Has Comparison Played a Role in Your Vocation? Thoughts on Humility + Authenticity.

STEPHANIE CALIS

 

In my attempts to dialogue about the Catholic faith with charity and respect, to help others feel seen and heard, and to treat differences of opinion with a sympathetic, analytical mindset, it’s easy for me to believe I’m immune to pride. 

But that outlook is, in itself, prideful.

Photography: Christina Canaday, c/o    Something Blue, LLC

Photography: Christina Canaday, c/o Something Blue, LLC

The Pharisees, in Scripture, seem so different from me on the surface: confrontational, rule-bound, unmerciful. And yet, when I consider the deeper implications of their attitude, I see the painful similarities to my own bad habits, particularly in regard to comparison and pride.

Seeing your imperfections hurts. But they don’t define you. Read more here.

As my husband and I planned our wedding, we’d pat ourselves on the back for spending thousands less than wedding websites said a typical celebration would cost. As I cut sugar and flour from my diet in the month before the big day, I hoped family and friends would admire my fashion savvy and my looking thinner in the strapless ballgown I couldn’t wait to wear.

As we entered into newlywed life and, later, into parenthood, I’d mentally congratulate our willingness to travel and explore our new state when we could’ve stayed home instead, and our first child’s behavior he was calm and occupied in public.

What is it that distinguishes pride from being proud of yourself? Certainly, it’s not bad to spend within your means, to approach your appearance in a healthy way, to cultivate a fulfilling life and to parent attentively. But what about the areas of our wedding in which we overspent? What about the times my husband and I just didn’t feel like doing something social media-worthy? What about the times our baby fussed or struggled while we were out?

When I look at the root of these occasions, I see a desire for others to perceive me favorably, rather than a desire to be an instrument of the Father’s gifts.

I recognize the sense of underlying comparison, as if my choices make me superior, as if they define me, rather than just existing as choices. In my pride, I see the times in which can’t deny I’ve valued the earthly over the divine--a priority of myself above all else. How far I have to grow.

In Matthew’s Gospel, Christ condemns the Pharisees as “hypocrites.” The word hypocrite comes from the Greek word hypokrites, which means “actor.” 

Actors in ancient Greek theatre wore masks. When I consider my temptations to comparison and pride, I’m forced to confront the masks I want to wear: that my husband and I have a good relationship and have our lives together, that my appearance can garner attention, that my children’s good behavior is a direct reflection of my parenting. Again, these desires aren’t all inherently bad, yet in my desire to let them define me and to help others see me in the best light, I see the Pharisee in me, and I am humbled.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church quotes Saint Augustine in describing humility; the virtue of rightly understanding our nature and identity within the order of creation: “Man,” wrote Augustine, “is a beggar before God.”

Have you experienced similar thought patterns as mine--the belief that the choices you make in your engagement and marriage need to reflect well on you, and the fall into pride? Recognizing the masks we wear hurts; removing them is painful. When I remind myself I am seen, and accepted by the Lord in this journey of growth even without my masks, I find myself consoled and encouraged to live more authentically. More humbly. To examine the roots of my desires and strive to align them with God’s glory, not my own.

This week, I encourage you to examine your own desires: do you want to achieve them to draw attention to yourself, or to Christ within you? I can assure you that I’m right there alongside you, trying always to break my habits of comparison and to pursue greater humility. In our rawness and weakness, we are loved all the same.


About the Author: Stephanie Calis is Spoken Bride's Editor in Chief and Co-Founder. She is the author of INVITED: The Ultimate Catholic Wedding Planner (Pauline, 2016). Read more

BOOKINSTAGRAM

4 Secular Novels Featuring Insights into Authentic Love + Catholic Marriage

STEPHANIE CALIS

 

Can non-spiritual reading have a place in your formation and prayer life?

Catholic author Walker Percy said, “Fiction doesn’t tell us something we don’t know. It tells us something we know but don’t know that we know.” 

The Catholic faith offers us a rich treasury of theologians, ancient and contemporary, who have shed light on Scripture, the sacraments, prayer, and more, in a language we can comprehend in our humanness. And certainly, there are a wealth of resources on relationships and sacramental marriage, in particular.

I’ve found my world-view changed for the better by the religious works I’ve encountered on love and marriage. Yet the truth is, I’ve never felt entirely comfortable admitting that spiritual reading isn’t my favorite genre. 

A lifelong literature lover, it’s taken time for me to articulate what I now deeply believe to be true: stories that convey goodness, truth, and beauty--those that reveal the nature and purpose of the human person and human love--can be just as powerful as theological writing in showing us who we are and directing our hearts to God. 

While spiritual writing provides a good and necessary framework and lens for our understanding, literature, for me, brings these truths to life in a tangible, embodied way as we experience characters’ interior lives. Together, they supplement one another and offer an enriching education in self-knowledge, love, and faith.

Here, for fiction lovers like me, a selection of novels beyond perennial Catholic favorites like Austen, Waugh, O’Connor, Percy, and Berry, that illuminate the human heart and offer life-giving insights into love and marriage.

A Place for Us, Fatima Farheen Mirza

This story of estranged siblings and parents re-entering each other’s lives for a wedding jumps seamlessly through time and memory, sharing such recognizable, true-to-life accounts of longtime marriage, growing up with siblings, experiencing your first love, and the pain of distance and division. I finished this book in tears, filled with the hope that no matter how imperfect our earthly relationships might be, our hope lies in our resurrection at the heavenly wedding banquet.

Sample passage: “I have looked up at this sky since I was a child and I have always been stirred, in the most secret depth of me that I alone cannot access, and if that is not my soul awakening to the majesty of my creator then what is it?”

Circe, Madeline Miller

The centuries-long lifetime of the witch from The Odyssey, who famously turned men into pigs, is reimagined in this beautiful novel. Reading about the Greek gods’ immortal nature—and Circe’s resulting years of solitude and loneliness—I was repeatedly struck by the fact that eternal life means nothing without the divine Beloved; the Bridegroom. It is the love of God that gives meaning to our creation and existence.

What’s more, I found myself deeply moved by the incarnational, embodied dimension of love, as this book explores through the nature of gods and men: Christ took on human flesh and a mortal life out of love. Our mortality is not the end of the story.

Sample passage: “I have aged... Sometimes I like it. Sometimes I am vain and dissatisfied. But I do not wish myself back. Of course my flesh reaches for the earth.” 

Saints for All Occasions, J. Courtney Sullivan

How does the Lord work within the discernment choices we make? After sacramentally entering into a vocation and experiencing doubts, does it matter? This bittersweet story of two Irish Catholic sisters who immigrate to Boston in the mid-twentieth century delves into the daily rituals and intimacies that make up both married and religious life, with encouragement to seek God’s will in all things.

Sample passage:  “Think of a marriage, husband and wife. The piece of paper, the white wedding dress, they don't promise anything. A person has to stay there, fight for it, every day.” 

The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro

Love as an act of the will, rather than a flight of emotion, is integral to an authentic communion that imitates Christ’s own love. Is it possible, though, that an overcommitment to duty over emotion can become a source of regret?

As I read this story of an English butler and his relationships with his master and a fellow, female servant, I considered how the things we don’t say frequently speak as loudly as the things we do. I found it a poignant reflection on the human need for vulnerability and expressing affection.

Sample passage: “If you are under the impression you have already perfected yourself, you will never rise to the heights you are no doubt capable of.” 

I love pondering the ways in which the worldly echoes the sacred; the ways in which popular or secular media expresses a universal truth that aligns with human nature and the Catholic faith. What novels can you recommend for insights into love and marriage? Share in the comments and on Spoken Bride’s social media.


About the Author: Stephanie Calis is Spoken Bride's Editor in Chief and Co-Founder. She is the author of INVITED: The Ultimate Catholic Wedding Planner (Pauline, 2016). Read more

BOOK | INSTAGRAM

Questions to Foster Emotional Intimacy

CARISSA PLUTA

 

Early in a relationship, couples often have an easier time asking probing questions to get to know their significant other in a deeper way.

But after the honeymoon phase has waned, couples can easily default to questions that require a simple response like: “How was your day?” or “How was work?”

Asking thoughtful questions and then actively listening to the answers your spouse gives can do a lot to foster emotional intimacy and connection between a husband and wife. 

Not yet married? Read more here on developing emotional intimacy during engagement.

Try asking your husband one (or all) of these questions on your next date night, or around the dinner table to get the conversation started. 

What are your dreams?

Dreams can grow and change over time as a person discovers more about who they are. So even if you knew your spouse’s dream during the seasons of dating and engagement, his dreams (and yours) may look different now then when you met. 

Asking your husband to share his dreams with you makes him feel known, while also revealing ways in which you can encourage your spouse in pursuing them. 

This question often generates discussion about dreams that you as a couple have for your family and future together.

What have you been thankful for recently?

As marriage move past the honeymoon stage, it is very easy for couples to take each other for granted; however, gratitude is an integral part of healthy relationships. 

Asking your spouse what he is thankful for gives him the opportunity to intentionally practice gratitude, enforcing it as a more regular habit. 

It can also help you, personally and as a couple, to focus on the present moment and all the gifts God has blessed you with. 

What has Jesus been saying to you in prayer?

This question goes even deeper than the classic “How is your prayer life?” 

It invites the listener into this innermost part of their spouse’s heart and may even help your spouse process the ways in which God has worked in their lives. 

Plus, it opens up the possibility for a longer conversation on spirituality and prayer which can be edifying for both people. 


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

BLOG | INSTAGRAM | FACEBOOK | TWITTER

Prayer Intentions for Women Called to Marriage

Whether you’re currently single, dating, engaged, or married, every woman prays to live out her vocation faithfully and well. What does that look like in the everyday?

Photography: Aberrazioni Cromatiche Studio, seen in    Fabiola + Cole | Vatican City Basilica Wedding

Photography: Aberrazioni Cromatiche Studio, seen in Fabiola + Cole | Vatican City Basilica Wedding

For those called to marriage, the desire to be a strong, holy wife might feel so...abstract. And that’s understandable! Depending on your relationship situation and whether you’ve met your spouse, your ability to will the good of a specific man and ask the Father for grace with specific matters can be limited. 

Are you in a season of discerning the Father’s will for your life? Read tips for determining the vocation he might be calling you to. 

There are, however, particular intentions you might consider bringing to prayer as you anticipate, prepare for, or live out your married life. Here, prayer suggestions for brides.

Strengthen me in sacrifice.

Ask the Lord for a greater sense of perception and attention to opportunities for sacrifice and service, as well as a willing disposition to do so with a joyful heart. Is he prompting you to fast from or give up particular habits? Are there daily activities in which you can ease the load of someone in your life (chores, quality time, or otherwise)? No matter your current state in life, you can actively strengthen your marriage--starting now--by developing a heart of sacrifice.

Grant me the gift of understanding.

Seek growth in active listening, healthy conflict resolution, and empathy. Embrace others’ honesty and vulnerability as a gift to be treated with mercy and care. Cultivating communication skills amplifies and enriches all of your relationships.

Read 5 Tips for Active Listening.

Help me to know your peace, Lord.

Do you find yourself doubting you’ll ever meet the man you’re intended to marry? Are you anxious to determine if the man you’re currently dating is The One? Are you and your spouse facing a major life decision like children, career changes, or a move?

The Lord desires our hearts to be at peace. In times of restlessness for answers, approach discernment with a spirit of openness, trusting that he responds to our prayers--sometimes with a whisper, and sometimes with a shout--in the most loving, fruitful ways, even when his call is wildly different from our expectations.

May I revere my sexuality and fertility.

Our identity as human persons, male and female and invited to join God in bringing forth life, speaks the truth of who we are. Pray for the graces of reverence, joy, freedom, and self-discipline as they relate to your sexuality, and if you feel the pull, seek out theological resources that further illuminate.

Pray, also, for trust: the knowledge and appropriate resources to learn about your fertility and your body’s particular rhythms, the faith and confidence to embrace children and grow your family as you feel called. And perhaps most painfully, the trust that should infertility and complications arise, you are not abandoned and the Lord will reveal, in time, his plans for your particular marriage to be fruitful.

May I make of myself a gift to my husband, and may he make of himself a gift to me.

Authentic love is free, faithful, total, and fruitful; a complete gift of self. This love takes on a particularly intimate, personal dimension in marriage, yet there are ways to embody self-gift even before marriage.

Pray about ways to communicate love through every part of your life, not just your romantic relationship: live with a spirit of encounter. Make efforts to make others feel seen, heard, and known. Be a witness to joy and to confidence in your identity as a daughter, sister, and bride. 

For that, ultimately, is who you are: a woman, equipped with unique gifts only you can confer on the world--not only on your wedding day or as a new wife, but before and after you enter into your vocation. May your prayers inspire your gifts and your worth.

Have you experienced this desire to be a “good” wife? What other intentions have you prayed for in this pursuit? Share your thoughts in the comments and on Spoken Bride’s social media.

“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

INSTAGRAM | FACEBOOK

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

BLOG | INSTAGRAM | FACEBOOK | TWITTER

Habits You Can Start Now to Prepare for Married Intimacy

 

Reserving the gift of the sexual embrace for the one person you commit your life to in the sacrament of matrimony is a gift of self. A gift which embodies chastity, freedom, and self-control; virtues which continue to grow throughout married life—no longer by withholding, but precisely through physical intimacy. 

Teachings of the Catholic Church surrounding sex and marriage are not a set of rules to control our personal lives or for the sake of abstinence alone. Rather, these are beautiful teachings of the Church to emphasize authentic love through a freely given gift of self, with an openness toward creating life. In this way, we embody the love of God.

Physical intimacy is offered as a chaste gift is when it parallels the gift of Christ to his bride, the Church. Sex makes visible the glorious vows offered and received on the wedding altar. 

Conversations surrounding sex and marriage are not just about sex. The dialogue is rooted in reverence for the human person and virtue of the human heart. Regardless of our relationship status, we are all called to grow in reverence and virtue. 

Our actions involving sexuality are some of the most important ways we can fulfill the universal call of holiness. Yet there are many ways we can grow in chastity, experience collaboration with God, and offer a profound gift of self prior to or outside of intimacy with a partner. 

Receive the Eucharist 

Receiving the Eucharist in the liturgy of the Mass is the epitome of intimacy with God. This is the moment when God proclaims his love and desire for intimate union with his children. Receiving the Eucharist with a pure heart is the greatest experience of physical and spiritual intimacy with God. 

When God offers his body, blood, soul and divinity and we receive him through our mouth and into our body, we experience the fullest reverence, virtue, chastity, and gift that we can experience on this side of heaven. The Eucharist is an image of the embrace between bride and groom; images of infinite union, which God prepares in heaven for every person. 

Bringing your desires, longings and aches to the father in the Eucharist is the most holy place we can turn to for healing and strength. He knows what it means to experience the ache of the human heart and he desires to pull us into deeper and more chaste relationship with him and with others. 

Feasting and Fasting 

Scripture affirms “prayer with fasting is good.” Fasting, most often associated with the season of Lent, is an opportunity for the faithful to prayerfully give something up to elicit an experience of longing. When we abstain from a tangible or consumable good and experience the ache of desire, our hearts yearn for more. That deep emotional encounter is a moment we can turn to God in prayer and ask him to fill the void in our hearts, bodies, and souls. 

There is nothing on earth, including sex (even sex within marriage), that can completely fill our hearts’ longings. Saint Augustine understood this perpetual ache when he said, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” 

Establishing a practice of regular fasting opens the heart to experience a deeper longing, raises our awareness of our hearts desires, and provides opportunities to grow in intimacy with God. Consider something small; for example, giving up fancy coffee drinks once a week as a prayer to experience desire, to grow in virtue and to understand freedom of saying “no.”

Relationships with the Saints

The saints are holy men and women who received understanding of God’s will for their lives and fulfilled it through their time on Earth. They are made available to us as spiritual—and very real—friends, mentors, and guides through prayer and devotion. 

Maybe the saints all feel like strangers to you, yet you desire some kind of mentor along this journey of chastity and self-control. Ask God to deliver you a holy friend and keep your eyes and ears open for the opportunity to dive into a new relationship with a saint. Perhaps there is a saint who has recently become more prevalent in your life. If you sense they are seeking your attention, turn to them in a novena or devotion for guidance along this journey toward holiness.  

Delayed Gratification 

In a culture where we can acquire information and products almost immediately through modern technology, delayed gratification is an underappreciated skill. Through delayed gratification, practice withholding a desire with a confident hope of acquiring it in the future. As a small example, delay how quickly after dinner you indulge in dessert. The time of waiting is an opportunity to grow in patience and self-control.

As you train these muscles of your head and your heart, you build a muscle memory which will be a strength if or when you are tempted to engage in sexual intimacy in an unchaste way. Practice saying “no” through the freedom of your self-control for something small so you can experience the fullest joys—the fulest yes—for something truly divine.