Finding God in cold showers

What I thought was going to be a painful fast during Lent turned out to be so much more.

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It’s 6:00 a.m. on a Monday morning your alarm has just went off. You look outside your window to the fresh blanket of snow we received overnight and laugh at how long your commute is going to be.

You then remember you need to shower, but it’s Lent and you’re fasting from hot showers. You get in anyway and your day begins.

Lent. It’s a time of journeying through the desert with Jesus for 40 days through prayer, fasting and almsgiving. It’s not easy or short, but it’s a time designated for reflection on the passion and resurrection. The Church is given an opportunity to mediate on our own life and death and ways we need to die in order to rise with Christ.

It’s a time of great grace and for the first time in my life I have come to see the benefits of fasting. Cold showers, they were hard, but they were the best thing I have ever done.

Temptation

Everyday I was faced with the opportunity to deviate from my predetermined fast of 40 days. I was constantly told just ‘turn it a little warmer, you’re not hurting anyone and besides this is too cold anyway’. Everyday I was also given the opportunity to shoot that temptation down and say ‘no’.

Surely I could have turned it a little warmer and it wouldn’t have hurt anyone, but saying no to that only makes me stronger in other circumstances. When faced with other temptations into the occasion of sin, I can now more easily say no.

 

 

Offering it up

By about the 20 day mark, this cold shower thing was really getting tough. Your body doesn’t really get use to it and everyday is just as bad as the last.

Then I realized something.

I can literally offer up this struggle that I am facing right now for someone. I had the opportunity in that cold shower to pray for someone, for a specific intention.

I did that. I prayed for the dead, for conversions of heart and for the increase of my own faith.

I shed my comfort in order to plead with Christ and recognize my own need. My own weaknesses and my need for His love. He would get me through this cold shower and He would answer all my prayers in His perfect will.

 

Suffering

Convenient, ironic, or funny, whatever you want to call it, during Lent I was also making a Consecration to Divine Mercy. I was diving deeper into Christ’s own suffering and His great ocean of mercy for me and for the whole world.

If anything, these cold showers gave me an opportunity to partake in a small and insignificant way the suffering of Christ.

Entering into his suffering, I also entered into His mercy. To trust in His love and His great desire for my soul and the souls of the whole world. To trust that His love is not full of retribution, but full of mercy.

 

Gratitude

We have so much. Some people shower everyday in cold showers and go without food for days on end, so my fasting really is insignificant.

I realized how much I have. I have so much that I take it for granted. This Lent I rediscovered the advantages I live with and how I should be thanking God for the little things in my life as well as the abundant graces He pours out upon me.

 

I now rejoice because fasting from hot showers has taught me more about my God and about His love for me than any other fasting I’ve done. It brought me closer to my Father to know the depths of His mercy.

Happy Easter!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s talk about youth

Upcoming Synod of Bishops plans to talk about youth.

In general, I’m a pretty hopeful person about the future of the Church – even more so with the announcement of the theme for the upcoming Synod of Bishops.

Pope Francis announced late last year the theme for the upcoming Synod of Bishops to be held in Oct. 2018 as “Young people, faith and vocational discernment.” The aim according to the Vatican is to walk with the youth of the Church to help them understand God’s will for their life and use that to build up the Church.

I for one am definitely tired of hearing that the Church is leaving young people behind and lacks a future, so this announcement fills my heart with joy. Recognizing and including young people is an essential part of their active participation in all parts of the Catholic Church.

It’s also important for young people to be given the opportunity to lead. This revitalization is essential for the growth of our local parishes and universal Church. It’s critical for dioceses to have strong youth ministries that are present in many parishes. It’s also important dioceses establish strong vocations offices to carry out the tasks of attracting young people to serve their Church.

The problem is young people don’t even know how to get involved. They want to do something, but they don’t know how and they aren’t give the opportunity to. It’s great that strong youth offices are established, but we need youth in those offices! This is critical because it brings with it new perspectives and a youthful Church.

The problem may be young people aren’t trusted, but it’s about time that changes! We should be the people many come to when they need help in their local churches. Whether it be a BBQ, a fun day or a parish supper giving young people the opportunity to help in their parishes will give them more responsibility and love for the truth.

We only need to look to the countless examples of the lives of young saints to demonstrate to all of us how impactful young people can be. Their lives are examples to all of us how the energy of young people can be used for the good of our Church.

Additionally, it’s about time young people understand that vocation doesn’t need to be a scary word or something that will force them to give up everything for the Lord. Practical and regular groups that meet within a diocese to discuss how to discern and to understand the call the Lord may be placing on their heart is a great way to grow with others and embrace their identity from Christ. This will not only break the taboo around vocations, but also give the opportunity for young people to journey with other who are on the same path; to become a saint.

Vocation should not be approached as a decision that either sends someone to Heaven or Hell. Vocations should be approached as bringing young people into the greatest person they can be in whatever vocation they’re called too.

I’m hopeful when the the Bishops meet in 2018 they determine ways we can build up young people as leaders in the Church and for the world. Doing this will create missionaries who boldly share the love Christ, doctors who stand up for the right to life in all instances and educators who share the Gospel clearly and simply with those in the school system. It will also make better husbands, priests, wives, nuns, sisters and single who give their yes to Jesus everyday to serve Him in the mission He has given them.

I have expectant faith this synod will bring with it a revitalization of young people in the Church who hold nothing back.

My great hope is that by including young people in the process and these discussions we feel more involved in the Church. I hope that this discussion doesn’t stop flat, but rather finds many ways we can bring together youth who have the power to lead the Church with new energy in creative ways and change the world.

Youth are called to Rise Up at Vancouver conference

It was called the Rise Up conference, but it could just as easily have been called the Speak Up.

More than 600 young people from across Canada attended the annual Catholic Christian Outreach (CCO) national conference Dec. 28-Jan. 1, listening to messages from speakers that were meant to motivate and inspire them to spread God’s word.

It began with Archbishop Michael Miller on the opening night, as he reminded the 18 to 35-year-old crowd that God has a unique calling for each of them.

“You are called by name for mission,” he said, reminding them of the conference theme of “called by name” from Isaiah 49. He invited them to discover how God is calling them personally.

Speaker Jake Khym, a life counsellor, picked up on the theme by telling attendees that “there’s a God who longs to encounter us and to speak to us by name.”

Once we have been called, the next step is bringing the good news of Jesus to others. Putting that into practice was the topic of the second day of the conference.

Dr. Mary Healy, a professor of Sacred Scripture at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit and a member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, said the time for business as usual is past because Catholic Churches are failing to evangelize. Only six per cent of Catholics make it a priority to evangelize, she said, and just three per cent of parishes believe they are actually evangelizing.

Healy urged students to become engaged with the Holy Spirit. Only by the clothing of God’s power can we accomplish the mission of bringing Him to others, she said.

“If we are proclaimers of the Kingdom of God it can’t just be words. It has to be power,” Healy said.

To use this power, we have to give Him an unqualified yes to send us out to others, she said.

During a night of worship and prayer, students were invited to pray for deliverance from a fear that’s holding them back from God. Students were encouraged to text two friends and set a time in the coming weeks to share with them what God has done for them at this conference.

“God took ordinary people who had profound encounters with His Son Jesus and sent them out,” said Christy Dupuis, a former CCO missionary. She said we must not give into the fear that comes from God’s mission, but rather must hold fast to what they know is true.

CCO hosts this annual national conference for its campus ministries across Canada. Its mission is to evangelize students and help them become leaders for the renewal of the world.

The conference is known for kicking off the New Year with a praise and worship concert at the stroke of midnight after a dinner dance.

Next year’s conference will be held in Ottawa.

Waiting Works

Patience is difficult.

‘Light the advent candle one, now the waiting has begun.’

I remember singing that song titled “Light the Advent Candle” every year in elementary school. On the first Sunday of Advent I always think about that line and every year it annoys me more and more.

Getting through Advent today means wishing exams were over and immersing myself in our consumerist culture.

The fact is I never really liked waiting. I have little patience for red lights, long lineups or anything that tries to interrupt my day. But the thing is, Jesus gives us this time to wait for Him so we can prepare to welcome Him at Christmas. We are not waiting for Him, He is waiting for us.

I remember in elementary school getting excited as the weeks went on looking forward to Christmas Day, the gifts I would receive and the time away from school.
Back then, Advent was nothing more than a chocolate calendar. Opening a cardboard door each day meant that I was one day closer to big meals, hot chocolate and shortbread cookies. I wasn’t waiting for a King. I was waiting for all the fun that comes with Christmas morning.

This Advent I plan on waiting for Jesus. Amidst my various commitments, I look forward to finding stillness. This time of quiet will allow me to spend time with our King and truly welcome him on Christmas morning. Instead of being excited to get away from school and open that door of chocolate, my excitement will rest in our coming Messiah.

One of the easiest ways I prepare my heart for Jesus is through some email subscriptions I have. Dynamic Catholic, Redeemed Online and Word of Fire send daily reflections that allow me to stay centred during the season.

At university, it is the time of final projects, reviews and exams. It’s all keeping me very busy. The daily reminders make it so easy to just take a minute each day. There is no excuse to not fit them in. Each day, great speakers inspire me and challenge me to live out the fullness of my Christian faith.

By the time I get to Christmas morning this year, I will have still struggled with patience, but I will have made a commitment to welcome Jesus. All He is asking of me is to be ready for His triumphant arrival into the world. By making room for Jesus this Advent, I will be ready to receive the greatest gift on Christmas morning and carry that with me throughout the rest of the year.

This year, I will sing the last verse of “Light the Advent Candle” song with renewed meaning and hope found only in our Messiah.

‘Light the Christmas candle now; Sing of donkey, sheep, and cow; Birthday candles for the King, Let the Alleluias ring.’

Year of Mercy Reflection

Visit the imprisoned.

While I may not have been imprisoned literally, until recently I definitely have been figuratively.

Over the past couple of years, I have been struggling with forgiveness. Struggling to forgive someone I felt wronged me. I was angry, felt betrayed and felt I was owed something.

But not seeking forgiveness was causing me more harm than good. The Sacrament of Reconciliation during the Year of Mercy has released me from the cell I was stuck in. Receiving God’s grace has given me the freedom and peace I can only find in Christ.

I am definitely grateful for the mercy God continuously offers me. Instead of being trapped in a cell of fear, I am surrounded with arms of love.

St. Faustina play opens floodgates of mercy

Old story with a modern twist.

Leonardo Defillippis, director and founder of St. Luke Productions, has done something with his newest play that Shakespeare cannot — offer God’s mercy.

Faustina: Messenger of Divine Mercy is based on the life of St. Maria Faustina Kowalska, a Polish sister of Our Lady of Mercy in the 1930s, whose personal encounters with Jesus inspired a devotion to the Divine Mercy.

“It’s a very fascinating and extraordinary story of how she’s called to help others and have mercy on others and how she calls out for mercy for others who are having huge troubles,” said Defilippis of the play that will tour Ontario, starting in Cornwall Sept. 24.

Defillipis describes the play as a “wake-up call of reality” for audiences. He said it reminds us all that God desires each and every one of us to return to Him, but just like Faustina, we have a responsibility to pray for their souls and help them get back on the right track towards Heaven.

Defilippis sees St. Faustina as a great role model for young people facing the pressures in society. He recalled a letter from a young women who got out of a toxic relationship after seeing the play because her heart was so moved.

“She is watching this play while going in the wrong direction in a bad relationship and she sees the play and it awakens in her heart that she does not need to be with the man,” he said. “I think it gives real great hope, to say we are going to be a new people, a young people that are going to help transform the world. That is what Faustina does, that is what the saints do, especially young saints.”

The play is a unique meditation on St. Faustina’s diary, Divine Mercy in My Soul, partnered with a series of modern subplots portrayed on a multimedia screen.
The majority of the play is around one player on stage. Defilippis looked high and low for the perfect actress to play the part. Chosen from a group of 85 women who auditioned for the role of Faustina, lead actress Maria Vargo was chosen not only for her great talent, but also for her great faith.

The 38-year-old native of St. Louis resisted the faith while growing up in a Catholic home. In 2008, while in Lourdes, Vargo realized her life was not going in the direction she wanted and decided it was time to take control.

“When I was there, it was an opportunity to resubmit myself to the Lord,” Vargo said. “It affected the work that I was then going to do as an actress… It enlightened my heart and mind to see that not only living a certain way, but inside your soul starts to change.”

As part of Vargo’s training for the role, Defilippis sent her to the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in Dorchester, Massachusetts. Although fearful at first and unsure of what she would do for a week with the nuns, Vargo found the experience incredibly worthwhile. She had the opportunity to go through their daily duties, read the constitution of the order, reflect on obedience and learn more about what Faustina’s experience would have been like in the convent.

“At the end, I was sad to leave,” she said. “It was a really beautiful experience that helped me, especially because in the role she’s in the convent, I’m living her kind of life.”

Being the only actress on stage interacting with a screen as part of the multimedia presentation, Vargo admits the experience was foreign to her. After learning the timing, she realized how beautiful the play is to allow audiences to feel as though Jesus is to talking to them and not just Faustina.

“Don’t miss an opportunity to see good theatre and really an opportunity for your heart and mind to be moved in a deeper way,” Vargo said.