This is a marathon, not a sprint.

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For the first time in recent memory, I ended a year on a Spiritual high note. I wasn’t running on fumes through Advent, I’ve enjoyed Christmas, and I’m excited to start 2012 and grow in our beautiful faith even more. So, as we’re less than a week into a new year, I thought I would share some ways to keep our spiritual “endurance” throughout the year.
What came to mind was a Homily that my husband and I heard while attending Saint William of York (Stafford, Virginia) in August. Father made some remarks about “Lapsed” Catholics, also called “C&E’s” (Christmas and Easter) sometimes. This (very large) group of our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ are not the ones that we see every Sunday. We likely won’t see them while they’re vacationing, and we also most likely won’t have many conversations with them about our Catholic faith. However, it never fails that come Christmas and Easter, they all show up. The parking lot is full, the pews are full, the Church is very warm. Father Magot made us all chuckle when he said, “why chose the busiest Masses of the year to go to? I’d rather go in August. There’s plenty of parking spaces, room to sit. Communion lines are shorter.”
Obviously the point he was trying to drive home is that EVERY Sunday Mass and Holy Day of Obligation are important. We are obligated to attend them all. And without a serious excuse, we are committing a mortal sin if we do not go.
And so we have begun 2012.
About ten years ago, I had a gym membership. It was a 24 hour gym and my regular workouts began around 10 PM. The following January, I think I witnessed fifty “New Years resolutions” happen before my eyes. Tredmills were all of a sudden full, weight machines had lines, and the classes in the room off to the side were full of energy. To be honest, the sudden surge of people was someone of a distraction as well as annoying. Not because I didn’t want these people to get into shape or to be healthy, it was because they didn’t stick around.
Come February and March, the New Years resolution crowd dwindled out in numbers. Few were left to continue on their mission. The rest had given up.
And after sharing these two stories, I can’t help but think of the similarities between the two. Just as a journey towards becoming physically fit and healthy takes a lot of work and dedication, so does growth,in our faith. It cannot and does not happen overnight. Any surge in energy or bursts of the Holy Spirit may only seem temporary, unless they are nourished.
Through,our Baptism, we are initiated into the Church and given the gift of the Holy Spirit. Through the Eucharist, we are nourished and strengthened, and through our Confirmation, we are sealed in the gift of the Holy Spirit, thus completing our initiation into the Church.
As we continue in this year, let us keep in mind the promises we made through our Confirmation, to grow in our faith and to share our faith with others.
I would like to end with some suggestions to keep the flame burning:
1. Make it a duty to attend Mass regularly. Every Sunday and every Holy Day of Obligation. While daily Mass is not an obligation, attending regularly can only help us grow in our faith.
2. Make time for prayer. I was recently gifted a book on The Family Rosary. How cliche to hear, “A family that prays together, stays together.” Say bedtime prayers with your children. Say a prayer at meal times. Pray when you wake up. Prayer is simply conversation with God, and the more we’re talking to him, the less likely we are to fall into sinful behavior. Also, drive around with a CD of the Rosary being recited, or religious music playing. It’s hard to be in a bad mood while listening to “How Great thou Art.”
3. Go to Confession regularly. If you haven’t been in a while- go! It will give you,the grace to sustain you and keep your soul in good shape.
4. Join a Catholic group or look for a Spiritual Advisor. Having someone to guide us along the journey is imperative to our growth. For me, I have a lovely group of women who I have become very close to. We talk every day. All things Catholic, and sometimes not.
5. Do something within your parish. Whether it’s volunteering as a CCD teacher or singing in the choir, assisting in a number of ministries or on the parish board….. whichever interests you. When you’re accountable to others for something, you’re more likely to follow through.
6. Wear our beautiful faith on your sleeve, figuratively speaking. Mention to others in conversation that you are Catholic. Invite friends to go to Mass. Find or answer questions friends may have about our faith.

We have a whole long year ahead of us. There is no doubt that it will fly by. But our job is to come out on the other end stronger in our faith than when we started last week. So, I challenge you all. Make it count!

Wannabe

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I admit readily that I am and always have been a wannabe. I became aware of this fact about five years ago, when I was still a single mother of five, working up to 14 hours a day in a physically, psychologically and emotionally demanding job as a nurse while going to church two to three times a week.
At the end of one particularly difficult day at work, I went home to enjoy a very aggravating evening with my children, which included three teenagers, one of whom was determined to make me either a saint or a criminal with his behavior. Later that night I was lying in my bed after I had prayed and I was dwelling on the fact that I just wasn’t happy with anything that I do. I felt I could be a better nurse, a better mother and most certainly, a better Catholic. As I took a few laps in my pool of self-pity I dwelt on the reasons for my lack of satisfaction in all areas of my life. Was it because I had a parent whom never had praise for me? Was it because I was just a mediocre person and destined for a lifetime of mediocrity? I can not say that I came to a conclusion that night but in the last year or so I have figured out why I’m a wannabe. I’m a wannabe because I should be one! Seriously, can any one of us look ourselves in the mirror and say, ‘Oh, yes-I am the best (fill in the blank) that I can be?
Do we honestly spend as much time in prayer and instructing our children how to be good Catholics as we should? I know I don’t! It doesn’t help to have an unenthusiastic audience, but that is no excuse. Several years ago, my teenage son Daniel, in one of his ornery moods, asked me why I made him go to weekly adoration and Sunday mass when he didn’t want to go. I narrowed my eyes, hoping I was administering a piercing look of earnestness, and in my most serious “listen up child, this is important” voice I told him, ‘One day I will stand before the throne of God and I do not want Him to tell me that every Sunday I ALLOWED my child to commit a mortal sin and now I have to pay for my culpability because, while I had the power to prevent the sin, I did not! My first obligation is to save my soul; my second obligation is to do everything in my power to make sure that YOU have the tools to save yours.’ I told him that I would drag him out of the house kicking and screaming before I would allow him to commit one mortal sin.
He never again asked me to let him skip Sunday mass. I don’t know if he found the idea of being physically dragged out of the house by his mother totally demeaning or if he actually understood the wisdom of what I said (That’s my hope!). I’m thinking it may be the latter because a few weeks ago he called and asked me to help him find out when and where mass is celebrated on the base he is stationed.
I’ve read the lives of many saints and not once have I come across one that thought they were good enough for God. How true! We can always find another fault in ourselves, however insignificant the world deems it. I’m not referring to beating oneself up over things over which one has no control, I refer to aspects of ourselves which we have the power to change such as actions, thoughts and words we speak. I truly believe that is the path to sanctity, not just eliminating the mortal and venial sins from our lives but the imperfections that lead to those sins.
In the past I have carried the arrogance of thinking that no one should have have the gall to expect me to change, if I wasn’t good enough for them; they could take a hike. On the contrary, I now believe that if someone truly loves me, they will want me to become a better person, in as many ways as possible. Having a spouse or family members that encourage our growth spiritually is especially a blessing! So now, I am satisfied to be a wannabe because I know that desire to always be better will serve both me and others well in all areas of my life-as a mother, a Catholic, a wife, a nurse and a friend.

We’re moving!

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In our short time of blogging, we decided that in order to have more flexibility over our mission in blogging, we would ultimately need to upgrade to a .com website. That time came much sooner than even I could have anticipated. But God’s plans are infinitely better than mine…and always delivered with a sense of humor.

As of September 12, 2011, we will be blogging at Catholic Sistas – .COM – the official website. Be sure to bookmark our new page and come join us over at the new site. You won’t be disappointed.🙂

You’ll need to resubscribe to receive e-mail alerts and for this, we apologize but, better now than when we’ve gotten all comfy with each other, right?🙂

Additionally, we will redirect this site to the .com site for a while until everyone makes their way over. Eventually, we will delete the wordpress.com Catholic Sistas blog.

Splendid Sundays

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On this, the ten year anniversary of 9/11, we remember those who have gone before us. God, have mercy on us!

As part of our blogging schedule, we have agreed as a group that we will not be doing individual blog posts on Sundays. However, we do want to keep discussion going, so we will be posting about Mass and our obligations on Sundays. Don’t worry, we’re set to auto-post so we can enjoy family time, too.🙂

Sunday readings hold different meaning for different people. Inevitably some part of Scripture or a certain place during Mass jumps out at someone, giving them something they needed at that precise time.

What was memorable for you today? Did the kids behave? Did you find forgiveness in something you had been holding onto for a while? Did you marvel at the Body, Blood, Soul & Divinity of our Lord, Jesus Christ? Anything of particular importance you want to share with us? We’d love to hear how Mass impacts your life.

We’d also like to take the opportunity to share a wonderful poem written by Mattie Stepanek, in honor of those whose lives were lost ten years ago today.

FOR OUR WORLD

We need to stop.
Just stop.
Stop for a moment…
Before anybody
Says or does anything
That may hurt anyone else.
We need to be silent.
Just silent.
Silent for a moment…
Before we forever lose
The blessing of songs
That grow in our hearts.
We need to notice.
Just notice.
Notice for a moment…
Before the future slips away
Into ashes and dust of humility.
Stop, be silent, and notice…
In so many ways, we are the same.
Our differences are unique treasures.
We have, we are, a mosaic of gifts
To nurture, to offer, to accept.
We need to be.
Just be.
Be for a moment…
Kind and gentle, innocent and trusting,
Like children and lambs,
Never judging or vengeful
Like the judging and vengeful.
And now, let us pray,
Differently, yet together,
Before there is no earth, no life,
No chance for peace.

Mattie J.T. Stepanek ©
September 11, 2001

Where were you on 9/11 ten years ago today?

The Beauty of Truth

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The Beauty of Truth

I plucked a red pepper out of the garden yesterday.  It was well formed with rounded quadrants at the top and bottom.  The skin was soft, smooth and ruby red.  The stem was perky and green and still had a leaf attached.  It had a scent of pepper mingling with sweetness.  It was simply beautiful.  It sits on my window sill and I gaze at it when I am at the sink.  I tend to put small beautiful things on my window sill.  A small painted animal or a miniature vase of flowers from the yard.  I spend a lot of time in my kitchen and I like to surround myself with beautiful things.   Making beautiful things gives me great pleasure, too. When I cook, I am aware of the color and presentation of the food as much as the taste.  I consider the color of the platter and how it will complement my entree.  There is something about beauty, wherever it is found, that captivates us and makes us pause for a moment.  But, what is in that moment?  Why do we desire beauty in our lives?

My appreciation for beauty in art led me to Florence, Italy when I was in college. There,  I had the opportunity to explore the San Marco Monastery in Florence, a former monastery turned museum.  In the hallways and on each dormitory wall, Fra Angelico, had painted a fresco depicting moments in Christ’s life.  I stood in each nearly empty dorm and imagined what it must have been like to awaken in this spartan room to nothing but walls, the floor and a beautiful fresco.   The intent of the fresco was to put each monk into the contemplative, peaceful mindset that is required of their vocation.  These colors and lines and symbols telling the story of our Lord gave an ethereal richness to the impoverished life of these monks.  In the enclosed courtyard of the monastery, another monk was tasked with maintaining a beautiful rose garden.  Each plant was carefully tended to produce a perfect rose.  Others spent their days creating manuscripts with elegant calligraphy and illuminations.  I left the monastery thinking that it was as if they traded all the fleeting treasures of this  secular world to live amidst the beauty of  eternal truth.

The life of Christ has inspired some of the most magnificent works of beauty known to man.  A beauty that is set apart from a secular idea of beauty that only seeks to display an individual’s wealth or to celebrate the empty promise of hedonism.    During my time in Florence and Rome, I was able to experience coming face to face with transcendant beauty created by  many gifted painters.  Not just Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, but their many apprentices, too.  And not just painting, but literature, architecture, and music has also been created by man over the centuries to glorify God.  We have G.K. Chesterton, Flannery O’Connor, and  Robert Southwell to name a few authors whose writings use the beauty of language in either its poetic or reasonable character to reveal the truth.

By stark contrast, when beauty is absent, we find darkness, confusion, destruction and despair.  When the towers fell, ten years ago on September 11, 2001, we witnessed the opposite of creation.  We witnessed destruction.  The images that emerged from that tragic day were filled with darkness, confusion, destruction and despair.  In the same way, we pause and we are captivated.  But there is something very different that moment when we behold ugliness. When something is created to glorify God, there will be transcendant beauty.  If we really believe this to be true, we must question how war and acts of war can ever be considered acts that glorify God.  In light of the recent conflicts, Pope Benedict has said that we need to be “asking ourselves if it is still licit to admit the very existence of a ‘just war’.”  This weekend, as we revisit the tragic events of ten years ago and the attendant images,  I hope we can pause and reflect on how we can resolve the problems in the world without turning to acts of war, but rather by seeking to build up God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

When the first tower was struck ten years ago, I was eight months pregnant with my first born son.  I was also working part-time as an art therapist with children in foster care.   Art therapists use art to encourage healing from trauma.  It occurred to me at that time that we, as a country, had been traumatized.  And we have needed healing.  Since September 11, 2001, we have each done our part to restore beauty to the landscape of our life.  There are so many little ways that we can participate in God’s ongoing creation.  We can start in simple ways each day.  Plant a garden, knit a scarf, paint a picture, play a song on the piano, write a poem and take moments to experience and appreciate beauty wherever you can find it.  And create it where it is lacking.

from New Heaven, New War by Robert Southwell

With tears He fights and wins the field,

His naked breast stands for a shield,

His battering shot are babish cries,

His arrows, looks of weeping eyes,

His martial ensigns, cold and need,

And feeble flesh His warrior’s steed.
Botticelli, Madonna of the Magnificat, Ufizi Musem, Florence

What do you want of me, Lord?

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Mary and Jesus

I came to the realization recently, in my countdown to age 30, that I’ve spent a substantial amount of time these past ten years trying to figure out just what I wanted to be. Heck, I’ve spent the better part of these past two weeks deciding what exactly I wanted to write about. Indecisiveness is easily in my characterization bracket. And if I know myself well enough, I’ll probably change my mind once I start typing.
For many, the dream of being a teacher, a police officer, firefighter, doctor, lawyer, professional athlete, etc. etc., began at a really young age. The dreams happened for me, too. At age 7, I wanted to be a teacher. By 11 or so, an architect.

When I realized my senior year of high school that I could barely get through pre calculus, that idea went out the window. I almost joined the Marine Corps in early 2001.

I started nursing pre requisetes in 2002. By 2005, I was so scatterbrained that I went back to school to finish a degree. And during and after that, I’ve worked another several jobs in various fields doing various things. All with hopes that I would find clarification.

What was it that I am supposed to be?

I was confused and things were tough. I was mentally exhausted from over thinking every. little. detail. But at the same time, I knew there must be something out there that is right for me.

And so finally, I did it. I asked God. I started praying constantly,

“What do you want of me, Lord?”

Sure enough around that time, my husband entered the picture. We married in July of 2008, and assumed we would “settle” into life for a while and wish for children after we’ve had time to “enjoy” being married. (Ya know, I’m still trying to figure this one out…….)

But we all know what happens when we make plans. God laughs at them and makes his own. When I saw the faintest of faint pink line on a First Response only six weeks later, I actually cried. I remember wondering how God could possibly entrust the care of a child to me already.

But He did.

God gave us a child and made me a mother! Here I was for years trying to decide for myself but He knew me best.

He wanted me to be a mom.

I remember the worry that followed. What will I do about work, how will we afford daycare, where will I deliver? We had just spent months planning the wedding and things turned into babyland really fast. And then our son was born.

What’s crazy is I don’t quite know when it hit me. I spent so much of my pregnancy distracted by the website, Babycenter, that I kept myself in denial. Sure, we were having a baby, and of course we were happy and excited, but little did I know…

He changed everything. All of a sudden light bulbs went off. I didn’t want to go back to work. I didn’t want to leave him. I just wanted to be a mother.

And I am.

A lot has changed in three years. We now have a daughter also, and I work nights waitressing. But I feel like I’m where I need to be.

It made me realize that I had spent so much time worrying about a career that my vocation took a backseat. Because once I finally “Let Go and Let God,” He put me just where He needed me to be.

Our Blessed Mother said, “I am the Handmaid of the Lord; Let it be to me according to your word.” Luke 1:38

Happy Birthday, Mary!

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Happy Birthday, Mary!

Today, September 8th, we recognize and celebrate the birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary- our mother and the mother of our Savior, Jesus Christ.  Happy Birthday, Momma.  Your birthday is always easy for me to remember because my earthly mother’s birthday is September 4th, mine is September 6th, and yours is September 8th.  I have always gotten a kick out of the fact that myself, my earthly mother and my heavenly mother make one big birthday sandwich.

While I might always recognize my mommas birthdays, I wonder how many times their acts of love towards me have gone unrecognized or unnoticed?  My mom joyfully gave me the gift of herself and her love through eighteen years of washing, cooking, cleaning, praying, guiding, and teaching. Particularly as a young child and teenager, have not my mom’s sacrifices and daily acts of love often gone unnoticed by me? Or perhaps they were noticed and seen, but not appreciated? Or perhaps appreciated, at least internally, but I did not make an effort to thank her or show her my appreciation?

And if my earthly mother, whom I can see, has often gone unrecognized by me, what about my heavenly mother whom I cannot see? Mary has joyfully given me a lifetime of praying, guiding, and teaching. Whether or not I take the time and effort to acknowledge her loving efforts to guide me to her Son, she continues her daily labor of love.  She labors for my soul, and for all of our souls. Nothing would be more pleasing to her than for each of us to believe in and love her Son, and one day be united to Him eternally in Heaven.

Appreciated for her labors of love or not, a mother will continue to labor out of sacrificial love.  May we never miss an opportunity to recognize, thank, honor, and love our mothers.  Mother Mary, thank you for all of your prayers, spiritual blessings, guidance, and assistance. Thank you for listening to my prayers and lovingly carrying my heartfelt intentions to your Son. Thank you for loving my soul so much, that when you see me take the slightest step away from your Son, you gently guide me back into His arms.  I offer you my gratitude to you as a birthday gift. Happy Birthday, Momma Mary.

Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 2674: Mary gave her consent in faith at the Annunciation and maintained it without hesitation at the foot of the Cross. Ever since, her motherhood has extended to the brothers and sisters of her Son “who still journey on earth surrounded by dangers and difficulties.”28 Jesus, the only mediator, is the way of our prayer; Mary, his mother and ours, is wholly transparent to him: she “shows the way” (hodigitria), and is herself “the Sign” of the way, according to the traditional iconography of East and West.

Heavenly Spam

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Man… it’s been one of those weeks on the back of a couple of those weeks. You know the kind, when a trip to the restroom- away from whiny children, all these dogs that always want to eat, and people who ask all manner of questions like, “Why did you plug the extension cord into itself, Andrea?”* (I don’t know, Margot!)- feels like a mini-vacation? Yeah. The last few weeks have been super hectic- my husband separated from the military, we moved across the country, I got a new job, my toddler is entering his Terrible Twos with no holds barred, and in an unfortunate, distracted eyebrow-grooming session, I turned myself into Vanilla Ice.

Did I mention I start back to school today? Thank God for makeup, amiright?

Lately, I’ve just been turning my gaze heavenward and yelling saying “Pray for us!”. I’m not even specifying who I’m asking at this point, just hoping that somebody (or a few somebodies) will take pity on me.

Anywho, whining aside, this prayerful desperation reminds me of when I first started going to Mass after a lifetime of Protestantism, and how one of the lines (which is still one of my favorite parts of the Mass by the way) stuck out to me in a surprising way.

Which line, you ask? Why, here we go. The Penitential Act:

I confess to almighty God, and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have sinned through my own fault, in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done, and in what I have failed to do; and I ask blessed Mary, ever virgin, all the angels and saints, and you, my brothers and sisters, to pray for me to the Lord our God.

Maybe I’m just spiritually greedy, but I want as many people praying for me as possible. Mary, the saints, the angels, all of you… I’ll take what I can get. Lord knows I need it. Seriously- He really does.

After nearly 24 years of the Protestant mindset, this Catholic view of prayer has been eye-opening, to say the least. At first, I was all:

“Wait wait wait… you ask everyone to pray for you? Like… even the angels? Not just people you know and are still alive? If you ask them to pray for you, do they like… have to?”

I was hooked almost immediately. I pictured all of the saints and angels stopping what they were doing to pray for me, because I asked. I was pretty sure that after a while, their prayers for me would turn into “Ugh, Father… it’s her again. Who told her that she could ask us for our prayers, and why didn’t they tell her that she didn’t have to do it all the time? Does she know there are other people who might need prayers, too?”

I had to learn to find the (for me) fine line of prayerful enthusiasm and Heavenly spam. “Did you get that forward from Andrea? I just don’t even open prayers from her anymore.”

I kid… mostly. I don’t spam Heaven. Maybe I say that part of the Penitential Act louder than the other parishioners, but outside of Mass I keep it low-key. Ya know… just the few saints I really love. So, at my confirmation, when you discover that I am now:

Andrea Lynn Mary Therese Faustina Paul Peter Ignatius Irenaeus Augustine Monica Edith Stein

Don’t be surprised.

And if I get to Heaven as I hope I do, and find all these people trying very hard not to make eye-contact with me and saying things like “Did I remember to present those bowls of incense to God? Better check!” when they see me approaching… I won’t be surprised, either.

 

 

*As much as I wish I could say I made this up for humorous effect, the extension cord thing really, actually happened. I offer you the following photographic proof. Yes, I took a picture of it, because when you do something this unbelievable, you save it for posterity… and blog readers.

Extension Cord Fail

Christ Does Not Call Us To Be June Cleaver

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On a perfect day, I would get up well before my family to get dressed and prepare a delicious hot breakfast. I would spend my free time putting the finishing touches on my living room that bears a striking similarity to the one in the latest Martha Stewart magazine, update my personal blog, and finish a sewing project or two. Lunch and dinner would be made entirely from scratch, and exactly as I had planned them out earlier in the week, along with a homemade peach pie for dessert. My “regular” daily routine would not be impeded by these lofty projects; I would still manage a 30-minute workout, a trip to the park, and an art project with the children that is both entertaining and educational. On the spiritual front, I would attend daily Mass (during which my children would sit quietly and be entertained by religious books), and pray the rosary with little to no distractions, internal or external. I would fall into bed at night, tired but fulfilled, with a perfectly clean house and joy in my heart at what the next day will bring.

A far cry from that idealism is a day that involves scrounging through the bare pantry for meals, spending half the morning in pajamas, piles of dirty clothes to wash and clean laundry to fold, dishes piled high in the kitchen, and a few distracted prayers tossed up. There may also be periodic check-ins to favorite home decorating blogs and wistful longings for the day my home will look like theirs.

To be fair, most of our days will end up somewhere in the middle of those two examples. But I still find myself feeling guilty if my day doesn’t more closely resemble the first – a mixture of June Cleaver and St. Therese. Why?

Perfectionism. Like many women, I have high expectations of myself, often unrealistic. And like many, I have subconsciously bought into the worldly idea of what a perfect mother looks like: always perfectly dressed and groomed, beautiful and organized home, excellent cooking, fantastically creative and crafty, ever-ready to volunteer.

But perfectionism is a GOOD thing, right!? After all, didn’t Jesus say “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect”? (Matthew 5:48) It seems as though we SHOULD be striving for perfection. But what does Christ mean by “perfect”? From the Haydock Bible Commentary:

“Seeing then that we are thus blessed as to be called, and to be the children of so excellent a Father, we should endeavor, like Him, to excel in goodness, meekness, and charity; but above all in humility, which will secure to us the merit of good works, through the infinite merits of our divine Redeemer, Master, and model, Christ Jesus the Lord.” Haydock Bible Commentary on Matt. 5:48

So striving to be perfect means that we strive to be good, meek, charitable, humble: a spiritual kind of perfection. That’s a far cry from the “perfect” that the world calls us to.

We can often fool ourselves into thinking worldly “perfectionism” is virtuous. But perfectionism is a false humility. In true humility, we recognize the limits of our talents and abilities. In the false humility of perfectionism, we believe we should be able to do everything “just so,” that we can do it all ourselves, and we beat ourselves up when we aren’t able to achieve our lofty goals. Perfectionism causes us to do things for our own glory, rather than for the glory of God. With perfectionism, the end is the only thing that matters, and the path we take to get to that end is meaningless. However, if instead we do our actions for God’s glory, then the effort that we put into our work does matter, rather than simply just the finished product. St. Margaret Mary Alacoque said, “It is only necessary to say energetically ‘I will,’ and all will go well.” The path to our goal is as important, if not more important, that the achievement of that goal.

So how can we deal with the perfectionism that creeps into our daily lives, causing us stress and unhappiness, and thwarting our desire to do good?

Prayer. We must avoid worldly perfectionism in prayer; perfectionism is the antithesis of humility, and our prayers must spring from humility in our heart. We must not worry about saying the perfect rosary, completely free from internal distraction. Instead, when our mind wanders, we should gently redirect our thoughts back to our prayer. We should not avoid Mass because we fear our children will distract us and we won’t “get anything out of it.” God will supply where our human efforts fail, as long as we make the effort.

We should also not be discouraged if we cannot spend as much time in prayer as we would like. We are all busy women, many of us wives and mothers, and have many duties to attend to. St. Frances of Rome said,

 “It is most laudable in a married woman to be devout, but she must not forget that she is a housewife; and sometimes she must leave God at the altar to find Him in her housekeeping.”

We can sanctify our souls through our works as well as our prayers. If we say the Morning Offering each day, we offer God all our “works, prayers, joys, and sufferings”; this encompasses everything we will do throughout the day, and thus, all of our works will be offered for God’s glory.

Reflect on the saints and model our lives after them. What were their goals? How did they achieve spiritual perfection, while abandoning the perfectionism of the world? Mother Teresa said, “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then just feed one.” She teaches us to not be frustrated by our inability to do great things, but to embrace the small things we can do. She also says, more specifically, “We cannot do great things, only small things with great love.”

Baby Steps. On a practical level, many times we procrastinate and put off important things because we can’t get it all done – if it won’t be perfect, why bother? We must abandon that mentality, and realize that the small things DO matter, a lot. Our path to eternity is not one long paved road, but many small pebbles that build upon each other, each of those pebbles being our small daily efforts. Just because we’re too tired or busy to do a complicated art project with our children doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do anything with them – read a short story, or spend just a few minutes on the floor, playing with them. No time to clean the bathroom? Take 2 minutes to clear off the counter, pick the dirty clothes off the floor, and change the toilet paper. If we do each of these small things out of love for God, He will give us grace with each small effort. God doesn’t ask the impossible of us, He asks us to do what we can, when we can.

(For practical household tips, I highly recommend Flylady. She is a huge help for perfectionists, procrastinators, and those who just have trouble keeping a clean and organized house.)

Be realistic. We should have a realistic view about our talents. We shouldn’t compare our homes to those in magazines, especially if we don’t have an eye for interior decorating. If we do our best to make our homes comfortable and inviting, we are serving our family well. If we are not a great cook, then we should concentrate on making something that is healthy and filling, not 5-star restaurant quality, and we should be satisfied with it. That’s not to say we should do the bare minimum: we should certainly strive for excellence. But as the acclaimed P90X trainer Tony Horton says, “Do your best and forget the rest.”

We must remember that at the end of our life, we won’t be judged on how organized our house was, how delicious our meals were, or even how many perfect rosaries we prayed – we will be judged on whether we performed the daily duties of our vocation with love.

Do you struggle with perfectionism? Procrastination? How do you “let go and let God” in your day-to-day life?

In Weakness I am Strong

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Ten years ago, I gave up my career as a publisher to be a stay-at-home mother. My first few years as a mother of three young children were, in a word, miserable. I was stunned by the unrelenting neediness of our children.

I had a non-Christian friend in a similar domestic situation, so we took turns talking each other down from the ledge. While we both were committed to the importance of staying at home with our children, my friend made it clear that all she could see in the sacrifices was pointless misery. Life would be great, she imagined, if those tedious and menial sacrifices were replaced with predictable pleasantness most of the time.

There’s only one problem with that line of thinking: with marriage and parenting, it’s all about the sacrifices.

As a Catholic, I know this. Theologically. But knowing the path and walking the path are different things. The truth is, I become angry, disappointed, or discouraged because my husband or children do not allow me to do what I want. I want a cup of coffee, but they want breakfast. I want to read a book, but I have to discipline someone. I want to go shopping, but my husband has to work overtime.

Would my life be more pleasant and easier if my children were always well-behaved or independent? If my husband always met my needs?. Of course. But would I be a better human being? Definitely not.

Unlike my friend, I know that the key to life is not pleasantness, but dying to selfishness. It’s hard to think of our desires as selfish, because we don’t see anything wrong with wanting a cup of coffee. And on its face, there isn’t. But we can easily pervert even a good desire. In my case, having coffee is a fine idea—until I allow my desire for it to take precedent over the needs of my family. Then the care I could have offered my family as their—and God’s—loving servant becomes instead a resentful obligation rendered by an embittered slave.

On the days when family life seems especially hard, it can seem like God sold us an oyster with no pearl. We hear the world whisper its opinion about our vocation and we begin to wonder if it’s really worth all the trouble to raise these kids or stick it out in this marriage. The burden can seem so heavy that it’s tempting just to set it down. It took me years to understand that I am not actually responsible for carrying this burden. All I really have to do is get my pride and selfishness out of the way and the Holy Spirit will gladly take over.

Unfortunately, there is no formula that will effect a final surrender to God, that will help you give up the “I can do this just fine on my own” once and for all. But the first step is changing the way we think about our vocation. We want to believe we’re strong enough, that we only need God to swoop in and give us a boost once in a while. And we can even get angry with Him when we do all the “right” things like go to Mass, pray the rosary, and read Scripture and STILL struggle. But the problem isn’t God, it’s us. It’s our desire for control and desire to indulge our own selfishness. When we really surrender to Him—not just minutes at a time, bookended by our own will—we are able to be the loving, patient, amazing wives and mothers He intends us to be.

Surrendering to God does not mean using prayer as a talisman, thinking that a rosary will give me saintly, adorable children. Or even that I can exchange Bible-reading time for super-human strength to endure. God gives us nothing less than his own life, his own strength, if we will take it. Those days when I am a truly loving, patient mother, it is not of my own strength, but God’s. In my surrender, I become weak…and freed from the chains of my rebellion, the Holy Spirit loves my children as I cannot on my own.

Giving up control and the love I have for myself is the most painful experience of my life and it is a battle I never saw coming when I entered my vocation. I finally understand why Jesus said that “whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” When I surrender my will, and with it my sometimes all-consuming love of self, there is room for me to sacrificially and joyfully love others—and God.

In 2 Corinthians 12:9, St. Paul says,

And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.

For the sake of our families and ourselves, may Christ grant us women the grace to be weak. Only in surrendering to Him can we ever truly be free and “love one another as I have loved you.”