Looking for an Advent Retreat You Can Do at Home?

Advent is an often overlooked season within the Church because it coincides with the secular preparation for Christmas. The Church does not enter into the Christmas season until Christmas Eve vigil. The busyness of life can get in the way of entering into the beautiful season of waiting for the Christ-child and the Second Coming. Advent is a good time to quiet ourselves, so that we may come to know and love God more fully. It is also the time we contemplate eschatology and the Last Things.

Many people would love to go on a retreat but either can’t leave their families or a retreat is too expensive. A group of innovative Catholics came up with an online retreat to serve the needs of the New Evangelization. I was honored to be asked to be one of the speakers this year. The retreat begins on Monday, November 28, 2016. The cost is based on what you can give and there are a variety of talks to choose from to help you step deeper into Advent and the spiritual life.

I can say that talking to a computer screen for my talks was challenging. I’ve been doing public speaking since I joined the debate team as a high school freshman. It’s easier to interact with an audience, but there is a need to provide talks to people who cannot attend retreats or conferences. I hope I was able to overcome my audience bias to help you on the journey. :o) I hope the talks guide you deeper into holiness. All of the speakers are tremendously talented and knowledgeable. You can find the retreat here:

The Pray More Retreat!

 

Pax Christi.

Catholic Exchange: Raising Daughters Like St. Elizabeth of Hungary in a Disney Princess World

Today the Church celebrates the Feast of St. Elizabeth of Hungary. St. Elizabeth was born on July 7, 1207 as the daughter of Hungarian King Andrew II and Gertrude of Merania. While still a young child, Elizabeth was betrothed to marry Ludwig IV of Thuringia, who was a German nobleman. She was sent to the court of Landgrave of Thuringia to receive her education at 4 years of age. During that time her mother was murdered and Elizabeth turned to ardent prayer in order to find peace and hope.

Elizabeth married Ludwig IV in 1221. She deeply loved her husband and the couple had three children. Two became members of the nobility while the third entered into religious life and became the abbess of a German convent. Throughout her married life, Elizabeth was deeply dedicated to prayer and charity towards the poor. Her husband supported her religious work. She lived a simple life of penance in devotion to works of charity. She used the abundant blessings God had given her as royalty to serve others in charity.

St. Elizabeth was greatly influenced by the Franciscan friars who arrived in her kingdom around 1223. She took up their austere practices in dressing simply and feeding hundreds of the poor bread daily. Both she and her husband were known for their great dedication to the poor in their kingdom. Elizabeth also treated the sick when illness ravaged the kingdom. Her husband was struck with an illness and died in 1227. After her husband’s death, Elizabeth devoted her life to celibacy and lived a life mirrored after a nun. She spent the rest of her days in ardent love and service of God and neighbor. She died at the age of 24 on November 17, 1231.

St. Elizabeth is one of many saints who was a member of royalty. Most parents of daughters discover very quickly the female fascination with princesses and queens. Disney has spent decades marketing off of this interest among young girls. Beauty, gowns, crowns, princes, and castles dazzle young girls as they twirl around their homes decked out in their finest. I remember being quite astonished at how quickly my daughter became enamored with Disney princesses at 2 years of age and she still is to some extent at 5 years old.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Holiness: What Really Helped Me Leave Facebook, Again

I will admit that after I wrote about leaving Facebook again, I struggled to deactivate. That is until God knocked me upside the head. This is the “letter” I wrote to my Facebook friends, many of whom have been very important to me at various times in my life.

To My Dear Facebook Friends,
 
I just had one of those jaw dropping (to me) moments of clear prodding from God. They don’t happen often, so He’s clearly trying to get my attention. During Mass I was contemplating all of the distractions in my life and how I had allowed Facebook to really distract me again. I was thinking about the things I need to do to help Michaela, my husband, and me on the path to holiness, especially in light of this Sunday’s Gospel reading which focuses on eschatology. I then thought about how I wanted to do prayers and read to Michaela this evening (yes my mind wandered a bit…I am a work in progress. 😉 when we got home. The book that came to mind is a children’s book called The Weight of One Mass. I bought it at a Catholic bookstore in MT when I was visiting this past summer. I really enjoy it, but it is not one Michaela usually picks. We haven’t read it in months and I chose it every time we’ve read it. We got home and after dinner I told her to go pick a book for us to read together. I kid you not, she walked out with The Weight of One Mass. Okay, Lord. I hear you. It’s time to pull the plug on Facebook and other distractions in order to focus on holiness.
 
There’s a lot of turmoil and anger in social media right now. The world is Fallen and full of suffering. It has always been this way and will continue to be so until the Parousia (Second Coming). The only way we transform the temporal order and fulfill our ontological and eschatological end is holiness. We can argue, battle it out, demonize one another, scream, rant, rave, plot our vengeance, and stomp our feet, but it accomplishes nothing. People are so charged, angry, and blinded right now that reasoned pleas for civil discussion are ignored and vilified. People have quite literally lost their minds.
 
Evangelization in the post-modern era poses unique difficulties. As I pointed out earlier today, we are no longer evangelizing peoples who worship gods outside of themselves, such as elements of nature. Today’s gods are ourselves. We are in a battle against billions of people who think they themselves are god. That truth is set by the individual; dependent entirely on their feelings and emotions, not reason and rational thinking. This leaves us to the whims of our neighbors beholden to their desire to be worshiped no matter what they do. This is dangerous and destructive. Remember this years from now when this thinking fails in tremendous and tragic ways. This is the dictatorship of relativism and the impacts of nihilism on our culture. We are seeing it on full display now.
 
How do we reach people who worship themselves? Something Christians all need to ponder very seriously. The mission is the same no matter who is in power or what happens in the future. We are called to be saints, even if our family, friends, neighbors, etc. give us over to be fed to the lions. We live our faith in truth, charity, and hope. Holiness is infectious. If we fulfill our mission and work to become holy saints, then others will be attracted to the joy, peace, and love of God within us. Once we encounter the Living God, truly encounter Him, the moral issues fall into place because we see as God sees rather than how *we* want to see. It makes little sense to many now, but the Cross is hope. Sacrifice is freedom. I had to walk in tremendous darkness before I could fully see it and I am still only beginning to get the paradox. In reality we can only grasp in faith at paradox, but we still have a deep understanding through the eyes of faith.
 
I write about holiness and the call to sainthood a lot, even though I fail daily. But our parish priest’s Homily was exactly on this topic tonight. Too many “coincidences” not to be the Holy Spirit prodding me to relinquish my grip on my distractions. I need to focus on personal holiness and my family. I will check in again at some point, but sparingly. I will continue to pray for all of you. Good-bye for the present. Take good care of yourselves. Pax Christi.
 
Love,
Constance

Adoption: My Daughter Michaela Asking for Support :)

Here is the latest video of our daughter Michaela asking people to help us with our adoption fundraiser. The adoption process is arduous and largely broken. It is prohibitively expensive, but we are pushing forward trusting in God since we believe He is calling us on this adventure of joy after so much loss and grief. Our daughter has wanted a sibling here on earth for a long time. She has only known loss and the death of her two sisters and two brothers in miscarriage.  She now waits patiently, and not so patiently, as we go through the adoption process. We hope and pray that you will prayerfully consider helping us on the journey. No gift is too small and we are deeply–beyond words–grateful to each person who donates and shares our fundraiser on social media or with friends and family. You can find our fundraiser here: https://www.youcaring.com/constanceandphilhulladoptionfund-680004

May God bless you always. Pax.

 

A Letter to University Students in Need of a “Safe” Space from a Veteran

Dear University Students in Need of a “Safe” Space,

Today is Veteran’s Day. On this particular Veteran’s Day, university students and their professors across the nation are crying that they are traumatized by the results of Tuesday’s election claiming they need “safe” spaces to deal with the horror of Donald Trump’s election (There are dictionaries on campus to help with defining words like horror, tragedy, trauma, pain, and suffering in case they are needed.) Students are not attending classes and their professors are encouraging this infantile behavior by cancelling their classes and “protesting” with them. It is fitting in the face of this adolescent behavior to contemplate what I was doing when I was 18-22 years of age (I served 6 years, but most college students are 18-22).

I enlisted in 1999, during peace-time. I needed to pay for college, and while that was my initial reason for enlisting, that quickly changed as I learned of the real sacrifice of serving in the military. I am thankful that my military service did in fact pay for my Bachelor’s degree and it is now paying for my nearly completed Master’s degree. I am not saddled with $100,000 in debt I can never repay with a BA in Underwater Basket Weaving.

I was a linguist and my position required mainly desk work. That desk work meant that when I was 20 years old I was in charge of complex classified systems at a large government agency. I was doing work graduate students only dream of–I hadn’t even finished college at the time–but I was already fluent in a second language. You are claiming exhaustion and trauma from an election. I worked rotating 12 hour shifts for years without even knowing what day it was while entrusted–along with all of my fellow soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines–with the task of keeping this nation safe.

At 20 years of age the unthinkable happened. A real trauma and tragedy: 9/11. Overnight we went from peace-time to war-time. I found myself standing in front of the burning rubble of the Pentagon with 400 grieving family members. We stood in front of the tomb where 184 people had been murdered. Trauma is not when you don’t get your way. Trauma is a response to actual violence. An election going as elections go in a Republic is not a trauma. It’s the electoral process of this nation.

Three years after 9-11 I found myself trapped in the pain and real trauma of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I had actual, not made up, PTSD. My relief work proved deeply painful and I had to pay a great sacrifice; one that so many of my fellow Veterans pay and carry today. You don’t have any idea what the need for a “safe” space is when you’ve never woken up from nightmares in a state of sleep paralysis alone in your bed across the ocean from your family or you had to run out of a movie theater, cower in a corner, and have a panic attack at the entrance because you didn’t expect the 9-11 movie trailer. The same goes for combat Vets when they see combat scenes. Hollywood can occasionally get something right, and they are pretty good at portraying flashbacks. You have no idea what it is like to give so much and carry that kind of tremendous weight your entire life. Being an undergraduate at a school where you are coddled, isn’t trauma. War, terrorism, violence, natural disasters, abuse, cancer are real traumas. Those of us with PTSD in the military, kept doing our jobs while getting treatment. We didn’t get to stop acting like adults in the midst of that suffering and neither do the men and women battling the scars of war today.

You and your friends are safe in your warm dorm rooms whimpering about your losses and how this country is going to fall apart and all of those “racist” voters will destroy this country. It’s much easier to label people than engage in actual intellectual debate based on reality and facts. I didn’t vote for Clinton or Trump, I exercised my free right to go third party, but I accept the election results because that is what we do in a free nation. The way you are acting implies your desire for a dictatorship based on your feelings and relativistic beliefs predicated upon nihilism. I know people of all backgrounds and races who voted for Trump. Just because you want something to be true does not make it true.

While you are playing beer pong and comforting one another in response to that “awful” Donald Trump, I have friends who have committed suicide from the trauma of war. I have friends who have died suddenly from injuries that occurred in war zones or on humanitarian missions. I have three cousins who gave years of their lives to war in the Marine Corps. I have friends who have been shot, blown up, and lost friends in IEDs. I have family still serving in the military.

Today we remember the people who serve or have served this great nation and who understand sacrifice in the face of tremendous pain and suffering. So, it’s time to put your big boy or big girl pants on and accept what has happened. It’s time to be an actual adult. You have no idea what a “safe” space is or what real trauma, tragedy, and suffering is like. I do and so do countless others.

Sincerely,

A U.S. Navy Veteran

Catholic Exchange: We Rest in Hope, Come What May

In a Fallen world where suffering abounds: What is the Christian answer to suffering and uncertainty? What is it we have been given in the face of pain, sorrow, uncertainty, and agony in our lives and the world? The answer is the supernatural virtue of hope. The Christian life is one lived in hope, no matter what happens on a personal or global level. In his encyclical, Spe Salvi, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI reminds us of this gift:

Spe salvi facti sumus”—in hope we are saved, says Saint Paul to the Romans, and likewise to us (Rom 8:24). According to the Christian faith, “redemption”—salvation—is not simply a given. Redemption is offered to us in the sense that we have been given hope, trustworthy hope, by virtue of which we can face our present: the present, even if it is arduous, can be lived and accepted if it leads towards a goal, if we can be sure of this goal, and if this goal is great enough to justify the effort of the journey.

Spe Salvi 1

Not only are we given hope, but “trustworthy hope” because hope comes from God. It is true that the road to holiness and communion with the Most Holy Trinity is arduous. There will be periods of intense suffering from external and internal factors largely outside of our control, but in the midst of that suffering hope sustains us and propels us forward. If we keep our eyes fixed in hope on Christ and our eschatological end, then the pain is worth the effort necessary to attain our goal, which is God. We must live in hope and not despair no matter what happens around us or to us.

Where does our hope rest?

Our hope does not come from the material world or the powers of this world. Our hope rests in Christ. While the Paschal Mystery has renewed creation, and brought about the salvation of mankind, men and women must still battle sin and suffering in the pursuit of holiness in a Fallen world. Pope Benedict XVI states: “Since man always remains free and since his freedom is always fragile, the kingdom of good will never be definitively established in this world. Anyone who promises the better world that is guaranteed to last forever is making a false promise; he is overlooking human freedom.” Definitive hope rests with God, not in the temporal order. We live hope in the temporal order, but hope does not come from this world.

One of the major struggles in Western society is based on a secular humanism that promises to lift mankind out of suffering through the use of reason. Due to the sinful and free nature of man, we cannot rely on the hope promised by human beings alone. This is also the danger of those who look to the state for all of the answers to human misery. No system based on reason and sinful human beings can completely free humanity from suffering, sin, and death. Only Jesus Christ can fulfill those promises.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.