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Inside… My high school chapel

A quick note…  Some time after I first drafted this post, my high school chapel caught fire in the middle of the night and was completely destroyed.  I have left the post below as it was originally drafted because I believe that those thoughts and feelings are still authentic and valid.  Click here to see my additional blog post with discussions of the fire and the devastation it caused.  

This is my high school chapel after it was renovated. In all honesty, I still have mixed feelings about it.

The old design of the chapel was very near and dear to my heart. It was where I had seen my sister go through school, and where I arrived a few years later. It was the room where my freshman induction was held, and where retreat and school Masses were held. It was the room where I fell in love with Eucharistic adoration and where I found my home every month when I returned to His displayed presence.

I remember hearing that the chapel was going to be renovated, and I was a little sad, but I figured it would happen after I graduated. Then I heard that it would be renovated in the midst of my senior year, that I would graduate inside the brand new chapel. I tried to tell myself it wasn’t that big of a deal, but if I’m being honest, I was devastated. There had been a lot of changes on every level in my high school in the second half of my time there, and “taking away” (really, just changing) the chapel that I loved just put the cherry on top.

The chapel was closed for a while, and in the mean time, we had adoration in the school gymnasium. That may sound like it was weird, but it was actually pretty cool. Our theology teacher’s dad built us a “burning bush”, so the monstrance was elevated and illuminated with numerous candles. Sometimes we would scatter more candles on the floor all around us. I brought a floor pillow that I deemed my adoration pillow to every session, and it worked better than I thought it would. I should have known that God’s presence would still burn just as brightly even if His surroundings changed.

Eventually the chapel opened again, and we had a re-dedication Mass to celebrate the changes. The altar had been moved backward in the space, and the choir section which had existed behind it had been moved to the side of the chapel next to the organ. The altar itself was different than it had been before, and the entire decorative installation behind was new. The cross itself was also different – the previous one had been suspended from the ceiling before the new one was mounted here. The pews were now cushioned (which was super nice, but also less fun. We used to really enjoy sliding along the waxed wood to get to our places). The kneelers were upgraded, and the aisles were slightly different. The carpet was new, and some statues had moved. And thus, we were given what you see below. I took this photo during one of the first nights of adoration in the new chapel.

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I was hesitant at first, but over time, this new chapel has started to enter my heart. It is not the same home to me that the previous chapel was, and I still mourn that loss in some small way. Regardless, this space has taken on meaning for me, and I think that speaks to the spirit of God inhabiting a place. Environment is important, yes, but God’s presence is the core of what make a place meaningful, and this chapel’s change allowed me to accept that in a new way.

7 Brilliant C. S. Lewis Quotes

C. S. Lewis is, in my opinion, one of the most eloquent Christian writers of recent times.  The man had such a way with words, it is absolutely incredible.  As a writer, he very much inspires me.  I first became familiar with Lewis through the Chronicles of Narnia, and was pleasantly surprised when my father pointed out the Christian undertones in the story.  Later, I read and loved The Screwtape Letters, and I have encountered many quotes from Lewis in my theology classes because he so neatly summarizes important concepts.

It saddens me that Lewis never became a Catholic.  He got so many things so right, that it astounds me he did not complete the journey, so to speak, and dive deep enough to find the fullness of Truth.  Some digging around online shows me that his main concerns were with Catholics’ devotion to Mary and the saints, and their following of the Pope and allegiance to the Magesterium’s guidance.  While those things can seems scary at first to a non-Catholic, with proper study and meditation, one can find their basis in Christ and understand that they are intrinsically ordered to His will.

Regardless of his Anglican ways, Lewis has a really strong grasp on a lot of the concepts all Christians can share.  The light of Truth still shines through his words.  Here are seven of my favorite quotes by him, and what they mean to me.

1) My idea

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Image from Julie Cave

I had never thought about it this way until I ran into this quote, but sometimes, we accidentally limit God.  God is beyond our human understanding; He is infinitely greater and more wonderful than anything we can comprehend.  Elizabeth Elliot said, “[i]f God were small enough to be understood, He wouldn’t be big enough to be God.”  But that doesn’t stop us from trying to understand Him – and of course, we will always fall short.  Sometimes, in our attempts to wrap our minds around God, we condense Him.  We relegate Him to a certain role.  We think He is definitely going to act a certain way, and we don’t give Him the opportunity to act autonomously because we have already decided for Him.  This can be as simple as thinking “Oh, I’m not going to bother asking God for this thing, because I know He is going to say no.”  While there are some safe bets as to what God will refuse, we also must remember that nothing is impossible for Him.  With this quote, I am reminded not to put God into a box and think He can only be a certain way.  I want to be devoted to who God really is, not who I imagine Him to be.

2) Love

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This quote reminds me of a form of tough love.  It is never loving to know someone is in sin and darkness, and to leave them there to suffer without trying to bring them to the Truth.  Truth can be painful, and a lot of times, we don’t want to make people uncomfortable.  But sometimes, a challenge is necessary.  Sometimes, we need someone to call us out on our problematic behavior so that we can grow and change and become better.  It can be really tough to approach someone in that way because it’s risky; emotions may run high, and it may lead to rash decisions, such as even ending a friendship.  But to love someone is to lead them to goodness and Truth.  It can be scary, but if you can carefully and effectively do good for another person, then that may be how you are called to love them.

3) Shine

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I love the humility that is the focus of this quote.  Another quote that I hold dear is the notion that Willam J. Toms states, “Be careful how you live.  You may be the only Bible some person ever reads.”  That is something that I connect with very personally right now, because I go to a very secular college.  I have run into many people who have never known a Catholic, and I do not take it lightly that I am their first impression of what it means to be a Catholic or a Christian in general.  It is a beautiful form of ministry, and I feel blessed by God that I get to work for Him in this type of outreach.  But this work is not about me.  I’m not doing this for my own recognition.  I want to use these opportunities to teach people about God, to bring them to His light.  With this quote, it feels like C. S. Lewis is cheering me on.

4) The Answer

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This is a great way to turn frustration on its head.  It’s very easy when talking with God to get upset when we don’t receive the answers we want.  Knowing that God is omniscient, it feels like such a strong denial, maybe even a betrayal, when He doesn’t wrap up information with a nice bow and hand us all the answers.  But God knows better than we do; He knows when we need answers and when we need to keep wondering.  I sometimes have to remind myself that God knows what He is doing, and I can trust in Him to take care of me.  I need to remember that God can satisfy every desire of my heart, and He is infinitely more fulfilling, just in His own nature and self, than anything else.

5) Paint

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Image from The Breadbox Letters

I talked in my post about Bible verses for anxiety that I struggle with a sense of control over my life.  I feel like I need to be preparing for everything in my whole life right now, and that if I am not working hard in every moment, then I will fall behind and fail.  This is a beautiful reminder that God is in charge, that He is guiding my life and helping build me into the person I need to be.  I need to remember to submit, to be still, and to allow Him to work in and through me.  I can trust His efforts because they will always be greater than I.

6) Soul

You don't have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body. C.S.Lewis. Circle of Daydreams. www.circleofdaydreams.com.au
Image from Circle of Daydreams

Living in this world, we often get caught up in the physicality of our bodies.  After all, they are the vehicles through which we navigate this existence.  Our senses are our method of input.  They are the framework through which we learn, so it is only natural for us to get wrapped up in them, and forget the importance of that which exists beyond them.  But our souls are so vitally important to our selves.  This is a reminder to fix our perspectives and view ourselves as the mystical creations God has created us to be.

7) Humility

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It can be really hard to balance the needs of the self with the needs of others.  How do you balance self-care without being selfish, and charity with personal goals?  So often, we feel that we need to decrease our self-importance by trashing ourselves.  We focus on our flaws, we talk more about what we do wrong than what we do right, and we argue with people who compliment us in an effort to seem like we aren’t prideful.  But in a twisted way, that actually is a new form of pride.  You are considering yourself so important that you are the constant target of slander, but you are still fixated on yourself.  But this notion of thinking of yourself less frequently overall is a great way to explain humility.  You don’t have to trash talk yourself to be humble; you can be aware of your own goodness and still decrease in pride.

I could talk about these little nuggets of wisdom for hours, because they are so poignant and apply to so many situations.  I highlighted examples that jumped out at me right now, but these are so relateable that if I were to write this post again in a year, I probably could come up with entirely new things to write about that wouldn’t be any less fitting.  I think these are great to return to every so often and apply in new and innovative ways over time.

Featured image from Ligonier Ministries

Met Gala Fashion Round Up

The 2018 Met Gala took place last week on Monday, May 7.  Formally known as the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Benefit, it is a black-tie event for some of the most famous names in the world of fashion, film, politics, and business.  This event raises money for the Costume Institute of the Met, and is held annually on the first Monday in May to accompany the opening of that year’s fashion exhibition.  This year’s exhibit follows the theme “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination.”  While guests at the Gala are not required to dress for the theme, it is highly encouraged, and many celebrities rose to the challenge.  They incorporated Catholic themes and elements into their outfits, all of which carry a rich history to be celebrated.  Here are some of the motifs that made their way across Monday’s red carpet, and the story behind them.

 

Mitre (Rihanna)

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This pointy hat called a mitre is worn during liturgical celebrations by bishops and the Pope, though it is taken off during the consecration of the Eucharist to show humility.  Sources are split as to the origin of the mitre.  Some claim that it is based on the fish-shaped head covering wore by pagan priests worshipping the fish god Dagon in ancient Philistine and Babylon.  Others say that the mitre is of Roman origin; it developed parallel to the papal tiara as a descendant of the camauro, a red velvet or wool hat with white ermine trim that the pope would wear when it was too cold for a zucchetto, or skull cap.  A camauro looks something like a modern beanie mixed with a Santa hat, while a zuchetto is the flat looking headpiece Pope Francis is wearing here.

 

Mantilla / Veil (Nicki Minaj, Kate Bosworth, Priyanka Chopre)

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Chapel veils, also known as mantillas, have been worn by Christian women since the early days of the Church.  The word mantilla comes from the Spanish word “manta,” which means cape.  Veils are used for modesty, so that the focus is placed on the beauty of God rather than a woman’s physical beauty; mantillas also emulate the Blessed Mother.  They also reflect the role of women as a vessel who bears life.  During the Mass, the chalice which holds the blood of Christ is veiled until the gifts are prepared, and the tabernacle which holds the Eucharist is veiled between Masses.  The act of veiling gives dignity to that which carries life within it.

Prior to Vatican II, all women were required to wear a mantilla when attending Mass.  Since then, it is not longer required, but many women choose to veil at Mass or in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament to show reverence.

 

Halo (Amber Heard, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, SZA, among others)

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A halo is thought to show the divine light of God radiating from a soul, so it is often used in art to indicate holiness.  They are sometimes ornamented with beams to show that they are illuminating light.  Scholars point out that in the early Christian art of the 4th century, even Jesus was not depicted with a halo before His baptism, because it was debated whether His Divine nature was innate from His birth, or manifested at His baptism.  As time went on, halos were used to indicate particularly pious humans as well, such as Mary and the Apostles, though these halos are typically plain gold circles without embellishment.

 

Stained Glass (Gigi Hadid)

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Stained glass has a very long history.  It has been used in religious buildings since as early as the first century.  Since most members of the congregation were illiterate, stained glass would portray Biblical stories and themes in a captivating way to aid in education.  One of the oldest known examples of a stained glass window was found in the buried ruins of a monastery in Jarrow, England.  The window belonged to St. Paul’s Monastery, which was founded in 686 AD.  The religious applications of stained glass peaked with the magnificent churches and monasteries being built in the Gothic and Renaissance periods, though they fell out of prominence for some time after that.  In recent times, efforts to revive and reinstate this craft have produced beautiful works.

 

Iconography (Darren Criss, Stella Maxwell)

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Iconography is a mainly Orthodox tradition that was started by St. Luke the Evangelist.  He painted images of Mary and brought them to her.  She approved and blessed them, imparting the grace of her Son onto the images.  Since then, other sacred images have been produced of Jesus, Mary, and various saints.  These images are held in very high esteem; they are considered to be “windows to heaven.”  Even the creation of an icon is regarded as a sacred and prayerful experience.  Icons often feature a gold background and a flat, geometric art style, symbolizing the abstract yet ordered nature of heaven in our human understanding.

 

These are just some of the Catholic symbols that were featured in outfits worn at the Met Gala.  Many other designers found inspiration from the faith and featured those ideas in their pieces.  All of this was in preparation for the “Heavenly Bodies” exhibit, which opened on May 10 in New York City.

5 Christian Spotify Playlists I’m Loving Right Now

I love Spotify; I love having access to more music than I could ever hope to pay for individually, and I love the curated playlists that other creative minds have made and shared with the world.  I also love that Spotify has a specific genre to browse that is Christian music exclusively.  Especially during Lent, I am so grateful for a space that allows me to explore new music that can bring me closer to God.

Here are a few Christian playlists that I found on Spotify that I’m really loving right now!

1.) Everyday Inspiration

This is my go-to playlist right now.  It is chock full of my absolute favorites!  The description of the playlist boasts “[t]hese are the songs you can count on.  Always.”  I couldn’t agree more!  It has staples such as “Good Good Father” by Chris Tomlin, “10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord) by Matt Redman, “Just be Held” by Casting Crowns, and more.  So many of the most meaningful and comforting songs I know are included in this playlist.  I definitely recommend it!

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2.) Going Together

This playlist is a collection of Christian love songs.  It is a great opportunity to reflect on how my relationship with my boyfriend can – and does! – strengthen my relationship with God, and vice versa.  When I listen to this playlist, I like to play a game of sorts by guessing whether the lyrics are addressing God or addressing the singer’s partner.  Most of the time, it could go either way, and I think that’s beautiful!

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3.) epicPRAISE

Who needs caffeine when you have these bumping beats?  This playlist is really great at getting me up and going in the mornings.  Whenever I’m tempted to hit the snooze button (again…) I can hit play on this playlist instead, and I’m ready to move!  It has high energy electronic sounds and pulsing beats to invigorate my sleepy brain.  I especially appreciate this playlist whenever I work an opening shift.  It’s a great way to brighten up my days at 5:30am!  I am naturally a morning person, but it sometimes it takes a little while for that to kick in.  This playlist is the perfect pump up to wake up the morning person in me!

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Image from Spotify

4.) Cornerstones

Most people who know me are surprised when they first find out that I actually really love rock music.  Some of my all-time favorite artists are rock bands.  This playlist is a collection of Christian rock songs, so it is a blend of two of my favorite things!  It was a really pleasant surprise to scroll through this playlist and find so many artists that I recognized and had loved for years, but hadn’t noticed were actually Christian.  Some of my favorites on here are any of the songs by Skillet, “Anthem of the Lonely” by Nine Lashes, and “Courtesy Call” by Thousand Foot Krutch.

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5.) Flow Fast 20

Sometimes, I just get into the mood for fast lyrics and hype beats.  This playlist is perfect for the days that I’m craving some rap and hip hop.  I have always been drawn to the sounds of those genres, but have been repulsed by the filthy lyrics that dominate that culture.  I can only take so much before I’m disgusted and need to turn away.  But these rappers and hip hop artists speak from a fulfilling place of integrity that focuses on their faith, and I love that.  This particular playlist is always changing, because it highlights top songs of the week, so it’s worth revisiting frequently!

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Inside… Our Lady of Consolation

While I don’t have as many pictures of this church as I would like, this tabernacle is too gorgeous for me not to share.

This is from Our Lady of Consolation.  I came to this church a few times with my choir in high school.  We sang for Mass on some select weekends, and we did a Christmas concert there for their community.  My senior year was the inaugural year of this partnership, though I hear they have continued to return regularly since then.

The church is structured in the semi-round, (that’s the best way I can think to describe it.)  The altar space makes up the edge of a semi circle, and the pews radiate from around that point.  This tabernacle is to the side of the church, a beautiful and colorful space.  I was instantly drawn to this tabernacle because it looks like glitter.  I’m a huge fan of anything sparkly, and this design called to me.   The curve of the doors allows for the light to be caught at every single angle, and it was so mesmerizing.  I could hardly turn away from it.  Behind that, the mosaic behind it is so intricate and detailed.  The colors are so rich and varied.  This is the type of tabernacle set up that draws you in and keeps you there.  It seems a bit unconventional to me, but I was really blown away by it.  I knew I had to take a picture of it, so as soon as Mass ended and the congregation started clearing out, I turned my phone back on and headed over.

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This church also fascinated me with its incense.  They had this super cool chandelier-style fixture that was up by the ceiling… most of the time.  When they used incense in the Mass, however, they brought the fixture down from ceiling.  They dumped massive amounts of incense into the fixture, and it released equally massive plumes of smoke into the air.  I have never seen such poignant, physical reminder of our prayers rising to God.  It was awe-inspiring – and since I love the smell of incense, it was really comforting to me personally.

Something that I had never experienced before was television screens at a Mass.  Before Mass began, two screens on either wall forming the edges of the semi-circle displayed a slideshow with upcoming events and announcements.  During the liturgy itself, the screens showed live footage from various, discretely placed cameras throughout the space.  This meant that the lector got a tight focus while they were reading, as did the priest when he was preaching and praying.  They would pan across our choir while we were leading songs.  I wasn’t really a huge fan of it, personally, because I found myself getting distracted by the cinematography.  But I did really appreciate the close, detailed shots of the Body and Blood of Christ during the consecration.  If I attended that parish more often, I think I could grow accustomed to that view.  It made the consecration feel so much more intimate, because I felt like I could be that much closer to Christ as His presence was made manifest in the Eucharist.

 

Święconka

Easter is mere hours away, and that calls to mind many memories for me.  My family has a lot of traditions around Easter.  My immediate family lives in New Jersey, but some of my extended family lives in Indiana.  We would always make a yearly “pilgrimage” to go visit them for a week over my sister and my spring break.

That road trip became synonymous with Easter for me.  It was quite the endeavor, but it got easier over the years as my sister and I matured.  It was a 12 to 14 hour drive (depending on rest stops) with all four of us crammed into a car, and then a week at my grandparents’ house before another 14 hour drive back.

We developed some traditions around that trip.  Personally, I’m a very planning-oriented person, and I always have been.  I would write up specific packing lists and find excitement in cramming clothes into a suitcase.  We would always try to pack the car the night before whenever possible, and I loved to watch my dad play Tetris with all our luggage.  I’m not always very good at spatial awareness, so I was pretty impressed by his ability to pack efficiently.

When we were in the car itself, we had some games to play to pass the time.  A classic was the alphabet game, which is when you look for each letter on the alphabet, in order, written on surfaces outside of the car along the way.  An “A” in a road sign, a “B” on a license plate, and so on.  We also played the license plate game.  I would print out a blank map of the United States, and bring along a colored pencil(s).  As we would drive along, we would keep track of all of the different states we spotted.  One year, we even saw a car from Alaska!  Most of the eastern states were pretty common, and mid-western states became more frequent as we traveled along.  I distinctly remember, when my sister and mom fell asleep in the car, my dad would whisper state names to me as he saw them so that I could keep track without waking them up.

During our week with my family, one of my favorite traditions was the Polish tradition of Święconka.  Święconka, which we pronounce svfie-con-ka, is a pre-Easter food blessing.  On Holy Saturday, we would bring baskets full of our food for the next day to my grandparents’ church.  Their priest, Fr. Len, would lead us in a hymn, reflect on the meaning, symbolism, and history of Święconka, and then pray the blessing.  The prayer was said in Polish, and holy water was sprinkled over the baskets using a straw brush.  It’s been a staple in my Easter tradition for as long as I can remember.

When I started college, my spring break no longer coincided with Easter, so I stayed at school while the rest of my family traveled.  This meant that for the first time in my life, I wasn’t going to go to the food blessing!  So I took matters into my own hands, so to speak.

I had been building up a stash of chocolates throughout Lent (since I had given it up that year).  I gathered all of my goodies, and pulled out my holy water.  I looked up an English translation of a traditional Polish blessing, and prayed over my chocolate.  Then I sprinkled some holy water over my stash.

I sent a picture of my “DIY Święconka” to my sister, and a few hours later, she sent a picture of the real Święconka from Indiana.  (Included below)

 

 

I don’t have quite such an impressive chocolate stash this year, but I’m still going to bless what little I have.  It’s important to me to stay grounded in my traditions, even if they have to change a bit over time.  This is also a great way for me to still feel connected with my family, even when I cannot be beside them.

Mass Journaling

It was a weekday in late August.  I was already back at school, completing some training before classes started.  We were in training sessions from 8 AM to 8 PM for two weeks, and it was pretty draining, but we were pushing through.

I was at breakfast one morning, scrolling through Instagram.  We weren’t allowed to have our phones out during training sessions, so mealtimes began with conversation but quickly lulled into everyone staring at their screens for what limited time we could.

A sponsored post popped up in my feed.  Usually, I completely ignore those kinds of ads, but this one caught my eye.  It was a Kickstarter campaign for a Mass journal entitled Every Sacred Sunday.  As someone who has been journaling since before she could write, and has continued to do so since then, a Mass journal seemed right up my alley.  It was something I had been seeking for a while, actually, but didn’t know exactly what I needed until it crossed my path.  A friend of mine who had been struggling in her faith had spent some time visiting other churches in our area, and described that at one Protestant church she visited, everyone took notes during the sermon, and the teens compared and discussed their notes in their youth group meetings after the service.  I had been very drawn to that idea, but I didn’t feel right about bring a notebook to Mass and taking notes.  I feared being perceived as disrespectful.

Every Sacred Sunday felt like it was giving me permission to take notes in Mass.  Moreover, it was encouraging me to do so!  I read through their plan for the project and instantly fell in love.  I pulled out my credit card right then and there in the cafeteria and pledged for their Kickstarter on my phone.

I followed their journey through production, getting early glimpses of art prints to be included and receiving status updates throughout the process.  The journal finally arrived just in time for Advent and the new liturgical year.  Its design is utterly gorgeous; it’s just my style and I couldn’t have designed it any more perfectly.  Just look at it!

 

 

 

The gold foil on the front is so majestic and beautiful.  The watercolor art for each season is so pretty (I photographed Lent as it is our current season).  Even down to the type face, the clean lines, and wide open spaces, this whole journal has a seamlessly executed aesthetic.  I’m always eager to open up my Mass journal and engage with this beautiful book.

For each week, the readings are written out.  Then, there’s a work page broken into segments.  I try to get to Mass a few minutes early so I can fill out the pages before Mass begins, but if not, I take time after Mass to complete it.  There’s a “Scripture speaks” section where I copy down a verse that really spoke to me from the reading.  There’s a “weekly intentions” section which is subdivided into a gratitude and supplication column, which I love.  I especially love that the thanksgiving comes before the requests, because it’s so easy to forget to be grateful, but it’s absolutely essential to give thanks.  Then there’s a “notes” section, which is probably my favorite section.  I love to be organized, and I’m very academically inclined.  I’m also a visual learner, so taking notes on the homily (and only during the homily) is one of the best ways for me to pay attention to the information that I’m hearing.  Finally, there’s a “go forth” section, which is a space to set an intention for the rest of the week.  Personally, I struggle a bit with that section.  I’m not very good at remembering my intention once I leave Mass, and when I open my journal the following week, I always smack my forehead when I realize I forgot it again.  I’m still looking for a better way to apply the intentions I set at Mass to the rest of my week.

I love my Every Sacred Sunday journal.  It’s a great way for me to engage more deeply with the Word of God presented to us each week.  I was never one for missals, but this is a dynamic way to dive deeper into the Mass, and I am so grateful that I found it when I did.