Category Archives: Catholicism

Best Confession Ever: 5 Things You Should Do Before Confession (and 5 While You’re In There)

I go to Confession. I am not always “in great need of Confession,” as a priest once phrased it, but I have found it to be good for me. I go once a month whether I really think I need to or not, and there is always a particular routine I follow. I like routines.

Even if you’re not as frequent a penitent as I am (or you go more often), Lent is a penitential season. The Church places a particular emphasis on the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation (popularly known as Confession) during this season, recommending it in her precepts. If you’ve been putting off Confession for a while, or even if you’ve already decided to go before Easter, here is some advice for having the Best Confession Ever.

1. Figure out how long it has been since your last Confession.

Maybe it’s been a while: several weeks, a few years, or since your last major sacrament. I was in those shoes once. I can tell you from experience that it gets significantly easier if you go more often. You have less time to get into trouble!

Isolating that time frame is also useful because the gravity of your sins can change depending on the passage of time. If you’ve told 6 lies and stolen things from work twice and drank too much 3 times, and your last Confession was 3 weeks ago, that’s a much bigger deal than if it was 3 months ago.

2. Review your life since your last Confession.

I start by looking at my calendar. That usually jogs my memory of my most recent poor choices. This is when my gratitude for the sacrament rises exponentially.

This is also the time to do an examination of conscience. I highly recommend doing that before you leave home if you are going to the church specifically for Confession. Should the line move quickly, you’ll be prepared. If you’re on a retreat or at a Reconciliation/Penance Service, there will probably be a designated time for your examination. My favorite is based on the Ten Commandments and focuses on specific actions I might have committed that break them. I have never made it through that list without spotting something familiar. That may or may not be a good thing.

Read the rest at Austin CNM.

Clothes On, Heart Full (Review: The Thrill of the Chaste, Catholic Edition)

In my happy journey through every book on chastity known to Christian man, I made a stop at The Thrill of the Chaste back in 2012. The book had been out for years; I tend to be a later adopter. My favorite aspects of that edition were Eden’s utterly realistic experience and her comments about the loss of innocence. Through the wonders of the Internet, Eden herself found my review, complimented me on it, and revealed that she had been working on a new book about healing from sexual wounds through the lives of the saints. By reaching out to me, she sparked the great relationship I have with her current publisher, Ave Maria Press. I have been edified by the books I have read since, and I hope you all, dear readers, have enjoyed my writing about them.

I knew Eden had entered the Catholic Church after publishing The Thrill, and I was delighted to see in My Peace I Give You that there was still more for her to share about finding peace and redemption through embracing a chaste lifestyle. And who doesn’t love saints?

"Living chastely is a bold challenge to modern culture, because it proves that people are not automatons but human beings with free will." —Dawn Eden

Imagine my delight to find that the very same Dawn Eden, chastity advocate and new(-ish) Catholic, had revised her initial reflections on converting to chastity in a new, Catholic edition of The Thrill of the Chaste. It’s been some time and many books since I first encountered her story, and I am pleased to note that the infusion of Catholicism only enriches her witness.

Read the rest at Austin CNM.

Where Culture and Scripture Meet (Review: The African American Catholic Youth Bible)

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Image of Our Lady of Czestochowska, a.k.a. the Black Madonna. Public domain.

If I’m going to be honest as a reviewer, I have to say that I didn’t want to like this book. That’s a terrible thing. First of all, I generally prefer not to review books I don’t think I’ll like. I made an exception for Wild at Heart. It seemed like the natural follow-up to Captivating, even though I didn’t like that one very much either, and I felt as though my opinion as a Catholic reviewer would be useful.

So, continuing in honesty, I wasn’t sure I would like the newly-published African American Catholic Youth Bible, from St. Mary’s Press (AACYB). Yet I’m a black Catholic book reviewer. I have years of experience working with youth and young adults (in addition to my own experience being one). Although I do not observe it for reasons much too complex for this blog, it is Black History Month. How could I pass up the opportunity?

Now, having reviewed this particular edition of the Bible, I’m glad I gave it a chance.

Read the rest at Austin CNM.

Ten Years Ago

Ten years ago, I did one thing that would change my life forever.

I went to church.

I had been to church before. I knew how it went. I’ve never been anything other than Catholic, but for a long time, I was nothing, really. My first boyfriend accused me of “paying lip service” to my Catholicism. I had to look that up; he was right, and I was offended because it was true. I prayed (for chastity, actually). I gave up sodas for Lent. That worked. I gave up chocolate another year, and that worked, too. (I now eat chocolate and drink soda.) Beyond that, I knew only enough to check the “Catholic” box. Literally, I checked the box next to “Roman Catholic” on the optional religious preference form during freshman orientation.

That was the extent of it. Up to a few weeks before that day, the last time I had set foot in a church was for my great-grandmother’s funeral. My mom bought me a suit. I did one of the readings. I’m good at reading. Then I went for Christmas, to see my little brother as a king in the children’s pageant. I don’t remember anything more about either of those days. Not the homily. Not what it was like to be in church after being gone for so long. Not whether I felt comfortable or uncomfortable.

I don’t even remember exactly when I made the decision to go back. (How is its own story.) I do know that I picked the day very carefully. Ash Wednesday is not a day of forgiveness. It’s not the Catholic version of Yom Kippur. We don’t really have a Catholic day of forgiveness. Yet Ash Wednesday is the one day when everyone comes out of the woodwork: more than Christmas, more than Easter, even more than Mother’s Day (the highest days of attendance, in order).

Something about Ash Wednesday says, “Come.” So I went.

I was a little afraid to go back that first time. I had never been to the Catholic Student Center. I knew it was within walking distance, and I didn’t have a car anyway, but I could read a map. (This was before I had a smartphone, so it was a real, giant paper campus map that I carried around in my giant purse.) In my fear, I asked a buddy to go with me. She had graduated from Catholic school with a healthy dose of skepticism but not so much that she wouldn’t go to church with me. We walked across campus together and found seats in the packed chapel.

No single homily has stuck with me more than the one I heard that day. Fr. Bill Byrne is a great preacher. Every day is a good day to preach a homily on forgiveness, and I owe my spiritual life to the one he gave to us college kids on Ash Wednesday, February 9, 2005. The central story went like this:

Imagine that, one day, your parents show up and bring you a brand new car. Lexus, Range Rover, whatever your dream car is. They tell you it is a special present just for you. It’s beautiful, and the license plate says “4PRECIOUS.” You love it! You drive it around campus, showing it off. It’s a great car. But one day, you get into a wreck, and the car is totaled. You’re ashamed and sad, and you finally get the courage to tell your parents about it. “No problem,” they say. “We’ll get you a new one.” And before you know it, you have another brand-new car, just like the old one. Same license plate and everything.

This time you’re way more careful, and you do everything you can to protect it, but it gets totaled again. You can’t even believe it, and when you tell your parents, they say, “No problem, sweetie. The new one’s already on the way.”

The love of God is like that. He gives you everything. You screw up. He gives it all back to you. All you have to do is ask. He loves you so much that he will never deny you forgiveness and will give all the grace back to you, every single time.

I needed to hear that. Oh, I’m sure that years of pastoral training and experience had taught Fr. Bill that most people in the pews need to hear Christ’s message of forgiveness. I’m not so arrogant as to think that he actually gave that homily just for me.

But it worked. Four days later, I dragged myself out of bed before noon on Sunday and walked halfway across campus to the larger Memorial Chapel for Mass. I sat toward the back (but not in the back; I was never that kid) and stumbled my way through the Creed. I nailed all the songs from the hymnal, though. I’m a pretty good sight-reader. I’m reasonably certain received Communion that day, and on Ash Wednesday, although I should not have. (I have since repented. Let’s not pretend that doesn’t happen.) And it was okay.

So I went back the next Sunday, and the next.

Soon, I cornered Fr. Bill for an ambush confession. (I don’t recommend the ambush.) It was face-to-face. He didn’t know me from Adam; what did I have to fear? I stuck with the big ones. He gave me four Hail Marys as penance: one for each year I’d been away from the Church.

When I went home for spring break, I went to Mass with my dad, who was preparing for baptism through RCIA. (That is not a coincidence.) I missed one Sunday by oversleeping when I got home for the summer, but that was the only one.

I don’t miss Mass anymore. At the peak, I went to Mass six days a week. You barely have to meet me to know that I’m in it for good.

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A solemn face, but a peace-filled one.

It all started that Ash Wednesday. It’s not obligatory, but it sure is popular. It’s not aimed at forgiveness so much as repentance, but sometimes it works.

I’m praying for those “sometimers” because one of them was me.

How I Became an Apostle of Prayer

In December 2014, I became an apostle. I’d thought about it before, but it was a while (years, actually) before I took the plunge. Now, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I first discovered the Morning Offering when I was in college. My roommate and I slept in bunk beds before we got our own rooms. I have always been a top bunk kind of girl, so every morning, I would climb down the foot of our beds in the dark, like some kind of methodical monkey, to turn off my alarm. I purposely chose an annoying alarm on a real clock, and my roommate was a light sleeper, so I had plenty of motivation to get moving. Slumped in my desk chair after vanquishing the alarm, I turned on my desk lamp and squinted at two Post-its stuck to the edge of my desktop bookshelf.

One said this:

O Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer you all of my prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of this day, in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world. I offer them for all the intentions of your Sacred Heart: the salvation of souls, reparation for sin, and the reunion of all Christians. I offer them for all the intentions of our bishops, all the Apostles of Prayer, and in particular for those recommended by our Holy Father this month.

The other had two bullet points: one general (now “universal”) intention and one mission (now “evangelization”) intention. I found them online. I mumbled my way through the prayers and intentions, still about 60% asleep, and eventually convinced myself to move on with getting ready for the day.

Fast-forward to my second year of teaching. I found myself re-learning that offering prayer and reciting it at the beginning of the day, every day. It was part of the morning announcements at my school. Our theology department chair was on point. It was then that I realized the “apostles of prayer” were actual people. I had been praying for their intentions. Furthermore, this was a group I could join. So why didn’t I?

Moving on again, we find me just this past December. I don’t know what led me back to the website of the Apostleship of Prayer in the U.S., but I got there, and I registered, and now it’s official.

Lindsay Wilcox has pledged to make a daily offering of self to God for the salvation of all people, for the monthly prayer intentions of the pope, and for the intentions of all the Apostles of Prayer throughout the world. This pledge entitles one to membership in the Apostleship of Prayer.

I’m in good company. How’s St. Thérèse for a fellow member?

Before doing good on Earth from heaven, Therese joined the Apostleship of Prayer.

After I joined, I received a lovely booklet listing the pope’s intentions for the year. I keep it on top of my breviary, which I use nightly, so I see it all the time. I also get an email on the first day of the month reminding me of the new intentions and linking me to the reflections provided by the AOP staff.

It has been glorious.

A bit of history: The Apostleship of Prayer began in 1844 when Fr. Francis Gautrelet counseled his Jesuit students about how to console their missionary hearts. They wanted to evangelize in countries around the world, but they were stuck studying in heavily-Catholic France. By offering their whole day to God in union with the intentions of the Sacred Heart and Holy Father, they satisfied their desire to participate in the work of missionary evangelization even while buried under books in the library. The movement spread to 13 million members around the world in just forty years. Today, I am one of them.

The old international AOP website summarizes the purpose and benefits of joining. The Apostleship of Prayer:

  • proposes a way to sanctification
  • through the daily offering
  • that transforms our lives,
  • and unites us in a worldwide communion of prayer
  • through the power of the Holy Spirit who dwells in our hearts,
  • and arouses in us the desire to have the same sentiments that were in the heart of Christ,
  • so that, nourished and molded by him in the Eucharist
  • and reconciled with him in the sacrament of Reconciliation,
  • we become able to put ourselves totally and with all our heart at his disposition
  • and at the disposition of his Church,
  • following the example of Mary,
  • for the coming of his reign.

Do you want to do that? Join the Apostleship of Prayer! It’s free, and you can enroll online anytime. You can also donate to support the work of the AOP, including ministry tools for children and young adults, new media evangelization, and Ignatian retreats held around the country.

Pray with the Pope in the Apostleship of Prayer.

The first and primary duty of an Apostle of Prayer, however, is to pray for the intentions of the pope. This duty is pope-neutral, i.e. it doesn’t matter who is pope at any particular moment. When he asks for prayer, you pray. Even before I became a member, I prayed (and fasted) for peace with Syria. Did the U.S. go to war with Syria? Nope! That’s a pretty solid result in my book. I’m still praying for the actual “peace” part.

Secondary duties are to promote devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, promote the Holy Father’s intentions, and invite others to join the AOP. It is also recommended to go to Mass as often as possible and pray the rosary daily. I’m still working on that, but I think I’ve neatly fulfilled promotion and invitation right here.

The mission of the Apostleship of Prayer is to encourage Christians to make a daily offering of themselves to the Lord for the coming of God’s Kingdom and for the Holy Father’s monthly intentions. This habit of prayer encourages a Eucharistic spirituality of solidarity with the Body of Christ and loving service to others. Nourishing this spiritual program is the love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. (source)

If you’ve ever thought about joining a prayer group with no meetings, one membership requirement, and universal and eternal effect, join the Apostleship of Prayer. I’d love to have you with me.

Being a Christian and a Creature of Habit Sets Me Free

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Do you feel chained or released by your habits?

I’m a Christian. The theology of freedom and slavery is never far from my mind. As a Catholic in particular, I face criticism for believing and living as I do. I intentionally surround myself with friends who are living the same way, but you can’t control every presence in your life. There are people who meet me now and have no idea where I came from, and there are people who’ve known me all along and can’t quite grasp the change. Why would I voluntarily choose a life full of restrictions and rules? Why would I actually follow those rules? How do they see chains where I see liberation?

In their defense, I can understand how it seems so strange that I find my habits freeing. When I think back to my past life (or read about it in my old blog posts), I remember the way I used to think and act. Even thinking back to just a few years ago gives me examples of changed habits and new-found freedom.

Before I made a habit of modest dress, I wore some clothes I’m not proud of. I remember feeling like I had no other choice, because that was what was in the stores, and everyone else dressed the same way—or worse. I got attention for my immodesty. I liked the attention, but I wished I didn’t have to get the looks with it. So I started listening to that little voice and decided I wanted to dress differently. Modesty set me free to be who I wanted to be.

Before I made a habit of modest style, I was covered-up but boring. I still dressed basically the same way I did in high school, except that I dressed up for church on Sundays and didn’t wear jeans to work. Modest, stylish role models like Audrey at Putting Me Together and Chandra at More Modern Modesty set me free to dress as fashionably and tastefully. That’s what I wanted.

Before I made a habit of chaste love, I did some things I’m not proud of. Fear not: I’ve repented, confessed, received absolution, and moved on. My heart has healed, and I have been made new. Intentionally building chaste relationships with all the people in my life requires much more effort than anything I had tried before. I have to learn how to genuinely love them, to do what is best for them. I feel more loved now, and I think I show more love now. Isn’t being a Christian all about love, anyway? Learning to love purely and authentically set me free to love like Christ.

My faith lends itself to habits. One of my favorite things about Catholic worship is that we do basically the same thing every time. I don’t have to think about the details, so I can immerse myself in the experience and fully open myself to God and my community. Similarly, I don’t have to pit culture versus conscience every time I walk into a store. If I don’t like any of the clothes I see, I don’t buy them. I don’t have to decide whether each person I meet is worthy of love. They all are. Every single one.

I am a creature of habit, I am a Christian, and I have been set free.

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My Thoughts for Pope Francis, Part Six: Children with No Good Examples

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Intro | Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five | Part Six

It’s been several weeks since I last posted an installment to this series, but I am not a quitter! I’ve had much more success blogging on weekdays lately, curiously enough, and I fell into a rhythm of posting for this series on Saturdays, so it got pushed aside. No more!

I’ve hosted some great discussions in the comments section for the last few installments. If you’re reading, please share your thoughts! Feel free to disagree. I will delete your comments if they’re mean or otherwise violate the comment policy, but we can disagree without fighting.

The Education of Children in Irregular Marriages

a.k.a. What to Do When Mom & Dad Don’t Go to Church

What is the estimated proportion of children and adolescents in these cases, as regards children who are born and raised in regularly constituted families?

I don’t have enough experience or statistical knowledge to estimate a proportion, but I can tell you for sure that it’s rising. It’s much more common for children to grow up in family situations other than a mother and father who were married to each other before they conceived their first child. The witness of celebrities and the media to this situation does not help.

In a way, it’s hopeful that couples still see marriage as a significant, life-changing step, so much so that they don’t want to take it unless they’re 100% sure. But time and time again, we see that children have their best chance at a bright future if they grow up in a “regular” situation. People overcome adversity every day, but it’s still adversity. It’s not good. It’s not supposed to be that way. “Common” and “normal” do not necessarily equal “good.”

Those comments doesn’t even cover the children living with divorced-and-remarried parents. I don’t think we’ll fully understand the fallout of that irregular family structure until the church can’t fit four sets of grandparents per child for the Christmas pageant.

How do parents in these situations approach the Church? What do they ask? Do they request the sacraments only or do they also want catechesis and the general teaching of religion?

Honestly, I think there are some parents who stay away from the Church because they don’t want to face the obstacles standing between their choices and their full participation in the sacraments. They can’t receive the Eucharist, and they don’t want to go to confession (or they’re not penitent), so they don’t go to Mass, either. But I absolutely think they want more for their children than they want for themselves. All parents want their children to have a better life than they did. The problem is that they don’t want to do anything churchy to get churchy things for their kids.

These parents insist on getting their kids involved, preferably at the bare minimum. The parents don’t want to take their kids to Mass because they’d have stay for it, too (and not receive the Eucharist, perhaps starting a conversation they’d prefer to avoid), but they’ll drop them off at CCD. They’ll grumble about going to a baptism prep class, but they’ll go because it’s the only way to get the cute baptism photos and get Grandma off their backs. They don’t want to be taught, and if they’re forced into it, it doesn’t stick. Church is completely about rules and requirements to get stuff. If they’re in an irregular marriage, they’ve already broken the rules. The fewer requirements they get stuck meeting before they can get the stuff for their kids, the better.

How do the particular Churches attempt to meet the needs of the parents of these children to provide them with a Christian education?

Sacramental preparation for kids is often the only opportunity to catechize parents. In recent years, parishes are taking great advantage of that opportunity. I’ve taught baptism prep for godparents-to-be (and prepared myself to be a godparent in the process). That can be a huge moment of conversion from a lackluster faith.

On the other hand, I substituted once for my own parents (whose marriage was always regular) at the mandatory parent Bible study held simultaneously with the my sister’s Confirmation prep class. I loved it, but I don’t think I’d ever heard my parents mention it before. Getting that two-fer of adult catechesis plus children’s sacrament prep benefits the parish, but it’s not converting the parents. I can imagine that conversion of heart is even less likely for parents who are in irregular marriages and thus excluded from the sacraments. They already don’t go to Mass. They’re definitely not doing anything else.

What is the sacramental practice in these cases: preparation, administration of the sacrament, and the accompaniment?

As a church worker, I was trained to strongly encourage parents in irregular situations to regularize them before having a child baptized. If they’ve been civilly married for several years with no other impediments to matrimony, their convalidation can be relatively straightforward. It’s not required, though, and that’s what is best for the child. You shouldn’t have to suffer sacramentally because your parents made poor choices with their sacraments.

For First Communion and Confirmation, though, I don’t think the parents’ marriage or faith involvement status comes much into question. At baptism, the parents promise to raise their children to know Christ Jesus and his Church. Even if they are simply forcing reluctant, non-churchgoing kids to prepare for their other sacraments of initiation, they’re doing more than nothing. It’s a tiny bit of Christian education.

That tiny bit might even be the spark that ignites a life of faith for that child. It was for me. I didn’t embrace the gifts of the Spirit until college, but I received them through the sacraments. I never would have received those sacraments if not for my parents’ insistence, and their marriage has always been “regular.”

Thus, most parents’ marital status doesn’t preclude their children from receiving the sacraments. That’s the way it should be. The tricky part comes when teachers try to educate children in the faith. It is so difficult to teach children the truth when they don’t have any examples to follow. Why should they pray before meals when the family doesn’t? What’s the point of going to Confession when older, Confirmed siblings don’t? How can they believe marriage is between one man and one woman for life when a stepmom is the only mom they’ve ever known, when Mom and her second husband are so happy, or when they have two dads? Pope Francis himself recounted speaking to a young girl who was in tears, thinking her mother’s girlfriend didn’t like her. Where do you even begin with that?

Walking with—accompanying—these parents and children takes a lot of patience and a lot of prayer. Teachers and ministers have the responsibility to preach the truth in love. Parents in irregular situations have turned away from the truth, but there’s always hope that they could return. More than one parent has made things right (or even entered the Church completely) based on the example of a child. The witness of childlike faith from an actual child can do that. On the other hand, too many kids fight their way through to sacraments or get pushed through them without believing a single word. As in my case, grace can spring forth anyway. For many others, the sacrament will be administered upon an empty shell.


Well, that was depressing. No wonder there’s such a big push to get marriage and family in better shape! What do you think? How do couples you know balance their irregular situation with the faith formation of their children? Can you think of anything the Church can do to benefit parents and children, so that everyone wins? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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