a strong feeling that God had finally allowed me to find my husband. That second month, we got engaged. We continued to strengthen our relationship and regularly attended mass together. Even though our relationship with God was becoming closer, we ended up falling into a state of mortal sin. We had started living together due to some financial difficulties of my own. It is definitely not easy to live with your significant other while staying chaste, but definitely not impossible.
We ended up conceiving our first child in May of 2020, 6 months before our wedding, and in July, my fiancé was activated in the National Guard. The pregnancy was incredibly hard, not only because he was on active duty, but because of the intense feelings of guilt I had for conceiving a child before wedlock. Having been in a state of mortal sin on and off for about 9 months, I felt the priests were tired of hearing my repetitive confessions of the same sins. Of course, that was not true, but the guilt I felt kept me from going for most of my pregnancy. Three months into my pregnancy, I ended up having a missed miscarriage. A missed miscarriage is often diagnosed at a routine ultrasound scan, whether around 12 weeks or at the 20-week‘ anomaly’ scan. With a missed miscarriage, the scan picture usually shows a pregnancy sac with a baby (or fetus or embryo) inside, but there is no heartbeat, and the pregnancy looks smaller than it should be at this stage. This only strengthened my desire to get out of a state of mortal sin. Though our first child’s death took a piece of us, my fiancé and I’s relationship became deeper than before. I wish we could have shared our first child together through marriage, but I do not regret the life we helped create.
The Lord is near to the brokenhearted,
Months later, we finally got married. The process of marriage Preparation was extraordinarily insightful and seemed to fly by. The most exciting part was the compatibility test. It helped us see where our views differed and what topics we had not even thought about while dating. Obviously, our journey was far from perfect, but God allows all things to happen for a reason. The beginning of our relationship was a lot different than our relationship now. We have grown to know each other more deeply, incorporated our faith into every aspect of our lives, and have become better versions of ourselves by being together. No one is created to be perfect. In our moments of mistakes and struggles, we can turn towards our Creator and ask for forgiveness with a sincere heart. We are given a “fresh start” option, and all we have to do is ask. A husband and wife are meant to complement each other. They are not two halves that turn into a whole but are two wholes that turn into one. The primary purpose of marriage is to lead your spouse and children to heaven. Through prayer and sacrifice, the family unit will continue to be one of the most efficacious things God created to empower us on the journey of holiness.
“Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened."
Lucky or Blessed
For my entire adult life, I have been superficially...unlucky. Small things, like getting stopped by trains on my way to class or having to come into work early only for the shift to be canceled right as I arrive. Never anything significant, and certainly not enough for me to ever complain. If I am honest, I've got a blessed life. I have a great relationship with my siblings and parents. I have a wonderful, loving, supportive girlfriend who cares deeply about both myself and my family. I attend a great, albeit difficult school and am receiving a robust education, which has helped form me into the man I am now. I love what I do, and my future seems to be bright. With all of this in mind, you may think my life is all figured out. It is not. Only our God knows the uniqueness of the journey that is set before each of us. I needed to learn how to let God take the lead.
Our God is in the heavens;
As a young man, I wanted nothing to do with Him or his church. When I was a child, my parents made me come to this house with a blood-covered man at the front, and I wasted an hour of my precious Sunday every week. I felt apathetic towards the church. I couldn't care less what this bloody, broken man nailed to a cross thought about me and stopped going to church as soon as I was old enough to pretend that I was busy. I can pinpoint that I felt the most disconnected from the church, and this moment was when I left for college. I was on my own. I was practically an adult. "I don't need the church. I have my personal code and set of morals. I'll stay true to myself and what I believe. The church is messed up anyway, what with touching altar boys and whatnot. I don't want to be a part of a church that allowed that to happen." These are the things I told myself to justify walking away from God instead of seeking a higher purpose and the road to sanctity.
Transgression speaks to the wicked
Unluckily, I had a group of friends as a freshman who shared the same sentiment, who disliked the church and had no faith. They nudged me closer and closer to a life of complete rejection of the church. I started dating, which I hadn't until college and tried things I told myself I never would. How rocksteady were those morals when confronted with momentary pleasure? They could never hold up. I was spending all of my energy chasing fleeting happiness and brief experiences of immediately evaporating pleasure. I craved the next buzz, completely content to live my life consumed by sin. I didn't care about anybody. What was the result? My relationships started to crumble. I spent so much time utterly ignoring my conscience, spending zero time in prayer or active discernment, and missing God's purpose for my life. I lost sight of what makes romantic relationships loving, viewing them almost machiavellian, merely a means to an end. The relationship became more and more abusive, and I didn't want to realize that I was the one being abused. I thought I was okay with being used for sexual purposes, as long as I felt that moment of happiness that made it all worth it. I started becoming upset with it but would always just be shut down for it by her. She was often telling me if I kept looking for love and a purpose, she would leave me. She was always disappointed. I was never good enough. Eventually, I was even losing what I thought I needed in the relationship. She would tell me repeatedly that I wasn't good enough sexually, I never lasted long enough, and that I didn't satisfy her.
You know the insults I receive,
In the lowest of the valleys, the devil comes to you to tell you that you aren't enough. And, we aren't. We must seek Christ to be complete. In the winter of my junior year, I was confronted with a good friend who challenged me to attend our church's retreat, put on twice a year by other college students. He knew I was previously catholic and managed to guilt me into going. It changed my life. I met a community of people focused intensely on one thing alone: get as many people to heaven as they could. On the first night of the retreat, I met a wonderful young woman who helped me relax, open myself up, and just to be myself. I was surrounded by people who loved me in a real way. They loved me because I was their brother in Christ. They showed me how to love to the full. They did this by showing me that the ways I was giving and receiving love in my previous romantic relationship could not functionally lead me to God. My eyes were opened, my spirit and soul awakened. I do believe that retreat saved me.
O magnify the Lord with me,
We can only know ourselves in the light of Christ. If we put barriers between ourselves and Christ or attempt to separate ourselves from his path, plan, or promises, we will walk from light into darkness. After the retreat had ended, the women that God used to awaken my soul didn't think I'd remember her, but we've now been dating for months. We place Christ first in our relationship. She makes me a complete version of myself. How does she do this? Together, we seek our Lord every day by walking on the path of holiness. On this difficult journey of faith, we can become genuinely ourselves; the people that God desires us to be. As for me and my significant other, we can become more united to each other and by serving God and lovingly seeking our vocation.
While I may be pretty unlucky in the smallest of ways, I can say that because Christ loves me and has given me so many blessings and reasons to fight for him, I am the luckiest man in the world.
Return, O my soul, to your rest,