Spiritual Highlights of 2015

On the last day of 2015, there was a certain symmetry in the Mass readings: the first reading (1 John 2:18-21) began, “Children, these are the last days”. The Gospel began, “In the beginning was the Word: the Word was with God and the Word was God…” (John 1:1-18). As one year ends and a new one begins, I’ve been looking back at 2015 and making plans for 2016 (including making new year resolutions and my 2016 reading list!). After reading these readings, I pondered my own spiritual journey. In these last days, how is my spiritual life? How am I drawing closer to God? Am I growing in faith and sharing the Good News?

2015 has been a year of many blessings and graces. Here are a few spiritual highlights:

Spiritual Highlights of 2015 Talking About Family Catholic Blog

World Meeting of Families 2015 logoWorld Meeting of Families

In September, my husband, my 18 month daughter and I made the pilgrimage to Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families. Part of me thought we were crazy, travelling from Ireland with a little one for this huge congress. When we arrived, I was bowled over by families who had also made the voyage; big families, young families, people from Africa, Poland, Vietnam… we even met Americans who had travelled further than us!

The excellent keynote talks, the stimulating break-out sessions and the Holy Spirit inspired encounters we had in between gave me so much hope and encouragement to be a witness to the Catholic faith through my family life.

with Teresa Tomeo of Ave Maria Radio at World Meeting of Families Talking About Families Blog

I listen to Teresa Tomeo every day on Ave Maria Radio. At the World Meeting of Families, I bumped into her! #StarstruckCatholicGirl

(The World Meeting of Families was action-packed, but I did manage to write a few blog posts and write an article for the Irish Catholic.)

Pope Francis’ visit to the US

The World Meeting of Families ended with the Festival of Families and a closing Mass, led by Pope Francis. Gathered with hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world, praying in different languages, led by Christ’s vicar on Earth, Pope Francis, I am struck by the scale and universality of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.

Oh, and the most amazing news was announced at the end of Mass. Did you hear where the next World Meeting of Families will be? IRELAND!!!!

blessedissheBlessed is She (BIS)

It is not always easy to find a Catholic community, or even Catholic friends.This year, I discovered the Blessed Is She Community, aka the #BISsisterhood, and quickly made their daily devotions part of daily prayer time. Written by Catholic women from all walks of life, the devotions give me an insight into the daily Mass readings where I sometimes struggle, and help me see how the Gospel is applicable in my life, today.

From the daily devotional appearing in my inbox, I have followed the #BISsisterhood on Instagram and Twitter, joined the BIS Europe Facebook group, become a regular reader of the blog. Through BIS, I have also discovered a host of Catholic podcasts including Jenna’s Building Bridges podcast, The Visitation Project and Fountains of Carrots, which inject my car journeys, runs and piles of laundry with interesting Catholic chat.

Best of all, the online community has spilled offline- through the community, I made a new friend who lives not too far away. Hi AnneMarie! Hopefully there will be a the first Blessed Brunch in Ireland in 2016!

Joining a women’s prayer group

Talking about local community, I was over-joyed to discover a women’s prayer group in my area. It is the first time I have ever been part of a women’s prayer group and there is something really special about it. In any other situation, it could be super-intimidating to walk into a stranger’s house on a dark winter’s evening, and into a packed room of twenty women that you’ve never met. But it wasn’t. In fact, it felt like I was walking into a room of good friends, my sisters-in-Christ. The women are from all walks and stages of life but have one thing in common- their love the Lord.

What were your spiritual highlights of 2015? What are you looking forward to in 2016? I would love to hear your comments 🙂

World Meeting of Families: Day 4

World Meeting of Families 2015 DiaryToday was the final day of the World Meeting of Families.  The congress seemed to get busier as the week went on, perhaps as people came to do just a day or two of the meeting, and be in Philadelphia for the papal weekend. At the beginning of the week, congress attendees were invited to participate in a record-breaking mural project, The Sacred Now: Faith and Family in the 21st Century, in which over 2700 people helped paint. By today, the mural was nearing completion, ready for Pope Francis to paint the final brush stroke.

There was a real buzz about the convention centre as people did last minute shopping at the official store and in the exhibitors hall, people gathered around big screens to follow Pope Francis’ visit, and headed to the main hall for the final keynote talk, “The Joy of Gospel Life”, which was delivered by Pastor Rick Warren and Cardinal Sean O’Malley.


As we made our way to the final breakout session, I caught a glimpse of Archbishop Chaput officially closing the conference. I had a heavy heart, as the week had been so inspiring and a time of spiritual renewal. The final breakout session I attended was perfect one to end the congress on- Family Ties: How Meals, Rituals, Traditions, Worship and Prayer Create Strong, Healthy and Joy-Filled Catholic Homes. The session was led by Lacy Rabideau of Catholic Icing. She spoke about living the liturgical year, and creating Catholic traditions and experiences that would weave into family life, so that Church was not something ‘separate’. For some people, the only Catholic part of their week is attending Mass on Sunday, therefore they only have to stop attending Mass to stop being Catholic, Lacy observed. She suggested that if the Catholic faith, with its prayers, songs, traditions, with baking and crafting and pilgrimages, was woven into their lives like a tapestry, once children became older, it would be harder to stop being Catholic as it would be such a large part of their lives. It was an interesting session which gave me lots of ideas to being living more liturgically and weaving the faith into our own lives.

There were many “off-shoot” events running throughout the week, such as the World Meeting of Families film festival, the Museum of the Bible exhibit from Rome, a plethora of talks, a pro-life evening organised by Priests for Life and the 40 Days for Life kick off, as well as the opportunity to venerate the major relics of Saint Maria Goretti, daily confession and  round-the-clock adoration. We didn’t make it to any of these events. Nor did we do any sightseeing! Most days, we left the house at 9am and didn’t get back until at least 6pm, so our days were packed enough!

As I wandered around the Conference Centre for the last time, I found myself wondering where then next World Meeting of Families would be. Before coming on this trip, I had thought of the World Meeting as something we might do a few times, but after experiencing one, I would like to make the effort, God willing and circumstances permittig, to attend the Meeting as often as possible.

Although sad the congress is now over, it has been a week of rich catechesis, of encounters with other families, of ideas and inspiration. I return home with a new energy to share and experience the faith in our small family, our community and with the world. And, although the talks and catechesis are over, the World Meeting is not yet quite finished. Tomorrow, Pope Francis will arrive in Philedelphia and will be present at the Festival of Families, and will celebrate the closing Mass on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway on Sunday.

World Meeting of Families Diary: Day 3

World Meeting of Families Diary

Today has been another busy day at the World Meeting of Families. The second, and last, full day, the schedule was packed. We began by browsing in the exhibitors hall. It is encouraging to see such a vast, vibrant array of organisations, resources, toys, art, clothing etc. I managed to be reasonably restrained and only bought a couple of things; Not Just Good, But Beautiful, a book containing 16 of the presentations given at last year’s inter religious Humanum conference, and A Sinner’s Guide to NFP by blogger Simcha Fischer. There were also lots of freebies too including a Catholic Answers booklet on Divorce, Remarriage and Communion, Magnificat and Magnifikid, which I was delighted with as I have always wanted to take a peek inside Magnifikid, and many other magazines, DVDs, information leaflets, etc.

We attended a morning breakout session by Dr Janet E Smith. She spoke about the prophetic nature of Humanae Vitae. Dr Smith began the talk by placing Humanae Vitae in context- it was a time of many student protests, the sexual revolution was under way, the Beatles were new on the music scene. Until 1930, all Christian denominations had rejected contraception. It was only at the Lambeth Council was contraception finally permitted for Anglicans. After the promulgation of Humanae Vitae, some prominent Catholic priests rejected the Church teaching and even went as far as encouraging dissent. However, time has revealed the prophetic nature of the document. Smith used statistics and facts to paint a picture of the effects of the Pill in our culture today;

  • Over 42% of children in U.S. are born out of wedlock. In Detroit that figure is over 80%
  • 83% of women who have abortions are unmarried. 51% of women who have an abortion are using contraception
  • The UN withholds assistance from countries that do not have aggressive population control programs

However, despite the bleak outlook that statistics paint, Dr Smith ended her talk by offering hope for the future, saying that there is a new springtime.

Hope for the future is something I really felt today at the World Meeting of Families. There are so many faith-filled, committed young families and big families that have made the pilgrimage to be in Philadelphia. There are many priests and religious too, but I was struck by how young they seem to be.

The afternoon key note was presented by Cardinal Luis Tagle. I have never heard him speak before and I was unsure of what to expect. He spoke on the subject of the wounded Church, and how each and everyone of us is wounded but the family and the Church are places the family finds healing. It is precisely in the power of Christ’s wounds that the grace of healing originates. He used the examples of the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, the friends who removed the roof off the synagogue to lower the paralysed man down to Jesus. That is what families do- they never give up. They stand by their wounded members. Indeed a wound to a family member wounds the entire family. This is also the cast with the Church. The Church is a Church of the wounded, for the wounded or, as Pope Francis said, a field hospital for the sick. In order to help bind the wounds, we are sometimes called to go to dark places and, like the Good Samaritan, heal wounds, restore relationship and banish alienation. Despite the heavy subject, Cadinal Tagle was engaging and made numerous light-hearted jokes!

Our afternoon ended in the Ballroom with Christopher West. He spoke about living life in 3D- Desires, Design and Destiny. He spoke about The sexual revolution enjoyed great success in large part because it was reacting against an impoverished and distorted vision of human sexuality and Church teaching. Thanks to John Paul II’s Theology of the Body there was a recovery of the authentic appreciation of the beauty, mystery and goodness of human sexuality.

We ended the day back home, watching coverage of Pope Francis’ visit on EWTN.

World Meeting of Families Diary: Day 2

Day two is the first full day of the congress. Before the talks began, we wandered around the exhibitors area to get a taste of what was there. There were big names I recognised such as Ignatius Press, Ave Maria Press, Our Sunday Visitor, Catholic Match, Word on Fire, Priests for Life, and Retrouvaille, as well as religious orders and businesses I had not heard of, selling beautiful art, catechesis materials, DVDs, childrens toys, ornaments, t-shirts. The exhibitors hall is a really cornucopia of all things Catholic and I look forward to exploring it some more!

On my way out, I spotted the host of Ave Maria Radio’s Catholic Connection, Teresa Tomeo. I said hello to her but was so star struck I forgot to ask for a photo… Fortunately I bumped into her again later in the day and Teresa had a photo opportunity with her no. 1 Irish listener!

with Teresa Tomeo

Wednesday’s talks began with a key note address by Cardinal Robert Sarah, who spoke on The Light of the Family in a Dark World. He said the Christian family is called to testify that “love to the end is possible.”

“The world today needs saints with heroic witness to defend and nurture the family. By opening ourselves to God’s grace and his Holy Spirit living in us, our homes and families can allow goodness to enter the world.”

Following the key note, there were many break out sessions to choose from. We attended a session entitled Digging into Dignity: Promoting the Dignity of the Human Person by Prof. Teresa Stanton Collett. She described the challenging and inspiring ethic of human dignity and how it informs the entire spectrum of Catholic political engagement from support for measures to alleviate poverty and to provide decent housing, suitable education and health care, and opposition to abortion, euthanasia, torture, prostitution and human trafficking. She encourages Catholics to promote the dignity of the human person by writing letters to the editor and engaging in respectful dialogue to persuade others of the beauty and compelling attractiveness of the vision of man, the anthropology that underpins Catholic social teaching. She urged the audience not to succumb to the all too prevalent cynicism about politics and politicians.

After lunch, we attended the second key note of the day which was given by Prof. Helen Alvaré on the subject Creating the Future: The Fertility of Christian Love. She began by showing a short clip from the Humanum series from the Marriage, Culture and Civil Society film


Alvaré spoke about how movie-makers, song-writers and advertisers tap into our desire to be loved through the stories they tell, the songs they write and the way goods and services are marketed. She noted that one of the greatest punishments for man is that of solitary confinement. Yet, in contrast to this, a culture is being create where man is becoming increasingly isolated, living and working alone. She spoke of her generation as the ‘me’ generation, yet she rebelled against that. She learned from her mother and her grandmother the importance of self-sacrifice, the importance of putting others before herself and the importance of this in her own development as a person. It is in the family that one cultivates the habit of self-sacrifice- while waiting for someone in the bathroom or giving away a special possession. It is only after cultivating this sacrificial love in our families that we can be good samaritans and make a gift of ourselves to strangers.

The day ended with a second key note by Cardinal Peter Turkson. He gave a presentation on the holistic approach of Pope Francis in Laudato Si, linking the fundamental importance of protection of human ecology and protection of the earth’s ecology.

World Meeting of Families Diary: Day 1

Today marked the beginning of the 8th World Meeting of Families, held in Philadelphia. The theme of the conference is Love is Our Mission: The Family Fully Alive. Over the next few days, I will share my impressions and experiences of this exciting event which will end with the Festival of Families and Mass celebrated by Pope Francis.

IMG_1646Standing in line for coffee, my eyes fell upon a couple nearby. They were wearing complementing outfits. She wore a beautifully made dress in a light-coloured fabric with a small pattern, and he wore a matching shirt. As I looked more closely I noticed that the clothes were made especially for the occasion in a fabric which was also printed especially for the occasion. Joking about my love of organization, my husband nudged me and said “now they’re well prepared!”. I got chatting to them. They had travelled all the way from Zimbabwe to attend the congress. Like many of the 20,000 pilgrims in Philadelphia this week, they had travelled many thousands of miles to attend the event. Others had travelled from as far afield as the Philippines, Argentina, Nigeria, Poland and Italy. There are people from over 100 countries present, making it the biggest World Meeting of Families ever!

I have made the pilgrimage with my husband and daughter from Ireland. Arriving at the downtown Philadelphia this afternoon for the beginning of the congress, the brotherly love and sisterly affection of the city was palpably present as delegates from around the world assembled for the opening ceremony. Archbishop Paglia of the Pontifical Council of the Family was one of the speakers at the conference opening. He encouraged the delegates gathered,

“If the family is strong, society is strong”.

Newly appointed bishop, Rev. Robert Barron, gave the first key note address of the congress. In a packed out hall of priests, religious, but mainly families, he observed how religion has become privatised. This is the complete opposite of the Gospel message to go out into the world and spread the Good News and “Edenise” the whole world. He spoke about the relativism that has become second nature to many people in society, especially among young people. The idea that existence precedes essence, that the person defines reality and imposes their own meaning on the world has become one of the unchallenged dogmas of modernity. Can you pick up a golf club and just start playing golf? Can you play football without the rules? Bishop Barron remarked that in the world of sports, the idea of playing without rules is absurd, yet the idea of living life without rules is increasingly acceptable as people reject rules of morality. These rules, however, are not rules to bind us. Rather, they are rules for our freedom. As in language learning, you have to learn the rules of grammar to become fluent.In every area that matters to us, we welcome and revere law, because it is laws and rules that help us to excel. Orthodoxy means right worship. Throughout the bible, orthodoxy brings about peace, so when we worship God correctly, peace and harmony breaks out among men. By the same token, when man worships the wrong things, creating false gods and idols, division, conflict and war are rife.


Walking through the city on the way home, we saw the preparations Philadelphia is making to welcome Pope Francis: The papal coloured rosettes on the City Hall, the banners lining the streets, the posters, the t-shirts… security arrangements are very tight for the Papal visit- cars in a certain area that have not been removed from the street are being towed, while vast areas of the city are on ‘lock down’. Many train stations will be closed at the weekend so as to provide a better service for the papal pilgrims.

Back at base, I reflect on a day which, in between talks, was filled with joyous chance encounters with Catholic individuals and families from far and wide. There was inspiration and encouragement all around; in a smile, an “hola!”, a brief exchange or a conversation about everyday things, and deeper conversations about what brought people to the World Meeting of Families.

As I study the Family Guidebook for the days ahead, I am excited by the speakers who will be presenting key note and break-out sessions, such as Cardinal Robert Sarah, Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers, Dr Janet E. Smith, Prof. Helen Alvaré, Dr Scott Hahn, Msgr Livio Melina, Christopher West and presenters from Ave Maria Radio and EWTN, including Dr Greg and Lisa Popcak. The conference is only a few hours open but already I am so grateful for the opportunity to be here, and excited about the days ahead and the inspiration and graces which I know await!

#WMOF2015 Catechesis: Love is our Mission- Two Become One

This month, the 8th World Meeting of Families will take place in Philladelphia, USA. The World Meeting of Families is an international event of prayer, catechesis, and celebration. The theme of this meeting is Love is our Mission- The Family Fully Alive. The meeting will end with the Festival of Families and Mass celebrated by Pope Francis.

To prepare for the event, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and the Pontifical Council for the Family have created a preparatory catechesis on family life. Each chapter ends with questions for discussion. Below, I share my answers.

Chapter 4: Two Become One

World Meeting of Families 2014 Catechesis Love is Our Mission the Family Fully Alive

a) What is the Catholic spirituality of marriage? What can families do to celebrate and protect Christian marriage?

Catholic marriage is a radically different to the romantic partnerships the culture proposes. While romance is great element in a relationship, marriage, Catholic or otherwise, cannot be built on this alone. “To be what we are- to love as we were created to love- certain virtues are necessary.” (WMF Catechesis). Prudence, temperance, justice, fortitude, faith, hope and love are required for marriage to thrive. The catechesis reminds us that, in order to fulfill our destiny, we must be alive to these virtues and cultivate them. Families can protect Christian marriage by nurturing these virtues.

b) If marriage is a sacrament, what are the implications for courtship? What qualities should we seek in a Catholic spouse?

While all the virtues are important, the virtue of chastity, in relation to marriage, is especially important. When discerning marriage, it is important to train the heart by practicing interior freedom.

Some of my friends thought I was crazy to marry my husband before living with him. In their eyes, our marriage was doomed before we said “I do”. Trial marriages are the new normal on our culture, while waiting until marriage to move in together is unusual. The Catechism tells us that a trial marriage is a contradiction of terms-2 it is an attempt to live intimately but hypothetically, to test the relationship and pursue it as long as the romance is flowing” (CCC 2391). On his blog, Sliding vs Deciding, Dr Scott Stanley observes that the many steps and stages of courtship that used to exist in a relationship are no longer there and couples are more likely to slide through important transitions, such as moving in together, rather than make concrete decisions, and a commitment, about them.

As the virtues are essential to the sacrament of marriage, one should look for these virtues when seeking a Catholic spouse. However this quest is not an intellectual pursuit. We can recognise the virtues in a future spouse through the characteristics they share with moral exemplars in our own lives, those people we have grown to respect, admire and love.

c) How do the Sacraments of Penance and Eucharist relate to the Sacrament of Marriage?

Reconciliation and fidelity are the foundation of married life. These sacraments foster and protect true communion between the sexes, and help us grow in our capacity to love as Jesus does.

d) In the Lord’s prayer, we say, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Do you find it easy or difficult to do that? How does forgiveness enable relationships?

Many of us take God’s mercy for granted. Yet, when others wrong us, we spurn their apology, make little effort to make amends and even seek revenge. This situation is not uncommon in my own life. Being angry and holding a grudge is the easy choice, while forgiveness can be a difficult option and a long hard road to healing.

Forgiveness enables relationships by helping the relationship, and the people in it, to grow. The sacrament of Penance renews our appreciation of our own sinfulness and how this wounds God and others, and damages the relationship we have with Him and our loved ones.  Above all, the sacrament renews our comment to being again, to restore the harmed relationship and gives us the grace to do that.

#WMOF2015 Catechesis: Love is Our Mission- The Meaning of Human Sexuality

World Meeting of Families 2015 logoThis month, the 8th World Meeting of Families will take place in Philladelphia, USA. The World Meeting of Families is an international event of prayer, catechesis, and celebration. The theme of this meeting is Love is our Mission- The Family Fully Alive. The meeting will end with the Festival of Families and Mass celebrated by Pope Francis.

To prepare for the event, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and the Pontifical Council for the Family have created a preparatory catechesis on family life. Each chapter ends with questions for discussion. Below, I share my answers.

Chapter 3: The Meaning of Human Sexuality

3

a) Why do Catholics enjoy and value the physical, tangible world so much? Think of anything beautiful, such as nature, bodies, food or art – why are these things so important in Catholic tradition?

Creation is a reflection of God’s glory. The catechesis reminds us that “the natural physical world bursts with spiritual goodness” and that the Catholic faith is a “physical” religion- the bible begins in a garden and ends in a feast.

A magnificent sunset, a delicate flower, a beautiful smile are all daily reminders of our maker. “In the sacraments, material things are consecrated and made visible signs of grace” (WMF catechesis). Water, bread, wine, the touch of hands are ways by which God’s presence becomes real.

b) What is the purpose of creation? Is the physical world a blank slate, which we’re free to rule and exploit to our own desires?

Creation is an overflowing of God’s love who made us to share in the eternal exchange of the divine love of the Trinity. We are stewards of creation. In performing our role, we practice the virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance.

Due to original sin and concupiscence, we sometimes, like the bad stewards in the bible, exploit creation. Part of creation is the ecology of humanity itself. As part of God’s creation our bodies have innate dignity. “We do not always love as we ought, but God’s pattern of love protects us and calls us back to our true natures” (WMF Catechesis).

c)Things like rest, food, pleasure, and beauty are attractive. But sometimes we have deeply felt desires and appetites beyond what is good for us. How do we know when a desire is legitimate and good? How can we cherish and enjoy creation and our bodies in daily life?

 Media and marketing are permeated by “selfism”. The slogan, “because I’m worth it”, is a succinct summary of the attitude that pervades our “me” culture. This outlook can conflict with the Christian, who makes a sacrifice of himself to help and love his neighbour. Therefore it can be difficult to discern what is genuinely legitimate and good, when our culture is telling us the opposite, to “treat yourself” and that “you can have it all”.

Aristotle said that the best activities are the most useless.  In contrast, when it comes to our relationships, when we desire someone lustfully, we are looking at them in a utilitarian way. We use the person for our own gain, a means to an end, treating them as an object, rather than seeing them as person with dignity, deserving of reverence and respect.

We don’t know when a desire is legitimate and good. Because of our fallen nature, we justify our behaviour, and even make virtues of vices. We need to reject the selfish temptations that the culture proposes.

There is a joy and serenity in enjoying the things of this world without being consumed by them. We need to keep our gazes and hearts fixed on God. We receive grace through the sacraments and cultivate a personal relationship with God. Through knowing Him, we discern the ways of virtues and with His grace, we have the strength to follow His ways.

d) Why do you think Catholic practice traditionally includes feasting and fasting? Celibacy and marriage?

In Matthew’s gospel, a follower of John asks Jesus why the Pharisees fast, but Jesus’ disciples feast. Jesus replies that the bridegroom’s attendants cannot mourn while the bridegroom is with them, but that a time will come when he will be taken away from them and they will fast (Matthew 9:15-16). The Church, “in the course of the year… unfolds the whole mystery of Christ from his Incarnation and Nativity through his Ascension, to Pentecost and the expectation of the blessed hope of the coming of the Lord” (CCC 1194). The celebration of the liturgical year requires fasting and feasting, as we remember Jesus’ life. It was, and still is for some Catholics, tradition to fast on Fridays, the day Jesus died, and all Catholics celebrate his resurrection on Sunday.

In celibacy and marriage, we can live out our God-given masculinity or femininity in generous, self-giving ways. “Both ways of living look to God’s covenant and receive the fact of being created as male and female as occasions of joy … The discipline we impose on our love… honors and reveals the true meaning of love, created in the image and likeness of God”(WMF Catechesis).