The Three Most Powerful Words

Link to the original publication of this article…
http://www.catholic365.com/article/3992/living-the-year-of-mercy.html

He is risen! Three little words; and yet, their meaning is beyond comprehension. In those three little words, the words that defy reality, death, our only surety in this life, is defeated. No longer will we rot in our graves. In Christ we are promised to rise to a life more glorious than this, one with no tears, sorrow, pain, suffering, insects, predators, terrorism, politics, natural disasters, or evil.

Death, for those who believe in Christ, now means perfect, incandescent, euphoric happiness which will never cease. This alone is unconscionably amazing, but it doesn’t end there. We are called, in each day, to live as a people who are risen. When tragedy strikes, do we greet it from a perspective of death, allowing the sorrow to overcome us? Or, do we react as those who know Christ is risen, trusting in a life after this one, where all God’s plans will be revealed? In the normal mundane reality of every day life, do we putter through, with minds distracted by earthly logistics? Or, do we constantly turn our hearts to God, asking him, even in the mundane, how he is calling us to live as reflections of his resurrection?

The truth is that Christ is risen. Unimaginable? Impossible? Perhaps it seems so, but that is our reality. Christ lived, Christ died, and then beyond all understanding, he rose from the dead. This Easter season may we practice living as people who have risen from the death of sin and will one day rise from the once permanent death of this life. May we constantly turn our hearts to God filled with gratitude for all he has done and hope for all that he will continue to do. May we seek the reality of these three little words: He is risen!

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Living the Year of Mercy

My article on Mercy was published on Catholic365 today for Divine Mercy Sunday!
http://www.catholic365.com/article/3992/living-the-year-of-mercy.html

Pope Francis has declared December 8, 2015-November 20, 2016 the Year of Mercy. For me, mercy brings to mind forgiveness. God’s repeated and inexhaustible forgiveness is perhaps one of the greatest mercies He affords us.That even though sinners, we are not only forgiven, but saved by His Son. I would venture to say that all of us are in need of God’s merciful forgiveness; however, many of us are also desirous of receiving this mercy from someone we’ve wronged, or in need of offering it to someone who has wounded us.

The declaration of this year’s theme, ignites within me a hope of God’s mercy being poured out on my life, but it also demands an examination of my conscience. It beckons for me to take stock of any unforgiveness residing in my heart, any hardness. It suggests that it is time to bring these items out of the darkness, where they are covered in the cobwebs of my stubbornness, anger, or pain, and place them in the light. To grapple with them, working them through with the Lord, until they darken my heart no longer. Until I am free of them. Isn’t that always the goal of our Mother, the Church? To guide us to true and complete freedom? For only when we are truly free will we ever be truly happy. I want freedom. But, do I want to do the work of assessing the darkest parts of my life, seeing again, in my mind’s eye, those who have hurt me most? I can’t say that I want this. However, if I want the end goal, I must be willing to trod the path necessary to get there.

For me, Pope Francis’ announcement was strangely timed. One of those coincidences that could only be attributed to the Divine. You see, August 28, the feast of St. Augustine, marked the two year anniversary of the night I was sexually assaulted. These last two years have been the most arduous and dark of my Christian journey, as I ventured to do exactly as the Year of Mercy calls us to do. That I am here on the other side, a new creation, living and breathing in the light, filled with joy, hope, and an insatiable trust in the Lord is most certainly a mercy and a miracle. There were times I could but cling to the Lord. I couldn’t see Him, feel Him, talk to Him. We just went on beside each other. The Lord descended into hell with me more times than I’d like to count those two years. Each time bringing me back from the land of the dead. I made horrible choices out of pain. I was angry and confused. Still He stayed with me.

In the midst of it all, I promised myself that I would never allow the depression, or my confusion of “how God could allow this to happen to me,” to keep me from the Sacraments. I determined that I would go to Confession at least once a month and attend Mass every Sunday, though I felt nothing for the one to whom I was united in the Eucharist. I was numb to His grace; and yet, His grace flowed still. And thus, united with the Lord, I chose to do the hard work of grappling with the difficult questions. Struggling through the ugliness, the self-hatred, the pain, the distrust, and the non existent willfulness to live. So many times I thought how easy it would be to give up, on God, on life, to just quit. But, instead, by God’s mercy, I fought back. Sometimes, the victory was simply to make it through the day before me. Other days, I worked with God toward the forgiveness I desired, for myself, for my assailant, for God.

It may seem blasphemous to suggest that I needed to forgive the Lord, but you’ll note, I did not say that God was in any way in need of my forgiveness, but I was most certainly in need of forgiving Him. I loved God, but my whole world seemed turned upside down after the assault. And while, I knew He loved me and did not desire for me to be harmed, that it was my assailant’s misuse of his free will alone that led to my assault, I still needed to go through the motion of forgiving the God I loved, for what happened to me. How merciful is our Lord, that He will climb back up on that Cross for us, become the wrongfully accused criminal once more, allow us to blame Him, be angry with Him, and question His motives. And still, the words from His mouth remain…Forgive them, Father…for they know not what they do. 

Is there anything more merciful?

God has shown me repeatedly that He is truly a God of mercy, and a God who calls His people to be merciful. I am grateful to stand freely in the light, following two years of grave darkness, full of nothing but a pure love for God, forgiveness for my assailant, and a trustful surrender to the Lord’s plans for me. However, I am not off the hook. In each of us, there remains a need for greater mercy. As we prepare for this Jubilee Year, may we search for any unforgiveness in our hearts, for our journey to mercy begins there. May we do the hard work of bringing it to the light and allowing God to transform it. Once released from these chains, may we ask the Lord to show us where in our lives we are in need of His mercy, and beg Him for it in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and then may we ask Him to show us how He is calling us to move forward, living more fully in the light of His mercy.

An Easter Miracle: Risen

 

He is risen! How glorious these three little words! This Lenten Season has been one of the most visibly transformative for me in ages. Even now, as I sit down to share the wonders God has worked, I struggle to find words worthy of his miracles. Two years ago, I got my tattoo which reads “Ecce nova facio omnia” (Behold I make all things new). At the time, it was a promise I desperately needed to cling to, in the years that followed it became a hope of what might be possible, and now it has become my reality. I have journeyed with the Lord into death, its all encompassing darkness, all consuming hopelessness, and its deafening threats of permanence, but Christ has paved the way before me. He died and rose, so that this Easter, his daughter, Danielle Adelina Castellucci, could rise from the death brought on by another’s evil act. He has made of me a new creation. My joy has been restored, my hope expanded, and my soul feels more free than I can ever remember. You see, as Christians, Christ’s resurrection does not just promise that we will rise from ultimate death to eternal life, but it also promises that we can rise from the death of sin and evil that we experience in this life. Where in your life do you need to claim the promise of the risen one? May we all seek to find ways this Easter season to live as people whose God ROSE FROM THE DEAD! He is risen. Think of what that means!

The Transforming Power of Gratitude

There’s a lot to deal with following a trauma. Often times, you go into survival mode. As I’ve stated before, there were times that just continuing to be alive come night fall was a successful day for me. But, what about after the tempests move on and the black clouds disperse? Every step of healing is unique and varies from person to person. Most recently, I’ve been asking the Lord to shake off the remaining debris that keeps me from living in the reality of the new life he’s given me. New life was not instantaneous for me. It is something I’ve been given, but have to choose to claim and live in every day. In the midst of this prayer, one night at Adoration, I felt him showing me the tendency of my mind toward self pity. I couldn’t deny it. I could see it so clearly, a leftover byproduct of years of repeating my story of victimhood for the courts and focusing solely on survival. But, even though I understood where it came from, I also knew that it did not need to continue. That night I went to confession, confessing self pity. Though I may not have consciously chosen to foster the thoughts, as they arose out of two years of depressed thought patterns, I knew that receiving the sacramental graces of Reconciliation was the most powerful first step I could take to reclaim control over my mind. Our God never disappoints. That week, through the words of the priest and my daily devotional readings, God made clear that self pity and gratitude cannot coexist. Thus, I have begun practicing outwardly thanking the Lord for any number of things that come to mind, whenever I begin to feel self pity attempt to creep back in. I must tell you, I’ve been practicing this for a few weeks now and I thought I was a grateful person before, but really focusing on remaining in a state of gratitude has changed the way I interact with the world and with my God. There are certainly times that it is appropriate to feel sad, the Bible supports this, but it can also be too easy to wallow in that sadness instead of reminding ourselves of all that we have to be grateful for. When we do, I am finding that the fruits of gratitude are endless! How natural it should be that we would be grateful for the one who is the only reason we exist and the giver of all that we have; and yet, how challenging it is. This day and every day, may we aim to practice gratitude and then watch as it transforms us.

 

The Absurdity of the Manger

At Church this morning, Fr. Dan shared how following the Christmas services, as he and the staff tidied up the Church, they found a small wrapped present that had been left in front of the statue of baby Jesus in the manger scene. Upon opening it, they discovered a piece of paper with a hand drawn, crayola-colored heart. One of the children in the parish had wanted to give Jesus a gift, and in their infinite wisdom had decided that their heart was the best gift they could give.

This beautiful, adorable, and yet undeniably piercing story, paired with the celebration of the Magi who brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh to lay before the infant Christ, seems to demand of each of us: What gift will we give to the Lord? Will we give him our heart? And what of the heart that seems too broken, dirty, or damaged to give?

As I sat pondering the pastor’s words, these questions rolling around in my mind, I was reminded of a reflection I had on Christmas day. My prayers that day seemed to circle around Jesus’ birth in a manger, of all places. Christ’s manger birth is not new news. It’s a detail included in so many Christmas carols. We hear it every time we hear the Christmas story. But this year, it struck me differently. This year his birth in a barn amidst donkeys, oxen, and lamb, his crib that was no more than a feeding trough, and his ragged and torn swaddling cloth were more than just lines from a favorite Christmas hymn. This year the somewhat disturbing image of the God of the Universe coming to earth as a helpless baby and being born in a forgotten, filthy place, struck me as absurd.

Knowing that God’s plan is perfect, his wisdom unerring, I asked him why he had chosen such an entrance. His answer was clear: Because often we, his children, do not have hearts that look like thrones awaiting his arrival. They are not immaculately cleaned out and adorned in jewels of every virtue. Our hearts rarely look like prestigious castles, fit for Christ the King, God of all Creation. Instead, and much more often, they are dirtied by selfishness or pride, filled with commitments and distractions, and are no less absurd resting places for God than a dirty manger in Bethlehem. In that moment, I thanked the Lord for his perfect choice to be born in a manger, for it serves as a constant reminder that no matter the state of our hearts, he desires to reside in them. All we have to do is follow the example of the child from my Church and gift our hearts to Jesus, exactly as they are.

Up and Coming Kiwi Catholic Music Artist

I love this girl’s voice! When thinking about what to write this week, I could think of nothing better than to feature her music. I had the pleasure of getting to know Monique during my two years as a missionary in her parish in Mount Maunganui, New Zealand. She has a gorgeous heart and it radiates through her music. Her song, Temporary Warfare, is one of my favorites! You should check it out! Her music is not available for purchase, YET, but I can’t wait for the day it is! For now, I’ve asked her to share a bit about the inspiration behind her music. You can also follow her on Facebook on her page, Monique Holden Music. I encourage you to like and share this, if you feel so inclined! Hopefully, this is only the beginning of her story….
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My name is Monique Holden, I am an eighteen year old musician living in Tauranga, New Zealand, where I am currently studying music performance and production at my local Polytechnic. I have grown up in the faith and teachings of the Catholic Church all my life and to this day I am deeply in love with the Eucharist and treasures of Catholicism. Growing up as the only girl among four brothers life could, and still can be very interesting at times as you can imagine. However, I cherish poetry, flowers and love all things that sparkle so you could say I definitely never lost my sense of femininity, much to my mother’s delight!

I discovered my passion for singing and music around the age of eleven, where I would practice for hours on end to CD’s of musicians such as Taylor Swift, Hilary Duff and Brooke Fraser. After recording myself on tape cassettes, I would listen back to them critiquing myself and, as a perfectionist, I would try to perfect every out of tune note. After a year of singing with backing tracks and silence, I decided it was time to challenge myself further and find an accompaniment for my vocals. I dedicated my time to teaching myself the guitar and since then have discovered my love for the strikingly full sound of the 12 string and most recently the Mandolin, however my wishful list of instrument possibilities could go on forever. Within four months of playing the guitar I was offered the opportunity to be praise and worship leader at our Parish prayer group. This involvement in the Church lead me to becoming a part of the youth band and leading worship at youth groups, festivals and Masses. This time was a period of real growth and challenges for me. Through this I began to discover that music ministry is a true gift from God and it was in that discovery that I found my desire to use it wisely and for the glory of God.

My musical journey has also included a range of incredible opportunities such as, professional gigs at festivals and shows, the thrilling experience of busking and performing in cafes and giving lessons to passionate children on music and guitar. Aside from singing and playing instruments the one thing I find myself most passionate about is song writing and how the use of words can create lyrics that are powerful and that have the ability to mesmerise, causing and allowing the imagination to run wild. One of the many reasons why I love song writing is because of the way it enables me to express emotions and experiences in such a creative and enthralling way. Like most songwriters my songs are inspired and constructed from personal experiences and to some extent slightly exaggerated. I aim to write in a way where the messages of my songs are disguised by the use of metaphors and other elements of figurative writing. I write in hope that people will be able to relate in their own way to my lyrics.

I acknowledge my music as a total gift from God, and I am excited to discover where and how He will use it to work according to His plan. We are told countless times throughout the Bible to praise the Lord with song, to sing and make music to Him. There is nothing more rewarding to me than making music for His glory. I hope to encourage aspiring musicians through my gift just as I have been inspired by those who use theirs to their fullness. Please keep me in your prayers as I further my study and development as a musician.

“Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord.”

-Ephesians 5:19

Pope Announces Year of Mercy: A Story of Mercy in my Life

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Pope Francis has declared December 8, 2015-November 20, 2016 the Year of Mercy. For me, mercy brings to mind forgiveness. God’s repeated and inexhaustible forgiveness is perhaps one of the greatest mercies He affords us. That even though sinners, we are not only forgiven, but saved by His Son. I would venture to say that all of us are in need of God’s merciful forgiveness; however, many of us are also desirous of receiving this mercy from someone we’ve wronged, or in need of offering it to someone who has wounded us.

The declaration of this year’s theme, ignites within me a hope of God’s mercy being poured out on my life, but it also demands an examination of my conscience. It beckons for me to take stock of any unforgiveness residing in my heart, any hardness. It suggests that it is time to bring these items out of the darkness, where they are covered in the cobwebs of my stubbornness, anger, or pain, and place them in the light. To grapple with them, working them through with the Lord, until they darken my heart no longer. Until I am free of them. Isn’t that always the goal of our Mother, the Church? To guide us to true and complete freedom? For only when we are truly free will we ever be truly happy. I want freedom. But, do I want to do the work of assessing the darkest parts of my life, seeing again, in my mind’s eye, those who have hurt me most? I can’t say that I want this. However, if I want the end goal, I must be willing to trod the path necessary to get there.

For me, Pope Francis’ announcement was strangely timed. One of those coincidences that could only be attributed to the Divine. You see, August 28, the feast of St. Augustine, marked the two year anniversary of the night I was sexually assaulted. These last two years have been the most arduous and dark of my Christian journey, as I ventured to do exactly as the Year of Mercy calls us to do. That I am here on the other side, a new creation, living and breathing in the light, filled with joy, hope, and an insatiable trust in the Lord is most certainly a mercy and a miracle. There were times I could but cling to the Lord. I couldn’t see Him, feel Him, talk to Him. We just went on beside each other. The Lord descended into hell with me more times than I’d like to count those two years. Each time bringing me back from the land of the dead. I made horrible choices out of pain. I was angry and confused. Still He stayed with me.

In the midst of it all, I promised myself that I would never allow the depression, or my confusion of “how God could allow this to happen to me,” to keep me from the Sacraments. I determined that I would go to Confession at least once a month and attend Mass every Sunday, though I felt nothing for the one to whom I was united in the Eucharist. I was numb to His grace; and yet, His grace flowed still. And thus, united with the Lord, I chose to do the hard work of grappling with the difficult questions. Struggling through the ugliness, the self-hatred, the pain, the distrust, and the non existent willfulness to live. So many times I thought how easy it would be to give up, on God, on life, to just quit. But, instead, by God’s mercy, I fought back. Sometimes, the victory was simply to make it through the day before me. Other days, I worked with God toward the forgiveness I desired, for myself, for my assailant, for God.

It may seem blasphemous to suggest that I needed to forgive the Lord, but you’ll note, I did not say that God was in any way in need of my forgiveness, but I was most certainly in need of forgiving Him. I loved God, but my whole world seemed turned upside down after the assault. And while, I knew He loved me and did not desire for me to be harmed, that it was my assailant’s misuse of his free will alone that led to my assault, I still needed to go through the motion of forgiving the God I loved, for what happened to me. How merciful is our Lord, that He will climb back up on that Cross for us, become the wrongfully accused criminal once more, allow us to blame Him, be angry with Him, and question His motives. And still, the words from His mouth remain…Forgive them, Father…for they know not what they do. 

Is there anything more merciful?

God has shown me repeatedly that He is truly a God of mercy, and a God who calls His people to be merciful. I am grateful to stand freely in the light, following two years of grave darkness, full of nothing but a pure love for God, forgiveness for my assailant, and a trustful surrender to the Lord’s plans for me. However, I am not off the hook. In each of us, there remains a need for greater mercy. As we prepare for this Jubilee Year, may we search for any unforgiveness in our hearts, for our journey to mercy begins there. May we do the hard work of bringing it to the light and allowing God to transform it. Once released from these chains, may we ask the Lord to show us where in our lives we are in need of His mercy, and beg Him for it in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and then may we ask Him to show us how He is calling us to move forward, living more fully in the light of His mercy.

Discerning God’s Voice: Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Discerning God’s voice, finding the whisper in the storm, is not always easy. It can be especially difficult when choosing between two apparent goods. For me, this difficulty is multiplied again when the decision to leave involves walking away from a need that I could fulfill, a service that I could provide.

With only a week left in Chicago I find myself at one of those very crossroads. Packing has begun, not that there’s much to pack, and Ava’s new nanny, Miss Vivianne, arrives for a trial run this Friday. These past two months have been filled with such unexpected treasures. When I think of the weeks I spent here, I’m not reminded of pull out couches, tiny closets, or city driving, but rather, the many evenings spent talking with my brother, my sister-in-law’s sage advice, building deeper friendships with them, and the countless moments shared with Ava watching her grow and change, as she becomes her own person, full of personality and an independent spirit. Knowing their need for someone to continue caring for her during work hours, it is difficult to not want that person to be me.

How are we called to decide? Staying to care for my niece would not be a bad decision. I’d argue it would be a good one, but are we called to make good decisions, or to dig deeper, quiet ourselves, and inquire as to God’s decisions? When facing a similar situation many years ago, as my time in New Zealand neared its close, a very dear priest friend said to me, “Danielle, just because you can do it, doesn’t mean that you should.” This simple, yet profound statement has served as my pause button on a myriad of occasions: deciding whether to stay or to go, take this job or that one, where to give my time, what relationships to pour into, what ministries to take on. In such situations, repeating that simple phrase, helps me to slow down and place the decision back in God’s hands, asking Him to reveal His Will for me.

Practically speaking, how do you go about letting God make your decisions? I’ve been asked this question so many times. For me, it involves being in a quiet place, where I can still my mind and heart, and listen for God’s voice. Once in that state, I begin to envision whatever situation I’m trying to make a decision about. I picture myself, where I would live, what I would be doing, who I would be surrounded by, the good I see coming from it, any difficulties I foresee, etc. As the vision of whatever I’m placing before the Lord washes over me, I find that I am almost always filled with either a sense of peace and joy or a sense of unease. For me, when the peace comes, I know I have found God’s whisper.

And so it is, that as much as I would love to stay and care for my niece because it would be a good thing, it seems God is calling me elsewhere. The peace of my heart currently rests in Norfolk. And so, I prepare to journey south, knowing that God is not in the business of willing my good at the expense of another. Trusting in this knowledge, and my many experiences that support it, I know that my decision to leave is also the best decision for my brother, sister-in-law, and Ava. Though I can’t see His plan, God has a perfect plan for them, just as He does for me. I don’t know where this stage of the adventure will lead any of us, I can rarely see beyond the next bread crumb, or the next sign on the road, but I trust in the One who’s guiding me. He has never steered me wrong. True happiness lies in Him alone.

A Life Choice: Hear No Evil, See No Evil

IMG_0529These days, our preference is to hear no evil and see no evil, so we don’t have to deal with the evil. How often do we steer clear of news headings that might make us uncomfortable, or even still, wrench our very souls? We like to make evil a vaguary that exists as an abstract concept. By doing so, we’re able to separate it from ourselves and saunter on with no need of action or response. When considering what to write about this week, I’m embarrassed to say I was tempted to do just that. My newsfeed has been filled over the past month with news headings, articles, videos, and photographs that seek to horrify our senses and appall our hearts…if we let them.

I do not often post my thoughts on topics outside of my daily experiences, topics that bring with them extreme emotions, defensive opinions, and opposing sides. Most often, this is because I am blessed to know so many wonderful people across both sides of these issues and would not for a second want my words to be received as a judgement. I stand in judgement of no man, not in mind or heart.

Perhaps you’ve already guessed this, but I’m speaking in light of recent videos unveiling the business taking place within the Planned Parenthood facilities. While the visual of tiny babies being torn apart for pieces will certainly never leave me, I am more saddened by our hardness, our ability to hear of such things taking place in our own homeland, not some far away barbarian dictatorship, but here in the United States of America. Have we become a culture who can hear such news and not act? I commend those who have responded, but how are there not more? Medically speaking, time of death is declared when a person’s heart has stopped beating. How then, scientifically, do we not declare a person alive when it starts to beat (only 21 days after conception)?  While I understand that people disagree on this topic from an emotional standpoint, I cannot conceive how individuals disagree on this topic from a scientific one. Do we simply not want to see? Have we become a nation so intelligent and developed that we can see our unborn children’s faces on 3D scans as clear as if they were already in our arms; and yet, so hardened that we choose to ignore logic when it seeks to inconvenience our lives?

Whether you agree or disagree with me, my hope is that these shocking videos will awaken both pro-choice and pro-life advocates alike to dig deeper into why they believe what they believe, to really take a look at facts surrounding the issue (how abortions are performed, the stages of development within the womb, the emotional effects, either positive or negative, of the procedure over the course of women’s lives). My hope is that we can set aside whatever our prejudice, whatever emotions may complicate our judgement, if our position on the issue was handed down to us, may we seek our own understanding, and allow our hearts and minds to be opened to the atrocity of what these videos reveal.

I encourage you, if you have not already, to take a look at the following video. It is one of the many that unveils what’s been taking place at Planned Parenthoods across the US. Decide for yourself. I am not here to decide for you. I hope only that it may be approached with an open mind.

Uniquely Called

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When I think of how vast and varied are the personalities, the lives, and the missions of the Saints, I am reminded that we too have our own unique call. Written upon our lives from the moment we took form in the mind of God. This unrepeatable purpose entrusted to each of us individually, is the single greatest accomplishment any one of us could ever hope to achieve in our lifetime. May we remember to seek the Lord always as our guide and co-decision maker, so that the great adventure filled with passion, purpose, joy, and more goodness than we could ever hope for ourselves may be allowed to unfold and witness to all those we meet that THERE IS A GOD and HE IS LOVE.

This song, sparked my reflection…