31 December 2015


I waited all of Advent to sing Christmas songs and do Christmas things, and I'm so happy it's finally here!

I've spent the last few days studying cramming furiously for my Individual Life Insurance exam as a part of the Chartered Life Underwriter designation I'm working on. Old habits die hard. I had the exam today, it was a lot more difficult than I anticipated, partly because I hardly knew the information and was learning new material as late as 1:55 this afternoon. But I took it and I passed! Thanks be to God for being a good guesser and a good test taker, and for just plain good luck. After the first ten questions (where I knew no more than four answers) I thought for sure I was toast. But I pulled out the big W.

Since Advent started, I've been praying the Sunday readings with the use of guided meditations from a lectio divina book I bought. I've tried to pray through each meditation 2-3 times throughout the week. I've found that I've been able to get into a much deeper form of prayer, which I think means that I'm doing it right? I love prayer, but even after all these years of practice I still wonder if I'm doing it the way that God wants me to do it. The guided meditations take you from lectio, the first reading and the gospel reading for that Sunday with some commentary on the scriptures, then there are questions for the meditatio, the beginning prayer for oratio, then contemplatio and operatio.
During contemplatio,  my mind was completely blank, unoccupied by the usual endless stream of words, my eyes were closed, and I felt my heart being drawn up completely into the Lord's. I didn't come away with any revelation about what to do with my life or any firm resolve to turn away from my sins, but it was a very intimate moment. I'm not sure how long it lasted, and no words were exchanged. I started by praying that God would just work on my heart, and He did!
It made me question if I had ever really had a real experience of God before that. (I'm not denying that I have had experiences of God, this just seemed that much deeper.) It also made me question the whole idea of consolation and desolation, or at least my understanding of it. Formerly, I'd thought of desolation as just seasons where you can't "feel" God moving, and are usually uninspired to pray, etc. After that experience, I wonder if I haven't been in desolation my whole life, and the only consolation is meeting God in that place. If the saints, who are way better at praying than I am, regularly have those intimate moments with God, and then He withdraws from them,  perhaps that is real desolation, and anything I've named desolation in my life is just me being a brat. I bought St. John of the Cross's Dark Night of the Soul to find out for myself. I've been so into my carmelites lately!

Human will is a tricky thing.

Mary, Queen of the Universe, pray for us!

27 December 2015

Overlooked Details

Now that Christmas is finally here, I've been jamming out to my favorite Christmas songs. Starting at Midnight Mass, I was struck for the first time by how many songs make a reference to the wise men who visited Jesus.

We've all heard the story of Jesus' birth so many times that it's easy to take for granted some details which seem subtle or inconsequential. Three wise men or kings came to visit Jesus by following the light of a star. Sure. Heard it a thousand times. But if we were reading the Gospel of Saint Matthew with the eyes of a first century Jew, we would realize how absolutely radical it is that the three wise men came to pay homage to Jesus. 

A few weeks ago I finished reading Dawn of the Messiah by Edward Sri. Allow me to share some of his insights regarding the wise men:

"For many first-century Jewish readers, this plot [the story of the Magi] would sound all too familiar. It would recall the Old Testament story of Balak, Balaam and he prophecy of Numbers 24. Balak was the king of Moab who feared the Israelites so much that he called upon a pagan prophet from the east named Balaam to put a curse on them. However, when Balaam tried to curse Israel, words of blessing mysteriously came out of his mouth. Three times Balaam attempted to cast a spell on the Israelites, but each time God intervened to cause him to utter blessings.... All this prefigures the story of Herod, the Magi, and the star in Matthew 2. Just as the wicked King Balak wanted to use a pagan from the East to destroy Israel, so the wicked King Herod tries to use the Magi from the East in his plot to kill Israel's new born Messiah. Similarly, Balaam prefigures the Magi. Just as Balaam did not cooperate with Balak's plan to harm Israel but ended up blessing God's people, so do the Magi refuse to cooperate with Herod and instead end up paying homage to Jesus and bringing him gifts fit for a king. "

Jesus fulfills hundreds of prophecies from the Old Testament, including the prophecy that He would bring together all nations. The Magi from the East are not Jews. They are the first gentiles that God brings back into His covenant through Christ. The gifts they bring allude to the Kingship of Christ, His Divinity, and His death. 

How crazy is it that these men come to worship a little baby and recognize Him as the Savior?!! They don't have knowledge of the Old Testament, but God moves in them and allows them to take part in His plan for the salvation of the world.

Praise God!

St. Stephen, pray for us. 

Check out this a cappella version of The Little Drummer Boy by Pentatonix: 

23 December 2015

Kelly Ann Fox, 22 Dec 1961 - 16 Dec 2015, Requiescat in Pace

It seems like it's been a month since last Wednesday. I had the great fortune of attending a wedding of some sweet friends from college this past weekend, but my mind was in a million places at every pause in the conversation.

After the wedding, I trekked to South Bend, Indiana by way of Chicago to be with my family. Emotions ran high the whole time we were all together, so that was stressful.

It may sound cliche but you never can quite understand what its like to lose a family member to suicide unless you've experienced it. For the most part, I'm proud of my family. We're not all that close in general, but we came together and were there for one another when it mattered most. Even though I'm not that close to my family, the love I have for them is strong. There's something about our shared experiences of one another (in addition to our shared genetics) that we just kind of "get" each other. I wasn't close to my Aunt Kelly, in fact I cannot recall the last time we spoke. It may very well have been ten years. But God put us in this family together for some reason. And I loved her.

I was asked to be the closing speaker at Aunt Kelly's Memorial. To my knowledge, she didn't practice any religion, although she was baptized as a baby. My family asked me because there would be no minister and they wanted to hear something from scripture. Death is one of those things that forces people to think about God. Here's what I said:

For those of you who don't know me, I'm Brittany, Aunt Kelly's youngest niece. As the youngest niece,  I feel like I have a special connection to Aunt Kelly- we are both the baby girls of our family. This is why anyone will tell you that we were both my late grandfather's favorites. It could also mean that we are my grandmother's least favorites because we think the rules don't apply to us. 
Every position in a family has with it a set of responsibilities toward the whole. For us as the babies, we are here to remind our older siblings and cousins not to take life too seriously. We are here to keep some of that child-like joy; to be a breath of fresh air when things are too serious or difficult. 
Ultimately we're all here- babies, oldest, and even the forgotten ones in the middle- for a reason. When God made us, when He formed Adam and Eve and when He knit each of us in our mother's womb at our conception, He made us for a purpose. That purpose of course is to love Him and to be in a relationship with Him as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Throughout the course of human history and hundreds of thousands of times in my life and yours, we have broken that once perfect relationship by sin- those times when we turn away from God and rely only on ourselves. When we sin against a perfectly loving and infinite God, there is nothing we can do to rebuild that relationship. Thank God that isn't the end of the story. 
The gap of sin is too wide for us to bridge on our own, so God stepped down out of Heaven to bridge it for us. He took on human flesh and became a vulnerable baby to heal that broken relationship, all so that we could spend eternity in everlasting paradise with Him. He bore the weight of those sins when He hung on the cross. But this love cannot be one sided. The very definition of love requires reciprocation. Jesus, through the cross, shows us that suffering isn't something to fear, instead it is the path to our salvation. 
Jesus invites us to cast our burdens on Him. He invites us to embrace the crosses in our own lives. He doesn't promise that our lives will always be perfect or rosy or happy, but He does promise that, if we allow it, He will walk with us, even carry us when necessary.
I know that Aunt Kelly suffered. She was the life of the party, but deep down she fought her battles. None of us may ever really know how hard she fought. I think the hardest thing about her death for my family are the "what ifs." What if I could have done something more to show her how loved she was? What if I would have been there? The "what ifs" can eat us up or they can inspire us to tell our family how much we love them, show them how much they mean to us. That is what Aunt Kelly would have wanted.
For me, the hardest thing to fathom is how lonely the decision must have felt. I cannot begin to understand the way she came to make that decision, but now matter how lonely she felt, I can say with 100% confidence that she was never truly alone. God doesn't make mistakes, and He doesn't leave His children, especially not His baby girl, my Aunt Kelly. 
As I've been praying this week, I keep coming back to this verse from the Gospel of Saint Matthew. I hope that in those last moments, she could have been comforted by these words from Jesus Himself:
"Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy and my burden light."
I pray that each of us can come to know the saving power of God this Christmas. As we grieve the loss of Aunt Kelly and celebrate the birth of Jesus, let us ask Him how He wants us to respond. Let us love each other the way He loves us. And let us pray that Aunt Kelly will soon see her Savior face to face in paradise, where suffering is no more.
 Our Father... 

17 December 2015

Promised Tomorrows

Life with Jesus is just so good.

Today I heard a song on the radio that had the line, "we're not promised tomorrow."
But it isn't true, I don't think.

Jesus DOES promise us tomorrow. It may not look like today. It may not be pretty or sunny. It may not even be on earth or inside time. But He does promise us tomorrow, and a thousand tomorrows after that, if we cooperate with grace. And He promises that tomorrow will be for our good and that He will fulfill the desires of our hearts and we will be loved in it. Those are the kind of promises that my God makes. That's the kind of Savior that I have. I am grateful.

I love the New Evangelization. God has no hands and feet but ours mine. People NEED to hear this! My own friends and family NEED to hear of the saving message of Christ's coming, they need to know that His yoke is easy and His burden is light.. How scandalous is it of me to keep something like this from them? How hateful of me?

Today my mom's sister Kelly took her own life. She sent a message to my mom and her other sisters, so I was able to pray the glorious mysteries in the physical hour of her death, which gives me comfort. No one is beyond the redeeming love of our Good Father. Please pray for the repose of her soul, and for my family.

Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. (Mt 11:28)

Oh my Jesus, forgive us our sins. Save us from the fires of Hell. Lead all souls to Heaven, especially those in most need of Thy mercy.

St. Matthew the Publican, pray for us.

14 December 2015

Waiting in Joyful Hope

Now that we're past Gaudete Sunday, we're in the home stretch of Advent.

I'm very thankful for how Advent has gone so far this year. For most of my life I hardly knew what liturgical seasons were. Then in college Advent always seemed to get forgotten because of finals, and when finals were over, Advent was half way done and I was like a (rein)deer in the headlights in front of the Christmas truck. Living life in semesters is not exactly conducive to living liturgically.

Since I've been in the "real world," this is the first year that I was really intentional about making plans for Advent. I've been trying to be more intentional about all the things I do. I'm open to suggestions.

This year, I started planning early by making an Advent reading plan. I ordered a book called Conversing with God in Advent and Christmas, by Stephen Binz. It's a book of guided lectio meditations for the Sunday readings. I paid a lot for the book (well, what I consider a lot for a book, I don't think it is being published anymore), but it.is.so.worth.it. It's good. I'm reading through Isaiah at the same time.

I've also been reading Dawn of the Messiah by Edward Sri. It is great as well. I'll be finished with it before I go to Auburn on Thursday, I think. You know how I like to check things off my to do list.

As I was preparing for what I would read during Advent, I started making some other goals. I really wanted this Advent to be about cleaning out the cobwebs of my stony heart and asking God to fill the space left behind.

Here is my Advent List:
Give up Facebook (so far so good)
Pray the Rosary every day (so far so good, thanks to YouTube!)
Clean out my closet (done, clothes donated, and I even cleaned out two other closets in my house!)
Don't eat out (fail.)
Don't spend money (fail.)
Read more (check!)

You might think I'm too focused on lists. Maybe even obsessed. It might be true. Productivity is good for my soul, I think. It seems counterintuitive, but when I'm busy, even my prayer time is better. My soul takes a respite from the busyness and I can hear God.

How is your Advent going?

St. John of the Cross, pray for us!

13 December 2015

Fake It Till You Make It

Over the last few years, I've had the great blessing of loving and being loved by some very humble and holy introverts. As far as I can remember, not one of them has ever embraced the idea of faking it until you make it. Read Ross's insightful take here.

Like most things in life, I think the reason I tend to disagree with my introverts on the topic is because they've thought about it much more deeply than I have. As far as extroverts go, I'd like to think of myself as less surfacy and more self aware than most (my pride speaking). It's probably not actually true. Anyways, the interior life requires quite a degree of self awareness and introspection, and I'm working on it.

I was in discipleship with two women during my junior year of college. In the fall semester, both of them were experiencing desolation, and my advice to both of them (which frustrated them immensely) was to fake it until you make it. I was coming off of a spiritually high summer and was excited to spend an hour in the chapel with Jesus every day. I knew they weren't, and I knew I wouldn't always be so thrilled about it either.

For weeks, neither of them were praying because they wanted to want to pray before they went to pray. Wanting to pray is not a prerequisite for praying, I don't care if you're an introvert or an extrovert. They hated the idea of fake it till you make it because of the word fake. I was convinced that if they would just go to the chapel and be with Jesus, He would work in their hearts. Had I been more mature, I could have probably communicated my thoughts without using that word.

When I think of fake it until you make it, I'm mostly thinking about obligations and actions. I NEED to be praying and keeping the lines of communication with God open, regardless of how I feel. I NEED to go to work and make money, regardless of how I feel. I NEED to love the people around me, regardless of how I feel. It's about using my faculties and acting on my will and my intellect over my emotions.

In the Ignatian Exercises, one of the rules is that you don't make or break plans in desolation. You make plans in consolation and you stick to them in desolation. You fake it until you make it back to consolation, if that's what it takes.

In Ross's post, he talks more about feelings. Self confidence, for example, isn't even a virtue. Is there a point to faking it until you make it if what you're faking won't advance you in the spiritual life? Hardly. He and I agree there. I love that he's asking questions I hadn't considered: do the ends justify the means? When it comes to engaging the will and intellect over the emotions, I think both the means and the ends are virtue. What do you think?

I wish there was a phrase that meant the same thing without the word fake in it. Perhaps "just keep swimming" from Dory from Finding Nemo. But it doesn't hold quite the weight of self denial that I think is captured in fake it till you make it.

St. Ignatius, pray for us!

06 December 2015

Evangelii Gaudium

Everyone gets to have their own opinion about the things that are happening in the world. Some are right, some are wrong, most are filled with pieces of the truth. We're responsible for informing our own consciences in a way that we seek to understand truth and are able to identify it when it is presented. It is becoming increasingly more difficult to obtain unbiased information, so what is a girl to do when she wants to think about current events with the mind of the Church? (That was a real question! Help!)

Ultimately, I want to be able to have intelligent conversations about current events, but I really don't want my own opinion. I am a follower of Jesus. In my life, what He says, goes. So I want to think what He thinks.

A few months ago I read Pope Francis's Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, or Joy of the Gospel.

It has rocked my world and changed my life. It's mostly changed my mind about things at this point because I'm still figuring out how to live it out practically. I love all of  "my" Popes (JPII, BXVI, and Francis), but it has been along time since I read something so impactful to my way of thinking. I'm still processing a lot of it (rare for me... I would love to process out loud if any one has read it or wants to read it and argue with me over how we can live this out.. that would be ideal.) I wanted to leave you with some quotes from the fourth chapter, entitled The Social Dimension of Evangelization. Everything I've written is directly from this chapter, I've used ellipses to skip over some sentences without interrupting the integrity of his intention, but read the whole thing, it's really worth it. Here are some of my favorite parts:

"The Gospel is not merely about our personal relationship with God... the Gospel is about the kingdom of God.... 'evangelization would not be complete if it did not take account of the unceasing interplay of the Gospel and of man's concrete life, both personal and social.'" (Francis quotes Evangelii Nuntiandi, Pope Paul VI)

"It is no longer possible to claim that religion should be restricted to the private sphere and that it exists only to prepare souls for heaven. We know that God wants his children to be happy in this world too, even though they are called to fulfillment in eternity, for he has created all things 'for our enjoyment' (1 Tim 6:17), the enjoyment of everyone.... An authentic faith-- which is never comfortable or completely personal-- always involves a deep desire to change the world, to transmit values, to leave this earth somehow better than we found it."

"Each individual Christian and every community is called to be an instrument of God for the liberation and promotion of the poor, and for enabling them to be fully a part of society. This demands that we be docile and attentive to the cry of the poor and to come to their aid... the mere fact that some people are born in places with fewer resources or less development does not justify the fact that they are living with less dignity. It must be reiterated that 'the more fortunate should renounce some of their rights so as to place their goods more generously at the service of others.' (Paul VI, Octogesima Adveniens)... We are not simply talking about ensuring nourishment or a 'dignified sustenance' for all people, but also their 'general temporal welfare and prosperity.'(John XIII, Mater et Magistra) This means education, access to health care, and above all employment, for it is through free, creative, participatory, and mutually supportive labor that human beings express and enhance the dignity of their lives. A just wage enables them to have adequate access to all the other goods which are destined for our common use."

"This is why I want a Church which is poor and for the poor. They have much to teach us. Not only do they share in the sensus fidei, but in their difficulties they know the suffering Christ. We need to let ourselves be evangelized by them. The new evangelization is an invitation to acknowledge the saving power at work in their lives and to put them at the center of the Church's pilgrim way. We are called to find Christ in them, to lend our voice to their causes, but also to be their friends, to listen to them, to speak for them, and to embrace the mysterious wisdom which God wishes to share with us through them." 

"Where is your brother or sister who is enslaved? Where is the brother and sister whom you are killing each day in clandestine warehouses, in rings of prostitution, in children used for begging, in exploiting undocumented labor? Let us not look the other way. There is greater complicity than we think. The issue involves everyone! This infamous network of crime is now well established in our cities, and many people have blood on their hands as a result of their comfortable and silent complicity."

"The whole is greater than the part, but it is also greater than the sum of its parts... we constantly need to broaden our horizons and see the greater good which will benefit us all."

"Interreligious dialogue is a necessary condition for peace in the world.... what is not helpful is a diplomatic openness which says 'yes' to everything in order to avoid problems. We Christians should embrace with affection and respect Muslim immigrants to our countries. Faced with disconcerting episodes of violent fundamentalism, our respect for true followers of Islam should lead us to avoid hateful generalizations, for authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence."

Yes. Yes. Yes.

St. Francis of Assisi, pray for us that we may rebuild God's Church as you did.