Friday, November 15, 2013

Pride doth come before the fall

I have a confession to make. I think Indie music is really cool and I pride myself on knowing about bands before they hit the "mainstream." Then I sullenly shun them when they get "too mainstream" (except I don't really shun them, I just pretend to and then still listen to them, but with the caveat "They're really good even though they're so popular.")

I guess you could say I'm one of those people who liked The Shins before Garden State and feels superior to those who only know about The Shins because of Garden State.

(P.S. I only found out about them because of my way cooler and way more alternative friend, Maddie)

Now that I have a full time job, I don't have as much time to sit in my room with the lights off and my eyes closed and listen to an artist's entire album (a technique I learned from my dad who developed it during his lonely Friday nights in high school when all his friends were out smoking weed).

So now I have to resign myself to just being happy with catching glimpses of new artists on college radio stations or Pandora recommendations. "Still," I tell myself, "at least not everyone has heard of this band! I'm still unique!"

And then along comes Buzzfeed to slap my ego with the irony of ironies: Indie music is just as mass-produced as any other genre and just as easy to replicate following a few simple rules.

Now, one could argue that the folks over at Buzzfeed have the advantage of just being able to critique and not create. True enough, but this hit a nerve with me that got me thinking.

Music is meant to unify people by expressing universal themes in a way that can not be told in any other medium, so why would I want to be the "only one" who knows about a beautiful (or, let's be honest, catchy) song or band? Wouldn't it be better if everyone in the world were able to hear this?

In a perfect world, yes. But in this world, pride and despair take root in our hearts in many different ways.

The reason many people are so into "discovering new" whatever or liking said whatever "before it was cool" is because we all have a deep desire to be known for something irreplaceable. We want to be thought of as "that one person" who has something so unique to offer the world that no one else has.

Of course, each person does have something unique and irreplaceable to offer the world: their whole person. However, in an overly-manufactured world that values utility over beauty, that message can be lost and distorted.Too often we forget that we are irreplaceable persons, that just being is enough.

Whether it's pride in being able to quote complete works of 19th century Eastern European authors, having the hottest bod, or knowing where the best hole in the wall brunch place is, make sure you don't let yourself think that that's the "one thing" that makes you you.

The only place we can receive total validation is in knowing that we were created in the Image and Likeness of God and that we express a part of Him no one else can.

Or as Papa Benedict told us, "We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God." (Inaugural Mass, 4.25.05)

And you should also know that I still love a good hand-clap intro.

(You should further know that the best place to find a good band (in my opinion) is searching Sub Pop Records' artists.)

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

This is a new post

If you're viewing this post, it's probably because Jenny @Mama Needs Coffee sent you here. She shamed me into writing a new post because it's been silent over here for quite a few (read: several) months.

Well, I am happy to say that I'm planning my wedding to the most wonderful man I've ever had the pleasure of dating and now being engaged to! So, that's taken up a bit of time, but also made me realize a few things.

1. The only thing that scares me more than being a wife is being a mom. And the only thing that terrifies me more than either one of those is staying single the rest of my life and slowly growing more and more selfish every single day.

Is this to say that single people, by their very nature, are selfish? No, but I am. The more time I spend with my nieces and nephews, my rockstar sisters and their amazing husbands, my parents, my future brother and sister-in-law, etc. the more I realize at least part of the reason God has called me and my fiance to this vocation: to love others more than I love myself and in doing so, love God more than myself and others.

2. Being engaged is the most difficult thing I've ever done.

I know that being married and being a parent will be infinitely more difficult in ways I can't even fathom right now, but I've never experienced this level of waiting and planning (I mostly hate making decisions) in my life. It's like waiting for Christmas, graduation, your birthday, a great concert and a vacation (things that are awesome) while also having to make small talk, watch grass grow and schedule doctors appointments all the time (things that are tedious).

Again, I'm certain I'll read this in a few years and laugh at how difficult I thought this was. However, I've begun to realize that this time is not so much  about waiting as it is preparation and purification.

3. The more you love, the less you fear.

Let me tell you something, I'm an anxiety addict. But when I met this incredibly kind and dashingly handsome man who wanted to hang out with me all the time (!!!), God slowly drew that fear out of my heart and basically left me with two options. "OK Hillary, you can keep worrying about every little detail and never put your faith in Me or you can let go and actually believe that I am trying to give you even more than you could have ever even dared to pray for."

Ingrid Michaelson comes to mind as I slowly learn to choose the latter everyday:


Happy, Jenny?

Friday, July 12, 2013

A brief catch up

This time last year I was still adjusting from the jet-leg of a 22(ish) hour plane ride from Mumbai to Dubai to Dallas to Denver.

The return flight from Dubai was perhaps one of the deepest times of reflection and prayer I've ever experienced. Unable to sleep, I tried to preserve every memory I had of India by writing it down in my journal, but every time I delved too deep into what I'd seen, I began to weep.

The line from the song "Awake My Soul" by Mumford and Sons served as what I thought was a confirmation that I needed to go back to India very soon.

"And now my heart stumbles on things I don't know/ my weakness I feel I must finally show
... Where you invest your love/ you invest your life"

Looking back on that time, I was convinced that in order to right the wrongs I'd seen, I needed to return to India as soon as I could to fix all the world's problems. I wanted to prove to God that I was a good person and in a sense, I was trying to earn my salvation.

I remember becoming annoyed when I read in a book about Mother Teresa that she would tell foreign missionaries to find their "own Calcuttas" and serve Jesus where they were. How could I ever do as much good in America as I could in India? I'm not "special" enough here. I'm not doing anything "radical" enough here.

Now, just one year later, the names and faces have faded considerably in my mind and are only reintroduced with the smell of curry or jasmine flowers. I still ache for all those people, especially the elderly -- those who have lived their entire lives being told they are nothing.

But, at the same time, I see how self-centered my desires were. I wanted to serve the poor, not entirely for their sake, but partially because I wanted to be "that one girl who went to India for a year to serve the poor."

A colleague of mine helped me come down from my cloud of self-importance and idealism by saying something along the lines of "It's easy to love a foreign place where everything is new. There's something euphoric about traveling, but it's what you do and how you treat people when you get back home that matters."

I still hope to return to India one day, but I know that God has been using me in different ways right here in my own neighborhood. Smiling at strangers, trying to go to daily Mass more frequently, reconnecting with my family.

No, this isn't what I envisioned myself doing this time last year, but this time has been trying, humbling and purifying in its own way.

Do the people I met in India still need help? Of course!
  • You can help sponsor a child's education -- which is the best way to help prevent them from being trafficked -- through the Dalit Freedom Network.
  • You can support International Justice Mission -- a group dedicated to fighting injustice throughout the world by freeing people from human trafficking.
Every little bit of awareness and financial support helps! The worst thing we can do is nothing!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Let Jesus steal your heart

St. Valentine’s Day is upon us. What was once a day dedicated to the love and sacrifice of a Roman martyr has now become little more than another excuse for every imaginable retailer to sell you heart shaped crap at an inflated price. 

 If that weren’t bad enough, anyone who is without a significant other will be reminded of that fact with every glance at a television screen, web browser or store window.

Sounds like fun, right?

As an un-married twenty-something Catholic woman, I have to say I’ve been there (somewhat). I’ve lived just almost 24 years of my life without a man to buy me roses, chocolate or (thankfully) Jane Seymour’s Open Heart.

You know I love you, Dr. Quinn, but your necklace makes me ill.
Now for the first time in my life I have a boyfriend to celebrate Valentine’s day with. Peachy keen, right? As in, all the longings of my soul and questions of my worth and existence are fulfilled in this one man because that’s what the commercials on TV tell me. Right?


So wrong.

I recently had to face this twisted idea head on when I was feeling particularly worthless and giving into all kinds of Satanic lies about the value of my existence. I’d like to blame my weakened defenses on the emotional instability I was experiencing thanks to the fact that I’m a female, but in reality I just wasn’t turning to God enough with these questions.

Instead, I turned to a man who, although he is kind, compassionate, virtuous, courageous and charming (among other things), is not God. So as I sat in the car weeping and asking him why he was dating me, I became frustrated that no matter what he told me it wasn’t enough.

(In fact, he even told me that very same thing -very kindly- himself, but I was too busy falling into the depths of my despair to hear what he was trying to say.)

A Skype call to my sisters in Rome, lots of prayer, (another) good cry and a jarring conversation with a no-nonsense roommate later, I could see the trap that had been set for me.

It was the same one that had been set when I started a new job, whenever I tried to make new friends,  when I went off to college and countless other times; that this thing will give you worth. How well you perform in this will tell you how good you are. These people will tell you how much you are loved.

Lies. Straight from the pit of hell.

No matter how amazing one’s boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse/friend/job/house/bank account/ whatever is, it will never fully satisfy our soul’s longing for intimacy and affirmation. There’s only One who can do that. And all He asks is that we love Him with our whole heart. 

So, no matter what state of vocational, marital or employment status you find yourself in this Valentine’s Day, remember that nothing can satisfy our hearts like God can. Take this day to pray for the grace to turn to Him with the same zeal that caused that Roman to forsake his own life for Christ so many centuries ago.

Monday, February 11, 2013

My (earthly, Holy & Heavenly) Father

“Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” -Pope Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est 

Pope Benedict XVI. (CNA file photo)
Last week I had a terrible dream that my dad was terminally ill. I chalked it up to nothing more than my occasional anxiety about such things and the fact that my siblings and I are no longer children and my parents are therefore no longer young adults.

It wasn’t so much the dream itself – the only thing I really remembered was the knowledge that, “Dad is sick.” The thing that bothered me the most was the fear of what my life would be like when my earthly father does pass away. 

I called him just to hear his voice while I looked at a picture on my nightstand of him cradling me in his arms at my baptism. He reassured me that he was fine and that we’ll get together for lunch this week.

It scared me because I realized that I will be shaken to the core when my parents are gone. My family is my rock and foundation that I can return to when the outside world bears down too hard. They are the ones who share in my joys just as much as my sorrows. They are the ones who made me who I am.

Understandably, the thought of losing one’s parents would be saddening to anyone. But what struck me even more deeply after telling God about this was how much I relied on others, even my family, more than Him. 

Of course, as children of God, we are the hands and feet of Christ while on earth. This means we are called to love and serve others as representatives of Christ, allowing Him to work through us so that “it is not I who lives, but Christ.”  But how often, do we give our praise, admiration and attention to the “hands and feet” rather than to Whom they belong?

So now, with the news of the retirement of our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, many Catholics are left with shock and sadness – I know that was my own impression upon hearing the news this morning.

But let us remember that although we love and revere our dear Papa Benedict, he is simply the Vicar of Christ. Any reverence or affection that we have for the Pope is a result of his resemblance to the One he serves.

I think it’s fitting that Pope Benedict is stepping down during this Year of Faith and just as Lent begins. The act of humbly admitting (and drawing attention to) one’s own human frailty speaks volumes not only to Benedict’s God-given virtue, but also to his total and complete reliance on Our Heavenly Father – a beautiful example that all of us should pray to have the grace to follow.

 Pope St. Celestine, pray for us!

Friday, January 25, 2013

(virtual) March for Life

"For God is not unjust so as to overlook the love you have demonstrated by having served and continuing to serve the holy ones. We earnestly desire each if you to demonstrate the same eagerness for the fulfillment of hope until the end ..." Heb. 6:10-11

This week marked not only 40 years of legalized abortion in America, but also 40 years of those who recognize women deserve better than abortion.

This week, I mourn my 55 million countrymen who have lost their lives, but also rejoice in those who have worked tirelessly to let the fathers and mothers know that there are alternatives to the pain, confusion and, often times, despair an unplanned pregnancy can seem to bring.

Let us continue to encourage those who find themselves alone when pregnant by reminding them that even in times when everyone else has become their enemy, a woman's unborn child is always her most faithful ally.


Snow begins to fall as pro-life marchers walk up Constitution Avenue in Washington D.C. during the 2013 March for Life. Credit: Addie Mena/CNA. Copyright © 2012 Catholic News Agency. All rights reserved.
 As I sat in my Denver office today, I was encouraged the most by the Twitter feed I followed using the hashtag #MarchforLife. Normally, I avoid social media commentary like the plague (seriously - have you ever glimpsed at a comment board on a major news story?), especially when it has to do with anything controversial, such as abortion. Behind their computer screens or cell phones, people tend to be just downright nasty and rude.

Today, however, there was a constant stream of images of young people smiling despite the snow and words of encouragement for babies and moms. What better day to work  for Catholic media than today?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Love is an act of the will

Many of us have probably heard the rather counter-cultural statement that "Love is an act of the will" and not a feeling as our culture seems to hold fast to.

I've understood this point (or at least I thought I did) for quite some time, but I've also recently realized that there's a second part to this idea that I may have overlooked before: Accepting love is an act of the will.

When I look to Christ, especially on the Cross or in the Eucharist, I know that He is totally choosing to give himself, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, to me. But, what I often overlook is whether or not I am fully accepting his love.

I came upon this realization recently when I was thinking about a new relationship I'm in. Practically out of nowhere, this amazing man comes into my life and start treating me well and being incredibly kind to me. My initial reaction was, "Seriously, what gives? I don't deserve any of this. Why are you being so nice to me?"

Then I realized that this is very similar to how I relate to God. I've always struggled with seeing myself as worthy of God's love -- so much so that makes it damn near impossible for Him to get into my heart. I just figured, "OK, not worthy of your love? Well, I'll just get along fine by myself then." This, of course, is pride masked as humility, all wrapped up nicely in despair and self-loathing.

So now that I have a truly amazing man waiting patiently for me to let him into my heart, just a little bit at a time, I've realized that all along God has been doing the same thing on an infinitely deeper scale.

Of course I'm not worthy of His love. None of us are. But that's the whole point. God wants every bit of our broken and battered little hearts so that He can reshape them into a beautiful, new creation.

We're not pieces of dung covered in snow.

We are broken souls remade in the fire of His Sacred Heart, but only if we choose to let Him in.