Faith, Freedom

Make America Pro-Life Again

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“Perhaps we are out of line with the rest of society, to which I say – Good. So were the abolitionists, so were the civil rights marchers, so were the martyrs in Rome, and the Jews in Egypt. Righteousness doesn’t have to be popular, it just has to be righteous.” -Ben Shapiro’s words from the 2019 March for Life

Hi friends! I’d like to share a little bit about my experience at this year’s March for Life with you, as well as some important topics that I feel need to be discussed in relation to this critical issue.

We attended this year’s March for Life with our church from New Jersey. We started our day with mass and a beautiful homily by our parish priest. He encouraged us to fight for a change in the law on the books, but to more importantly pray for a change of hearts.  After mass we began our trip to DC! Despite one of our buses breaking down on the way, we were able to make it to DC just in time for the march to begin! We joined in with over 650,000 others to march for the most fundamental right of all, the right to life. It’s amazing what a truly joyful march it is. When you’re fighting for what is beautiful and true, there really isn’t a need for nasty remarks or hateful behavior.

Granted, 61 million children murdered in their own mother’s wombs under the laws of the United States is certainly something to be angry about. As a nation, the blood of these children is on our hands, and any anger harbored over this matter is certainly righteous. However, we don’t allow ourselves to be defined by our frustration with the intrinsically evil, secular law that governs our land and destroys women and children every single day. Instead, we choose to define ourselves by our hope for the future, our faith in God’s power and goodness, and our love for every precious human life.

We had a beautiful day marching for the abolition of abortion and we will continue to fight for the rights of the unborn – who are truly the most vulnerable, marginalized, and abused group in history. Today, we often hear about groups that are mistreated by our government and whose lives are perceived to be devalued. Frankly, some of these concerns are valid, but others simply fit the mainstream media’s narrative and are used to push a certain agenda that ultimately doesn’t value them. No matter what group pulls at your heart strings, there is no group more widely massacred and devalued than the unborn. The March for Life serves to fight for an end to abortion, and this is the original definition of what being pro-life means. While there are other pressing issues that you may feel passionately about, abortion + euthanasia are the sole issue that as Catholics we must agree on. This is informed by the doctrine of the Catholic Church. According to church doctrine, there is room for discussion and even disagreement on matters of economics, border security, immigration, healthcare, and waging war. There is no room for discussion, disagreement, or compromise on abortion + euthanasia.

This is why there is indeed a correct way to vote as Catholics, and there are causes we are obligated to support. While we don’t need to enthusiastically attach ourselves to a specific world leader or political party, we do need to value a candidate’s stance on this issue before and above all others. If you have been instructed otherwise, you have been misled. I encourage you to dig deeper into the Catechism and doctrine of the Catholic Church and search for the highest truth and prayerfully discern who to vote for and what causes to lend your support to. While we certainly treat all human beings with respect and uphold the dignity of all lives, we are called to value the most vulnerable and fight for those who are truly the only ones with no voice at all.

Moving forward, I continue to urge you to always stand up for what is right, and always fight for life. Support the women who are faced with unplanned pregnancies or find themselves in an incredibly difficult position. Be bold in sharing the truth of what abortion is and how harmful it is to women, children, and our nation as a whole. Do your research and remain informed on matters of abortion + euthanasia. Vote for candidates who are pro-life and vehemently anti-abortion. Most importantly, pray for those who are victims of abortion, and also pray for a change of hearts in those who support abortion.

I’d like to end this post with some photos we took while in DC at the march! We spent the day with family, bumped into some friends along the way, and left with such joy and hope from being among this beautiful, huge crowd of people who feel passionately about the right to life!

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Thankful for all of those who spent their time, talent, and treasure organizing The March for Life and for those who are in the trenches every day fighting for and praying for an end to abortion. God bless you & God bless America!

Faith

Saint Stories: Elizabeth Ann Seton

I’ve heard the expression that sometimes people come into our lives for a reason. I feel the same way about Saints. Sometimes, we feel drawn to certain Saints based on our circumstances or a connection we share. More often than not, I think Saints choose us. I think sometimes they feel a connection with us and want to pray for us on our path to holiness. There have been several Saints who I have developed a relationship with during my life. They’ve  pointed me towards Christ and helped me to grow in my faith through their example and intercession. I consider these Saints my friends. This blog series is going to focus on particular Saints that have impacted my life. I hope it encourages you to look for inspiration + intercession from the Saints on your own path to holiness! 

I’d like to begin this series with the person who really brought Saints to life for me and showed me the power of their example + intercession. I’d like introduce you to my very first Saintly friend, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. 

It all started back when I was in seventh grade and getting ready for my confirmation. We were instructed to choose a saint for our confirmation name, to be our patron. I began researching Saints—paying more attention to the names I thought were pretty than their lives and experiences. I had heard of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton before, I liked her name, and I read she was a patron saint of homemakers (#goals), so I chose her. I liked that she was married and had a big family, I always felt that would be my vocation. Basically, I thought she was a cool enough lady to take on her name for my confirmation.

There was a brief period where I thought of switching to St. Cecilia because I also loved her name and I really liked that she was the patron saint of music + singing. Looking back, this is hilarious to me because at the time (ripe old age of 12), I thought I was musical. It turns out I’m not musical at all. At the very last minute I settled on St. Elizabeth Ann Seton as my confirmation Saint for really no particular reason at all. 

Fast forward to my junior year of high school. My parents and I had gone on several college tours in a very short amount of time, and I was exhausted. Seton Hall University was the very last college we were scheduled to tour. I told my parents I knew I wasn’t going to go there anyway, so maybe we should skip this one. They said that was fine, we didn’t need to go to Seton Hall. It was clear to me they were just as tired as I was of meandering through campuses with musty dorm rooms and classrooms that were empty for the summer. Oddly enough, at the last minute I told them I felt like we should go to see Seton Hall after all. I had a strong feeling that I should give it a fair shot. We toured the campus and everything seemed fine to me. We walked past similar musty dorm rooms, decently sized classrooms, an occupational therapy program I was interested in, and a nice library. The very last stop on our tour was the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception, the church on campus. Our tour guide asked if we’d like to go inside for a minute and we said yes. I walked through the large wooden door and into the chapel, which has been beautifully restored to depict the Book of Revelation. We knelt to pray, and as I did I felt an overwhelming sense that I needed to attend Seton Hall University. Something was telling me, this is where I’m supposed to be. It’s a little crazy to choose a college based solely on a feeling you had while in the school’s chapel, but that’s what I did. Luckily, God is in the details and Seton Hall also happened to be one of the only schools I applied to that had the degree in Occupational Therapy I would end up wanting to pursue.

It wasn’t until another two years later when I began my freshmen year at Seton Hall, that I finally made the connection that Seton Hall University is named for St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. I know! How could I miss that? Frankly, I don’t know how I never made the connection before, and I don’t know how I missed the statue of her in the chapel, but I was blissfully ignorant that I was attending the college inspired by my patron Saint that I had chosen all those years before. 

I didn’t live on campus during college, so I didn’t make friends as quickly as everyone else freshmen year. Instead, I was saving money and living with my grandparents and great uncle who coincidentally lived down the street from Seton Hall. I loved living with them, but it didn’t exactly give me the “college experience” I saw everyone around me chasing. I figured I would use my time to study and to delve deeper into my faith, until I made friends outside of the classroom. In those first few weeks of college St. Elizabeth Ann Seton was my closest friend. I went to the chapel each morning to pray and I would ask St. Elizabeth Ann Seton to intercede for me. I asked her to intercede for my relationship with a boy from high school that I thought could really be something, but that I was nervous about making work while at separate universities. I asked her to intercede for my education and future career, that I would be on the path God had planned for me. I asked her to intercede that I make friends, real ones, soon. I asked her to intercede for me to grow in my faith, trust in the Lord, and to show my why she brought me to this school. 

It didn’t take long before I felt more confident in my relationship, I was doing well in my classes, and I had joined Saint Paul’s Outreach on campus. Through this community based organization in campus ministry I made more Christ-centered friendships than I thought possible, and developed a significantly closer relationship with the Lord. All this time, I had continued to ask St. Elizabeth Ann Seton to intercede for me. During the next few months and years of college, I learned of more connections between me and my patron saint that I had half heartedly chose. St. Elizabeth Ann Seton was married, though her husband died of tuberculosis. She was a mother of 5, worked in education, and was the first American born saint. If you know me, you know that last one really thrilled me most of all! As I learned more about her, I realized just how many connections we shared. I felt that she was my friend, my sister in Christ, who was rooting for me from Heaven and interceding for me all along. 

Years later, I was praying in the chapel at Seton Hall University for the last time as a student, this time a graduate student in my final year of occupational therapy school. I wholeheartedly thanked St. Elizabeth for bringing me here. I thought of all that had happened since that first time I prayed here, and I began to cry tears of joy. I thought of the beautiful Christ centered friendships that I developed here that I knew would be life long. I thought of Saint Paul’s Outreach, which really did bring my faith to life during my college years—and showed me how to live in communion with the Lord and with others. I thought of the unique experience I had of living with my elderly grandparents and uncle who lived nearby, that I knew I would be eternally grateful for. I thought about how close I was to earning my degree and beginning my career as an occupational therapist. Lastly, I thought about that same high school boyfriend I prayed about years ago. He had proposed to me in that very chapel just days before, and was now my fiancé. Tears streamed down my face as I thanked the Lord for every single one of these blessings and for answering all of my prayers. 

In that moment, I thanked St. Elizabeth Ann Seton for choosing me—for being so much more than a confirmation name, and for showing me exactly why she brought me here. 

Faith, Fashion

A New Year + An Ethical Fashion Resolution

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Happy New Year, friends! The start of a new year is so exciting—I love all of the possibilities that come with a fresh beginning. For many years I came up with lists of way too many resolutions that I would have loved to keep, but most of them never stuck. Last year I only made one resolution, which was to find a new hobby + grow in my faith, which has manifested in this blog! It’s not lost on me that the beginning of the New Year is also the Solemnity of Mary, so I want to be intentional with any resolutions I have and strive for holiness in a new way at the beginning of each year.

This year there is something a little different has been on my heart for quite some time. In addition to it being a resolution, it’s also a bit of a lifestyle change. My 2019 resolution is to make a shift toward shopping intentionally + ethically. Thanks to the influence of some lovely friends online, I’ve become interested in seeking out shops and businesses that share my values and uphold the dignity of all human beings, especially those who make our clothing. 

While I’ve never been someone who chases every new trend on the fashion scene, I’ve definitely contributed to the world of fast fashion in more ways than I’d like to admit. As I’ve learned more about the fashion industry, I’ve been heartbroken by stories regarding how the people who make our clothes are treated. This is certainly not something I’d like to participate in. Additionally, I’ve developed an interest over the past several years in shopping for classic, versatile pieces that remain timeless. Developing a capsule wardrobe is something I’ve been indirectly trying to do, and I hope that this year I can really bring this idea to life.

In this next year (and for years after!) I hope to find shops that share my values and embrace the ethical fashion movement. I also hope to detach from materialism and consumerism in a big way by buying less overall. In doing this, I hope that I can grow closer to the Lord by detaching from worldly things and witness to my faith by upholding the dignity of human life with each purchase I make. Lastly, I hope to build a capsule closet of clothing that is sensible and classic, with quality items that I am proud to wear. I think it will be an especially fun + challenging time to begin this pursuit due to how my body is sure to change in this upcoming year with a baby coming in June! 

I hope that you’ll join me in this pursuit of shopping ethically + intentionally while building a capsule wardrobe! This isn’t a fashion blog, and I’m no fashion expert, but I have gotten questions about where I shop and what I like to wear, so I think this will be a fun way to incorporate this into the blog! Along the way I’ll be sharing some of my favorite finds, tips + tricks for navigating ethical shopping, and sharing about shops I love to support.  Above all, I hope that this resolution + life style change can help me grow closer to God, strengthen my faith, and be a witness through the choices I make and what I put on my body.

 

Faith, Farm

WWJD?

Happy Gaudete Sunday, my friends! This is a really special day in the liturgical year as we are reminded that the birth of Christ is quickly approaching. While we’ve been renovating our farmhouse and decorating for Christmas, I’ve also been feeling a huge pull to do some deep cleaning in my own heart and soul to prepare myself for Christ’s coming. I shared a couple of weeks ago some traditions that we are embracing this year to make Advent fruitful for us, and I’m happy to say that this has definitely brought us peace and helped us prepare for the season of Christmas. I wanted to share with you all something that clicked for me recently, and how it has helped me to grow in my faith.

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So, we purchased our old farmhouse about six months ago! t’s not just any home, it’s a house AND a real, working farm! While we have so many ideas for how to use our farmland in the future (more cows, chickens, Christmas trees, horses, vegetables, herbs, flower gardens, oh my!) right now we are really trying to make this house a home for us and our growing family. I’m someone who relies very much on aesthetics, and I like for everything to look a certain way. When you’re 25 with a tight budget and you buy a house + farm that is a bit of a fixer upper, not everything is going to be perfect.  The Lord has really been speaking to me through this process and I have felt a strong sense that He is using this situation to help me to learn, to grow, and to trust in Him. Through prayer I’ve really come to be at peace with understanding that it takes time, effort, and patience to make this house into our beautiful home. It’s the same as with our own souls – there is no quick and easy fix. There is beauty in working hard and having patience, and forming something into what we envision it to be. I like to think that this is how God views us + our souls! We are all a work in progress, and it is the process and the journey that makes the end result that much more beautiful.

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While we are fixing up our farmhouse, I’ve been finding myself uttering the term “WWJD” often. Only, it might not be what you think. I’ve been thinking “What Would Joanna Do?” in regards to paint colors, furniture choices, and décor options. By the way, if you don’t know – the Joanna I’m referring to is Joanna Gaines of Fixer Upper – just in case you’ve been living under a rock (or without a TV) for the past few years.  It’s funny how this question guided me when making decisions about our home.  Joanna Gaines has the unique ability to update a home into a beautiful and practical space for a family, while capitalizing on it’s historic qualities and highlighting it’s unique beauty. So, she’s kind of a role model for anyone hoping to bring new life into an old farmhouse, like me.

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I found myself thinking – imagine if I chose to ask myself “What Would Jesus Do?” in my everyday life, as often as I was contemplating “What Would Joanna Do?” in regards to my home. I can only imagine that if I reflected on the real meaning of WWJD in my marriage, at work, with my family, and even behind the wheel of my car – that there would be a profound difference in my actions in my daily life.

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The phrase “WWJD?” is so simple. I think I learned I first learned it at Vacation Bible School when I was a kid. I even had a little bracelet with the letters on it for quite some time when I was younger.  It may sound childish, but Jesus did say we need to become like little children in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 18:3).  Life can be hard, but our faith doesn’t have to be. Sometimes it’s as simple as asking “What Would Jesus Do?” in our everyday life. When we’re faced with challenges and carrying crosses that can feel unbearable, it can become easy to get wrapped up in ourselves. If we are able to shift our mindset and reflect in each and every situation “What Would Jesus Do?” I think we’d be surprised by how capable we are of choosing holiness and striving for sainthood.

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I pray that wherever you are today, whatever you’re struggling with, you are able to ask yourself “What Would Jesus Do?” and have a clearer idea of how you’re being called to respond to different challenges and situations in your daily life. I think sometimes we can over complicate things, and I hope this will simplify your pursuit of holiness just a little bit. Please know I’ll be praying for you, and I would love it if you would pray for me too!

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While we’re here and talking about houses, I figured I would share some updates of the house! We’re making progress over here slowly but surely, and I’m so excited to share these photos with you! Enjoy!

Faith, Family, Flowers

Merry Christmas from the Ocellos + Some BIG News!

“For this child I have prayed, and the Lord has granted the desires of my heart.” 1 Samuel 1:27

We are so excited to share our big news with you, baby Ocello is on the way! We are about 13 weeks along and due June 17, 2019. We feel truly blessed this Christmas season. We are so grateful for the Lord’s faithfulness and for the plans He has for our growing family. 

 

We took these photos a few weeks ago for our Christmas cards, and it is incredible to see how much our baby has grown in just the few weeks since then! We’ve had a few doctor visits and everything seems to be going well, praise God! I’ve been feeling pretty fatigued and nauseous most days but I seem to be feeling better as time goes on. We would really appreciate it if you would pray for a safe + healthy pregnancy for the baby and I.

 

We’d also like to acknowledge anyone who may be in a time of suffering or loss this Christmas season. We pray that you are able to experience the peace and joy of Christ, our newborn Savior, in a special way this year. 

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We wish you all a peaceful + fruitful Advent season and a very Merry Christmas with your loved ones from the Ocello Family! 

Faith, Family

Making Room: Advent 2018

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Hi there, friends! I’m sorry things have been a little quiet over here on the blog. Life has been really full which is wonderful—but it also means we’ve been a little busier than I like to be! In the spirit of intentionally slowing down to take in all the goodness this season has to offer and to prepare for Christ’s birth, I’d love to share with you all what we are up to this Advent. Just like the inn keeper in the Nativity story, we can be quite full of extraneous things during this time of year. We’ve chosen to do a few things to prepare our hearts for the coming of our savior and to bring peace and joy into our home. We want to make sure that there is always room in our inn for our Savior, Jesus Christ.

In honor of the first Sunday of Advent we got our Christmas tree yesterday after mass! I love to put up decorations early because they just bring so much joy to our home, but we intentionally waited for Advent to begin decorating because this is the true season of preparing for Christmas. We have a tradition of going and cutting down our tree at a local Christmas tree farm which we love doing! One of my dreams is to have a Christmas tree farm on our property, but we’re also loving the animals so we’ll have to wait and see how that all pans out. Anyway, back to Advent! We brought our tree home and we had a little decorating party with snacks and Christmas music to make the day really fun and festive. This is a tradition Dom’s family began years ago to motivate the kids to help decorate and we want to continue it with our family! We ended the day with some cookies and a Christmas movie.

While I love Christmas movies and decorations as much (or more) than the next person, since Advent is a time of preparing our hearts for Christ’s birth we also have more reflective and prayerful traditions that we practice daily.

Every night before dinner we light our Advent candles and say an Advent prayer before we bless our food and begin eating. It is a simple prayer that we found online and it changes each week as we get closer to Christmas.

After dinner, we choose a bible verse to read together from our Advent calendar. I found this Advent calendar at Michael’s a couple of years ago on clearance and I absolutely love it! I think you’re supposed to put little treats or candies in it for each day but I think bible verses work just as nicely. I hand picked a bunch of Christmas related verses to put in so that we have yet another way to focus our minds on the true meaning of Christmas as we prepare for it. We take turns reading the verse and then we reflect on it and discuss it together.

Finally, we say a rosary together every night before bed. We always pray together before we go to sleep, but we’ve found that praying the rosary brings us together in an special way and instills immense peace and joy in our hearts. During Lent we prayed the sorrowful mysteries together every night to reflect on Christ’s passion, so we decided for Advent we are going to pray the joyful mysteries each night in order to focus on Mary’s journey and the birth of Jesus Christ. We try our best to meditate on each mystery as we pray, and I’m hoping that doing so will continue to remind us what (and who!) this season is all about.

While I’m certain that some days it will be harder than others to practice these traditions, I have hope that Christ will honor our imperfect attempt at preparing our hearts receive Him at Christmas and grant us peace and joy in this season. We certainly aren’t perfect, but the Lord knows our intentions and He sees our efforts. I’m hoping that as years go by we can continue these traditions and have fruitful seasons of Advent. I’d love to know if your family has any Advent traditions that you do together to prepare for Christmas!

Freedom

Surviving & Thriving In An Election

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I named this blog “Loves Jesus & America too” because of my love for my faith, and also because of my love for this incredible country I get to call home. Most of the time, I share about my faith and how that relates to my lifestyle—my marriage, family, farmhouse, and more. Sometimes God places something on my heart that’s a little different, maybe a little more controversial, to share about. It can be hard to share things that have the potential to be divisive, such as particular views on a topic like politics. However, I really feel that as a Catholic woman in America, it’s important that my voice be shared among the many others that often seem to speak louder.

Something you may not know about me is that I actually love politics. While election seasons can be discouraging and exhausting—I also find them absolutely thrilling. I know, it’s weird. Moving on, I’ve been interested in elections since I first voted in a school election. I remember it well; it was the presidential election of 2004 and I was in fifth grade at the time.  With my dad and brother’s military backgrounds, topics of politics and world issues were always discussed in my family growing up. As I got older, I became more and more invested. I attended my first March for Life in high school, and was captivated by all of the people there marching for change. On my 18th birthday, I registered to vote. During college, I actually created a political blog—but it only lasted for a short time. While I enjoyed writing on the topics of politics, it began to bring me more stress than joy. I’m both proud and embarrassed to say I also incited quite a few political bloodbaths online. Don’t get me wrong—it is necessary to stand up for truth. We need to share our voice with this world, and it can feel pretty darn good to prove that jerk from high school wrong. However, I began to wonder if this was truly how God wanted me to use my voice. It took a lot of self reflection, prayer, and humility to admit that while I must use my voice to stand up for the truth, I also must use it to bear light to those around me, rather than throwing zingers their way and bringing them down. I slowly made a conscious effort to shift my focus from being right to being kind.  While I believe that I may very well have to answer for who or what I vote for at the pearly gates someday, I know that I’m definitely going to answer for how I treated those around me and whether or not I loved as Jesus did.

Please don’t mistake these words for weakness. I am strong in my beliefs, and you should be too.  I share this story because I think that regardless of what side of the aisle we’re on, we can all be quick to be judgmental, dismissive, and unkind. I feel that our generation struggles more than previous ones with tolerating those who have views that are different from our own, and it’s not helpful to any of us.  Recently, there was a controversy in the news and I had privately messaged a few friends on Instagram who posted something that I disagreed with. I wasn’t looking for a fight, I was inviting them into a conversation in order to better understand their viewpoint and hopefully help them to understand mine. Of the several friends I messaged, one wrote back. That friend and I had an extremely fruitful discussion that I think softened both of our hearts and enriched our minds. After I had that conversation, I thought of the other friends who immediately dismissed me for having a different view than theirs. We will never have the opportunity to understand one another better because they chose to not engage with me. If we aren’t able to enter into a discussion with one another, how are any of us ever going to achieve any type of positive change we are searching for? We need to pump the brakes on our emotional reactions in order to engage in productive conversations with one another. The only thing worse than shouting at one another is ignoring and dismissing one another completely. When this happens, there is no relationship, there is no understanding, there is no progress, and ultimately there is no love.

As for voting, get out there and do it! I really do believe it is your duty as an American and if you’re Catholic like me, it’s also your obligation to exercise your right to vote in every election. We need to take our responsibility seriously and value the sacred freedom we have. There are a few things I like to remind myself before I vote. First, take the time to educate yourself and prayerfully discern how you should vote on large and small issues alike. Sift through all the noise (God knows there’s too much of it) and make an educated and prayerful decision. While doing this, I try my very best to pay attention to policy—not personality.  I feel it’s extremely important to allow my faith to inform my choice and to be acutely aware of where the Church stands on important issues. Catholicism is not relativism—there is a correct way to vote as Catholics. There are several issues that are non-negotiable according to the Catholic Church. These issues include abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, human cloning, and marriage. There are also issues that are extremely prominent in our world today such as immigration and healthcare. I feel that not only our nation, but our world as a whole falls short so many of these categories because we do not fundamentally value human life.  For me, it’s really obvious that the right to life is at the core of all other rights. How do we expect our society to value human life while we are killing our children? Whether it is the poor, the marginalized, the elderly, or our very own children, we are unable to see the intrinsic value in each and every human life. I believe that in order to enact change in nearly every arena, we need to shift our mindset and value all human life, especially those that are the most vulnerable. This is where it all begins.

While I encourage you to get out there and vote, don’t stop there! I encourage you to talk to others about the issues that matter to you.  Allow yourself to be heard, and listen to others too.  Most importantly, pray for our leaders. I feel called constantly to pray for local leaders, our nation’s leaders, and our world leaders.  As a Catholic, I believe in the power of prayer, and as I pray for our leaders I ask that God’s will be done in our world. Praying for our communities, countries, and the world also brings my soul immense peace at a time when I can feel restless.  God bless you & the good ol’ USA. Happy voting, friends!

Flowers

Counter Cultural Catholic Marriages & The Power of the Rosary

Hey there! As the month of the Rosary winds down, there’s something really exciting that we’re doing over here at Loves Jesus & America too. I teamed up with one of my friends + favorite Instagrammers, Melissa, to write a blog post, pray a virtual Rosary, and create a giveaway on Instagram to celebrate the Rosary which we both love so much.  We’re going to talk a bit about how we’ve encountered the power of the Rosary in our lives, and also what it means to be in a counter cultural Catholic marriage in today’s world. It’s been on our hearts to share about these topics that are so meaningful to us, and we hope you’ll enjoy reading about them! At the end of this blog post you’ll find information on our virtual Rosary + our giveaway because we want to connect with you and celebrate the month of the Rosary!

Before we dive in, we want to introduce ourselves + explain why we’re so excited about counter cultural marriages & the Rosary, two things that most twenty-somethings aren’t necessarily raving about.

Melissa

Melissa lives in Miami Florida and is a newlywed, she got married 6 months ago! She’s a marriage and family therapist. You can find her on Instagram at @melissagracetablada. Read her thoughts on being a young and counter cultural Catholic as well as how she’s encountered the power of the Rosary below!

On being counter cultural 

If I believe strongly in something, it’s easy for me to take pride in being counter cultural. In high school a lot of my peers would ask if I wanted to smoke with them and try to pressure me into it. I loved seeing myself remain so consistent in my drive to be able to one day tell my children, “that is something I knew wasn’t good for me and it was never something I took part in”. Of course in other areas of my life I did not always have my convictions in order but that was one place where I knew what I believed and I thrived on watching my own self discipline and self worth grow as I stood firm in that belief. In college I met a man who raised the standard I had set for men, which in all honesty was very very low. For the first time I realized that unless I raised the bar for the type of men I would be in relationship with, I would have no direction and end up repeating the same mistakes and getting hurt time and time again. I prayerfully discerned that that man was not who God had planned for me but I am thankful for what he taught me about my own self worth. From then on certain members of my family, friends & peers would give me a hard time for the standards I held for men. As I went through years of singleness, I was reminded many times that if I would just be a bit more “realistic” about men I could find a boyfriend. I knew deep in my heart that God didn’t want me to settle. If I had lowered my standards, I would never have had the opportunity to meet the man who exceeded all the dreams I had and later became by husband.

On the power of the Rosary

I began praying the Rosary when I was 20 years old and for the first time in my life, found a community of regular, normal, cool, young adults who were also filled with such joy and peace that only comes from God and deeply in love with Jesus. I began praying the Rosary regularly about two years later with some very beautiful and holy friends who encouraged me to join them in a novena for our future spouses – I met mine later that same year. When I finished those 54 days I was so in love with the Rosary I didn’t want to stop so I started another 54 day novena the following day. I have never had prayers answered in such a big way where God might as held a big flashing sign in front of me saying, “Do you see how much I love you? Do you see how I answer your prayers in ways that look different than you think? When will you trust me with your whole heart?” I was blown away by the way He moved mountains during that time. The Rosary continues to bring me peace and connect me to beautiful communities in so many ways. Being involved in a virtual Rosary group with women all across the country. Being a SoulCore leader where we pray the Rosary as we exercise and connect deeper with the prayers by moving our bodies along with them.

Katherine

Katherine lives on a farm in New Jersey with her husband of a little over a year. She’s an occupational therapist and in her spare time blogs right here at Loves Jesus & America too. You can find her on Instagram at @katherineocello. Read her experiences as a counter cultural Catholic & what the Rosary means to her below!

On being counter cultural

Being counter cultural is something that I became really familiar with from a young age. I went to public school for most of my life, and I felt like I was always the “church” girl. I had a large group of friends and got along with everyone, but it was definitely known that I was different. I was Catholic, I was saving myself for marriage, and I was strong in most of my beliefs. I’m grateful that I was able to become comfortable being counter cultural from a young age, because as I’ve grown in my faith I’ve realized that this will always be a part of my life. It can be really hard sometimes to go against the grain, but it is also really freeing. Whenever I struggle with being counter cultural, I look to my husband. His confidence in God, his faith, and in himself is something that I’ve always admired. I met him in high school and from early on we knew we wanted to marry each other. We prayerfully discerned our vocation while at different universities, and got married shortly after I completed graduate school. We recently bought a home & farm in New Jersey near our families in the town we grew up in, which somehow feels counter cultural as well.  We’re part of a young adult Catholic community with a lot of really great people living life in Christ, and this is something that encourages me in my life as well.

On the power of the Rosary

I’ve had a devotion to the Rosary for several years, ever since a friend of mine who is a seminarian handed me a Rosary after mass one day during college. I randomly began praying it, and it brought me immense joy. I prayed the Rosary for my relationship and marriage frequently. Dom and I started praying the Rosary together this past year, and we felt the fruits of it immediately. During Lent we prayed the Rosary together everyday, and it was then that my elderly neighbors called me and explained that they wanted to sell us their home & farm, which we had expressed interest in months prior when someone else was purchasing it. This is the home that I grew up next to, and the home that Dom always said he wanted to own. The Rosary is something that continues to be a part of my life, and even though sometimes our prayers aren’t answered the way we want them to be, I know that Mary is always interceding for me and God is always working in my life.

Now, let’s dive right in to the beautiful and exciting topics we’ve received questions about that surround Catholicism, marriage, and the Rosary.

On the secular world we live in, and being different

It can be really challenging to face the secular world we live in. Whether you’re married or not, being Catholic is counter cultural by definition. We deal with the secular world in a loving way, by praying for people who may not understand our choices and leading with a joyful example. At different times in our faith journeys, we have both felt pulled toward people who were full of peace and joy. We both learned that this comes from Jesus and from His truth. This is the best way to encounter the secular world. We are called to be a light to others, to share the truth of the gospel. We are made to be in the world, but not of the world. The best way you can do this is by loving Jesus so much that people notice we are different from those living for the world.

On saving yourself for marriage

Saving yourself from marriage is a decision that you will never regret choosing. It can definitely be challenging in today’s world, whether you are in high school, college, working, single, dating, engaged, etc. It is important to find your people! Build a community around you that will support you, encourage you, and walk with you. Some books we’ve found helpful on this topic are How To Find Your Soulmate Without Losing Your Soul, Dating Detox, Emotional Virtue, If You Really Loved Me.  We recommend looking up Jason & Crystalina Evert and Christopher West, who have really great thoughts and practical advice on this topic. When you’re entering into a relationship, be upfront about your values and set clear boundaries. Let them walk away if they aren’t willing to respect your choice. It is also important to shift your mindset from “how much can we do before we’re sinning?” to “how can I lead this person closer to God?” That’s a game changer.

Most importantly, don’t lose hope. It can be hard, but it is possible. I’d like to share a story with you that brings me so much hope on this topic. Some of the best advice I ever received was in my high school youth group. Our youth group leader gave us a witness on her dating life, and I was moved by it. I remember her words so clearly. She told us to not only find a man who is willing to wait for you, find a man who wants to wait for himself too. This rocked my world. I never thought about it like that before! I spent most of my high school years just hoping some boy would tolerate my beliefs and respect me enough to wait for me. I didn’t think there were actually boys who chose that for themselves! Just as I began feeling this was truly an impossible task, I started dating my husband. I quickly told him about my plans to save myself for marriage, and he expressed to me the same plans.

On dating with a purpose

Dating with a purpose is something that’s commonly written off today as weird or old fashioned. People immediately think of a formal courting relationship, something the Duggars do where you have a chaperone and you aren’t allowed to hold hands. This is not the case. Dating with a purpose is completely normal, the purpose of dating is to find your spouse! Do yourself a favor and reject the college hookup culture and don’t swipe right for the guy who just wants to have fun on whatever dating app you use. Dating with a purpose enables you to respect yourself, the Lord, and the person you’re dating. Give someone a chance, but don’t stay with someone who you know God isn’t calling you to marry. Saying yes to dating someone for now who you know you aren’t going to marry means saying no to the person God has created for you. Dating with a purpose doesn’t mean you need to get married in 6 months, either. This is your relationship, and you can prayerfully discern together what the best game plan is for you and your partner. A lot of people think Catholics & Christians get married younger simply so they can have sex. That’s not true! Dating with a purpose is a completely different mindset. When you know you want to spend the rest of your life with someone & you know this person is who God created for you, there isn’t a reason to wait any longer.

On Natural Family Planning

When it comes to natural family planning, we have to tell you, science is on your side friends! In addition to leading by example and sharing your own witness with people who may not understand your choice to practice NFP, we encourage you to delve into the research because it is there! No, it is not the rhythm method. When practiced correctly, NFP works. It allows a married couple to work together with each other and with God to build their family. It is extremely effective with achieving a pregnancy, and it is more effective than other forms of contraception for avoiding getting pregnant. Additionally, it can help you discover abnormalities in your health and address them in a way that is healthy for your body and soul.  Married couples who use NFP have a divorce rate of less than 5% compared to the average of more than 50%. Couples who cohabitate before marriage are 50% more likely to divorce than those who wait to live together until they are married. They also report greater intimacy and communication than those who use contraception. Some research shows that 85% of couples who cohabitate will break up or divorce by the end of 10 years. Even though all of the research on NFP is in your favor, ultimately, being a witness to the joy and fruit of your choices the best thing you can do, and it is something that no one can argue with.

We’ve included some resources for you on NFP, listed below!

On praying with your spouse

Praying with your spouse is something that can be extremely fruitful for your marriage and your lives in general. Even though prayer is often something that is seen as private, we were made for community. Each marriage and family is its own domestic church, and we are called to pray together! We get it. It can be hard to find the time, and awkward to pray out loud. We encourage you to do it anyway. Remember, none of this is supposed to be easy, or everyone would be doing it! Praying together gives you the opportunity to connect with your spouse daily on a deeper level.  It challenges you to go beyond “how was your day?” and move towards actually learning what is on their heart and what they would like to pray for. It gives you the chance to refocus your relationship on Christ, which is easy to get distracted from in our daily lives. It doesn’t have to be super long or super profound every day, but making a little sacrifice for your marriage and the Lord can really go a long way.

On Pre-Cana

We spend so much time preparing for the wedding day. Sometimes months or even years we spend planning out every last detail of the big day to make sure it fulfills all of our lifelong dreams. How much time do we spend preparing for the lifetime together that comes after the vows? The Church offers us such a gift in the marriage preparation that she provides us. While some diocese are more engaging and inspiring, and others may be lacking in many ways, there are a wide range of Pre-Cana programs that help prepare us well for the marriage that comes after the wedding day. We attended Transformed in Love and Engaged Encounter, which are both weekend retreats that covered topics such as effective communication, finances, temperaments, and so much more. We also completed the Fully Engaged Inventory which was an incredible in depth questionnaire our husbands and us took independently. After we completed the questions, another couple who has been married for many years sat down with us to talk through our areas of strength and weaknesses. This was a beautiful way to help us see the areas we needed to grow in, and then continue to work on those areas especially throughout our engagement.

Our Giveaway!

Since we’ve both experienced profound peace & joy from the Rosary, and we’re both really passionate about being witnesses to the beauty of a catholic marriage, we’re giving away a couple of items that we hope will get you excited too! Head over to @katherineocello and @melissagracetablada on Instagram to enter. We’ll be choosing two winners, each of whom will win a copy of Venerable Fulton Sheen’s Three to Get Married and a Rosary hand picked by each of us! In order to win, you will need to follow both accounts, like both photos associated with the giveaway, and tag as many friends as you’d like! We’ll be announcing the winner later in the week immediately following our virtual Rosary we’ll be praying on Instagram!

 

 

Faith, Fashion

Time & Prayer

 

 

Happy Monday, friends! I want to tell you a little bit about prayer, something that has been on my heart recently and something I’m really trying to work on in my life. Dom snapped these photos of me on a couple slow Saturday and Sunday mornings when I had the chance to enjoy a cup of tea, pray, and lounge in my favorite pair of women’s boxers, made by My Liliana’s. Before I go any further, I have to tell you about this awesome company. A friend of mine started this company with the pursuit of creating ethically made, environmentally friendly cotton boxers (with pockets!) for women that are both comfortable and stylish. They’re perfect for watching movies at home on Friday night, personal prayer time on Saturday morning, or really any other time you want to be comfortable!  I was super excited to hear that they’re ethically made with environmentally friendly organic cotton. I’ve been trying to switch to ethically made items, and these came at the perfect time.  There’s a bunch of beautiful patterns to choose from! I’m really loving my blue and white polka dot pair. I tend to wear a lot of blue and the polka dots were too cute to pass up. They arrived wrapped in the nicest yellow bow with a note from my friend who owns & runs My Liliana’s. I think you should check them out on Instagram & Facebook because I think you’ll love them too!

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Back to prayer, this is something that’s been on my heart to share for a while now because it’s something I’ve been working on in my own life. Our prayer lives are a part of our faith that will always be evolving, often determined by what our lives look like in the present moment. We’ve had a crazy year navigating life as newlyweds, starting new jobs, buying a house + farm, and now renovating it. Initially, my prayer life was suffering because I was struggling to find time for personal prayer. I didn’t feel myself growing closer to God, and this weighed heavily on my heart. When we finally moved into our new home, I decided to make a commitment to daily prayer time, despite how busy my days felt. It’s amazing how peaceful my days have become since instilling changes to enhance my prayer life.

In our new home, I’m actually working on creating a prayer corner. This idea was given to me by one of my friends in a small group I attend. I had confessed that my prayer life had suffered since college. During my college years at Seton Hall I made time everyday to stop inside the beautiful chapel on campus in between classes for truly fruitful prayer time. That chapel became a special place for me, and it really inspired me to embrace my faith, grow closer to the Lord, and pray fervently. Once I graduated and no longer had access to the chapel every day, my prayer life suffered. I struggled to find the right time, and the right place to pray. My friend mentioned that I create a space in my own home to inspire me, the way the chapel did.

I’m in the midst of creating this special space for prayer, and I was going to wait until I finished it to share a little bit about my prayer life on the blog. I decided against that because I felt it is equally important that I make time to pray now, instead of waiting for the perfect time and place to pray. We can’t wait for the perfect timing or the perfect location. We can’t wait for the moment when God will fit perfectly into our lives. We need to make the time to pray now. We need to put God first in our lives, despite how hectic our days are. It’s amazing how when we do this, God honors our faithfulness and brings peace to our days.

So, how exactly do we find time for God when we’re in a busy season of life? The answer is simple, but not easy. We don’t find time; we make time for the Lord. I currently have a long bus ride to work. It’s not fun or glamorous. It’s long, and it can be really dreadful. I like to pray in the morning, so the first thing I do every day on the bus is pray the rosary. I like to listen to a recording of it on my phone so that I can meditate on the mysteries without worrying about what bead I’m on. After I pray the rosary, I do some spiritual reading. Yes, this is prayer too! I alternate between a few books. I really love my Blessed Is She journaling bible, The Diary of St. Maria Faustina, and Searching for and Maintaining Peace by Father Jacques Phillipe. Once I get off the bus, I attend daily mass at a church near work. Either before or after mass I’ll pray for specific intentions and have a few minutes of contemplative prayer time to let the Lord speak to me. I’ve learned it’s really important to listen to the Lord, rather than doing all of the talking ourselves. When I get to work I usually read the Blessed Is She daily devotional, because they’re tied into the readings from mass that day. The devotionals are written by other women and their reflections usually speak right into my heart. After work, I’m back on the bus. I’ll usually pray a Divine Mercy Chaplet, listen to a spiritual podcast or some praise & worship music. Podcasts I love include anything recorded by Father Mike Schmitz, The Catholic Feminist, Fountains of Carrots, and Thriving in the Trenches. For praise and worship music, I really love the album Heaven’s Light by Saint Paul’s Outreach, go find them on iTunes! Before we go to bed, Dom and I like to pray together. We try to say the rosary together every night, and we really love this little tradition.

I hope that this post is able to inspire you in your own prayer life. I certainly don’t want my routine to overwhelm or confuse you, but help you and encourage you in your own prayer life and routines. This prayer routine has developed after I had a year of very little prayer. I felt so empty by this, which cause me to make some radical changes. I decided to take advantage of my time consuming commute, and make the best of it. It’s also not seamless and perfect every single day. Sometimes, I really hate waking up early to take the bus. Sometimes, I’m tired and fall asleep on the bus instead of praying. Sometimes, my bus is running late and I miss daily mass. Sometimes, I listen to a podcast about the Bachelor instead of one about Jesus. What I’m really trying to do here is show you how you can take any moment of your imperfect, hectic life, and make time for God. He wants to meet you where you are, in whatever season of life you’re in, no matter how busy or tired you are. Let Him.

Faith

A Time Such As This

As you probably know, my husband Dom and I just returned from a beautiful pilgrimage in Europe. Shortly before we left for our trip the news of Cardinal McCarrick’s heinous actions and the Pennsylvania Grand Jury’s report detailing even more horrifying acts committed by the clergy hit the airwaves, and once again it felt as if the Catholic faithful were in the midst of a devastating assault. For Dom and me, it seemed that while we were making the rounds of some of the holiest places in Europe, our Church back home was falling apart. By day, we attended mass at the Chapel of the Miraculous Medal in Paris, bathed in the waters of Lourdes, visited the shrine of St. Padre Pio in San Giovanni Rotondo, and saw firsthand where St. Peter established the Catholic Church. By night, I scrolled through social media and within moments saw the heartbreak, disgust, and embarrassment that many of my Catholic brothers and sisters were experiencing in America.

It was with heavy hearts that Dom and I visited the Vatican museums and St. Peter’s Basilica. While we soaked in the beauty of the intricate architecture evoking Heaven on Earth, my thoughts were conflicted. As we continued our tour, I had difficulty seeing the beauty and light of my Church through the darkness that now clouded my view. I thought of the many priests who had sickened me with their behavior, and of the bishops who had shocked me with their lack of action. I thought of our pope, whose response to a question on this matter disappointed and repulsed me. I thought of the victims, of innocent children and young adults whose lives would never be the same. I thought of a friend of mine, who a few years ago had come to me in tears with her own experience of both verbal and physical sexual abuse that she suffered under a member of the clergy.  Her suffering came rushing back into the forefront of my mind amidst all of these other allegations.

As my unpleasant thoughts persisted, we were presented with the opportunity to attend mass at the main altar of St. Peter’s Basilica. As I received the Eucharist during mass, I looked up at the large stained glass window above me. The sun shone brightly through the gold and white colors of the Holy Spirit depicted as a dove. Suddenly, my thoughts began to shift. I considered St. Peter, who here in this very city fought to establish Christ’s Church, and who was martyred for it. I recalled the other saints we had encountered on our pilgrimage, each embracing their Catholic faith in their own way and living true, holy lives for the Lord despite the difficulties, temptations, and devastations that many of them faced throughout their lives. I thought of a friend of mine who is a seminarian at the Vatican, who assured me with vivid hope and conviction that he believes the future of our Church is bright. In that moment I prayed for my friend and I prayed that our Church would be led by good, virtuous men like him. I thought of other friends who have used their voices on social media to speak out against these horrible acts, and to encourage others to pray and fast for the reparation of these sins that have plagued our Church. Lastly, I thought of the little white host that I had just placed into my mouth, the body of the one true Christ.

The Eucharist encompasses my Catholic faith in its entirety. Receiving the Blessed Sacrament was a reminder that I don’t attend mass for the priests, bishops, or the pope. I attend in order to gain the nourishment that my soul requires for this earthly journey. I take instruction and encouragement from the Scripture readings. I join my community in offering prayers of intercession, and in reciting the prayer that Jesus himself taught us, and I lift up my voice in songs of praise. Most importantly, I attend mass to receive the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. While I believe in the infallibility of the papacy, and I respect and admire the noble men of God who are living out their vocation with honor, I do not place my faith in fallible human beings.  My faith is in God alone.

As I walk this journey discouraged by the actions of certain men but encouraged by the love and fidelity of God, I urge you to continue to embrace your unique and beautiful Catholic faith. You and I cannot allow our faith to be tainted by the horrendous acts of these priests and bishops. Changes to safeguard the lives of the innocent need to be made, and as Catholics we have the obligation to fight for that. Sometimes, we need to fight with loud voices that convey righteous anger. At other times, we need to wage this war with prayer. Either way, we cannot allow ourselves to become hardened and discouraged in the process. We are each called to be a witness in our own lives, and this means living out our joy and our suffering for Christ. The saints that Dom and I encountered on this trip lived in different times throughout history, under difficult circumstances, each with their own unique path to holiness. Scripture reminds us that you and I are called to such a time as this for a reason (Esther 4:14). We must keep our faith, embrace our cross, live our vocation, strive for sainthood, and serve our God.

God bless you, God bless America, and God bless His bride, the Catholic Church.