Category Archives: Faith

Giovanna Raphael

I’ve been a bit MIA on this blog for a while, but Kevin keeps telling me to get back into it. I’ve wanted to write, but I wasn’t sure about what to write! I debated whether or not to share what follows, but in the end, I don’t want to hide it – I want to acknowledge it.

This summer has been full. Yes, we’ve been out of the house more and taking weekend/day trips (and I want to write about all of it!), but it goes much further than that. Something big happened, and then something big happened again. And it’s lead to many life decisions, one of which is that Kevin and I will be moving to Duluth, Minnesota in the beginning of September. There will be much more on all of this later, for sure! But right now, I just want to acknowledge the gift (and loss of that gift) that has changed my life, Kevin’s life, and our marriage.

On May 26, 2015, I woke up and decided to take a pregnancy test. This wasn’t exactly anything new as this was my routine for eight months. Eight months of radical dietary changes, Napro doctor support, and lots of prayer. Eight months of people saying, “you’re so young, you have lots of time,” or “just stop thinking about it and it’ll happen” (not very helpful…but that wasn’t everyone!). Eight months of excitement, anticipation, and disappointment. Eight months of intense grace and growth in my relationship with God. Eight months of deepening my love for my incredible husband. I could talk so much more about those eight months, but the point of all this is what came next.

Anyway, woke up, took a pregnancy test, and was SHOCKED…[complete silence]…SHOCKED to see the second bright line. I went back to bed and sat on a sleeping Kevin and whispered “I’m pregnant.” You can imagine his surprise and sort of questioning tone when he said “what?” All that we’d been praying for had happened (the cycle after our pilgrimage to St. Anne’s as well!).

I won’t go into the details right now, but while we were able to experience excitement in the beginning, there were a lot of concerning things that soon arose. The next several weeks were unfortunately filled with much anxiety. There were rays of hope that came, but then even worse symptoms that took their place. Around 4am on July 2, 2015, I woke up and immediately knew what was about to happen. I woke Kevin up and he just laid with me for a while as I experienced the all-too-familiar excruciating pains that would normally signal my period.

A couple hours later, at 9 1/2 weeks, I delivered (would that be the correct term?) our first child. I don’t want to be too gruesome, but to all those pro-choicers out there who would deny the fact that I had been carrying a living human, this was most definitely a child that I held in my hand.

We named our child Giovanna Raphael: “gift of God who heals.” This name had been on our hearts for a few weeks at that point, and it seemed quite God-given. We had already planned a trip back home to PA that weekend, so we took our child with us to be buried. A couple of our best friends, Josh & Ashlie, joined us that weekend with their little baby, John Paul. They were present when we buried Giovanna in our backyard. We wrapped her in the lace from my wedding dress. It was a painful, but beautiful experience. We prayed this lovely prayer from Sister Angelica, and we cried unashamedly at the loss of this precious life.

There is so much I still have to process from all of this. While I know I’m a mother, I don’t exactly feel like one. It’s been less than three weeks since I miscarried, but at moments, it almost feels as if I was never pregnant to begin with. Then there are the times when I just can’t help but cry over what is no longer growing inside of me.

At this point, that’s all I have to share about that. If anyone’s experienced infertility or miscarriage – be assured of my prayers.

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Quebec, again.

This post is long overdue and will do not justice to the beauty that was our trip to Quebec, but I will try! We had been longing to go back to Quebec since our initial pilgrimage in 2013, but there just hasn’t been an ideal time until now. We lovelovelove Canada and try to go once a year (last year we went for our honeymoon). We were unsure if this trip was going to happen because finances are a bit tight, but we felt at peace with going and ta-daaaaa the Lord provided in many ways this month. God is good.

We started the drive up Friday evening and stopped for the night in Stowe, VT (stayed at the Stowe Inn with a groupon – so charming!). It broke up the long drive which was great, and we had a very relaxing trip up Saturday morning through the wonderful greenery and mountains of Northern New England. We crossed the border with no issues (not that there would be…it just always makes me nervous) and there we were!

The weekend was on and off with the weather – rainy then sunny then cool then rainy. But it didn’t really matter to us. We spent good quality time at St. Joseph’s Oratory – and gosh, the second we stepped foot back in there it was a wave of peace. Walking through the Votive Chapel is an experience. It just feels filled with grace (which it is!). There are several different statues of St. Joseph above different stations of votive candles – each with a different title of his (Protector of our Church, Consoler of the Afflicted, Pure in Heart, Patron of Families, Patron of the Sick & Dying, Terror of Demons, Model of Workers). Needless to say, there were many prayers to be prayed and many offerings to be made.  We spent much time off and on in this Chapel.

We also were able to spend some beautiful time in prayer in Brother Andre’s Chapel. Brother Andre (now Saint Andre) was the one who had the Oratory built in honor of Saint Joseph; a very humble man and being in his chapel (alone, nonetheless) was a moving experience. It’s probably where I received the most consolation of the weekend.

There’s so much that could be said about the Oratory, but…just go. Just go and see it for yourself. This trip we were fortunate enough to also visit the Shrine of St. Anne de Beaupre just outside Quebec City. I had been wanting to visit this shrine for quite some time, but even I had no clue what was in store for me. Driving along the St. Lawrence river (delightful!), we pulled into the town of Ste. Anne-de-Beapre and soon saw what had to be the Shrine. It’s amazing – just off the main road being all stunning and what not!

This Church took my breath away. Everything about it. Whoever built this Church had a true devotion to St. Anne. There is just so much detail, so much complexity, and it all is weaved together so effortlessly in this magnificent structure. The whole thing was a treat, but I was especially fond of the little side chapel holding a RELIC OF ST. ANNE (bone of her arm!). I mean, no big deal. After Mass (which we understood very little of, but being Catholic and all it’s usually fine since it’s all the same), the Priest came over to give us more details about the Shrine. He talked of the miracles he’s been present for that have occurred in front of the relic, and my goodness…it’s unbelievable (but also believable!). We were so grateful for our conversation with him; it helped us to appreciate even more about the Shrine that would have gone unnoticed by little old me!

There was also the outside areas which were so simple yet so incredible. There is one particular chapel that is host to a number of relics of the holy land – it has 28 stairs which pilgrims are meant to climb on their knees – each step in reparation for Christ’s passion (and many of the steps have the relics built into them)…uhhhhh-mazing. To sum it up, the short time we had at St. Anne’s was powerful. We were able to pray at the foot of her statue (said to be the place of many miracles) with the petitions weighing most on our hearts.

The rest of the trip was more exploring Montreal and Quebec City. We had already seen most of Montreal that we enjoy – there are lovely parts (like Old Montreal, ohhhhh I love it), but there are also typical city parts…that I don’t particularly care for. Quebec City, though. Lurv it. Such charm. Such cuteness. The old city is huge and it is a feast for the eyes! Unfortunately, it was super rainy when we were there, but I still fell in love. And the Chateau Frontenac – ahhhhh the famous hotel that I read about in high school french class! It was a joy seeing it in person. Kevin and I decided that the next time we visit (which we will), we will reverse our itinerary and stay in Quebec City with a day trip to Montreal & the Oratory.

I hope to put together a mini Catholic Canadian travel guide soon (Kevin’s very encouraging of doing that) for all those dyyyyyying to visit. I hope I’ve sold everyone enough on this delightful province!

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Back to the Oratory

A little over two years ago, when Kevin and I had been dating for 7ish months, we took a pilgrimage to Montreal together. We stayed at the retreat house on the grounds of St. Joseph’s Oratory, and a truly special trip it was. There were highs and lows to the weekend, and in a lot of ways, I really felt afterwards that this was it. I would be with this man forever. It’s kind of funny to say that now since there really were some rough patches over those four days. But it was the first time we openly spoke about marriage with one another…and children…and baby names. (That was as emotionally unchaste as we’d get until engagement.) 

 Montreal is a really special place to us (and really just Canada in general). And spending so much time at the Oratory was a truly spectacular experience. St. Joseph has always been a great intercessor in our relationship (hello 30 day novena that ended with a first date), so praying to him throughout that weekend also aided greatly in preparing us for our future. And there is something about the Oratory itself: it’s majestic, but humble. If you’ve been there and stood in the great shrine on top (with no one else around), you’d understand what I mean. For all of it’s simplicity, I could sense my unworthiness in a very real way.   

 There were other great aspects of Montreal that we got to explore outside of the Oratory grounds, and I was continuously stunned with beauty (could have also been the fresh snow). We spent an evening at Notre Dame in Old Montreal and that.church.is.beauty. Anddddd Celine Dion was married there, nobigdealthatdoesntinfluencemyopinionatall

 Anyway, we are going back this weekend and we are so excited. We’re at such a different stage in our life, and since it’s not January spontaneousblizzardseason, we’re hopeful that we won’t get snowed in like last time when we tried to visit the Shrine of St. Anne in Quebec City. That’s another place that we’re so looking forward to visiting. St. Anne is my patron Saint, and we’ve been praying to her in particular for some special intercession in these recent months. I so look forward to bringing our petitions and our love to that beautiful, sacred shrine. 

 And! I just can’t wait to be in French-speaking Canada again! The beauty! The elegance! The romance! The cheese! And the spring time!

Au revoir!

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The Man, the Saint, the Patron of our Church

Happy solemnity of St. Joseph, Husband of Mary! What.a.guy. If you need any background on how me and Kevin met, do not fret, it is documented! Long story short, I prayed the 30-day novena to St. Joseph about marriage, and he responded quickly and powerfully! Kevin asked me out at the end of the novena and our first date was the day after it ended. And now we’re married. So I’d say St. Joseph was looking out for me. My relationship with Joseph blossomed shortly after my relationship with Mary, which makes sense. I was experiencing such beauty through my mama Mary, and she clearly wanted me to know the Holy Family in it’s fullness. And I was like, okay. (More enthusiasm.)

About 7 months into our relationship, Kevin and I took a pilgrimage to Montreal to see St. Joseph’s Oratory. I cannot begin to describe the role that this trip played in our relationship and my discernment. From the beginning, St. Joseph has had a hand in our lives, and I am so grateful for his powerful intercession. I know he’s still looking after us, and I need to continue to plea for his help because he does not disappoint.

So let this day be a beautiful one as we honor the strong, humble, gentle, and loving St. Joseph! And please please please read through the litany because it is one of the most beautiful novenas I have ever prayed.

St. Joseph's Oratory in Montreal

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“No one heals himself by wounding another.”

A mess of thoughts as I try to process something here…

We live this life. We believe it. We believe it so much that it hurts. We sacrifice all kinds of worldly things and look like fools to so many people, even our closest loved ones. Then there are those around us who don’t live this life, who don’t really believe, who don’t sacrifice, and things just seem to work out for them. And then we, who are trying (and sometimes greatly failing) to love and serve God and follow all the teachings of the Church, end up getting the short end of the stick. It’s a bold statement, and I understand we can never truly know the inner workings of another person’s heart – what often seems like perfection can be threaded with sorrow. But please just go with me.

I know there’s some deep theological questions here, and we have been trying to probe them and understand what we can while still leaving a big part of it up to faith. But emotionally…mentally…physically…spiritually…it’s hard.

At the end of the day, though, if I’m not offering joy to those around me who are experiencing great blessings, even if it seems unfair (how childish of me), than I am not glorifying God. Great theologians and philosophers have pondered the problem of pain and why God allows certain things to happen. I could ponder for years and end up back at square one. It’s not my job to understand everything in this life; it’s not my job to conclude why suffering exists and what exactly it means in my life. But I do have to love through it. Through tears, tantrums, isolated silence, I must love God and neighbor. And trust that all things work for good for those who love God. [Romans 8:28]

So that is what I will strive for. Love is not a feeling, it is a committed choice. And even though I may want to crawl in a hole sometimes and sit in self-pity, God calls us out of ourselves. By immense grace, he helps us to live a life of love that is infinitely greater than ourselves. And just because someone else is experiencing an abundant good, does not mean that I am robbed of good. So it is my duty and my privilege to celebrate for others…even if it hurts.

There. That is my rambling for today. Let’s be Saints, shall we?

 

 

 

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Be persistent.

 

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Live the Fast

As Lent is approaching, I’m sure lots of people are racking their brains for what to “give up”. Often, this season sneaks up on us and we feel so unprepared (at least I do!). Now obviously we should all be praying as to how we can grow closer to our Lord through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. But I did want to share a great ministry/business with the blogging world. It’s called “Live the Fast.”

LIVE the FAST

Live the Fast was started by Andy LaVallee, who owns his own bread company just outside of Boston. As it says right on their website, “Live the Fast is a Roman Catholic Apostolate that is centered on renewing the practice of prayer and fasting by providing nutritious fasting breads, educational resources on prayer and fasting and a prayer community that will inspire one to live the fast.”

There is a [slow] growing movement to fast all year round on both Wednesday’s and Friday’s. Why those two days? Wednesday is the day that Jesus was betrayed by Jesus, so therefore we can fast in reparation for all sins. Friday was the day that our Lord died on the cross. I won’t go deeply into the abundant graces of fasting, but in general, it opens up our hearts to the Lord, making room for his work to be done. We can also offer up our fasting for intentions we have.

Now, fasting all year round (sans feasting time, of course) is a big commitment to make. So a great place to start out, if you feel so called, is during Lent. You can order these fasting breads online, and they will be delivered frozen to your doorstep (with a bonus book on fasting). There are a few different kinds of breads per order, it’s super affordable, and they also send out encouraging emails the nights before each fasting day.

Before I was married, a few of my former roommates and I did this one Lent together, and our freezer was literally filled with little rolls…it was a bit amusing. But also encouraging. On the morning of each fasting day, you pop a few rolls into the oven for 15ish minutes, wrap them up for the day (I used foil), and eat one at each meal.

The rules can be as strict or as loose as you need, depending on your situation. Some people eat one roll for breakfast and one for lunch – then have a small dinner after 6pm (no dairy or meat). Some eat three to four rolls throughout the day and that’s it.

I encourage everyone to read up more on this great ministry. If you have any questions, you could certainly ask me, but also feel free to reach out to Live the Fast directly!

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2015: learning to be present

While in Duluth, Kevin and I were on the way to adoration and chatting about the year to come. We’re super excited for 2015 and all the possibilities that lay before us. Lists and “resolutions” aside, we wanted to think seriously about how we can grow in virtue this year. I’m sure we can all think of a particular vice we have or a certain virtue we are lacking. I can think of a ton for myself. But as the wise Ron Swanson once said, “never half-ass two things; whole-ass one thing.” That’s applicable here, right?

I proposed Kevin and I each come up with a virtue the other should work on (which could have gone horribly wrong), but we actually each said what the other was thinking.

Surprise, surprise. I need to work on being present. Big picture: I need to not be continuously planning our future (out loud AND in my head). It doesn’t matter that I enjoy it and that it brings me temporal satisfaction, it can often rob me of the gift of the moment. Not to say that planning isn’t good and necessary, but there’s a line that often goes unnoticed and that I pass by several miles. I have learned time and time again that no matter how much I plan, if God’s plan is different, it will win out (and praise Jesus for that). There is an amount that we can do, but ultimately it has to be left up to the hands of our Creator.

I also need to take care to be present in the little things. I was reading the Popcak’s book “Just Married” about the first five years of marriage. One part struck me about people’s love styles: audio, visual, and kinesthetic (related to the way in which we learn as a child). Being a very visual person, I often find myself unable to relax or enjoy the moment if my environment isn’t to my liking. While there are great things to being visual, I can get so caught up in it that I bypass good time that could be spent with others (or even in prayer).

So a few attainable things to work on:

  • Abstaining from cleaning/preparing when better time would be spent enjoying time with my husband, with others, or in prayer.
  • Learning to enjoy leisure in it’s truest form (there’s lots more to say on this one).
  • Pausing frequently to thank God for the graces of the moment.
  • Be more intentional with prayer time so I’m not looking at the clock or anxious about “the next thing.”
  • Leave the life planning to specific times that both Kevin and I have set aside for it (ie: don’t bring up big decision topics on the bus or over breakfast).

The more I’m able to be present, the more, I hope, I’ll be able to notice God’s subtle movements in my life. Grace is all the time being poured out onto all of us, but we have to receive it. And contrary to what many people may think, receptivity is an active virtue. Also, by being attuned to God’s daily graces, I hope to cultivate more of a heart of gratitude. So in a nutshell, that’s a big thing I’m working on in 2015.

Anyone have any exciting things they’re working on this year?

 

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Merry Christmas from Duluth!

A most merry Christmas to you all! Currently, I’m resting in our lovely hotel room right on the edge of Lake Superior (spectacular views). Last night, we attended Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary. Kevin introduced me to Bishop Sirba, a real delightful man! And so our solemnity began!

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This is my first Christmas away from Pennsylvania and away from my family (who I miss very much!), but we’re making the most of it and it’s beautiful being here in Kevin’s homeland. I’m really enjoying myself. And my family was blessed with this past weekend together in DC for our annual Philadelphia Eagles game!

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I hope you’re all having a joyous Christmas and that it continues throughout the entire season! I’m sure I’ll be back later with a plethora of pics and updates!

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Monday updates & a great feast!

Happy feast of the Immaculate Conception! A truly grand solemnity, indeed! This day is quite special to Kevin and I for many reasons, not the least of which being that it’s simply a wonderful day to honor our lady! I’ll admit, we indulged a bit this morning and woke up early to watch an episode of Parks and Rec. Hey, we all celebrate differently. We look forward to Mass this evening followed by a nice reception with the Oblates of the Virgin Mary.

This past weekend was very full, but really a joy. I’m so grateful for the drastic separation from work life and home life. Work has been hard, but my time at home and with friends has been absolutely life-giving. Saturday I was able to spend time with my good friend and her husband beginning with confession (I’ll always take a free ride to the church). Then we enjoyed the afternoon at their apartment decorating and making it festive. It was so much fun and very relaxing. Exactly what I needed.

Afterwards, I met up with Kevin and we went to dinner with a friend’s parents. This friend is a seminarian in Rome studying for the Boston diocese, and his parents and I have developed a great relationship over the past couple years (they even came to my wedding in May when he couldn’t!). So we decided to get dinner (which was a blast) and go to the Festival of Lessons & Carols at the seminary here. They hadn’t been around the sem much since their son had been asked to go to Rome, so it was  real treat for them as well.

The concert is my favorite festive thing to do during Advent. Kevin and I have gone the past three years now, and it truly helps us delve deeper into the season. It’s a night of scripture, carols, and hymns put on by the seminarians and they always sound amazing. This year was no exception.

Sunday we went to Mass followed by a morning of homemade waffles with two good friends! And the rest of our day was spent with just the two of us walking, resting, andddd watching the Chronicles of Narnia…a movie that we find most appropriate for this time of year.

I’m very grateful for the beautiful moments that were had. May this week be full of many more!

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