Join us as we see where God is present in our lives. We most definitely aren't walking with Him in the Garden of Eden despite the fact that so many are shedding clothes instead of covering themselves up. However I am willing to bet that God is closer to us than we think and that He has genuinely planted truth in the flesh of our hearts.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Theatrical Trailers - The Eucharist

Summer is fast approaching, and for many of us that means getting ready for some of the best movies of the year to come out in theaters. Just yesterday I was watching the trailers for the new Harry Potter and Transformers movies. They were awesome, definitely look to be amazing movies! Watching those trailers got me thinking...isn't it awesome that these movie producers put out these trailers? Theatrical trailers give us a foretaste of the movie itself. They allow us to dive into the mystery of the movie before actually experiencing it in its fullness. When I watch a movie's trailer I get really excited about seeing the actual movie itself (assuming the trailer is well done and the movie's plot interests me of course). I end up awaiting the movie's release in a sort of joyful expectation. Everyone knows me knows how much I obsess over Harry Potter, and watching that trailer only got me more excited about that movie coming out this summer!

In a very similar way, for us Catholics the Eucharist is a foretaste of heaven. When we receive that most blessed sacrament, we receive the fullness of God within our very beings...the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ literally enters within us. Isn't that exactly what heaven is, experiencing God face to face for all eternity? Granted, things like original sin, as well as living in time, and space limit us from experiencing the fullness of heaven while on Earth...we know none of us could handle seeing God in his absolute fullness while here on Earth, but the Eucharist gives us an incredible foretaste of that heavenly perfection that we all hope for. Blessed Pope John Paul II says in paragraph 19 of his encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia "The Eucharist is truly a glimpse of heaven appearing on Earth. It is a glorious ray of the heavenly Jerusalem which pierces the clouds of our history and lights up our journey."

As most of us receive the Sacrament of the Eucharist either daily or weekly at mass, it is vitally
important for our spiritual lives that we do
not allow reception of this sacrament to become simply routine. Each and every time we receive the Eucharist, we delve into the mystery of heaven. Just as a movie's trailer often leads us to see the movie, reception of the Eucharist should lead us to heaven. It should inspire us to live our lives for Christ, to desire to spend the rest of our lives in heaven. Though, the incredible thing about the Eucharist is that it actually helps guide us to heaven. A movie trailer can make us want to see a movie, but it will never transport us to the theaters. The Eucharist, on the other hand, if we receive it faithfully, gives us the grace we need to grow and stay close to God each and every day. The Eucharist is so unbelievable powerful that it not only gives us a foretaste of that Heavenly perfection that we are all striving for, but it actually helps us, guides us, strengthens us as we continue on that journey towards Heaven.

Let us never forget that the Eucharist isn't just a symbol of Jesus, but that it actually is the real, true presence of Jesus Himself. Let's remember that the surest path towards meeting our maker in Heaven includes a deep love for, and frequent reception of, the Most Blessed Sacrament, the Holy Eucharist.

"Heavenly Father, thank you for giving us the Eucharist. Thank you for blessing us with this incredibly powerful means of coming in physical contact with you during our time on Earth. Allow the Eucharist we receive and worship to strengthen us as we journey towards Holiness, towards Perfection, towards You."

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Glee: Born This Way

Glee is without a doubt one of the most controversial shows on air today.  It has received rave reviews and harsh criticism.  I will be the first to admit that I have not always been the biggest fan of the show.  But earlier this year I conquered my fear and watched one episode and I have been relatively addicted to it ever since.  I don’t always agree with the message that the show sends to its adolescent viewers.  But this week’s episode, “Born This Way”, has a respectable message and it can even help us understand our Easter call to spread the word to our brothers and sisters in Christ.
This past weekend we celebrated the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Through his resurrection we realize the call that He is now giving each and every one of us.  Jesus was persecuted, because he didn’t fit in with society.  He was spat on, whipped, tortured, crucified and eventually He died for the totally imperfect and abnormal us.  And if there is one thing that this week’s Glee episode portrayed it was the perfection that we don’t see in ourselves but often see in each other.  We accept one another for being good at this or that.  But we don’t always accept the way that God made us.  God made us this way, whether it was through birth or through life experience which we know can form and change us.  There might be something that you’re ashamed of when you look in the mirror but I can guarantee that God would hold you up like a banner in war against Satan.  We were made in the image and likeness of God, therefore there is absolutely nothing WRONG with us.  God accepts you for who you are deep inside.  He sees your deep dark secret and he embraces it for who you are.  He sees your weaknesses and your sin and only wants you to lay those at His feet in prayer.  Glee showed this week that it is important and even crucial to our survival to embrace ourselves for who we are, because in life there are no re-dos.  All of the characters rocked out at the end of the episode and wore tee-shirts that bore in large and almost protruding letters, their characters own insecurities.  Even the school guidance counselor Emma Pillsbury admitted she suffered from OCD. 

Getting over our insecurities can be VERY difficult and in this culture it is unfortunately also the cause of depression and suicide.  But there are ways you can make it easier on yourself.  Everyone has at least one thing that they wish they could change about themselves whether it’s physical or part of their personality; it nonetheless has a huge impact on their personal lives and friendships.  Most of us don’t surround ourselves with friends that build us up.  We have two great examples of true friendship.  The first one is of course Jesus Christ.  He accepted people who were considered low class and unworthy.  He ate with sinners and servants instead of the rich and famous (who by the way were also sinners).  One of his closest followers and friends was a prostitute.  Yet by accepting that she had made mistakes and learned to turn her life around she became an iconic figure for all of us.  Jesus is the ultimate friend.  And while we sometimes have a hard time imagining Jesus as a realistic every day friend (which he is), we can also look to Glee.  The whole idea of the Glee club was to help one another deal with the differences which truly make them unique.  Surrounded by friends who truly cared about them, members of the Glee club were able to not only accept who they are but shine as who they are.  As Catholic Christians it is our duty to embrace who we are and to work on our weaknesses while we lay all of these at the feet of Jesus.  Be proud of what God gave you and shine as his an example of him on Earth.   

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Nuggets of Truth...What's the Point?

Sometimes I think its weird that I write a blog about finding God in secular TV shows, movies, music, sports, etc. It's like having my own little identity crisis. Just look at the list of top 10 posts...Jersey Shore, Harry Potter, Lady Gaga, Secret Life of the American Teenager...what the heck am I doing writing about how God is present in things so secular? Shouldn't I be talking about how terrible these things are, instead of how Harry Potter is an excellent example of God's sacrificial love? What the heck am I really doing?

In all honesty, I wouldn't be writing this blog if I didn't think it would lead myself, as well as those who read it, closer to God. I know I approach topics like Lady Gaga from a different, maybe unusual, perspective, but I believe that if approached correctly and carefully, we Catholics can use pop culture to our advantage. I base this belief on a few things...

1) Nuggets of Truth are used in addition to, not instead of, traditional means of Evangelization. I would NEVER tell anyone to stop going to mass, stop going to confession, stop praying the rosary, etc. and just read the Nuggets of Truth blog for their spiritual gain. These Nuggets of Truth, just as any use of social media in Evangelization, should lead people to Christ within the context of the Church, especially to the sacraments. If you notice, almost every Nugget of Truth contains a reference to scripture, as well as a closing prayer. Nuggets of Truth should never replace someone's spiritual life, only enhance it.

2) Jesus used the culture to Evangelize... In the incarnation, God became man...he became just like us, lived in the same world and culture as the people of the time. He spoke the language of the people, and lived within their culture of the time. He did not rip the people out of their culture, but rather entered into their culture as one of them, fully immersed. He even used parables, metaphors, and symbolism that the people in that culture would relate to. How often in our scripture study do we say "well you have to remember what this meant to the Israelites?" If Jesus used the culture of his day to preach the Kingdom of God, why shouldn't we?

3) There are good messages out there...why not use them? Yes, there is a lot of garbage out
there. But scattered throughout the nonsense are beautiful golden "Nuggets of Truth." Look at the posts...we've been able to learn about things like true love, objective moral truth, fasting, examination of conscience, parenthood, and so much more from mass media. Kids today are watching these shows, and I'd rather point out some shockingly good messages in what they're already listening to than simply bashing them, trying to tell them that their faith could never be compatible with the culture they were born and raised in. I think pointing out the beautiful nuggets out there will help kids to start to notice the difference between the good and the garbage, and consciously decide to treasure the good and ignore the garbage.

After reflecting on all this, I have to conclude that the golden nuggets found in pop culture discussed in this blog are in fact not superficial or stupid or a justification for the world's evils, but rather an important and beautiful way to lead people to Christ. God is present everywhere, and is always reaching out for us, including in media. Jesus is our Good Shepherd, the shepherd who is always looking out for ways to rescue his lost sheep, maybe these golden nuggets in the cloudy water that is pop culture today are sent by our Shepherd who is calling us back to him.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday

Today is Good Friday...the day we remember Jesus dying for each and every one of us. The terrible humiliation, pain, and suffering Jesus went through in order to bring us back to God is absolutely unbelievable. Jesus Christ, the second person of the trinity, the incarnate Word of God, killed in the most horrific of ways so that we might be reconciled with God. Let's take today to really let that crazy reality settle in our hearts.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Holy Thursday

Tonight we celebrate Holy Thursday, the remembrance of Jesus' Last Supper with his apostles before his passion, death, and resurrection. It was at the Last Supper that Jesus instituted the Eucharist (as well as the priesthood). Through this most precious sacrament Christ left us a way to enjoy the fullness of his presence even after he ascended into heaven. When we receive the Eucharist, Jesus is just as present with us as he was to the apostles who saw him face to face.

I always thought it was incredible that Jesus decided to use bread and wine, food and drink, as a means of sharing his real presence with us. Without food it would be impossible for our bodies to survive. In the same way, without the grace of God our souls, tainted by original sin, could also never survive. Therefore through the Eucharist, our God is able to nourish us both bodily and spiritually. We truly cannot live without the Eucharist, let's never forget that.

This is an incredibly beautiful testimony about the power of the Eucharist. There is a beautiful song that goes with it that you can find on Youtube, it's called "See You in the Eucharist."

Just a note...this was filmed in 2007...Danielle Rose has since left the convent after discerning that her vocation in life is to devote herself completely to God, not as a contemplative nun, but as a Catholic Musician.

Easter Triduum Reflections

As Lent comes to a close, and we begin to delve into the Easter Triduum, I thought a more solemn, more serious post would me more appropriate than the usual Nuggets of Truth...Let's dive right into what is considered to be the greatest and most solemn time in the Church...

I've been reflecting a good deal on Scripture recently, and I've come to see that the entirety of the Old Testament points to the New Testament, and the entirety of the New Testament points towards the events that we celebrate during the Triduum (either Jesus preparing us for his passion, or the Church reflecting on its importance). So I was thinking let's look at a few verses from various sections of scripture and spend some time reflecting on them over the course of the next few days. Let's reflect on how the Scriptures continually point us towards Jesus' ultimate act of redemption for us. Let's allow the Word of God to penetrate deep within our heart, so we may truly make the Easter Triduum a prayerful, reflective time.

"Heavenly Father, send me your spirit. Allow your Word to speak to my heart, penetrate my being, touch my soul."

-God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them. - Genesis 1:27

-I have witnessed the affliction of my people in Egypt and have heard their cry of complaint against their slave drivers, so I know well what they are suffering. Therefore I have come down to rescue them from the hands of the Egyptians and lead them out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey. - Exodus 3:7-8

-The Lord, your God, will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, that you may love the Lord, your God, with all your heart and all your soul, and so may live. - Deuteronomy 30:6

-He reached out from on high and grasped me; he drew me out of the deep waters. He rescued me from my mighty enemy, from my foes, who were too powerful for me. - 2 Samuel 22:17-18

-Rescue me from death, God, my saving God, that my tongue may praise your healing power.- Psalm 51:16

-He was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins, upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole, by his stripes we were healed. - Isaiah 53:5

-I myself will look after and tend my sheep. As a shepherd tends his flock when he finds himself among his scattered sheep, so will I tend my sheep. I will rescue them from every place where they were scattered when it was cloudy and dark. - Ezekiel 34:11-12

-What woman having ten counts and losing one would not light a lamp and sweep the house, searching carefully until she finds it? - Luke 15:8

- For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. - John 3:16

-God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life with Christ, raised us up with him, and seated us with him in the heavens in Jesus Christ. - Ephesians 2:4-6

-God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him. - 1 John 4:8

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Secret Life – Love vs. Lust

Monday night’s episode of Secret Life was absolutely incredible! So many secrets come out, drama developed, not to mention Adrian and Ben’s engagement. However, if you were paying close attention you would’ve noticed a beautiful conversation between Adrian and Grace where Adrian compares the relationship she had with Ricky (back in season 1) to what she now has with Ben. She provides us with a beautiful answer to one of the most misunderstood problems with relationships today: the difference between love and lust. Here’s what she says… (It’s a long quote so I’ll cut out the unimportant parts.)

“What I feel for Ben is a mature love, not like what I had with Ricky. Me and Ricky, we couldn’t keep our hands off of each other. We wanted to jump into bed with each other whenever we got the chance. It wasn’t real love, it was infatuation…But I really love Ben and I know he really loves me. He’s the kind of guy I always wanted, he’s there…being there is everything.”

The Adrian we saw in season 1 and the Adrian that gave us the above quote Monday night are to very different people. The old Adrian who “loved” Ricky always put on a smile, but was never truly happy. Her relationship with Ricky, based primarily on physical attractions and sex, never seemed to really fulfill her. Adrian’s current relationship with Ben, on the other hand, is very different. Adrian and Ben have very little physical chemistry, they haven’t had sex (except for that one time which they both acknowledge to be a huge mistake), but somehow both Adrian and Ben seem to be truly happy together. They seem to have a true sense of inner comfort and peace, a real true sense of love. They really want to give their lives to each other and to their daughter. Their relationship is based on something far deeper than sex; it is based on true sacrificial love. Granted, Adrian and Ben’s relationship has never been easy, and sometimes no fun at all, but any true love must be tested by the cross in order to obtain the joy of the resurrection.

The new, mature Adrian acknowledges that the physical love she and Ricky shared could never fulfill her like the true love that she and Ben share. Adrian says very clearly “he’s there…being there is everything” showing that she doesn’t want a man who is drop dead gorgeous and will please her sexually, she wants someone who she can rely on, someone who will be there for her and support her when she is in trouble…someone who is willing to show her the sacrificial love that Christ showed us on the cross, and someone with whom she can share that same sacrificial love.

This is a lesson that many people struggle to understand today. Our hearts yearn for love, the true sacrificial love that Ben and Adrian have found in each other. However, oftentimes we decide to settle for physical attraction and activity (like Adrian and Ricky) because it seems more appealing and more fun. The problem is our heart yearns for love, not infatuation. God did not create us because he was infatuated with us, but rather because he truly loves each and every one of us. Because of that, nothing short of such true love could ever possibly satisfy our hearts.

I think this is a great time to step back and examine the relationships in our lives. Are they based on infatuation or true love? Do my relationships resemble the connection between Adrian and Ricky, or Adrian and Ben?

“Heavenly Father, I know and believe that you created me out of love. I know that because of this, because of the infinite love you have for me, my heart will never be truly satisfied by anything short of true, divine, sacrificial love. Help me to never forget this, to never fall into any of the artificial forms of love created by the world, such as infatuation, but to always seek true love as shown to us by your Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ.”

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Bruno Mars "Grenade" - Love and Freedom

“I’d catch a grenade for ya, throw my hand on a blade for ya, I’d jump in front of a train for ya… Yes, I would die for you, baby; but you won’t do the same!”

I’ve never known anyone personally whose life has been saved because someone died for them, and it’s hard for me to imagine what that must be like. I wonder, is there a feeling of guilt and unworthiness, or a sense of debt? Or maybe there is a deep gratitude for the gift of being alive. Well, whatever the feeling is, I’m sure that anyone who has experienced this could not deny that they have been loved! I think that all of us, deep down, desire to be loved and cherished this much too.

This desire to be loved is pretty fundamental for us, and I think Mr. Bruno Mars really hits on this desire pretty well in his recent song ‘Grenade’. He even gets close to our understanding of Divine Love. I mean, when I was listening to this song I could not help but think of Jesus’ last words to his closest friends on the night before He died: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13) Even watching the video, Bruno Mars seems to recognize that his song is touching on this type of love (as he portrays himself in a similar way to Jesus as He carried His Cross). In a way, he really gives a wonderful display of one of the most fundamental themes of our Christian Faith: sacrificial love. Kudos!:)

Still, whenever I heard this song, I kept getting that funny feeling like something wasn’t right. It was the last line of the chorus, “but you won’t do the same”, a line that colors the whole attitude of the song, that just didn’t sit right with me. I kept thinking to myself, ‘yeah this is true love, to sacrifice for the beloved, but true love doesn’t demand payment of love in return, it simply gives the gift.’ Sure, the lover hopes to be loved in return, but he or she would never try to guilt the other person into loving them. No, love, to be true love, must be free! Freely given, and freely received (and responded to).

That is the example of love that God shows us. He really did die for us in the person of Jesus, and invites us to love Him in return; but no matter how much it hurts Him to see us reject His love, He always respects our freedom! He keeps loving and offering His gift, then waits patiently, as true love does, for us to accept His love and be happy. This is our model! We are called to love in this way too! So thank you Bruno Mars for reminding us of the importance of sacrificial love, but let us look to our true model of love, God, and follow His way of love and freedom.

What do you think love is? Is it a feeling or a choice? Are you willing to love sacrificially, for your family? Friends? Boyfriend/Girlfriend? God? Would you still be willing to love if you were not loved in return?

Today's Nugget of Truth was written by special guest author Kyle. Thanks Kyle!!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Glee – Loser Like Me

When I heard that New Directions was going to be singing original songs at Regionals, I knew it would be amazing and they definitely didn’t disappoint. This song, “Loser Like Me”, is like one of the most amazing songs I’ve ever heard! It’s also a song that has spoken to my heart and has helped guide me through many of my struggles I’ve dealt with this year. Like I said in an older post, I really can see myself in a lot of the characters on Glee.

The kids on Glee have felt like the losers of the school since the very first episode. They’re the outcasts, the kids that just don’t fit in with the normal cliques of high school. Because of this they are put through a lot of crap from kids who are more “normal, more cool.” On good days they get weird looks whenever they turn the corner or talk about their love for the Glee club, but on the worst of days they get explicitly ridiculed, bullied, and get slushies thrown in their faces. If you’ve ever felt like the outcast, you know it’s not fun to feel like you can’t be yourself.

The words to this song show the beautiful, courageous approach that the Glee kids decide to take to their frustrating position at school. The song says let the haters be haters! It says “Hit me with the words you got and knock me down, BABY I DON’T CARE…you push me up against the locker, AND HEY ALL I DO IS SHAKE IT OFF.” It says I’m through with caring about what you think about me, I’m gonna be myself whether you like who that is or not! It’s a song filled with incredible self-confidence! Besides that, look at how excited and energetic they are as they sing this song. This is a group of kids ready go get out there and show the world what they got, to stop hiding and start shining!

To live life to the fullest, you have to be yourself…the person YOU truly are, not the person others want you to be! We can’t live our lives worrying about what people think about us. Whether those around us approve or not, God has blessed each of us with unique, beautiful gifts and talents. Don’t let other people pressure you to hide those talents! Don’t ever be afraid to let them shine brightly so everyone can see what a great person you are! Just remember the song “L-O-S-E-R I CAN ONLY BE WHO I ARE!” (part of the longer version of the song) If you feel like people want you to be someone you’re not, remember it’s your life, not theirs! Be YOU, not the person other people want you to be!

“Heavenly Father, I thank you for making me beautiful and unique. I know you didn’t make a mistake when you made me, but rather you created me in your own image and likeness. Help me to never be afraid to be the person you made me. Don’t let other people’s impressions of me affect my self confidence, my self image, and most importantly my relationship with you. Give me the strength and courage I need to be the person you made me, since I know without a doubt, no matter what anyone says, you did an amazing job when you made me.”

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Secret Life of the American Teenager

Secret life is like the king of all teenage dramas. It is a show completely centered on teenage relationships, dating, pregnancy, etc. Sometimes the characters make some really stupid, life destroying choices (like when Adrian and Ben decided to have sex last season), but sometimes they make some good, solid ones. I want to focus on one decision that Adrian made on last night’s episode that showed tremendous maturity. As Ben is pressuring Adrian to agree that living together would be the best thing for their relationship and for their daughter, Adrian quickly shuts Ben down, saying very clearly that they won’t be living together unless they’re married. Here’s the quote from last night’s episode…

“I really appreciate that you’ve so stepped up to the plate here, Ben, you’ve just been so responsible and kind and considerate, and everything else, but…look I’m not living with you, I’m definitely not living with you unless we’re married.”

In making this decision, Adrian decides that there is something special about living with someone that should be saved for marriage. I think that a lot of people today would probably think that Adrian is crazy. Adrian and Ben have already had sex, they are having a daughter, they love each other and will probably end up getting married…why shouldn’t they live together? If really love each other, wouldn’t living together only strengthen their love? At the very least, wouldn’t it be good for Adrian and Ben to try living together so they can see whether or not they’d enjoy a lifelong marriage together?

People today, like Ben, who justify couples living together before marriage usually cite one of the above reasons. However, for me the major problem with living together before marriage is that it spits on the integrity of marriage. In marriage two people publicly declare their love to one another, giving their entire lives to each other. This culminates in the physical unity of sex. The complete gift of self in the sexual act is meant to seal the marital vows, as well as produce new life which further unites the couple as they have to come together to raise the child. Many couples who decide to “shack up” do so in order that they may more readily show their love for each other physically, not seeing the true purpose for sex within the context of the marriage vows.

However, this isn’t really the case for Ben and Adrian. If they were to move in together, they probably wouldn’t be having sex, as Adrian is already pregnant. Actually the main reason why Ben wants to live with Adrian is so that the two could raise their child together. Despite these seemingly favorable circumstances, Adrian still thinks it would be wrong for them to live together before marriage. When a man and woman decide to shack up before marriage they are unable to see the beauty of the sacrificial nature of marriage. Through marriage a man and a woman vow to sacrifice everything for each other. Sharing of everything, including a home, food, etc. naturally follow from the self sacrifice found within marriage. The fact that shared living is found within marriage is also significant because the sacrifice forms a perpetual bond. When two people shack up before marriage this sacrificial commitment is not present in the same way. For example, if Ben and Adrian did start living together either one would be free to move out at any time since they have not vowed their lives to one another. On the other hand, two married people living together have vowed to work out their differences “in sickness and in health, for richer and for poorer till death do us part.” The self sacrifice within the marital commitment is so strong that it can only be broken by death.

There is also one very strong practical reason, besides all this theology, for not shacking up…it doesn’t work. Statistics show that “Most couples who live together never end up getting married, but those who do tie the knot have a divorce rate nearly 80 percent higher than those who waited until after the wedding to move in together. Couples who cohabited prior to marriage also have greater marital conflict and poorer communication, and they made more frequent visits to marriage counselors. Women who cohabited before marriage are more than three times as likely to cheat on their husbands within marriage. The U.S. Justice Department found that women who cohabit are sixty-two times more likely to be assaulted by a live-in boyfriend than by a husband. They were also more than three times as likely to be depressed as married women, and the couples were less sexually satisfied than those who waited for marriage.” It seems the surest way to a healthy, long lasting marriage is to leave sex, as well as living together, for the context of marriage where they belong.

“There is no place for selfishness-and no place for fear! Do not be afraid, then, when love makes demands. Do not be afraid when love requires sacrifice"
- Pope John Paul II

Statistics taken from: http://chastity.com/chastity-qa/dating/shacking-up/should-i-move-with-my-boyfrie