Merry Christmas from Duluth!

A most merry Christmas to you all! Currently, I’m resting in our lovely hotel room right on the edge of Lake Superior (spectacular views). Last night, we attended Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary. Kevin introduced me to Bishop Sirba, a real delightful man! And so our solemnity began!

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This is my first Christmas away from Pennsylvania and away from my family (who I miss very much!), but we’re making the most of it and it’s beautiful being here in Kevin’s homeland. I’m really enjoying myself. And my family was blessed with this past weekend together in DC for our annual Philadelphia Eagles game!

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I hope you’re all having a joyous Christmas and that it continues throughout the entire season! I’m sure I’ll be back later with a plethora of pics and updates!

Monday updates & a great feast!

Happy feast of the Immaculate Conception! A truly grand solemnity, indeed! This day is quite special to Kevin and I for many reasons, not the least of which being that it’s simply a wonderful day to honor our lady! I’ll admit, we indulged a bit this morning and woke up early to watch an episode of Parks and Rec. Hey, we all celebrate differently. We look forward to Mass this evening followed by a nice reception with the Oblates of the Virgin Mary.

This past weekend was very full, but really a joy. I’m so grateful for the drastic separation from work life and home life. Work has been hard, but my time at home and with friends has been absolutely life-giving. Saturday I was able to spend time with my good friend and her husband beginning with confession (I’ll always take a free ride to the church). Then we enjoyed the afternoon at their apartment decorating and making it festive. It was so much fun and very relaxing. Exactly what I needed.

Afterwards, I met up with Kevin and we went to dinner with a friend’s parents. This friend is a seminarian in Rome studying for the Boston diocese, and his parents and I have developed a great relationship over the past couple years (they even came to my wedding in May when he couldn’t!). So we decided to get dinner (which was a blast) and go to the Festival of Lessons & Carols at the seminary here. They hadn’t been around the sem much since their son had been asked to go to Rome, so it was  real treat for them as well.

The concert is my favorite festive thing to do during Advent. Kevin and I have gone the past three years now, and it truly helps us delve deeper into the season. It’s a night of scripture, carols, and hymns put on by the seminarians and they always sound amazing. This year was no exception.

Sunday we went to Mass followed by a morning of homemade waffles with two good friends! And the rest of our day was spent with just the two of us walking, resting, andddd watching the Chronicles of Narnia…a movie that we find most appropriate for this time of year.

I’m very grateful for the beautiful moments that were had. May this week be full of many more!

Advent Reading

I love the Christmas season. Like most people, I find it to be super magical and all things lovely. And I’m always headed somewhere for Christmas as well since I don’t live near family, which means there’s always a trip to look forward to (as well as vacation from work). This can make the patient waiting of Advent a bit difficult at times. And since Kevin and I have covered our television with purple cloth, that means no movies or shows or music (except Advent hymns) to pass the time.

So in addition to just spending some quiet time with my husband and taking our evenings slower, it’s a good time for some reading. And not just any reading, but some Christ-centered, Advent reading. I haven’t read much in relation to this specific liturgical season, but what I have read has been beautiful. So allow me to share!

Advent Reading

The Infancy Narratives by Pope Benedict XVI

I read this last year during Advent, and while sometimes spiritual reading can be something I gotta push myself to do daily, this was quite the page turner for me. I love the way Pope Benedict writes – very simple and straightforward, but packed with such beautiful insight. This book covers Jesus’ origins and nativity to the finding of Jesus in the temple. It helped make the season come alive for me and to focus on our Lord and specifically his birth and childhood.

True Devotion by St. Louis de Montfort

This little treasure is about making perfect devotion to Jesus through perfect devotion to our Lady. Advent is a great season to reflect not just on our Lord, but also on the way in which our Lord came into this world: through Mary. By increasing devotion to her, we naturally grow closer to Jesus. This book will aid in that devotion.

Sermons to the People: Advent, Christmas, New Years, and Epiphany by St. Augustine

I randomly came across this book in a used book store many years ago, and since I love St. Augustine so so much, I purchased this one without thought. I will admit, some of the things he writes about are not the most grounded in Church doctrine (naturally, as certain things have only become fully known to us as a Church over time), BUT it is still a fantastic little collection of his homilies and the heart of what he says holds a lot of truth.

These are a few of my favorites that I’ll be revisiting this season. If you have any suggestions for Advent reading, please share! I’d love to venture out into new things!

Getting our retreat on.

A couple weeks ago, Kevin and I (sort of last minute) decided we’d like to go on a retreat put on by the yHope community outside Boston. It’s a young adult group (mainly early 20’s to early 30’s) that we’ve attended before and really love. It’s a lot of authentic people with great hearts. We hadn’t been in since before we were married since we don’t have a car and now live a little farther away. But this retreat seemed like a great opportunity to reconnect.

I’ll admit, I was a bit nervous at first because I’m still figuring out where we fit as a married couple. It might seem silly, but being in that in between spot of we’ve entered into our Vocation but don’t yet have children can be a little confusing as far as what we do for community (maybe it’s just me). And a lot of talks on this retreat were geared towards discerning your Vocation. But alas, we went and are so grateful we did. We were the only married couple, but I don’t think that deterred from our experience at all. In fact, it was quite enjoyable to be on retreat with my husband.

The theme was “remind me who I am,” and I don’t even know if it was any of the talks that made it sink into my heart, but rather just being there. I haven’t been on a retreat in over a year and a half, and taking this weekend made me realize how much we need that time away, focused solely on God.

I think something that helped the theme hit home for me was the fact that the retreat center was one that I’ve been to many times before, at very different stages in my faith journey. It’s a Pauline retreat center just outside Boston, and I’ve been there four different times with four different communities over the past six years:

In February 2009, our spring undergrad BU retreat was held here. It was a time that I was just really coming into my faith as a sophomore in college. New friends, a new lifestyle, and most importantly, the beginning of a deep relationship with God. In November 2011, the grad group at BU held a retreat here, so a lot of familiar faces. I had only graduated college six months before and was still adjusting to life in the real world. In February 2013, I attended the Pure in Heart retreat on JPII’s Theology of the Body. Pure in Heart is a young adult community in Boston that I was heavily involved with my first couple of years out of school (and also where Kevin and I met). During that time, Kevin and I were dating looking towards engagement. Now we’re in November 2014, and I’m in such a different life state, as I’ve been each time before. I’m now married and, though still fairly young as people point out, my life is focused on vastly different things.

With John & Kev - they've been with me on all four retreats at St. Thecla's since the BU days!
With John & Kev – they’ve been with me on all four retreats at St. Thecla’s since the BU days!

As I said, the theme was “remind me who I am,” and by coming back to this familiar place in which I’ve had so many powerful experiences, I really felt reminded. Yes, my life is not as it has been: I’m battling different struggles, I’m receiving new graces, and I’ve matured in greater ways. But God is still God. He is unchangeable. And going back to the one who is reminded me of who I am, now and always: a beloved daughter of God. Regardless of what is going on in my life at the moment, that fact remains.

I guess the takeaway for me was bringing me back to the basics. My life has come a long way in the past 6 years; I would argue and say it’s much more complicated, but that doesn’t change where all the answers lay. Scripture, sacraments, prayer. All centered around my relationship with Jesus.

 

Preparing for Advent

I’m super excited for Advent. I know we still got a few weeks, but just as it’s good to prepare for Christmas I think it’s also good to prepare well for Advent. Kevin and I have been having many conversations about how we want the liturgical year to look for our family – it’s one of our favorite activities. And we’ve been focusing on Advent and how we want to live the season as a married couple.

Advent

First off, if you want some good ideas on liturgical living, you should check out the book, The Little Oratory, and also head over to Carrots for Michaelmas as Haley writes about it a fair amount.

Like most people, I’ve spent many years celebrating the “Christmas season” from the day after Thanksgiving until New Years. Only in the past few years have I begun to appreciate the penitential aspect of Advent . And though it’s penitential, it’s also not a sorrowful season. Rather it’s one of joyful and quiet longing as we wait for the Incarnation of our Savior.

I’m far from perfect when it comes to liturgical living, and it’s certainly an effort to quiet myself amidst all the excitement. So I’ve slowly tried to take active steps in really living the true season of Advent, and here are a few things that have been really fruitful for me: 

+ December 8th, the Immaculate Conception, is me and Kevin’s Marian Consecration date – we renew it each year. It’s a good way to prepare the heart for Advent and develop a deeper relationship with our Blessed Mother, the one through whom our Lord came into the world. To learn more about this, read here.

+ I’m terrible at fasting, but fasting is objectively good and a necessary part of our Christian life. We should try to incorporate some type of fasting into the season, but how we do it is up to us – there’s many good ways to go about this. One cool side note: there’s a company out here, LaVallee’s Breads (owned by a Catholic) and part of their business is fasting breads, which you can order online. Read more here! 

+ Frequent the sacraments.

+ We like to take part in Advent activities going on. For instance, there’s an annual Lessons & Carols Concert at St. John’s Seminary that we’ve attended the last few years and it is beautiful!! The seminary does such a wonderful job putting this on and it really puts you in spirit of Advent. 

+ Pick up a good book for Advent; last year I read Pope Benedict’s “The Infancy Narratives”; it was a beautiful read that drew me into to the season. 

+ Avoid Christmas music to the extent I can (which is easier for me since I don’t have a car). I prefer to listen to Enya’s “Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel” on repeat, but that’s just me.

Kevin and I hope to continue all of that this year, but we hope to be even more intentional with the season beyond those things that have become tradition. Some examples of things we’ve read that have really resonated with us: 

+ We will get a Christmas tree, but will leave the festive decorating until the Christmas season. The rest of our apartment will follow suit as well. 

I’ll attempt to simplify the cooking and leave the Christmas treats for Christmas (I may make some occasional cookies, though…). 

+ We’ve done most of our shopping for gifts/decorations beforehand so we don’t get caught up in the stores during Advent.

By living a true Advent season, it makes the Christmas season even greater! Fast well, feast well! And what’s even more amazing is that Christmas is not over on December 26th, but continues until the Baptism of our Lord! I’ve read that it’s even appropriate to keep all the decorations up until the feast of the Presentation on February 2nd. Talk about exciting!

Anyone have any Advent traditions they’d like to share? What do you do to make it special? 🙂

Our Little Nazareth

I often complain about me and Kevin’s tiny apartment (I apologize to those who have had to listen to me!). It is tiny, truly (at least compared to my last several apartments). We once had a guest stay on our futon as he needed a place to crash  for one night while en route from Minnesota to Maine. We did it, but it was not the most comfortable of evenings. Our bathroom is in the bedroom, and it was like midnight and our guest had to walk uncomfortably around me and Kevin’s bed to use it. Talk about awkard.com.

Anyway, yes it is small and I’ve spent many months playing tetris in our closets and bookshelves. I’ve lamented over not being able to decorate as much as I would love to for the seasons. I’ve gotten frustrated over the two feet of movement room in the “kitchen”. BUTTTTTTTTT….yes, there’s a but. It has become our home. And I am coming to really love it.

It’s our little Nazareth. And it really is a place of peace. Even though we live on a main road which can be a bit traffic-y and noisy at times, I really feel distant from my work/commute/busyness when I’m home. Our Lord was born into poverty; Mary and Joseph weren’t living in a palace. And I’m grateful that we can learn from them. We look to them as our model for family and they help us along our way. We are building our domestic Church, and it’s so exciting!

For Kevin’s birthday, I got him The Little Oratory, a really great read on making our homes into little oratories, integrating liturgical living into family life. I’ve read through most of it and it have loved it. I look forward to utilizing it in the possible house we will one day own and live in, but for now, even with the small space we have, there is so much we can do to make it a home filled with Christ. And it makes all the difference. Our home is still a work in progress – we have most of our wall things waiting to be hung up once we know if we’re allowed to nail the wall. 😉

Finally, my home is with my beloved. We love to dream of our future home – it’s a big hobby of ours – but we both know that home is truly wherever we are with one another.

On another note, we’re giving a talk at Northeastern’s Catholic Center this Wednesday on dating & relationships, and we could use your prayers! Kevin’s great at this thing…I’m not. Thanks!

Great & Holy Men of God!

My good friend Mike is a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Boston. He’s the one who got me involved at BU’s Catholic Center back in our sophomore year of college. He’s in his fourth(!!!!) year aka Theology II (I think that’s right?), and has been in Rome since August 2013.  Super exciting, but we also miss him so much here! He’ll come home for the first time next June. He was always the poster child for our diocese because, well…

Mike, full page, in Boston Magazine

Yes, that is him full page in Boston Magazine for an article on the Archdiocese of Boston, actually a really good piece with a positive outlook on the Church here post-scandal. Anyway, Mike is 6’7” (super tall), ran track at BU, was president at the CC, would always serve at mass with the Cardinal, the standard cross bearer (see above). Ya know…future pope and all. And speaking of the Pope…

The Servant of the Servant of the Servant...

This happened last weekend. Mike served at mass with the Pope. No surprises there. He called me the day before to let me know it was happening (knowing that if I saw a photo like this after the fact, I’d yell at him for not preparing me). Such a great man, really living it up over in Europe! Having a close friendship with a seminarian is a beautiful thing. I’ve just entered my Vocation and he’s preparing for his. Different callings, but the Church needs both of them. And witnessing his journey continuously calls me on to be better. Kevin and I are building our domestic Church here at home, and that looks different than life as a Priest…but we are still called to be Saints, just as the religious are.

Please pray for Mike and for all seminarians! The Church needs great, holy men answering this incredible call to Priesthood!

A feast to start the month off right!

A feast for one of our favorite Saints and for the beginning of our favorite month! On me and Kevin’s first date, we spoke of our favorite Saints and why they were so important to us. It was well-known from the beginning that I had a special place for St. Therese (along with most of the Catholic world!) and Kevin felt very close with St. Patrick.

It was actually under an image of St. Therese that we met! At a young adult gathering at a friend’s apartment, Kevin was inquiring to some ladies about their love for St. Therese (pointing to the painting) – I forced my way in there, did my thing, etc.

After dating for a few months, dear Mother Olga suggested each of us pray to the other’s favorite Saint each day in a special way for the other. So Kevin bought for me a medal of St. Patrick and a medal of St. Therese for himself, which we both wore from that day forward.

Engagement!

Our engagement also took place at the feet of a St. Therese statue at my home parish in PA. It was a beautiful full circle (and she was there on our wedding day!). Soooo…Kevin and I are quite fond of her and super grateful for her intercession in our lives and, more specifically, our relationship.

I had the joy of visiting the National Shrine of St. Therese outside Detroit this past Easter when I visited my close friend, Elise. It was super beautiful and peaceful, and I just cannot talk her up enough. She is true to her promises, that little one. She does so much for us up in heaven, and I’m grateful to have such a powerful intercessor by my side!

So for our celebration of this beautiful day entering such a glorious month, Kevin and I enjoyed a little feast of our own. A nice autumnal meal if you will. Cider-Dijon glazed pork chops, hot spiced apple cider, and homemade pumpkin ice cream (dairy-free!). A delicious evening indeed! Happy feast day!

Day of Rest

Ever since senior year of college, Sunday’s have been my absolute favorite day of the week. In learning to enter into the [new] Sabbath, the day is greatly enriched. It started out simple, but even four years ago, I think my heart really got it. It was the day of rest, the day to celebrate our Lord’s resurrection, and the day to be in community. And our community at the BU Catholic Center really demonstrated the beauty of the day, whether or not people realized it. The Catechism, which answers most my questions when I go looking, says, “The institution of the Lord’s Day helps everyone enjoy adequate rest and leisure to cultivate their familial, cultural, social, and religious lives.” [CCC 2184]

Sundays

Leaving college, I began a more routine way of life, which is a great thing for me, personally. And Sundays  continued to be similar in heart, though the community aspect was different. I still relished it where I could, and tried to explore how to best live this day. Fast forward to married life, and the Sabbath has just gotten even better.

Being together every weekend has been a blessed adventure, and we’ve both taught one another different ways to truly enter into the Sabbath. For instance, Kevin has really helped me to see the value in not working on the Sabbath. Now, I’m not just talking about not going into the office, or not doing homework. I mean no work. No big projects around the apartment, no shopping, no serious life planning (ie: budgeting, travel plans, etc.). This part is the toughest for me as I always feel I have something to do, but it also really sets the day apart. I now understand what it means to work for six days and to rest on the seventh. My Saturdays have become busier with chores, errands, and miscellaneous work, but it makes our Sundays truly great. And in a way, I feel like I’m able to glorify God more with my six days of work and one day of true rest.

What’s even better, though, is that our Sundays are by no means a lazy. We would both have a hard time enjoying our day if we felt it was a wasted day. It’s filled with Mass, homemade brunch, nice long walks, prayer, a well-prepared dinner & dessert, time for reading or watching something together, and just good quality time with one another. That may vary a bit, but that’s the gist. It’s also nice to have a day to enjoy the clean and tidy apartment after the work has already been put in. And we try to incorporate community (outside of Mass) where we can. The Sabbath should be celebrated with people, it’s a day to nourish our friendships. 

Each Sunday, we find we appreciate  the Sabbath more. We love what it does for our souls, we love what it does for our marriage. We’re still very much learning what it means to enter into the Sabbath: to celebrate the resurrection, the fulfillment of creation, and the day of rest. And I’m sure when our family grows, how we celebrate Sunday will evolve, and we’re so excited!

 

The Feast of the Assumption

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What a beautiful solemnity it is! The image above is one that I had taken nearly two years ago at our parish, I think (when I first got my iPhone). It was my lock screen image for a looong time (until pics of Me and Kevin became a normal thing). Then a few weeks ago my phone did this reset thing and erased all my content from the past year (thank goodness I had uploaded any and all wedding/honeymoon pics shortly before that), and brought me back to July 2013. And this became my lock screen again. Even with all my frustration at the iPhone, it made me smile to see this image again.

Thank you, Mama Mary, for always looking out for us. We offer everything to our Lord through your loving hands.