“A Shelter in Which Other Souls May Unfold”

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“The woman’s soul is fashioned as a shelter in which other souls may unfold.” – St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

In February, my friend Bernadette and I started a Catholic young women’s book club. Actually, I have my boyfriend to thank for it, because he gave me “The Other Side of Beauty” (Leah Darrow, published last year by Thomas Nelson) for Christmas. I loved the book and thought it would be a great book to discuss with a small group of young women. So Bernadette and I got a group together, and we’ve been meeting roughly weekly to discuss a chapter at a time.

We’re wrapping up the book this week, and we’ve all agreed that the group has been so good that we’re going to keep it going with other Catholic books. Bernadette had the idea to invite some girls that she knew who were new to the Raleigh area, and I am so glad that she did, because it’s been great to know that they are making some girlfriends in their new town.

Have you ever been part of a group that just meshes? We clicked almost immediately. We laugh, and we talk, and we pray together, and it’s beautiful. One of the girls had a birthday a few weeks ago, and we had dinner with her. We have a group message on Facebook that’s become more than just logistics for our meetings. We are genuinely interested in each other’s lives and supportive of each other’s journeys as Christians.

Growing up, I attended CCD every year until I was confirmed. But I never got to know the other kids in my class. I avoided retreats like the plague, and I never joined the youth group. I was just too afraid to talk to anyone. So now, being a part of a community (the broader Raleigh Catholic young adult community and this small, close-knit book club) that has a shared faith, that talks about that faith on a regular basis, and that is supportive and generous and also a lot of fun … This is a huge deal.

So here’s a shout out to all my Catholic sisters, sharing Christ’s love with each other and living out your calling as a daughter of God. Thank you.

Why Do You Seek the Living Among the Dead?

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In Chapter 24 of the Gospel of Luke, Mary Magdalene, Joanna (the wife of Herod’s steward), and Mary (the mother of James) visit Jesus’ tomb and find his body missing. Imagine their state of mind: They were heartbroken, having seen their God, whom they loved, crucified. Then, they went to visit his body, and they find it gone.

Fortunately, of course, God sends two of His angels to explain, and they ask the women, “Why do you seek the living one among the dead?”

It’s an important question that I believe we can all benefit from considering. We often look among the “dead” to find what only the living – Christ – can give us. Whether it’s good things that we rely on too much – a job, even friends and family – or things that are more obviously dangerous – substance abuse, porn, violence – when we look to anything that isn’t God for the fulfillment that only God can give, we’re seeking the living among the dead.

Sometimes, we, like the women at the tomb, need a reminder: “Remember what he said to you.” And when we do remember, as they did, we can “announce all these things,” to share the hope and the love that we can all find in God. To some, our story will “seem like nonsense.” But others will see the truth, and they, like Peter, will be “amazed at what had happened.”

World Down Syndrome Day 2018

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In 2012, the United Nations declared March 21 to be World Down Syndrome Day, “to help raise awareness of what Down syndrome is, what it means to have Down syndrome, and how people with Down syndrome play a vital role in our lives and communities.”

It’s ironic, because the UN is also a fan of abortion, which kills an alarming number of people with Down syndrome.

Down syndrome is the most common human chromosomal disorder. It occurs when a baby has a partial or complete third copy of the 21st chromosome (hence, 3/21 as the date for World Down Syndrome Day). Down syndrome causes mild to profound (usually mild to moderate) intellectual disability and can also cause heart defects, visual or hearing impairment, and other symptoms. The life expectancy of people with Down syndrome has gone from 25 to 60 just since 1983.

60, that is, if they make it to birth. While medical advances have done great things in treating the medical complications that can come with Down syndrome, they have also led to increased prenatal testing. I say “unfortunately” not because I believe prenatal testing is necessarily a bad thing. When it doesn’t put the baby at risk, and the parents use the results to educate and prepare themselves, it’s great.

But when it’s used to screen out children with disabilities from entering the world, it’s a horror on par with eugenics or genocide. That sounds extreme, but with reports last year that has just about “eradicated” Down syndrome due to abortion, I really don’t think it is.

I hate that word, “eradicated.” We eradicated polio. We eradicate bug infestations. We don’t eradicate people. Or we shouldn’t, anyway.

Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40).

There are many people we can consider the “least” of us – not the least important or the least valuable, but the least powerful. The most vulnerable. It includes the poor, the hungry, the outcast, the sick, the suffering – and it includes the unborn baby with Down syndrome whose parents are so afraid of the diagnosis that they’re considering abortion.

I am not minimizing the difficulties of raising a child with special needs. I coach baseball with the Miracle League, where I work with children with a variety of disabilities, from Down syndrome to autism and cerebral palsy to other developmental disabilities. I see how difficult it can be.

But I also see how the children I coach are children like any other – unique, learning (at whatever speed), sometimes happy and sometimes not so much, and…

Oh, yeah. Human. Children of God. And therefore possessing a valuable life that should never, ever be destroyed.

(Don’t believe me? Check out this video from #WouldntChangeAThing: https://youtu.be/Biex1XR_mpo.)

The Brown Scapular: A Carmelite Tradition

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When I consecrated myself to Mary earlier this year, I received a brown scapular that had been blessed by a priest. I’d seen scapulars before and heard of the brown one in particular but didn’t really know what it meant to wear one until my consecration. Now, I wear it every day.

(And on a side note: Women’s clothes are not made for people who wear scapulars. Every day, I’m finding tops or dresses I can’t wear anymore because the cut makes the scapular look like bra straps, which isn’t exactly the modest look I want to have. Any fashion designers out there want to start a line just for women who wear scapulars?)

Anyway.

What Is the Brown Scapular?

The brown scapular is a devotion worn under clothing as a way of telling Mary, “I am yours.” According to the Sisters of Carmel, it was given to Carmelite St. Simon Stock by Our Lady of Mount Carmel in 1251 in Aylesford, England. She told him, “This shall be a privilege for you and all Carmelites, that anyone dying in this habit shall not suffer eternal fire,” and the Church has since declared that lay Catholics can also wear the scapular.

The blessings given to people wearing the scapular have three conditions, because the scapular isn’t some magical talisman but a sign of real devotion: first, that they always wear it; second, that they are chaste (according to the Church’s definition of chastity based on whether they are single or married); and third, that they recite the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary everyday, observe the fasts of the Church and abstain from meat on Wednesdays and Saturdays, or (with the permission of a priest) say five decades of the rosary each day or substitute another good work.

Who Is Our Lady of Mount Carmel?

Our Lady of Mount Carmel is one of Mary’s many titles. Mount Carmel is a mountain range in Israel where Elijah, according to the Catholic News Agency, “successfully challenged the priests of Baal and won the people to the true God.” The Carmelite Order, which has always had a special devotion to Mary, was founded there in the 1200s.

Wearing the scapular is making a promise to Our Lady of Mount Carmel to imitate her humility, chastity, and devotion to Jesus.

What Is the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary?

The Little Office consists of morning and evening prayers made up of psalms, hymns, and scripture and other readings. I use the Laudate app to say it every day. It helps to guide my prayer, particularly my devotion to Mary, and to understand her role in the Church and in our salvation. Also, especially since I gave up Facebook scrolling for Lent, it’s a much better way to spend the first and last moments of my day than using social media.

Do you wear the brown scapular? How has it helped shape your relationship with God?

Totus Tuus: All Yours, Mary!

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Fr. Michael Gaitley, MIC, creator of the “33 Days to Morning Glory” Marian consecration retreat and book, says that “the act of consecrating oneself to Jesus through Mary marks the beginning of a gloriously new day, a new dawn, a brand new morning in one’s spiritual journey. It’s a fresh start, and it changes everything.”

I consecrated myself last Sunday, the feast day of Our Lady of Lourdes, and while I can’t truthfully say that I feel like “everything” has changed yet, I do feel like I have started “a brand new morning” in my spiritual journey. Every morning, I renew my consecration, saying, at the very least, “totus tuus” – “totally yours.” This phrase was St. Pope John Paul II’s motto, which he used to describe his consecration to Mary.

“Totus tuus” sounds scary at first – giving your life, your will, to Mary to do with as God wills. And it was a little scary at first. But as a person with anxiety, it’s now strangely comforting. All those things about my life that I can’t control, that used to scare me because I couldn’t control them? Totus tuus, Mary. I trust that what God has planned for me is what will happen. I trust that Mary’s spouse, the Holy Spirit (yep, her spouse! how cool is that?), will guide me when I don’t know which path to take. I just pray that as time passes, I remain as committed to my consecration and as trusting in that relationship as I am now.

Of course, consecration goes beyond myself, and that’s why I was particularly inspired by Fr. Gaitley’s discussion of St. Mother Teresa and her consecration. (Mother Teresa was all one of my childhood heroes and now one of my favorite saints.) As one of the people at the foot of the cross who heard Jesus say, “I thirst,” Mother Teresa said that our Mother “knows how real, how deep is His longing for you and for the poor,” and her role, then, “is to bring you face to face … with the love in the Heart of Jesus crucified.”

They say there’s no earthly love greater than the love of a mother for her child, so imagine how much greater Mary’s love must be for her child, who is the Son of God! And, as Mother Teresa said, Mary knows how much it hurts Christ to see His children suffering, to see them sinning, to not have them always close to Him. And so by consecrating myself to Mary, I am reminded of my childhood admiration of Mother Teresa’s total dedication to the poor, and I am committing myself to evangelization and to loving everyone on God’s earth who needs it. Through prayer and service, I must be one of Mary’s servants who helps to quench the thirst of her Son.

On Consecration Day, our group met for dinner and fellowship. My boyfriend, ever supportive and also happy to share our friend’s excellent cooking, came with me. We talked, we prayed, we laughed, and we consecrated ourselves to God through Mary. We received blessed brown scapulars and miraculous medals, and we ate great food (hey, you have to nourish your body as well as your soul, right?).

During the car ride afterward, my boyfriend told me how happy he was that he came with me that evening and that our group went through this process (he pointed out that it was worth it just to have brought me back to Reconciliation, and I agree). When he dropped me off at home, I walked into my apartment with a huge smile on my face, grateful for the group of friends I had celebrated with that evening, the boyfriend who was so supportive of my spiritual journey, and the Mother who is always working to bring her children closer to God.

Returning to Reconciliation

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“Confession is an act of honesty and courage – an act of entrusting ourselves, beyond sin, to the mercy of a loving and forgiving God” (Pope John Paul II).

I was terrified at my first Reconciliation. As a socially anxious seven-year-old, the idea of having to tell my sins to a priest I didn’t really know was panic-inducing. But I did it, because I was seven, and that’s what you do in second-grade CCD.

I hadn’t gone since, because at 28, Confession was still frightening. And, after all, I hadn’t killed anyone. I hadn’t committed adultery. Did I really need to go?

Over the past year, as I’ve been getting more involved in church and the local young adult group, I’ve been thinking about Confession a lot. Or, rather, the Holy Spirit has been hinting to me about it a lot. But seeing a therapist felt exhausting enough – going to Confession still seemed like an insurmountable obstacle.

Yesterday, though, I did it. I’d already been thinking that Lent was a good time to go again, and then I found out that it’s strongly recommended to go to Confession before consecrating yourself in Marian Consecration. Today is Consecration Day, so yesterday, I went to my parish, St. Raphael, during the weekly Reconciliation time. I sat, trying to read St. Teresa of Avila’s “The Interior Castle” while I waited. (I had a C.S. Lewis book in my purse, but in my heightened level of anxiety, I felt like it would be bad to read a Protestant book while waiting for Confession. I know. Silly.

Another side note: Trying to read “The Interior Castle” while you’re anxious is not an easy task.)

Finally, it was my turn. I prayed to the Holy Spirit, asking for guidance and a good Confession. I had my journal with me, where I had done something of an Examination of Conscience, listing the sins that I wanted to confess. Up until yesterday, I’d thought I’d sit face-to-face with the priest, but I ended up kneeling behind the screen. My journal stayed in my purse, and I just spoke to the priest, telling him it had been 21 years since my first – and last – Confession, and then confessing to him.

Y’all, Reconciliation is my new favorite thing. The grace, the compassion, the mercy that I experienced was beautiful. I never understood before why Catholics do the whole Confession thing. After all, why can’t we just ask God directly for forgiveness? But I think that’s missing the point. First of all, how many of us truly take the time to consider our sins and then ask for forgiveness? I told myself I did that, but I didn’t. Confession gives us the chance to truly examine our consciences and apologize to God. The priest offers guidance that we can’t find on our own, and then God actually speaks through him, telling us that He forgives us, that He has infinite mercy for us. That’s pretty incredible.

Why wouldn’t Catholics do the whole Confession thing?

Celebrating Our Spiritual Mentors

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January is National Mentoring Month. Since I’m an editor for a company in the training industry, I’ve been writing and editing a lot about the topic this month. It started me thinking about mentors outside of work and, specifically, in the Church. Who are my spiritual mentors?

I can group them into three categories: the people I have personal relationships with, the saints I have (long-distance) personal relationships with, and the people I look up to but don’t know. (I’m stretching the definition of the word “mentor” here, but bear with me.)

So, who are the people in my life I can consider spiritual mentors? My friends in the Raleigh Catholic Young Adults Group, for sure. They inspire me and have helped enrich my prayer life ever since I got involved in the group last year. I also have to include a shout-out to my Confirmation sponsor, a friend of my mom’s whom I don’t see often enough anymore but who made a big impact on my spiritual development in high school, meeting with me once a week to help me prepare.

Then there are the saints that I pray (way not often enough) to, including:

St. Therese of Lisieux, my Confirmation saint, who inspired this blog. It may seem strange to those who know me well that St. Therese was my Confirmation saint and someone I consider a spiritual mentor. After all, I would be a terrible cloistered nun. I am chatty (actually, now that I think about, it, occasional times of forced silence would probably be good for me), impatient, and don’t spend enough time listening to God (or other people, for that matter). But that’s part of the reason why it’s important for me to pray for St. Therese’s intervention – because she knows the struggle and knows the rewards that come from working through it. Too often, I want my will to be done, not God’s. St. Therese reminds me that trusting in God’s will instead will actually be more rewarding.

St. Mother Teresa, one of my childhood heroes. A saint I can remember seeing on TV! I read about Mother Teresa when I was growing up and wanted that same drive to help others. Again, it’s a virtue I have to pray for, because I’m as selfish as any other human. But, I do tend to be driven by purpose, and if I pray that my purpose is aligned with God’s, maybe, with His help, I can make some difference in other people’s lives. (Coincidentally – actually, probably not – Mother Teresa chose her name after St. Therese!)

St. Joseph, the foster father of our God. I feel like St. Joseph gets downplayed a lot in popular culture. Mary, people tend to get – or at least talk about. And I’m not saying that’s wrong, because, duh. Mother of God. But St. Joseph also said “yes.” He also made huge sacrifices to do the will of God. And he loved Mary and Jesus with everything he had – just like we should. I started praying to St. Joseph for certain special intercessions a few years ago, and he’s always been there for me.

Finally, there are spiritual leaders still with us, whom I do not know personally but whom I look up to a great deal. Pope Francis, of course. His humility has inspired me since I saw him bow to the crowds in his first appearance as pope. I pray that he continues to bring people back to the Church as long as God lets us have him here on Earth.

Then there’s Immaculée Ilibagiza, author of “Left to Tell.” She survived the Rwandan genocide hidden for about three months in a bathroom with seven other women, praying the rosary constantly. The grace she showed in the midst of terrible suffering – and the incredible forgiveness and compassion she’s demonstrated since then – are virtues to aspire to, for sure.

Finally, there’s the Catholic bloggers and podcasters I’ve started following very recently, who share their stories with others with great honesty and vulnerability. My current favorite is Leah Darrow, whom I’ve been gushing about to everyone I know since I read her book (“The Other Side of Beauty”) over Christmas. (Seriously, read her book. It’s great.)

I definitely have great mentors in my professional life, whom I look to for guidance and whom I’ve developed wonderful relationships with. But, ultimately, it’s the spiritual guidance I receive from the people I’ve described here who (I hope!) will help me, one day, get to Heaven.

Now, that’s a mentor.

Who are your spiritual mentors? Share in the comments!

Communicating With Truth and Dignity

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I don’t know about you, but sometimes, I really wish turning off the news in the 21st century was as easy as turning off a TV channel. But with social media, email newsletters, podcasts, and of course the good old fashioned TV and radio, it feels impossible sometimes. (Not to mention irresponsible – it’s important to be aware, after all.)

But sometimes, keeping up with current events is depressing. “And they lived happily ever after” does not seem to be the ending of any piece of journalism. And now, in the era of “fake news,” it’s not just depressing, but it’s untrustworthy, as well.

As a writer, this seriously bums me out. I love reading a good piece of writing, but not when it’s about a war, or another case of sexual assault, or how Iceland has almost “eradicated” Down syndrome through abortion. (That one really got to me.) I also hate the idea that other writers can’t be trusted, that so many so-called professionals are lying or stretching the truth just to get some clicks.

That’s why when I saw that Pope Francis’ message for World Communications Day focused on truth in media, I felt that same excitement that I feel sometimes during a really timely homily – like it was meant just for me. (Self-centered, maybe. But that’s the gift of a truly great piece of writing or speech – its truth speaks to many people – personally.)

Pope Francis called for “rediscovering the dignity of journalism and the personal responsibility of journalists to communicate the truth.” How beautiful is that? As a writer, I have a personal responsibility to communicate the truth. Whether I’m writing an article for my company on corporate training or a blog post here about my prayer life, I am responsible for what I write, and it must be the truth.

That doesn’t just mean I can’t write lies. For Christians, Pope Francis says, speaking (and writing) the truth goes beyond that:

“Truth involves our whole life. In the Bible, it carries with it the sense of support, solidity, and trust, as implied by the root ‘aman, the source of our liturgical expression Amen. Truth is something you can lean on, so as not to fall. In this relational sense, the only truly reliable and trustworthy One – the One on whom we can count – is the living God. Hence, Jesus can say: ‘I am the truth’ (Jn 14:6). We discover and rediscover the truth when we experience it within ourselves in the loyalty and trustworthiness of the One who loves us. This alone can liberate us: ‘The truth will set you free’ (Jn 8:32).”

As writers, and as readers (most of us are at least the latter), Pope Francis is calling us to “promote a journalism of peace.” Even when the story does not seem peaceful – which is all too often the case – our focus should be on the people involved. That’s why at work, I am renewing my dedication to making people’s work lives better through my writing, and here on this blog, I am renewing my dedication to prayerfully share a more spiritual truth. I’ll continue to speak for those who have no voice, like the unborn, and I will, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, be one of the voices that serve as an example of the “alternatives to the escalation of shouting matches and verbal violence.”

As Pope Francis ends his message, so I end this blog post: Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.

Why We Need Pro-Life Prayer

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Yesterday, I attended NC Right to Life’s annual prayer breakfast with a small group of friends from the Raleigh Catholic young adults group. Several of us were even given the opportunity to help lead a prayer, which was a moving experience in itself.

I’ve heard of the breakfast, which is followed by a march, but I’ve never attended. I’ve always been hesitant about faith-based pro-life initiatives; after all, isn’t the best way to persuade pro-choice people using logic and science (the same types of arguments they purport to use for their own cause), rather than the religion that many of them don’t believe in?

But, I realized, that’s not really the point of a prayer breakfast, or many other faith-based pro-life programs. Abortion is one of the greatest – if not the greatest – evils in the world. We’re up against people who (mostly) believe that what they’re doing is good. We’re up against, in the U.S. at least, roughly half the population.

Up against this kind of evil – the kind that so many people don’t even know about, the kind that is supported by elected officials, and the kind that kills more than 1,700 children per day  (and that’s just in the U.S.) – what is the answer?

Yes, the answer is science, and logic, and policymaking, and conversations with pro-choice people. But against this kind of evil, there’s one thing that we can’t win without, and that’s prayer.

So, no, the prayer breakfast likely didn’t change any minds about abortion, but it surely convinced some people (me included) to get more involved in the movement, and it most definitely, most importantly, raised a lot of voices in prayer, pleading for protection for the unborn, for people at risk of physician-assisted suicide, for women and couples facing crisis pregnancies – in short, for a country, and a world, full of despair and death.

In the face of such despair and death, hope and prayer are the best weapons we have. So prayer breakfasts, and pro-life rosary groups, and other faith-based initiatives are important. In fact, I’d say they’re essential – the only things that will make abortion not only illegal but unthinkable.

Next weekend, St. Raphael, my parish here in Raleigh, is starting a nine-month spiritual adoption, a type of prayer where you commit to praying each day for an unborn child in danger of abortion. I’ll be signing up and keeping you posted here on my blog and on my Twitter @everyday_roses on the experience – and the development of the child I spiritually adopt!

For more information about the pro-life movement, here are some of my favorite resources:

There Are No Imposters

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I think I first heard the term “imposter syndrome” a couple of years ago. It was an “aha!” moment when I was able to put a word to a feeling – and know that I wasn’t alone.

Imposter syndrome is the feeling, all evidence to the contrary, that success is due to luck, that accolades and praise are misplaced, and that you are unworthy of the good things that come your way. It’s typically discussed in the context of career development, but I tend to experience it even more in my personal life.

When developing any type of new relationship – be it with a new friend, colleague, mentor, mentee, or (as I discovered last year) boyfriend – I’m always waiting for the proverbial other shoe to drop. “Surely,” I think, “they’ll realize soon that I’m not who I seem, and then they won’t want to have this relationship with me anymore.”

I experienced imposter syndrome in the extreme in the early days (months, really) of my relationship with my boyfriend. Partly because he was my first boyfriend, partly because of my social anxiety and partly because this is just something I struggle with, I constantly felt sure he’d realize his mistake and dump me immediately.

One day, he said something that’s stuck with me: “You’re worth it. Not because I think you are, but just because you’re a child of God.”

My worth isn’t dependent on my own self-concept (thank goodness), or on what my boyfriend or my friends or my coworkers think of me. It’s intrinsic. It’s inherent in being human. The second God created me, I had value.

To God, there’s no such thing as an imposter.

“Do you not know that you are the temple of God,” wrote St. Paul, “and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16). How can a temple of God be an imposter? How can anything the Spirit of God dwells in be a fraud? It can’t.

My imposter syndrome isn’t going away anytime soon. It’s probably something I’ll wrestle with my whole life. But at least I have this reminder to pull me back when I start to go down the “I’m not worthy road” – that I am worthy, and that my worth isn’t tied to any of the exterior metrics I give it – my appearance, my work, my social status – but rather to a single intrinsic measure: my existence as a child of God.