Tuesday, 31 December 2019

Top Ten Posts of 2019

No. 10 Stop Bothering God! 

A little story from my daily life, one that seems almost insignificant now reached the position of tenth most-read in the last year. I wouldn't have expected it to be that interesting to anyone else, but I guess real life stories are always more interesting than the most well-crafted theoretical writing. I know I'm more likely to read a story than a homily. Go ahead and give it a read if you missed it.

No. 9 Thoughts of a Typical Catholic at Sunday Mass aka Sixty Minutes of Daydreaming

This is one of those funny and perhaps a little too relatable to too many Catholics (to our shame). It was fun to write and fun to re-read. I still giggle every time I look at the memes I crated for the post. Too real. It was actually meant to be an introduction to a series on the real meaning of the different parts of the Mass, and hot to connect and focus during Mass, but I didn't get down to doing the necessary study and so those posts still aren't written. Should I work on them in the new year?

No. 8 The SAHM Series: Why do Stay-At-Home-Mums Stay at Home? (Part 1 of 3) 

This was an unusual kind of blog post, more of an interview-style or a magazine article. I primarily shared other women's stories and experiences, and put in very few of my own opinions. I think it got so many readers because one of the moms who shared her story shared it on her Facebook and a lot of people were very interested in her life and family. Should I write more articles like this - sharing other people's stories?

No. 7 Ten Catholic Trivia Questions Most Indian Catholics Will Get Wrong

This was another unusual one - it was actually a quiz that I created and embedded into the post. I had seen some of these quizzes before that were ridiculously easy and seemed to be created just in order to make people feel good about themselves. I confess I went a little bit in the opposite direction, making it so tough that almost no one scored full marks. Full disclosure: Even I didn't really score full marks because I found out only after creating the quiz that I had wrongly assumed something about canon law. Also confession: I didn't write all the follow up posts explaining each question. I wrote three, got distracted and then started writing about something else. Did anyone notice? Anyone still waiting for answers or clarity on some of the quiz questions?

No. 6 The Time I Confronted a Priest

Just the name of this post sounds kind of attention-seeking, but I promise it was a real and thoughtful encounter, and one of the most crucial ways in which God allowed me to grow. The post is more about how to confront someone in a Christian way, an area I think every parish and Christian organization needs to train their members and leaders in. Seminaries, are you teaching this? Once again there was a follow-up post I haven't written yet - Receiving Correction Graciously. When should I get to that?

No. 5 You Are Delightful 

I'm so glad this one reached the Top Five, because it is one of my personal favourites, and I think I need to re-read it again and again. If you haven't read it yet, please do! Sometimes God clearly speaks His truths through my writing (other times it's just me being boring), and this is one of those posts that has God's fingerprints all over it.

No. 4 Divine Renovation: Practical Ways to Renew Your Parish

This was a cross between a book review and a list of tips to renew your parish with excerpts and ideas from Fr. James Mallon's book, Divine Renovation. Imagine my excitement when I saw Fr. James retweeted my blog post. (Yes, I'm on Twitter: @SueZanna86). So that's probably why it reached the Top 4. I'm sure Fr. Mallon was happy for the publicity, and I was happy to publicize a worthwhile and helpful book. I still hope parish priests read it. Maybe you should send them my blog post? And gift them a copy of the book? Do it!

No. 3 Valentine’s Day Special: What It Is Like To Have a Catholic Boyfriend

Of course the post with the words VALENTINE'S DAY and BOYFRIEND was the third most read post of 2019, possibly also because it was a relationship announcement, and I've been the Single Cat Lady TM for so long that I have years' worth of posts on being single. Come to think of it, I would read random acquaintances' love stories if only they would write about them. Come on, guys. Share your lives! (P.s. I DID get it passed by Joel before I shared it.)

No. 2 Quick Thoughts on the New Graham Staines Movie

This was just a movie review, but it was about a movie that not many people were writing about. My husband has been encouraging me to write more about the current day intersection between faith and culture, and about modern-day issues that Catholics are trying to figure out, I think I'd like to, but it means being disciplined enough to write fast, and not wait for months by which time the issue has faded from people's minds. That is the kind of writing I would like to read - informed and faith-filled Indian Catholics writing about Indian issues. American Catholics have plenty of those kind of articles, but we seem to be lacking in our social media presence.

No. 1 The Wedding Chronicles: God Designed My Wedding Dress

This one actually reached my all time top ten most-read posts. then again, it does have the words WEDDING and WEDDING DRESS in the title, so is that even surprising? But you know what, this story deserves to be read, because it was written by God, and I need to do better at retelling the cool stories he writes in my life.

That's all, folks! Thank you, faithful blog readers and especially patrons for reading, commenting, sharing and donating. On the days when I don't feel motivated to write, I remember some stray feedback from someone, and I realize that perhaps God IS using this blog, and I should push myself to start writing again. Happy New Year, dear readers!

If you enjoy reading my blog, consider becoming a patron for just Rs 100 or $1 a month. Patrons receive a weekly behind-the-scenes video made by me! Email me on solosenilejive@gmail.com or visit my Patreon page to become a patron.

Wednesday, 11 December 2019

The Wedding Chronicles: The Secret to a Peaceful Bride

I don't really like weddings. Well, in theory they sound exciting and fun, but in reality they're usually overwhelming and just too much... and that's just as a guest. If you ask a bride and groom to be honest about the wedding, it's much worse. All that planning and organization, all the expectations thrown at you by everybody, all the people to meet and greet and take care of, all the little details that can go wrong... it's a recipe for anxiety.

I was worried about the wedding from the beginning. "What if I don't sleep well the night before? I know what a mess I am when I'm tired. How do I smile for 700 guests and the photographer? I can't smile on demand. How do I even relate to 700 people? How do introverts survive their own weddings?"

Many months before Joel and I had prayed about it, and I felt the Lord asking me to surrender having the wedding in my own hometown, and having it in Joel's village instead. There were a variety of reasons, but in the end, the Lord told me clearly to give up my attachments to my plan.

The week before the wedding I read a bible passage during my prayer time:

Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. John 12: 24-25

I love my comfort zone, doing things the safe way, the predictable way. But God was telling me again that if I wanted to grow, to be fruitful, to be happy,  I had to stop clinging to comfort and to safety and to the things that I thought would make me safe and happy, and allow HIM to be in charge of both my peace and my happiness.

We had a crazy wedding day. There were completely unexpected heavy rains in the weeks leading up to the wedding, and despite the prayers, it rained heavily the day before the wedding. There was no alternate reception venue indoors because of the numbers, so we stuck to the grounds where we originally planned to have it, but large parts of the ground were marshy and wet. The weather was sweltering and humid. I was mopping up sweat under my veil during the Mass.

The priests didn't enter as we expected, so our entrance hymn which we both had looked forward to was cancelled. Our caterer and decorator turned out to be inept and messed up most of the things we asked him to take care of. The centerpieces I planned didn't happen, there were no fairy lights, the stage was rickety, people toasted us in plastic cups, the sound stopped working intermittently. I could go on, but I should stop.

In the midst of all this chaos, was I an anxious, angry wreck? Praise be to God, we were both happy and peaceful. It was the Miracle of the Wedding at Vasai.

Because of an attitude of abandonment and trust, we prayed our way through every struggle that came up. The day before the wedding we were not supposed to see each other, and in fact, were supposed to remain in our respective homes. Instead, Joel and I together with my maid of honour headed out for Confession, spent time at an Adoration chapel, and had lunch together. In the evening after the wedding rehearsal, we had a time of quiet prayer with some of our family and friends in Adoration.

Fr. Jacques Philippe says, ''Any reasons to lose your peace are bad reasons."

Though so many things went wrong that day, I received so many gifts I would have missed if I had been anxious or controlling.

- There was peace and perfect harmony between Joel and me and our immediate families throughout.

- I slept NINE hours the night before the wedding and was peaceful and relaxed even when I kept hearing about things going wrong. In fact, Joel had left me a letter to be opened IN CASE I felt anxious... and I didn't need to open it at all.

- The church looked beautiful and was packed. One of my desires was that I had a full church at my wedding, in opposition to the common practice many guests have of skipping the wedding Mass and coming for the reception.

- My sweet bridegroom actually did cry as I walked up the aisle to him. He said he was able to fully enter into the liturgy and received a lot, which was one of our prayers beforehand.

- So many of my friends and family travelled all the way (some from out of the country) to be with me on this important day, and even though I couldn't spend much time with most of them, it blessed my heart that they loved me enough to be present.

- In the moments of realizing the imperfections around me, and beginning to get stressed out, the Lord sent me my little niece who stuck to me through most of the reception.

- We had some fun moments with the wedding march and a group dance we call the Belgian dance that lots of guests joined in.

- There were many touches of beauty that soothed my heart - my aunt put together gorgeous bouquets, my mum created the wedding cake, the stage backdrop was exactly what I asked for, my bridesmaids'outfits that I had envisioned looked beautiful (I had picked very unusual outfits for them so I wasn't sure how it would all work), my hair and makeup done by my cousin and friend survived the humidity, and of course you read about the dress.

By the end of the reception though, I was hungry, tired, and totally done. I actually burst into tears and told my new husband I wanted to go home. The next morning we had to go for 7 am Mass (I was dressed in the traditional shalu) and then there was a bangle ceremony at his home. I was exhausted, but I made it through all the traditions and expectations (a very toned down version of typical weddings in his culture).

A few days later we returned to Pune for a small party with my family and some friends, and my cousins and friends went out of their way to make sure the party was beautifully decorated. I finally got my fairy lights and centerpieces!

Being a bride was definitely not a fairy tale, and I don't think it is for most women. At the end of the wedding celebrations, I was exhausted, and ready to return to a life of introversion. But my heart was at peace, because I knew I had married the right man, and was able to start my life together with him. I could have missed out on the joy of marriage if I had allowed the fear of discomfort to control me.

So what was the secret to a peaceful bride?

An attitude of abandonment and trust, and detachment from the perfect wedding. God didn't promise us that everything would be perfect, but He did promise us His presence and His peace if we were willing to accept it... and He kept His promise.

Related Reading

The Secret to Peace, Lent and Everything

The Wedding Chronicles: God Designed My Wedding Dress

Tuesday, 3 December 2019

The Advent To-Do List

So it's already Day 3 of Advent, and if you, like me, have been procrastinating on making some Advent decisions, this post is here to help you out! It's so easy to get bogged down by searching for the perfect Advent discipline (apt enough, not too hard, not too easy, unique enough) and never get down to making some concrete decisions. Not that different from New Year's Resolutions and Lenten penances.

Here's the thing though. It doesn't have to be perfect. It just has to happen. Do something.

I'm not going to give you a bunch of options in case you have a hard time choosing between them. Just follow this calendar, and make sure you don't stop. (If you already have something you've decided on, awesome! Let me know in the comments.) If you miss a day, just keep going, and do it another day if possible. If a particular task is not possible one day, switch it with another day. Read your task a day before, so you can add it to your schedule.

Day 3 of 24
Tuesday, 3rd December, 2019

Read this post about Advent and spend five minutes in silence asking God for the grace to make space for Him in your heart this month. [10 minutes]

Day 4 of 24
Wednesday, 4th December, 2019
Listen to the latest Abiding Together podcast: The Light Shines in the Darkness and journal: How is Satan is using fear to keep me away from God? [45 minutes]

Day 5 of 24
Thursday, 5th December, 2019
Before going to bed, do an Examen. Reflect on your day, and where you encountered God. Thank Him for the times you responded to His love, and ask forgiveness for the times you did not. Make a decision for tomorrow. [15 minutes]

Day 6 of 24
Friday, 6th December, 2019
Go for Mass. Journal: What is one thing God said to me during Mass today? [1 hour]

Day 7 of 24
Saturday, 7th December, 2019
Visit an Adoration chapel and tell Him about a problem you don't know how to solve. Try to be quiet and open to His response. [30 minutes]

Day 8 of 24
Sunday, 8th December 2019
It's the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Pray a Memorare or nine Memorares for the intention of someone who is suffering in some way (infertility, physical sickness, mental health, grief). The Memorare is not magic, but a powerful prayer calling out to a powerful intercessor. [15 minutes.]

Day 9 of 24
Monday, 9th December, 2019
Read Isaiah 40:11 several times slowly.
Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, 
Carrying them in his bosom, leading the ewes with care.
Imagine God holding you close to his heart. Stay in His embrace for a while.Then go and give someone a hug and remind them that God loves them. [20 minutes.]

Day 10 of 24
Tuesday, 10th December, 2019
Sing a worship song out loud. Even if you feel stupid singing by yourself. Sacrifice your dignity and receive His freedom in exchange. [15 minutes.]

Day 11 of 24
Wednesday, 11th December. 2019
Read Matthew 11: 28-30. Write down the list of burdens you are handing over to God. [20 minutes.]

Day 12 of 24
Thursday, 12th December, 2019
Read about Our Lady of Guadalupe and pray a Rosary for all nations to come to know Jesus. [30 minutes.]

Day 13 of 24
Friday, 13th December, 2019
Go for Mass. Read Psalm 1 slowly before you go. [45 minutes]

Day 14 of 24
Saturday, 14th December, 2019
Think about someone who has hurt your feelings or offended you recently. Ask God for the grace to forgive them from the heart, and to give up all thoughts of blame, accusation and resentment. Pray for that person's needs. [30 minutes.]

Day 15 of 24
Sunday, 15th December, 2019
It's Gaudete Sunday - share the joy of Christ by texting, calling or visiting someone you had been estranged from (could be yesterday's person). [5 minutes - 1 hour]

Day 16 of 24
Monday, 16th December, 2019
Pray the Divine Office today. [30 minutes]

Day 17 of 24
Tuesday, 17th December, 2019
Make a plan with your family or a group of friends to reach out personally to someone in need this month. [1 hour]

Day 18 of 24
Wednesday, 18th December, 2019
Buy a gift for someone you know who is likely to be in need. Think especially of domestic workers and their children, big families, and people who have lost their jobs recently. If you don't know anyone like that, ask your parish priest. [30 minutes]

Day 19 of 24
Thursday, 19th December, 2019
Wake up in the morning and before touching your phone, give thanks to God for ten blessings. [10  minutes.]

Day 20 of 24
Friday, 20th December. 2019
Go to Mass and visit an Adoration chapel. Invite a friend who wouldn't usually do that to accompany you. [1 hour]

Day 21 of 24
Saturday, 21st December, 2019
Make a morning offering. Through the day, remember to say "I'm doing this for You, Jesus'" as you run errands and get things done. [5 minutes]

Day 22 of 24
Sunday, 22nd December, 2019
Read Eight Tips to Surviving Christmas and make a plan for Christmas week that incorporates the tips. [30 minutes]

Day 23 of 24
Monday, 23rd December, 2019
Visit an Adoration Chapel and re-surrender everything on your mind and heart, especially family tensions and unfulfilled desires. [45  minutes.]

Day 24 of 24
Tuesday, 24th December, 2019
Read Matthew 1: 18 -25. Draw a sketch and place yourself in the Christmas story. Listen to Wonder by Bethel. [45 minutes]

Let me know if you are using this calendar, and if you'd like me to create a printable pdf version. Have a Holy Advent!

Related Reading

Hey, It’s Not Christmas Yet!

On Waiting

Changing My Christmas Wish List