Wednesday, February 3, 2016

In Defense of Chocolate

Or so they say...
Lent is just around the corner, which means blog posts galore will circle the internet telling you what you should give up for Lent. In recent years, I’ve also seen a number of posts and memes making the rounds that tell you what you should not give up for Lent—mainly, chocolate. While the intentions of these posts are usually innocent (writing that you should do something more spiritual for Lent instead), they do unintentionally rip on those of us who do choose to give up chocolate for Lent, usually making the broad assumption that giving up chocolate is a waste and does not relate to your relationship with God at all.

So, I am here today to convince you that they could not be more wrong. I am here today in defense of chocolate as a Lenten sacrifice.

First, I am of the opinion that we should not be judging the sacrifices of others. What may be a very difficult sacrifice for one person might be easy peasy for the next. But that doesn’t make the sacrifice any less for the person who finds it difficult. For example, giving up coffee for someone like me (who drinks coffee maybe three times a year) would not be a sacrifice, but for someone who has three cups a day, that is a huge sacrifice!

I have given up chocolate for Lent for the past few years, and while it is not the only sacrifice I make, it is certainly my most difficult. I have a not-so-secret love affair with chocolate. We are like peanut butter and jelly—we just go together. And so to willingly separate myself from something that I quite enjoy is not an easy feat! For someone who doesn’t have quite the level of love affair with chocolate as I do, giving up chocolate may not be a sacrifice, and that’s ok. But just because something may not be hard for one person does not mean we should belittle that it might be difficult for others.

Hello, my sweet.
Second, like many things in our lives, it is all about your intention. If you treat your sacrifice of chocolate like a new year’s resolution to help you lose weight or just as a way to break a pesky (but not overly harmful) habit, is your intention really getting at the heart of Lent? Probably not. But if you approach your sacrifice similar to how Christ fasted in the desert, such as to help you develop self-control and recognize that there are things that have a hold in your life that distract you from what really matters (that would be God), then it sounds like the intention behind your sacrifice is the exact purpose of Lent, no matter what that sacrifice may be.

Giving up chocolate in past years has really pushed me to grow in self-control, and this newfound self-control doesn’t just apply to whether or not to eat chocolate. It helps in all aspects of my life, and even leads to practicing more self-control with temptations to sin. Whether it is instigated by giving up chocolate or something else, developing self-control helps us grow in holiness. When I learned that I could say no to chocolate, I found that I could also say no a little bit more easily to things like gossip, or anger, or impatience. Along with this, I found myself having more freedom to say yes to the things that really matter: more prayer, learning about the saints, and putting my relationship with God first. Is chocolate the only roadblock on my path to holiness? Of course not. But if sacrificing chocolate helps me to overcome other obstacles, then the intention behind that sacrifice is exactly how we are supposed to approach Lent.

Finally, it also comes down to how you use it. A fast from something like chocolate (or coffee, TV, social media, etc.), no matter how minor, can be put to great use. As Catholics, I’m sure we are all familiar with the phrase “Offer it up!”, but how often to we actually put it into action? St. John Paul the Great, who experienced enormous suffering in his life, famously said that we should not waste our suffering.

The first couple of weeks of my chocolate fast are pretty rough. I find myself craving just a bite of smooth, milky chocolate multiple times a day. Whenever this happens, I try to offer up this craving for someone or something that could really use the prayers. Last year, I chose a different person or intention to offer it up for each day during Lent. Imagine how many prayers those intentions got just from my chocolate cravings alone! Now, will me giving up chocolate get a poor soul out of purgatory or send miraculous healing to a friend? Will my small bit of chocolate deprived suffering change the world? Probably not. But even the smallest offerings, when joined with Christ on the cross and given to God on behalf of others, can be used in the most mysterious ways.

In closing, I find chocolate to be a perfectly acceptable and worthy Lenten sacrifice, and I hope that many of you can now agree, so we can see an end to the posts that trivialize my favorite/not-so-favorite Lenten sacrifice. And with that, I rest my case. As members of the jury, feel free to chime in with your thoughts in the comments!

P.S. If you want to read another post where the writer agrees with me, check it out here.

This post originally appeared on Ignitum Today.

Friday, January 8, 2016

5 Spiritual New Year’s Resolutions

This post was originally published at Ignitum Today.

New Year’s resolutions usually seem to be focused on doing things to improve our physical health such as losing weight, eating healthier, or exercising more. While it is important to evaluate our physical health and work to make changes, we also shouldn’t forget about our spiritual health. If we put as much effort into improving our spiritual lives as we did in going to the gym or counting calories, our faith lives would be so much more fruitful! New Year’s is then also a great time to evaluate our spiritual health, and resolve to make changes to bring us closer to Christ in this coming year and beyond.

Here are five ideas for spiritual New Year’s resolutions you can make to help improve your faith life in this new year.

1. Find a Spiritual Director

Talking with a trusted and faith-filled confidante about your prayer is great for deepening your prayer life. You can make a resolution to meet with a spiritual director regularly, or just check in every once in awhile. While I prefer meeting with a priest (because he can also double as your confessor), you can also meet with a religious brother or sister, or even a layperson who has been trained in spiritual direction. If none of those options are available to you, even talking with a close friend who shares your faith can open up your prayer for you. It can be easy to get so bogged down in our own thoughts that we might miss something that God is very clearly saying to us. Spiritual direction can really help unpack all these thoughts to help lead us closer to God.

2. Add 5 more minutes of prayer to your day

If you want to become closer to another person, you spend more time with them. The same is true for God! If you want to build a deeper relationship with Him, talking to Him more will lead to that. A good place to start is to add just 5 more minutes of prayer to what you already do each day. Do you only pray for 5 minutes a day right now? Try to pray for 10 minutes. Do you do a holy hour every day? Try to do an hour and five minutes. This time adds up to an extra 35 minutes a week spent with God, and the benefits of adding this extra time far outweighs the time you give to Him.

3. Read a spiritual book

I love making reading resolutions at New Year’s, but I often forget to include a spiritual book on my list! There are so many options to choose from, including Scripture, writings by the saints, writings about the saints, and books on Catholic doctrine. Make a resolution to take the time and sit and read (and finish!) a spiritual book this year to help deepen your understanding of the faith.

4. Add one more spiritual activity to your monthly schedule

Life gets busy, and so it can be hard to make changes to your daily life. It can be easier though to add something new to your monthly schedule. This year, I’m making a resolution to go to daily Mass at least three times a month. I went to daily Mass every day when I was in graduate school, and so I know first-hand that words really cannot describe how much daily Mass and frequent reception of the Eucharist added to my faith life. Daily Mass may not be doable for you or in your town, so you can add another spiritual activity instead, such as spending a holy hour in Eucharistic Adoration, going to confession once a month, or even adding a volunteer service activity to your schedule to help celebrate the Year of Mercy.

5. Add a daily devotion

This one is especially good for people on the go, because you can read and reflect on your daily devotion on your commute or during your lunch break. I personally love reading the reflections in the Magnificat (although I need to get better about reading it every day), but there are a wealth of apps and e-mail devotions you can use too. There are 3-Minute Retreats from Loyola Press you can sign up for, you can have Blessed is She devotions waiting in your inbox each morning (specifically for women), or you can choose from a number of Catholic apps to use instead of playing on your phone at lunch (some great lists are here and here). It only takes a few minutes to read the daily readings and a short reflection, and it can make a huge difference to your day to just center yourself on God for a few extra minutes.

Did you make any spiritual New Year’s resolutions this year? Share your ideas in the comments!

Friday, December 18, 2015

Mary's Advent (Over at Ignitum Today)

Hail Mary by RakstarDesigns (Used with Permission)
The season of Advent is a time for waiting, preparing, and eagerly anticipating the birth of Christ.  It seems like no one could understand this period of time more than Mary, as she waited what probably seemed like a very long nine months for the birth of her son.

You could say that Mary’s personal Advent journey started at the Annunciation, when the angel Gabriel greets her, saying: "Hail, full of Grace! The Lord is with you."  Even Mary was “greatly troubled” by these words, and pondered their meaning. We can look to Mary in our own walk through Advent as we prepare for Christ, discovering through her what it means to be full of grace and for the Lord to be with you.

When Mary told the angel Gabriel to let it "be done according to your word", she said yes to being with God, yes to being full of grace.  Her yes affirmed this greeting—just as when we say yes to God, we are filled with His grace.

Her yes can be a guide as we journey through Advent (and life) and as we truly prepare ourselves to be with the Lord.

We can never carry Christ like Mary did.  She quite literally was with the Lord as she physically carried Him in her womb. However, we can also be "pregnant" with Christ by carrying him in our hearts, and through receiving Him in the Eucharist.

Kissing the Face of God, by Morgan Weistling (Used with Permission)
To truly prepare for Christ’s birth, it must go even further than just being with the Lord in our own hearts.  Mary also spent her time of waiting in service to others—she ran with great haste to be with her cousin Elizabeth. Elizabeth immediately recognizes that she is in the presence of God by being in Mary’s presence, as John leaps in her womb. Mary’s Advent preparation thus also involved her physically bringing Christ to others.  We too can be a vessel for Christ, especially during this Advent season, by bringing the light of Christ to all that we meet and serve.

Mary’s Advent was long. She spent nine months waiting and traveled many miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem. We only spend four weeks in preparation, and (most likely) don’t have to travel very far by riding on a donkey. But we can apply how Mary prepared for the coming of Jesus to our own Advent season—by pondering the meaning of being with the Lord, saying yes to accepting His grace, and bringing Christ to others.

This post was originally published at Ignitum Today.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Pope Francis Makes Me Uncomfortable (Over at Ignitum Today)

This post was originally published at Ignitum Today

2014 Pastoral Visit of Pope Francis to Korea Closing Mass for Asian Youth Day August 17, 2014 Haemi Castle, Seosan-si, Chungcheongnam-do Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism Korean Culture and Information Service ( Official Photographer : Jeon Han This official Republic of Korea photograph is being made available only for publication by news organizations and/or for personal printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be manipulated in any way. Also, it may not be used in any type of commercial, advertisement, product or promotion that in any way suggests approval or endorsement from the government of the Republic of Korea. If you require a photograph without a watermark, please contact us via Flickr e-mail. --------------------------------------------------------------- 교황 프란치스코 방한 제6회 아시아 청년대회 폐막미사 2014-08-17 충청남도 서산시 해미읍성 문화체육관광부 해외문화홍보원 코리아넷 전한I have a confession to make. Well, if you read the title of this post, you already know, but here it is again: Pope Francis makes me uncomfortable.

I know that as a Catholic I am probably not supposed to say that (or feel that way), but it’s true. Ever since he was elected Pope, he has made me uncomfortable.

It started with hearing “first Jesuit Pope” and seeing this humble man meekly waving from the balcony, and it has continued throughout his papacy.

Every time I see him in the news, or trending on Facebook or Twitter, my first thought is, “Oh no, what does the media think he said this time?"

After that wears off, I begin to wonder, “Wait, what did he actually say?"

And then it usually hits me square in the face: “Is he speaking to me?"

At first, I thought my discomfort stemmed from the media’s portrayal of our beloved leader, but I came to realize that it was more than that. He makes me uncomfortable because he is challenging me, personally, to encounter Christ and His Church in a whole new way.

I have decided that it’s a good thing that he makes me uncomfortable.  Honestly, he should make all of us uncomfortable. A leader who makes people feel comfortable can’t lead very effectively. 

As Pope Benedict said, “The world promises you comfort, but you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.”

We were not made for comfort. I have to let that sink in sometimes, especially when something comes along that throws me out of my comfort zone. We were not made for comfort. We were made for greatness.

We are called, as Christians by our baptism, to be challenged.  We are then called to challenge the world by our love and faith.  Christ radically challenged the world, and so should the Vicar of Christ here on earth.  Christ asked the disciples to leave all comforts behind and to follow Him, and He asks us to do the same today.  In the same way, as leader of Christ’s Church, Pope Francis is also called to make us uncomfortable, just as Jesus did and continues to do today. 

I’m eagerly and anxiously anticipating Pope Francis’s arrival to the United States. I’m excited to hear how he challenges our country to step out of our comfort zones, but I’m also uncomfortable about what he will say that will speak directly to me, challenging me in a new and radical way. Pope Francis reminds us that we do not live in a safe Catholic bubble, but rather we are striving for the Kingdom as we live in the world. He challenges us to step out of that safe bubble and bring Christ to the world.  Yes, it will be uncomfortable at times. But by accepting this discomfort, we will find the peace that God promises us, because we were made for greatness.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Living in the Noise (Over at Ignitum Today)

This post was originally published at Ignitum Today

Recently, I went to a Sunday night baseball game to cheer on my beloved Washington Nationals. When the Nats play on Sundays, the local parish offers an extra Mass for baseball fans coming to the game, affectionately called #NatsMass. Not only is it the perfect way to attend Mass right before the game – still making it to the park in time for opening pitch – but the Nats also have a pretty stellar winning record on #NatsMass Sundays, which I think we can all agree is clearly not a coincidence.
This particular Sunday, it just so happened that the Gospel reading and homily were very appropriate for attending Mass in a small parish in the middle of the hustle and bustle of a major city with major game day traffic.

In the Gospel, Mark tells of Jesus coming to His hometown to teach in the synagogue, and the not-so-warm welcome He receives. Jesus was in the world where He grew up, but the people refused to listen to and believe Him.

The priest talked about how Jesus was not afraid to go out into the world to spread the good news, even to His hometown. Christ did not water down the truth for anyone, even His own people. His kingdom was not of this world, but yet He still walked and lived in this world, even if that world did not accept Him.

Throughout the entire Mass, the noise of the world heading to the baseball game permeated through the church doors. Cars honking, sirens blaring, whistles blowing, people yelling. The world outside this quiet little parish delivered a constant stream of noise; a world that was completely oblivious to the miracle of the Mass that was happening right in its midst.

I couldn’t help but take the reading and homily to heart as the noise continued to stream into the church. We live in a world that refuses to listen to Christ, and refuses to believe in Him – even when He is right in their midst.

The parish sitting in the middle of the busy-ness of the city is a metaphor for Jesus teaching in His own hometown. How many people notice this stone church as they walk or drive past on their way to the game; how many stop to think about the presence of Christ in the tabernacle within their reach? I’m sure that the answer is “very few”, and of those few that do notice the church on the corner, even fewer actually soak up what it means to live in this world as followers of Christ. It is so easy to get lost in the noise of this world, and so easy to miss the presence of Christ right in front of us.

There is a lot of noise that surrounds us as Christians. We are not called to live in a Christian bubble; we are called to live in this world, as noisy as it may be. Even more, like Christ, we are called to preach the Gospel and speak the Truth, even if we are ignored or shunned.

As the Host was raised during the Consecration, the noise outside continued to pour in and I thought to myself, “All of those people outside don’t realize what they are missing out on in here.” And so, this is our mission as Catholics – to help bring Christ to all those who live in that noisy world outside.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

3 Simple Prayers for When Praying is Hard (Over at Ignitum Today)

Every Christian has at least one time in their faith journey when they feel spiritually dry. For some, this time in the spiritual desert lasts for a brief period of time and for others it lasts for a lifetime. While spiritual dry spells can encourage great spiritual growth, they are also a very trying time on a person’s soul. Spiritual dryness can lead to spiritual apathy which makes it hard to do the simplest tasks - even praying.

If you’ve spent a prolonged time in the midst of a dry spell, sometimes it can be too hard to even muster a simple Hail Mary or Our Father. I know I’ve been there. I will start praying an Our Father, and get sidetracked about three lines in. So many words; so many lines (or so it seems, when prayer is hard).

Throughout my wanderings in the spiritual desert, I’ve come to rely on a few very short and sweet prayers that are quick to utter while still expressing what is on my heart...

Monday, March 2, 2015


The ladies at Fine Linen and Purple sent me this little interview about thrifting a looooooong time ago. I obviously never got around to sending it back to them, but I thought I would still share this very important knowledge about thrifting!


When did you get into thrifting, and what or who influenced your decision?

You would think that I would have more of a recollection of when I started thrifting since it’s such a major life event, but I honestly can’t remember! It was a few years ago. I had gone to thrift stores before, but I never really got into it. Then I discovered some great thrift stores in the DC area, and started thrifting all the time! I think a big influence on me was that around this time, I was majorly underemployed. It was nice to be able to still go shopping and find some great things, but not have to spend a lot of money. It was also great to be able to stock up on work appropriate attire as I was constantly changing jobs at the time, without having to spend a lot of money on new clothes each time I changed jobs (and consequently, proper work attire codes).

Describe a typical thrifting adventure for you. (Do you go solo? What time/day? Multiple stores? Quick browsing or carefully combing through racks?)

I usually go alone, but also enjoy introducing friends and family to the world of thrifting. I usually go off on my own for a bit, though, even if I am with people. I like to go in the middle of the day, as I find morning and evenings to be more crowded. I usually just do one store, because my favorite thrift store (Unique) is quite large, and I can easily spend more than a few hours in there. I usually only go thrifting when I am in the mood to carefully comb through the racks - I won’t always look at all of the racks (I often skip pants and blazers/jackets), but I do comb through because that is when you find the best steals.

Do you thrift as a primary way of shopping, or for certain types of items only? Do you find that certain items are easier or harder to thrift?

I would say that my clothing wardrobe is pretty 50-50 between being thrifted and being from “regular” stores. I don’t typically go to thrift stores in search for a specific item; if I’m looking for a specific item, I usually just go to a department store as they have a variety of styles and sizes. For non-clothing items, again, I don’t usually go to the thrift store seeking a particular item; I am more likely to be browsing the home goods or books section and find something I can use for a great deal.

I don’t think that there are items that are necessarily harder to thrift than others, but some take more patience to find (i.e. it may take longer to find a pair of red pants, if that’s what your heart is set on, but you can find them eventually). I don't often find shoes at the thrift store, partly because who knows whose feet they've been on and mostly because shoes have to fit just right - so I would say that for me it is harder to find shoes, but that isn't the case for everyone. I will say that kitchen items are always able to be found thrifting. ALWAYS. If you don’t care to have your kitchen items match or be brand new, always check the thrift store first.

Have you tried out thrifting online, such as through ebay or an online secondhand shop? If you have, how does it compare to shopping in person?

I do shop through eBay and online sites, like Threadflip. I’ve found some great items through both, at great prices. It is a little bit harder than shopping in person because you can’t try the clothes on (if that’s what you are buying), and often the hassle of returning an item to these sites is just not worth the time/money. Especially if you are the kind of person that has specific fit requirements, it’s much easier to shop in person so you can try clothes on. On the other hand, you can shop eBay in your pajamas at midnight, which is always a perk!

What types of items do you avoid buying while thrifting? What criteria do you use to sort out the “duds”?

For whatever reason, the thought of buying linens or towels at the thrift store just grosses me out. You will probably never find me buying pillows or blankets from the thrift store!

For the "duds", since I mostly buy clothes at the thrift store, I’m going to keep my answer specific to clothing. I’ve gotten pretty good at having a good eye for spotting whether or not something is good quality. I can comb through the racks and pretty quickly know if an item I like is from one of those high quality name brands (Loft, J. Crew, New York and Company, Macy's brands, etc). I try to only buy better quality brands at the thrift store, because I know that they will hold up over time. I also sometimes look for items that are high quality, but are not in my size/not my style, because these items have great re-sale value (and I can make a profit selling it on eBay).

It’s important to ask yourself a few questions when buying, to make sure you are not getting a “dud”:

  1. If I saw this at a regular store, either full price or on sale, would I consider buying it? (This keeps you from getting pulled in by a stellar price tag alone.)
  2. Is the quality of this item worth the thrift store price? (This has kept me from buying some items that I would have bought in the store, but the price was too much for the quality - i.e. a dress from Target being marked at $15 at the thrift store. No thanks.)
  3. Does the item look new or like new? (There is no point in buying an item - even if it is super cheap - if you are only going to be able to wear it a few times before it can’t be worn anymore - look for pilling, small stains, tears, moth holes, etc. If it has any of the above, no matter how small, it’s not worth a buy for me.)
  4. Does the item require special washing (i.e. dry clean only)? If so, is it worth the money you will have to pay to clean it? (To me, it is not worth it to buy a shirt that is dry clean only. However, I have bought a couple of coats and a dress that are dry clean only, and those are still worth it to me because they don’t need washed as much as a shirt would, for example.)

Share with us what you consider the greatest deal you ever got thrifting on a single item (picture please if at all possible!)

My winter coat! It is from Style & Co., which is a Macy’s brand, so I knew that it would hold up well. It is red - my favorite color - and I love the style. The coat looked like it was fairly new when I bought it. I believe I paid $10-12 for it - I can’t remember exactly, but I do know that I spent more to have it dry cleaned ($14) than I paid for the coat itself! So far, it has held up for two winters, and is still going strong!
Can't ever lose me in a crowd!
Last winter, I also found a Land’s End long black winter coat with down filling. It fits me beautifully and is great for the super cold winter days. When I bought this coat, I looked it up online to get a comparison price - this coat sells for over $200 brand new at Land’s End. I paid $18 for it (and again spent more for the dry cleaning - $20 - than I did on the coat)!


Share with us a complete outfit, or nearly complete outfit, entirely secondhand/thrifted (picture please if at all possible!) If you are willing and able to, you can share what this outfit cost.

I don't remember specific prices anymore, but I paid anywhere from $2 to $10 for the thrifted items!

Green sweater (Loft) - consignment store in KY; Jean skirt (unknown brand) - Unique Thrift;
Necklace (Premier Designs); Boots (A2) - Kohl's
Blue dress (Land's End) - Unique Thrift; Jean jacket (Old Navy) - Unique Thrift;
Sandals (Croft & Borrow) - Kohl's
Skirt with pockets (Ann Taylor) - Unique Thrift; Magenta blouse (Fashion Bug) - Unique Thrift;
Boots (Bare Traps) - DSW
Black and white dress (Mossimo for Target) - Unique Thrift;
Boots (Merona for Target) - Target
As you can see, I tend to find quality, versatile pieces at the thrift store, and then I buy my shoes where I can find just-the-right fit!

Are you a thrift-a-holic? I'd love to hear about your thrifting experiences, including any big tips!

*This post contains an affiliate link for Threadflip. If you sign up through my link, we both get money credit to use!
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