Be Still Verse from Rejoice! Book

Be Still: A Series

One month ago, to the day, I concluded my first ever silent retreat, and a weeklong one at that! This was something that had been on my list, but I never found or made the time for. It wasn’t until God made it perfectly clear that this needed to happen that I actually went for it. And let me tell you, my gratitude is overflowing even a month later.

Now, some of you may know that the Lord has put a certain phrase on my heart since June 2020: Be Still. It all started when He spoke to me through the Bible versus Exodus 14:14, “The Lord will fight for you, just be still.” This came at a time when I wanted anything BUT to be still. Yet in his omnipotent wisdom God knew best, and I followed suit. This post is going to focus on my retreat, but I’ve decided there is too much to say about “Be Still” that it needs to be an ongoing series. It will have no official number of posts within it, rather I will simply add to it as inspiration and memories strike.

That being said, I feel it’s important you understand some of the “behind the scenes” for how God got me to this retreat in the first place. So that is what this post will be about. The following one(s) will go into more detail about the retreat itself.

For the last year and a half when the Lord wants to get my attention, keep me from doing something, or to do something, He’ll send a Bible verse with the words, “Be Still” in it. It’s actually been quite an amazing experience to have Him communicate with me in this way.

This November, before Advent began, I had decided I would use Fr. Mark Toups’ Rejoice! devotional, but not the newest one. I had bought the St. Joseph one two years ago but hadn’t ended up using it for a variety of reasons. So, I figured- this is perfect, it’s the year of St. Joseph why not use it now!

These devotionals follow a certain outline. Each day has a theme, Bible verse, reflection, prayer, and space to journal. Excitedly on the first day I opened up the book and my jaw nearly touched the floor. What was the first verse? “Be still, and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10. I could not believe it. When I bought this book, God knew I wouldn’t use it then but even more so He knew I’d use it in the year of St. Joseph and when He had already placed “Be Still” on my heart in such a profound way. Excitedly, I texted a bunch of my friends to bear witness to how God knows and sees us and is working all things for our good even years ahead of time.

Fast forward to the next night and I decided to end my day with a chapter from the book, “Pray, Decide, and Don’t Worry” by Fr. Mike Schmitz and Jackie & Bobby Angel that I’d been very slowly and randomly picking up whenever I felt the urge to. Well wouldn’t you know, the last line of the chapter for that night was, “Take a breath. Be still, and rest in God’s love for you (see Psalm 46:10).” This time my reaction was not excitement. I texted a friend, sent him a picture of the quote, and said something along the lines of, “I swear, if I’m any more still I’ll just die and then maybe God will have me right where He wants me.” Dramatic? Not at all 😉

Why the sudden shift in demeanor? The first time I felt seen and guided. The second time I felt reprimanded and stifled. Was He actually reprimanding or stifling me? No, of course not. But He was trying to get my attention. The next day, as I wallowed a bit in self-pity, I did recognize that something different had stood out to me in the line from that book- “rest in God’s love”. Well, a day or so later I was talking to my therapist and she mentioned that I should try to get away for a few days. I agreed but in the back of my mind thought- I can’t afford anything and where would I go anyways? Well, that’s when God really started to work. He reminded me how last year at that time I had wanted to go on a silent retreat up in Vermont, so why not this year? I began to think about it more and actually got excited about it. I remembered that the Benedictines in Petersham, MA have a guesthouse and it was a heck of a lot closer. So, I sent them an email inquiring about coming December 17th-23rd, they replied with a yes and so did my boss. It was all falling together. I was determined to Be. Still. even if it killed me. (JK, I was just really ready to embrace it).

With no idea how this would go, if I’d be bored out of my mind, or if I’d come out of it with some big realization, I packed my bags and right after work on Friday, December 17th I headed to Petersham for a week of silence and stillness.

To be continued…

 

Trust Walk With God

Trust Walk With God

Back in August I helped lead a retreat for a select group of high school students in the Worcester Diocese who want to spend this year going deeper into their faith. This was my first time on the Discipleship Leadership Team so there were parts of the retreat that the other leaders tried to describe to me but that I really just had to experience for myself. One of those things was the trust walk.

For this walk, the students were broken up into their small groups, blindfolded, and led in a single file line by one of their small group leaders. The students were then taken outside and led around the grounds, occasionally stopping to hear a Bible passage that correlated with the life of Jesus and His Passion (journey to the Cross). Why am I sharing this? Because I was chosen to lead my small group and I had a profound moment of realization about halfway through the experience. I had four students behind me, each holding the shoulders of the one in front of them with the first in line holding onto mine as I slowly led them along the grounds.

As I was silently directing the students with only my movements, I found myself watching for ditches, slopes, rocks, branches, roots, curbs, narrow paths, and railings- basically anything that could cause them harm or send one member of the group off in the wrong direction. Sometimes I would kick the twigs out of the way, sometimes I would leave them trusting they wouldn’t cause much confusion or harm. Sometimes I would redirect the group, even if it meant not going in a straight line, just to avoid a slight ditch that could twist their ankle. Sometimes, when something really big was coming up like a curb, I would actually use my words to warn them, but still in a soft, gentle voice so as to not startle them or make them more anxious than they needed to be.

It was halfway through all this that I realized, I was “standing in the position of God”- as in, this is exactly what He does with us. He is constantly looking out for us by removing obstacles and barriers that we don’t even realize are there, redirecting us even if it’s slightly confusing in order to lessen the potential pain, or making sure we feel comfortable trusting Him and can feel His movements or hear His voice.

It’s also true that He lets us walk through some pretty rough terrain at times too. But even in those instances, because of our clouded vision, we have no idea the even bigger obstacles He’s helping us to avoid. His redirecting may feel disorienting, out of the way, or like a long unnecessary pause but in reality, it’s getting us to the right destination not just a destination that seems right.

Something else that caught my attention throughout this trust walk was that the students behind me who were furthest from me were often swinging out to the side in what seemed like in an unnecessary and unprovoked fashion. You could sense their discomfort and disorientation too. In response, I would try to go slower to help keep them from crashing into anything but the further away they were from me, the harder it was to do. However, it was very different for those closest to me because they could feel my exact movements. They were relying solely on me, not on others’ good yet still flawed/distracted/imperfect movements. The movements of those closest to me were not perfect either because it does take a lot to trust 100% when you can’t see anything. This meant that they still tried to demonstrate some kind of control of their own at moments. However, it was definitely the easiest and best position in the line to be in.

As I continue to reflect on this experience, I realize it’s again the same way it works with our relationship with God. The further away we are from Him, the easier it is to find ourselves swinging all over the path, feeling anxious, and really struggling to trust those in front of us. Hopefully we still hang on throughout this turmoil, realizing that if we let go we’ll have absolutely no direction to follow except a blind guess. However, when we’re closer to God the movements and changes in direction feel much more fluid and easy to follow. Again, that’s not to say it is easy because once we feel like we’ve got a handle on His movements He might change direction quickly to avoid something we can’t see, or we might end up on new terrain that makes it more challenging to follow Him. We will never not face these kinds of changes, so what this exercise taught me was that as long as we keep our hands on His shoulders and stay as close as possible to Him, we’ll be just fine- actually we’ll be more than fine because we may even start to enjoy the journey and embrace it like a fun ride, following the one we love and trust more than anything with a big smile on our face no matter which direction we head in or hidden roots we hit along the way. He sees it all and it’s a whole lot easier for Him to keep us from falling when we’re already holding onto Him!

It’s also important to note that we stopped at certain spots along the way to hear Bible passages before ending at the unknown destination (the chapel with Jesus in the Eucharist exposed for Adoration). These stops helped keep us focused on the purpose of the trust walk in the first place. It’s not merely about the destination but the journey of getting to know God along the way so that the ultimate destination (Heaven) can be understood in its fullness when we do, God willing, arrive there.

Why would we want the end result, Heaven, if we don’t want a relationship along the way with the God who created it, encompasses it, and invites us to join Him there? It seems quite foolish to desire a place with Him for all eternity if we aren’t desiring to know and love Him now and even more deeply every day. So that begs the question… 

How can we inch ourselves closer to Him so that our hands are firmly planted on His shoulders and our hearts are full of joy as we embrace this exciting trust walk together?

P.S. These blog posts are one way for me to process my own experiences and struggles so don’t think for a second that I have all of this figured out, I trust perfectly, or I find it to be a joyful and exciting adventure all the time. I’m just as much on my own journey as each of you reading this are. ❤

 

Welcome to the Present Catholic Blog!

Back in the spring of 2017, as I prepared to graduate with a Master’s degree in theology, I was pulling together the finishing touches of my “Evangelizing the Culture” project requirement. We could choose almost anything we wanted to fulfill this requirement as long as it was evangelizing others in some way. I chose to write and share a daily devotional for Lent and I titled it: Present Catholic.

The purpose of the devotional was to provide a simple way for people to be more present to the movements of the Lord in their lives throughout the season of Lent. I described it in this way, “We all know the anticipation leading up to Easter Sunday and the celebration of Christ’s miraculous Resurrection. However, with that anticipation can also come a disconnect from the present moment. Through this program, you will be given a reflection and an action/challenge for each day. The goal of the reflection is to help bring your attention to that particular moment and to give you something to focus on throughout the day. In addition to the reflection, you will also be given an action/challenge connected to the reflection to help you participate in the present moment.”

It was an incredibly fruitful experience not only for myself but for the nearly 50 people who signed up! (That number alone blew my mind by the way). I had desired to continue writing after the program ended but God had other plans. Any brain power I had left after completing my Master’s program was dwindling, I was involved with a booming young adult ministry, and unbeknownst to me, a few months later, I would be hired as a Campus Minister at a small Catholic college and a year after that I would unexpectedly become the Director. Life was busy and it was clearly not the time. Almost 4 years later and God has taken me for quite a wild ride. Yet all of it has been leading me to this point, a point where the words “be still” are plastered on my heart and up ahead is a future that is only clear to the One who created me. So, with nowhere to go and a vulnerable heart in tow, I venture back into the world of writing!

Since this blog is clearly centered on faith, for those who are curious about my faith background here it is: I seek to abide by the teachings of the Catholic Church in every area of my life which I’m only ever able to do by the grace of God, and when I fail (more often than I care to admit) I embrace the Sacrament of Reconciliation to atone for my shortcomings and seek holy guidance to align myself with the will of God once again. See the Nicene Creed and Catechism of the Catholic Church for a full rundown of beliefs.

In an effort to continue simplifying my life, keeping Christ at the center, and truly having my focus in the present moment, I am aiming to let go of my perfectionist tendencies in regards to this blog. I enjoy being creative through graphic and web design, marketing, and writing, however, when the need to make everything “just right” takes away my peace, I know that I am no longer fully following God’s will. That means, I’m not giving myself any deadlines for posting weekly, monthly, etc. (you’ll have to find your Mindful Mondays elsewhere 😉). I’m also not going to be as strict about sticking to the theme of “being present”, although I’m sure it will still be very prominent as I feel passionate about that particular call to action. And while I have many ideas for making this site more interactive, I’m going to ease into the web design portion and start by simply sharing my reflections. I will offer to send you the reflections directly to your inbox, but don’t expect any fancy looking designs to accompany them. 😀 You can also follow me on Instagram @presentcatholic to see the challenges from the original program and to be notified of new posts.

This blog is a place for me to unpack my relationship with God, my prayers, and my life experiences while embracing the enjoyment I get from writing. I pray that God may use my simple musings to bless anyone who reads them. Feel free to comment or email me with any feedback or reflections of your own! Know that you are in my prayers and that I am entrusting you all to my three favorite examples of pure, holy love- the Chaste Heart of Joseph, the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and the Most Sacred Heart of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Until my next post (which will be coming soon), I will leave you with a Bible verse and a challenge. There are many I could quote in an effort to sum up my faith but the one that has been with me the longest is this: “I believe, help my unbelief” Mark 9:24

So, what do you believe in and who will you ask to help you go deeper?

For more background on the meaning being the name, Present Catholic, check out the “About” page. And shoutout to my best friend, Dayna, who reworked my original logo to make my intent  of representing the “Chi Rho”  or “XP” symbol for Christ  through the intersection of the P and C look so much like it!