Ever since I was little, I would spend many hours wrapped in my mother’s arms in tears. I was so shattered because I was not like everyone else and wanted to fit in. I had bushy red curls with pale, freckled skin, one too many visible and hideous birthmarks, and I have always been bitter about being so short. The inevitable reality of having a unique appearance was devastating to me. Despite how discouraged I always seemed to be, my mom raised me to be confident, and her comfort and love made me accept and uphold my personal temple of the Holy Spirit.
However, my inherent feeling of being an outcast did not end at my appearance. I can remember being curled up in my bedroom in middle school, dreaming of the day I could move to California, where no one knows my name, and I can start fresh living my dream life. We all should have seen this one coming truthfully: I was a midwest born and raised gal living at the beach under palm trees in a culture consumed with materialistic vanity. I felt like an imposter just doing my best to maintain my cover. The process was repeated again when I fulfilled my dreams of living in Europe only to feel utterly foreign and lonely when I was once again not like everyone else. Now I even reside in my hometown as a stranger to most because they do not understand my life experiences, and I do not understand theirs. All I craved was to be understood, but all I was able to chase was acceptance.
In my journey of following and mimicking Christ, I have found the same need to dilute the truth in order to conform. I love that they teach the small children in Sunday school to let their light shine, but it is a much harder act than they made it seem like it would be. As a young person in today’s society, attempting to live the Christian life, and even more explicitly living as a Catholic, are amongst the most offensive things you can be. Nearly every standard, moral, and value contradicts with culture. Thus, It is utterly intrusive to suggest this alternate yet more fulfilling reality of following Jesus. The irony is brutal.
I was once told that we are baptized as babies not because we are of age to choose God, but because we were born and brought into the church as God chose us. We have inevitable birthmarks of God. We must share the faith, proclaim the gospel, and dispel the evil lurking around us every day. If not us, then who? It is easier to layer up and hide God’s birthmark and the mere fact that we are Christian. It is all too easy to fit it. To simply deny Christ when everyone around seems to have already done so by their actions. It’s vastly discouraging to see the devil’s work amid our life and equally problematic in the lives of those we admire, but this is all the more reason to defy the unwritten rule of today’s culture; to be anyone except for yourself.
My favorite Saint is Francis of Assisi. He is known for the idea of preaching the gospel at all times, and when necessary, using words. To begin your work for the Kingdom, all you have to do is be who God made you to be. God created us to be special and unique from one another. His creation’s beauty can be seen and adored through people owning their quirks, adversities, and talents, their birthmark of Christ. Once you can accept your Catholic identity, and be yourself, then the battle of being Christ to others is that much easier. People are drawn to authenticity and the beautiful diversions from the status quo. It can take a while to figure out who you are, who God is calling you to be and become comfortable with that. But, be rest assured God is in the waiting, the frustration, and the journey. Just start.
I spent too long growing up feeling like the key to joy and success was being like anyone other than exactly who God was calling me to be, holy and true. At any given point, I was tempted to merely escape to a place where no one knows anything about me. It’s easier to not be known, right? It’s easier to be like everyone else because no one will know your personal battles and scars. No one will have to figure out the darker parts of you. You will never have to recount your regrets or come to face with your faults that you probably haven’t even dared to confront yourself yet. At that point, you may begin to understand loneliness, question your worthiness of being loved, and struggle with your self-image the most. However, when you can be entirely vulnerable in front of Christ and the world, you can be loved despite your secrets and sins. You can move on from your past. You can genuinely forgive yourself. The Lord’s mercy is limitless, and although we are taught this so consistently in our spiritual lives, it can be hard to accept this reality in our hearts. It takes other Christ-centered people around us to encourage pursuing God intimately and aiding us in authentically accepting ourselves. We must open our fragile selves up to be loved so we can, in turn, do the same for others who are searching for what God provides. I’m pleading with you to have the difficult and awkward conversations needed to grow closer to God and those you trust. Tell yourself you are a child of God who can evangelize the world around you, even if you don’t believe it yet.
I think the secret to Christocentric growth lies in letting yourself be broken and yet still a beacon of Christ’s light in the world. God does not call the qualified, but instead, he qualifies the called. Let me be the first or millionth person to tell you: you are called. You have been every day since you were knit in your mother’s womb despite any impediment that has deviated you from the path. The church inherently comes across as an exclusive institution for outsiders. We must embrace our humanity, reform our shortcomings, and fight off the urge to do anything else except reach out for God earnestly. Once we are honest with ourselves and others about the struggles and the grace and joy that comes from union with Jesus, then and only then does the Kingdom of God become attractive and accessible to others through our example.
We must proudly wear the bold birthmark of God, our Baptism. Christ calls us to denounce the secular lies, and worldly whispers shouted in all of our ears. It will require us to be brave and offensive to bring others to the freedom granted to us by Jesus on the cross. The freedom to shamelessly be who God made you be. The freedom to be forgiven and to be forgiving. The freedom to be loved and to love unconditionally. The freedom to hope, although this life is full of conflict, despair, and heartache, we wait joyfully for eternal bliss with God our creator ahead.
The time of Advent is such a beautiful season. It is beautiful and profound, but not because of the delicious food, pretty decorations, cheerful music, and gift-giving. Instead, it is lovely because it is oriented toward one person, one man, Christ. Often, people, including myself, look at Advent as a preparation for a birth, but this does not fully get to the heart of Advent. It is a time for preparation, not merely for the birth of Christ, but for Christ Himself. As people living over two thousand years after the first Advent, Christ has already been born, so we must prepare for Christ differently.
As Christians, we know that someday Christ will return. I often find myself not recognizing the significance of that statement. Too often do we look at the broken and fallen world we live in with so much despair. Our lives don’t turn out how we expect them to, or tragedies begin to make us wonder what good there is to hope for. This is why Advent and eventually Christmas are so important. They remind us of the hope that we have in Christ. Someday Christ will come again, and that is cause for much joy and hope. The reality of Christ in our lives is a gift that no other person can give and one that we must prepare for. A gift such as this can seem quite daunting, and it can be a temptation to look at where we are and where we think we should be and realize that we are unworthy of such a gift. And we’d be right. However, we also forget who is with us. Christ is just as much with us in preparation as he is the ultimate goal. Stated more clearly - life is neither a destination nor a journey, but a pilgrimage where God is the destination and the One walking with us.
To continue on this pilgrimage, we must be completely open to God because without the journey or the destination - we are lost. So how do we remain entirely open to God? Thankfully, we have wonderful examples of what it looks like to be completely open to God, and they are the people who were there at the first Advent; Namely Mary and Joseph. During my reflection on the holy family this Advent season, I have realized the importance of Mary and Joseph as individuals and the importance of their relationship with each other.
From an early age, Mary had made a promise to God to remain a virgin, and you could imagine that once she was to bear a child, she probably received a judgment from the people that she knew. This couldn’t have been very easy to deal with, and on top of it, because of her significance in bearing the Son of God, she probably experienced powerful temptations from the devil. However, what makes Mary so different is that she never gave in to any of the temptations. Mary remained pure in that nothing foreign to God ever influenced her. Even when things were uncertain, or if she was unsure what would happen, she remained open to God in all aspects. In Joseph’s love for Mary, he was there to help ensure that Mary felt safe. He needed to protect her purity. In doing so, Joseph was there to help her listen to God and not any of the judgment or temptation that would come from the world. He remained consistent in his openness to God so that she would continue to be safe and secure, knowing that his actions were orient toward God alone.
Joseph likely experienced a lot of uncertainty when he found out that Mary would bear a child, but he remained open to God regardless of that uncertainty. Through all of the difficulties that the holy family faced regarding the birth of Christ, Joseph had to remain strong and courageous, but above all, he had to be open to God. Joseph was going to be the model of authentic masculinity for Christ Himself. This would require a continued openness to God. Like Mary, Joseph anticipated facing temptation, but Joseph was a virtuous and prayerful man. There is a reason he was chosen to raise the Son of God. In Mary’s love for Joseph, she helped him in remaining open to God. Because of her purity, she would have been able to teach Joseph how to properly listen to God and give him the space to listen. Because of Joseph’s consistency, she was able to trust that his motives were always toward God, which meant that she would allow him the space to listen to God’s will. This can be seen prominently when Joseph was considering divorcing her quietly. Mary let the events to unfold as it gave Joseph space to eventually hear from God what he should do.
In this relationship between Mary and Joseph, we see how too people are supposed to love each other. By always willing the good of one another, Mary and Joseph were able to help and strengthen each other but always oriented toward openness to God. They wonderfully demonstrate how we are meant to live with Christ at the center of our lives and the center of our relationships with other people. Whether we are called to marriage, religious life, or Holy Orders, God has given us all the desire for communion with others, and Mary and Joseph show us how we can live out that communion, together with Christ. As we finish up Advent and celebrate Christmas, we remember the reason for it all: Christ. He is a light to the world that gives hope and joy, and with the help of the Holy Family, we can prepare for and become closer to Him.
First, Happy Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadelupe and Happy 3rd Week of Advent! I always thought it was so fitting that Our Lady’s feast day falls during Advent when we Christians await not just Christmas but the second coming of our Lord. Our Lady standing atop the moon, clothed in stars, shining in splendor, always reminds me of the glory we will see when Christ returns, finally to set the world straight. It reminds me of the Old Testament reading for Gaudete Sunday and fills me with hope.
“I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels”. (Isaiah 61:10, NRSVCE)
I love how Christ so often sends Mary to give a message of hope and comfort. He is always happy to include her, and us, in His plans. Very often, the healing hand of the LORD is the outstretched hand of a friend. Lately, the first part of the above chapter is always on my mind:
“The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn”. (Isaiah 61:1-2, NRSVCE)
It has taken years of hearing these Advent readings to really soak up even a fraction of the beauty therein. The apparent meaning of Isaiah prophesy - good and comforting things to come, is there. But on a deeper level, we need to understand that the LORD’s anointed from this passage is not just Jesus Christ, but all of us, who have become one body in Christ.
Growing up Baptist, I inherited a very strong sense that my ‘relationship with God’ was strictly between him and me; other people, and my relationships with them, didn’t really figure into it. After becoming Catholic in 2016, journeying and praying with other Catholics has transformed some of those old, very foundational ways of thinking. It’s not just God and me. It’s all of us together--I don’t mean in some nebulous, touchy-feely way, but quite concretely. Our mission here on Earth is to help those we know to stay in friendship with God and get to Heaven!
Even now, having just typed that, I’m still a little shocked by it. Surely, it is someone else’s job, the Bishop, Priest or Deacon, someone with more knowledge and authority, not just me. And true, God has given us clergy, as well as the saints in Heaven, to be our help; but the fact remains, having supportive Christian friends is a solid path to Heaven. Consider what Sirach has to say:
“Faithful friends are a sturdy shelter: whoever finds one has found a treasure. Faithful friends are beyond price; no amount can balance their worth. Faithful friends are life-saving medicine, and those who fear the Lord will find them. Those who fear the Lord direct their friendship aright, for as they are, so are their neighbors also". (Sirach 6:14-17, NRSVCE)
Reflect on how Sirach speaks of having faithful friends, ‘those who fear the LORD will find them,’ seeking out Christian friends, not just hoping to bump into them. Somehow this year, I stumbled backward into actually doing this by maintaining a Bible study through the lockdown.
All of a sudden, I couldn’t take for granted that I would bump into my church friends and acquaintances after mass or at a FRAYAM event. There wasn’t anything; if we didn’t reach out, we didn’t have the relationship. Suddenly, I had to be deliberate, and I found out what happens if you approach friendships deliberately. I found out you could schedule text messages to check in on a friend. I found out people will pick up the phone just to chat, even if it’s 8:30pm on a weeknight. I found out most people will go to a Bible study if you invite them five or more times. I found out you can open up to friends, and they will want to help you. Most importantly, I found out that having regular contact with Christian friends was great for my spiritual life; having people to pray for, makes prayer a lot easier.
If you want to know God, a great place to start is by getting to know other Christian people, who are made in His image and likeness. It’s what we are supposed to do, as Paul teaches in Ephesians.
“We must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love". (Eph 4:15-16, NRSVCE)
Only by growing and working together are we going to grow in Christ in EVERY way. As the new year approaches, do something different instead of making the same old resolutions. Join a Bible study, make some new Catholic friends. You won’t regret it. Faithful friends are beyond price.
“You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped.” (Jeremiah 20:7, NABRE)
I once heard an excellent homily on this passage and felt compelled to pass on what I learned from a wise, holy priest. I have to admit, this is one of my favorite lines from Scripture. It’s so honest, isn’t it? We see the prophet Jeremiah cry out these words to God once he has reached his breaking point. As a prophet, he is not well-liked for delivering the word of God and is very much subject to persecution. In the midst of his crisis, Jeremiah laments that God has deceived or tricked him. He embarked on the mission God had asked of him, and now his life is full of misery and pain. His story started out with so much hope, yet now he feels utterly abandoned and let down by God.
And so he cries out: “You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped.”
Imagine a man and woman on their wedding day. They are in love and overjoyed as they head into honeymoon bliss. A few years pass by, and the ecstasy seems to fade. Suddenly, the person they married is no longer a god or an angel, but a human being. Their faults rise to the surface, like oil in water. Love seems to have deceived them. Now, they are tempted to believe they have married the wrong person.
You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped.
Once eager to begin his ministry, a priest has discovered first-hand that his priestly duties are physically and emotionally demanding. He experiences burnout and unfulfillment. He begins to wonder if God led him to the wrong vocation.
You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped.
A young person has decided to live out their Catholic faith. They are hopeful and excited about the journey ahead. Instead, they are mocked and ridiculed. They followed God’s will, only to be made a laughing stock.
You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped.
Haven’t we all been there? In prayer we have cried out, “Lord, you told me this thing was going to be great. And now it’s not. You tricked me!” In many places, there are Christians who are tortured and killed for living out their faith. Perhaps even these present-day martyrs have cried out, “Lord, you have duped me! I didn’t sign up for this. Is this how you repay your servants?”
With these cries to heaven, it means that at one point or another, we trusted God. We trusted in His guidance as He pointed us in a particular direction - whether that be a job, a marriage, a vocation, etc. We took a chance on God, and now we are experiencing pain and suffering. Somewhere along the way, God didn’t seem to follow through on His promises. And so we cry out to Him, feeling betrayed and confused.
I think God responds to these prayers lovingly. Even Christ spoke these words on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). I remember a time I was furious at God. I was in prayer before the crucifix, and in my ignorance, I said, “Lord, you don’t know what it’s like to go through this!” Thankfully, the Lord is good and patient with me. The response that I was given, truly deserved, was, “Really? You think this cross was comfortable?”
Instead, He invited me to lift up my head and gaze at the crucifix. There are wounds on His body. I see His arms outstretched, totally abandoning Himself to the will of the Father. He has nothing to take but everything to give. It’s almost as if He said to me, “My daughter, I do know what it’s like to suffer.”
The response God gives when we cry out, “You have duped me, O Lord!” is this: “Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Me” (Luke 9:23). Not really the response we want to hear, I know. The prosperity Gospel sounds a lot more appealing - the idea that God will reward us with riches, good health, worldly happiness, etc., for following His will. But it’s actually a sham. There is no Christianity without the cross.
I think of the Presentation of Our Lord when Mary was told, “a sword will pierce your own heart, too.” How powerless and troubled Joseph must have felt knowing he would not be able to protect his wife and child from undergoing such a terrible trial. I think of Mary at the foot of the cross – it seemed she had every right to spit and curse at the people who put her Son to death, but instead, she accepted her sorrow with a quiet, pondering heart.
Mary, our Mother, and St. Joseph knew that God loved them. Deep down, we know the same is true for us. Even when Jeremiah accused God of deceiving him, he felt a fire burning in his heart...he knew that he was still loved by God. He knew he must continue the mission God had for him.
In all of this, it’s important to note that God doesn’t want us to be miserable, nor does He take pleasure in seeing our despair. He wants us to live life to the full. He isn’t a God of deception or trickery - He’s a loving Father who is sympathetic to our pain. We gain far more than we lose when we dedicate our lives to Him.
There is a big difference between joy and happiness. Happiness is often dependent on worldly things; joy is dependent on heavenly things. If you read about the saints, they weren’t full of joy because they were happy. They were full of joy because their eyes were fixated on heaven. God doesn’t always promise us happiness; what He does promise is a true and lasting joy - the kind that the world isn’t able to offer.
Our suffering does not have the final word. Christ does. If we allow Him, he transforms our suffering and brings out a greater good. Maybe you are angry with God. Perhaps you have doubts that He is good. Whatever your situation is, God invites you to take another chance on Him. It won’t be easy, but He promises us it’s worth it. Your sister in Christ is cheering you on.
You duped me, O Lord. Thanks be to God, I let myself be duped.