“The Body is Called to Follow in Hope” | Ongoing Reflections from the Ascension

STEPHANIE FRIES

 

Forty days after Jesus’ resurrection on Easter Sunday, he ascends into heaven; he shows us the way to our destiny in heaven. 

The opening prayer at the Ascension Mass caught my attention in a surprising way when the priest said, “Where the head has gone before in worry, the heart is called to follow in hope.”

PHOTOGRAPHY:   DU CASTEL PHOTOGRAPHY

I understand this prayer can be interpreted in different ways. In reference to the Ascension, the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “Jesus Christ, the head of the Church, precedes us into the Father’s glorious kingdom so that we, the members of his Body, may live in the hope of one day being with him forever.” Here, the Catechism speaks of the head and the body as a parallel to Christ and the Church. 

However, I internalized this prayer with a self-reflective lens: where my head--logic, anxiety, and expectation--has gone before in worry, my body--my heart, soul, and will--is called to follow in hope. 

Entering the sacrament of marriage has opened my heart to an entirely new level of vulnerability and, thus, worry. Perhaps you can relate. The beautiful experience of being vulnerable and intimate and in union with another is raw. And in moments of weakness and fear, my head is left in a state of worry: about my own health and safety; about my husband’s health and safety; about the future of our family; about being prematurely abandoned or alone. 

Concurrently, as my heart has grown into my vocation over the last year, I have grown in union with my spouse; a union I adore with gratitude every day. My vocation is creating in me a new heart with a greater capacity to love and be loved, a new identity of what it means to be a woman, and a new understanding of where and how God calls me to live. 

I believe the experience of responding to beauty, grace, and gift with worry is a reaction to our human mortality. Though God showers us with mercy and love, this Earthly reality will not last forever. 

Sin occurs when our feelings pull us into a state of despair. Holiness abounds when our feelings propel us toward God the father with a hope for heaven. 

The Ascension reveals a perpetually open door for our bodies to follow Christ in hope. Hope in God’s perfect timing. Hope that God will use our Earthly experience to reveal his glory and bring us closer to him. Hope that we are destined to follow Christ into heaven.

Through the gift of free will, we have a choice. The worries, pains, and anxieties we experience through the crosses we bear can end with worry. Or these emotions we feel can be a cue for greater faith, hope and charity. As we are honest with ourselves in times of trial, we see either a temptation or an invitation. 

In the Ascension, God lifted Jesus back to himself. It was not an act of Jesus’ strength, but a surrender of his will to the will of God. The same is true for us. 

How often do we internalize our struggles and think we must muster the strength to pull ourselves out of despair, solve problems, take action, and rise up with a plan? On the contrary, as we abandon our fears and worries to God, he lifts us into his everlasting love. Through his mercy and our goodwill, he frees us from the chains which weigh us down and he becomes our strength. 

Saying yes to God’s invitation for faith and hope and love is not always accompanied by fuzzy feelings. But, like choosing love or forgiveness, choosing God may be an act of the will before it is an affirming experience of the heart. 

My sisters, these are words I believe to be true, but I often struggle implementing this truth in my life. More often than not, I bemoan the act of surrender. Though I hate to admit it, I feel sad for myself and pay too much attention to the temptation to despair. I desire to surrender with a more joyful hope. In my feeble attempts of saying “yes,” each moment of self-awareness and desire is a new stepping stone towards God. 

He will raise us to a greater glory. Do we ask him to reveal his heavenly self in our daily lives? Do we have the eyes to see, the ears to hear him? 

Like Jesus’ Ascension, hope and surrender are graces to be received by God. Do not grow weary in the waiting for eternity. Do not allow worries on Earth to stain your hope for heaven. God sees you, knows your heart, loves you, desires union with you. He has a perfect plan to draw you closer to see and know and love him. By following in hope, you will be lifted to see his face. 


About the Author: Stephanie Fries is Spoken Bride’s Associate Editor. Stephanie’s perfect day would include a slow morning and quality time with her husband, Geoff, a strong cup of coffee, and a homemade meal (…with dessert). Read more

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Stewardship in Marriage

CARISSA PLUTA

 

Time and time again we see in Scripture the call to be good stewards of the spiritual and temporal gifts God has given us.   

Christian stewardship means more than generously sharing our time, talent, and treasure. It means that we “... receive God's gifts gratefully, cultivate them responsibly, share them lovingly in justice with others, and return them with increase to the Lord.”

Stewardship looks differently for each couple, and husbands and wives should take time to pray about and discuss what it means for their particular family during this season of their life. Here are some ideas to get the conversation started: 

Budget prayerfully

When couples create a budget, they generally form it around a particular goal they want to achieve or a vision they have for their lives. For example, paying off student loans, buying a house, or saving for college. 

Creating a budget in this way makes sense, and will help your family use money prudently and intentionally, but consider inviting God into the process. 

Instead of simply asking the question “What do we want to do with our money?” ask God what He wants you to do with it. 

His plan might look a bit different than your plan in the beginning and it will probably require you being more intentional with your finances, so you can make room for the more important things.

Tithe

The idea of tithing goes back to Old Testament days, but it remains an important responsibility of members of the Church today. The Catechism states: “The faithful have the duty of providing for the material needs of the Church, each according to his abilities.”

Traditionally this meant giving 10% of your income, but the Catholic Church does not mandate a specific percentage. However, the spirit of the tithe has remained over the years. We should return the first-fruits of our labor to the one who ultimately gave them to us.  

You can choose to tithe to your local parish, and/or to another Catholic charity. Pray and discuss with your spouse how much you can tithe each month, and where you feel called to donate.

Give from your need

Remember the widow in the gospel of Mark who gave two small coins into the temple treasury? Of her, Jesus said: “This poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury. For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.” 

Of course we should be prudent with our finances, but too often we use our lack of money or resources as an excuse not to give. 

But true generosity requires sacrifice. It’s easy to be generous with our excess but it takes virtue to give from the little we have. This might look like forgoing our daily cup of coffee from the nearby shop, or inviting people to your home to share the meal you prepared. 

We practice stewardship when we take what we have been given and joyfully share it with others.

Practice gratitude

Stewardship means recognizing that all of the gifts in your life come from God, and involves giving from that gratitude instead of from obligation. 

Take some time each day with your spouse to think about the gifts in your life and thank God for them. 

Recognizing the generosity of God in turn helps you to show generosity to the people you encounter each day. It also helps you find satisfaction with what you have so you can live a more intentional life.


About the Author: Carissa Pluta is Spoken Bride’s Editor at Large. She is the author of the blog The Myth Retold. Read more

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Am I Called to Marriage? How to Discern Your Vocation

CARISSA PLUTA

 

When I was in college, hours were spent in the chapel trying to navigate the life given to me and to determine the exact plan God had for me. 

PHOTOGRAPHY:    DU CASTEL PHOTOGRAPHY

I often prayed novenas to find my spouse, and found myself wondering if that cute guy in my English class or at the coffee shop was the one. Or wondering if maybe God was actually calling me to religious life instead. 

I spent a lot of time worrying that I would never figure out the path God had planned for me. I remember many anxiety-filled moments, afraid that I would spend the rest of my days alone.

Maybe this sounds familiar?

I treated my vocation like cheese at the center of a maze. Looking to it as the ultimate goal in our relationship with God, or as my one-way ticket to happiness. 

God does have a plan for our lives. He desires to fulfill the deepest longing in our heart. Our joy lies in spending eternity with Him.

Discernment helps us distinguish what brings us closer to that plan.

As Catholics, we know Christ should be at the center of our decision-making, especially when it comes to big decisions like who, if anyone, we should marry. But we often want a step-by-step map for figuring out what God wants us to do. 

Discernment, however, looks more like a process than like a to-do list and here are a few suggestions for starting that process:

Open your heart

I’ve heard many young women express fear over their vocation: “I don’t want to be a nun” or “I won’t make a good wife.”

While you shouldn’t immediately dismiss the idea of marriage or religious life simply because it seems less appealing in this current season or out of fear, you can trust that God will not force you into a vocation. He will not call you where you can’t flourish. 

He will either call you where you already feel lead or He will transform your heart. Allow God the opportunity to flood your heart with His wisdom and grace and leave fear behind. 

Work on your relationship with God

Every healthy relationship involves frequent communication, so unsurprisingly, to hear God’s voice we need to have a healthy and intimate relationship with Him. We can do this by praying everyday and receiving the sacraments regularly.

Try praying with scriptures, attending Mass at least once a week, frequent confession, or doing a daily examen to help deepen your relationship with God and allow Him opportunities to speak to you.

Make room for silence

Cardinal Sarah in his book The Power of Silence writes: “There is no place on earth where God is more present than in the human heart. This heart truly is God’s abode, the temple of silence… The Father waits for his children in their own hearts” 

You won’t hear God’s voice if you have filled your life with noise. 

Cultivating silence in your life and in your heart will help you grow more in-tune with the movements of the Holy Spirit. So try removing unnecessary distractions, especially when you pray. 

Pursue excellence in your current state in life

You don’t have to find your vocation to begin your life. In fact, throughout history, God has called men and women in the midst of their daily life. Abraham, Moses, Mary, the Apostles were all called on what was an otherwise ordinary day.

God has given you this life, and He wants you to live well and trust Him to take care of the rest. So, if you’re a student, work diligently. If you are a young professional, do your job to the best of your ability. 

Find a spiritual director

If you were going on an arduous journey, you would probably want a guide to help you navigate the difficult terrain. 

Similarly, we might need help finding (and following) the path God has laid out for us. Seeking guidance from a trained spiritual director can help you interpret what God has revealed to you in prayer. 

Act

When it comes to discerning our vocation, we often get so caught up in making the “right” choice that we become paralyzed with fear and anxiety. We don’t feel confident enough to move, so we stay put where we can’t fail.

However, you can’t use the process of discernment as an excuse to not pursue God’s will for your life. 

If you think you might be called to the religious life, go on a “come and see” retreat with your favorite order. Or if you think you might be called to marriage, consider saying “yes” next time you’re asked on a date. 

By making the decision to act, you allow yourself to learn and grow in ways that will only help you discerning God’s plan for your life.


About the Author: Carissa Pluta is Spoken Bride’s Editor at Large. She is the author of the blog The Myth Retold. Read more

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Four Icons to Depict The Marital Embrace and Theology of the Body

STEPHANIE FRIES

 

The Theology of the Body (TOB) is a compilation of teachings and writings which depict how our physical bodies are designed and created to reveal the glory of God on this side of heaven. In many ways, TOB is a mission statement for married couples—a spiritual foundation to understand the human heart, to grow in relationship, and to embrace our deepest desires for unity. 

Saint John Paul II presented his work on TOB in 129 “general audiences” during his papacy; countless theologians, teachers, and artists expand upon his work and share these truths in schools and communities today.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, ”Christian iconography expresses in images the same Gospel message that Scripture communicates by words.” In collaboration with several TOB educators, four icons which reveal the Gospel message through the lens of Theology of the Body and the vocation to married life are shared below.

PHOTOGRAPHY:   HORN PHOTOGRAPY

PHOTOGRAPHY: HORN PHOTOGRAPY

The Holy Family 

An icon of the Holy Family reveals the physical fruit of love between two humans who each offered their bodies entirely to the will of God. Though each called to self-sacrifice, man and woman participate in very different acts of cooperation with the spirit. As we gaze at the Holy Family, we recall how Mary, completely united with the Holy Spirit, trusted an angel and conceived the son of God with pure receptivity. Joseph upheld his masculine dignity and self-control through his entire life as he abstained from physically uniting with his earthly spouse. Joseph’s body was his source of leadership to provide, protect, and defend his family and his home. 

Like Mary and Joseph, every bride and groom is called to offer her or his body in unique acts of service for the sake of their marriage and family. Whether in receptivity, abstinence or offering, a surrender of the physical body in collaboration with God is fruitful and holy. 

The Ecstacy of St. Teresa of Avila 

The passionate union of man and woman in holy matrimony is meant to be a foretaste of the passionate union the holy person will experience with God in heaven. St. Teresa of Avila mystically experienced the ecstacy of this love in her life on Earth, as depicted in this image. Her heart was struck by the love of God and she was never the same. Her expression reveals the longing of every human heart for the ultimate union with God in heaven. 

And it is an experience that God wants to share with all of us, in some fashion anyway. While it may be true that relatively few experience this level of divine ecstasy in this life, something like this (and far beyond) is destined to be ours for eternity – if we say “yes” to God’s marriage proposal, that is.”

Joachim and Anne in the Immaculate Conception 

The icon entitled “The Immaculate Conception” depicts the moment of holy union between Mary’s parents, Saints Joachim and Anne. They stand next to their marriage bed in a loving embrace. The imagery and symbolism in this icon is rich with truth about the Theology of the Body and the pure union between man and woman. As we know, their union was so pure, so holy, that the fruit of their union was Mary, immaculately conceived without sin. Beyond the literal event of the image, “...this icon leads us to consider the possibility of real holiness and virtue in the marital embrace, not only as an intellectual idea, but as a lived experience.” This image teaches us about the our destiny for unity between man and woman, the masculine and feminine, and for the trinitarian love of bride, groom and God. 

The Wedding Feast at Cana 

The Gospel reading of the Wedding Feast at Cana is a common selection for Catholic weddings. Jesus’ first public miracle at this wedding offers many points of reflection. It emphasizes the celebration of marriage and covenant as a holy union. It reveals a dynamic of the relationship between man and woman, as depicted between Mary and Jesus. It highlights the intoxicating effects of abundant wine and of pure love shared with others.

The icon depicting this event is a reminder of this miracle’s glory and how its truth applies to marriages today. Through the lens of TOB, we recognize that holy union is a cause of great celebration; saying “yes” to fruitful love through the marital covenant yields an abundance of holy and joyful celebration from God.


About the Author: Stephanie Fries is Spoken Bride’s Associate Editor. Stephanie’s perfect day would include a slow morning and quality time with her husband, Geoff, a strong cup of coffee, and a homemade meal (…with dessert). Read more

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How to Find a Mentor Couple

CARISSA PLUTA

 

Many couples enter into marriages without a clear understanding of what this vocation should look like when lived well.

We need help to navigate this sacred call but many of us come from broken homes or lack examples from which to learn. For this reason, mentorship can benefit many engaged or newlywed couples.

A mentor couple acts as this example while also providing support and encouragement to couples as they pursue holiness in marriage.

Finding the right mentor couple may take some time and prayer but here are some tips to help you get started.

Find a couple living the life you hope to live

Every couple has an idea for how they envision their future together. What do you hope your life together will look like in 5 years? 10 years? What are some challenges you might face?

Given the unique marital pressures brought by certain lifestyles or careers (like military, missionary, or doctor) having a mentor couple who could understand and relate to the joys and challenges you’ll face can help you navigate the ups and downs.

Get involved in the communities you are (or would like to be a part of). Getting to know the other members will help narrow down potential mentors. 

Find a couple who loves like you hope to love

Can you think of a couple whose marriage inspires you to live and love well? Chances are, this couple probably has been married a bit longer than you and your significant other. 

While having friends in the same state in life is important, your mentors should have more experience in living out their vocation. 

That doesn’t mean your mentor couple needs to have 50+ years of marriage experience, but they need to have already walked where you’re walking to be able to provide you with their wisdom to help you on your way. 

Find a couple you both trust

Since they will share more intimate thoughts and prayers, mentees should trust their mentors. That means, both husband and wife should find it easy to confide in the couple chosen for mentorship.

Again, this may take time and may take a little bit of searching but this will ultimately allow for more fruitful conversation between the couples. 

Make a Plan

When you and your spouse find the right couple for you, you should formally ask them to be your mentors. Then you will need to make a plan to help make your time together more intentional and productive. 

You can meet, in person or on Skype if your mentors live far away, as often as you and your mentors would like. However, meeting once a month is probably a good place to start.

You can make your meetings more formal by using resources such as these discussion questions or by reading a book together, but you don’t have to. Just grab some coffee or a meal and talk about how your marriage looks during the day-to-day. Ask questions and learn from one another. 


About the Author: Carissa Pluta is Spoken Bride’s Editor at Large. She is the author of the blog The Myth Retold. Read more

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Wedding Planning | Father Jacques Phillipe and Detachment from Wedding Planning Desires

STEPHANIE FRIES

 

The wedding planning process can be a stressful one. A bride-to-be not only yearns for the fulfillment of her visions of beauty, but often faces the expectations from her fiance, bridesmaids, mother, sisters, mothers-in-law, and friends. Even more, the wide world of Pinterest and Google introduce infinite vendors, budgets, designs, and decisions.

In the face of overwhelming options, it can be easy for a couple to forget God’s providential role in their wedding planning process.

Father Jacques Phillippe offers encouragement to acquire a steadfast peace of heart in his book, Searching for and Maintaining Peace. Though his wisdom is not written in relation to wedding planning, his words speak truth into the decisions—and holy detachment—involved in planning a wedding with God. 

“Very frequently… the Lord asks only an attitude of detachment at the level of the heart, a disposition to give Him everything. But He doesn’t necessarily “take” everything… This detachment, even though it is painful at the moment, will be followed by a profound peace. The proper attitude then is simply to be disposed to give everything to God, without panic, and to allow Him to do things His way, in total confidence.”

Is the Lord asking you for a spirit of detachment in the midst of your wedding planning desires? If you are feeling overwhelmed by the number of decisions and pressures in this process, take your worries and your desires to him in prayer. With a desire to give it all to him, release your desires into his providence and trust that he will fill your heart—and your wedding day—with joy and peace. 

“Abandonment is not natural; it is a grace to be asked of God. He will give it to us, if we pray with perseverance.”

This abandonment of desire is not easy to our human nature. But your efforts to collaborate with God in this process and to glorify him through your sacrament are acts of trust and love. He is with you throughout this journey. 

“Obviously we do not want to say that it is a bad thing to be able to anticipate things, to develop a budget or prepare one’s homilies. Our natural abilities are also instruments in the hands of Providence! But everything depends on the spirit in which we do things.”

You can leave the homily preparations to your priest. In the meantime, detachment does not mean you stop doing the necessary work. Fulfilling a call means you receive an opportunity from God’s providence and you work in collaboration with him. Continue utilizing your strengths, trusting your intuition, and remaining in a posture of receptivity for the next grace. 

“Once could even say that the surest way to lose one’s peace is precisely to try to assure one’s own life solely with the aid of human industry, with personal projects and decisions or by relying on someone else… To preserve peace in the midst of the hazards of human existence, we have only one solution: We must rely on God alone, with total trust in Him, as your heavenly Father (Matthew 6:32).”

Offering your wedding planning desires to God is counter-cultural and, quite frankly, it’s not popular. Friends and family may not understand your peace which follows detachment. But, as Father Jacques Phillippe warns us, relying more heavily on human will rather than on God alone is the surest way to lose peace. Keep you heart on your heavenly Father and trust, with confidence, that your wedding day desires will be fulfilled. 

“The heart does not awaken to confidence until it awakens to love; we need to feel the gentleness and the tenderness of the heart of Jesus.” 

“To grow or to enrich one’s spiritual life is to learn to love.”

What’s the point of detaching ourselves from our desires and abandoning them to God? Love. As we grow in virtue, we grow in holiness and love. This season of preparation for your wedding day is about planning a beautiful day. More importantly, however, this is a season to prepare your heart to love and be loved by your groom and to grow in holiness through your sacrament of marriage. 


About the Author: Stephanie Fries is Spoken Bride’s Associate Editor. Stephanie’s perfect day would include a slow morning and quality time with her husband, Geoff, a strong cup of coffee, and a homemade meal (…with dessert). Read more

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Newlywed Life | Ora et Labora, Prayer and Work

STEPHANIE FRIES

 

As I walked down the aisle on my wedding day, I was relatively aware how “everything” was going to change. In one day, I acquired a new roommate, an abundance of new household appliances and a new last name. Simultaneously, my husband and I were preparing for an international move—transitioning out of our jobs and community and into a new world of people, places, and norms. 

PHOTOGRAPHY:   MEL WATSON PHOTOGRAPHY

I did not have the same awareness of the resulting changes to my spiritual life and prayer routine. 

Following our wedding day, early mornings at an adoration chapel were replaced with making breakfast and enjoying coffee with my new husband. The spontaneous decision to attend daily Mass disappeared due to a lack of access to daily Mass in our new community. The experiences that once nourished my soul and my heart gave way to the new gifts and specific circumstances of married life. 

I’ve gained encouragement in my new role as a wife through the Benedictine saying, “Ora et labora,” or “pray and work.” This philosophy intertwines the responsibilities of vocation with our hearts’ longing for God. 

In this season of life, my “work,” my vocation as a wife, looks like cleaning the house and preparing meals, washing the dishes and doing laundry, planning a vacation and keeping in touch with extended family. 

In accordance with the Benedictine philosophy, the household chores, fulfilled as acts of service and love, can become a form of prayer. The active doing with my hands is a tangible form of prayer, of becoming a longing for God.

As we purify the intentions of our hearts and bring God to the front of our minds, every action—both at home and in our communities—becomes prayer. Waking up early enough to make a cup of coffee for your spouse is a prayer for his goodwill. Keeping in touch with extended family is a prayer of thanksgiving for your origins and support system. Upholding an orderly house as a practice of discipline is prayerful preparation to model a virtue of self-control to future children.  

If you, like me, are wrestling with the tension of incorporating old habits into new circumstances, take peace in knowing God is right where you are. Molding our prayer life according to our new vocational life does not mean surrendering spiritual practices altogether. Our hearts yearn for intimacy with both our spouse and God in a personal, trinitarian relationship. Lean into the ache to see how loving your spouse and God are united in the same action.


About the Author: Stephanie Fries is Spoken Bride’s Associate Editor. Stephanie’s perfect day would include a slow morning and quality time with her husband, Geoff, a strong cup of coffee, and a homemade meal (…with dessert). Read more

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