“Dear young people, do not settle for anything less than Truth and Love, do not be content with anything less than Christ.” -Pope Benedict XVI
I ran across this quote the other day on Facebook and absolutely LOVED it. It’s wonderful that our Holy Father reminds us of this…because it has become all too easy to replace Christ with things of this world. As Catholic teens trying to truly live the Faith, we must never lose sight of Jesus in our lives and we must keep Him always at the center of everything we do. It is God who created us and it is for Him that we live, not for this world.
Thanks for the reminder, your Holiness!
We don’t always think about the fact that truly following Christ will require sacrifices on our part. Some sacrifices might be forced upon us because of our faith in Jesus and others we might take upon ourselves to offer up to God. You guys have probably experienced the first type already. You might be rejected or made fun of by others because you choose to follow Christ. At school, you might be labeled a “Jesus Freak” and avoided by your classmates. Don’t resent these hardships! Instead, offer it up to God. I know it’s hard to be singled out…and yes, it can be frustrating at times. Even among my friends, I’m labeled the “crazy religious person”, and sometimes they take their comments a little bit far. But that’s part of it. If people single you out (even if they don’t realize they’re doing it), avoid you, or bully you, forgive them and offer that frustration and sorrow to God.
Then there are voluntary sacrifices, the ones that we take upon ourselves to show God our love and devotion in a special way. You might offer these sacrifices for a particular intention as well. Things like fasting, giving something up, or even dropping what you’re doing to go to Adoration for an hour fall under this category. These sacrifices which we choose on our own help us put our priorities in order: What is more important to me? Talking on the phone with my friends, or using that same time to quietly reflect on Scripture?
When we embrace sacrifice rather than reject it, we resemble Christ and His humble acceptance of suffering for our sake. If you find yourself thinking that a particular sacrifice or hardship is too much for God to ask of you, remember the torture Jesus suffered during His Passion. There is no sacrifice too great or too small: everything has value in God’s eyes. Offer up your suffering cheerfully! God’s love will always be enough for you.
Too often we look at our lives, realize that we need to change, and then set about doing it at once. The problem? We haven’t the strength to change on our own! We are human beings and easily fall into sin and temptation. How can we expect to follow Christ without His help? Any effort to live for Christ without speaking with Christ will always fail miserably, so I thought it was appropriate to begin this series with the key ingredient: prayer.
We are tempted to think of prayer as a bunch of fancy words and phrases sometimes, but that’s the wrong approach. Prayer is meant to be a loving conversation with our God. It’s not about the words we use (when we use them) or the gestures we make: it’s about His Heart speaking to ours. This interior conversation doesn’t require any words on our part all the time. We can simply lift our whole hearts and minds up to God and focus our entire being on Him alone.
As I said, prayer is essential if we truly want to live our faith. It is in prayer that we learn what God wants from us and it is there that we gain the strength to carry out His holy will for our lives. Prayer does not have to be (and nor should it be) confined to one part of your day, either. Pray without ceasing! If something troubles you, gladdens you, causes you sorrow or pain during the day, lift it up to God at that moment. If you have a little bit of down time during class or at work, spend that time in conversation with God. In that way, you will maintain an interior peace in spite of what is going on around you. This sense of peace and calm will help you throughout your day to deal with whatever is thrown at you.
But…what if I can’t pray?
There are certainly those days where we feel as though we cannot pray at all. It seems like God is a million miles away and couldn’t care less about what we’re going through. If you haven’t hit a time like this, you most likely will at some point. So what should we do on days like that?
Pray anyway. Pray unceasingly. It is when we stop praying that we truly have a problem. When we stop speaking to God, at least in my experience, it is difficult to deal with anything during the day and it is impossible to move forward on the path to holiness.
Pray at all times. Just try it. You’ll be amazed at how much it helps you begin to live your faith daily.
I realized today that I’ve been doing a great deal of talking about the need for us Catholics to live our faith…but I haven’t really said how we can do that. What can help us to live our faith in our daily lives? What is necessary to truly live as Catholic Christians? What are some things we can do?
So, I’m going to do a series of posts on this topic with some ideas I have about what we can do to live our daily lives as faithful Catholics and followers of Christ. Here are the topics I’ll be addressing:
- Attending Mass
- Receiving the Sacraments
- Making Sacrifices
- Speak Up!
- Be Christ to Others
- Conversation, Movies, and Entertainment
- Daily Conversion
- Family Life
- Small Steps
Wanna get some great books to read over the summer (if you’re a bookworm like me)? I love reading about the Catholic Church, but I will admit that I need a break every once in a while. Here are some titles I recommend for fun reading. Hope you guys enjoy and have a great summer! (This list is in no particular order.)
The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova Six stars for this one because it’s awesome enough to earn an extra one! This book is the perfect blend of history with a touch of fantasy. Do you like vampires? Cool stories about historic figures? Odd secrets? Crypts? This is the book for you.
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck In all honesty, you’ll have to read this book in high school (like I did this past year), so why not get a head start? It’s actually a great little book, really short, and an easy read. But it has a TON of stuff in it. For my fellow English lovers, there are parallel scenes, touches of imagery, and interesting universal messages. For those who love a good plot, there are two friends, a desperate wife, ranch workers, and a little accidental murder on the side. This book is a little depressing, as its overall message is about loneliness, but it’s a good read.
A Separate Peace byJohn Knowles This book has a bit of everything. It was also assigned reading for our English class this past year, but I honestly enjoyed it. Two friends, betrayal, jealousy, trees, accidents, fake wars, loss of innocence, mock trials, and a sad death…and a Christ figure. Sound interesting?
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury You guys already know how much I love Ray Bradbury from my tribute post, so I won’t go into that again. But this book is truly FABULOUS. Each time I read it, I find another reason to love it all over again. One of my absolute favorite books EVER. Let me be clear, though: it’s not sci-fi! This book has something to tell us now, not something to tell us in 100 years. Read it and see what you get from it.
Daddy’s Little Girl by Mary Higgins Clark I have been a devoted Mary Higgins Clark fan for many years, and this is my favorite book that she’s written. It’s about a girl who grows up after the murder of her older sister when she was small…and she uncovers thereal murderer. Wonderful…and scary. Seriously, this book terrified me during some parts. You’ll see.
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott This is a classic and it’s a great book. I know some of you guys are thinking, “Gee, what is WRONG with this kid?!”, but you just don’t know what you’re missing. This book contains beautiful writing and beautiful lessons within its pages, so I highly recommend it to everyone.
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini Brought me to tears a few times! This book is about pride, fear, betrayal, and forgiveness.
A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini Strong women who live through a tough situation in Afghanistan. Wonderful story!
*The Murder of King Tut by James Patterson The author’s idea of what really happened to the boy king. Great historical fiction!
*A Great Deliverance by Elizabeth George This woman is Mary Higgins Clark for the U.K.! Any of her murder mysteries are amazingly well-written and have great plots with characters you’ll love and enjoy (at least I did…).
Anyway, those are just a few suggestions to get you started. Let me know what you guys think of these books!
* I recommend these books and anything by these authors, but I wanted to caution you about something. These authors (in these particular books and in their other works) use sex scenes frequently. Now, the plots are great because they’re both brilliant writers…but the sex scenes are pretty involved (for lack of a better word). So I encourage you to either skip over these scenes (which you can easily do) or to not even buy the books if you will be tempted to read those scenes because reading them might open up the occasion for lustful thoughts. Just a warning.
Catholics ask this question all the time. It comes from teens and adults alike, guys and gals. Confession has got to be the one thing in the Church that stops everyone cold and gets you to looking for an excuse to bow out. It’s not just Catholics, either. My Protestant friends do a fair bit of squirming when I so much as mention the Sacrament of Reconciliation. “Why would you wanna do that?!” they ask me. “Kneel in the box and tell the priest everything you’ve done wrong? That’s just crazy. I’ll ask God for forgiveness, but I’m not ABOUT to tell another human being what I’ve done!”. Confession, for some reason, seems to be an issue for most people.
But I’ll tell you one thing I’ve noticed. I get on the internet quite a bit and answer questions about the Catholic Church on several different sites. You know what I’ve seen? Confessions. A lot of them. I’ve seen people from all different faith backgrounds posting their sins all over the internet, but I pay close attention when I see another Catholic doing this. You know what they’re looking for? Advice. Help. Always advice and help. And they turn to the internet. Why? Well, I have a theory. We human beings seem to have this thing about us: when we do something wrong, we don’t want to tell anyone at first. After a while though, it really starts to bug us. We can’t escape it–unless, of course, we tell another person, someone we trust. Then we feel like the burden has been lifted from our shoulders and we can go on with our lives. For some reason, after we’ve voiced whatever it is that we’ve done wrong, we are free.
So…would you rather tell the whole world via Facebook, or your priest, who acts as God’s representative?
Confession is actually not that terrifying…and it isn’t meant to be a scary encounter, either. We have turned this sacrament into something that is to be avoided because we’re scared: scared of admitting our faults to ourselves, terrified of confessing them to another person, and (I think) afraid that we’ll be judged by the priest. And I totally understand that because I do the same thing. But I think the underlying reason for our hesitation isn’t some traumatic fear–it’s pride. We’re too proud to acknowledge our sins personally and we’re certainly too proud to admit them to another human being.
Then what can we do? I’ve got a few ideas.
1. Calm down! There’s no sense in feeling like we’re walking to our death when we go to Confession. Try being silent before receiving this Sacrament. Clear your mind and take some deep breaths…no, seriously. I’ve walked into Confession with my heart going ninety miles a minute before. But trust me, once you’re in the confessional, you won’t be nearly as stressed out.
2. Remember who you’re talking to.So you walk in, and there’s the priest. But remember that it is Christ who absolves you through the person of the priest. You are speaking to Christ and admitting your faults to Him.
3. Don’t worry! Worried that you’ll be the topic of conversation the next time the priests get together for coffee? Not gonna happen. A priest is bound by the seal of the confessional to never reveal what is said during Reconciliation by a penitent. That and, let’s face it, you’re not the only person going to Confession. Your priest is not going to remember the details of each confession he hears. So don’t worry about it!
That’s all fine and good…but what do you do when you go to Confession?
The first thing you’ll want to do is a thorough examination of conscience, which is normally done by going through the Ten Commandments. By doing this, you see where your life strays from God’s Law. Anything that you observe from this should be confessed. You can find a good form (a sort of walk-through) of examination of conscience here.
So, that’s how you prepare. Now let’s get to the structure of the sacrament.
When you walk into the confessional, you will normally be able to either sit down and face the priest or kneel behind a panel/curtain. Choose whichever makes you more comfortable. After you’ve made your choice, this is more or less what will happen:
Priest: (making Sign of the Cross; you will make the Sign of the Cross with him) In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Penitent: Bless me Father, for I have sinned. It has been (however long it has been) since my last confession.
Now, you confess any sins you have committed. After that, you might also wish to ask your priest for advice if there is one sin in particular that you struggle with. For example, you might say, “Father, I’ve really been struggling with the sin of pride. Do you have any advice that could help me?”.
Priest: He will now give you a penance and ask you to say the Act of Contrition.
Note: There are different forms of the Act of Contrition. You can say one of these, or you can simply express your contrition (sorrow for sin) in your own words. Below, I’ll give the most common form of the Act of Contrition. Some parishes have a copy of this prayer in the confessional.
Penitent: O my God, I am sorry for my sin with all of my heart. In choosing to do wrong and failing to do good, I have sinned against You, Whom I should love above all things. I firmly intend, with Your help, to do penance, to sin no more, and to avoid whatever leads me to sin. Our Savior Jesus Christ suffered and died for us. In His Name, my God, have mercy.
Priest: The priest will now absolve you of your sins. It is appropriate to bow your head as he does this. Here is one of the absolution prayers: God the Father of Mercies, through the death and resurrection of His Son, has brought forgiveness of sin to the world. Through the ministry of the Church, I grant you pardon and absolution for your sin in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
You should make the Sign of the Cross here.
After you are dismissed, you might thank the priest before you leave as well.
So, that’s how it goes. Some priests add a few extra things in there, some don’t. Just remember: if you get lost, don’t be afraid to ask your priest to guide you through it. He’ll help you out.
But why go in the first place? Well, for one thing, (1) Confession is a humbling experience. It forces us to step out of our comfort zones and push aside our pride as we acknowledge our faults in front of another person. (2) Confession is also a great way to prepare to receive the Eucharist. Absolved of the stain of our sins, we can then receive the Lord into our hearts as He deserves to be received. (3) This sacrament also provides a place for us to get the weight of sin off our chests and to ask for the advice of our priests. You know, the priest is there to help you, and he’s willing to help you. So let him! Tell your priest everything you’ve done that you need to confess and then let him guide you.
Let there be music! I thought I’d share two of my favorite songs. The first video is the Exultet, which is sung at the Easter Vigil, and the second video is one version of Ave Maria. (By the way, the Exultet is from the old translation, so the words are different now…I just love the chant.) Just some really awesome background music while you’re reading!