Poem for My Married Friends

Author’s Note: Written in Summer 2013 as a wedding present for my friend and her new husband.

Poem for My Married Friends

My prayer for you, dear friends, is this:
That you may share in wedded bliss
While holding fast to Faith and Love,
Sharing below the Lord above.
Through trials and blessings the same,
May you ne’er fail to call His Name
While loving your companion true
In all struggles, both old and new.
I pray that this new family
Should be like God–The One And Three,
Who Is and Was and Is To Be–
In knowledge, love, and kind duty.
The Psalmist’s words, for you I pray:
“May they guard you in all your ways.”

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Talk: “Signs and Sacraments” (Part 4)

Author’s Note: This the final part of a resource talk that I gave on a retreat in 2011; the topic for the talk, which is a combination of my personal testimony and Church teachings, was on “Signs and Sacraments.” The talk will be posted in four consecutive parts. The retreat that I gave the talk at focuses on “Community” and strengthening our community as a Church through our shared love and service of Christ.

If you need a refresher, read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

HOLY COMMUNION

I just wanted to touch very briefly on the Eucharist. I want to stress the importance of the reality of the Eucharist. What seems to be bread and wine isn’t just a symbol of Christ’s love and sacrifice… it isn’t just a symbol of His body and blood. It IS His Body and Blood. When the priest raises the host up and validly says the words of consecration, it is no longer bread, even though it has the appearance of bread. But the reality of it has changed entirely, even though its resemblance hasn’t. People who come out of the Holy Water font aren’t any different physically than when they went in (other than being wet). But, they’re completely different interiorly because they have been purified of their original sin.

Think of it this way: the True Presence of Christ’s Body and Blood has been masked and disguised as mere bread and wine so that we can unrestrainedly partake of the full sacrament. Just imagine if you went up to the minister in the communion line and he handed you a literal piece of Christ’s flesh. Well, I don’t know about you, but I would freak out! I would be in such awe, such reverence, and wonderment that I couldn’t partake of it. I would feel so unworthy. But, there is no difference except that the Eucharist does not appear to be flesh and blood, but it is. Otherwise, we might be unwilling to take it, right? Christ did that for our sake.

Jesus said to them, ’Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life with in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me.’” –John 6:53-57

Does that make sense? It is not a representation of Christ’s sacrifice, but a re-presentation of His Sacrifice! That is why the Eucharist is so important; because it’s not just a symbol, but it’s a reality.

CONCLUSION

So, before I close, I just wanted to stress two key things. Basically, if you forget everything else from this talk (which I know you all will), I ask that you remember these two things:

  1. Always have a reverence for the sacraments. Perhaps you don’t understand all of them. Maybe you were sitting there this whole time thinking, “What on earth is she talking about?” Don’t worry, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Also, receive the sacraments as much as you can. Right now, most of us can receive Communion and Confession on a regular basis, so I encourage you to do so. And also, if you know anyone who’s going through RCIA right now or going to get married or ordained soon, I ask you to support them and pray for them.
  2. Signs… Yes. Those things I talked about way back at the beginning of this talk. Remember the Totus Tuus phamplet? Ok, sometimes those things happen. Sometimes God sends you big neon signs telling you what to do. But, most of the time, He doesn’t. Most of the time, you have to find the sign in your heart. Trust me, you know more than you’re willing to admit that you do. And I just wanted to ask to everyone to always act on those signs, whether physical or interior.

I taught my kids this summer the four things you need to discern God’s will for you (write these down): PSSGF. Prayer, Sacraments!!!, Scripture, and Good Friends. So, remember those four things. Always remember, signs are a gift from God. So, always thank God for them. Thank God for his grace. Thank God for his Sacraments. Amen? Amen!

If you’d like to read the talk in its entirety, the Word Document is here: Signs and Sacraments.

Talk: “Signs and Sacraments” (Part 3)

Author’s Note: This the third part of a resource talk that I gave on a retreat in 2011; the topic for the talk, which is a combination of my personal testimony and Church teachings, was on “Signs and Sacraments.” The talk will be posted in four consecutive parts. The retreat that I gave the talk at focuses on “Community” and strengthening our community as a Church through our shared love and service of Christ.

If you need a refresher, read Part 1 and Part 2.

CONFIRMATION

I don’t know how many of you have been to an Easter Vigil service, but I hope you all go at some time in your life. Yes, it can be long, but it is the most beautiful liturgy I know. And, afterward, there’s usually a huge reception with lots of food. It’s a great way to break that Lenten fast!

But, in the liturgy of the Easter Vigil, the catechumens will be baptized, and then the candidates and catechumens will come forward before the priest to be confirmed. It’s really neat to go straight from the baptisms to the confirmations, because, according to the Catechism, “by the sacrament of Confirmation, [the baptized] are more perfectly bound to the Church and are enriched with a special strength of the Holy Spirit. Hence they are, as true witnesses of Christ, more strictly obliged to spread and defend the faith by word and deed.”(1285)

The two biggest signs of Confirmation are the laying on of hands and the chrism oil. Now, when I was confirmed four years ago, the Bishop was joking, “Gee! Wouldn’t that be cool if the Holy Spirit descended upon us tonight like it did on the disciples in the Upper Room? I bet more than a few heads would catch on fire with all of the hairspray we have in here!” Fortunately, that did not happen.

But, the laying on of hands is a sign of invocation. Has anyone seen people praying with their arms up like this? They’re invoking the Holy Spirit. Well, in Confirmation, the Bishop is doing the same thing, but in a more formal and sacramental way. He, as an apostolic successor, is invoking the Holy Spirit to descend upon the candidates and to seal them with the Gift of the Holy Spirit.

And at Confirmation, Sacred Chrism is used again. The Catechism says that the reason for the Sacred Chrism is to highlight “the name ‘Christian,’ which means ‘anointed’ and derives from that of Christ himself whom God ‘anointed with the Holy Spirit.’ The term Confirmation suggests that this sacrament both confirms and strengthens baptismal grace.” (1289)

And later in the Catechism, it adds, It is fitting to consider the sign of anointing and what it signifies and imprints: a spiritual seal.” (1293) The Chrism seals in us the seeds of grace and spiritual gifts that were given to us through Baptism. Now, we are sent out, strengthened by this Seal of Anointing, to share in Christ’s mission of prayer and evangelization.

35723502Check back tomorrow for the last part of the “Signs and Sacraments” talk!

Talk: “Signs and Sacraments” (Part 2)

Author’s Note: This the second part of a resource talk that I gave on a retreat in 2011; the topic for the talk, which is a combination of my personal testimony and Church teachings, was on “Signs and Sacraments.” The talk will be posted in four consecutive parts. The retreat that I gave the talk at focuses on “Community” and strengthening our community as a Church through our shared love and service of Christ.

Read Part 1 on “Signs of God.”

PART 2: SACRAMENTS (OF INITIATION)

Now, the Catholic Church recognizes Seven Sacraments:

  1. Baptism
  2. Confirmation
  3. Eucharist
  4. Reconciliation
  5. Matrimony
  6. Holy Orders
  7. Anointing of the Sick

And a Sacrament, as defined by the Catechism of the Catholic Church (abbreviated CCC) is “an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace.” Each of the Seven Sacraments has its own symbols that are associated with it. For instance, when I say holy water, you think of Baptism, right? Or when I say vows and rings, you think of matrimony?

The Baltimore Catechism says, “A sacrament symbolizes what it affects and it effects what it symbolizes.” Now, that’s just a fancy way of saying “It walks the walk and talks the talk.”

For example, baptism: The water is a symbol, but it is also a necessary for the actual baptism. When the water is poured over the individual, it isn’t just a symbol of their baptism. It is his or her baptism. No longer is it mere water, but it has become the waters of baptism, by which this person has entered into the Family of the Church.

But, at the same time, you need the words of baptism as well, right? If I just pour some water over your head, am I baptizing you? No. I need to say the words, right? And I also have to have the intention of baptizing you (which I can’t do if you’ve already been baptized). We need, as the Catechism says, both matter—the water, oil, etc.—and the form—the words.

It’s the same thing with all the other sacraments. If the priest just lifts up the host at Mass without saying the words of consecration, he’s not consecrating the sacrament. Or if a couple puts their rings on each others’ fingers without saying their vows, are they validly married? No.

Just so, the sacraments ‘walk the walk’ and ‘talk the talk.’ They are not just symbols. They are realities­­—gifts given to us by God to confer grace.

I can’t cover all of the sacraments in depth, but I do want to touch on the Sacraments of Initiation: the Catechism says, “Christian initiation is accomplished by three sacraments together: Baptism which is the beginning of new life; Confirmation which is its strengthening; and the Eucharist which nourishes the disciple with Christ’s Body and Blood for his transformation in Christ.” (CCC 1275)

BAPTISM

Baptism, as I already said, uses water and two types of oil. There are a lot of signs that are used in baptism. So for those of you who have seen a baptism, you’ve noticed the different symbols they use. There’s the baptismal candle, and the white robe, and the two different oils that they use.35723502

The first is the oil of catechumens, but the other is called Chrism. And chrism… I’ll describe it this way, for those of you who haven’t smelled it before­­—if the smells of oils were martial artists, Chrism would be Chuck Norris. I mean the smell literally roundhouse kicks you in the face! It’s wonderful. And it’s used in other sacraments.

A few years ago, I went to a baptism service at a Baptist church, and I really appreciated the way that they baptized the adults. They got into this pool of water about waist deep, and then the preacher leaned each person back down into the water, and then he would say the words of baptism, and he would “raise” them back up again.

In the early days of the church, they did full immersion baptism, and I think it really demonstrates this idea of being “raised up” and being “resurrected” into this new life with Christ. Remember, “A sacrament symbolizes what it effects and it effects what it symbolizes.”

It doesn’t just symbolize new life, it actually gives new life!

Check back tomorrow for Part 3!

Musing on Matt 5:27-30

You have heard it said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell. –Matthew 5:27-30

Musing on Personal Temptations from Mt 5:27-30

I know a man who drives a sports car. He loves it. He likes to drive it around the corners, and take the highways to work because he has more horsepower than other drivers. He feels invincible in his little roadster.

But, he also has a problem with the nerves in his arms. He had it before he got the car, but – although he likes to think that driving his car makes him happy – it actually makes the pain in his arms worse. Trying to handle his little roadster does him more harm than good at the end of the day, even though he will not admit it.

So is temptation and sin for many people. We like to think that we are invincible, that we can handle temptation – we like to think we have strong enough wills to master our desires and stop before crossing the threshold between temptation and sin.

But, truly, it does us more harm than good – like the man and his sports car.

For many of us, there is a particular sin (or multiple) that – for physical, familial, psychological, social, or political reasons – we, sadly, struggle with more so than others.

Jesus gives the example of a man who looks at a woman lustfully, because men – by their physical and physiological design – are attracted to a woman’s appearance. While God created us good, and those desires to be natural, it is when we dwell on them and with them that we lead ourselves into sin.

I would give the example of someone who grew up in a family (and society) where alcohol was not consumed temperately, but was abused, and its abuse had negative consequences. Alcohol is in and of itself a good thing. The Apostles drank wine at the Last Supper; Jesus turned water into wine for his first miracle. But, like a hammer or a car, it is a tool – it can be used wisely, but it can also be abused.

Just as, for most people, driving a sports car isn’t a painful task, it is for the man mentioned above. Similarly, some people are not (greatly) tempted by a certain thing; while, for others, it is a very serious, personal temptation.

Continuing the example, for someone who struggles with a history of alcohol abuse, being around alcohol or people drinking – even moderately – is a temptation that could lead him into sin. While his friends might goad him, or perhaps encourage him to overcome his temptations and drink, it would be wiser if he didn’t.

If your right hand makes you stumble [sin], cut it off and throw it from you. Jesus would say that, no, you shouldn’t even surround yourself with things that could lead you into sin.

Oftentimes we try to convince ourselves, “No, I’m strong enough. I can resist.” If we do, it is only through God’s Grace. And, while we might resist it the first time, are we willing to risk it a second, third, or fourth time?

And, while we’re in the midst of trying to shake off our own personal temptations, we might forget that our friends could struggle with them also. Maybe we mean well when we encourage our friends to overcome their temptations and join us in something they’re reluctant to do, because they’ve struggled with it before (or believe they could). And, if even if we have strong wills and can resist, what if our friends aren’t as strong as we believe we are?

However, a personal relationship with God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is not something I would want jeopardized because I surrounded myself, or my friends, with our greatest personal temptations.

Yes, we can overcome our own personal demons, temptations, etc. But, only through Christ’s Grace and Strength. Will God provide if we ask Him? Yes. But, if we are being greatly tempted, we might not consider asking at all.

So, perhaps it is better to do as our Savior advises us: If your right hand makes you stumble [sin], cut it off and throw it from you.

If there is a thing, an event, a person (or people) that is causing us to sin, we should avoid that thing/event/person as much as possible. And, if we are forced into contact with it, we should ask for God’s Strength, Grace, and Mercy; and then get away from it as soon as we can.

Let us pray that we surround ourselves with good people, places, and things, so that we can avoid those personal temptations as much as we can. Preserving and strengthening our relationship with God is the greatest good; but sadly, we might be tempted to break that amazing bond for very stupid reasons – if we did, we would be trading our Heavenly Inheritance for fool’s gold.

Yet, praised be God for His Boundless Love and Mercy!

Talk: “Signs and Sacraments” (Part 1)

Update on “NOT IN INK”: I will be traveling for work the rest of the week, but I did want to continue posting to the blog. I should be back in time to post a meditation/musing for this Sunday’s Gospel! But, in the meantime, I am posting parts of a talk I gave at a retreat in 2011 on “Signs and Sacraments.” The words should be pretty self-explanatory, but if they’re not, feel free to ask questions in the comment box, and I will answer them when I get back. Thanks for your patience, and enjoy!

Author’s Note: This the first part of a resource talk that I gave on a retreat in 2011; the topic for the talk, which is a combination of my personal testimony and Church teachings, was on “Signs and Sacraments.” The talk will be posted in four consecutive parts. The retreat that I gave the talk at focuses on “Community” and strengthening our community as a Church through our shared love and service of Christ.

There are all kinds of ‘signs’ in our life. There are stop signs, street signs, billboards, posters, flyers… the sign of peace, the sign of the cross, a sign of friendship, a sign of faith, a SIGN-ature (or a signature). But, ultimately, what are signs? I would like to say that signs are a representation of a person, place, thing, idea, or entity of some kind.

For instance, this is my signature, but it’s not me. It’s just a sign. There’s something beyond it—something bigger, something more important. What is this? Just a piece of paper with some scribbles on it. But what does it represent? Me.

What is the sign of the cross but some hand motions, right? I taught little kids this summer, and we would always have to correct them, because they all loved doing it either the wrong way, or with their left hand or something. But, what does it matter? It’s just some arm movements. No, it represents something more… our Faith!

SIGNS OF GOD

Well, up till now, I haven’t told you much about myself. I grew up in a great Christian atmosphere, thanks mostly to my maternal grandmother.

She passed away a few years ago, and it was really hard on my family. She was the anchor of the Christian faith in my family. She was always praying for us, and she had so many rosaries. And, for whatever reason, she loved cardinal birds. One Christmas, she gave me an ornament shaped like a red bird. She also gave me a jewelry box with a cardinal on it for my First Communion.

When she passed away, it was tough, but it really strengthened my Faith. But, now, every time I see cardinals, I can’t help but think of her. I feel like she’s sending me a sign, of a sort; like she’s just reminding me that she loves me, and that she’s always with me. So, now, whenever I see cardinals, I see a sign and it really strengthens my faith and love in God. So, that’s just an example of a sign from God in my life.

There are a lot of signs in the Bible. There’s the rainbow that God sends to Noah in Genesis; there’s the burning bush that Moses encounters in Exodus; and there’s also the Ten Commandments, and the Holy Spirit at Jesus’ Baptism.

One of my favorite scenes from The Passion of the Christ is when Jesus is in the Praetorium, and the chief priests are talking with Pontius Pilate. And all of a sudden, Jesus looks up and sees this dove hover over the Praetorium. It’s really quick, and if you weren’t paying attention, you would probably miss it. But, it’s always stood out to me, and I think it’s a sign to give Christ hope, comfort, and strength for what is to come.

But, I want to tell you guys another quick story. Almost a year ago, I had been trying to figure out what I was going to do for the summer. And I’m one of those indecisive people. I’m always saying, “God, if you want me to do this, send me a sign.”

And one Sunday night, I was sitting in a class at my church; and I forget what the teacher was saying; it was something like, “We need to do what God wants us to do. Follow God’s will”… something of that nature. Well, as the teacher was saying it, I looked down on the floor, just randomly, and there was a pamphlet for Totus Tuus. (A program that sends out college students to teach and evangelize grade school and high school students during the summer.)

And then it hit me—“There’s your sign.”

And I just couldn’t get the idea out of my head. I thought about it all through class, all through Mass. I called up one of my best friends, who had told me all her amazing Totus Tuus stories, and I talked to her about it the entire way home.

But, there were so many obstacles to overcome, just practically and with my own reluctance. I struggled with this call to teach Totus Tuus for several weeks. I applied, but I was reluctant, and I just wasn’t sure. I got another job offer, and I really wanted to take it because it wanted to get enough money to buy a car. And whenever I told my dad about Totus Tuus, he said that I’d be better off getting a real job for the summer and doing some intern work. His disapproval only added to my reasoning against it.

So, one rainy, Saturday afternoon, I was walking to the Campus Center—and, how fortuitous, but here comes my pastor. He was just the one I wanted to talk to. So, I told him the situation, and I said, “What do I do?”

And, in a very cliché and Disney way, he said, “Follow your heart.”

I had no idea how right he was. The more I thought and prayed about it, the clearer it became to me. I don’t know if any of you have ever experienced anything like this. I’m sure some of you have. It’s not really a feeling, but it’s just this sort of knowledge in your heart where you know what to do—you know what the right thing is.

And I just want to emphasize that signs, yes, they are physical. Sometimes things just jump out at you for no particular reason, and it just makes sense to you. But, other times, it’s a little more subtle. And the sign is right here, in your heart.

When I was preparing for this talk, I looked up the “Bread of Life Discourse” in John 6; and as I was reading it, verse 26 jumped out at me.

Jesus answered them and said, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled.’”

So, his followers saw the physical signs, but they were even more captivated with the Truth, with the bread he had given them. They knew in their hearts that this guy was special, more than just a prophet, and that’s why they were following him. “Not because you saw signs, but because you… were filled.”

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A Totus Tuus tradition: Sundae-ing a teacher at the end of the week

Sometimes signs are physical; other times they’re interior; but no matter what, we should never be afraid to act on them! That’s why God gives us grace—to act on those signs, those impulses, those movements of the Spirit. And the greatest and the best way to receive grace is through the sacraments.

Check back tomorrow for Part 2! (Side note: I did teach for Totus Tuus that summer, and it was an incredible experience! A lot of prayer, work, and sacrifice; but also a lot of joy teaching those kids and teens about the Faith.)