On Leaving (and Coming Home)

“I am grateful to have been loved and to be loved now and to be able to love, because that liberates. Love liberates. It doesn’t just hold—that’s ego. Love liberates. It doesn’t bind. Love says, ‘I love you. I love you if you’re in China. I love you if you’re across town. I love you if you’re in Harlem. I love you. I would like to be near you. I’d like to have your arms around me. I’d like to hear your voice in my ear. But that’s not possible now, so I love you. Go.’” – Maya Angelou

Since the summer I turned 17, my life has been a series of comings and goings. My first time leaving home for an extended period of time was in July 2009, where I attended a month-long theater conservatory two hours away. Then, when I was 18, I left New Jersey to go to college in upstate New York. In both cases, I was more than ready to leave the suburban bubble I grew up in and see the world, not really thinking about what and who I was leaving behind. When I was 20, I left for France for the first time with the comfortable notion that I would be home at the end of the semester. And two years later, I went back to France with the same comfortable notion, though the time of return was significantly further away.

I’m thankful that I’ve had the opportunity to live in so many places and meet all different kinds of people. However, in my wild dreams of adventure and ambition, I rarely thought about the people I was leaving behind.

In the coming weeks, several good friends, including my own sister, will be leaving the New York metropolitan area to pursue the next step in their education and/or careers. Most likely, I won’t see some of them for many months or years. In past situations, I could handle the separation easily because more often than not, I would be leaving too; graduation never really affected me because I was so focused on where I was going next. This time was different. They were leaving for an extended period of time. I was staying with no immediate prospect of leaving.

It is always easier to leave than to be left behind.

After I left book club Tuesday night, this crushing realization moved me to tears. I was angry with God and with myself. I felt like I was being punished for my insatiable wanderlust and my disregard for the sacrifices made by my family and friends, especially my parents, so I could travel. I wondered if I had thrown away relationships and opportunities at home, and if I had made the right decision in leaving at all.

As I stood on line for the bus, I saw a familiar face a few people behind me. It was the face of a high school friend I hadn’t spoken to in years. Both of us, in our turn, had left our hometown for college, study abroad and different jobs. Now, we had returned. We spent the whole ride catching up, talking about old times and books and current plans, and parted with hopes of seeing each other again. As she got off the bus, I thought of the other friends I had made and remade since coming home, of the opportunies I’ve had in New York, and of my growing relationship with my family. I knew that I was back in New Jersey because there was something for me to do here.

A voice in my heart spoke to me and said, “You see, you of little faith? I am not taking these people away from you. I am calling them to something greater. Do you think it was easy for all the people in your life to let you go? No. They didn’t let you go because they didn’t care; they did it because they love you. My question to you is: do you love your friends enough to let them go?”

I did. I do love my friends and my sister well enough to let them go. Go ahead and laugh and say, “Well that’s the harsh reality of life.” However, I’ve found that merely accepting reality does nothing to relieve the bitter flavor of the situation. Responding to a situation with unconditional love does. Since I have received such unconditional love and support from my family and friends for any adventure I felt called to chase, I can do nothing but the same for anyone else.

Love does not hold. Love liberates. So I love you. Go, and I will stay.

A plus!


– Vicky

Why I Get Excited About Lent

Many self-improvement programs feature a 30-day challenge (30 days of fitness, clean eating, life organization, you name it.)

I myself am in the midst of a 40-day challenge, the same one I do every year. It’s called Lent.

Growing up Catholic, Lent was generally seen as a dreaded period of depravity. Fat Tuesday (or Mardi Gras, as you prefer) was usually celebrated in my family by a trip to Wendy’s to stuff our faces with burgers and Frostys before the long 40 days of meatless Fridays and no chocolate. As a kid, you were pressured to “give up” something you loved for Lent, and there was always that one smart aleck in your CCD class who boldly declared he was giving up school for Lent.

It wasn’t until I got to college that I began to understand that Lent is just as much about what you add as what you subtract.

My first serious foray into doing something extra for Lent was my senior year of college, when I followed the 40-day devotional outlined in Katherine Becker’s book, “The Dating Fast.” (For my blog series on this book, click here.) Though I didn’t know it at the time, this book laid the groundwork for my hunger to learn more about the Catholic faith, and John Paul II’s Theology of the Body in particular. And it all began with me following my God-given curiousity and typing “dating fast” into Google! Granted, I still have a loooooooooooooooooooong way to go in my discovery of TOB. However, without that “little something extra” for Lent, I wouldn’t have started on the journey.

Lent is not the end. It is the beginning of renewal, of conversion, of realizing more fully our God-given potential for greatness.

This year, I found myself less excited for Mardi Gras and more excited for Ash Wednesday, or as I like to call it, Catholic Awareness Day. I had my Lenten sacrifices and “somethings extra” all planned out, and I was so ready for the challenge. More than anything, I was excited to see what kind of person God could mold me into in 40 days. Instead of looking at Lent as a miserable period of depravity, I felt like someone about to start Whole30 or P90X. What could I, by God’s grace working in me, become in just 40 days?

Some of you reading this post may be thinking, “That’s great, Vicky, but Lent is more than halfway over. And I’ve already caved and ate a huge piece of chocolate cake yesterday.” All I have to say is that Lent isn’t over yet. Remember that talk we had about New Year’s Resolutions? The same applies to Lent. You don’t have to be perfect. You just need to try again.

If you can’t get into the spirit of the season, think of the last three weeks of Lent as an extra challenge. Get back on track with the goals you made on Ash Wednesday. Maybe set a new goal for yourself, even something small, like doing one random act of kindness every day. These next three weeks are Catholic crunch time, preparing for the most glorious celebration of our Church year: Easter Sunday!

Are you in? I’m in.

À bientôt!

– Vicky

Dear Future Wives: Rules for Making “The Husband List”

After my Lenten dating fast in 2014, I decided to start seriously praying for my future husband. If I’m meant to be married, it must mean that the guy I’m going to marry is out there somewhere, even if that somewhere is Mars. I remembered a Steubenville Women’s Session led by Jackie Francois Angel, where she talked about a prayer journal she kept for her future husband. On the first few pages of the journal, she wrote out her “husband list,” or everything she wanted in a spouse, and she wrote prayers in that journal every month for three years. She re-met her future husband when the journal was almost full.

I don’t know if the timing will be as awesome as that for me, as I have a lot of pages left in my own “future spouse” journal. But as I’ve written in this little book over the past year and a half, I’ve realized this practice is much more common than I thought. After doing a little research among Christian female bloggers, I’ve found that Christian preteen girls are generally encouraged to make their “husband lists” way before they’ve started dating, so their filtering system for any future love interests is all based on speculation. I had gone through several relationships and many awkward dates before I started my prayer journal, so I had a semisolid idea of what I wanted and didn’t want. I didn’t tell anyone about it because I thought it would be seen as totally antiquated in today’s culture. So imagine my surprise and relief when my best friend since sixth grade, who isn’t Catholic, told me she had made her own future husband list!

As with any trend in Christian culture, the husband list has gotten some backlash in recent years. Some say that these lists hold men up to impossible standards, much in the same way pop culture has done to women for years. Others argue that checklists set girls up for disappointment because, as one blogger put it, we all want a perfect, fictional man who doesn’t exist. (Yes, my little fangirl heart is broken because Gilbert Blythe doesn’t exist.)

I get the criticism, but I think there are merits to writing such a list. It’s a good way to organize your thoughts and keep yourself honest about any crushes that come your way. However, I think we need to lay a few ground rules before we draw hearts in pink gel pen all over an old notebook. (Do people even use gel pens anymore?)

So without further ado, here are my 10 rules to keep in mind while making a “future husband” list.

1. Eliminate any physical characteristics.

It’s OK to be attracted to certain physical traits moreso than others, and mutual physical attraction is important in a relationship, but don’t write someone off because they have brown eyes instead of blue. If that seems silly, maybe some secondary characteristics have made it onto your list. What if God handed you your perfect partner, but he was several inches shorter than you? Would you really turn him down over that? I hope not.

2. List traits that YOU are looking for, not what makes other people happy.

One of the merits of the future spouse list is that it’s a great personal reflection exercise. If you’re someone who keeps a to-do list or writes down the pros and cons when making a major decision, this is a wonderful way to organize your thoughts. Remember, this list is for you. It’s not for your mom or your parish priest, and your professor isn’t going to grade it. So don’t put anything on your list that you are not truly looking for in a lifelong relationship.

3. Don’t treat your list as a binding contract.

I wrote my future husband list in the summer of 2014, but even after 18 months, there are several things I would add, delete, or change. It’s so easy to overthink this list, as if dating or life experience won’t fill in gaps along the way. God won’t give you a husband who has a gambling problem simply because you didn’t think to put it on your list! That said, if you’re still holding onto that list you made when you were 11, it might be time for a revised edition.

4. Separate the negotiable from the non-negotiable.

Any physical characteristics? Negotiable. Common core values? Non-negotiable.

Oh, and for the record, you two don’t have to like all the same things. Sure, friendships and relationships usually begin due to common interests, and it is important to have some similar interests with your spouse. However, our individual hobbies and interests are what make us, well, interesting. Don’t expect your husband to give up one of his interests because you don’t share it, just like you wouldn’t want him to tell you to give up a hobby that you love because he doesn’t like it.

To recap: A guy who will binge-watch Gilmore Girls with you? Negotiable. A guy who is your biggest fan even if he doesn’t like/understand what you like to do? Non-negotiable.

5. Look for constant effort, not perfection.

Laraine Bennett, a blogger at the Catholic Match Institute, wrote an article against the idea of the husband list, in response to another blogger who had listed 12 ideals that should be on every girl’s future husband list. Bennett writes, “My husband and I would never have gotten married if we had required that we already possessed these twelve ideals, and we have been happily married now for 36 years. We were working on many of those supposed ‘non-negotiables’ at the time we met.”

As the chaplain of my college’s Catholic community always used to say, we’re not perfect yet. Faith is a journey. There are going to be good days and bad days, and you won’t always be the best version of yourself. Don’t look for someone who doesn’t ever make a mistake because he doesn’t exist. You will both make plenty of mistakes in your dating relationship and especially, especially in marriage. The key is that both of you choose to love, choose to forgive, and choose each other, no matter how many times you screw up.

6. Be your future husband’s prayer warrior, not a seeker.

Seriously, your husband’s not a Golden Snitch. He’s a human being with thoughts, feelings and issues, just like you. Let’s face it: being a young person of faith can be really hard in today’s world. We need the prayers and support of others, and I guarantee your future husband needs your prayers, even if you have no idea who he is yet.

A few months ago, two of my good friends and I completed a 54-day Rosary novena for our future husbands, wherever they were. It was a powerful experience because every day, not one, not two, but three Rosaries were being said for each of our spouses! For Lent, we’re doing another 54-day novena, this time for ourselves, that we can become the best daughters of God we can be, which brings me to …

7. “Strive to become the woman of your dreams, and you will attract the man of your dreams.”

This piece of awesomeness comes from another Steubenville talk by Sarah Swafford, and I think it nails the point of making the husband list. It’s a form of discernment — not just of who you want to marry, but who you want to be, regardless of marital status. If you want a husband who goes to daily Mass, you should be at daily Mass. If you want someone who’s close with his family, make sure you carve out time to spend with those you love. Make a separate list of goals that have nothing to do with getting married. Whether God calls you to marriage or to a different vocation, you should constantly be working on yourself, while remembering that you are a beloved daughter of God.

8. Forgive yourself and him.

Once again, people make mistakes. We’re broken. Getting into a relationship doesn’t make your problems go away; in fact, once the honeymoon phase is over, all your faults, issues and insecurities will rise to the surface. It’s up to you to decide whether you will stick it out, or walk away. Granted, if the guy you’re into exhibits any of the traits on Crystalina Evert’s “Dump Him” List, well, do as the title suggests. But don’t expect a perfect partner. You’re not perfect, either. I once read a quote from a woman who said that she knew she found “the one” when she found a man with faults she could live with and virtues that she didn’t want to live without.

9. Remember who the real Bridegroom is.

One of the most frustrating pieces of advice you hear as a Christian single person from well-meaning adults is, “Make Jesus the love of your life.” The frustration is twofold; on one hand, you don’t know how to do that, and on the other, despite this advice there is an unbelievable amount of pressure to date someone, anyone, just to have a relationship. To be honest, I’m still trying to figure this one out. But one thing I’ve learned is that a relationship with Jesus takes effort, just like any human relationship. Walking humbly with God is a daily choice. Jesus is not going to be the love of your life if you don’t let Him. And believe me, you, as part of His Church, are already the love of His (everlasting) life.

10. It’s not all about you.

Repeat after me: Marriage is not just about making you happy. The sacrament of marriage is beautiful, but it requires hard work, patience, forgiveness, kindness, and putting someone else’s needs before your own — even when you don’t feel like it. If your list sounds a lot like a Meghan Trainor song, you might want to scrap it and start over.

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So to all my single ladies and gents (and those in relationships), Bonne Saint Valentin!

À la prochaine!

– Vicky

Question of the Week: I just want to hear your thoughts on this topic. There’s so much to talk about, so leave me a comment!

The Purpose of Unexpected Joy

Bonne année, mes amis! Happy 2016!

Despite growing up 25 miles away from New York City, I never spent New Year’s Eve in Times Square, much to the chagrin of my European friends. I never felt a desire to stand in the cold for 10 hours in the middle of a drunken mob, waiting for an event that was over in a blink. This year, being a part-time New Yorker changed that.

One of my friends from my NYC Catholic book club was the organizer of an annual New Year’s Eve party at St. Malachy’s Church, one block away from Times Square. I expected a fun night with a few good friends. Little did I know that God wanted to give me an NYC afternoon adventure with a new friend from out of town, a sparkly disco ball mask to wear, Mass in a beautiful church, drinks and dancing, and the crown jewel of the evening: getting to pass through the police barricade around Times Square and watch the ball drop in person with a million rejoicing people and probably a billion pieces of confetti.

I never asked for it, but God decided to give His little girl one last gift to celebrate the end of the year.

Today, I kept asking myself why I of all people received such unexpected joy at the end of the year. A few weeks ago, my book club discussed the purpose and beauty of suffering, how it can shape us into better people and teach us to rely more heavily on God, among other things. After this discussion, I expected God would bring some suffering in my life in order to put these ideas into practice. But the end of my year was so joyful that I got a little confused. 

Of course, this is only the first day of 2016. A lot of suffering can happen in the near future. But is there a purpose to joy? Are we supposed to just appreciate joy, or is there a responsibility that comes with joy?

The comparison between my average expectations for the evening and what I experienced reminded me of a quote by C.S. Lewis from his book The Weight of Glory, “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about … when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by an offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

We often don’t expect to find joy because we don’t think we deserve it. We’re not miserable, so we don’t need anything to bring us joy. We’re just moving through life trying to get it all done, and that’s enough for us. Besides, why should we be so happy when so many people in the world are suffering? But those who have experienced deep joy know that it’s impossible to hide. It shows in your face and your smile and your eyes, and other people can see it.

That’s the great responsibility that comes with the great power of joy: to let our joy spill over into the lives of others, to use our light to cast out, even partially, someone else’s darkness. One of my coworkers told me recently, “Your smile is the first thing I see when I walk into the office, and I know it’s going to be a good day.” In 2016, I hope to continue to bring joy to others, no matter what suffering I may have to face.

God doesn’t just want us to feel “fine,” he wants to give us joy! Jesus says in Matthew 7:11, “If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give to those who ask him.” So as we move into 2016, I challenge you to expect joy. Expect love. Expect positivity. Expect laughter. Expect friendship. And when you or someone you know is in a tough situation, use your joy to make a difference.

Thank you to all who have followed this blog for the past three years. I wouldn’t be here without you. Here’s to making 2016 the best year yet!

À bientôt!

– Vicky

Question of the Week: One of my New Year’s resolutions is to post on this blog every Friday. Share your resolutions in the comments below!

Hundred Word Reviews: “Confessions” by Saint Augustine

Challenge No. 3: A Book with A One-Word Title

“Confessions” by Saint Augustine, translated by Garry Wills, finished April 23. I know I said I would do the one with nonhuman characters next, but it got complicated.

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Hundred Word Review: Augustine of Hippo’s testimony is a staple in Catholic literature. Born in Africa in 354, he became a celebrated orator and conceited playboy. His mother, Saint Monica, prayed to the point of suffering for years for his conversion to Catholicism. Finally, Augustine became a Doctor of the Church in the ultimate come-to-Jesus story. Every Christian needs to get their hands on this book, but don’t expect to read it in a week. Beneath all of Augustine’s rich language and profound philosophy are moments that make you say, “That’s so me.” Take your time with this book. It’s well worth it.

Check out PopSugar’s challenge and let me know in the comments if you have a book recommendation for one of the categories. And if you want to do the challenge yourself, let me know what you’re reading!

Next up, “a book set somewhere you’ve always wanted to visit.”

Happy reading!

Vicky

‘Old Fashioned’ Hopes and Fears

Who doesn’t love romance? As a culture, we’re obsessed with it. We try to groan every time a new romantic comedy comes out, but we secretly get the warm and fuzzies after we watch it on Netflix … or in a movie theater by ourselves. But Christians looking to pursue God-centered relationships that eventually lead to God-centered marriages don’t have too many role models in modern rom-coms.

Enter “Old Fashioned,” a new romantic comedy from Skoche Films hitting U.S. theaters Feb. 13, the same day as that other big-budget “romance” about glorified domestic violence.

OK, short synopsis: Antique store owner Clay was a chauvinist frat boy until he found Jesus and developed his own Joshua Harris-style ideas about love and courtship. Will o’ the whisp Amber moves into the apartment above his store, and … you can guess where this is going.

I’m a Catholic Christian, but I’m not obliged to like or support all forms of media marketed as “Christian” (for a further explanation, check out this awesome video from Blimey Cow.) I’ve recently started to watch more Christian films, and in general, they range from the harmlessly mediocre to the downright offensive — don’t get me started on “God’s Not Dead.”

However, after watching the trailer for “Old Fashioned,” my cold, cynical, secular heart began to feel the same warm and fuzzies I used to get from romantic comedies. I’m a sucker for love stories, but when two characters in a romantic comedy share a few shallow lines of dialogue, hook up and then suddenly have a long-lasting, healthy relationship, I scratch my head. There is definitely a need for romantic comedies that show women and men taking dating slowly and treating each other with respect and dignity. However, Christian films also need to rise above the level of “good … for a Christian movie.”

With this in mind, “Old Fashioned” could restore my faith in Christian films if …

1. … the script doesn’t feel like it was cut-and-pasted from the pastor’s Sunday sermon notes.

I don’t mean to be disrespectful to the work that pastors and priests put into their sermons. However, many Christian movies I’ve seen have deserved the label “preachy.” An audience doesn’t like to be talked at. After watching these films, I feel reprimanded rather than entertained. I’m not saying that a film’s sole purpose is entertainment or that churches shouldn’t use popular media to connect with their members. However, Christian artists should focus on producing quality content just as much as spreading their message. Christian films don’t get a pass on screenwriting guidelines; they still need to develop plot and characters to their full potential, which brings me to …

2. … the characters are relatable and well-rounded; not all Christian characters are saints, and not all non-Christian characters are demons, or worse, “projects.”

Any practicing Christian will tell you that they are not perfect; anyone who says otherwise is kidding themselves. Following Jesus Christ is not easy, and faith is a life-long journey that can’t be completed in the span of a two-hour movie. So why, in so many Christian films, are all Christian characters automatically “good guys” and all non-Christian characters automatically “bad guys”? Real people aren’t as black-and-white as that. Judging from the trailer, “Old Fashioned” could be taking a step in the right direction, as Amber, by all indications, is not a Christian. My only hope is that the movie doesn’t make her a pet project for Clay to convert. If the filmmakers want the audience to believe in these characters, they need to write them as real people who struggle and sin but also dust themselves off and try again.

3. … it has other selling points besides being countercultural or “non-secular.”

Once “Old Fashioned” was acquired by Freestyle Releasing, the same distributor of “God’s Not Dead,” it was pitched as a squeaky-clean alternative to the BDSM-filled juggernaut “Fifty Shades of Grey,” and Freestyle even planned to release their film on the same day. Its tagline: “Chivalry makes a comeback.” While this is a smart marketing move, the film needs to stand on its own as a well-made movie. If you want people to have faith in your product’s message, you need to put effort into the product itself. Again, see the Blimey Cow video I mentioned earlier.

4. … it doesn’t preach to the choir.

Last year, I had the great privilege to lead a Christian women’s retreat at my college. That same weekend, one of my best friends from high school was planning a visit. Though she doesn’t really practice any religion, she came on the retreat like the wonderful and supportive friend she is. When I asked her how she liked it, she said some parts, like our praise and worship hour, made her feel out of place, but that she really enjoyed listening to the testimonies of the retreat leaders and meeting some of my friends. Christian films can’t get their message out if their filmmakers are only concerned with adhering to religious dogma. There need to be elements of the story and characters that anyone of any religion can identify with.

5. … you wouldn’t know the difference if the film was made by a secular production company.

HOLD IT BEFORE YOU UNFOLLOW THIS BLOG. Just hear me out. When I say that there should be no difference between a Christian film and a secular film, I don’t mean that Christian filmmakers should jeopardize their values to appeal to the lowest common denominator. On the contrary, they should use their God-given talents to produce quality entertainment that has a Christ-centered message. The trick is finding God in secular media. Themes such as love, sacrifice, friendship, courage and community do exist in Hollywood. It may take a bit of digging, but there are good values in many secular films. Well-made Christian films have the potential to show the film industry that we don’t need to watch sex and violence all the time … and that a popular book series doesn’t necessarily deserve a cinematic adaptation. *cough*

“Old Fashioned” isn’t being released internationally at the moment, but if you’re in the U.S., find a screening near you and check it out this Valentine’s Day weekend!

This time, you get TWO questions! 1) What are your thoughts on “Old Fashioned” or “Fifty Shades of Grey”? 2) Do you know any Christian films that fit the above criteria? Seriously, guys. I need my faith restored in Christian cinema.

Bon Saint Valentin!

– Vicky

A Functioning Roman Catholic, Among Other Things

Bonne année a tous! Happy New Year, everyone!

For those of you who are new to this blog, especially my fellow participants of Blogging U.’s Blogging 101 class, bienvenue! I hope you’ll comment on this post so I can get to know all of you!

Recently, I reached 50 followers on this blog. I know it doesn’t sound like a lot, but for a blogger whose most frequently used tags are “Catholic” and “God,” I am very grateful. Thank you so much to everyone! I also apologize for my “En Avant Pour L’Avent” series falling through. :/

So about me: I’m Vicky, short for Victoria. (You’d be surprised at how many people don’t make the connection.) I was born and raised in New Jersey. Despite my lack of French heritage, I’ve been obsessed with France for as long as I can remember. I started studying French when I was thirteen years old and double-majored in writing and French in college. I’m spending my first post-grad year teaching English to French middle schoolers in a small town about an hour north of Paris. My idea of paradise is a secondhand bookstore with a coffee shop. I text in full sentences using proper grammar. I’m either an outgoing introvert or a shy extrovert — I can’t decide. I have a head full of useless and random information. I laugh a little too hard. I love to bake and travel, but mostly I love to write. One of my life goals is to get a book published. It doesn’t have to be a bestseller; I just want a hot-off-the-press copy in my hands, none of this e-book nonsense.

Oh, and I’m also Catholic.

So why did I leave that part till the last? My faith is extremely important to me, but it’s not the only thing that makes me me. When I tell people I’m Catholic, they seem to lump me into a sort of homogenous box of people wearing beige sweaters and praying the Rosary. While I do love a good Rosary, I’m not some supreme holy being; I’m a human being. If anything, Catholics are a bunch of messed up, broken and very different people that know we need a Savior, Jesus Christ.

I do want to talk about my faith on this blog, but I also want to talk about other things I love, namely literature, France, travel, and (gasp!) feminism. My hope is that someone who isn’t Catholic will read my blog and think, “OK, this girl seems pretty normal. Maybe Catholics aren’t as crazy as I thought.”

I will look at Catholicism with a critical eye and a funny bone if need be; hey, Stephen Colbert has made a career out of taking shots at the Catholic Church, and he’s a devout Catholic! In fact, the title of this post comes from a segment about Lent on The Colbert Report.

Keep in mind that I am not an expert on anything. My opinions are my own, that of a 22-year-old (barely) functioning Roman Catholic still figuring it all out.

Thank you so much for reading! I can’t wait to meet all my fellow Blogging 101 people!

À la prochaine fois! See you next time!

Vicky

Question of the Week: What’s a question you’ve always wanted to ask a young person of faith? Tell me in the comments! I may answer it in an upcoming post.

En Avant Pour L’Avent, Week 1: My BFF Jesus

As you begin to read this post, you probably have two burning questions:

Q. WHERE THE HECK HAVE YOU BEEN, VICKY? IT’S BEEN OVER A MONTH!

A. I firmly believe that November is the most jam-packed month of the year. Yes, even busier than December. It’s like the world needs to cram all the non-holiday-related obligations into November to make room for all the bustle of the Christmas season. So yeah, between teaching, lesson planning, and a little traveling, I’ve been busy. I’m sorry. 😦 But I’m hoping that this Advent will give me more time to write, which brings me to …

Q. Why is the title of this post in French, and what does it mean?

A. This past Sunday was the first Sunday of Advent, and as usual, I went to the messe des jeunes — youth evening mass — in town. A seminarian there was wearing a bright green rubber bracelet that said “En Avant Pour L’Avent,” which roughly translates to “All ready for Advent!” It’s catchier in French, in my humble opinion.

I thought it would be a great title for my Advent series on this blog. The season of Advent is a time of preparation for the coming of the infant Jesus at Christmas … so what does that mean? Around this time, people start, or have already made, their Christmas game plans: when the parties are, what decorations need to be put up, and “Gosh, I need to remember to get a gift for my boss’ secretary’s assistant’s kid.” It’s easy to go into Advent without a spiritual game plan and try to squeeze in time for Mass between shopping sprees.

This year, I really wanted to use Advent to grow closer to Jesus, to more deeply understand His love for me, and ultimately, to make Him my best friend.

In many chastity talks for women I’ve seen, the speaker talks about making Jesus the love of your life, the man who satisfies you before anyone else. This is something I’ve been trying to do for a long time now, and I’d get frustrated when I would examine my conscience and think, “Nope, I still want a husband more than I want Jesus.” I didn’t know how to fix this, and I knew I couldn’t force myself to love Jesus in that way, even though He already had that love times infinity for me.

I got a hint two weeks ago at the messe de jeunes. I absolutely LOVE this Mass! The musicians and the lectors are all high school and college students, the priests are generally younger and more energetic, and it reminds me so much of Mass at my American college. I felt right at home after my first youth Mass, and I started going to Wednesday evenings at the aumônerie, or religious education center, where I met a ton of welcoming and fun French Catholic students. Whenever I went to Sunday Mass or to a Wednesday meeting, I was sure of seeing a lot of people I knew who would come up to me and say “Salut!” and kiss me on both cheeks (faire la bise).

Two weeks ago, I walked into the church, and knew nobody. I don’t know what was going on that week, but all my new acquaintances at the aumônerie, and even a Catholic teacher I was becoming good friends with, weren’t there.

Those of you who know me personally know that I like people. I can have my introverted moments, but for the most part, I find God most often in other people. At this moment, I had no people, so there was no faith, no community, no joy. I turned bitter. I was uncivil to the people who did look my way and say “Bonsoir.” I was sorely disappointed; I had needed a Catholic community and there was none to be seen.

At some point, a voice spoke in my heart, “There is still Jesus.” There, right in front of me, on the altar, was my Savior, who had given up His life — His guiltless, blameless life — for me, a sinner. John 15:13 says, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” We often see Jesus as a Lord, or a Master, not a friend. But He desires to be our friend! No one knew this better than Saint Teresa of Avila, who wrote, “For prayer is nothing else than being on terms of friendship with God.”

This Advent season, I am working to build that friendship with Jesus. In seeking to make Jesus the love of my life, I had forgotten that the greatest and longest-lasting love stories begin when a beautiful friendship blossoms into something more. Jesus did not give His life on the Cross without spending time with His disciples and the people He ministered to, teaching them, breaking bread with them, and healing them. A relationship with God doesn’t just happen; we need to cultivate it.

So here is my Advent Game Plan. I hope it will inspire you to write your own:

1. Read the Bible chapter mentioned in the daily verse on my Advent calendar.

2. Do the daily reflection in my “Five Minutes with the Word” booklet. (Thanks, Catholic community care package!)

3. Confession at least once and Mass as often as possible.

4. Journaling, with the intention of filling up my five-year-old journal before Christmas.

5. Bringing my problems to prayer before sharing them with anyone else.

Stay tuned for more Advent updates! This weekend, I will be going on a retreat at a very special location. It’s going to be awesome. Know that I am praying for you this Advent season.

Bisous!

– Vicky

What’s your Advent Game Plan? Tell me in the comments!

Red High Heels in Church: Some Thoughts on Modesty

I was unstoppable on Wednesday morning. Despite the vampiric sleep schedule my job has inspired this summer, I was up early enough to bake pains au chocolat for an office World Cup party the next day. Then, I put on an adorable outfit that I hadn’t worn to the office yet, and headed off to daily Mass before work. I was hyped until Communion. As I passed through the pew to the aisle, I tried to shake off the wave of self-consciousness that suddenly came over me, as if something about me was impure or improper, and not worthy to be seen by our Lord. Embarrassed, I looked down, and I saw the suspects: my cherry red, faux-suede pumps.

I had put them on that morning thinking they added a much-needed pop of color to my black-and-white dress. But now, I was convinced, the people around me must think I was going to hit the bars after Mass! Why, oh why, I asked myself, didn’t I stick with sensible flats? Why couldn’t I be more MODEST?

Hitherto, I’ve avoided talking about modesty on this blog because I was never sure how to go about it. It’s a topic that is under frequent discussion in women’s ministry, and it can very easily be mishandled, or in extreme cases, dissolve into blaming and criticizing our sisters in Christ. Then there are conflicting ideas about what constitutes modest dress: Should I not wear makeup or jewelry? Can I still wear shorts in the summer? Throw in the recent discussions in the media about sexual assault on college campuses and sexist dress codes in middle and high schools, and the word “modesty” becomes almost as despicable as the word “patriarchy.”

Let me be clear: A short skirt or a low-cut top is NOT an invitation. NOBODY, no woman, ever “deserves” assault. Period. 

Moving on. Recently I’ve discovered how much I hate the popular phrase “modest is hottest.” I don’t choose to dress modestly because I think it’ll attract more guys, nor because I’m ashamed of my body. I choose to dress modestly because it makes me feel comfortable and beautiful — not “hot,” beautiful. And guess what? Modesty is NOT just a “women’s issue.” That’s right, men should strive to be modest as well, in their dress as well as in their thoughts and actions. I also don’t think that dressing modestly makes me better than anyone else; trying to “out-modest” other women completely misses the point!

What point is that? Well, I should get back to my story at Mass. I went through Communion as usual, acutely aware of the clomp-clomp my heels made on the tile floor. I was mortified. After Mass was over, I walked to the statue of our Blessed Mother. My Confirmation name is Marie, and in every church I visit, I look for a statue of Mary.

I hadn’t even finished my usual Hail Mary before I heard a voice in my heart say, “You’re thinking too much about your heels. I would rather you focus on being a bride of Christ in your heart.”

I was stunned. I looked up into the statue’s face.

“My daughter,” the voice continued. “Don’t you know that you are beautiful? That you are a bride of Christ?”

“But Mama Mary,” I protested. “How can I be a bride of Christ if I don’t dress like one?”

“Even if you were wearing the skimpiest and shabbiest outfit in the world, you would STILL be a bride of Christ, a daughter of the King of Kings. Therefore, stand tall, hold your head up, and act like one.”

True modesty is not covering up to give the illusion of holiness; it is allowing our inner life, our spiritual life, to manifest itself on the outside.

Coincidentally, the Gospel that day was the passage from Matthew, Ch. 6 where Jesus talks about hypocrisy: “When you dress, do not be like the hypocrites who break out a tape measure and compare the width of their neighbors’ spaghetti straps to their own, or the length of their neighbor’s skirt to their own. Amen I say to you, they have received their reward.”

OK, that’s not actually what it says. But the same ideas expressed in that chapter can be very easily applied to modesty. If we don’t act, think and feel modestly in our “inner room,” how are we supposed to show true modesty to the rest of the world?

I’m not saying that modesty should not be talked about, but that it shouldn’t be just a dress code; it should be a code of honor.

We are the daughters and sons of a King. We have the dignity of royalty. So let’s hold our heads high and act like it.

And I’m totally wearing my red heels next year on Pentecost Sunday.

A plus!

– Vicky

How do you practice modesty aside from your physical appearance? Share in the comments below!

Two Tongues, One Spirit

Happy Pentecost, everyone! At Mass this morning, we heard from the Acts of the Apostles. I was reminded of a talk I gave on my college Catholic community’s fall retreat in October, in which I used the same reading. I’d like to share with you an abridged version of that talk, as my personal Pentecost reflection. Veni sancte spiritus.

I’d like to start by examining what community is, and why the global community of Catholics is a special one. Think of some of the communities you’ve been a part of: a team or club, a staff at a job, etc. In all of these cases, people come together to strive toward a common goal. They have different backgrounds, personalities and beliefs, but there is something bigger than all these individuals that unites them. What do Americans say when we recite the Pledge of Allegiance? “One nation, under God.” We are united. In the global community of Catholics, the Holy Spirit is our uniting force.

Let’s look at a reading from the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles (2:1-11):

“When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven staying in Jerusalem. At this sound, they gathered in a large crowd, but they were confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language. They were astounded, and in amazement they asked, ‘Are not all these people who are speaking Galileans? Then how does each of us hear them in his native language? We are Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene, as well as travelers from Rome, both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans and Arabs, yet we hear them speaking in our own tongues
of the mighty acts of God.'”

Frustrating pronunciation aside, this reading exemplifies why the global community of Catholics means so much to me. How many of you have ever attended Mass at a Catholic church that wasn’t your home parish? I’m willing to bet that most of you had little to no trouble following the order of the Mass. You knew the prayers, when to stand, when to sit, when it was time for Communion, etc. No matter where you are in the world, Catholics celebrate Mass in almost exactly the same way. When we listen to the readings on Sundays, millions of other people are hearing the same words in their own language at the same time. Think about that. Millions of people all over the world — many who you will never meet in this lifetime — are joining together, praising God in one voice. Isn’t that amazing?

The word Catholic comes from the Greek word catholikismos, meaning “according to the whole” or “universal.” This etymology became more meaningful to me over this past year. As many of you know, I studied abroad in Nantes, a large city in the western half of France, during my junior year of college. On Jan. 9, 2013, I arrived alone in a foreign country, loaded down with two huge suitcases and fighting off the remnants of a fever. Even my eight years of French classes couldn’t have prepared me for that moment. The first few weeks were much more difficult than I could have imagined. I missed my family and friends. I missed my life at school. And I missed the Catholic community there. I felt like I didn’t have any roots, or anything secure to hold on to. There were several nights where I cried myself to sleep. I couldn’t leave then; my parents had already bought my plane ticket home for May. I knew I had to live there, but how could I fit in?

My saving grace that semester was my host family. That first night, five pairs of brown eyes stared at me from around the dinner table as I tried to introduce myself in broken French. It was terrifying, but they were patient with me. After dinner, the family gathered in the living room, and Madame explained that the family’s tradition was to read the daily scripture and pray together before bed. I was amazed. I knew my host family was Catholic because their youngest son went to a Catholic high school, but until then, I hadn’t known to what degree they practiced their faith.

I don’t remember what passage Madame read that night, but even with my limited French, I had few problems understanding it. I remember feeling a warm glow sputtering inside my chest. It seemed as though the Holy Spirit was speaking to me, to all of us, in a language that was beyond words and cultural barriers. After she finished the reading, Madame prayed out loud for me, that I would have an easy adjustment to life in France, and for the family, that they would receive the strength and grace to help me as best they could. Afterward, we said the Our Father and the Hail Mary in French, and surprisingly, I could follow along. For the first time since I had arrived in France, I felt like I was home.

As the weeks went by, my faith strengthened me, and I grew in my relationship with God. I learned to say the Our Father and Hail Mary in French. My host family took me to Mass every Sunday and brought along their missal so I could learn the responses. When we visited Paris, we attended Mass at the Chapel of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal and I got my own medal blessed by the sisters there. About a month and a half into my stay, I started attending meetings of the Catholic community at the local university. Their potluck dinners reminded me of Catholic community soup suppers back home, and I did make some friends there.

I can remember my prayer walk that I did on the last fall retreat before I left the States, where I asked God if He would be with me in France. He said, very clearly, “I will be with you wherever you go.”

Robert Frost wrote, “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” But wherever my walk with God has lead me, across state lines or across oceans, I have never been under the impression that a Catholic church has taken me in out of obligation, but out of Christ’s love. It is true that the Church is God’s house, but God’s unconditional love and acceptance and community does not stop at the church doors. As the hymn says, we take the love of God with us as we go. We are called to share that love with the rest of the world. There is no maximum capacity in heaven. God welcomes everyone of every race, language, gender, sexual orientation, economic status, everyone! And we are called to do the same.

If any of you have seen the musical Godspell, the opening number, “Tower of Babble” is a good illustration of this. At the beginning of the number, each ensemble member represents a different philosopher — Socrates, Nietzsche, da Vinci, etc. — and sing their different philosophies loudly, trying to drown out the others. In the next number, John the Baptist enters and tells them to prepare the way of the Lord, and baptizes the whole cast. The Word of God is powerful enough to bring together people who, just moments before, wouldn’t listen to each other or who couldn’t understand one another.

This weekend I pray that we will grow in communion with each other, and through the courage of the Holy Spirit, share that communion with the rest of the world. I would like to close by bringing my host family’s tradition to you. I will be reading from the Gospel of Luke, offering a short prayer, and then closing with the Our Father in French.

A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Luke (6:12-16):

Jesus went up to the mountain to pray, and he spent the night in prayer to God. When day came, he called his disciples to himself, and from them he chose Twelve, whom he also named Apostles: Simon, whom he named Peter, and his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, Simon who was called a Zealot, and Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.

Loving Jesus, we ask you to open our hearts to one another and to Your word, that we may grow in discipleship with You. Send down your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth. I ask all of this in Your name, Amen.

Notre Père qui es aux cieux,
que ton Nom soit sanctifié,
que ton règne vienne,
que ta volonté soit faite
sur la terre comme au ciel.
Donne-nous aujourd’hui notre pain de ce jour.
Pardonne-nous nos offenses,
comme nous pardonnons aussi à ceux qui nous ont offensés.
Et ne nous soumets pas à la tentation,
mais délivre-nous du mal. Amen.

bientôt!

– Vicky

Have you ever met any Catholics from a different country, or attended Mass in another language? Share your experiences in the comments below.