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No Vacancy: How to Keep the Christmas Spirit Alive

The end of yet another busy Christmas season usually makes for a weary start of the new year as countless holiday decorations are stored away, schools and workplaces are reopened, and life suddenly goes back to “normal.”

Whatever that means, anyway.

Because normal, for me, means that I have to go back to a chaotic schedule of waking up at 5:30 AM for Mass; going to school sleepy-eyed and often irritable; sitting down through less-than-fascinating lectures, more focused on not falling asleep in class than actually paying attention and taking notes; going home to realize that I have a bunch of homework and projects to work on; and sleeping late only to regret it again in the morning.

And the cycle continues. Lather, rinse, repeat.

So as I cherish these last 3 days of Christmas vacation, looking back fondly on Christmas 2011 – at the same time, reluctant to start the second semester, I have to ask myself: how will I be able to keep the Christmas spirit alive in me for the rest of this year?

Christmas is usually a time characterized by “peace, joy, and goodwill to all people” as noted by this cool guy right here. Unfortunately, for most of us, the other 360 or so days of our year can be characterized by.. things other than that.

So thinking in concrete terms, how is it even possible to keep the Christmas spirit alive while we’re supposedly going about our days trying to restrain ourselves from having nervous breakdowns.

The answer as I’ve come to know it, is actually quite simple.

Make room.

Make room for Him who was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger because there was no room in the inn (Luke 2:7).

More times than not, I can look back at the low points of my life where I felt the most desperate, only to realize that during those times, I didn’t make room in my heart for Jesus to dwell – instead, I insisted, like the inn keeper, that I had no room for Him to be born.

And it really makes sense, though. How can we truly rejoice in the coming of our Lord if we don’t prepare a special place in our hearts for Him to dwell?

We need to truly ask ourselves if there are things we hold dear in our hearts that we must get rid of? And most of the time, these things take root in our pride, for pride usually leads to materialism, self-glorification, greed, lust, and envy.

At the same time, it is literally impossible to remain attached to those things which weigh us down and hope to keep our hearts aflame with God’s love.

For Christ Himself knows that “no one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other” (Matthew 6:24).

Of course, (as with most undertakings as Christians) this is easier said than done for we must first find the humility to acknowledge our human weaknesses and abandon ourselves completely to the grace of God.

But once we are able to ask for that grace to overcome such earthly desires and vanities, we are set free from the bonds that prevent us from pursuing such an ideal to live Jesus in our hearts forever.

We are then, able to prepare a place for Christ to dwell in our hearts that we may become reminders to the whole world that, not only is Jesus truly the reason for the season – but He is also our life, our love, and our salvation.

And how beautiful is this, that we can share in the work of Mary and the saints as we strive to bring Jesus into our troubled world today.. Into a world of darkness that so desperately needs the light of Christ to shine out the clearer.

In Matthew 5:16, Jesus encourages us to let our light shine before others that they might come to glorify our Father in heaven. Let us then, strive to be a light for the whole world to see.

Let us make room for Him.

[PURE: The 90-Week Devotional Series] Introduction

Hi. If I haven’t already introduced myself three times, well, I’m about to do it again. My name’s Mariella Cecilia Hunt. I get my ideas from God and am excited to get us started on a series (especially a long one like this is going to be: I love meditating on things and being able to take time on the subject!)

I’m going to host a 90-week devotional on the book Pure by Rebecca St. James. It’s meant to be a 90-day devotional but I expanded it for the sake of the blog and post quality.

Some of you might have the question on the tip of your tongue: Is Rebecca St. James Catholic? The answer is, no, as far as I’ve read, she’s not a Catholic. But this just makes it even better. We are not going to restrict ourselves to purely Catholic books on this blog because there’s loads of books written by people from other branches of Christianity that have absolute gold to offer us. This book is one of them. I chose this book, not just because I’m genuinely impressed by it (not many devotionals actually impress me) but because I really want this devotional series to be a milestone towards interdenominational understanding. Purity is an issue that every Christian can relate to and that we need to work towards together, in a world where it’s become so lacking; together, with this series, maybe we can clean up the world we live in by purifying ourselves with Rebecca’s amazing advice.

I will be featuring excerpts from her book, but also putting in relevant stories and quotes from Saints to make sure that we go deep, deep into the issue of purity–and make it a little more Catholic. There will be questions at the end (some I will compose to go with the ones Rebecca already came up with, which really make you think!) If you have the book, that’s amazing, but I’ll try to make the series as accessible as possible to people who can’t get a copy of their own.

Together, let’s take a look at our lives and work towards three forms of purity: Mind, Body, and Spirit. What I enjoyed about this book was that she really, really digs into the issue of purity, covering everything to help us get as clean as we possibly can. It’s not a light read. You have to read it several times to get all the challenges done; it’s actually a book you should have with you all your life on your bedside table, so you can go through it again and again. It’ll help you every time, and each day you’ll find yourself more and more on the path to purity.

The book is directed mostly to girls, but in this series I will try and make it accessible to guys as well. I might ask advice from some co-workers for that part, when it gets too girly. I hope there’s volunteers!

This is only the introduction. Coming right up will be the first week’s post; look for it either today or tomorrow. God Bless!

My story…the conclusion

I ended my last post pretty abruptly with a description on my former perception of the Mass. Now  I will fast forward to college.  I am currently a sophomore at a university somewhere in the Deep South.  My plan to return to the north immediately after high school was foiled by what I formerly thought was my crappy standardized test taking skills but what I know realize was God’s will.  At orientation I signed up to be apart of the Catholic organization’s listserv, once again thinking that I would get involved in Church merely to meet new people and to find a group on campus that would have to tolerate me no matter how annoying and/or boring I would become.

Long story short, through getting involved with the Catholic organization on campus, I went on a retreat that changed my life.  It sounds dumb.  But that doesn’t make it any less of a reality.  Because when you think about it, a retreat is a group of people, sent by God, to do God’s work.  And God’s work almost always involves the conversion of souls, a conversion towards faith, hope, or charity.  I realized on that trip, amidst the serenity of and perfection of nature, the subtle but powerful sense of peace that arises from having a personal relationship with God. And during adoration, I suddenly saw all the puzzle pieces of my life laid out and it all made sense.

What I’ve learned from my “Coming to Jesus” experience is that our personal plans are flawed, unlike God’s.  I’ve learned that no matter how I try to logic myself out of my faith or whenever I stumble and fall into mediocrity, God is there to grab me by the tail of my shirt to pull me back.  I know I’m on a Mission now.  We are all on the same Mission.  And we won’t be perfect.  We’re people and we sin.  But we must persevere.  I once heard a speaker say that a true soldier is the old man who clutches his Rosary for dear life.  He knows what’s at stake, and he’s fighting for it in the best way he can.  So I challenge you all to do the same.  Be the soldier you were meant to be.

Be Christian First, Then Catholic

A few weeks ago my Youth and Young Adult Minister shared with us what he gained from participating with LA Catholic Congress last March. What he said completely changed how I viewed myself as a Catholic.

“Before you become Catholic, you need to be Christian. Being Catholic is your faith, being Christian is to be Christ-like”

Jesus left Saint Peter to build the church and from that point on the Catholic Church was born. But if we looked into the life of Jesus he didn’t preach about Catholicism but rather he shared a lifestyle. A life of being righteous and just. A life filled with love, compassion, service and selfishness. Christ taught us to be more like him, a lifestyle of saying good, doing good and being good.

So where does this fit in with our lives? Simple – it redirects in how we share our faith with the people we come across. Our actions are a reflection of what we believe. St. Francis of Assisi understood this concept in his quote “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.” We should being living the Gospel because as Catholics we believe that God is present in the Word.

To share our faith is simply sharing Christ with others. So if Christ is Love we share our faith by sharing love to others. We are all called to live the Gospel, to be Christians or Christ-like. Our purpose is to share and receive LOVE not our religion. Choosing to be Catholic is the choice of the individual. To be Christ-like is the life Christ called all of us to accept.

Share Christ. Stay Blessed.

-jon jon-

Not your average Joe..?

My name’s Joseph and I’m currently a junior at a Lasallian high school somewhere in California, discerning the call to become a priest. To be honest, I’ve never been that good at writing “about me’s” since I’ve never known where to start, but my testimony to the faith can pretty much be summed up by the following quote:

“Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in a love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the mornings, what you will do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.” – Fr. Pedro Arrupe, SJ

And reflecting on these words, I’ve found that the joy that comes with completely surrendering yourself to the will of God out of love for Him changes your life completely.

For the longest part of my life, however, I could say that I experienced one of the driest moments of my spiritual life due to spiritual laziness, my constant struggle with sins of impurity, indifference, pride, and ignorance.

But it has really been through the intercession of our Blessed Mother and the saints that has really helped me to overcome all these obstacles. Since then, I’ve grown from a rather lukewarm Catholic who took his faith for granted, to someone who has conversations with his guardian angel, decorates his room with pictures of the saints, whines if he’s too busy to go to Adoration, and has a lifelong aspiration to dance with Mother Mary and individually hug each of his patron saints when he gets to Heaven.. Well, hopefully you get the idea already. :P

Apart from being this passionately Catholic sorta guy, I also play basketball and ping pong, play the guitar and piano, read books about Catholicism whenever I get the chance, and write. I also enjoy listening to music and watching movies. Oh yeah, and I also run a personal blog that’s a mix of personal reflections, random bits of apologetics here and there, and other stuff I find amusing.

I can’t wait to get to know you guys more! God bless. =]

Mariella’s Introduction: “Study.”

Hi. I’m glad you stumbled into Universal Faith. It’s my prayer that you learn much, make friends, and begin your journey to sainthood with renewed vigor while you’re here. We’ve tried to make our movement as homey and accessible as possible; we are a family, after all.

My name is Mariella Cecilia, but I also go by my Confirmation name, Catherine-Rose. Somehow I was blessed enough to get two patron saints for my Confirmation: Catherine of Siena and Rose of Lima. Back then I didn’t know them very well, but now I understand how these two great saints are going to help me through life. I also consider St. Cecilia one of my patron saints; we share a name, and I attached to my Rosary a St. Cecilia relic medal (yes, they do exist) so she prays with me. Recently I’ve had an increase in my devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and I turn to St. Faustina for advice on all my religious projects–reading her diary, I’ve found we have a lot in common as far as devotions, goals, and fears. But everything I do is for the sake of Jesus and His Sacred Heart, because He died for me and loves me more than I deserve.

Among many other things He gave me, the LORD gifted me with a passion and talent for writing novels. I discovered this talent early, when I was eight–I remember hiding under the table with a notebook because it felt so epic. In the years between that and my 17th birthday, I’d written 16 novels and even more unfinished drafts. I abused the gift GOD gave me, and wound up with a severe case of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome that put all my projects to a halt when 2011 came. The last significant thing I achieved with my writing was getting one of my novels to the top 5 on a website called inkpop; it got reviewed by a HarperCollins agent, and then all my projects just…stopped.

My hands hurt too much to write anything else.

May through August 2011 was excruciating. If you’re an artist, you’ll probably understand the agony of having to drop your art–and only means of expression–completely, after having let it define you all your life. I felt empty, devoid of personality or purpose. I sank into a depression that I still struggle with now. All I could do was read, but reading Young Adult Fiction only gave me more ideas that I could not write; they would torment me. I put all those books away.

That left my shelf full of books about Jesus and the Church. Here’s an old blog post from back in those awful days, where you can see how my perspective changed.

Go back three years. I was clueless about my religion, and all my friends were Christians of different denominations who would pull me into debates which I would lose. Without meaning to, my beloved friends damaged my faith in Catholicism, so I was left to wander without a clue regarding the spiritual life. When I searched the Internet for answers, I ran into anti-Catholic websites that rubbed salt into the wounds and sometimes made me cry. Where was I? I can say now that nothing hurts more than damaged faith–not even Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.

But GOD gave me strength from nowhere and whispered, “Study.”

So I gathered up books on Catholic theology, joined Catholic Answers Forums, and finally learned the reason why I’m Catholic. Nothing can shake my faith in the Church ever again, and while I was suffering with CTS I read about her and fell even more in love with her. I dedicated my life to sharing this beauty with other teens going through what I did.

That’s why I started this movement, with the prompting of Jesus. There aren’t enough people trying to be saints anymore, and this saddens Him greatly.

The Church helped heal me when I had nothing to look forward to, and was at the verge of losing hope. Now, I want you to discover this beauty too.

I live in the United States, somewhere in the west. I’m 17 years old, 18 on December 14. I’m obsessed with country music. Every single day, I love Jesus more. I was baptized in 2005, and I’m grateful for my parents and brother. I love them all dearly. I have lots of stories to tell, and I can’t wait to share them with you. I pray that you warm up as we get ready for Christmas Eve, and ready to change the world.

Through a great miracle and the wonderful mercy of GOD, I finally got surgery for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome on September, and am still recovering; in the meanwhile, I remain in prayerful study, waiting for my chance to serve the LORD and His Church. Thank GOD for my mother and father, and my brother, who saw me through this agonizing episode of my life. Now, on the verge of my 18th birthday, I’m ready to start anew–a different creation in Christ.

Thank you for reading, and God Bless. My other blogs are:

A Catholic Sheep
MariellaCecilia (the Tumblr)
The Escapism Project