Author's Posts

Last week I wrote about St. Alphonsus’s “How to Converse with God”. Many of you have that book in hand by now. Have you started reading it?

I’ve had an edge of excitement for the last two weeks since I read it. This feeling is ever-present. In trying to name the source I wrote in my notebook “A deep relationship with God can change your life.” But I don’t think those words mean what I initially thought they meant.

Usually the words “change your life” invoke an idea of material difference – position, home, surroundings. We pick out the things in life we don’t like – our job, physique, financial situation — and imagine those as “changed”.

But in reality, even if all of that stuff were to remain the same and the only difference was a vastly deeper relationship with God, our lives would be different because of how it changed our hearts.

I’m a day dreamer. I like to envision my future. But I can’t tell you the last time God had any place in those day dreams. I can tell you what my ideal vegetable garden would look like, or beach vacation, but I’ve never taken the time to daydream about the most important relationship of my life.

So that’s my challenge for myself in these coming weeks: To use what I learned from How to Converse with God, make Him a part of my day dream and everyday inner monologue.

Thoughts?

A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good, but an evil person out of a store of evil produces evil; for from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks. Luke 6:45

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I’m a “follow-the-directions” type of gal. I’m a master at Ikea furniture and complicated Lego mechanisms if you give me the instructions. I like knowing the end result ahead of time and having a clear path to that goal. Put the words “How to” in the title of a book, and I’ll read it. Even if it’s something obscure that I know I’ll never do – like “How to Build Your Own Apple Press”, I want to read it.

Maybe this harkens back to my days watching Mr. Rogers’ Picture Picture videos about how to make things like candles, crayons and violins.

So when I came across St. Alphonsus Liguori’s work “How to Converse with God,” I was all over it. The book is small enough to carry with me – it can fit in a jeans pocket, but intricate enough to read over and over again.

The basis of St. Alphonsus’ book is confidence and love. It is simple, so why don’t we do it? It’s one of those habits that take time to build. But this one is majestic in its outcome and a pleasure to practice.

Below is my own summary of only a few of the wonderful parts of this book. Do not treat this list as if it were complete. The depth and breadth of the contents of this small book stand in stark contrast the petite size.

  • God loves you with the greatest love possible, and wants to be the greatest love of your life.
  • God wants you to talk to Him with confidence, because that means you trust him. To lack confidence when speaking to Him shows there is a lack of complete, confident love.
  • If you want to spend eternity with God, start now by speaking with Him as you would your closest friend – don’t be timid or cower.
  • “God is not wont to speak to a soul that does not speak to Him.” Speak to Him all the time. That inner monolog you have throughout the day can easily be turned towards addressing Him.
  • These conversations with God are not tedious or restrained. Talk about what you want to talk about. Tell Him your plans, griefs, worries, fears and hopes.
  • You will find peace by putting your confidence in God and conversing with Him regularly.
  • Beg His pardon when you sin.

Truly, I want to emphasize to you the importance of St. Alphonsus’ message in that God does not want us to talk to him with a fear so great that we cannot treat him like an intimate friend. Confidence is key.

Learn more than I can convey by reading and studying the book How to Converse with God.

And if you can’t muster the confidence, then fake it ‘til you make it.

So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help. (Hebrews 4:16)

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This weekend our priest challenged us to not become armchair Catholics. It really struck a chord with me either because it’s always been one of my fears, or I’m already on the road to laziness.

On the last day of the Divine Mercy Novena we pray for those who are lukewarm in their faith. It’s telling that the last day is saved for the lukewarm souls as these are the ones who pain Jesus the most. “These souls wound My Heart most painfully. My soul suffered the most dreadful loathing in the Garden of Olives because of lukewarm souls. They were the reason I cried out: ‘Father, take this cup away from Me, if it be Your will.’ For them, the last hope of salvation is to run to My mercy.” (Diary, Saint Maria Faustina)

In the words of Elie Wiesel, “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.” Both love and hate evoke the color red meaning passion, fire and deep feeling. Indifference is just blah, nothing, empty.

And to be honest, being lukewarm is comfortable. It’s inside a well-cocooned comfort zone where I don’t have to confront my shortcomings or stretch my abilities.

I’m going to assume that you can relate. For me the verve with which I pursue God waxes and wanes entirely based on my own effort. I find myself practicing laziness, resulting in getting better and better at it. Instead of saying a rosary, I say a decade, then just a handfuls of Hail Marys, then later “God – you know I love you, but I’m tired and going to bed now.”

And poof. A hard-won habit is lost.

I read things like what Lis writes about her wonderful experience with adoration and my initial reaction is jealousy at her relationship with God. Seriously. I need to get over myself.

But coming in behind the jealousy is a ray of inspiration. I want what Lis has and I’m the only thing standing in my way. Or sitting in my own way – in that darn armchair Father mentioned on Sunday.

Now is the time to get uncomfortable. Through actions, learning and prayer I once again fuel the flame of love of God. There can be no waiting or excuses. “I don’t have the time” doesn’t cut it. We have one job to do in this life and that is to get to Heaven.

Time to once again role up my sleeves.

1. Learn – even on just the topic of Catholicism there is so much to discover that I won’t be done in my lifetime. Guided education through your parish or online with sites like Formed.org are a great place to start.
2. Act – Using the Corporal Works of Mercy as a starting point. If you’re more than happy donating money to help a cause, ask yourself if that’s too easy. Perhaps it’s time to nudge a little farther out of ye olde comfort zone and try something different.
3. Pray – prayer should not be boring. If you find your mind wandering or anticipating the end of a rote prayer, it’s time to use a different approach. Lectio Devina is one method. Another is just turning your stream of consciousness into a prayer. God knows all your thoughts anyway, you might as well direct them toward him.

The Amen, the faithful and true witness, the source of God’s creation, says this: “I know your works; I know that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” Revelations 3:14-16

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O God, whose Son was born
in Bethlehem, on that
wonderous night, lead us to
that same place, where Mary
laid her tiny child.
As we look on in wonder and
praise, make us welcome Him
and all new life, and care for
His handiwork; the earth,
the sky and the sea.
O God, bless us again in Your
great love. We pray for this
through Christ our Lord,
Amen.

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How cool is it to get mail that’s not a bill or advertisement or form letter? How often does that happen?

I love all the mail we get at Christmas. Seeing the pictures and watching my far-away friends’ kids change from year to year is sweet. Sobering – because of how fast they grow, but sweet.

When it comes to sending Christmas a Christmas mailing, there are many options out there, including postcards, letters, photos and the traditional card. Continue reading Add Prayer and Love to your Christmas Cards

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The number of ways St. Michael has been depicted in art is innumerable. He holds the Book of Life on the Sistine Chapel courtesy of Michelangelo; Raphael painted St. Michael Vanquishing Satan in 1518, but St. Michael slayed his first serpent on canvas in the 4th century after Constantine commission a portrait of himself defeating a snake, later to be replaced by St. Michael. Continue reading What Does it Mean? The Imagery of St. Michael the Archangel

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The advent wreath I had when I was little was the construction paper one I made in Sr. Jane’s 3rd grade class. Like most of my Catholic education, I took that little wreath for granted and used it more to count down the slowest weeks of my life – those leading up to Christmas – than as a prayer tool.

There are so many wonderful reasons to have an Advent wreath. Here we’re going to talk about the top seven:

  1. Different form of Prayer
    Prayer is an exercise. And like exercise, it works best if you do many forms – not just bench presses and squats. Having (and using!) an Advent wreath gives you an opportunity to pray in a different way than what you do on a day-to-day basis.
  2. Perspective
    You’re only job in life is to get to heaven. If you read through the 4 weekly prayers below, you can see they are asking God to help us change in ways that make us more holy and reject sin.
  3. Deepen your Relationship with God
    That’s the whole point of prayer, right?
    Advent wreaths are a sacramental, meaning we use them to sanctify ourselves.
  4. Establish a Family Tradition
    Family traditions are a way for families to express their love for each other! Like that favorite serving bowl your grandmother used, a family Advent Wreath absorbs more and more meaning every year it is used.
  5. Teach your Children Well
    The correct reason for the season is the celebration of Jesus’ birth. Giving 30 seconds to Advent prayer every night before supper (or dinner…) brings their attention back to God.
  6. Get Outside your Comfort Zone
    Still not excited about getting an Advent wreath? That can be a good thing! Growth happens fastest outside your comfort zone.
  7. Peace
    There is something mesmerizing about a lit candle. Eating dinner with your family with the light of Advent candles burning gives dinner a refreshing ambiance.

Continue reading 7 Reasons Why You Need an Advent Wreath

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Let Go and Let God!

Man, that sounds so easy, right? Just let go!

It just doesn’t work that smoothly for me.

This summer I had the opportunity to do a high ropes course, and at the end, they would hook our safety harness into a little zip line and we’d float to the ground. All we had to do was step off the platform.

Just step off… don’t over think it.

High Ropes Course

I botched it every time. The first time my left foot refused to leave the platform, so while my right foot stepped off, the weight of my body followed, but the toes of my left foot were awkwardly dragged off the platform. It was like Buddy the Elf on an escalator, only in reverse.

Buddy the Elf on an Escalator

The second time, I forgot to put my feet down and landed flat on my butt, taking out the guy on the ground out with me.

The third time I leapt off the platform instead of stepping gently. That didn’t end well either.

The problem was, every instinct I had was looking at the ground 20 feet below and refused to let my muscles follow the very simple instructions of “Simply step off the platform.” I saw other people do it and float easily and safely to the ground.

The same has happened when I ponder the phrase “Let go and let God.” I’ve seen it work out for other people, but to subject myself totally to God’s will and trust Him for everything my family and I need? That’s a mighty high platform to step off of.

Putting it Into Practice
I have been praying for a long time for guidance on a major life decision. I knew what I wanted the answer to be, but I wanted it to be easy, without risk, and a safe, happy choice for all involved.

I had been contemplating for a very long time leaving my job as an accountant that provides a roof, groceries and Catholic school tuition – a job for a company overflowing in creativity, lead by a devoted Catholic man, and filled with my closest friends and longtime mentors, none of whom I wanted to disappoint or upset. Leave that job and step into entrepreneurship full time; seeing how far I could go with DiscountCatholicProducts.com.

At every turn, the answer to my inquiring prayers was “Yep. Do it.” Then I would back away from the ledge and think to myself “Nah. That is not what that meant.”

And again I would pray … “Is this the path You meant for me?” and the response would come: “Yes.”

I keep botching it, all because this whole “Let go and let God” thing seems harder than it has to be.

Oddly, I can look back at numerous times in my life where trusting in Him worked out – maybe not right away, sometimes taking even years. But He has never failed me. So why is it so hard to trust?

Stepping off the Ledge
Finally today was the day I mustered up just enough trust. I broached the topic with my boss and mentor of six years. It’s a scary first step and I doubt the trip to the bottom will be smooth and I’m not guaranteed to land on my feet.

What “Let go and let God” is not is a promise for an easy life and that things won’t get difficult. Just because I don’t want to take the trash out, doesn’t mean I am not the tool God choose to take that trash out. He gave me legs, hands, and muscle power enough to take the trash out.

Same for my career situation. Praying to win the lottery isn’t going to cut it. God gave me talents and a touch of chutzpah. It’s a long row to hoe, and it’s not my place to question God, or even give Him the side eye. This is the work He wants me to be doing. It doesn’t mean it’s not scary.

Relevant Bible Verse:
Cast your care upon the LORD, who will give you support. He will never allow the righteous to stumble. ~Psalms 55:22

Tonight before bed, my Lectio Divina reading is Chapter 4 of Philippians. I hope to gain some insight there and deepen my trust in the Lord.

Talk Back
Do you have tips for me? How do I get that last toe on my left foot to take the leap? What stories do you have of letting go and letting God?

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I’ve started and stopped writing this blog post many times. At first it was just supposed to be informational and light; but the further I dug, the more frustrated I became. I thought I had a pretty good handle on Sacramentals, but I was wrong.

The more definitions of “sacramental” I found, the more frustrated I grew. I felt like I was getting farther and farther away from understanding what they actually were and how they fit into our Catholic faith.

 

Sacramentals Defined

According to the Catechism (CCC #1667)  Sacramentals “are sacred signs which bear a resemblance to the sacraments. They signify effects, particularly of a spiritual nature, which are obtained through the intercession of the Church. By them men are disposed to receive the chief effect of the sacraments, and various occasions in life are rendered holy.

Ummm… I still didn’t quite get it.

I knew that rosaries and scapulars were sacramentals; I also knew the list was longer than that, but I couldn’t quite understand what made a sacramental a sacramental.

And because I, as a person who works with rosaries, scapulars, and all things Catholic objects all day long, felt confused, I guessed that there were others out there in the same boat: You know they exist, they help in prayer life, but it just never felt super important to have a solid understanding of what a sacramental is or isn’t.

In light of this, I’ve been reading up! And here’s what I’ve found.

 

Sacrament vs Sacramental

As Jesus instituted the Seven Sacraments, the Church has instituted sacramentals.

The clearest definition I’ve found comes from Julie Dortch Cragon: “Sacramentals are items, actions, and blessings that remind us to be faithful, to pray, to love one another and to be grateful to our God.”

While Sacraments are signs and instruments of God’s grace, the role of Sacramentals is to magnify the grace of the sacraments. They show us what is holy and “draw us into a deeper devotion and prayer.” (Cragon’s Amazing Graces – The Blessings of Sacramentals)

Below are examples of Sacramentals under their 3 different forms – Actions, Blessings and Items. These are by no means comprehensive, but I find that examples help me understand the abstract better.

 

Actions

A few weeks back I had written about crossing our head, lips and heart before the Gospel at Mass. This is a sacramental. It reminds us to be witnesses to God’s Word.

A few more actions:

The Sign of the Cross

Ringing the bells during the liturgy of the Eucharist

Pilgrimage

Sprinkling Holy Water

 

Blessings

Prayers, scripture and the accompanying gestures are used to bless tools, people and experiences like pilgrimages and quinceañeras.

The clergy are not the only one able to bestow blessings (although they are certainly needed for blessing that call for a little more fire power. “[T]he more a blessing concerns ecclesial and sacramental life, the more is its administration reserved to the ordained ministry (bishops, priests, or deacons” (CCC 1669)

In baptism we laypeople are called to bless. Even a step farther, Luke 6:28 tells us to ‘Bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” So be liberal with spreading those blessings!

 

Items

Blessed items, beyond rosaries and scapulars, are considered sacramentals when they are blessed and are used to sanctify ourselves.

The Catechism (1670) tells us that the list of items that can become sacraments is boundless. “There is scarcely any proper use of material things which cannot be thus directed toward the sanctification of men and the praise of God.”

A few more common sacramental items include:

Candles, Advent Wreaths, Altar Linens, Pictures and Statues of saints, Medals, and Relics. Really, the list is inexhaustible.

 

Sacramentals in your life

We often talk about bringing more prayer into our lives. Using sacramentals helps us on this quest. Creating habits around them like crossing ourselves when we wake up in the morning, enrolling in a scapular, or keeping a bottle of holy water handy all serve us in completing the meaning of our lives: Get to Heaven.

 

The soul who blesses will prosper, whoever satisfies others will also be satisfied.” Proverbs 11:25

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Choosing a Catholic Devotion

When you have the perfect Catholic devotion, it is present in everything you do.

The beautiful fall weather has started and I keep trying to find excuses to be outside. Last night I attacked the thistles in my yard until the dark and mosquitoes chased me inside. Throughout my task, Anna Nuzzo‘s rendition of the Divine Mercy Chaplet kept going through my mind – my devotional earworm. I would find myself half-way through a decade, the prayers subconsciously counted off on my gloved fingers.

I did not seek out a devotion, but the Divine Mercy found me. I picked up a pamphlet one day and that was that. I was sold and haven’t missed a day of praying the chaplet since. It’s the first habit I’ve ever picked up so effortlessly.

The overwhelm of choice

Every day here at Discount Catholic Products I am surrounded by an innumerable selection of devotional tools. To just pick a devotion from the multitudes would be a daunting task for anyone. We humans when faced with too many choices usually default to no choice for fear of being wrong.

Granted, there is no “wrong” when choosing a devotion, but making any choice triggers Fear of Missing Out. Think of the last time you had to order from a menu and couldn’t decide between 2 or 3 entrees. Just like ordering 3 entrees leads to discomfort, regret and a large bill, having too many devotions leads to mechanical prayer, frustration and overwhelm while trying to “just get ’em all done.”

What is a devotion?

Catholic Devotions are ways of showing love for the Holy Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), the Blessed Virgin Mary and the angels and saints. It’s not a single prayer, or a check mark that you “completed it”; a devotion is an ongoing consciousness of your dedication to offering everything you have and do. It is keeping the devotion top of mind throughout every day, and bringing your spiritual life into your every day life.

Why a devotion?

The USCCB points out that while the Liturgy is the center of the life of the Church, the time between attending mass should be filled with prayer as well. This is where devotions come in. “Popular devotional practices play a crucial role in helping to foster ceaseless prayer…. Popular devotional practices do not replace the liturgical life of the Church; rather, they extend it into daily life.”

To Begin a Devotion

So start with one. Simplicity in devotion is best.

Which one? Start with this list from the Knights of Columbus or these Eucharistic devotions from Loyola Press. Catholic devotions are too many to list, a sample being the rosary, litanies, saints, novenas, scapulars, Seven Sorrows, consecration, and chaplets. Don’t let the plethora of devotions detract you, though. Pick the first one that calls to you and do a little research, and pray about it.

Choose whichever devotion that

  1. Helps you meditate on the life, passion, death and resurrection of Christ;
  2. Brings you closer to the Church; and
  3. You know you can be faithful to and build a habit around.

A devotion is a means to an end. If the focus you chose is not helping you fill your heart with love for God and and your fellow man, try something different.

And this is my prayer: that your love may increase ever more and more in knowledge and every kind of perception. Phil 1:9

Tell us: What is your devotion and how/why did you pick it?

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