Christmas is almost here- the best time of year. As this time approaches, we may find ourselves reflecting and analyzing our lives and seeing what makes us happy. This brings us joy, but for many, it can bring sadness as we cannot reach our own expectations of joy. We cannot see what there is to be happy about.Read more
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.Read more
Every single day, I am bombarded with lies that I am not enough. These lies come in many different forms. Although they can often appear out of nowhere, they also can pop up from comparison, gossip, jealousy, etc.
Maybe I feel left out by friends or peers and hear in the back of my mind, “They don’t like you—you’ll never be loved and accepted.”
Or maybe I’m running on the track and someone passes me and I think, “I’m too slow; I’m not a worthy runner.”
Or maybe I notice that I haven’t been asked out in a while, and I am taunted with the lie, “Something must be wrong with me… no one will ever want to date me.” Each lie that I am fed is a twisted version of the truth.
In order to combat these lies, I fill my mind with truths. When doubting my self-worth, I like to remind myself of these truths in form of prayer. Below, I have shared a prayer I wrote, so that those of you who share in my struggle of low self-esteem can call upon Jesus to help you believe in your inherent worth and goodness as a beloved daughter or son of the Father.
The Litany of Self-Esteem:
From the desire of being liked and admired… deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being popular… deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of having a good reputation… deliver me, Jesus.
From the belief that I need to fit in… deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of looking foolish… deliver me, Jesus.
From the belief that I am not enough… deliver me, Jesus.
From the belief that I am not attractive enough… deliver me, Jesus.
From the belief that I am not smart enough… deliver me, Jesus.
From the belief that my identity lies within my intelligence… deliver me, Jesus.
From the belief that my identity lies within my appearance… deliver me, Jesus.
From the belief that my identity lies within my weight… deliver me, Jesus.
From the belief that my identity lies within how well I am liked… deliver me, Jesus.
From the belief that I am too far gone… deliver me, Jesus.
From the belief that no one could ever like me… deliver me, Jesus.
That my identity lies in the truth that I am a beloved child of God… Jesus, grant me the courage to believe it.
That I am a beautiful masterpiece made in God’s image… Jesus, grant me the courage to believe it.
That I am fearfully and wonderfully made… Jesus, grant me the courage to believe it.
That I am called to a holy life… Jesus, grant me the courage to believe it.
That You are within me and I will not fall… Jesus, grant me the courage to believe it.
That You will give me the desires of my heart… Jesus, grant me the courage to believe it.
That You will be with me and will never leave me… Jesus, grant me the courage to believe it.
That I was made for sainthood… Jesus, grant me the courage to believe it.
That I am the light of the world… Jesus, grant me the courage to believe it.
That I was made to praise You with my body and spirit… Jesus, grant me the courage to believe it.
That You want me to be happy in paradise forever with the angels and saints… Jesus, grant me the courage to believe it.
That You have the power to transform my flawed thoughts and actions into a greater good… Jesus, grant me the courage to believe it.
I recommend praying this whenever these kinds of negative thoughts feel especially invasive and convincing. Or even feel free to meditate daily upon these truths, in order to ingrain them into the depths of your heart.
A few years ago, I was sitting at my teacher’s desk while my students took their religion test. I was going back and forth between grading papers and checking my email when suddenly I saw one, then ten, then twenty friend requests come in to my Facebook inbox from men that I didn’t know. I checked my page to see what was going on and if I was getting spammed. When I checked my inbox there were messages… gross ones.
I didn’t know what I did to bring all of this creepiness into my life. I ignored the messages and just deleted them thinking it was some kind of awful mistake that all of these people were messaging me. The next day I received even more friend requests and then finally a message that made my heart stop. Someone was kind enough to send me screenshots from a couple of popular sites… it was a picture of my face photoshopped onto a naked woman’s body with all my contact information listed. I couldn’t believe it.
I was struck with absolute horror and my stomach turned in disgust that someone would do this to me. I had never taken a naked picture in my life! I felt so shameful knowing that all of these men in my friend requests were looking at a picture of someone who they thought was me. People were lusting after this picture of someone they probably imagined was a consenting adult. I was horrified at the thought that one of my students, my boss, my friends, would come across this and how much damage that would produce- even though it was fake.
I felt like it was real. The person who sent me the screenshot to me said they were so sorry someone had shared my pictures… but they weren’t even mine. Somewhere in the world, however, there was someone who did take that picture of herself. My heart broke at the thought that she was also being exploited through this. I felt for my poor sister in Christ.
For weeks I would report these pictures and they would be taken down only to pop back up a couple of days later with more raunchy captions. I felt like I wasn’t safe when I would think about the ill-intentioned people who might be on these sites seeing the place I worked next to the naked picture of “me”. I would have nightmares about them showing up at my work and following me through the parking lot. Out of fear for my safety, I told the priest who was my boss at the time about what I was going through. Thanks be to God, he took me under his wing and immediately reached out to the police in our school district to report everything that happened. He told them to keep an eye on me and make sure I was okay- and told me to call him if I ever felt unsafe.
That same day I went to my hometown police station with my dad and received so much kindness and concern from them as well. I got several calls from the lieutenant who took down my story over the following days to ensure that all was well and to give an update of the status of things. I couldn’t understand why I didn’t do this earlier. It was partly out of shame. I was so embarrassed at the thought that they might not believe my story. For fear of being misunderstood or disbelieved, I suffered in silence.
The whole time this was happening, my only consolation was that I knew it wasn’t me. Even if everyone else didn’t know that, at least I did. However, something else was weighing on my mind at the time… I thought of everyone in the world who this actually happens to. Revenge porn is a real thing and I know people who have actually had their real nudes circulated online by an ex or a spiteful friend. To this day, I pray for those men and women. The human body was never made for this.
To all of the women and men who have been lied to and made to believe that sending nudes is a normal thing- I am sorry. To all of the women and men who have been exploited because of nudes they have sent- my heart breaks for you. To all of the people who are reading this and are tempted to judge those who ask for and those who send nudes- don’t. None of us are perfect but all of us can be better.
For anyone who might be feeling pressured to send nudes, I would just like to encourage you and tell you that it isn’t worth it. I promise you that anyone who’s love or attention might be hinging on the requirement that you show them something so personal and sacred as your naked body is not the kind of “love” or attention that you deserve. While that may sound arbitrary, believe me, I know. I have had pressure to do the same thing from people I’ve dated and people who weren’t even looking for a relationship with me. Looking back, I am so thankful that I didn’t give them what they were looking for.
If you’ve sent nudes before and you feel like you can’t turn back now- that’s a lie from Hell. We know from Saint Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians that “Whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Cor 5:17). It is never too late to start over when you have Christ. Start today. Let Him make you new. That isn’t you anymore.
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.
We live in a very busy world. I’m sure we can all relate to that feeling of a constant “go, go, go!” and not being able to catch our breath. These feelings are valid, and the majority of the time, we are busy with good and important things. But when it gets to the point where our daily prayer life is no longer one of those important things, we need to actively make the choice to change that.
We all serve the Lord in different ways through our everyday lives. For some, that may be through your occupation, by the way you love others, by being a parent and sacrificing for your family, etc. These are all ways of serving the Lord daily and making him a priority. But we need to remember to have that personal relationship with him as well. No matter where we are at in our lives, we can’t wait until we’re “less busy” to have a personal relationship with our Lord.
Benjamin Franklin once said, “Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today.” These words stuck with me when I was struggling to make personal prayer a priority in my daily life. I wasn’t actively making it a choice, and therefore, kept “putting it off until tomorrow”. I fell into the trap of making the same excuses repeatedly. When I was in college, I always thought “next semester I’ll be less busy, THEN I’ll focus on daily prayer.” “After I get this project done” or “once I catch up on this ” or “once I get into this new routine”. The list could go on and on!!
My volleyball coach used to always tell us that life was about “amping up”. Life continues to get busier, more challenging, and full of new obstacles. These are signs of growth as the Lord continues to challenge us in new ways. My coach’s words echo in my head as I fight against these excuses as to why I am too busy, stressed, or tired for daily prayer. What I realized is that no matter what I may be going through right now, the Lord will meet me where I’m at. Whether my current struggle is something big, or something as small as being tired that day, I can’t wait for it to pass to make time for him. He loves me and he knows my struggles and what is going on in my life better than anyone. Rather than making things in my daily life an excuse, I decided to take those things to prayer. That way, I can meet the Lord where I’m at.
Something that helps me to make prayer a priority is to choose it daily. When I wake up in the morning, I decide when and where I will pray that day. When I don’t do that, prayer ends up happening “when I feel like it” (which I think we all know, actually means never.) Deciding the time and place, and sometimes even setting a timer are ways that help me to fight against the temptation to push prayer off for tomorrow. Maybe this strategy isn’t for you, but I encourage you to find the things that help you to make your relationship with God an active, daily choice.
So my message to you is this: Don’t wait to have a relationship with the Lord. Meet the Lord where you are at, wherever that may be. No matter how busy you are, even if you are busy with good things, it is important to actively put our Lord at the top of that priority list. Choose him everyday rather than “putting it off until tomorrow” just as I did. Don’t wait to have a personal relationship with the Lord. The time is now.
I feel like there is a huge stigma around the word “confession.” It brings instant fear when mentioned to a lot of people. But for me, when I hear “confession,” I think of the unique and beautiful gift that we, as Catholics, get to experience. In fact, along with the Eucharist, the Sacrament of Reconciliation is one of my two favorite parts of my faith. I did not always feel this way, though.
For much of my life, I, like many other fearful Catholics, would always try to avoid going to confession. I really disliked it. It was so intimidating to tell someone I saw every Sunday everything that I have ever done wrong and to wait for his response! However, when I was on a retreat in middle school, my youth minister at the time gave a talk about confession that really stuck with me. She told us it is common to experience fear as we approach confession, and she encouraged us to honestly communicate that with the priest. She also shared with us a Bible verse that really spoke to my heart:
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.1 John 1:9
After hearing this, I sat there for a moment, digesting everything she just said, as I internally gave myself a pep talk. I really didn’t want to go, but I felt compelled to. Everyone else seemed willing to go, so I joined them in line, in spite of my anxieties building up. Have you ever heard the expression, “butterflies flying in your stomach”? Well, I had a whole flock of geese in my stomach at this point! I saw the knob turn and the door open… It was my turn. Tightly gripping a pamphlet with the “Examination of Conscience” and “Steps of Confession” printed on it, I walked right past the kneeler and straight to the priest.
I was beyond relieved when I saw that the man on the other side of the wall was Father Simon. Father Simon had been my favorite priest since he came to my parish years before, and he still is to this day. As I walked in, I blurted out, “Father, I am scared to be here.”
He said, “That’s okay; it is good that you are here. Thank you for being here.” Although I had heard him say that same catchphrase many times before, I knew he was right. It was good that I was there. He then proceeded to ask why I was nervous. I told him I was afraid of telling him my sins because I didn’t want him to view me differently every time I would see him for Mass or at youth group. He told me, “The only thing that has changed and will ever change is how proud I am of you for making the brave choice to be here.”
He then explained that I wasn’t telling “Father Simon” my sins. Rather, I was actually taking the action of apologizing to God “Persona Christi,” which, translated, means, “in the person of Christ.” Father’s words reassured me, and like my sins, my deep-seated dread of confession was soon wiped away, as I mustered the courage to divulge all of my past regrets and neglects. After I was absolved of my sins, I walked out of the confessional with a whole new perspective and a newfound love for the sacrament.
Perhaps you identify with many of these feelings regarding confession that I had prior to this experience. You may find yourself wondering, why do we have confession? Over the years, I have come to understand that God the Father wants to forgive us for all the times we have wronged Him. He longs to heal us of the brokenness we have consequently suffered. He longs to lift our shame off of our shoulders and to knock down the barriers that obstruct us from receiving His love. He longs to hear us apologize, so that He can tenderly say, “I forgive you,” and overflow us with His abundant mercy.
Fast forward: I am now an adult, and I love Reconciliation far more than probably most Catholics you will ever meet. I recently went to confession during Lent of 2021 and there he was— Father Simon. He was sitting there, waiting, and he smiled when he saw me walking in. He said the familiar, “It is good that you are here; thank you for being here.” Some things never change.
Before my confession even “started,” we talked about life and Lent and my family. I laughed, reminiscing about our first confession together, and we both were struck by all that had changed. Still, much like that middle school memory, I left the sacrament feeling overwhelmed with joy and gratitude. It was one of the best confessions of my life. My heart felt so clean from not being able to go for a long time because the pandemic had taken that opportunity away from me. I felt so free.
After all these years, I have developed an eagerness to jump on every chance I am given to be able to receive God’s mercy and forgiveness. I want to be able to grow in my relationship with Christ. I have a better opportunity to do so now that my views on confession have changed, and for that, I will forever be grateful to Father Simon and the works of Christ Jesus and the Holy Spirit in my heart.
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?
Trigger warning! Not necessarily, but let’s take a look at the meaning of “being triggered.” The concept actually originated in the field of mental health with the intention of aiding victims of trauma or disorders such as PTSD. For instance, a “trigger warning” may be placed on content involving suicide to prevent those who have struggled with suicidal thoughts or have experienced loss as a result of suicide from reentering into an unhealthy state.
Now, most of us who are familiar with popular culture know that this is not how the concept of being “triggered” is often used. In fact, the popular usage diminishes the real purpose of what it truly means to become triggered. Just scroll through the comments of any Instagram post—it does not even need to be politically controversial—and it is very likely that you will find someone who has been “triggered.” It is almost impossible for anyone to share their thoughts online without allegedly offending others. This may not be news to anyone, but this offense I am speaking of is more nuanced than your old friend from high school unfollowing you because you tweeted about your support for a particular candidate. As this habit of being triggered occurs most often on the political left, it often involves an accusation and questioning of the other’s morality merely because of their religious or traditional viewpoints.
I attended a liberal Catholic Jesuit high school. I met many wonderful people and, most importantly, received a stellar education. I could not, however, simply speak my mind or think out loud in any of my classes. It was not for the fear of others disagreeing with my viewpoints, but the worry that I would be deemed as a less-than-charitable Catholic. Yet, this is precisely what happened. In a very social justice focused Catholic school, I could not speak openly about how birth control distorted the theology of the woman’s body because classmates and teachers claimed that my privilege kept me from understanding why birth control is supposedly so necessary. Furthermore, students would stand up claiming to be triggered because of their personal experience with birth control. Now, contraception is another topic, but I assure you that the Church’s stance is one of the utmost charity and beauty. Like other topics that people become “triggered” by, it must be taught, discussed, and understood properly—which is rarely done.
Another distinction between finding offense and being “triggered” is when one is supposedly triggered and shuns the other person because of the apparent infraction. The response to the offending statement is no longer, “I am offended so I shall have polite discourse or leave the conversation until this blows over,” but rather, “I am offended so I shall create a permanent rift between this person and I.” Many of us have seen this when our long-time friends unfollow us or start social media arguments because we shared our thoughts on a controversial topic, and it is a sad reality.
Let us make one thing clear, when people become triggered, it is most likely because they have a personal tie to the topic at hand. This is vital to recognize, and it is one’s Christian duty to be present to simply listen to someone’s testimony of hardship. Our responsibility, however, does not end when we listen.
Additionally, social media is hardly ever a place for productive dialogue. Therefore, we cannot sit back passively as we watch the morals of our world crumble down and the souls of our brothers and sisters be lost. We must continue to speak for Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. Furthermore, as social media is a realm that seems to emit a great amount of darkness into our world, we ought to be the light source. If all Catholics were to delete their social media because they believed it to be a source for evil, it would only be because they let it become one. Thus, all the lost souls left on Instagram, Twitter, and the like would be left with no illuminating presence.
Ultimately, it is paramount that our prayer lives fuel our words. It is useless to babble on about God, the Church, and politics on our social media timeline if the Holy Spirit does not have time to fill us with His words. Then, if we feel passionate about and called to highlight a particular truth, we can feel confident that we are doing so out of Spirit-filled inspiration and charity, rather than arrogance. If people are “triggered” by our words, we can discern the true intention behind their meaning and act accordingly with kindness. As Christians, it is a grace, for we cannot go astray if we remain in the Lord and speak boldly and in love.