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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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Two years, 10 months and 16 days ago a 27′ UHaul Truck with a dead headlight and bad windshield wipers was driving over the Rocky mountains then through a terrible snowstorm. The truck contained the entire contents of a 13 year-old (old for the internet) company and was traveling from Silicon Valley to Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

Six months before that, Travis and I were looking at each other asking each other “Are we nuts?” as we kept coming across this website for sale: DiscountCatholicProducts.com.

All I really wanted was a little something I could do on the side of my “real job” to pay off student loans a little faster, just a couple extra $100 a week or so. What commenced after that… I never would have gone down that road if I knew what were to come.  (Don’t get me wrong – we’re having a blast. But it’s the complete opposite of what I thought I wanted. A few hours a week on my own time? HAH! Not even close!)

I thought maybe having a website would fill this criteria, so the search began. We looked at a few small sites here and there, and then we came across this behemoth that was super compelling, but way outside our list of criteria, and way outside our price range. So we ignored it and kept looking.

But it kept popping up. This Catholic website. It wouldn’t be ignored.

So, fine, we thought. Let’s just take a look and see what it has to offer. What could it hurt? We may even learn something.

What we saw was very compelling. We saw a business with strong roots – founded by a brother/sister team out of their garage back in 1999, with great customers and vendors. And then it had been sold off to a large Silicon Valley company that wanted to use it for their Christmas decoration business, but it just never really tied together. Discount Catholic Products was tucked into the corner of a much larger office, and cared for by a small staff.  The synergies they were hoping for never really panned out, so they were selling it off, and not having an easy time of doing in.

That’s where we came in. At the time it just seemed like such a large, daunting company (even with a staff of only 3) – so much more than we were looking for – that we didn’t want to want it, so we passed.

And it just kept coming back into our minds. As did insecurities – Could we handle something like this? How would our family life change? Are we Catholic enough?

So we put forth what we thought was a ridiculously low offer – that way we could say we tried and then forget it.

But they accepted. 

Nuts. Not what we were expecting. But on the other hand we were SO EXCITED – and totally scared! This little website needed some dedicated, Catholic love! It needed to come back to a Catholic family willing to nurture the customers and catalog. It needed an upgrade and some testing, and pruning of product list. It was a fixer-upper!

I LOVE new projects, I love challenges, and I had nothing but pure anticipation when we realized what was coming. 

So I took a few days off my job, conned my mother into being a trucker for a week, flew out to California, loaded the business onto a U-Haul. The original plan was to run the business out of our basement, but when we saw the racks of product when we got to Silicon Valley, we knew it would never fit.

So I flew back to South Dakota, and Mom took off in the U-Haul. I had 2.5 days to find a place for this business to land. She would remind me of this with a string of text messages that said “by Friday”. That’s all it said. Each text – for 2 days straight “by Friday.” Meaning – “you better find a place for this stuff to land because I’m only moving it this once.”

“By Friday”

“by FRIDAY”

On Thursday Travis was driving the same route to school that he had driven over 1000 times in the last 7 years, and he noticed a barn that had been converted into offices. On a whim he pulled in to the parking lot and poked his head around. Within 2 hours he and I were talking with the landlord and helping him clean out a space he was using for storage that would now become our Discount Catholic Products HQ.

Our First Office - in a barn (which is fitting, since we're both farm kids)

Our First Office - in a barn (which is fitting, since we're both farm kids)

And it was perfect!

The UHaul arrived the next day, we unloaded it, and began filling orders that had been backing up for the last 3 days. Due to both our inexperience and the mess of unpacking Travis and I would be filling orders until 1-2 AM every night, and teaching/accounting during the day. 

And slowly we’ve made our upgrades, we’ve honed our product offerings, and we have learned so much. But the main take-away for us so far is our faith and how much we’ve grown in our faith thanks to our customers. 

You don’t know what you don’t know until someone points it out. Sometimes we felt really dumb, under-catechized, and confused, but the amount that we learn only fuels our faith. We know God brought us to DCP for a reason. My prayer is that we somehow help others on their faith journey so they can grow in their relationship with God, as we have been gifted for the last 3 years.

So while this labor of love is much more labor than I ever expected, the other end of that is that the love is multitudes more than the labor. Thank you so much for being part of the DCP Family. We appreciate every one of you!

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Everywhere I turn these days I seem to encounter athletes. One of my friends did a half IronMan this last weekend, we’re in the middle of the Olympics, and I recently learned about Sister Madonna Buder, about whom Nike recently made a great commercial.

Sr. Madonna’s story is fantastic. She has completed over 40 IronMan competitions – for the uninitiated the race includes a 2.4 mile swim, a marathon run, and 112 bike ride, for a total of 140.62 miles in under 17 hours. Oh… and she’s 86.

It’s all very intimidating or inspiring… I can’t decide which one. I’m not a complete couch potato – I play on a few rec leagues, but what these people can physically accomplish is amazing. It makes me want to go out and run a mile. 

My mom always said that I shouldn’t use the word hate. So I won’t.

I very strongly dislike running. VERY strongly.

I love mowing the lawn. I have a super old Dixon lawn mower and for 2 and half hours every weekend I get to mow the lawn. It’s very mesmerizing.

What do these two thing have in common? They are great times for prayer. 

I’m particularly fond of the Divine Mercy Chaplet (I found the one sung by Angelina on Google Play is my favorite) when I’m mowing. It is such a powerful prayer and when sung, it adds time for me to meditate on each iteration of “For the sake of His Sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.” It’s beautiful and moving and very personally meaningful.

Then there’s running. Did I tell you how I feel about running? Well that hasn’t changed in the last 4 paragraphs. I don’t like to do it.

However, prayer is a great tool for my mental game when I run. It not only keeps my mind busy, but it also helps me keep tempo and sets milestones for marking my run. (Tip – Rosary Rings work really well for this.)

The man who teaches the adult education classes at my church swims as he prays the rosary. He says he can spend an entire half hour on a single mystery.  That is inspiring.

So with rosary ring securely around my finger, I run. I run the rosary. And the results are a slightly better soccer game, physical well-being and an inner satisfaction that can only come from the grace of God.

 

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