A Letter to Students Headed Back To School

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My nieces and nephews are starting school this time of year.  They’re all little guys, but each year when they start heading back to school it always gets me thinking about what I’d tell myself if I were still in school.  So I wrote you all this letter:

Dear Students,

Another school year is beginning, and I remember those first day of school jitters I used to get without fail every year—the ones you might be experiencing now.  The excitement over picking out that first day of school outfit, getting super organized with back-to-school supply shopping, and of course day-dreaming that this could be the year I’d meet “the one.”

If there’s one thing I want for you to know as you begin this new school year, it’s that nothing within those four walls of your school has the power to define who you are.

In school you may find that there are a lot of things competing for your attention; so many things begging you to invest your whole identity in.  “I am an ‘A Student,’” or, “I am a ‘student council member,’” or, “I belong to this group.”

Your grades are important, and I do hope you try your hardest.  Sports and activities are great ways to get to know people and to have fun, so I hope you put yourself out there and try new things.  The friends you make during your school years matter and they will certainly influence the way you think and act, so I hope you find good ones—and try to be a good one.

But most importantly, I hope you remember that you are not your grades.  You are not the sport you play or the activity you choose to participate in.  You are not even the friends that you hang out with.

You are God’s beloved, God’s soldier—God’s precious child.  Nothing you do will ever change that, and nothing you learn in school will ever be as important as knowing and believing that.

As you begin this new school year, I invite you to make the prayer of Saint Francis your prayer for this year.  Just imagine if our schools were full of students seeking to live this out!

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is discord, harmony;
Where there is error, truth;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

God Bless you as you start this new school year!  You are in my prayers!

mary-sig

Ask Mary: Does God Will “Unplanned” Babies?

ask mary unplanned babies

Question:

Hi Mary,

I have a question about Catholic teaching and conception that I’ve
been wondering about. I often read about married Catholics who don’t
use artificial birth control saying that God will decide how many
children they will have and when they will have them. Taking this
premise that God is the ultimate authority when it comes to married,
non birth control using couples conceiving children, how does the
Church reconcile this teaching with the biological reality that
conception can take place in any less sanctified or loving sexual
encounter? 

 

Answer:

Thanks for this question!

First of all, I love that you said, “The biological reality [is] that conception can take place in any…sexual encounter.” 

Translation: Sex makes babies!

It may seem obvious, but the fact is that the Church’s teaching with regards to marriage and the marital act is just about the last remaining place where you’ll hear this “biological reality” proclaimed today.  Elsewhere in our culture we are told that sex can be merely used for pleasure, or simply to unite two people in love while attempting to strip their very act of love from its God-given potential to create new life.  The Church holds fast that to do so is to turn the marital act into something less than God created it for, and thus hurts married life.

2363 The spouses’ union achieves the twofold end of marriage: the good of the spouses themselves and the transmission of life. These two meanings or values of marriage cannot be separated without altering the couple’s spiritual life and compromising the goods of marriage and the future of the family.

I’ve written elsewhere on this blog in more detail about why the Church teaches what it does about contraception.  My aim here isn’t to re-hash that, but if you’re interested, check out these posts:

How Do We Determine God’s Will?
As you said, often times when we Catholics are asked why we don’t use contraception, we say it’s because we want God to be in charge of how many kids we have and when we will have them.  While this answer is 100% correct and truly gets right to the heart of the matter, I think that when it’s stated so plainly it can sound to some as if our method of determining God’s will for our family is to just close our eyes and see how many babies pop out.

In reality, we can come to know God’s will (for any facet of our life) through prayer, discernment, and use of our God-given faculty of reason.  Part of the beauty of having a relationship with the Living God is that we don’t have to simply “wait and see;” we can actually talk to God and ask Him to reveal His will to us!

One very practical way to discover God’s will for us in a general sense is to consult what He has revealed to us in Scripture and in the Teaching of His Church.   With regards to birth control, Scripture and the Church have revealed that God’s Will can never be for it because the act of contraception imposes something on the married act to seek to remove its life-giving potential.

Now, with regards to the marital act itself, the Church teaches first of all that it is created for marriage—the indissoluble life long union of one man and one woman.  The Church has always taught that sex, marriage, and babies go hand in hand— not because some pope made it up hundreds of years ago, but because that’s the way God designed it!

So in a sense the Church doesn’t have to “reconcile” anything here, really.  It’s the rest of us that need to reconcile ourselves with God’s design for sex and marriage!  God created sex for marriage and by it gave man and woman the ability to participate in His creative power.  What an incredible gift!

If we decide we want to pretend that sex is for other things, that’s our choice, but it won’t change God’s design for sex.  The “biological reality” will still run its course, and conception can still occur, because sex and babies—by God’s design— belong together.

Amazing Grace
The beauty and the mystery of God’s grace is that He can take even something He did not will—like a sinful act—and use it to bring about great good.  Just look at the Cross!

If you get nothing else from this post, hear this:

We can’t outsmart God.  We can’t overwhelm God.  He knows our decisions, our choices—good and bad—before we even make them.  From the beginning of time He knew and He planned each and every soul that would ever come into existence.  No life is a mistake.  No life is unplanned.  Each person—no matter the circumstances of his or her conception—is willed by God and loved by God.  God wants you here, no matter how you came to be here.

In short, the answer to your question is somewhere in the middle of God’s grace and earnestly seeking God’s will for your life.  I think the Psalmist’s answer to this question is much more eloquent and meaningful than my attempt:

(Psalm 139)

LORD, you have probed me, you know me:
you know when I sit and stand;
you understand my thoughts from afar.

You sift through my travels and my rest;
With all my ways you are familiar.

Even before a word is on my tongue,
LORD, you know it all.

Behind and before you encircle me
and rest your hand upon me.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
far too lofty for me to reach.

Where can I go from your spirit?
From your presence, where can I flee?

If I ascend to the heavens, you are there;
if I lie down in Sheol, there you are.

If I take the wings of dawn
and dwell beyond the sea,
Even there your hand guides me,
your right hand holds me fast.

God is in control!  And we are never too far from His grace.

mary-sig

 

 

Confession With The Man Himself (Summer Journal Entry #2)

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About a week ago I had the opportunity to go to reconciliation.  That night, I was lying in bed falling slowly into dreamland, and thinking about something I read in Jason Evert’s book about Saint John Paul II:

Each year on Good Friday, the Holy Father walked over to Saint Peter’s Basilica and sat inside one of the confessionals.  His assistants then randomly chose pilgrims from the other confession lines, asking them if they’d like to have him hear their confession.  Some were ecstatic to accept the invitation, while others declined.  He made a habit of doing this every Good Friday, except for the last, the week before his death. (Saint John Paul The Great: His Five Loves, 189)

How incredible would that have been!  I thought.  Confession with JPII!

I then began thinking–dreaming, really– about exactly what that would be like.  How my disposition would likely be so different from just another Saturday morning confession at my local parish.  How, often even now, when I go to reconciliation I find myself fighting the urge to phrase my confession is such a way that makes me appear to “have it together” the most.  Yet, I couldn’t help but think it would be so different were I given the chance to have someone like Saint John Paul the Great or Pope Francis hear my confession.  How I’d likely relish the opportunity to just pour my very soul out to them—with all my struggles and all my doubts and just really lay it out on the line.

But of course— this is what every reconciliation out to be.  Because as awesome as confession with a saint would be, ultimately we go to confession to meet Jesus Himself.  I realized in my dream-like state that in my longing for such a meaningful experience of confession what I was truly longing for was reconciliation with Christ.  Like the woman who meets Jesus at the well, I longed to just be able to just be in His presence and just be real with Him.  My confession would be so different, I thought, if it were Jesus in that confessional.

But it is!

So I went to confession again this week.  And this time, my heart was more disposed to meet Jesus there. I have to say, it made all the difference.

mary-sig

Summer Journal Entry #1 – Making Time For Prayer

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“Each of us needs half an hour of prayer a day, except when we are busy–then we need an hour.”

A friend of mine shared this quote on her Instagram a few weeks ago, and it was just the right kick in the pants I needed to start being more intentional about daily prayer.

I always tell myself, “I talk to God all day long!” …And I do!  God is with me throughout the day and I’ll try to constantly turn to Him in times of need or just to say a quick, “Thank you, Jesus.”  But though this is a good habit, it is different than intentional daily prayer.

Most nights, Tyler and I will get our family rosary in.  And we try to take a moment or two before we fall asleep to pray together to God for our marriage and for our family.  But even this is different than the kind of intentional prayer I feel that I need.

While “talking to God all day long” is great, and saying formalized prayers is great, and praying with my husband is great, setting aside a specific chunk of time each day exclusively to be with God in prayer–for me–makes a world of difference.

So I’ve set a little challenge for myself (actually it would be more accurate to say that God gave me an invitation to do this).  What I do is set a timer on my phone for thirty minutes–usually in the late-morning or in the middle of the day.  Those thirty minutes I offer to God.  I’ll read from Scripture, I’ll offer prayers of thanksgiving and of petition, and do my best to just give God whatever is on my heart for that time.  Prayer is a two-way conversation, so I do my best to listen as well as talk.

My holy-half-hour doesn’t look super pious.  There’s an 8 month old crawling around amidst all of this and sometimes I get distracted.  But for those thirty minutes I do my best to keep my heart focused on God.

One of the ways I do that is to journal.  Writing letters to God is one of my favorite ways to pray, but I’m not always the best at making time for it.  So for the summer I’m going to aim to keep this thirty minute daily practice, and try my best to write letters to God during it.  I’ll do my best to keep you all updated on what God does with it!

Maybe you’re looking for that kick in the pants like I needed.  Consider this your invitation.  Try setting aside just thirty minutes for God each day, and do your best to LISTEN to Him during that that—and see what He does with it.

 

mary-sig

 

What You Believe Informs Who You Are

 

I was perusing Pinterest the other day and came across this little nugget:

beliefsdontmatter

“Your beliefs don’t make you a better person; your behavior does.”

It’s a sentiment I’ve come across before.  What you believe doesn’t matter so long as you are a “good person.”  I guess I get the underlying message.  If you say you believe in charity and peace towards one another but your actions don’t reflect that, then you don’t get to call yourself a “good person.”  You have to live it out.

The problem is that’s not what the statement actually says.  It’s not “your behavior should reflect your beliefs.”  The underlying assertion here is that what a person believes doesn’t matter.  As if you could believe in murder as a virtue, and you’d still be a good person so long as you didn’t actually get around to acting on it.

I’m sorry but I just can’t agree with that.  And it makes me wonder we as a society are collectively forgetting what “belief” in something actually means.

Beliefs matter.  What a person believes necessarily informs everything about the way that person understands himself and the world around him.  Your behavior stems from your beliefs.

This also means that your behavior reveals your true beliefs.  If you say you believe in something, but your actions consistently don’t reflect this belief, eventually you’re not even going to claim to believe in it anymore.  Because if you truly believe in something, your actions are in accordance with that belief.

That’s what it means to believe in something!

If I truly believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God—that He came to this earth out of love for me and for all humankind, to save us from sin— that is going to have an immense impact on every one of my actions.  First and foremost, if I say I believe in Jesus, I’m going to strive to keep His commandments.  If I say I believe in what He taught, I’m going to strive to treat my brothers and sisters with love and compassion.  Belief isn’t a game.

beliefs.jpg

So let’s stop perpetuating this “beliefs don’t matter” nonsense.  What you believe informs who you are.  I’d say that matters! :)

mary-sig