Tag Archives: how-to

How to Tell if You’ve Got a Good Friend

To tell the truth, I haven’t always been the best at being a friend.  I even used to think that I could get by without really having close friends at all.  I enjoy time to myself, and close relationships are kind of scary, so it was easy to tell myself I could do without close friendships.  But experience (and Philosophy class) has taught me otherwise.  We need friends in our lives.  Most people seem to know that this is true, but fewer people really understand the reason why.

Friends are there to help us become better people.  They do this by helping us think clearly.  The true friend knows who we are; he understands the way we think, and so he is able to help us come to conclusions we could not see on our own.

In a way, this is contrary to what a lot of people my age seem to think about friends.  We think friends are there to “watch our back” or to save us from our boredom.  In reality, a lot of our “friendships” do the exact opposite of helping us think clearly.

I have had my share of both good and bad friendships, so I thought I would draw from my own experience and put together a list of some of the qualities I have found to be most necessary in a true friend (and most lacking in a bad friend).

1.)  The true friend talks to you about things that matter

Talking about the weather is nice, and I love a good conversation about my favorite TV shows, but these aren’t the conversations I most look forward to having with my friends.  My closest friends are the people I can talk to seriously about what my goals for the future are, what I am struggling with, or go to for advice on any number of topics.  We may joke around and talk about trivial things at times as well, but a real friend tends to elevate the conversation.

2.)  A friend has no problem calling you out

I am the biggest baby when it comes to any type of criticism.  My feelings get hurt and I may become upset and defensive with the person giving the feedback, but this doesn’t stop my closest friends from calling it like they see it.  Despite how I may initially react, I am so thankful for this.  The real friend isn’t worried about hurting your ego a little bit if it means you seeing the truth.

3.)  Friends don’t ask or expect you to lie for their sake

Sometimes it takes losing a relationship in order to be a real friend.  The true friend won’t agree to lie in order to cover for someone else, even if asked.  Lying is damaging to us on so many levels.  The truth always comes out eventually, and a lot of hurt can usually be avoided if it comes out sooner rather than later.

4.)  Finally, the true friend is striving to be a good person himself

You can’t expect someone to be a good friend if they are not a good person.  The true friend will help you become a better person, so it follows that someone who is not a good person already can’t help you to become one yourself.  Friendships involve a give and take.  We both learn from our friends as well as teach them.  Make sure you are learning from teachers who know what they are talking about.

Getting Rid of a Bad Friend:

So what do you do if you find yourself in a friendship that is not good for you?  You run.

Aristotle says that getting rid of a bad friend is like getting rid of a bad habit.  And anyone who has tried knows that getting rid of a bad habit is extremely difficult.  In a similar way, getting rid of a friendship, especially one that has been a part of us for so long, can feel as excruciating as cutting off an arm that has been infected with gangrene.   But you really have no other option.  If you don’t amputate, the infection will spread throughout the whole body and eventually will cost you your life.

Finding a Good Friend:

Also as with habits, it is not enough to simply try and get rid of the bad friendship.  You have to replace it with a good friendship.  Otherwise, you will fall back into the old one.  We have to be picky about choosing our friends.  We can’t be so naive as to think the people we spend our time with have no effect on us.  So in choosing your friends, look for people who have the characteristics described above.  Look for people who challenge you to be a better person.

(if this post was familiar it’s because it was originally posted on January 25, 2011)

Ask Mary: Going to Confession, but…

Question:

I have a confession: I’ve never confessed. I’ve never received the sacrament of reconciliation. I was baptized and confirmed at the age of 19. It was almost two Easters ago but I’ve never gotten up the nerve to go. I couldn’t confess during RCIA because I hadn’t been baptized and now I guess I just don’t know how. And beyond not knowing how, I also don’t know what to confess. I have 21 years of sins and I’m not sure which to tell.

I don’t know how to go about doing it now and I’m a little scared to confess that I’ve never confessed. What should I do? I want to receive the sacrament. I guess I just need help finding the correct way to do it.

 

Answer:

Thanks for the question!

First of all, some good news: you actually only have two years of sins to confess!  Baptism cleanses you from all your past sins, no matter how grievous or how many they number.  So when you do finally go to confession, you don’t actually have to confess every one of your sins since you were born, but only those that you have committed since you were born again in Christ in baptism.  :)

That being said, here are some practical guidelines for going to confession:

Step 1: Get to confession early.  Check the local Catholic Churches’ websites, bulletins, or call the office during the week to find out when they offer confession.  Either choose to go during regularly scheduled confession, or schedule an appointment (even feel free to tell them that you are making your first reconciliation). Depending on the parish, a line may begin to form outside the confessional anywhere between 10-20 minutes before confession actually is scheduled to begin.  Get there early not only to secure your place in line, but to spend some time in prayer and examining your conscience.

Step 2: Examine your conscience.  In your case, you may want to start this process a day or two before.  I recommend writing your sins down (privately of course) so you know that you won’t forget anything (you certainly don’t have to do this, I just personally find that it often helps me.  I can focus on confessing myself well and feeling sorrow for my sins without stressing that I will forget to say something).  Obviously after confession you can tear the list up, burn it, whatever.

What should you be looking for when you examine your conscience?  Sins.  Anything you have intentionally done, or intentionally did not do, that has hurt your relationship with God.  There are many guides for examining your conscience.  Here is an example of one.  The bottom line?  You may not remember each instance you have hurt God since your coming into the Church. But you likely have a few or several that pop into your mind the moment the topic of confession is brought up.  Yes, those need to be confessed.

This is important: You have to confess all of your mortal sins during confession.  If you willfully leave any sins out of your confession, none of your sins from that confession are forgiven, and you have committed a mortal sin by choosing to withhold a sin in confession.  Don’t worry about taking too long, and do not be too embarrassed to confess a sin.  Trust me.  The priest has heard it all (And I guarantee you that you are not the first person who unfortunately waited a couple of years—or more—to go to confession after being baptized).

Step 3:  Go into the confessional.  Depending on the parish, there may be a screen with a kneeler in front of it for you to use as you make your confession, or there may just simply be a chair in front of the priest so that you can make your confession face-to-face.  In many parishes, they have both and you can choose.  It’s entirely personal preference; so choose whichever way you would be most comfortable if you are given the option.

Step 4: Begin your confession.  I like to begin mine the old-fashioned way: “Bless me Father, for I have sinned.  It has been _____ (amount of time) since my last confession.  [insert list of sins here]”  In your case, I would just say, “I’ve actually never been to confession,” or, “I was baptized two years ago and this is my first confession.”  Something to that effect.  Most likely, the priest will help you through it, and don’t be afraid to admit that you’re nervous, or unsure of what to do next.  This is his job.  He will help you.  He wants to help you.

A couple small tips: This is where that list comes in handy.  Make sure you confess your sins in content as well as number (i.e. “I lied 3 times”).  Don’t get too stressed out about the number if you can’t remember.  Even admit that you can’t remember.  “Too many times to count,” or, “a lot” or even, “a handful of times” are acceptable.  What you never want to do is try to make your sins sound like less of a big deal than they are.  This is the sacrament of reconciling ourselves with God.  We need to be genuine; we need to be humble.

Step 5: Conclude your confession.  A few years ago I learned this handy little phrase: “And for these and all my sins I am sorry.”  Bam. A magical way of saying, “yes Father, those were all of my sins.  That was the end of my list.  Now feel free to give me my Penance.”  Before that, my confessions were full of awkward silences, waiting for the priest to ask me, “is that all?” and the old standby, “um…that’s it, Father.”  Not anymore.  A solid, clean way to conclude my confession.  Wonderful.

After you’re done with your “list,” the priest may say a few words or even ask a few questions.  Don’t freak out.  He’s doing this to help you and to try and give you some advice and guidance as a means to avoid those sins in the future.  So listen up.  After that, he will give you some sort of penance, usually a few prayers or some act of service.  It can be anything, really.  Another important thing: be clear on what the priest tells you to do for your penance.  Repeat it back to him, just so you are sure.  If it is something that you feel that you cannot do for whatever reason, then ask the priest for a lighter penance.  (I’ve never had to do this; I have just heard a few priests mention it as an option so I’m passing it onto you).  The reason why this is important is because penance is an important part of our reconciliation.  It is a sin in itself to fail to do our penance.

Step 6: Make your Act of Contrition.  In all honesty, I carried my printed-out version of the Act of Contrition into the confessional with me until I was about 18 years old.  I liked being able to read it, and I felt I prayed it more sincerely when it was in front of me.  This is fine.  Print out an act of contrition to bring into the confessional with you if you want to.  However, it is not even totally necessary to recite the entire “O My God, I am heartily sorry…” Act of Contrition prayer that we often think of in order to make a good confession.  An act of contrition is simply meant to be what it sounds like: some act that shows your contrition (sorrow) for offending God.  A perfectly valid and acceptable act of contrition could be just to simply say, “Jesus, I am sorry for hurting you, and I will try my hardest not to do it again.”  But of course, the other one is beautiful, too.  :)

O, my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended you. I detest all my sins because I dread the loss of Heaven and the pains of Hell, but most of all because they offend you, my God, who are all-good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Your grace, to sin no more and to avoid the near occasion of sin

Step 7: Receive Absolution.  The priest may give you absolution as you are reciting your Act of Contrition, but regardless, this is the point where your sins are forgiven.  Here is what the priest will say (or some variation of it.  The simplest form is “I absolve you”. Oh, and he may be saying it quietly… and/or in Latin):

God the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of your son, you have reconciled the world to yourself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins. Through the ministry of the church, may God grant you pardon and peace. And I absolve you of your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

This Sacrament is one of the greatest gifts that God has given to the Church, and we would be wise, and so much better off, to frequent it as often as possible.  Happy confessing!

PS – I also really like these 20 quick tips for Making a Good Confession — from a priest!

How to Be Happy For Other People (in 4 easy steps!)

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Envy is one of the most ugly things we can struggle with in our relationships with others— especially with those we call our friends.

Despite knowing we ought to be happy for our friends when they call us with
good news about school/work/a relationship/ etc., we may often find ourselves suddenly comparing how we are faring in those fields to the positive news that our friend just shared with us about their life.  Before we know it, and often without even realizing what we are doing, we begin looking for all of the negatives in that other person in order to make ourselves feel better about our own lives.  Rather than being happy for our friend, we choose to tear them down, even if only in our own minds.

Some of us may realize this terrible tendency within us, and so we rightly attempt to correct it.  But we often choose a method that, though better than tearing another person down, is still not ideal because it robs us of our own happiness.  We choose to compare ourselves to that other person.  We know it’s silly to wish that other person harm, so instead, we conclude that the other person is awesome and we just have to live with the fact that we are not.

Neither of these options is healthy, and neither is what God wants for us.  Since good things are inevitably going to happen to the people we know in life (yay!), I thought I’d put together a plan of action to help deal with envy and this terrible tendency of comparing ourselves to other people.

 1.     Reasonably examine your feelings

So you’re not happy for your friend.  Acknowledge it.  Acknowledge it to yourself and in your prayer to God, because it’s pointless to pretend with yourself or with God.  Be real about your feelings, but let them lead to this question:

Why aren’t you happy for your friend’s success?  Chances are, there is no good reason for you to not be rejoicing in your friend’s good fortune.  Still, it’s incredible how talented we are at coming up with even the tiniest of reasons as to why we aren’t as happy as we should be for our friends.  We recall past times when that person made a mistake and somehow allow that to lead us to the conclusion that they should not be allowed to have any successes ever again. Makes perfect sense, right?  Of course not.  But it’s important to go over these reasons of why you’re not happy so that you can see just how illogical they are.  Which brings me to step two.

2.     Go over all of the logical reasons for why you should be happy

Even if your friend was just the random winner of some contest that had nothing to do with personal ability or skill, (i.e., they did nothing to deserve this positive news) that’s still no good reason for you to wish this were not happening to them.  So make a list, and write it down if you have to, of all the reasons why you should be happy for your friend.  Here are some to get you started:

  • It’s rare that positive things happen by chance and without at least some small amount of effort.  Your friend likely worked hard to achieve whatever positive thing is happening in their life.  You should acknowledge that.
  • You care about your friends.  You don’t want to see them unhappy, so you should logically rejoice to see them happy.
  • You would expect your friends to be happy when something good happened to you.  If they weren’t, you’d wonder what kind of friends they were.
  • Being unhappy for your friend will likely hurt your relationship with them.
  • Even if you had a good reason (which you don’t), being unhappy for or about your friend is not going to make you feel better about yourself.
  • If all else fails: Jesus says so.  (Mark 12:30-31)

3.     Realize that another person’s happiness takes nothing from you

At its core, I think this tendency to comparison and to envy is rooted in fear.  We’re afraid that, if good things happen to our friends, there won’t be enough good to go around for us.  As a result, it’s hard to be happy for our friends’ good fortune because a small part of us fears that this means there is less left for us.  But all we need to do is realize this one simple truth: One person’s happiness truly takes nothing from you.

Remember that we live within time.  Good things are going to happen to you, and they are going to happen to the people around you—but they may not always occur on the same day.  It doesn’t mean you’re never going to be happy again.  Cicero wrote that, “Friendship improves happiness and abates misery, by the doubling of our joy and the dividing of our grief.”  When your friend is happy, you should actually rejoice because you get to share in that happiness.

4.  Practice Makes Perfect

Now that you know all of the reasons why you should be happy, and that you have no real reason not to be happy, it’s time to practice genuine happiness.  Don’t be fake, but don’t expect fuzzy feelings over night either.  Realize that, after years of negativity, it will take practice to get used to being happy for other people.  So fight the urge to look for the negative by repeating to yourself the reasons why you should be happy for your friend.  Ask them questions about the good thing they have shared with you and look for all of the reasons to rejoice with them.  Put yourself in their shoes and realize that they probably told you because they want you to share in their happiness.  And of course, pray, pray, pray for the grace to be genuinely happy for those around you.

7 Steps to Being Young & Catholic

Ok, so I’ve gotten some questions from readers asking about the specifics of how exactly to do this—that is, how is one to go about being “young and Catholic” in the world today?

Below is a battle plan of sorts…

1.)  Regular Mass and Adoration

The non-denoms have it right when they say that relationship with Christ is what your faith has to be grounded on.  But you won’t get there if you don’t make it a point to schedule time with Him.  For this reason the Church makes it mandatory for all of us to go to mass every Sunday and on Holy Days of Obligation—but mass is offered every day of the week.  Sure, I have friends with whom I only check in for an hour or so a week, but the people closest to me in my life I talk to on a daily basis.  It’s true that we can pray to Christ whenever we want and wherever we are (and we should!).  It’s also true that you’ll never be more united with Christ than in those moments after you receive Him in the Most Blessed Sacrament.  How close of a relationship do you want?

Reality Check: Many of us young people can’t make it to mass on a daily basis (especially if we’re not at a Catholic school or do not have a particularly vibrant Catholic parish nearby).  To those I say first of all to still try.  If you have trouble getting up every morning at 6:30 to make it to 7:30am mass, make it a goal to go to daily mass one day out of the week.  Christ will honor your sacrifice of sleep.  :)  If you can’t make it to mass and receive Christ in the Eucharist, make a spiritual communion insteadAnd find out the hours of your parish’s Blessed Sacrament (or Adoration) Chapel.  Make it a habit to spend at least an hour in there a week.

 

2.)  Regular Confession

We’re talking once every two weeks.  …Seriously?  Yes.  I know the typical rule of thumb nowadays is once a month, but I personally find myself needing to go more often than that.  And for me, it’s much easier to answer the question “Did I go last week” than, “Have I gone yet this month?”  Let’s face it: we all do little things that hurt our relationship with Christ on a daily basis.  What kind of friend would you be if you didn’t say, “I’m sorry”?  And besides, who couldn’t use more grace?

Reality Check: A lot of us are afraid of confession.  It’s not that we can’t do it every two weeks, it’s that we don’t want to.  But I promise you, after the first time you go to confession saying, “It has been two weeks since my last confession,” you will want to come back the next time being able to say the same thing.  Make it a habit and you won’t be sorry.  No one regrets having his or her sins forgiven.

 

3.)  Spiritual Reading

If you’re not reading the Bible, or something written by a saint, or a sound theologian of the Church, you’re going to find it difficult to grow in your faith.  Our love for God grows the more we know about Him.  Plus, reading will make that hour a week you’ve just committed to spend in the chapel go by that much quicker :)

Reality Check:  Where am I to find said books?  The Bible is a good place to start!  The word of God in the very words of God—can’t get much closer than that!  Other books I recommend: Introduction to the Devout Life (St. Francis De Sales), I Believe in Love, True Devotion to Mary, Confessions of Saint Augustine.  Send me an email if you want more suggestions.

 

4.)  Be honest.

If your friends don’t know that you’re Catholic, there’s a problem.  You don’t have to turn into the crazy religious kid who doesn’t talk about anything but church, but do let your friends (religious and non-religious) know that you’re Catholic.  Going to confession on Saturday?  Invite your Catholic friends.  Headed to Mass?  Invite all of your friends (but politely let the non-Catholics know beforehand that communion is only for Catholics living in a state of grace).  Speak up if someone bashes the Church, and maybe skip that frat party on Friday if you know that it will lead to you having to go to confession on Saturday.

Reality Check: It’s a little late for some of us.  We have friends who already know us as someone we no longer want to be.  Time for a heart-to-heart.  Lay it all out on the table.  Write a letter if you don’t think you’ll be able to say it all.  Look, I know I used to do this or I told you I’ve done that, but I’m trying to change.  I’m going to take my faith more seriously and as my friend I just wanted you to know what’s going on with me. But please: Don’t drop your friends for Jesus.  He wouldn’t do that, and it’s not a very good witness to faith if your friends think you dropped them because they’re “not holy enough”. Now, you may find that you can no longer take part in certain activities and as a result some friendships may naturally fade away, but make it a point to be upfront and honest so it’s not perceived as a personal attack.

 

5.)  No really, be honest.

You don’t have to pretend that you’re perfect now that you’ve decided to take your faith seriously.  In fact if you do, no one will take you seriously.  Your Facebook statuses do not all have to be about Jesus or taken from the Bible.  You’re allowed to have a social life outside of church.  You can listen to non-Christian music.  Most importantly, when you mess up, own up.  It’s human to struggle.

 

6.)  Find Catholic friends

Like I said, don’t ditch your non-Catholic friends (so long as they’re not leading you into sin).  But it’s important to have friends within the Church, too.  Why?  Because being a Catholic is difficult, and human beings are not able to survive without friends.  Sometimes you just need the friend next to you in the pew, or someone to call when you don’t understand the Church’s teaching on something.  They don’t need to have the right answer for you, but you need someone who understands the struggle, and who can encourage you in faith.

Reality Check:  That’s nice, but what if the only other Catholics in your town have gray hair?  Two suggestions: 1) Pray, pray, pray that God will send a friend your way.  And keep an open heart—be a friend to everyone.  He could be preparing your non-Catholic friend’s heart to receive His truth through your friendship.  2) Make friends with the old people!  They’re probably awesome and full of stories and great advice.

 

7.)  Do well in school (and/or at work).

Chances are good that God is not calling you to drop out of school and go off into the desert to pray.  It could happen, but it’s more likely that He is calling you to live your life for Him right where you are: in school, at work, at the gym, etc.  You really want to be a good witness of Christ?  You have to strive for excellence in all that you do.  Period.  In other words: Do your homework.  You may not be able to get straight A’s, but you better try your hardest.  Offer your hard work up to Christ as a prayer.  Jesus didn’t cut corners, so neither can we.

Reality Check: When asked, “Is it befitting a cardinal to ski?” Blessed JPII replied, “What is unbefitting a cardinal is to ski badly.”  :)  Seriously.  You cannot be a Christian and settle for mediocrity.

Bottom Line?  Do good, avoid evil.  Easier said than done, of course.  But be encouraged!  You are not alone in the struggle.

Christmas Gift Guide: For the Lukewarm Young Catholic

This post is for all of you mothers, aunts, grandfathers, or loving friends of young (albeit selectively practicing) Catholics.  In addition to getting them those new shoes, or whatever it is they may have wanted, this year, try one of these gifts to remind them of the family they will always belong to in the Catholic Church—no matter their doubts or shortcomings.

A Wall Crucifix
Every young person should have a crucifix hanging in his or her room.  It serves as both a constant reminder of Christ’s sacrifice, and as an invitation to prayer and mediation each time the recipient of this gifts looks at it.  Be sure to have it blessed by a priest before giving it to them.  Bonus: If you are shopping for your son, daughter, brother or sister, they really have no choice but to hang it up (since you’ll obviously see whether they do or not).  Nothing wrong with a little Catholic guilt every now and then :)

A Rosary with Special Significance
God knows that we are physical beings as well as spiritual.  Sometimes we need the shiny, pretty, or “cool” material things to bring us to the deeper spiritual significance that we truly long for.  This is why a rosary is often a great gift for the young person in your life who may not know or be so into his or her faith.  Make sure it’s not just any generic rosary, though.  It has to be special and specific to them.  Make one yourself (or pick out the beads you want and find someone who can make it for you).  Again, make sure to have it blessed by a priest and to include a short, clear, guide on how to pray the rosary with it as well.

A Small, Leather-Bound Bible
Today’s young person is constantly on the go.  A compact, portable Bible is a must.  I recommend the Ignatius Catholic Bible – RSV that you can find on Amazon.  It is small and zips up.  Perfect for fitting inside of a backpack, keeping in the car, taking to the beach, or for pretty much anywhere.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church
Why buy a Catechism for a lukewarm Catholic?  Because it likely answers almost every question or doubt they have about the faith.  Sure, at first it may be little more than a paperweight to them—but at least it is their paperweight.  If you want to give the young person in your life some ownership of the faith into which they were baptized: buy them their own Catechism.

The young person on your heart already have all of these items?  Great!  Stop worrying so much and just continue praying for him or her.  No amount of wall crucifixes or pages memorized out of the Catechism will ever amount to what God’s grace can do as a result of your prayers.