Keeping Easter in Christmas

Last night, I asked my Twitter followers, “Why is Christmas more widely celebrated than Easter?” Of course I got some funny answers like, “Peeps” or “Because Coca-Cola is a bigger company than Cadbury.” Then a lot of people remarked about the secularization and consumerism of Christmas, saying, “eggs vs. gifts….No brainer” and “Santa & Scrooge more identifiable to non-religious than Easter Bunny” and “giving & receiving of gifts done at birthdays, not death days.”

Those were the responses I most expected and actually thought about myself as to why, although Easter is the MOST important celebration in Christianity, our culture has placed considerably greater importance on Christmas than Easter. People spend at least a month (if not months) preparing for Christmas, decorating trees, putting up lights, buying gifts, baking cookies, and sending out Christmas cards. There are TONS of Hallmark and Lifetime Christmas movies running almost 24/7, TV variety show specials, and radio stations blasting the name of Jesus. Even if they could care less about 8 lb 7 oz. baby Jesus, people are still are singing about a “White Christmas” or “Last Christmas” or “All I Want for Christmas.” I never heard a song called “Flowery Easter” or saw a Hallmark movie about Easter or heard a whole radio station dedicated to “Spring” songs. And, even though we have 40 days of Lent to prepare ourselves for Easter, only seemingly “zealous” Christians actually partake in intentional fasting, praying, and alms-giving versus the seemingly non-religious people who partake in Christmas festivities.

Then, someone on Twitter responded, “Easter prep: penance. Resurrection = confronting His death & our sins. Christmas feels “happier”, so greater focus for many.”

My heart dropped with the truth conviction bomb.

Christmas IS a wonderful time of year! I love December. Maybe because most people, Christian and non-Christian, are celebrating family, togetherness, and giving. My heart bursts with happiness, since I love seeing Christmas lights with friends and family, having a beautiful Christmas tree by the fire place, watching silly Lifetime Christmas movies with my dad, and eating gratuitous amounts of Christmas cookies. But if that’s all it is, then Christmas only remains a “happy” time. After Christmas day, the tree comes down, the cookies are eaten, the gifts unwrapped (and possibly returned), and the lovely (crazy) family members all return to their holes, err, i mean, homes. Then, the season is over and happiness with it.

While everyone can celebrate the “happiness” of Christmas with ease, only Christians can celebrate the joy of sinfulness, weakness, and suffering of Easter. “What?! Who would do that?” you might wonder. For Christians, our sin is not the death of us. Rather, we proclaim at Easter Vigil, “O happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam which has gained for us so great a Redeemer!” and in scripture we rejoice with St. Paul in saying, “I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:10). In Christ’s suffering and death, we gain eternal life. In admitting our sinfulness and weakness, we “do everything possible to make [ourselves] worthy of the Kingdom” (St. Basil the Great). Christ “launches an invitation to repentance through which one can turn away from error, abandon sin, and make a commitment to renounce all vice after being ashamed of it” (St. Hilary of Poitiers).

Without the Resurrection of Christ, without Easter, Christmas means nothing. Yes, nothing. This tiny, helpless baby came into this world, born of a Virgin, for the sole purpose of dying to save all humankind from sin, to destroy sin, which is the cause of death (Romans 6:23).
–“If he had not been born as a human being, we would never have attained diving rebirth. He was born so that we might be reborn.” (St. Augustine)
–“The Word was born of Mary to destroy sin.” (St. Athanasius)
–“Having become man through the Virgin, he took upon himself the nature of the flesh so that the body of the entire human race might be sanctified through this intimate union.” (St. Hilary of Poitiers)

All this, the glorious plan: “Long lay the world in sin and error” (O Holy Night), so He was “born that we no more may die, Born to raise us from the earth, Born to give us second birth” (Hark! The Herald Angels Sing) “to save us all from Satan’s pow’r when we were gone astray” (God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen). Jesus Christ, by His death and resurrection, invites us to share in eternal joy with Him in Heaven, not just in happiness that lasts but a moment or a season. The joy of Easter IS the joy of Christmas. I rejoice because “The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name…He has shown might with his arm, dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart. He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones, but lifted up the lowly. The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty” (Luke 1:49-53).

So, as the most beautiful Christmas song (in my humble opinion) says, “Fall on your knees! O hear the Angel voices! O night divine, O night, when Christ was born!” (O Holy Night). Then, the greatest gift we could ever receive won’t leave us after Christmas: the gift of Easter, which is the gift of our salvation (Romans 6:23).

Peace and joy to you all and “God bless us everyone!”
Jackie

Birth Control? No, Self-control

When people want to lose weight, our TV shows & magazines flood us with talk about diet and exercise, self-control and moderation. People aren’t advised to pop pills, become bulimic or anorexic (although some people definitely do).

With sex, it’s COMPLETELY the opposite. Our culture tells us to indulge and gorge in every passion and desire we have, regardless of the harm it does to our body, mind or soul. People aren’t advised to have self-control and live a chaste lifestyle (although thankfully, I know a ton a people who do.)

I saw this picture in a friend’s post yesterday, which made me want to write this blog:

It definitely made me laugh. Why? Because it’s totally the answer of a person who’s living a chaste Catholic lifestyle.
Is it difficult to be chaste? Of course! God made us with sexual desires that sometimes feel like the fireworks of 4th of July going off inside us. Does that mean you have to lose all passion if you live a chaste lifestyle? Heck no! The world around us says, “Well, you’re an animal, go indulge in those sexual desires however you please.” That’s like telling hungry people to gorge themselves with as much candy and syrup as possible. Buddy the Elf could would like that, be we would get sick to our stomachs after a while. Reminds me of the scripture that says, “They promise them freedom, though they themselves are slaves of corruption, for a person is a slave of whatever overcomes him” (2 Peter 2:19). But what’s our other option? Do we have to become stoic puritans and shove our desires deep down inside, pretending we don’t have any? Of course not! That’s like telling a hungry person to starve. There is another way, a perfect way.

Our passions and desires can be used for evil or for good, for Hell or for Heaven, for selfishness or for selflessness, for sin or with virtue. It’s very easy to use our passions of ANGER, PRIDE and LUST however we want. But is this Christian? Of course not. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) says, “Emotions and feelings can be taken up into the virtues or perverted by the vices” (1768). It is much more difficult to have self-control with our passions, especially when someone cuts you off in traffic and you want to be ANGRY, or when someone criticizes you and you want to retort back with sarcastic PRIDE, or you are in the passion of the moment with someone you’re attracted to and are tempted to LUST. Our religion is not one that tells us to do whatever we want, but challenges us to die to ourselves, so we may rise with Christ (see Gal 2:20). Patience, humility, and love are difficult, but Heaven is worth it.

We have a choice. Our feelings, emotions, passions and desires can either dominate and have power over us (which is called “slavery to sin,” because we aren’t actually free to choose love and good), OR we can have power over them (which is called “slavery to righteousness”). The GOOD NEWS is that it IS possible. I know this myself, since from 8th grade I made a decision never to get drunk or have sex, and now am 27-years old and have stuck to these things. I DID NOT do this on my own. Only by the grace of God, through prayer, and through accountability of community, have my desires been transformed (and are still be transformed). Saying “no” to PRIDE, I am able to grow in humility. Saying “no” to ANGER, I am able to grow in patience. Saying “no” to LUST, I am able to grow in love. All your “no’s” allow you to say even greater “YES’s!” With God, ALL things are possible, even our corrupted desires becoming holy and new! If you’ve made A LOT of mistakes in your past, know it’s possible to be made new in Christ and start saying “Yes” to Him!

Be passionate for God. Long for Him alone. “Delight in the Lord and He will give you your heart’s desires” (Psalm 37:4).

Peace and joy to you, my brothers and sisters in Christ!
Jackie

“Now the works of the flesh are obvious: immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, occasions of envy, drinking bouts, orgies, and the like. I warn you…that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. In contrast the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control… Now those who belong to Christ (Jesus) have crucified their flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also follow the Spirit.” – Galatians 5:19-25

What does scripture say?:
“Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. Do not conform yourselves to this age, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.” – Romans 12:1-2

“I remind you to stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control. Do not be ashamed of your testimony…but bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God.”- 2 Timothy 1:6-8

“Whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come.” – 2 Corinthians 5:17

“For God did not call us to impurity, but to holiness. Therefore, whoever disregards this, disregards not a human being but God, who (also) gives his Holy Spirit to you.” – 1 Thessalonians 4:7-8

Wanna Get Revenge?

Jonah (star of the “Jonah and the Giant Fish” saga in the bible) is the quintessential wimp and drama queen. He runs away from God’s voice like the cowardly lion from Oz, hoping that he can escape the call to convict the entire city of Ninevah (capital of Assyria) of their sin in order to lead them to repentance. But Jonah is not a fan of the Ninevites. They are mean people. Imagine Gotham City people—corrupt, immoral, evil—and then imagine no indoor plumbing, and you have the Ninevites. Jonah, as a Jew, wants God to give these pagans what they deserve. He wants God to smite them with His all-powerful arm and turn them into a pillar of salt like that dude’s wife back in the day. When the city does repent and God shows them His mercy and graciousness, Jonah whines like a little kid whose parents won’t let him go to space camp for the summer, but send his friend instead.

Jonah, like many of us, does not love as God loves. Jonah, in his concupiscence, does not want the best for these people, but wants them to get what they truly deserve. And Jonah was not even personally close to these people! How hard is it, then, for us to love and want the best for those who have hurt us, especially if they are close to us? What about those who have abandoned us? Betrayed us? Abused us? Well, without God, it is impossible. But with God, all things are possible (Mt 19:26), and we can do ALL things because He gives us the strength (Phil 4:13).

In our humanness, we want to hate and hold grudges, gossip and compare, wish harm and get revenge. Since not all of us are as naturally virtuous as St. Therese of Lisieux, who purposely showered her “enemy” with as much love as possible, what can we do? The first step is to pray for the people who have hurt us or those we can’t stand. Why? Well, for starters Jesus told us to (Mt 5:44). Secondly, because prayer will not only affect that person, but even more will transform us. If we pray for humility for that person, we, in turn will also become humble. (I personally think praying for “humility” is the best “revenge” prayer.)

Next, we must forgive. Not seven times, but seventy times seven times. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “Forgiveness is a high-point of Christian prayer; only hearts attuned to God’s compassion can receive the gift of prayer. Forgiveness also bears witness that, in our world, love is stronger than sin. The martyrs of yesterday and today bear this witness to Jesus” (2844). Maybe we’ve been told, “Forgive and forget,” but the truth is, “it is not in our power not to feel or to forget an offense; but the heart that offers itself to the Holy Spirit turns injury into compassion and purifies the memory in transforming the hurt into intercession” (CCC 2843).

If we want to truly be Christians–“Little Christs”—we must be merciful as God is merciful and forgive trespasses as God forgives ours. Love will conquer all.

“Do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good.” – Romans 12:21

“Since you have purified yourselves by obedience to the truth for sincere mutual love, love one another intensely from a [pure] heart.” – 1 Peter 1:22

“We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God* whom he has not seen. This is the commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.” – 1 John 4:19-21

7 Books I’m Reading Right Now

If you didn’t know already, I’m a big nerd. I love reading, especially when it is helping my soul and my intellect. Some books I can finish in a day or two (“Confessions of a Mega Church Pastor”) and others I can only read a few pages at a time either because of the spiritual depth (“World’s First Love”) or because of the intellectual intensity (“Love and Responsibility” by JPII).

These are a few books I’m reading right now, plus a few bonus books I just finished reading at the bottom. I like to have a mix of theological, historical, spiritual, inspirational, devotional, referential, practical in my reading, so I hope these are representative of that!

Walking With God: A Journey Through the Bible by Tim Gray & Jeff Cavins

Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

7 Levels of Intimacy by Matthew Kelly

Interior Castle by St. Teresa of Avila

My Life With the Saints by Fr. James Martin

How to Find Your Soulmate Without Losing Your Soul: 21 Secrets for Women by Jason & Crystallina Evert

Rediscover Catholicism by Matthew Kelly

Aaaaaaaaaand, I just finished reading 2 AMAZING books:

The World’s First Love: Mary, Mother of God by Fulton J. Sheen

Men, Women, and the Mystery of Love: Practical Insights on JPII’s Love and Responsibility by Edward Sri

Where Are Your Children? by Fulton J. Sheen

There is one page in Fulton J. Sheen’s World’s First Love that I cannot forget and I cannot stop sharing.

It happens to relate to today’s Gospel reading, so I am thrilled to share it with you!

To set up the framework of this quotation, in the chapter, “Virginity and Love,” Fulton Sheen talks about how Virginity (specifically referring to those in consecrated, celibate vocations: priests, brothers, sisters, lay consecrated) is neither the opposite of love nor the opposite of generation (meaning “bearing life”). He makes a case that bearing children of the spirit is greater than bearing children of the flesh (physical parents are supposed to bear both), using today’s Gospel as an example.

TODAY’s GOSPEL: Matthew 12:46-50
While Jesus was speaking to the crowds,
his mother and his brothers appeared outside,
wishing to speak with him.
Someone told him, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside,
asking to speak with you.”
But he said in reply to the one who told him,
“Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?”
And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said,
“Here are my mother and my brothers.
For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father
is my brother, and sister, and mother.”

FULTON SHEEN, p. 170 of World’s First Love:
“When the woman in the crowd praised the Mother of Our Lord, He turned the praise to spiritual motherhood, and said that she who did the will of His Father in heaven was His mother. Relationship was here lifted from the level of the flesh to the spirit. To beget a body is blessed; to save a soul is more blessed, for such is the Father’s Will… There would, therefore, seem to be implied in all virginity the necessity of apostleship and the begetting of souls for Christ.
God, Who hated the man who buried his talent in the ground, will certainly despise those who pledge themselves to be in love with Him, and yet show no new life–converts or souls saved through contemplation. Birth control, whether undertaken by husband and wife, or by a virgin dedicated to Christ, is reprehensible. On Judgment Day, God will ask all the married and all virgins the same question: ‘Where are your children?’* ‘Where are the fruits of your love, the torches that should be kindled by the fires of your passion?’ Virginity is meant for generation as much as married love is.”

*the bold is my emphasis, not Sheen’s

How to Find Your SOULMATE…

I just bought the book How to Find Your Soulmate Without Losing Your Soul: 21 Secrets for Women by Jason and Crystallina Evert.

I am so glad they wrote this book, so that I wouldn’t have to!

This book is perfect for young women to help them recognize their dignity and worth, and to make a stand never to SETTLE!

I would even say guys should read it, to know what kind of man NOT to be, and what kind of woman they should look for: a woman who knows who she is in Christ and leads others to him, as well.

CLICK HERE to buy the book

You can even buy in bulk (over 44 copies) at $2 per book, so if you want to do a book study at your church or girls’ group, you can do it for cheap! There are also downloadable study questions on their website.
CLICK HERE for the study guide

This is a PERFECT way to continue a “girls’ session” you may have experienced at a conference, retreat or convention. It’s also a great GIFT for any young woman you know!

Rosary Novena Book

If I mentioned a 54-day Rosary novena that I did in a women’s session you were at, here is the book I used:

Rosary Novena Book on Amazon.com

This novena is powerful, because Mama Mary’s intercession is powerful! (James 5:17)

When you pray for someone, pray with faith, for faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains!

God bless you!

Running the Race

EWTN: Life on the Rock

This Thursday, May 26th, I’ll be on the TV Show “Life on the Rock” on EWTN, 9pm CST (so 7pm for you California people!). (It will re-air on Friday, as well).

EWTN is the largest Catholic TV network in the world and reaches between 6 to 7 million viewers!

I am flying to Birmingham, Alabama to tape the show, and I will be singing 3 songs (2 from the first album, and 1 from the forthcoming album!).

I’m super excited!

Here is the link to “LIFE ON THE ROCK” page:
http://www.ewtn.com/tv/live/lifeontherock.asp

Here is the link to find out what station EWTN airs in your area:
http://www.ewtn.com/channelfinder/

peace and joy!
jackie

What’s the point of the Eucharist?

I hope your Holy Thursday is beautiful!