How My Parents Raised Four Adult Catholics Who (Still) Love Jesus and the Church

 

CHRISTINA DEHAN JALOWAY

Disclaimer: This post is not meant to be a formula for raising Catholic kids; it's simply one family's experience of how the witness of parents shaped children who became faithful Catholic adults. Each of my siblings and I got to a point in life where we had to choose to embrace our Catholic faith, and by the grace of God, we did. We, like all human beings, had the freedom to choose to reject it, and I know that sometimes people who are raised by faithful Catholic parents choose to do just that. There's no guarantee that if you do x, y, or z, your kids will still be going to Mass as adults. But there ARE things you can do to tend your children's souls so that they are more open to the Lord's action in their life. 

The whole Dehan clan, minus my newly-minted (as of 7/22/17) brother-in-law, Thomas. Photo by Leah Muse. 

The whole Dehan clan, minus my newly-minted (as of 7/22/17) brother-in-law, Thomas. Photo by Leah Muse

Given the state of affairs amongst millennials who were raised Catholic, I understand the surprised looks on people’s faces when I tell them that my other three adult siblings (ages 27-33) and I are all intentional disciples, in the sense that we try to love Jesus, follow him, and be faithful Catholics. All of us have married faithful Catholics, and we are all committed to raising our children to know and love Christ and the Church. To top it all off with even more weirdness, my two sisters and I majored in theology in college, my sister Elisa and I both have Master’s degrees in theology, and my brother studied philosophy.

Even to other faithful Catholics, this sounds highly unusual. How in the world did we all end up like this? Did my parents brainwash us? Were we forced to go to daily Mass and completely sheltered from secular TV and music? Did we spend all of our spare time as kids reading the Bible and praying? Did we go to super Catholic elementary and high schools where we had lots of other faithful Catholic mentors and friends around?

The answer to all of those question is an emphatic no. Yes, Sunday Mass was an expectation, but I don’t ever remember feeling like I was forced to do anything faith-related (I can’t speak for my other siblings in this regard...I wasn’t exactly the rebellious one in my family). Yes, my parents censored what we watched and listened to, but they tried to keep the rules age-appropriate and we definitely all watched our fair share of TV in junior high and high school. We did go to Catholic schools our whole lives, but in terms of Catholic identity, the quality of theology classes, and the number of faithful Catholic mentor types around, these schools were mediocre at best. So how did they do it?

My amazing parents. Photo by Leah Muse. 

My amazing parents. Photo by Leah Muse

My parents would say that the fact that we all love Jesus and the Church is because of 1) grace, 2) grace, and 3) grace. But even they have to admit (when pressed) that they played an important role in our faith formation; grace builds on nature, after all. I thank God on a regular basis for the gift of faith-filled parents who, through their witness, gave me everything I needed as a child to make my faith my own as an adult, and I know all of my siblings would say the same thing. My parents weren’t perfect, and my family still has issues (what family doesn’t?), but the one thing we never disagree on, the one thing that has never been a source of division for us is Christ and his Church.

Looking back on my childhood, I can pinpoint six things my parents did that were particularly formative for my siblings and me. Like I said in the disclaimer, these aren't silver bullets, but I do think my parents' way of teaching and witnessing to the beauty of the Catholic faith is a huge part of why my siblings and I are still faithful Catholics today.  
 

My Dad was one of the lectors at our wedding, which seemed appropriate considering his role in teaching me about God's Word. Photo by Leah Muse. 

My Dad was one of the lectors at our wedding, which seemed appropriate considering his role in teaching me about God's Word. Photo by Leah Muse

1. Say the Name.  My parents talked about their relationships with the Lord, what he was doing in their lives, and what they could see him doing in our lives on a daily basis. Jesus’ name was frequently spoken in our house, and always in a positive way. I never felt like God was a police officer in the sky, waiting for me to screw up. I knew that He loved me even more than my parents did. For my siblings and me, faith wasn’t just a Church thing or a school thing. My parents’ faith and love for Jesus was the air that we breathed.

2.  Have daily family devotions. Like most Catholic families, we did the typical grace before meals and prayers before bed. Unlike most Catholic families, we did a lot of extemporaneous prayer as a family, usually after dinner. My parents didn’t emphasize rote prayer so much as heartfelt conversations with the Lord. We learned, from a young age, that the Lord cared about all of our concerns and that we could voice them aloud, directly to Him. My Dad says that this type of prayer helped us “stretch our prayer muscles," and he's right! My parents were good about keeping our prayer times on the short side so that we wouldn’t get restless, and they encouraged us (at the appropriate ages) to have our own prayer time each day. I didn’t start to do that until high school, but the seeds were definitely planted, and our family prayer times paved the way for my future spiritual growth and intimacy with the Lord.

3.  Read the Bible. My parents met because of the Catholic Charismatic Movement, which was the context in which they both encountered the Bible--outside of the Mass--for the first time. They took Biblical literacy seriously and wanted us to dive into God’s Word as soon as possible. We listened to Bible verse memory cassettes in the car, which we legitimately loved, and read the children’s Bible so often that we had entire stories memorized. As my Dad says,”The Word is like the rain and snow that come down and water the earth making it fruitful.  You need water in your garden of souls; the Bible is your water source.” I couldn’t agree more.

4.  Pray for your children's spiritual formation.  My parents prayed for us daily, and we knew this. They also took their responsibility to form us in the faith seriously, and educated themselves on the Bible and Church teaching.  I can honestly say that, until college, I didn’t have a theology teacher who taught me anything my parents hadn’t already covered--and then some.

5. Be credible witnesses:  I remember waking up for school and seeing my mom reading her Bible, journaling, or kneeling, deep in prayer, before she came into the kitchen to supervise breakfast. My Dad also had a daily prayer routine that was visible to all of us, and we knew how seriously he took his relationship with Christ. I think this was the most important component in our faith formation: the fact that we saw my parents, especially my Dad, living what they were teaching (albeit imperfectly), day in and day out. Not only that, but I could tell that for my parents, living the Christian life was a joy, even when it was difficult. I never associated Jesus or the Church with a bunch of arbitrary rules, because my parents always framed morality in the context of our relationship with Christ.

6. Frequent the Sacraments. I was so excited to receive my first Communion. I knew that I would be receiving Jesus, and I knew that it was my mom’s favorite part of the week. I wanted to experience the joy I saw on her face every Sunday after she received the Eucharist. While we didn't start to go to daily Mass as a family until I was in college, my parents’ joyful attitude toward Sunday Mass was what kept me interested as a child, even when the homily was way over my head.  I wanted to be as close to Jesus as she was. It wasn’t until much later that my parents (and I) started to go to confession regularly, but now it’s a staple in the life of my family. 

My beautiful Mom, doing what she does best: interceding for one of her children. Photo by Leah Muse. 

My beautiful Mom, doing what she does best: interceding for one of her children. Photo by Leah Muse

What my parents didn’t do (until later):

You may have noticed that I didn’t mention the Saints, Marian devotion, or the liturgical calendar in my list. In part, that’s because my parents didn’t fully understand the importance of the Church’s teachings on the more devotional aspects of Catholicism when I was young. By the time I went to college and my younger siblings were in junior high and high school, they had (thanks to Scott Hahn, et al) rediscovered the beauty and richness of Catholic devotional life. At the same time, I went to Notre Dame and met lots of other faithful Catholic students who introduced me to Marian devotion, the Saints, the liturgical year, etc.

Do I feel like I was deprived in some way? Not really. That’s not to say that I don’t plan on introducing my little one to these devotions (I do!), but I think that my parents’ emphasis on developing a relationship with Christ, reading and knowing the Bible, and the Mass was a wonderful combination despite its deficiencies. And they did it without any curriculum, printables, or the Internet!

I hope this list is helpful to those of you are currently raising young children. I know that what my siblings and I received is so rare, especially in the Catholic world, and one of my hopes is that my generation will change this. After teaching high school for nine years and seeing the dramatic difference it makes to a teenager to have two parents who are intentional disciples, I'm even more passionate about raising my children to know the love, joy, and beauty that comes with knowing Christ. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Mom and Dad! I love and appreciate y'all more than you can know (this side of heaven). 

If you'd like more information on specific faith-based things my parents did with us growing up, please email me

I don't deserve to be married.

 

Ever since I got engaged (and more recently, pregnant), well-meaning friends, relatives, and former students have said some version of the following to me: “I can’t imagine someone who deserves this more than you do.”

And part of me wanted to believe that. After all, hadn’t I waited over a decade to meet the right man? Hadn’t I persevered in my ministry as a high school theology teacher, even at schools with clueless administrations and lackluster Catholic identity? Hadn’t I suffered enough in hours of therapy sessions in which I talked about trauma I wanted so badly to forget?

That same part of me wanted to say, You’re right. I’ve paid my dues. I deserve to get married and have kids.

After receiving one undeserved gift (the Sacrament of Marriage) and preparing to receive the most undeserved gift (the Eucharist). Photo by Leah Muse. 

After receiving one undeserved gift (the Sacrament of Marriage) and preparing to receive the most undeserved gift (the Eucharist). Photo by Leah Muse

Thankfully, that part of me didn’t convince the rest of me. I knew--thanks to the wisdom of the saints and my knowledge of Scripture and the number of people in my life (not to mention in the wider world) who have suffered more than I have, who have borne crosses heavier than mine, and who are still waiting for their vocation, for respite from intense suffering, for reconciliation with someone they love, or for healing--that I didn’t deserve Kristian.

I don’t deserve to be married and pregnant with our first child. Just like I don't deserve to receive the God of the Universe in the Eucharist as often as every day. Just like I don't deserve God's mercy in the face of my sin. Kristian, our marriage, our baby, our current newlywed happiness, the Church, the Sacraments, friendship, the beauty of the world...these are all gifts. Everything is grace.

And I can't help but wonder why the Lord gave these gifts to me. Why did I get married before some of my friends who are older than I am and have been waiting on their vocations longer than me and deserve (in my human estimation) to be married more than I do? Why did I get pregnant right away when I have dear friends and family who have been trying for years and haven’t conceived? Why has my pregnancy been relatively easy when some women have hyperemesis gravidarum? Why? Why? Why?

I have no idea.

I do not understand.

I didn’t understand when I was single for over a decade of my adult life, crying out to the Lord for the fulfillment of my vocation, while so many of my closest friends, my two younger siblings, and even my former students got married and started having kids.

I didn’t understand when someone incredibly close to me revealed that she had been sexually abused as a child, and had been carrying the burden in silence for almost 18 years.

I don’t understand when I read about the suffering of children in Syria, the families eating out of garbage dumps in Venezuela, the persecuted Christians in Egypt, or the women right here in the US who are pregnant and alone.

I don’t understand. And I don’t have any neat and tidy platitudes or answers to give anyone.

I do know this: I am not God. I cannot see the big picture. I cannot possibly hope to understand the whys and wherefores of the Cosmos. And thankfully, as a Catholic, I am not expected to simply accept these injustices as “God’s will”, full stop.

I can be sad and angry. I can ask questions. I can be honest with God about how difficult it is to live in such a fallen world.

One of the best things I’ve ever read on the topic of why God allows suffering is from a collection of Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI’s essays on the Eucharist, God is Near Us:

Romano Guardini, who in his inclination to melancholy often felt the dreadful and painful aspects of this world most grievously, like a burden laid upon him personally, said many times that he knew that at the judgment God would ask him about his life.  But he was waiting for the judgment to be able for his part to put questions to God--the question about why creation exists, about all the incomprehensible things that have arisen in it as the consequence of the freedom to do evil. The judgment means that God puts this question to himself. Hans Urs von Balthasar expresses it this way: Those who defend God are not convincing; God has to defend himself.  "He did it once, when the Risen One showed his wounds...God himself has to invent his theodicy [an explanation for the seeming lack of justice in the world]. He must already have worked it out when he endowed men with freedom (and thus with the temptation) to say No to him, to his commands." At the judgment, in response to our questions, the Lord will show us his wounds, and we will understand.  In the meantime, however, he simply expects us to stand by him and to believe what these wounds tell us, even though we cannot work right through the logic of this world.

That’s a tall order: to trust in God’s love and his power to save in the midst of so much injustice. But that’s exactly what Christ did on the cross. Which is why I have such a difficult time praying in churches without legit crucifixes: because it is only in keeping my eyes fixed on the God who chose to suffer with us that I can persevere through suffering--my own or that of those I love.

Because even though I’m married (yay!) and pregnant (yippee!), I know that suffering will continue to touch my life, because I am human and living in a fallen world. I know that I will still have moments where I wonder why God is allowing this, that, or the other thing to happen.

But I also know that these undeserved gifts are opportunities to grow in gratitude and wonder at a God whose love is more superabundant than we could ever imagine. A God who, while He allows suffering for reasons unknown to us, also makes possible the deepest joy. And often it is the depth of our suffering that makes the joy possible.

I’ll close with another favorite quote from Papa Benny, which has been on my heart quite a bit lately:

Now, some might say, is it right to be so happy, while the world is so full of suffering, when there is so much darkness and so much pain? Is it legitimate to be so defiantly joyful? The answer can only be a yes! Because saying 'no' to this joy benefits no-one, it only makes the world darker. And those who do not love themselves cannot give to love their fellow man, can not help them, can not be a messenger of peace. We know this from our faith, and we see it every day: the world is beautiful and God is good and He became man and entered into us, suffers and lives with us, we know this definitely and concretely : yes, God is good and it is good to be Man. We live in this joy, and try to bring this joy to others, to reject evil and to be servants of peace and reconciliation. (Source

And so, dear reader, if your heart is heavy with the weight of your own suffering or the suffering of others, know that you are not alone: the God of the universe knows your pain more intimately than you can imagine.

And if your heart is bursting with gratitude right now because of the gifts you’ve received, rejoice! Embrace it. Share it with others. But remember that none of us deserve these gifts; everything is grace.

Favorite Quotes and Prayers: Lent

 

Blessed Ash Wednesday to you and yours! If you're in need of some extra inspiration at the beginning of this holy (but difficult) season, or you just like good quotes, this post is for you. Below are a few (JUST a few) of my favorite quotes and prayers for Lent. I make no apologies that most of them are from Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI's writings. 

Detail of the crucifix that Kristian and I held when we said our vows. Photo by me. 

Detail of the crucifix that Kristian and I held when we said our vows. Photo by me. 

“The observance of Lent is the very badge of the Christian warfare. By it we prove ourselves not to be enemies of Christ. By it we avert the scourges of divine justice. By it we gain strength against the princes of darkness, for it shields us with heavenly help.” -Benedict XVI

"Lent is a journey, it means accompanying Jesus as He travels to Jerusalem, the place where the mystery of His Passion, Death and Resurrection is to be fulfilled. It reminds us that Christian life is a 'road' to be travelled, consisting not so much in a law to be observed as in the person of Christ Himself, Who must be encountered, welcomed and followed"  - Benedict XVI

“Pain is part of being human. Anyone who really wanted to get rid of suffering would have to get rid of love before anything else, because there can be no love without suffering, because it always demands an element of self-sacrifice, because... it will always bring with it renunciation and pain.” -Joseph Ratzinger

“You honor this altar indeed, because it receives Christ’s body -at the Eucharist]. But the poor man, who himself is the body of Christ, you treat with scorn...You can see this altar lying around everywhere, both in streets and in marketplaces, and you can sacrifice upon it every hour [by almsgiving].” -St. John Chrysostom

“It would be easier to sacrifice some big thing to God, to impose some hard rule upon ourselves, than to say: ‘Do what you like with me.’” -Caryll Houselander, Reed of God

"Joy alone is the mother of sacrifice, because sacrifice is not reasonable if it is not attracted by the beauty of the truth. It is beauty—“the splendor of the truth”—which calls us to sacrifice." -Fr. Luigi Giussani, founder of Communion and Liberation 

Do not turn your face away from anyone who is poor, and the face of God will not be turned away from you. If you have many possessions, make your gift from them in proportion; if few, do not be afraid to give according to the little you have. So you will be laying up a good treasure for yourself against the day of necessity. For almsgiving delivers from death and keeps you from going into the Darkness.” -Tobit 4:7b-10


“But you, dearly beloved, who have believed the promise of the Lord with your whole heart, flee the foul leprosy of avarice and make a holy and wise use of God’s gifts.” -Pope St. Leo the Great

“Our entire lives are like [Jacob’s] long night of struggle and prayer, spent in desiring and asking for God’s blessing, which cannot be grabbed or won through our own strength but must be received with humility from him as a gratuitous gift that ultimately allows us to recognize the Lord’s face. And when this happens, our entire reality changes; we receive a new name and God’s blessing.” -Pope Benedict, General Audience, 5/25/11

"You are the slim crescent of a moon that I see and my self is the earth’s shadow that keeps me from seeing all the moon. The crescent is very beautiful and perhaps that is all one like I am should or could see; but what I am afraid of, dear God, is that my self shadow will grow so large that it blocks the whole moon, and that I will judge myself by the shadow that is nothing. I do not know you God because I am in the way. Please help me to push myself aside." -Flannery O'Connor, from her prayer journal.

The Lenten Spring Has Come!

The Light of Repentance!

O Brothers, let us cleanse ourselves from all evil,

Crying out to the Giver of Life

‘Glory to Thee, O Lover of Man!’

--Byzantine Hymn

How World Youth Day Taught Me to Love the Church

18-year-old me with some of my fellow pilgrims. 

18-year-old me with some of my fellow pilgrims. 

Growing up, I loved Jesus. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have some sense of his love and some desire to be in a living relationship with him. I attribute this mostly to my parents, who were (and are) faithful disciples. They read the Bible to us until we were old enough to read it ourselves, we prayed together as a family (mostly extemporaneous, and always speaking directly to the Lord), and were at Mass every Sunday, no matter what.

By the time I got to high school, I had the reputation among my peers as the “super Catholic” girl, and, not knowing anyone else who cared that much about their faith in high school, I started to think that I was super Catholic. The thing is, though, that while I loved Jesus, I hadn’t yet fallen in love with the Church. My parents were sort of protestant-Catholics during my formative years (when I went to college, they started getting into Scott Hahn and returning to the devotional elements of the faith), which meant that I rarely went to Confession, had zero relationship with the Blessed Mother, only knew the names of a handful of non-Biblical saints, had never prayed a full rosary on my own, and the only thing I knew about the Pope was that he had white hair and his name was John Paul. And yes, this was after going to Catholic schools for twelve years (but that’s another story for another post).

In any case, I can pinpoint the moment when I first fell in love with the Church in all of her glory: World Youth Day in 2002. Along with about fifty other Notre Dame students and a couple of young priests, I traveled by bus to Toronto, Canada, to join in prayer with 850,000 other young men and women from all over the world. And what I saw there permanently changed my experience of being Catholic.  

It was my first time to see hundreds of young religious men and women in habits. Their joy was infectious.

It was my first experience of just how universal the Church is (staying up half the night listening to people from different countries singing folk songs in foreign languages will do that).

It was the first time I’d seen hundreds of people my age adoring the Blessed Sacrament.

It was the first time I saw Pope John Paul II in person, and the first time I ever appreciated what it means to have a Holy Father who loves and guides the Church. And yes, I cried when he drove by in his popemobile.

And although I spent the majority of that week in varying states of cleanliness (we had to “shower” in our bathing suits using a hose), attempting to sleep on the floor of an elementary school library with no A/C, standing in long lines for boxes of food, and woke up on the morning of the closing Mass only to find a frog in my sleeping bag, what I most remember is how thankful I was to be Catholic. To be a member of this beautiful, blessed, broken, human, and divine Body of Christ.

Please join with me in prayer for the WYD pilgrims in Poland, that they may all experience, in a new and more profound way, the joy of being Catholic.


Have you been to World Youth Day? Did it change your experience of the Church? Please share in the comments!

Spiritual Direction: What Is It Good For?

 

Dear Christina,

I heard you speak at Maryland earlier this fall. I went to talk to my priest and kind of fell into spiritual direction, which I know is incredibly important for me to figure out a lot of things with my faith. I know that there are things that I want and need to work on, but whenever I'm sitting in the office talking to my spiritual director, I kind of feel like I run out of words. I think part of my issue is prioritizing the things to bring up, and even recognizing the things that I need to work on. Could you do a post on how to really get the most out of spiritual direction? I know it has the possibility to be really incredible for my relationship with Christ, I just don't know how to get to that point!

Thanks so much for your question, MQ! Before I answer it, though, it might be helpful to do a little Q-and-A on spiritual direction in general, especially for those who aren't familiar with the concept. Here goes: 

Why go to spiritual direction? 

-If you want someone to walk with you closely in your journey toward heaven.

-If you struggle with trusting in God's love for you and plan for your life. 

-If you need guidance/help discerning your vocation.

-If you want your prayer life to become deeper and richer but aren't sure how to go about it. 

-If you're having a spiritual crisis and need someone to help you see the Truth. 

...or a myriad of other unique reasons. I'm of the opinion that any mature Christian should be open to going to spiritual direction. For me, it is simply an acknowledgment that I can't be a Christian alone and that in this season of my life, one-on-one guidance is especially important.

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What's the difference between spiritual direction and therapy? 

As I've said before: a therapist is someone who is trained to get to the bottom of psychological and emotional problems, and to give you the tools to manage them. A spiritual director is trained to help you in your prayer life, struggles with sin, and overall relationship with Christ. A good therapist and a good spiritual director will overlap in terms of the issues they address in your sessions with them, butthey are not interchangeable. 

In any case, you need both a spiritual director and a therapist, in order to avoid spiritualizing psychological issues and/or dismissing spiritual problems as psychological issues beyond your control. Both attitudes are dangerous. 

What's the difference between spiritual direction and Confession? 

Sometimes, spiritual direction is a part of Confession. I've received some of my best direction in the confessional, and some Catholics choose to consistently go to the same priest for confession so that a spiritual director-directee relationship develops. In this case, the priest gets to know you and your spiritual struggles well and can advise you in a particular way (which isn't always possible when you go to a new priest every time or always go behind the screen). 

Of course, if your spiritual director is a lay person, then the major differences are 1) it's not a Sacrament and 2) you don't leave a spiritual direction session absolved from all of your sins. If you have to choose, Confession is definitely more important for the health of your soul than spiritual direction. 

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How do I find a spiritual director?

First, you should pray about it. The Lord really will lead you to the right person! He's always lead me to the right director through the counsel of friends who are also in spiritual direction. My first spiritual director was recommended to me by a friend in college, my second by a friend in my hometown, my third by a friend here in DC, and my current spiritual director was recommended by my dear friend and blogger/missionary extraordinaire, MegYou can also call your diocesan office and ask for a list of available spiritual directors. If you go to Confession and have an amazing experience, be bold and ask the priest (the worst thing he can say is that he's too busy)! 

Should I look for a man or a woman? Does state of life matter? 

At various times over the past decade, I've had three priests and one married lay woman as spiritual directors. My current spiritual director is a priest. I think that the state of life and gender of your director is something that is given to you when the Lord leads you to the right person. If you're not comfortable going to a priest or religious, then look for a lay director. If you want to be able to confess to your spiritual director, you obviously need a priest. 

Ladies, one word of caution on male spiritual directors: I don't recommend going to someone to whom you are (romantically) attracted or could potentially be attracted to, for obvious reasons. 

How do I know if the spiritual director I find is the "right" one? 

You really can't know until you meet with the person! If you and the director really click, great. If not, or if he/she seems theologically wacky to you, it's TOTALLY fine to not schedule another meeting. Most directors recommend meeting once a month or so, which leaves you a good chunk of time to discern whether or not you should continue with that person. 

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And now, to my reader's actual question: How can I get the most out of spiritual direction? 

This is a tough question to answer because the content of a spiritual direction session is so deeply personal, but the main thing to keep in mind at all times is the purpose of spiritual direction: learning how to love Christ more fully. Since that's a bit vague, here are some questions to consider before meeting with your spiritual director:

What are the areas where you really struggle in loving Christ? Others? Yourself?

How's your prayer life? Do you want to make more time to pray but find yourself at a loss for words when you do? Do you talk in prayer more than you listen? 

What virtues do you lack? Do you need guidance as to how to go about cultivating those virtues? 

And perhaps MOST importantly: Do you trust the Lord? Do you believe that he loves you? In what areas of your life do you have the most difficult time letting go of the illusion of control? 

If you take the time to answer these questions thoroughly and honestly (I often have to beg for the grace to be honest with myself, the Lord, and my spiritual director), you will no doubt have plenty to bring to your director. 

That's all I have for now--I'd love to hear any and all advice y'all have on spiritual direction from your own experience. Please share in the comments!

Advent Blessings,

Christina Grace

PS It's my 30th (!) birthday week, which means that on Thursday or Friday (my actual birthday), I'll be posting some reflections on my twenties and sharing with y'all why I'm so incredibly pumped to be turning 30. Stay tuned!

(All images via)

Dear Pope Benedict

(Image via)

On this day last year, I cried in my car on the way to school as I contemplated the news of the retirement of Pope Benedict XVI. Today, on the anniversary of his retirement, in an effort to further explain my (admittedly unusual) love for our Pope Emeritus, I wanted to share with you this slightly-edited version of a letter that I sent to him in October via my landlord, Dr. Schindler, who had the privilege of meeting with him and personally giving it to him. Yes, that's right: Pope Benedict XVI, one of my favorite people in the entire world, received my letter personally. Dreams do come true, friends. (No, he didn't write me back, but I didn't really think he would. I *did* get a blessed rosary in the mail, courtesy of his secretary, so I can't complain.)

Dearest Holy Father,

I hardly know how to begin this letter, as it is a dream come true to even have the opportunity to write it. I’ve long wanted to write to you, but the fact that you probably would never actually see a letter I sent through the mail kept me from doing so. When Dr. Schindler, my good friend and landlord, told me of his impending visit with you and offered to carry my letter to you, I was overjoyed. That you will read my letter personally is the answer to a prayer held deep within my heart; a prayer I was almost afraid to utter for fear of being disappointed. What a gift it is to be loved in such a particular way by the Father! Thank you for the honor of reading my letter, and for your prayers, which I know I’ve long enjoyed even if you did not know me by name.

My name is Christina Grace and I teach Scripture, Christology, and Ecclesiology at a Catholic high school in Washington, DC. While I studied theology at the University of Notre Dame, most of what I do each day with my students could be categorized as basic evangelization and remedial catechesis. I feel profoundly unworthy of this task, but am indebted to the Lord for elevating you to the Chair of Peter during my senior year of college, thus giving me such a wonderful guide in the practice of “intellectual charity.” I can’t imagine my post-graduate theological education or my teaching career or my life of faith without the constant witness of your faith and the ways in which you taught me so clearly that “Man lives on truth and on being loved: on being loved by the truth” (Jesus of Nazareth).

When I read something--anything--that you’ve written, I am always led closer to the Truth. Concepts that were once shrouded in darkness become clear for the first time. The significance of the precepts of the faith impresses itself upon me with a new gravity. The face of Christ becomes clearer. HIs love becomes more tangible. I am not exaggerating when I say that the way in which your writings have and continue to lead me to the Truth is a small taste of the beatific vision, when we will all stand before the Fullness of the Truth with our eyes free from the darkening effect of sin. Thank you for being Christ’s instrument of Truth in my life, and by extension, in the lives of the hundreds of students I’ve taught in the past seven years.

As I was preparing for a talk recently, I re-read the homily from your inaugural Mass in 2005 and was struck by the closing exhortation:

“Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ – and you will find true life. Amen.”

I began to cry while reading these beautiful lines...because Christ speaks so clearly through you and touches not only my mind, but my heart in a way that no other theologian, pope, or even Saint does. You have taught me how to let go of my fear and dare with God. Your witness moves me to share the Gospel with more zeal and to cherish the beauty of my faith--which no one can take away from me--with deeper gratitude than I thought possible. Your pontificate taught me anew the value of the gift of Apostolic Succession. Your humility and lack of concern for safeguarding your own personal legacy convicts me of my own pride. The closeness to you which I feel, inexplicable from a natural standpoint, continues to confirm the truth of what you once said: “there is no great distance between Christians, for all share the same fundamental reality: Christ within us.”

Dearest Holy Father, thank you for being my most important teacher and spiritual father. Because of you and your faithfulness to Christ, my faith is deeper and stronger and my love for Christ is truer. I know that I am not unique in having this experience; you have probably received thousands of letters like mine. I also know that I could have waited to tell you all of this when we embrace at the eternal Wedding Feast, but I couldn’t wait until then to tell you of my deep, abiding love for and gratitude to you. Know that you will always be in my daily thoughts and prayers, and that for whatever it is worth, a 29-year-old high school religion teacher in the United States appreciates the suffering you endured to be her Shepherd for eight years....

Thank you, Holy Father, for loving me without even knowing me, and for being one of the clearest signs of Christ’s love for me that I have encountered in my young life.

Your loving daughter, sister, and fellow Christian,

Christina Grace 

 

Bible Verses That Scare Me

Jerusalem. Photo taken by Kristian on his pilgrimage in 2016. 

Jerusalem. Photo taken by Kristian on his pilgrimage in 2016. 

Wednesday's Gospel contained one of what I consider the scariest verses in the Bible: 

Much will be required of the person entrusted with much,
and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more. (Luke 12:48)

It scares me for a simple reason: I have been given SO MUCH by God. So. much. And I have been/can be so stingy with the gifts I have received. Whenever I hear or read this passage, I’m cut to the core. Conviction hurts, my friends. 

But it hurts so good. SO good, in fact, that after Mass this morning, I decided to start a list of scary Bible verses. The kind that keep me from getting too comfortable and deluding myself that I’ve got this whole Christian Life thing down. The kind that keep me on my knees, begging for the grace that I always need, even when I think I don’t. Here’s what I’ve got so far. Please feel free to add yours to the mix in the comments! 

"If I have the gift of prophecy, and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” (1 Cor. 13:2)

"Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, love is not pompous, t is not inflated, it is not rude. It does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Cor. 13:4-7)

"If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ but hates his brother, he is a liar.” (1 John 4:20)

"For the measure with which you measure will in turn be measured out to you." (Luke 7:38)

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

"Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done unto me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)

"If anyone wishes to be my disciple, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” 

Love your enemies, and do good to them, and lend expecting nothing back.” (Luke 7:35)

"It would be better for him if a millstone were put around his neck and he be thrown into the sea than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin.” (Luke 17:2)

"When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.” (Luke 17:10)

Do not nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking not for his own interests, but also everyone for those of others.” (Phil. 2:2-4)

Work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” (Phil. 2:12)

"Do everything without grumbling or complaining.” (Phil 2:14)

"Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matt. 5:48)

"Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does with the will of my Father in heaven.” (Matt 7:21)

"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength…You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 

"IF anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, his religion is vain. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world." (James 1:26-27)

"If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,’ but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it?" (James 2:14)

Not many of you should become teachers, for you realize that we shall be judged more strictly, for we all fall short in my respects.” (James 3:1-2)

God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6)

(Image via)

The Litany of Patience (Or: The Choleric's Prayer)

(Based on the Litany of Humility...and my own personal struggles with patience.)

From the desire to control my life,

R: Deliver me, O Jesus.

From rash judgment and haste…

From impulsive decision making…

From the desire to act when I need to be still…

From the desire to speak when I need to stay silent…

From the delusion that my own ideas and plans are what would be best…

From impatience with the sins and idiosyncrasies of others…

From impatience with my own sins and slow growth in virtue…

From impatience with Your plan for my life…

From the desire to live on my own timeline…

From the fear of running out of time…

From the fear of aging and death…

From the temptation to act out of sorrow, discouragement, anxiety, or fear…

Lord, teach me to trust your love so entirely: 

That I may wait upon your Word before making important decisions. 

That I may not get ahead of or behind your Spirit. 

That I may maintain an eternal perspective in all that I do. 

That I may accept and surrender to your will for me daily. 

That I may truly believe that ALL things work for the good of those who love you. 

That I may radiate to others Your peace and joy which surpass all understanding.

Amen.