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Archive for the ‘Faith, Religion, Spirituality’ Category

One of my favorite faith-themed websites is Busted Halo, where articles, blogs, and videos explore young adult faith lives.  One of their most creative features are annual Advent and Lent count-down calendars.  Each day, there is a new reflection and prayer reminder that sheds unique light upon the season….

I think that their take on the meaning of the Advent season is just fantastic!Take two minutes to get the synopsis:

I have always endeared to the Advent season… the anticipation of Christmas and all its seasonal glory speaks to my sensibilities and my spirituality.  Both religiously and secular-ly, every aspect of Advent makes me a little bit giddy (the first snowfall! the lessons and carols! the blessing of the manger scene! the lights and decorations! the music! the Charlie Brown Christmas Special!).

This year,  our last month of engagement is almost entirely during Advent (25 out of 30 days, anyhow), and all of the meanings and themes of Advent take on a whole new meaning for me personally.

Christ is entering our world … and Advent is the expectant waiting… hopeful anticipation… and cheerful preparation of God breaking into our lives!

Oh my goodness, have I developed a new appreciation for hopeful anticipation!  Five days after Advent ends, December 30, Matt and I get to receive a brand new (for us) sacrament — and God will break into our lives in a new way.  And the connection between the spirituality of Advent and my spirituality of engagement go even farther than that.

When we celebrate Advent, it is meant to be a quiet time of reflection and preparation for Christmas, the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.  Our Lord chose to enter the world as a human being… submitting to our restrictions of time and space… out of pure love for humanity… in order to communicate that love to us in new and definite ways.  We look at the Virgin Mary’s obedience to God’s will as our supreme example of discipleship.  We look at the presence of the shepherds at the birth to demonstrate God’s preferential option for the poor.  We look at the gifts of the Magi for their forshadowing of the sacrifice Jesus would make for humankind. Personally, looking at nativity scenes in art and in decorations, I find myself prayerfully pondering the wonder and mystery of God’s existence as a helpless infant. We were not expecting the Messiah to arrive in such an unassuming way.  We hoped for a superhero of sorts, or at least someone born into nobility or a warrior-leader or a legacy rabbi…  but a humble family of a carpenter?!?  This defied conventions.  The day Jesus was born, God showed us the beauty and value in humility, vulnerability, and purity. 

To me, engagement is just like Advent because we are anticipating and preparing for the presence of Christ to enter our lives in a new way.  Jesus is present to us in the signs of the sacrament, and the sacramentality of our marriage will carry out beyond our wedding day for years to come.   God is love, and so every time we share love with each other and with our family or community, we are experiencing God’s presence — even when that experience is mundane, like taking out the trash, or meek, like offering forgiveness for mistakes, or quiet, like taking time to pray for each other.   Each encounter is no less loving, and no less holy — God’s incarnation in the small and unexpected.

Like Mary and Joseph, we’ve come to realize that God has a plan for our lives, and that our faithful partnership will offer something special to the world.  Like the three wise men, we seek to follow Christ and to offer generously of our own gifts and talents.  Like the humble manger where Jesus was born, we will encounter God in simple, unassuming, and unexpected ways throughout our marriage. We have hope and delight in knowing that Jesus is near…

Advent reminds us that there is joy in the waiting.

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This past weekend, Matt’s family threw me a beautiful Bridal Shower, co-hosted by his mom and sister.  Aunts, cousins, and dear friends gathered for delicious food, warm hospitality, and quality family time.  Everyone’s gift-giving generosity was positively amazing, and I am grateful for the abundant blessings of such supportive community.

Mom and little M. helping with the gifts

The biggest hit of the party, though, was an awesome cake that Elizabeth baked for us, in the shape of a Peanutbutter & Jelly sandwich!  The meanings behind the cake were layered — first, it was a nudge and a wink at Matt, who is a picky eater with, shall we say, an unsophisticated palate.  One of his lifetime favorite foods is PB & J.

E. and the PB&J Masterpiece

More poignant, though, was Elizabeth’s re-telling of the metaphor she had heard about marriage being like a peanutbutter & jelly sandwich.  A priest had once told her that if a marriage relationship was like peanutbutter & jelly (assuming Matt is the PB and I’m the J), the bread that holds the sandwich together and makes it whole is the Bread of God — Jesus Christ.  In a sacramental marriage, Jesus is an important third party included in the relationship…  if the Bread (of God) is left out of the recipe, all you are left with is a gooey, sticky, mess.  If that ain’t the truth!

practicing for cake-cutting on the big day!

The whole shower was a cheerful testament to the love and support that surround Matt and I as we prepare for our future…  but no one will soon forget the delicious lesson in the Peanutbutter & Jelly Sandwich cake!  Thanks, future sister-in-law!

Cheers,

Cassandra

 

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In 34 days, I’ll be standing in front of the altar waiting for Casey. I’ve always been waiting for her and three years ago I penned this blog for The Catholic Review about my status as a single man.

It’s an odd place to be when you are 30, Catholic and single in a church that is all about family building.

Everyone and their mom claims to know someone who “would be perfect for you.” So, you go on a series of blind dates that leave you wondering if the people who set you up really know you at all.

“The Big 3-0” is the point of no return in the real world. You’re not- in theory, at least- a kid anymore. The bottle opener still on the key chain should have been gone after your 25th birthday party… at the latest. All of your friends had their weddings three or four years ago and those bottles you used to open for them at parties are replaced with ones that contain baby formula.

So, when the family gets together to give you a watch for the landmark birthday, it’s not by accident. It’s one of those non-so-subtle reminders to make like Simba in The Lion King and get on with the Circle of Life already.

So, where do you go from here? Some, like my childhood friend recently did, enter the noble life of the priesthood. Some people keep at the dating scene, whether its through local parish singles groups or Web sites.

Who can resist E-Harmony, with its 29-dimension match system?! Seriously, look at those people, laughing and dancing in the commercials. They’re not just harmonious. They’re e-harmonious.

I turned 30 last month and joined the Review two weeks later. As a single guy, I didn’t think about the “point of no return” much leading up to the big day, but have lingered more on it since I transitioned from sports writing to covering the church.

It’s easy not to think about the married life much when you’re eating hot dogs and covering games until 10:30 p.m. every night. Sports writers can be as emotionally stunted as the athletes they cover.

Families, though, are the essence of the church.

Single men and women are the stragglers, trying to find a place to belong. Who wants to be the loner sitting in the back pew? Trust me, we’ve seen you looking at us and it’s uncomfortable for us, too.

Even though we may not be running on everyone else’s clock, we can still be an important voice in the church. Finding that voice is the challenging part.

Casey tells me that she used to read my blogs and think we might be compatible. We were each on a similar plane, but on different tracks. One day soon, God willing, we might walk to the edge of Pride Rock and raise our own cubs to the sky. OK, Casey might kill me if I do that, but wouldn’t it be sweet to have an African chorus welcome your child into the world?

It’s extraordinary, really, to think of life’s possibilities. This weekend, I’m going to Mass by myself again. This time, it’s to look for a parish that Casey and I will possibly share as a couple, raise our children in and grow in our faith together. I know my future in the church now – as a family man.

I guess it’s time to get a watch.

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A little more than a week ago, I packed up all my earthly belongings (except those Star Wars toys my mom promised to not throw away) and moved to Catonsville to the house Casey and I will share for at least the first year of our marriage. With the help of my mother, my friend George and Casey’s family, we also moved Casey’s stuff into the house during the same weekend.

One thing that hasn’t moved in is Casey.

I’m there alone until Dec. 30, the day she becomes my wife. Sure, she comes over and we have dinner or watch a movie together, but right now it’s mostly just me in there. While I was covering the National Catholic Youth Conference (NCYC) for The Catholic Review, Casey spent an extraordinary amount of time unpacking boxes, putting things in their proper places (which I’m still trying to figure out) and getting the house in order. All of it was preparing the house to be our home.

And, that’s the thing. While I have adjusted to living in Catonsville, it’s not home yet. The most important piece for me – Casey – isn’t there yet. All of the material goods in the world make a home fun to be around, but love fills it.  I look forward to New Year’s Eve morning, when I can look across the bed and see the face of my wife and know I get to spend every day of  my life growing with her, supporting her and loving her.

The cliché goes, “Home is where the heart is.” My heart will be full Dec. 30 and each day that comes after.

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On November 1, we remember the lives of those who have gone before us– both the recognized saints and the unknown people who are the unsung heroes of our faith.  We have a great many role models who have shown us what it means to direct our lives toward holiness in simple and mindful ways.  By looking to the saints for inspiration, we are guided to discipleship through their every-day decisions and relationships.

We also know so many people in our lifetimes who influence and inspire us in our faith… these are the “unknown saints” who give us examples of faith, hope, and charity within real life.  They aren’t afraid to share their faith.  They teach their children about God.  They pray.  They forgive.  They personally inspire us to be better people ourselves.

Time and again, my future groom is one of those unknown saints, influencing me for the better.  Matt’s own choices of actions and words are often careful to reflect the light of Christ in unassuming ways, and he is a positive influence on his friends and family.  Through the sacrament of marriage, we can draw one another closer to heaven by encouraging lifestyles rooted in faith.  Sometimes this means admonishing, or correcting behavior that isn’t best.  Sometimes, it’s as simple as leading by example of joyful service.

For the times that he’s demonstrated patience during our wedding planning, and forgiveness when I make my own mistakes, I am filled with awe at Matt’s generous heart.  I am inspired to make my own life a reflection of the same love and generosity, and then in turn hope to strengthen his faith as well.

Happy All Saints Day!

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Last year, my parish youth ministry leaders coordinated a fantastic program to teach teens about the Catholic teaching on love, relationships, and sexuality, based upon JPII’s “Theology of the Body”.
Amongst the many gems of teaching about honoring God’s creation and discerning our call and our vocation, the sessions emphasized the ideals of reflecting God’s love through our human relationships.
According to “Theology of the Body”, love and sex, within the context of sacramental matrimony, is designed by God to be a direct reflection of Christ-like love, which is Free, Total, Faithful, and Fruitful. This is my favorite component of the whole T.O.B. series, because it highlights the ways that married love (and, yes, sex) communicates God’s love to each other and to the world in both physical and emotional ways.
FREE
Jesus’s love was free: He was fully human, and with that humanity came free will. Jesus willingly entered into ministry that gave his disciples a new understanding of God’s unconditional love.
Married love is free: Matt and I have no reason to choose marriage but our love for one another. There is no outside force that is pushing this decision upon us. It is completely our free choice to become a new family.
TOTAL
Jesus’s love was total: The crucifix says it all. John 3:16. There isn’t any more complete love than the total sacrifice of your life!
Married love is total: Speaking of sacrifice… In a less literal, but equally selfless way, husbands and wives lay their lives down for one another. When I make a vow to love, honor, and cherish Matt, I am forever giving up a life of only thinking for myself. I’ll be totally invested in his well being, and that of our future children.
FAITHFUL
Jesus’s love was faithful: He never gave up on his friends, and he never gave up on God. Even during moments of despair (like in the Garden of Gethsemane) , Jesus demonstrated faith and obedience to God.
Married love is faithful: Despite occasional bad days and inevitable disagreements, husbands and wives support each other loyally. In the sacrament of matrimony, Matt and I will make vows to put each other first, to honor one another in good times and bad. From that day forward, we will be each other’s primary team and partner.
FRUITFUL
Christ’s love is fruitful: never in the history of the world has the life of one man had a greater influence on future generations. Christ’s love has taught us about how the world works, and more importantly, how God loves. Scriptures continue to guide and inspire us to fulfill the promise that “I am the vine, and you are the branches…”
Married love is fruitful: Even beyond the obvious “fruits” of married love and sex — children– marriage is fruitful in the ways that the sacrament continues to strengthen and inspire the husband and wife to live and serve within their community. The fruits of married love include the confidence we will have in sharing ourselves with our families, our friends, and our Church. Matt’s love for me gives me hope and encourages me to be my best self at home and at work … There is joy in knowing the support of my beloved. And the fruits multiply!

This is the ideal to which married couples strive. Every day, as Matt and I find new ways to love one another, we will again offer love that imitates Christ’s free and total and faithful and fruitful self-giving in every way.

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Being single often, not always, means you can afford to be a little selfish. OK, a lot selfish.
While I’ve always been conscious of others and want to help those in need, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about me. That means going to the movies and spreading out. A 5-foot-9 guy can go big sometimes.
It’s amazing how quickly you get used to sitting alone in a movie theater.  I watched couples file in over the years and guessed which one was likely to talk and not let the other person watch the movie. I thought about how bad they had it off because I could use the empty seat next to me to store the Industrial-sized popcorn bag, candy box and drink. One of them was going to wind up butter in their lap.
Have you ever had two cup holders? It’s how the kings live.
As a young man, I used to think about marriage in an idealized fashion, but as I got older, I got used to being single and love seemed less appealing. Answering to no one ruled.
I now know, thanks to the presence of Casey in my life, that I was kidding myself.
One of the recurring themes for our Engaged Encounter weekend was that marriage isn’t a one-day thing, but a lifetime partnership. In our Catholic faith, it’s rooted in Christ’s love.
Casey and I currently live about an hour away from one another. When she’s working late, I’m faced with the same options I always had when I was a single man and bored. I’ll check out Fandango and go to the movies, get my snacks and plop down. Then I’ll look at the empty seat next to me and the word “bonus!” doesn’t come to mind. Instead, I think “Dagger!”
Love’s to blame and I’m not putting up a fight.
I look forward to having Casey by my side, not just when the theater lights dim, but for life’s journey ahead.

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