“The Three Do’s”

By McKenzie Gamache

Don’t think of a pink elephant. What did you just think of? Yep, a pink elephant.

Growing up in the Catholic Church, even as uncatechized as I was, I constantly heard the “don’ts” of purity and chastity: “Don’t have sex before marriage. Don’t be alone at night with a person of the opposite sex…” I wasn’t a rebellious daughter in middle and high school by any means, but since I heard the “don’ts” without much else accompanying them I tended to stop paying attention and instead grew curious. Later in high school, and now in college, I have found that the “don’ts” have been detrimental for many people, especially myself for years.

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St. Gertrude Prayer

“1000 souls? One simple prayer? Can I do that?”

The questions of an inquisitive little girl had begun. As a child, my parents would gather at my Nana’s home with a group of others to recite the rosary every Wednesday night. Most of the time, I would tag along, happily taking on the job of passing out papers to ensure that everyone had copies of the prayers to be said throughout the evening. Little did I know how much this role served as a precursor for another special mission that I would take up for a lifetime. 

As my Nana’s blue handouts spread throughout the room, my eyes would gaze upon each prayer, long before I could even understand the words. The Saint Gertrude’s prayer was among the many listed. I initially did not know of its significance, since to me, it was simply a routine prayer that I would try to join in saying. One night, I decided to ask Nana what this prayer was all about and what she told me will forever remain in my mind. She explained that Saint Gertrude was a woman who received visions from the Lord. Through her prayers and writings, we can learn about the depth of God’s love for us and for the salvation of all souls. God gave Saint Gertrude this specific prayer for the specific purpose of releasing 1,000 souls from Purgatory each and every time it is prayed with love and devotion. 

“1000 souls? One simple prayer? Can I do that?” I asked Nana in return. I was and still am so amazed at how one little prayer can have that much power. Whoa. Talk about mind-blowing! From that day forward, I began to pray this prayer every night, every time I struggled, and honestly, at every moment possible. I can’t explain why I had a sudden love and devotion to this prayer and its mission of saving souls, but something within me held on tight and hasn’t let go since. 

Maybe it’s because this prayer charges us with a clear purpose in a world full of confusion and ever changing expectations. Maybe it’s rewarding to know that “help is on the way” for those deceased who can no longer pray for themselves or have anyone to pray for them. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s personal: feeling a humble honor to be able to help the souls of my passed loved ones to enter eternal life. No matter what the reason, prayer changes things, and the Saint Gertrude prayer indeed changes the state of a soul! Best of all, we all have an incredible mission and part to play in helping to expedite their purification, alleviate their suffering and quench the longing these souls have for heaven!

For whatever reason I started praying the Saint Gertrude prayer, I know now that I have a strong desire to help souls. My prayer is that one day I will be able to greet the souls that I have prayed so hard for, face to face, and together, we can glorify and praise our Creator for all eternity! The Saint Gertrude prayer has helped me to realize the truth that it is “a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sin.” (2 Macabees 12:46). In fact, when souls reach their heavenly home, they then pray for those who prayed for them, out of gratitude! It is this reciprocating gift of prayer and intercession that makes the mission of prayer mighty! 

Eternal Father, I offer Thee the Most Precious Blood of Thy Divine Son, Jesus, in union with the masses said throughout the world today, for all the holy souls in purgatory, for sinners everywhere, for sinners in the universal church, those in my own home, and within my family.

The Saint Gertrude Prayer

Seeing People Through the Eyes of God

By Sarah Deluhery

Looking back as I have been working in retina ophthalmology the past few years as a Ophthalmic Technician, I remember quickly realizing in my first couple months on the job, just how many people have to carry the daily cross of having poor vision. In retina ophthalmology, low vision for patients is generally related to a variety of ocular diseases or ocular trauma. It can be difficult to care for post-op patients from retinal surgeries and witness the struggles patients have with their visual needs because it requires seeing your patients suffer.

It would be amazing if everyone in this world could have healthy, clear 20/20 vision. However, because this is not the case, the doctors and technicians jobs are to improve and medically treat and care for patients to reach their best vision possible. Fortunately with advancing medical treatments and surgery in the ophthalmology field, there are many treatment options available for patients.

Evidently, ocular vision is different from “faithful vision,” but I believe they can relate to one another. Helping others along with their faith journey takes practice and patience, but we all want to see each other grow in our relationship with God and the Catholic Church.

One of the greatest ways we can assist and help others is by having the mindset of seeing others through the eyes of Christ. This can be done in all aspects of our everyday lives— with family members, close friends, colleagues, peers, or even complete strangers. Engaging with other people who come from different backgrounds is part of life, and it makes life much more interesting.

Working in the healthcare and medical field that is very much people-based, I enjoy talking and getting to know the patients. Especially during this past year of the pandemic; there were patients who have not spoken to people in person in weeks to months. Many times we can learn from others, if we take the time to listen. Keeping in mind that everyone was raised and brought up differently, not everyone is going to see eye-to-eye on things. Showing others who you are and holding onto your morals and values are important. Being kind, genuine, honest and down to earth are characteristics that will not be left unnoticed. If anything, these faithful characteristics will make you stand out.

Again, not everyone in this world is going to agree or have the same beliefs as you, and that’s okay. The way we handle ourselves, and our actions towards others makes the bigger difference in showing others the example of how we can live out a faithful lifestyle. The best thing we as Catholics can do is to show love and kindness towards others; and strive to see others through the eyes of Christ. What comes to mind here is a quote from one of my favorite saints:

Do small things with great love.

Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Small acts of love and kindness to others may feel little, but the impact it leaves is meaningful. Our hearts do not have a maximum capacity for love; there’s always room to grow. This is a principle I believe both my parents instilled in my siblings and I from a very young age— openness for growth and love. Having that mindset of loving, being caring towards others, and being open-minded can open your eyes and heart to a new or different perspective. Our goal is to bring the essence of God to others with love.

I recently was talking to my mom, and in our conversation she said, “God only asks us to be the best version of ourselves we can be.” That statement is a good reminder to take to heart! I am grateful for the importance of the Catholic faith in my family life and the insights my career, experiences, and people have taught me so far. There is always room to strive for continual growth with your “faithful vision” through the journey of your life and your relationship with Jesus.

Five Lessons from the First Year of Marriage

By Rosemary Sikora

In writing this I feel as if I’m writing a love letter of sorts to my husband. Marriage can be hard, but what good thing doesn’t take time and effort? Marriage has been without a doubt the best decision of my life. It is not an end as so many people claim, but a door into the greatest adventure of your life. Within the first year of my marriage many hardships have arisen, but within these hardships I have witnessed and experienced more beauty and love than I ever thought I could.

If I had to impart what I have learned in this short span of a year of marriage, I would narrow it down to this list of reminders. Remembering these five lessons has kept my husband and I strong in both the trying, and beautiful times.

1) Christian Marriage is Unpopular

I have learned that Catholic marriages are countercultural. By simply being Catholic we are a witness to those around us of what a Christian marriage should be. For some we have met, it was other-worldly to realize that my husband doesn’t watch porn, that divorce is not an option, that we are chaste with one another within marriage (or that there are any “rules” at all). We are countercultural. The modern world labels purity within marriage as oppressive- but it’s so freeing. We have the freedom to live without fear of being used and later discarded because we trust one another’s self control and refuse to objectify one another.

2) Remember who you married and be grateful for that person.

Sometimes we feel distant from one another. It is just something that happens in marriage as in any relationship. There are dryer patches. And most of the time in these dry patches couples will argue- about silly small things, or big. It is hard to feel united when there is disagreement and bickering, but when this happens we have found it is critical to remember who the other person is – the one who stood next to you on the altar, your best friend, your lover. When we remind ourselves of this it creates gratitude. Our minds clear and the fighting eases. Ingratitude kills marriage. Period.

3) Set Everything Aside and Have Date Nights

Date nights! Another related point is that even when fighting, it is a top priority to enjoy each other. In the turmoil of life it’s easy to let stressors dominate your time. But there will always be something to stress about. Life is not about money or tomorrow. Life is about now. It’s about the joy you can share with your family. It’s about getting to Heaven and having fun doing it. So every night, we are intentional about leaving behind our worries to rest in each other. Your spouse is your first priority – over children, money, and everything else.

4) Don’t take yourself too seriously.

You can pressure yourself to be perfect in so many areas of your marriage: sexually, religiously, etc… There are so many ideals you can enter marriage with. If you’re not careful, perfectionism can rob your ability to enjoy the messy life you share here and now.

5) We’re capable of more love (and self-sacrifice) than we knew.

My last point is one that I delight in: I did not know that I was capable of loving so deeply and so well. I thought I had known my heart’s capacity to love another. My marriage has proven me wrong. In pouring myself out for my beloved and the fruit of our love (my baby girl Maeve) I have experienced a selflessness and devotion within me that I marvel in – I can see God’s heart in my own!

Walk through life together. The beauty of the gift of having someone by your side forever and always is unparalleled. There is nothing that can fill your heart more than to love and live by the side of your best friend walking into heaven together. And THAT is the end goal. As much as I love him, marriage is a foretaste of that Love at the source of every other love, grace, and blessing.

Letting God Fill You

By Grace Buchheit

I got this.

Why should I ask for help?

Just keep pushing forward and focus on others.

I’m supposed to serve, right?

These were some of the things I would tell myself when I became worn out or felt like I had nothing left to give. I always tried to be there for others, whether it was being that shoulder to cry on, the listening ear, or the steady rock when it seemed that everything was falling apart. But when it came to my own feelings, I tended to push them away, thinking that as long as I was taking care of others, I was okay.

This began with my family, as I tried to support my siblings through tough times, and then I took this same mindset into a leadership position I was placed in. As I continued to give, I began feeling more and more empty, but in my stubbornness, I refused to allow others (and our Lord) to care for and support me.

And then I heard a talk on vulnerability and the importance of receiving love. That talk hit me hard, and afterwards, I went to the Adoration chapel and cried for a hot minute (I have no idea how long it actually was). I just sat there in front of the Eucharist reflecting on the times I had rejected our Lord’s love. And then I spoke to Him. I told him I was sorry, and He received me. Jesus broke down my walls of pride and received every part of my broken self and continues to receive me every time I come to Him. I realized that Christ wants us to receive His love, just as much as He wants us to love Him. Christ desires us to give him our hearts, to allow him to hold our hearts in his gentle hands, close to his Sacred Heart.

After this encounter, I entrusted my heart to our Lord to be loved by Him, I gradually began to allow others in as well. I began to share my own emotions and struggles with friends and family and allow them to care for me. When I received love from those around me, I found I was able to love and give of myself more fully.

You see, this is what we are called to: we are called to love others, but we can’t very well do that if we don’t have anything to give. That which we are called to give is ourselves. Let us run to our Father every day, to be filled with His love, a love that never ends, never runs dry, so that we can better serve every person we encounter with His perfect love.

This all sounds pretty simple, right? Looking back now, I wonder why I wasn’t able to see this earlier in my life. But then I see how God’s timing is better than anything I could imagine on my own and the good that God brings out of all my mess is a beautiful thing. Run to the Father—He’s waiting to fill you with a love that will never end, and that is literally Christ himself.

We love because He first loved us.

1 John 4:19

Flowers of Forgiveness

“How can you be friends with him after he hurt you?” another friend asked me recently.

I could tell she was looking for peace, and so I gently assured her with my smile that it is indeed possible to genuinely enjoy and love someone even with a history of pain between your heart and theirs.

I replied simply saying, “It is just no longer worth it to me to spend even one day not loving.” 

I have been reflecting on the story of manna; and in my own desert life, I see the moments when I was busy storing up instead of spending my day simply being grateful for the daily bread God was giving to me. The Lord told Moses,

“Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not.”

Exodus 16:4

God wants me to cherish the people in my life just for today. I am not promised any other future except a life with Him, where pure love will be the law, and I will never hesitate to follow its perfect commands. And until I arrive to that eternal home, the purpose for my journey through this world is to prepare me with various tests to see if I can receive each day’s graces and respond with love, gratitude and forgiveness, just as My God has demonstrated for me time and time again after I have hurt Him. 

Love also reminds me of the servant who owed a large debt. His Master forgave his offense, even after there was an obvious sever of trust. Who among us has a boss that would let us off the hook for not coming in for a shift, let alone supply us more hours if we continued to fail in following through, especially with matters of money?

Yet here, this Lord removes any guilt, any shame or embarrassment, and allows his servant to take more time preparing what was owed. I imagine this servant to be feeling the most relaxed he has ever been, having basically just escaped imprisonment. Yet, his appreciation bears no fruit: when he in turn is financially slapped by one of his own slaves who had also forgotten that it was payday, he did not show the same Mercy to one whose debt was much smaller than his own offense.

I, too, am posed with the question of my own handling of offenses. How can I not share the great love given to me, day to night, for every stumble and sin, at every stopping point, constantly poured out after I have pierced the Heart of My Beloved? If He continues to overflow with graces of healing for my thirsty soul, then I refuse to be a dam preventing His Mercies from reaching those who are most in need of water. 

But on my own, I cannot love anyone. I am merely dust. Only God can love and then use me for His purpose of love. It is my brokenness that nurtures the demand my human heart has for His Love. Without the example of Grace from my Master, my encounters with another’s offenses would bear no fruit of forgiveness.

His Grace is the water. My sins are the seeds, and from their evil, His Goodness is manifested and His Flowers of Mercy are delighted in. These sins and grievances set in motion for my soul’s garden a necessary death, and I return weeping after having rejected His Goodness. In this death, Love raises me out of My Pride to His Selfless Heart—this is where I learn how to be forgiven and forgiving.

His Heart is where I learn how to love with no agenda. His Heart teaches me how to love someone after both of our human hearts have caused damage. In the classroom of His Heart, I come to know where my own choices have made my Savior Sorrowful. But also in this sorrow, I enter His Mercy. And my heart can only pray, “Dear Jesus, teach my heart how to love and forgive like you.”

Pierced and Poured Out

One Thursday evening, my friend and I enjoyed the leftovers of my grief, a meal that both fills and depletes you. I let the words out before finishing my plate, “My heart has been pierced.”

My friend inquired, “How do you do it? How do you keep showing up with your heart? I admire you for being so vulnerable and real. But also, I just don’t get it. You somehow still choose to trust, to leap and fall, even after you’ve hit the ground.

I looked down at my cup of tea, which was now more a collection of my tears than green leaves. Turning towards the image of the Sacred Heart, I smiled with tired eyes and said, “I had a fight with Mama Mary about this actually. I told her I was done and couldn’t take any more of this pain. I begged her to take my heart away. But she told me it is better to have a heart pieced, rather than no heart at all.”

There was a silence that followed this disclosure, and my heart was comforted by the company of a fellow overthinker. I paused before admitting out loud, “My biggest fear is being buried alive.” At this rather abrupt confession, we both shared an amused burst of laughter before I continued, “C.S. Lewis writes about a heart that is no longer penetrable. It is a heart no longer open to love, scared of rejection, and thus in a constant state of avoiding anything that could make it vulnerable. This kind of heart spends its life in hiding to stay safe, yet it is practically buried in a protective case made up of its own fear.”

Again, we sat in silence as we let the candle dance and burn. 

After a moment, I admitted, “That is much worse: to be buried alive in a coffin of my own fears of loss and rejection. I would much rather be fully alive in the feelings of joy and love, which do inevitably come with the cost of accepting pain. As my dear Brother Titus reminds me:

God gives us roses because He loves us, and thorns because He loves us more.

The kind of lover I want to be is one who does not take offense, but takes every opportunity to learn how to better serve the other person,” I continued. “This love shows up without an agenda. Rather, it becomes purer as it seeks only to give and never to take. I am not perfect at this love and there are many areas in my heart, which desperately need His Refining Mercy. We are not ever going to perfectly love one another. It is only to the capacity of our reception of His Love that we are then able to share Pure Love with each other. A heart that is closed cannot receive and likewise cannot share the gift of its Maker’s Love. That is why we must stay open, pierced and poured out, if we are striving to live in the Image of Our Creator.”

Upon further reflection beyond the setting of dinner with my companion, I came to the conclusion that perhaps it is better to be left hanging, just as Our Lord was left on the Cross… hanging and poured out, pierced and abandoned, loved by only His Mother and dearest friend—this was somehow the chosen vocation for God’s Beloved Son. And so, am I, His Beloved Daughter, not also called to the same fate? Are we not all called to be in His Family, carrying out His Legacy of sacrificial love?

Leading With Who You Are

After experiencing one too many disappointing relationships and “situationships,” I found myself painfully single in the middle of a worldwide pandemic. Having just moved into a new house with a couple of my girlfriends, I suddenly had a lot of time to think about those things that I really wanted in life. As I mulled over past relationships, I was faced with a stark reality— I had never really led with who I was. In the early stages of my past relationships, I hadn’t honestly communicated my desires, boundaries, or interests. I was always more focused on being agreeable— the perfect match for the person in front of me. This approach inevitably led to disappointment after disappointment for me, and thank God that it did.

A few months after realizing this, I was on vacation in Cape May New Jersey with my family. We had invited a close priest friend to come and spend time with us while we were there. Early one morning, after he said a Mass for us, I asked him for confession. As he counseled me, he gave me a piece of advice that will always stay with me. He told me that when I first meet someone and things seem to headed in a romantic direction, to ask myself, “Is this person, in the way they are living right now, capable of providing me with the life I imagine for myself?” This is a question I hadn’t been brave enough to consider in the past. Or maybe I didn’t want to consider it, already knowing that the answer was no. 

I held this question in my heart throughout that whole week of vacation, letting it transform my expectations. It seems like such a simple thing that someone should probably already know at 25 years old, but the idea had never been presented to me like that before. Just days later, I began chatting with a handsome and kind person on a popular dating app. We had similar interests, and I knew from the very start that he would treat me the way that I had always wanted to be treated. He had this gentleness about him, and I could see myself sharing a joyful and fulfilling future with him. I’m not going to lie—the wholesomeness of it all really freaked me out at first, but that’s a blog for another time. 

Mindful of the advice my priest friend had given me, I wanted to be sure that this man and I were truly compatible. So from the very beginning, I was honest about my values and passions: I let him know that I went to Mass daily, that I wanted someone who would pray with and for me, and that I believe The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers is unequivocally the greatest movie of all time— the essentials. And as I grew to know him better, I wasn’t afraid to ask those tough questions that before, I would never have dared to let out of my mouth.

At every turn, I expected to be disappointed, but instead, I found someone who exceeded all of my expectations. I couldn’t believe it— for the first time, I felt that the picture I presented of myself actually lined up with who I was. After nine months of dating this wonderful man, I can say with complete confidence that we know each other. We support each other’s dreams and ambitions, and there is not a day that goes by without us praying together.

Sometimes it won’t work out so great. Sometimes we share who we are only to be rejected, or to have someone tell us that they aren’t willing to live according to our values. There is one truth that stands in this— the sooner we move past those things that are not meant for us, the sooner we will encounter what has always been meant for us. Dating isn’t easy, but it is much easier when we realize how important of an element it is to be true to ourselves.

Not everyone in the world is meant to be with you or appreciate the gift that you are. It only takes one.

Becoming a Parent

By Rosemary Sikora

Becoming a mom was the best decision of my life. From the first yes I said to my husband to now saying yes to life has brought me closer and closer to God by accomplishing what I have always been called to do. Every day I feel the greatest sense of peace and accomplishment of my life in fulfilling my vocation.

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