Embarking on your Faith Journey

Have any of you ever read a really great book or watched a really great movie or heard a really great story? Now, what did that book, movie or story have that was so great about it? Maybe it had to do with some mythical place, or an incredibly interesting main character. Perhaps you were able to identify with it in some way. Something about that story drew you in. And I can tell you, that each of these stories has something very simple in common. They all have some sort of journey that you as the reader, watcher, or listener follow. It may be a journey to a long time ago in a galaxy far, far, away, to Hogwarts, Middle Earth, Narnia, Metropolis or Gotham. It might be a journey of self-discovery, or one where the main character saves the world. We are drawn into this story. We are drawn into the mystery.

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I have this map up here. It belongs to my Dad, and it had a prominent place in my home for most of my life. It’s a hand drawn map of Middle Earth, the world that J.R.R. Tolkien created for his famous trilogy, The Lord of the Rings. I grew up staring at it, memorizing the landmarks and physical obstacles along the way from the Shire to Mount Doom in Mordor. This is one of the stories that I was enamored with as a child. I loved the idea of the adventures that took place in Middle Earth. I wanted to meet characters like Bilbo and Gandalf, and I wanted to be a strong heroin just like Arwen.

Now, what if I told you that our faith can be just like one of these journeys.

Just like the ones that we see in our favorite books, movies, or stories.

 You might be thinking I’m a little crazy at this point. But, one of my favorite saints, St. John Paul II is quoted in saying, “Life with Christ is a Wonderful Adventure”.

There is a moment in every story where the main character is posed with a question. Usually that question is whether or not to take on an adventure. Whether they’re off to destroy a ring, find a horcrux, or save the city from eternal doom, there is a moment when the main character consciously makes the choice to do the right thing. And often enough, we learn that the main character was destined to take part in that journey.

So are we.

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This painting is one of my favorites. It’s called “The Calling of St. Matthew” and it was painted by a guy named Caravaggio in 1600. Here we can see a ray of light making its way to Matthew, while Christ is pointing at him. The story of this painting actually comes from a story in the Gospel. The Gospel of Matthew tells us:

 “As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man named Matthew- sitting at the customs post. He said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him. While he was at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat with Jesus and his disciples. The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” He heard this and said, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.” – Matthew 9:9-13

We all have this moment. There is a moment where we are asked to join Christ on a journey. We are asked to accompany him on an adventure that we were made for.

My faith journey started out like many others. It was quiet. I grew up on Long Island, went to public school, lived with my Grandma, Mom & Dad, big sister Julie, and went to Mass on Sundays. I played with neighbors as a kid, and loved to draw and write stories. For me, this moment of encounter didn’t happen as a child, at my baptism, first communion, or confirmation, but rather, it happened on a retreat, kind of like the one you’re on right now. I had had a couple of really rough years in high school. I was anxious, depressed, I had lost friends, and a boyfriend who I was too dependent on, and my Dad had moved out and my parents divorced. I was a senior in High School. I wasn’t living a life for Christ, even though I had gone to Church, to youth group, and volunteered my time to the poor and to the younger children at my parish. I was living day to day, trying to fake a smile, and act as though everything was okay. I knew that I wasn’t though. I knew that I was loved, but couldn’t grasp what that meant, or how it could affect my life.

And so I went on this retreat. I didn’t particularly like going to youth group anymore, but out of habit, I went on the Spring Retreat. Ironically, or not so ironically, the theme of the retreat was “I will Follow” and we had to sing this awful song and do silly hand movements to it. However, I knew that being a scutch and remaining closed off was not going to be fun for anyone. So, I tried to be open and listen to all of the presentations and participate in the prayer services. Friday night we handed whatever was burdening us over to God by tossing a rock into the Long Island Sound. We were asked to quiet ourselves, and to think of what was burdening us. There were thousands of pebbles on the beach. We each picked up two rocks. One represented our burdens, and one represented a promise. We each threw our burden into the Sound, and held on tight to our promise. I began to open up then. But the true turning point for me was on Saturday night. I sat in adoration of the Eucharist, which is when the Eucharist is exposed in a gold stand called a monstrance for a prolonged period of time. I desired mercy; just like St. Matthew. I had experienced God’s loving grace in the sacrament of confession. And as I sat, for the first time feeling peace in front of the Eucharist, I cried, and felt a whisper in my heart to come, and follow Him.  I felt an overwhelming sense in my heart that I was loved. Truly Loved.

In that moment, just like St. Matthew, I got up, and followed Him.

I was drawn into the mystery.

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I found Joy on that retreat. For the first time in a long time, I found joy in doing simple everyday things. I even found Joy in getting stuck in the mud of a small Long Island Harbor, after running after my friends onto what looked like solid ground. In case you were wondering, I did ruin my flip flops that day. I had no idea what this journey would entail or what my destination would be. To be completely honest with you, I still don’t know what the destination is. I can tell you, that since I decided to get up and follow Him, my life has truly been an adventure. I’ve gone places, done things, and encountered people that I wouldn’t have even thought possible in High School. But, I had to take that first step and climb that very high mountain. I had to leave my comfortable life behind, and like Frodo and Sam in The Lord of the Rings, I left the Shire.

I started to take my volunteer work seriously. I was a volunteer with the Middle School Youth Group at my Parish. I played silly games along the way with middle schoolers and enjoyed it. I even let a 12 year old do my hair with shaving cream for the “Edge Kids Take Over”. It took a few showers to get it all out.

I went on trips to places I had only dreamed about before. I walked the streets of Dublin and Paris with my Mom and sister.

I took in the beauty of one of the world’s oldest book of Gospels, The Book of Kells, in Dublin, and I stood in awe of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. I went on pilgrimage to Madrid, Spain for World Youth Day 2011. I walked along the same cobblestone streets as St. Teresa and St. John of the Cross. I sat in the same churches as a Doctor of the Church. As a group, we went to Mass with various English-Speaking Cardinals, and eventually with Pope Benedict XVI.

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We stood and humbly waited in the rain, which was described as a hurricane over the announcer. There was obviously a mistranslation there. And we waited for the Pope to arrive. We met young Catholics from all over the world: Colombia, France, Iraq, Australia, Nigeria, and Malaysia. I found I had a friend in Jesus’s mother after I realized that each church I went into had the image that my Parish is named after, Our Lady of Perpetual Help. This still happens by the way.

In college, I continued to follow Him along a path that I couldn’t quite see, and had some incredible experiences. I trudged through Washington DC in 10 degree weather as a witness to the beauty that Human Life is at the March for Life.

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 I studied in Galway, Ireland, after working up the courage to follow the desires of my heart and change my major from something that would secure me a job after graduation, to something that I truly loved: English Literature and Irish Studies.

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 I sat in the middle of a country road in a town where there were more sheep than people, and appreciated the beauty of creation with a sunrise at 4am with some of my wonderful classmates.

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 I took a bus and visited relatives that I had never met and shared in faith and tea and ice cream with them. We drove all over my Grandfathers hometown.  I felt a little silly standing with that tomb stone in the rain, but I knew that these were the family members that gave me my Catholic faith, this was the church where my grandparents and great grandparents worshipped a God who is Love, and so I complied and smiled as a cousin I barely knew took my picture.

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I walked across the Peace Bridge in a city where violence was the norm for so long. I shared in the hurt that my cousins felt from the past, but also listened to their hope for their city and for their home. I quite literally crossed the River Foyle with them and was present as they shared their story and their heart with me.

I traveled in a minivan, and my campus minister was pulled over by cop in West Virginia for going 83 mph, to a place that I had never been. There were mountains there. I served the poor of Appalachia in Beauty, KY with some of the most kind-hearted, loving people I know.

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The Lord helped me break out of my comfort zone by working with power tools and to truly be present with the people of Beauty. I was reminded by a cook that I met from Georgia, just how beautiful my soul was, and how she could see it in my eyes. I spoke of my love for Mother Teresa and the Catholic Faith with a nurse from the next town after she confided in me just how beautiful she found the Catholic Church, even though she was a Baptist. She met me with love, not judgment, just as Jesus had.

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I built a deck and a ramp that week along with 8 of my classmates and mentors. That is something I would have never thought I could do, much less that I would want to. My Dad still doesn’t quite believe it.  Even in the mud that week, I found Joy.

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More recently, Jesus asked me to climb an even higher mountain. He asked me to serve in a way that I had never thought before. He asked me to move away from home to a place called Garrison, and to run retreats where students could encounter Him. I laughed, but after much prayer and a leap of faith, I went. And I could not be happier. Those words that JPII spoke are true, “Life with Christ is a wonderful adventure.”

Will you get up and follow him?

This presentation was given on the Sophomore Retreat: Faith Journey through CYFM. 

Reflecting on Service (2)

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A few weeks ago I left a beautiful group of people to come back home. My experience with Workfest was one that I won’t forget anytime soon. I was given the opportunity to serve for a week with the Catholic Campus Ministry at Hofstra University. My Campus Minister had spent a year serving with a group called Christian Appalachian Project, which works to better many communities in Eastern Kentucky. Our Campus Minister absolutely loves this program, and has been telling me about it for over a year. CAP, as its better known, runs short-term service opportunities over Spring Break like Workfest. During Workfest, college students from around the country go to Camp Andrew Jackson and travel each day to a home that CAP is currently serving. During the course of the week of Workfest, college student’s work on a variety of necessary repairs on the homes that the families can’t manage on their own.

When we left campus on the Saturday before Workfest, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I had been involved in different youth ministries, attended retreats as well as days of service but this was my first time on a real mission trip, and my first time working with students from all over the country. The car ride down was filled with laughter and music but come Monday morning we were divided into our crews. I was placed in the Brown Crew, and together we started to learn how to use different types of power tools. Some were more confident than others. The Brown Crew had students from Stevens Point Wisconsin, Cincinnati Ohio, Scranton Pennsylvania, Burlington Vermont, and Long Island.

It felt like we were in Kentucky for a long time before we finally began the work we were there to do. Our crew worked about 40 minutes from Camp AJ with the Smith Family. There we met Haley and her two daughters Kate and Anna. Haley’s husband, Joe was at work, and her son was at school. The Smith family needed a new roof, floors, as well as the front and back porch. The first few days were tough, I was a little homesick, tired, cold, and not quite used to the amount of mud we were working in. I can’t say that I was the most confident using some of tools, so I tried to help in any way I could. Even though our conditions weren’t ideal, we all tried to serve in ways that showed the love of Christ. The readings at mass each day were reminders that we were there because we love Jesus, and we love him by loving others. There were times that I moved debris, and held pieces of wood steady so that those I was working with could use a saw or a drill. But, each day we were called to come out of our comfort zones. And so each day, with the help of my crew, I contributed in new ways. We also were able to pray with our family several times a day. This was really a great part of how CAP operates. Getting to pray with and know Haley was a part of this trip that reminded us all why we were there. We were there to do Christ’s work and to love as he taught us. My crew’s experience with our family was one that allowed all of us to see how God works in the lives around us. Amanda shared with us that she had her son at a young age, and her life is not the way she had imagined. She wanted to work in a law firm, she hadn’t seen herself being a stay at home mom. She kept telling us that God had a different plan for her. Even though she was different from all of us who were working, she inspired us all with her faith. We were there to improve her life, but she was there feeding our faith.

Each night we were able to reflect with our school on the events of the day. We would start each discussion with roses and thorns, the good and bad parts of each day. On our free night our group decided to go on Night Hike, and do our reflections outside on the top of a rock. Seeing the stars in Kentucky and sharing in conversation and prayer with some of the best people I know was truly a blessing. It was also incredibly humbling to hear the stories of those who I had come with., and to see how God was using them. This was probably the turning point of this trip for me. Before our Night Hike, my trip was good, but after this experience, my trip became extraordinary. It opened my eyes to the world around us, the community we were serving, and the extraordinary people I was sharing it with. Although none of us would see the end result of our work, we were still becoming a part of these families in a great way. We were able to be a small part of God’s great plan for this family, all because we made the choice to follow him. .

My trip with CAP to Kentucky is one that was extraordinary and that I feel incredibly blessed to have experienced. Serving others is something that, when done with Christ, is not a burden but rather a blessing.

This post was first given as a reflection at a Lenten Prayer Service in 2014. All names have been changed to protect the privacy of each individual. 

Mary

A Reflection on Mercy

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St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers, New York

“Mercy: the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to the hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness.”

Pope Francis sent out this tweet on April 3rd, just a few weeks ago. And for so many of us, these tweets from Pope Francis have become a daily reminder of our shepherd, caring for his flock. This Jubilee year of Mercy is such a gift to the Church. We as Catholics are called to reflect on God’s unfailing, mercy and love.  And when I begin to reflect on this theme in my own life, I can’t help but see how prominent it has been. You see, for the past nine months I have been serving the Catholic Church as a Cap Corps Volunteer, where it is my duty to spread God’s message of love and mercy through my words, actions, and the many retreat programs that Capuchin Youth & Family Ministries runs. Part of my ministry this year is reflecting on God’s grace in my own life so that I may share that witness with the many middle schoolers and high schoolers who come to our center each and every day.

I’m sure that many of us can think of a time when the Lord’s mercy truly changed our lives. And as we sit here in adoration of the Eucharist, in adoration of our Lord, I ask you to let his mercy shine upon you, to let him love you, because he so desperately wants to.

There were many years when I was so afraid to let God’s love into my life. And this is something that I still struggle with from time to time.  However, in high school, all I wanted was to be ‘okay’. The only thing was I wouldn’t let his unfailing love and mercy into my heart. I was afraid to let Love himself in, because of the way others had hurt me. I didn’t feel worthy of His Love.

There have been other people who haven’t felt worthy of Christ’s love. However, one thing always happens. There is an encounter with our Lord, who is Love, and one cannot stay the same after that encounter. St. Matthew was one of these people. His story of conversion is a favorite of mine:

As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man named Matthew- sitting at the customs post. He said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him. While he was at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat with Jesus and his disciples. The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” He heard this and said, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.” – Matthew 9:9-13

I hope and pray that each of us has this moment, this moment where we encounter a God who is Love. And like St. Matthew, I hope that you’re life can never be the same, and that you choose to follow Him and bring those around to his merciful love. Each of us is asked to accompany him on an adventure that we were made for.

My adventure in faith started out like many others. It was quiet. I grew up on Long Island, went to public school, lived with my family, and went to Mass on Sundays. I played with neighbors as a kid, and loved to draw and write stories. For me, this moment of encounter didn’t happen as a child, at my baptism, first communion, or confirmation, but rather, it happened on a retreat, during Eucharistic adoration.

I’m sure St. Matthew didn’t feel worthy to follow Christ. He was a tax collector, a man who took advantage of people and their money. People were surprised when Christ asked Matthew to follow him. And while I’m sure other people didn’t judge me for following Christ, I sure didn’t feel worthy to receive his love and mercy, and to be a follower of him. I didn’t feel worthy to have the responsibility of doing all that comes with being a disciple of Jesus Christ.

I had a few really rough years in high school. I was struggling with anxiety, and depression. I had lost friends, and a boyfriend who I was too dependent on, and soon after that my Dad had moved out and my parents divorced. By the time I was a senior in High School, I wasn’t living a life for Christ, even though I had gone to Church, to youth group, and volunteered my time to the poor and to the younger children at my parish.

For me, life was trying to get through each day, often times faking a smile, and acting as though everything was okay. While on the inside, I was falling apart. I couldn’t see my worth in Christ. I knew that I was loved, but couldn’t grasp what that meant or how it could affect my life, and I certainly didn’t feel that love.

Being a senior, I didn’t want to miss out on any of my favorite High School experiences, so I went on the youth group retreat through my parish for one last time. I had prayed that something wonderful would happen on this retreat. I wasn’t sure if God would hear my prayer, or if anything would actually change in my life. But I knew that I was ready, that I wanted to live a life of Joy again. And although I still didn’t feel worthy, I prayed that somehow my heart would be opened to this love that I had experienced years before. That Friday night we took a walk down to the beach and had a prayer service. We were asked to quiet ourselves, and to think of what was burdening us. There were thousands of pebbles on the beach. We each picked up two rocks, one representing our burdens, and one representing a promise. We each threw our burden into the Sound, and held on tight to our promise. I handed God all that I had been carrying, the hurt and the sadness, and I promised to never deny his love in my life again. My heart began to break open then. God was beginning to answer my prayer. By the time Saturday night came around, my heart went from hard to being broken open by his Divine Mercy. And after receiving the sacrament of reconciliation, I sat in adoration of the Eucharist.

I desired mercy; just like St. Matthew.

And as I sat, for the first time feeling peace in front of the Eucharist, I cried, and felt a whisper in my heart to come, and follow Him. I no longer felt unworthy. Instead, all I saw was the Eucharist, and beautiful light surrounding it. I felt love, and finally understood in my heart, that despite my weaknesses and failures, Christ still died for me. I felt an overwhelming sense in my heart that I was loved. Truly Loved. In that moment, just like St. Matthew, I got up, and followed Him. I was drawn into the mystery.

Each time we are brought to adoration of the Eucharist, we are given the opportunity to gaze upon Love, and to let him gaze upon us. The creator of the world wants nothing more than to love you. Let us always remember what Pope Francis keeps reminding us of, that mercy is the bridge between God and man, “opening our hearts to the hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness.”

During this Easter season, let his Divine Mercy break open your heart, so that he may lavish you in love, and transform your life, just like he has done in mine and in so many others.

Mary

This reflection was given to a group of students at the New York Catholic Youth Day on April 30, 2016 at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers, NY. I hope that it has inspired you as it inspired the students earlier this week. 

 

Reflecting on Service (1)

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Driving through the mist covered mountains each morning brought me joy. This simple pleasure was a surprise to me, and I looked forward to it every morning. To be honest with you, I didn’t expect to find God in the little things on this Mission. I was expecting a great revelation to occur; I was expecting a great sign from Him. I was expecting an answer. Instead, I was consumed by moments of Joy that were brought about through small actions of great love.

Our week was filled with laughter, and productive work. But on our last day at the worksite, I had the pleasure of being paired with a Nurses Aid who worked for CAP full time. We talked about her life, her daughter, her job, and ultimately about faith. The first thing she asked me was whether or not I was Catholic. I was taken by surprise, and wasn’t sure if she was going to react positively or negatively to my Yes. Just the night before, the CAP volunteers had been told about Father Beiting and the struggles he endured as a Catholic priest in Southern Appalachia. And so I responded, and she exclaimed, “I find y’all fascinating!”

And in this moment, I encountered true Joy.

I later found out that my new friend was a Baptist, but had a great love for Mother Teresa and Father Beiting. We talked about how she wanted to be Nun when she was a small child, and how later on in life she found Mother Teresa’s books. She loves to read. This was yet another way that we connected. We talked about how religious sisters exude Joy, and how you can tell that they love God with all of their hearts. She told me that loving God is so important, and that’s all that matters. We were able to have a real conversation about things that mattered to both of us. We were able to share in God’s great Love.

There’s a famous quote by Mother Teresa that keeps coming up for me in prayer, “Do small things with great Love.” I think we’ve all heard it before. Mother Teresa was known for her way of loving others like Christ, and I think this quote sums up my Mission experience in a neat little package. In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus tells us, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22: 37-39). This golden rule is something that CAP tries to live out each day. I’m grateful for that. Finding Joy in the little aspects of the day allowed me to see God in greater ways. Although I didn’t have a great revelation about my life, I was reminded of how important loving one another is. And love doesn’t have to be a grand gesture. It can be small, and it can do great things.

This post originally appeared on the Hofstra Catholic Life Blog in April of 2015. 

Mary

That time we toured the North East (and the midwest)

Over the past few weeks I have been in the Hudson Valley, Long Island, Boston, New York City, the Hudson Valley again, Pittsburgh, Steubenville, and then finally back home in the Hudson Valley. It’s been a bit crazy, so I’m going to recap in the pictures below.:)

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One Wednesday afternoon, Val and I left our away retreat on LI for Boston, MA. To save gas, mileage, and our sanity we took the ferry out of Orient Point. I absolutely loved it, and would totally do it again. It was beautiful.

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The reason for going to Boston was for an accepted students day (that we both went to) and we were able to go to Mass and tour around Boston. It was nice to see where I’ll be living for the next two years.

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Here I am, in Downtown Boston by the Harbour. And below, by the sign for my program.

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After finishing the accepted students program, we headed back to New York for a family retreat in the city. It was totally worth it because the friary had a cat named Bella. This literally made my week. I miss having pets around.

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At youth group that weekend, we played some silly games (that were really about Easter) and talked about the Resurrection.

The following Tuesday, Sam, Fr. Tomas, and I drove west and spent the night in Pittsburgh. Here we had dinner with Sam’s family and saw the city.

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I don’t have any pictures from Steubenville (we were there for a career fair) but when we returned I went to a poetry reading with Fr. Bob.

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Then it was National Siblings Day, and my sister posted a picture.

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And finally we were rewarded with a Mets game (courtesy of Mary Ellen) and we ran into so many people, including Chris!:)

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The today we had a great day retreat.

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It’s been a crazy few weeks– but I don’t think I’ve ever been to so many places in so little time.

Mary

Our Lady of Perpetual Help

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Growing up, this was an image that I was very familiar with. I don’t know if I necessarily understood that there was a difference between other images of Our Lady and Jesus and this one, but I knew this image. My home parish is named for this icon, and there is one present in the side chapel of the church.

As I was preparing for my first holy communion, one of the things that we did in preparation was a class tour of the church. I remember walking into the church on that saturday morning, and it being dark. I had never been in the church without its lights on. There was something peaceful about that. I remember being aware of that, even at seven years old. A sacristan gave our little class a tour of the church, but the only part of that tour that I have a memory of, is the explanation of the image of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. At seven years old, the part of that explanation that I took away, was that Jesus was frightened of his passion, and he ran into the arms of his mother.

This was something that stuck with me as a child. That Our Lady was our Mother too. Jesus ran to her when he was frightened, and we could too. I can remember, whenever I did pray, praying a Hail Mary instead of a Glory Be or an Our Father. I knew all three prayers, but I always gravitated towards Marian prayer.

As I was preparing for Confirmation, I fell in love with Youth Ministry. And somewhere along the way, I thought that carrying prayer cards would help me to pray. At 12 my purse looked like it belonged to an elderly church lady. After getting a few odd looks and questions, I decided to pair it down to just one card. Can you guess what that card was?

Our Lady of Perpetual help.

The Catholic Company has a beautiful explanation of what this icon means:

The icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help represents the Christian mystery of Redemption.

Our Lady of Perpetual Help is a Byzantine icon that is believed to have its origin sometime during the 13th -15th century.  The image is also known as “Our Lady of Perpetual Succour.” The icon is known for being miraculous; over the centuries countless healings and special graces have been attributed to it, so much so that the image has been honored and venerated by many Popes.

The miraculous icon is painted on wood and measures about 20″ in height (54 x 41.5 centimeters) and depicts the Virgin Mary, under the title “Mother of God,” holding the Child Jesus.

The Archangels Michael and Gabriel, hovering in the upper corners, hold the instruments of the Passion. St. Michael (in the left corner) holds the spear, the wine-soaked sponge, and the crown of thorns. St. Gabriel (in the right corner) holds the cross and the nails.

The intent of the artist was to portray the Child Jesus contemplating the vision of His future Passion.  Frightened by the vision, he runs to his mother for consolation. The anguish He feels is shown by the loss of one of His sandals as he quickly flees into the arms of his Mother.

Despite a forboding vision of suffering, the icon also conveys the triumph of Christ over sin and death, symbolized by the golden background as a sign of the glory of the resurrection. The royal crowns on the heads of Jesus and Mary also symbolize their triumph as the King of Kings with his Queen Mother.

In a very beautiful way, the Child Jesus grasps the hand of the Blessed Mother.  He seeks comfort from His mother as He sees the instruments of His passion.  The position of Mary’s hands – both holding the Child Jesus (who seems like a small adult) and at the same time presenting Him to us – convey the reality of our Lord’s incarnation, that He is true God who became also true man.

What Our Lady of Perpetual Help Means for Us

Just as the Child Jesus fled into the arms of his Mother when he was frightened, so too do we flee into the arms of our Blessed Mother with child-like confidence whenever fear envelopes our hearts. Just as the Virgin Mother consoled and comforted her Divine Child, so too does she console and comfort us, her spiritual children, in our afflictions. We can always come to her in our time of need and receive her help.

In this iconography, Mary is represented as the one who guides us to the Redeemer. The Virgin Mother is also our Help who intercedes with her Son on our behalf.  The star painted on Mary’s veil, centered on her forehead, highlights her role in the plan of salvation as both the Mother of God and our Mother.

To this day, the Church of St. Alphonsus in Rome displays the original icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. They are the guardians and promoters of the holy icon, the only religious order entrusted with the task of doing so with a venerated image of Our Lady.  You can view a live image of the real Our Lady of Perpetual Help icon here.

As I got older and learned more about the actual image of OLPH, I began to listen to how Our Lady had interceded in the lives of those around me. I can remember some of the older teens in youth group talking about how OLPH followed them around. Then my youth minister mentioned how she did the same for him.

I thought that this was pretty cool. And so, the following February I had the opportunity to travel to Dublin and Paris.

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It’s a little blurry, and not actually Our Lady of Perpetual Help, but when I saw this image in Notre Dame I felt as though Our Lady was looking out for me, praying for me, and reminding me to look to her son.

About six months later I was on pilgrimage in Madrid with my parish, and this is what I saw:

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At this point, I understood that this image was actually Our Lady of Perpetual Help and not just an image of Our Lady. I knew that I had a friend in heaven advocating for me.

Over the next few years I grew in my love for the Lord and for my parish, and really began to understand the point of intercessory prayer.

Over the past few years, I would joke that OLPH follows me around a little bit. She lets me know that she is praying for me, etc etc. However, this year, she has taken it to a whole new level.

As many of you know, I took a big step this year and did a year of service. And as a result, I moved to the Hudson Valley. Within the first few months of my year as a CCV, OLPH came around quite a few times, reminding me to pray, and that I was doing the right thing.

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The image above can be found in the Parish that I do Youth Group in.

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These two images were found at Graymoor.

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This image was in my room at a convent that we stayed in for a retreat in the Bronx.

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This image was in Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Pelham, NY.

However, when we visited Boston back in December, it was a little bit overwhelming with the amount of times OLPH showed up…

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This image was in the School of Theology and Ministry’s chapel in Boston.

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This image was in the room I stayed in during my time in the Boston Friary.

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The two images above were in the Parish where the CCVs did a retreat in Boston.

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This was outside of the Providence College Chapel.

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Finally this was on the cover of a book at the center.

It was here that I began to refer OLPH as my “Saintly Stalker” because she showed up everywhere I went. I’ve had some fun joking about OLPH being my stalker. However, she is a true reminder for me that I am loved by Our Lord, and that she is a great intercessor for me.

Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thine intercession was left unaided.

Inspired by this confidence, I fly unto thee, O Virgin of virgins, my mother; to thee do I come, before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in thy mercy hear and answer me.

Amen.

 

Images for Easter

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As some of you know, I run the Cap Corps Volunteer blog. One of my favorite parts of that job is that I have the chance to make fun images for the blog and for social media. I personally like to use a website called Canva. This website is free to use, with the exception of some of the designs. But to be honest, you can get by just fine with using the free layouts and features. All of the images above were made using free tools.

I found Canva through some Pinterest research last year. I’ve also heard good things about an app called Word Swag. I haven’t used it yet, but once I do, I’ll let you know how I like it.:)

The three images above were created for the first three weeks of Easter. The John Paul II quote is up on the Cap Corps blog tomorrow for our post on Easter. The Divine Mercy image will go up next week for Divine Mercy Sunday. And the Acts of the Apostles image will go up the third week of Easter as a part of a reflection on the Acts of the Apostles and being a Christian.

Do you have any programs that you like to use to build up your online presence in ministry?

Mary

Mt. Beacon

When I first learned that I would be moving to Beacon, I started to look up different things to do in the area. And of course, one of the first things to pop up was to hike Mount Beacon. Now, when Val and Sam went last fall, I was away for the weekend. So I didn’t end up going. But now that the weather is getting nicer and the days are longer, we have more opportunities to do things like this.

Mount Beacon was a steep hike, but there were definitely points where one could stop and take a break if needed. All in all, we spent just under three hours on this hike. I think the majority of that time was spent on our way up because we are all pretty new to this. Once we got to the top, we spent some time just enjoying the beauty that surrounded us. Our trek down the mountain took about forty minutes, maybe less.

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Absolutely stunning. I will be hiking this trail again, hopefully in the near future.

To end our day, we ate dinner and then headed to Catholic Underground North at Mount Saint Mary’s College in Newburgh, just across the river.  Overall it was a great day, with an even better ending.

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Mary

Jones

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A week ago, the CCVs had a Youth ministry training in Queens. So, we took the opportunity to explore Long Island a little bit. Our first stop was Jones Beach, of course. After running to the water and walking around in the sand a little bit, we headed back to my home parish for the vigil mass. Then, we had a St. Patrick’s Day dinner with my Mom and Chris.

Overall, it was a really nice day. And I was able to show my housemates some of the reasons why I love my home.

Mary

Home

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I do love this little island. And sometimes, the thought of leaving it again, for a few more years, makes me quite sad. But I know that there will always be days like this one, when I get to come home on a whim. Days where we can drive out, and look for beach glass on a small strip of sand for as long as we see fit.

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Home is wherever we are if there’s love here too.

Mary