Got a Favorite Disney Princess? Meet Your New Favorite Saint.

If there’s one thing I know about kids, it’s that they can be remarkably single-minded. From an hour-long tantrum inspired by tyrannical authorities switching off an electronic device to the uncanny ability to make every conversation about Spiderman, once they fixate, they may be stuck for years.

Which is why we need to get them focused on the right things. Superheroes and construction vehicles are all well and good, but we who are blessed to be part of a 2000-year-old Church have much more to offer our children than Doc McStuffins and Paw Patrol.

What if your kids loved the Saints as much as they love fictional characters? What if they wanted to dress like Isaac Jogues and Catherine of Siena instead of (or in addition to) Batman and Elsa? I’ve been doing my part to share these stories, but it occurred to me that it would help if you used the obsessions they already have to draw them into the lives of the Saints. And since Disney princesses aren’t so very different from Princess Saints, I thought we’d start there. Scroll through to find your (or your child’s) favorite Disney Princess/Lady-who’s-cool-enough-to-be-a-princess and check out the Saint who might be your new bestie.


cinderella-germaineCinderella: St. Germaine

I honestly wonder if St. Germaine wasn’t the inspiration for Cinderella. After her mother died when she was a baby, Germaine’s father remarried, a horrid woman named Hortense who deserved her name. She was terribly abusive to her stepdaughter, refusing to feed her, pouring boiling water on her, and laughing when her children put ashes in Germaine’s food. Like Cinderella, Germaine was sweet as can be imagined, sharing what little she had with beggars and even finding it in herself to forgive her stepmother. Like Cinderella, she was rescued from her life of suffering servitude to be wed to a prince, though her happily ever after came through her death at 22, when she was married to the King of Kings; 40 years later, her body was exhumed and discovered to be incorrupt.

rapunzel-barbaraRapunzel: St. Barbara

Like Rapunzel, the beautiful St. Barbara was locked in a tower for years to protect her from her many expected suitors. What her pagan father didn’t expect was that her long hours staring out the window at creation would turn her mind to the creator of all things, convincing her (through the use of her senses and reason) that pagan idols are worthless. She devoted her life to the pursuit of wisdom, refusing all the suitors her father had finally allowed to come calling. Realizing that he’d messed her up, he let her out of the tower to try to make her normal again and was more than a little dismayed when she met several Christians and decided to be baptized. When she began to witness to her father, he rushed upon her with a sword. Despite miraculously avoiding him several times, she was eventually captured, tortured, and martyred by her own father. (Don’t worry, he was struck by lightning shortly afterward.)

pocohontas-kateriPocahontas: St. Kateri Tekakwitha

Okay, so you probably don’t need help to make this connection; it’s basically just their ethnicity. But while Kateri wasn’t as hot as Pocahontas or as loved by raccoons, she’s more of a true heroine than Pocahontas could ever be–even if you read the real story and not the Disney rom-com. Kateri was born to a Christian mother and a pagan father who both died when she was four. The same smallpox epidemic that killed them left her disfigured and nearly blind, in the care of an uncle who despised Christians. She suffered throughout her life for her faith as people spread rumors about her, ridiculed her, and refused her food on Sundays when she was unwilling to work. Finally, she escaped to a Christian village, walking 200 miles so that she could live with the Sacraments, embracing a vow of virginity and a life of prayer. When she died at 24, her pockmarked face was cleared and those who looked at her dead body saw her as radiantly beautiful.

belle-catherineBelle: St. Catherine of Alexandria

Every girl I’ve ever known who loved Belle loved her because of books. And nobody loved books like Catherine of Alexandria, a pagan princess in Egypt who refused to marry because she was too busy reading. As suitors sought to win her and remained unable to distract her from reading, a hermit came by and promised her a man who knew more than was contained in all her books. Catherine was interested in this and allowed the hermit to tell her about Jesus. Entranced, Catherine offered her life and her hand in marriage to the king of kings. When the Roman emperor heard this, he tried to convince her of the error of her ways by sending 150 of the world’s greatest philosophers to debate her; Catherine convinced every one (and the emperor’s wife) of the truth of the Gospel and was eventually martyred herself.

jasmine-casildaJasmine: St. Casilda

The Moors didn’t dress like Jasmine, but neither did whatever culture she’s supposed to be from. In any event, both Jasmine and Casilda are from Muslim countries, so we’ll call it good. The Muslim daughter of a Moorish king, Casilda knew nothing about Christianity until she met Christians imprisoned for their faith and heard the joy they had found in the love of Christ. She longed to become a Christian but her father threatened her with imprisonment, so it seemed there was nothing she could do. Her longing for Christ was so strong that she began to waste away, consumed by an illness no medicine could cure. Finally, her father consented to send her to a healing spring in a Christian country, where Casilda was healed and then baptized. Unable to return home, she became a hermit and lived to be 100.

tiana-henrietteTiana: Ven. Henriette Delille 

Like Tiana, Henriette Delille was a New Orleans-born woman of color (though we wouldn’t know it to look at her) who worked to earn her place in the world. The great-great-granddaughter of a slave, Henriette belonged to an elite class of African-Americans whose daughters were expected to become mistresses to white men. Refusing to submit to such an ungodly arrangement, Henriette founded the Sisters of the Holy Family, a religious community made up of other educated, intelligent women of color. She spent the rest of her life working with the sick and poor, particularly in the African-American community.

mulan-joanMulan: St. Joan of Arc

If you’re drawn to Mulan because she’s Asian, you’ve got a whole host of Saints to choose from. But if it’s the strong femininity/leading men in battle thing, look no further than St. Joan of Arc. (Actually, feel free to look further to the book of Judith. She’s a boss.) It seems silly even to summarize her story, as I’m sure you know that she was a French peasant girl to whom the voices of St. Michael, St. Margaret, and St. Catherine of Alexandria (see above) spoke. She was told to lead France to victory in the Hundred Years War. Unlike Mulan, Joan was not seeking to impersonate a man–her strength lay in her ability to serve the Lord as a woman, even though he called her to an unusual role. As with Mulan, her story ends gloriously in fire, though Joan didn’t walk away from her fire. Always a hero to France, it took 500 years before she was canonized by the universal church.

merida-margaretMerida: St. Margaret of Scotland

A queen of Scotland is the obvious choice for Merida, but it helps that St. Margaret also had rather a strong personality. She entered Scotland a shipwrecked princess and proceeded to refuse marriage for several years before consenting to marry King Malcom. As queen, she managed to introduce courtly manners to the less-than-couth Scottish nobles. She also brought the Church in Scotland out of a near schism, washed the feet of beggars every day in Advent and Lent, prayed like a nun, and raised eight children, one of whom went on to become a Saint himself. But mostly it’s the Scottish thing.

jane-helenaJane: St. Helena

Though not exactly a princess, Jane (of Tarzan fame) is quite the compelling character. She’s intelligent, brave, and adventurous, just like St. Helena, mother of the Roman emperor Constantine. Having witnessed the degradation of Christianity at the hands of the Roman nobility, Helena traveled to the Holy Land at an advanced age to search for the True Cross. That makes her an empress, an adventurer, and an archaeologist–no dainty, decorative princess here.

megara-pulcheriaMegara: St. Pulcheria

Meg’s always been a favorite of mine, and it’s not just the name. She’s sassy, cynical, and single, just like me! Take out the selling-your-soul-to-the-devil thing, and we’re a perfect match. But it’s her intelligence that has me pairing her with St. Pulcheria, a woman who reigned as empress in Constantinople not because of her marriage but because of her brilliance. She ruled along with her brother the emperor until his death, at which point they asked her to continue in her position. A consecrated virgin, Pulcheria always made prayer her top priority, even in the midst of important affairs of state. This prayerfulness gave her such wisdom in divine things that Pope St. Leo the Great asked her to speak before the ecumenical Council of Chalcedon in order to help the bishops better understand the nature of Christ. A woman like that could outsmart the devil himself.

esmeralda-catherineEsmeralda: Bl. Catherine Jarrige

Unfortunately, the only gypsy on the path to canonization is a man (Bl. Ceferino), but a woman who loved to dance when she was young and spent her adulthood deceiving corrupt agents of the state sounds like a good match for Esmeralda. Bl. Catherine served the poor as a third order Dominican (kind of a lay nun) but is best known for her work to protect priests during the anti-clerical French Revolution. She would sometimes pretend to be a drunken vagrant to distract the authorities and is said to have saved thousands of priests from the guillotine through her quick wit and acting ability. (Click the link–she’s fantastic.)

As for the others, I’m at a loss. There are obviously no mermaid Saints, no Saints who slept for 100 years, no Saints who lived with seven dwarves, and no ice-magic-working Saints (though St. Catherine of Sweden was at least a Nordic queen). For Ana and Elsa, you could try Sts. Perpetua and Felicity, since at least they come in a pair? But a very different pair. Sleeping Beauty could be Jairus’ daughter from Mark chapter 5.1 I bet there are some good medieval legends that could supply us with some alternatives, but for now we’ll just have to steer our girls away from Ariel (because she’s the worst) to better princesses and marvelous Saints.

So there you have it, friends What other suggestions would you make?

  1. This was my niece’s favorite Bible story because I would wrap her up in a sheet, pretend she was dead, then say, “Little girl, arise!” and hold one end of the sheet while she spun out. It’s not pink and blue fairies, but it was always good for a laugh. []
Posted in Truth | Tagged | 25 Comments

How Not To Be a Jerk Online in 6 Simple Steps

I'm with you, wide-eyed dog. I'm with you.

I’m with you, wide-eyed dog. I’m with you.

It is an ugly time to go online. Now, I hate conflict of any sort, but online conflict is the worst. Somehow because you’re not directly in front of a person, they seem to be able to ignore your humanity, and often their own. I hate this so much that last week I was about to submit a post to a website where I regularly contribute when I discovered that another author had written a post making the opposite point–on the same site. Rather than seem to be attacking a total stranger, I tabled my post, wrote in for an extension, and stayed up until 3am the next night to get it all done. Conflict successfully avoided!

The next day, I wrote a post decrying Donald Trump. Good job avoiding controversy and online drama, Meg.

Good job avoiding controversy and online drama, Meg.

In the aftermath, which hasn’t been quite as unpleasant as I expected, I’ve had the opportunity to watch people rage and condescend and talk over each other ad infinitum. I’ve been lurking in the comments sections on people’s Facebook posts, where I’ve watched people who actually know each other treat each other like garbage in the name of politicians who they themselves don’t even like. I’ve been called a dishonest crook (which is, by the way, a ridiculous insult and entirely off topic) for being a Democrat, which anyone with Google or any reading comprehension skills can see that I’m not.1

And this, friends, is from self-proclaimed Christians. This is from people I otherwise respect. These are comments directed not at strangers but at neighbors and family members and co-workers.

This profanes the name of Jesus.

I can understand where you're coming from if you, like me, feel this way about this election. But you're not a toddler.

I can understand where you’re coming from if you, like me, feel this way about this election. But you’re not a toddler.

It profanes his name quite literally at times. I saw a good priest called a “Catholic” (in quotation marks) because he suggested a third party candidate. One woman shared her experience of sexual assault and was told, “Any Bible believer who does not vote for the Republican candidate is a hypocrite,” to which the response, of course, was “Jesus was a liberal!”2

It’s appalling. I would think any person of good will would see that. But since many of us seem to have forgotten how to treat each other like human beings when we’re not looking each other in the eye, I thought it might be helpful to have some guidelines for discerning how to reply to people’s controversial opinions online.

1. Read. Please don’t respond to a post without reading the article and all the comments that precede yours.3 I can’t tell you how much unnecessary strife I’ve seen because people are making arguments that have clearly been settled by the linked article or because they’re responding to the quotation shared by the poster without reading the context. Before you comment, make sure you know what you’re responding to.

kinder2. Reread. Part of why arguments online are almost always fruitless and divisive is that people misread each other. There’s no tone or body language to help us interpret people’s words and so we often put the worst possible spin on things. Before you assume someone is being callous or dismissive or rude, reread their comment. Try it in different tones of voice and with different emphases. Is there any way of reading it that can be viewed as less offensive? Assume that was their intent and respond as though they were unclear, not uncharitable. My friend’s husband frequently reminds her: “Never attribute malice or contempt to what can be explained by ignorance or incompetence”–or by pain or confusion or any number of other motivations we can’t possibly know.

3. Respect. Remind yourself that this is a human being you’re talking to, a person desperately loved by God, a soul whom you hope to spend eternity with. This is not an ideology or a platform or a robot, this is a soul. And even if you know this person well, you don’t know everything about him. Don’t say things you don’t want repeated at your funeral. Don’t level accusations you aren’t certain about. If you wouldn’t say it to his face, don’t type it.

4. Rephrase. Don’t just write something angry or controversial and post it immediately. Stop and look it over again. Ask yourself if the language you use is unnecessarily combative. Can you make your point without calling her Killary or him an ass? Because nasty language doesn’t further dialogue. Are you speaking courteously? Do you show respect for the intelligence and goodwill of the people with whom you’re debating? Do you need those extra question marks??? Maybe you could add a friendly emoticon or a kind note like, “Thanks for your question!” or, “I really appreciate your response.” Consider how someone else might read your response and rephrase it to be as charitable as possible.4 I find it helpful to ask myself if I want this to be the last thing I ever say to this person. If I’d be ashamed to have spoken that way, it needs some tweaking.

think5. Reconsider. Are you adding anything to the conversation? Are you clarifying any points or just hurling accusations? Is the person you’re addressing willing to listen? Or are you just increasing the strife and division in the world? When I’ve got a tough comment to write or email to send, I generally write it in a draft, then leave it for a few hours. If it still seems like a reasonable response when things have settled, when I’m less frustrated and have prayed about it, I send it. If not, I figure that by this point nobody was expecting a response anyway. It’s also worth considering that some conversations do need to happen but should happen in a private message, not a public forum where people are being scandalized or contributing divisive commentary. If it’s sensitive, keep it private.

6. Remember:

  • This is not that important. With very rare exception, nobody’s salvation hangs in the balance; if it does, get the heck off the internet and have that conversation in person!
  • You don’t have to win. At a certain point, it might be best to remove yourself from the conversation.
  • Backing off doesn’t mean you’ve lost.5
  • It’s okay to change your mind.
  • The greatest victory a Christian can celebrate is sincere repentance for wrongdoing; now might be a good time to look back over your recent conversations and ask forgiveness.
  • There is nothing more important than prayer. Not argument, not research, not clever phrasing. Pray more than you type and you should be okay.

I’m certainly not the poster child for how to argue well online; my approach is usually to pen some scathing retort worthy of an Austenian heroine and then refuse to post it because I’m terrified of your reaction. But I think that by being deliberate and prayerful, treating our online interactions as human interactions, and assuming people’s intentions are good, we can fight for charity in this broken world of ours. Will you join me?

  1. Not a Republican either. []
  2. Both obviously untrue, at least in the way they meant the words. []
  3. I suppose if you’re commenting on a public figure’s post and it has hundreds of comments you don’t have to read them all. But really, what are you trying to accomplish in that case? Nobody else is reading them either. []
  4. Pro tip: sarcasm is generally a bad idea when you’re online and people’s hackles are already up. []
  5. I recently ended a comment this way: “And now, friend, I will excuse myself from this conversation. Thank you for your respectful tone. God bless you!” []
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Never Trump–Because Apparently It Doesn’t Go without Saying

I didn’t think I was going to have to say anything. Obviously his candidacy was a joke.

And then it wasn’t.

But nobody could possibly support him.

And then they did.

But the Republican Party would never choose him.

Until they did.

But people couldn’t possibly overlook his narcissism, racism, misogyny, and inability to speak coherently. They couldn’t possibly ignore the fact that he’s a terrible businessman. The only thing he’s good at he’s not even good at! They couldn’t look past the fact that he has neither experience nor knowledge nor, apparently, the ability to listen to advisers. And then this–no decent human being, presented with incontrovertible evidence of this creep’s arrogant disregard for the personhood of half the human race, his approval of sexual assault, and his inability to muster any semblance of remorse, nobody could make excuses for that.


molochI didn’t think I had to say anything. My kind of people know that this guy is horrendous. The people who read my blog also loathe everything he stands for. Maybe they’re willing to look the other way for the sake of Supreme Court justices, believing (naively, I feel) that this is the one area where an entirely unprincipled man will be faithful to his word. Give an unhinged narcissist the nuclear codes–after all, he might have a shot at chipping slowly away at Roe. Put Kim Jong Un, Putin, and Trump in charge at the same time–what could go wrong?

Nobody could think this was a good idea. Nobody could trust this man. If nothing else, nobody could possibly want to listen to him yell redundant, meaningless sentences desperately in need of a thesaurus for the next four years.

Somehow, this sorry excuse for a man is still in the running for the highest office in the land. His supporters say he’s running for president; listening to him, I expect he thinks he’s running for tyrant.

The wretchedness of Trump’s character is not only disqualifying, I am convinced that it is a danger to the nation and the world. –Rod Dreher

Sometimes it seems that everything this man says is morally abhorrent. Really–read this overview and ask yourself if a person with this kind of highlight reel could possibly be a good president.

punish-abortionDonald Trump is not pro-life. He’s not. He mocks the handicapped, suicidal veterans, and POWs. He thinks Planned Parenthood has done great things. He advocates war crimes. He’s not even anti-abortion. He’s so unfamiliar with the anti-abortion position that he actually suggested jail time for women who have had abortions. With his philandering and misogyny, it’s hard to see how one could not understand that men like Donald Trump are the reason abortion exists.

With Trump, all pro-lifers have are promises from a man who prides himself on breaking promises and whose behavior betrays the very thing pro-lifers fight for. –Rebecca Cusey

A friend of mine attempted to defend Trump by pointing to his daughter’s respect for him and saying that he must be a good father. I don’t care what she says. I don’t care how marvelous he was every single time he was with her. Owning strip clubs makes you a bad father. Being a serial adulterer makes you a bad father. Treating women like objects for your sexual gratification makes you a bad father. And it will make him a bad president.1

The Deseret News (owned by the LDS Church) came out in no uncertain terms against Trump, and not just because of his indecency:

Trump’s banter belies a willingness to use and discard other human beings at will. That characteristic is the essence of a despot.

Many Evangelicals had already denounced Donald before this most recent evidence of his complete unsuitability for the office of president. Very few Catholics I know had brought themselves to support him, and many of those are now withdrawing even such half-hearted support. Thank God even some Republican politicians are finding the courage to withdraw their ill-conceived endorsements. I pray that enough Americans follow suit.

Oh, Hillary is bad. I’m not saying Hillary isn’t bad. I’m not saying you should vote for her. I don’t think I could.2 But Trump is all the things Hillary is, plus mentally unstable and completely incapable of respecting anyone. He is the absolute worst person I could possibly imagine as president. Hillary is a known evil, four (or eight) more years of the same but worse. Trump is a maniac. How do you prepare for the rule of an unprincipled maniac?

But Clinton’s faults, deep as they are, are the faults of a normal politician. Trump’s are in another category. Having a bad, crazy man like Trump in the White House would be a disaster for the entire nation, and even the world. The further we go into this campaign, the harder it is to believe that the US faces equal danger from these two. –Rod Dreher

Character matters, particularly when the despicable character in question has shown evidence of absolutely no moral convictions.

What remains is this question: Can Donald Trump actually execute the basic duties of the presidency? Is there any way that his administration won’t be a flaming train wreck from the start? Is there any possibility that he’ll be levelheaded in a crisis — be it another 9/11 or financial meltdown, or any of the lesser-but-still-severe challenges that presidents reliably face? –Ross Douthat

I have been praying against Trump for months. I have hope now that the pressure on him will be so intense that he will withdraw his candidacy. If he doesn’t, I will continue to do what I can to speak out against him. I will pray for his conversion, for Clinton’s conversion, and for the conversion of our nation. And I will vote against him. It will likely be an uncounted absentee vote for a hopeless third party candidate–Evan McMullin seems as good a choice as any–but it will not be a vote for Donald Trump.3 You will vote how you like and I will love you regardless.

Lord have mercy.


I would like to keep the comments closed because people on the internet are mean and I am a coward, but I know that my regular readers are charitable and insightful. So while I don’t plan to reply to comments, I’ll leave them open until I have reason not to.

  1. Yes, I’ve heard of Bill Clinton. He’s not running. []
  2. I tried to once, in the Democratic primary in 2008. With Obama’s record on voting to deny medical help to babies born alive during abortions, I thought she was a lesser evil. But when it came down to it, I couldn’t bring myself to vote for Hillary. So I voted for John Edwards, who I knew had already suspended his candidacy. They say you can’t throw away your vote, but I’m pretty sure I did. []
  3. There’s nothing wrong with a “worthless” vote. []
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My Jesus Year (Death Wishes You Shouldn’t Worry About)

When I was 18 I was in the throes of intense vocational discernment (perhaps better described as grabbing Jesus by the throat and demanding that he tell me I didn’t have to be a nun). After months of talking to God only about myself–and ignoring any contribution he might try to make to my prayer time–I realized that I had a problem and decided to fast from discernment for a month. Only a month because I had already committed to spending that summer with the Missionaries of Charity and figured it would be a waste not to discern while I was literally living in a convent for an entire summer.

So I spent 30 days trying not to pray about my vocation. It was incredibly freeing, giving me time to love on God instead of just demanding that he act as a magic eight ball for me. The day before this fast was supposed to end was June 21st, the feast of St. Aloysius Gonzaga. Father began his homily with this line: “St. Aloysius Gonzaga died when he was 24 years old.”1 Suddenly it hit me: what if I’m going to die when I’m 24? What if I’m wasting all this time obsessing about a vocation that I don’t even have because I’m going to die young?

It’s not as morbid a thought as it sounds. In fact, if heaven is the goal of your life, it’s not morbid at all. And while I went on to discern and plan for a long life, there was a part of me that didn’t think it would happen. To the point that I was actually disappointed when I turned 25. I remember sitting in the car, driving back from a retreat, and sighing when the clock hit midnight. “Ah, well. Looks like I’m not getting off the hook that easy.” So I prepared to live.

"Hang on, Jesus, I just need to finish respectfully lambasting the Holy Father before you take me home."

“Hang on, Jesus, I just need to finish respectfully lambasting the Holy Father before you take me home.”

But not all the cool Saints died at 24. A bunch died at 33.2 And this year, I’m 33.

I spent last week with my marvelously inquisitive 5-year-old godson. All week we were talking about Saints, about martyrs who were killed because they were telling people about Jesus. As I was leaving, not to return for another year, he looked miserable. “Hugo, my love, I have to go. I have to go tell people about Jesus!”

Very seriously but without a trace of sorrow, he asked, “And will you be killed?”

I responded honestly, “Probably not. Probably I’m going to be just fine. But if I die, is that a sad ending?”

“No,” he said, with absolute conviction.

“No. You’re allowed to be sad, but it’s not really a sad ending because I’ll get to go be with Jesus.” He nodded solemnly, gravely agreeing with my assessment.

Of course, he doesn’t really understand death. But he gets it more than most of us do. I have a habit of flippantly mentioning my desire to be a martyr,3 to which most people respond, “That’s so depressing!”

But it’s not. Arrogant, yes—presuming that I’ll have the fortitude to withstand threats and torture and death. But it’s not depressing because the death of a Christian is not a tragedy except for those left behind. I remind my poor mother of this from time to time. For all I’m shockingly guarded by Providence, I do live a fairly reckless life and I think it’s good to have my bases covered. “Remember,” I say, “the goal of my life is to die well. If I die doing God’s will, that’s not tragic.” It’s the beginning of a marvelous adventure.4

For years, the passage of the Chronicles of Narnia that’s struck me the most powerfully has been the desperate longing of the mouse Reepicheep to make his way to Aslan’s country:

pauline-baynes-dawn-treader“My own plans are made. While I can, I sail east in the Dawn Treader. When she fails me, I paddle east in my coracle. When she sinks, I shall swim east with my four paws. And when I can swim no longer, if I have not reached Aslan’s country, or shot over the edge of the world into some vast cataract, I shall sink with my nose to the sunrise.”

On my best days, this is how I feel. I just want so badly to go home. This world is beautiful and you people are amazing and I’m so grateful for the work I’m able to do, but I miss my Father and I want to sit with my Love. I feel like I’m on an extended, arduous trip abroad, far from friends and family and everyone who loves me. And it’s wonderful and exotic here and I’m meeting all kinds of marvelous people, but I want to go home.

Except that I’m not actually ready yet. Emotionally, perhaps; but morally and spiritually I need major work. So he leaves me here to let me grow, much though I’d rather be a poor, weak Christian in my Father’s lap than a mature Christian far from him. But he loves watching me grow, so here I am.

I’ve spent the week since I turned 335 thinking about death. It’s a sign of how much I’m formed by this world that I feel the need to tell you again and again not to worry about me. I think about death the way I think about going on a cruise one day—it will be amazing and I’m not going to do a thing to hasten its advent.

Odds are good this isn’t the year I die. So I’ve been asking the Lord what else it means to be 33, to spend a year the age he was when he laid down his life for his loved ones. And it’s got me wondering if maybe the point of all this isn’t to prepare me for imminent death but to prepare me to be like Christ in all things. I ought to focus on all this every year, but maybe I can double down this year and see if it sticks once I get past the mild disappointment of turning 34.

What did Jesus do the year he was 33? He loved deeply. He listened to people with broken hearts. He spoke truth, whatever the cost. He went away to pray, even when it meant abandoning people who were certain that they needed him more than he needed the Father. He forgave those who loved themselves more than they loved him. He brought new life to the dead, both physically and spiritually. He sacrificed himself again and again in the days leading up to his one sacrifice for all. He allowed people to love him. He walked into hard places to do hard things he could easily have avoided. He laid down his life every day.

That’s what my Jesus year needs to be: learning a thousand times to die to myself and live for him.

A few years ago, my birthday fell on Sunday so I got different readings from the usual St. Matthew ones. The Epistle struck me: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain,” Paul said.6 Ever since, it’s been this verse I come back to on days when I long for heaven, either out of love of Christ or despair over the state of this world. It will be marvelous to go home, but until then, let me be Christ in this world.



  1. Turns out he was 23. I wonder if my life would have played out differently if he’d gotten that right. []
  2. Okay, my research is only turning up Catherine of Siena and Jesus, but statistics suggest that there have to be more than that. Why aren’t there websites that list Saints by age at the time of death? Come on, internet. []
  3. “I stay at strangers’ houses. If somebody tries to serial kill me, I’m going to yell, “I love Jesus!” while they do it and then I’ll be a martyr. Jackpot.” []
  4. If you’ll excuse me paraphrasing Robin Williams in Hook. []
  5. Happy octave of my birthday to me! []
  6. Philippians 1:21 []
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What Keeps Me Going: Doing His Work

My last post was a glimpse into how God speaks to me in prayer, even when I don’t notice. Even more often, I find he speaks through me, often also when I have no idea he’s doing anything particular. Twice this summer I was blown away by his power at work in me, so stunned by his goodness that I just couldn’t help but share.

The Right Place at the Right Time


Meh. I’ve seen worse.

I was at a super posh school in England. So posh you thought you were driving up to Pemberley when you approached the school. So I was a little nervous, because that kind of school isn’t always thrilled with the “Stop sinning, Jesus is all that matters” message I give. But I knew the Lord had sent me, so off I went to shout about Jesus.

The kids were pretty good, laughing in all the right places and generally attentive. I wasn’t expecting much in the way of conversation afterward, but I told them I’d be around if they wanted to chat.

As most of them filed out of the gym, eight or ten of the cool girls walked up to me.

“You were talking about, like, not drinking and not dating boys,” the leader said. “What did you mean by that?”

Interesting, because I’d said hardly anything about either. But okay. So I talked a little about drinking in moderation and dating.

“Don’t date boys, though, date men. Boys treat you like a thing, men treat you like a person. But you’re too young to date men, so I’d say it’s best not to date at all right now. When you get out of high school and start dating, remember this: you’re looking for a man who’s going to love you like Jesus does, who’s going to be crucified for you.” On and on, with the usual “you’re so beautiful” and “God loves you so much.”

Until one of them started crying. “I wish you’d come a few years ago.”

And I pulled her into a hug and kept telling her how God loves her and she doesn’t deserve to be treated badly and God wants to forgive her. And girl after girl started to cry.

“Girls, if I had a priest you were never going to see again, would any of you want to go to confession?”

The leader of the pack’s hand shot into the air and I motioned to my friend, whose husband is a Catholic priest. “Will you ask Father if he can hear confessions?”

Then I stood for an hour in the hallway while most of these girls went in to confession with an incredibly compassionate priest. (If you’re a woman concerned with how a priest will handle your very painful confession, a married hospital chaplain is a good bet.) Each one came out crying and I hugged her, telling her how proud I was, reminding her that she was brand new, that she never had to confess those sins again.

img_20160826_164438Some took a little more persuading than others. One girl in particular sat silently crying for nearly an hour, shaking her head every time I suggested that she go to confession. Finally, when there was only one girl left with her, she looked at me solemnly and asked, “Do you think I should go?”

“Honey, we just ripped the scabs off some really deep wounds. You can go in and get healing or you can just keep bleeding and hurting. I promise you’ll feel better.” Off she went.

I’ve never seen anything like it, and I’ve given some variation of that talk at least a hundred times. It was so obviously the Holy Spirit who had spoken to them, the Holy Spirit who had sent them to talk to me, the Holy Spirit who had put a girl who believed in confession in the alpha position in the group. It was the Holy Spirit who’d sent that priest with me, the Holy Spirit who’d given us a believing teacher who was happy to excuse the girls from missed classes. I was stunned and thrilled and absolutely overwhelmed by God whose mercy is powerfully at work even when I’ve written people off.

Who knows how long-lasting that moment of conversion will be? But on that June day, those girls knew that they were loved. Whatever happens next, I pray that the devil doesn’t rob them of that feeling of love and mercy. If they can look back and remember that, God will continue to do amazing things.

God Speaks When I Write, Too

I didn’t start this blog because I wanted to be a blogger or a writer. I didn’t start it because I thought I could make any difference with what I write. I don’t really consider myself a writer.1 I only really write so that people will hear about me and invite me to come speak. That’s always felt more like my real mission. And sometimes (the last several months?) I don’t manage to write anything at all because it doesn’t seem like the best use of my time when there are talks to give and people to counsel.

God’s blessed me with a lot of positive feedback about my blog from people who’ve really encountered him through the words he gives me. And often they approach me and tell me the ways he’s used my blog to speak to them. But this one was particularly striking.

“Your blog made me Catholic,” she said.

“Aw, praise God! Thanks so much!” I assumed she meant she’d been looking for truth, had been searching for explanations on the Eucharist or Church authority or something, and had found my apologetics articles. It’s very exciting to have been a part of that process, but I’m not saying anything every other apologist isn’t saying. And if you were searching, the Lord was going to lead you to truth eventually.

“I was raised Catholic but had become an evangelical years before. I was actually an evangelical missionary. I had two degrees from evangelical schools and a friend of mine who’s an Anglican priest shared your Advice to Priests.”

“Oh, and you got sucked down the rabbit hole?”

“Nope, I just read that one. And suddenly I realized how much I was missing. I saw this beauty and power and love and I wanted to come home.”

“Wait, you only read my advice to priests? And that did it?”

Just call me Catherine of Siena.

Just call me Catherine of Siena.

“I just knew I needed the Eucharist and confession and all of it. So I went to confession and went back to Mass. And the next week I told my boss that I’d gone to a Catholic church. ‘To evangelize them?’ she asked. ‘No, to worship.’ And I was fired.”

I was stunned. Here was this piece that wasn’t for her. It wasn’t for lay people and it wasn’t for Protestants. But God works where he wills, and this was, somehow, what she needed not only to reconsider the faith of her childhood but to embrace it even at the cost of her livelihood.2 This was clearly God’s work, not mine.


I hope it doesn’t come across as bragging, this pair of praise reports, because none of it had anything to do with me. Each of these occasions came as a total surprise to me, as I trudged through my ordinary work. There are times when I know my talk was spot on or a piece I wrote was really powerful, and I can praise God when results come from those things, but they’re God’s work through my gifts. These two are God’s work despite my misgivings or distraction or whatever. And that’s an incredibly humbling thing, both to see what he can do in spite of my best efforts and to wonder what he could do if I were better at getting out of the way.

It does get me wondering: how many people will we meet in eternity who owe their salvation to something we did, never knowing it would impact anyone? Not even something so big as a talk or a blog post, just a smile at the sign of peace or a comment on a Facebook post. Every thing we do ripples into eternity, for good or for ill. May God use us well and may we surrender completely to him.


  1. Not fishing for compliments here. I know I do it pretty well, it’s just not really my thing. []
  2. She got another job eventually and is doing fine, though please say a prayer for her mother who’s dying. []
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What Keeps Me Going: Hearing His Voice

I live an incredible life. I’m shockingly blessed, getting to visit amazing places and encounter marvelous people. I’m privileged to walk with people as they come back to the Lord or encounter him in a personal way for the first time. Believe me, I’m grateful for my life.

But it’s not always easy. For every exotic location, there’s a 12-hour drive. For every amazing meal, there’s a lunch of cheez-its.1 For every new friendship, there’s an hour of longing for consistent community. And with the online detractors and uninterested audiences and awkward hosts, it can be really tough to keep going.

The Lord knows that I’m weak, though, so he keeps filling my heart by showing me how he’s working in me, often despite my best efforts. Here’s a glimpse into two of these amazing moments.

Hearing His Voice

I was at an evangelization conference in London, surrounded by people who know the Lord intimately. They kept talking about Jesus telling them very specific things when evangelizing people. “God told me someone in the crowd was suffering from divorce,” “the Lord sent me to talk to an old man,” that kind of stuff. And I kept listening to them and getting more and more discouraged. These people are straight out of the book of Acts, hearing God send them to specific people with specific words. Meanwhile, I’m just sowing seed on any soil I can reach. Maybe I’m doing this wrong. Maybe I don’t really know him the way I think I know him.

I sure didn't look mopey, but what can I say? I'm a born performer.

I sure didn’t look mopey, but what can I say? I’m a born performer.

So I was all mopey about how everybody else is a better pray-er than me, and suddenly it was time to go give a talk. I wasn’t feeling it, but the show must go on. I knew, though, that I needed someone to pray over me–now. So I started walking through Leicester Square looking for somebody to ask. Now, I’ve maybe felt a need to be prayed over four or five times in the last four years. But I was desperate for it, and suddenly I saw a guy I’d met a few nights before. I knew nothing about him beyond his name, but I walked straight up to him and asked him. “Will you pray over me?”

Now, this was a very charismatic conference, packed with people for whom this wouldn’t be an odd request. So when he looked startled and just said, “No,” I wasn’t quite sure how to respond. “I’m sorry,” he said, “I’ll pray for you. But I can’t pray over you!” Okay. So I found some nuns, got prayed over, and went on about my day.

I didn’t think anything of it until he came and found me later.

“I’m really sorry about earlier.”

“No worries, I get it. It was a random request.”

“Well no, it’s just that…when I heard you speak the other day,” (in a talk that wasn’t about prayer at all) “I just knew that I needed to be better about praying with and over people. But I was so uncomfortable with the idea that I kept trying to push it back. This morning, I couldn’t get it out of my head that this is what God is asking me to do. And then you walk up out of nowhere and straight up ask me to do it? It was too much. But now I know: I have to have the courage to pray over people. Thank you.”

Turns out you can hear and follow God’s prompting without even knowing it. I wonder how often God’s doing amazing things like that–through all of us–and we don’t notice.

When God Speaks in Prayer

I was visiting a town I’ve been to a few times before. One of the ladies there is a particular favorite of mine. I don’t know her terribly well but we’ve spent a good 10 hours in conversation over the last few years, so she’s definitely no stranger.

The day I got to town, I was in prayer and I felt that I needed to pray for her and the babies she’s lost. It was a weird thought, since she’s never told me such a thing, but I did. I meant to bring it up when I saw her the next day, but it seemed out of place, so I let it go. Probably just a random thought.

2016-07-31-19-59-52A few days later we were visiting and out of nowhere she mentioned these babies–lost nearly 20 years ago. So we began talking about them and she started to cry and said she’s never told her friends and never cried about them before. She felt so much guilt over not having mourned them properly, about even feeling relieved when she lost them, what with the insanity of her life at the time, and I could see this incredible pain in her eyes.

And there I was, able to tell her that the Lord had asked me to pray for them and for her. That he’d ordained this conversation, called her to open up and called me to love her through this. I told her that it was okay that she had been in survival mode and that during this Year of Mercy God wants to finally let her grieve and be healed. And we talked about how they’re praying for her and they forgive her for the feelings she couldn’t control. She walked away ready to name her babies and ask their intercession and experience mercy and healing.

This is the kind of conversation I’m blessed to have pretty frequently. But the fact that the Lord had put it on my heart to pray for these children before I even knew they existed just made it so powerful. It was such an affirmation that God speaks in prayer, even when you don’t realize it’s him.


And that’s why I keep going. Because I don’t have to know what he’s doing to know he’s working. I don’t have to sense that he’s speaking for him to speak. I don’t even need constant evidence that I’m in his will or that it’s not all in vain. But every once in a while it sure does help.


  1. Okay, the cheez-it lunches far outnumber the amazing meals. It keeps me svelte. []
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Being Our Lady of Sorrows

Simon helps Jesus carry his Cross

Simon helps Jesus carry his Cross

I love St. Simon of Cyrene. I love that he was plucked out of nowhere, forced into a task he despised, and found eternity in the process. I love that he kept Jesus company on the road to Calvary. I love the image of walking beside my friends as they suffer and spelling them for a bit.

I love St. Veronica. I love that she stepped out of the crowd to wipe the blood and sweat from Jesus’ eyes. I love the risk she took to offer an act of human kindness in a sea of inhumanity. I love the image of serving my friends as they suffer, bringing some peace and beauty into their painful lives.

I love being Simon. I love being Veronica.

But lately I’m neither. Lately I’m Mary.

Normally, identifying with the Blessed Mother is a good thing, a sign that you’re doing something right. You’re trusting God or pointing people to him or interceding. But when the people you love are being tortured, being Mary just means you’re standing there doing nothing.

I don’t want to do nothing. I want to fix it. I want to love them out of their pain or take it over for them. I at least want to do something, say something to make it better, even just a little, even just wiping the sweat out of their eyes.

Veronica wipes the face of Jesus

Veronica wipes the face of Jesus

But I’m not Simon. I don’t get to carry their crosses with them or for them. And I’m not Veronica. I don’t get to give them a moment’s peace. I’m Mary. I only get to be there with them, loving them in utter futility as a sword pierces my heart.

I hate being Our Lady of Sorrows. I hate standing there doing nothing, watching the people I love suffer. I hate waiting for a diagnosis, hearing about infidelity, watching depression. I hate going to prayer and begging, begging, begging to take their crosses from them and being told no. I hate being useless in the face of catastrophic pain.

And yet.

And yet, with all that he could have asked of his Mother in that moment of his greatest need, this is what he asked: just be with me. Just stand there and watch me suffer. Just love me in my pain.

And somehow, that nothing that she did was everything that he needed. Somehow, it bore fruit down through the ages for every one of us. Somehow, it is in her silent suffering with that Mary fulfills God’s plan for her. I’m sure she also wanted to be Simon or Veronica or Peter whipping out a sword or anyone doing anything. But she knew that being there and “useless” was good and right and beautiful.


Weinende (weeping) Madonna by Hermann von Kaulbach

Our Lady wasn’t Our Lady of Sorrows only on Good Friday. She suffered the day after the Annunciation and when Simeon told her the sword would pierce her and when they fled into Egypt and when Jesus was lost and when he left home and when he foretold his death and when she stood at his tomb on Holy Saturday and a thousand other times in between. Because her suffering with him, somehow, accomplished something.

I can’t say I get it. I don’t know what it does to suffer with someone, especially when that person can’t feel you there. But I know that it works for good because God gave that job to his Mother. The most powerful woman in history was left powerless because her helpless inaction was necessary and good and powerful. I don’t have to know how. It’s enough to know that when I am Our Lady of Sorrows, standing uselessly by as the ones I love suffer unimaginable pain, I am not useless. It is good to love them, even when that love seems impotent. It is good to suffer with.

If you are where I am right now, watching helplessly as those you love suffer, know this: it is not to no effect. You are not alone. Our Lady of Sorrows stands uselessly with you, holding you up as you weep and rage and faint from exhaustion. And somehow none of it is useless. Somehow, it is just what you need, just what your beloved needs, just what the world needs. And sometimes that’s enough.


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Candles in the Rain: On Community

A few months ago, in the midst of my whirlwind pilgrimage around France, I had the opportunity to visit Lourdes for the first time. We arrived in the early evening, settled into our hotel, and sat down for dinner. As soon as the dishes were cleared away, we were off again, headed to the main square for a candlelit procession. It had been raining off and on all day but my phone wouldn’t connect to the hotel’s wifi to tell me the forecast and the patch of sky I could see from the door was blue, so I decided to chance it, heading down to the outdoor ceremony with only a denim jacket to protect me from the elements.

Wrong choice.

I’m not usually one for extra ceremony in the best of circumstances, preferring silent time to pray as I like over litanies and processions, so I wasn’t exactly chomping at the bit for this rosary parade. But I’m always ready to try to have the full experience (and I wanted to set a good example to the young people) so I bought my 50-cent candle with its very flammable paper bobeche1 and off I went.

The procession started out as expected, with a chanted Latin credo I only knew one word in twenty of2 and hundreds of people walking slowly around the square behind a large statue of the Blessed Mother. Not long into the second decade (led in various different languages) it started to rain. I took a deep breath, offered it up, and kept going, shielding the flame on my taper candle more carefully. The rain got heavier, and my candle was out. So I lit it again off a friend. And once more off a stranger. I shared the light with various people around me, all the while wishing I’d brought my umbrella.

After 3 or 4 times relighting my candle, I gave up. If I’d been there alone, I would long since have gone back to the hotel, but I wasn’t going to leave my friends, so on I trudged, sopping paper dangling from my dripping candle, rain running down my face.

IMG_3902Eventually, someone with an extra umbrella offered it to me, as people around us did for any number of strangers. I invited a friend to share my umbrella, and we kept walking, finally arriving at the front of the square to finish the rosary in lashing rain. The pilgrims around me were cold and bedraggled, each holding an unlit candle.

Then out came the sun, as though she hadn’t abandoned us for nearly the whole ceremony. Tentatively we put away our umbrellas, but the sky promised to remain closed and the whole party seemed to breathe a sigh of relief as we prepared to dry out.

As soon as my umbrella was down, Jared, for whom I’d been holding the umbrella, was gone. I was ticked, thinking only (of course) of myself, of the sacrifices I’d made to hold the umbrella for him and he didn’t even have the courtesy to stand by me when he didn’t need me any more.3

And suddenly he was back, holding out a lit candle to relight mine.

I’d forgotten about candles. It had been impossible to keep mine lit, but evidently somebody, somewhere had managed it. And Jared had remembered why we were there when I’d forgotten anything but self-pity. He handed on the flame and I was off, lighting candles for friends and strangers.

Some sputtered out immediately. “Don’t worry about it,” one young woman said after the third failed attempt. “My wick’s too wet.”

“Then we’ll dry it out,” I said, holding my candle to hers for 2 or 3 minutes until the flame finally burned clean and strong.

“My wick broke off,” another friend said. “It can’t light. But it’s fine.”

“It’s not fine. I’ll melt the wax down until you have a wick again.” Another few minutes, holding my flame to her useless wax stick until it became a candle again.

I held my hand to block the wind for some and fished candles out of backpacks. On and on, the flame spreading, until once again we were a candlelit crowd. And the whole time, all I could think was what a parable it all was.

We’re given this light of faith at baptism, and maybe you cherish it. Maybe you protect it, turning to the community to rekindle it when the difficulties of the world extinguish it.

But it gets too hard. Again and again you light the candle. Again and again the flame is snuffed out until you can’t see anyone around you with a flame and it just seems futile. So you put away the candle and keep trudging through the dim light. Eventually you forget that there ever was a candle and you get used to the darkness.

Until someone walks up beside you and offers you a light. You remember again what this is about. Maybe you’re like me, forcing that flame on everyone around you. But maybe you’re too discouraged. “Don’t worry about it, it won’t work.”

Fortunately, you’ve got a friend who won’t settle for that. “You can’t carry this flame right now, but I can carry it for you. I can stand with you and love you and hold my faith up until God burns away the brokenness and rekindles the light of faith in you.”

This is why we need Christian community. Every one of us4 needs people to remind us of the faith that once drove us. We need to people to fight our battles for us, people to stand with us to protect our faith, and people who we can encourage and support.


I tell you what, I felt like a hero that evening. I was saving the day left, right, and center with that flame. But I never would have had it if Jared hadn’t remembered what I’d forgotten. I’m blessed to spend a lot of my life lighting people’s candles, but it’s only possible because of the community that supports me, praying for me, holding an umbrella, offering me a light.

We need each other, you and I. We need friends and strangers to keep these flames lit. We need real community, not just handshakes before Mass starts. We need to know each other and love each other if we’re going to hold each other up.

I hope you’ve got people walking with you, helping you keep your candle lit. If you don’t, don’t settle for that. God wants you to live in community and community is possible. So pray for it and then go out and find it. Start a Bible study, join the Altar guild, meet your evangelical neighbors.

Community might not look like a whole bunch of people the same age, race, and marital status talking about things they already agree on—all the better! Get coffee with the little old ladies who pray the rosary every day before Mass. Offer to babysit for that mom your daughter’s age. Invite Father over for dinner. Serve the Church. Because, with rare exception, real Christian community doesn’t just happen. It’s sought and built and fought for. But it’s worth it.

  1. Apparently that’s the word for the cup thing that they put around candles at church to keep the wax from going everywhere. Who knew? []
  2. Don’t worry, I sang the few passages I knew triumphantly. Et ascendit in caelo!! []
  3. I get double cranky when I’m cold and wet. []
  4. Unless God has called you to be a hermit, which he almost certainly hasn’t. []
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Coaching Olympians (On Giving Advice You Have no Business Giving)

I’m amazed by Olympians. Their talent, focus, dedication, faith, and humanity—they’re incredible. But in many ways, I’m more amazed by their coaches. 65 years old and you’re telling the world’s greatest athletes what to do? That takes guts.

Take gymnastics. I mean, obviously Marta Karolyi is a legend. And I’m sure Simone Biles’s coach is brilliant. But I know for sure and for certain that they can’t do the things she does—never could. And yet she listens to them.

Watching Simone’s coaches got me thinking about my pathetic attempt to teach my nephew how to do a cartwheel. Now, I haven’t been able to do a cartwheel for years. I thought I could until about a decade ago, when I showed some of my students and was not-so-gently disabused of that notion. And now it’s worse. I tried to show John Paul what to do (with some caveats that his legs, unlike mine, should be straight) and ended up landing on my butt.

I can’t do a cartwheel. That doesn’t keep me from telling him how to.

John Paul is so satisfied with his cartwheel that he asked me to Instagram it. Now THAT’S confidence! #tc2crew

A video posted by Rosie Hill (@rosiehill425) on

It’s like this in a lot of areas in my life. People ask my advice on marriage, parenting, prayer, humility, evangelization, you name it. I’m no expert in any of those areas. When it comes to marriage and humility, I have no personal experience at all. And yet, I’ve always got advice.

I’m sure this is an obnoxious trait. But many of us have just the opposite problem: we refuse to advise our friends, even when asked, because we’re not experts. We watch people flounder, unwilling to throw them a line, because we don’t want to presume.

It seems the height of arrogance, giving someone advice on something you can’t yourself do. And yet, as every coach at the Olympics shows us, it isn’t, necessarily. Because wisdom comes from more than just personal experience. If you’re one who’s hesitant to put your oar in, read on for a little encouragement. If you refuse to listen to anyone who hasn’t been through exactly what you’re going through, you might also find this helpful.(If you’re like me and have oars out in every direction, might be best to close this window and move on.)

No, I can’t do a cartwheel, but I can come close.

I may never have done a cartwheel, but I can tell you a few things. I can tell you that you should lead with your dominant hand and foot. I can tell you to keep your legs straight. I can tell you not to land on your butt.

Kinda start like this but without the gun. Right?

Kinda start like this but without the gun. Right?

And even though my cartwheel isn’t good, I can tell you some of the things I’ve corrected to make it better. It’s the same with prayer. I’m terribly distracted at prayer. If you’re looking for advice from a mystic, keep looking. But my prayer is less pathetic than it used to be. So I can give you advice on posture and timing and what to focus on. I can tell you silence is more important than words, not because I usually manage to be silent but because I’ve had moments where I have.

When you give advice from your limited experience, acknowledge that it’s probably flawed. But also own the fact that you might have some pretty worthwhile things to say. Basic, perhaps, but helpful nonetheless.

No, I can’t do a cartwheel, but I’ve watched lots of other people.

I may not be able to do it myself, but I know that if you bend your arms, you’ll end up propped up on your head. I know that putting your legs together turns it into a roundoff. From watching other people do it right (and wrong), I have a sense of cartwheels.


Not the right time to give advice.

I’ve never been married, but I’ve been invited into lots and lots of homes and talked with lots and lots of married people. I’m sure you’re much the same way. You don’t have to have dated an abusive person to know when someone should get out. You don’t have to be married to an introvert to know that introverts need more space. Having loved people who’ve gone through these experiences can give you all kinds of insight.

In fact, sometimes people who have no personal experience are better equipped to give advice. I hear people say all the time that priests should be married because you can’t give marriage advice unless you’ve lived it. I’m sure that helps in some ways, but it also makes it much harder not to project your marriage’s issues onto every other.

Priests can stand outside their own experience and give you wisdom gleaned from walking with a hundred different couples. Just like you don’t necessarily need to be a recovering addict to counsel addicts, you don’t necessarily need to have lived something to understand someone else’s struggle.

No, I can’t do a cartwheel, but I’ve read some books.

Are there books about cartwheels? Probably.

I do like books.

I do like books.

But there are definitely books about prayer and relationships and starting your own business. It’s okay to share thoughts from what you’ve read, to quote a great Saint, or to lend out a copy of a favorite book.

Is it as helpful as sharing your life experience? Maybe not. But then again, maybe it is. Because your life experience is often based on one personality type interacting in one situation. But the words of an expert or the reflections of a Saint are usually filled with wisdom that ordinary people like us haven’t yet managed to amass.

No, I can’t do a cartwheel; let’s ask someone who can.

One perk of not being Simone Biles’s coach is that you actually have access to people who can do what you’re trying to coach. Maybe I can’t do a cartwheel, but I can call in just about any 12-year-old on the planet and ask their help.

You can pass your friends off to someone who knows better, sure. That’s really helpful. But you can also introduce them to Saints who had the same struggles. You can give them new intercessors and also new models of living. It’s all well and good for me to encourage an alcoholic to stay sober, but getting to know Matt Talbot is going to be a totally different experience for them. He suffered as they suffer and, by the grace of God, triumphed.

No, I can’t do a cartwheel. Try somebody else.

Sometimes, you just have to acknowledge your limitations. This is also part of being a good friend. Sometimes you just have to listen and love and weep and pray and keep your mouth shut. It’s awfully frustrating just to say, “Yeah. I know. That’s so hard. Oh, sweetie,” again and again, but sometimes that’s your job, either because you have no advice to give or because you can’t handle being the one who gives it.

Maybe send people to these two. They seem like they know a lot about life.

Maybe send people to these two. They seem like they know a lot about life.

There are Olympians who have the same coach for 15 years. Others move on to new coaches and that’s okay, too. It takes great humility for the coach of their childhood to let somebody else lead them to glory, but the great ones have it in them to move away and leave others in the limelight. Before you speak, pray: has God given you wisdom for this situation? Or is it time to step back? Sometimes the best you can do is acknowledge your inadequacy and pray that the right person comes along to speak truth.


Now I don’t mean to say, of course, that novices are experts or that couch potatoes should be Olympic coaches. I just think that we ought to consider that perhaps it’s worth listening to the stay-at-home mom telling you how to manage your employees, the scrawny guy with tips on weight lifting, and the animal expert who’s never owned a pet. Maybe they’ve got unexpected people skills, PhDs in kinesiology, or dear friends who are dog trainers. And if you’re one of the above, maybe it’s time to accept that you might have something worthwhile to say. Often it’s harder to speak than it is to remain silent, but it’s possible that God made you to shine from the sidelines. It’s certainly something to pray on.

And now, let the Olympics of listening graciously to unsolicited advice begin!

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3 Ways to Evangelize like an Olympian

I’m obsessed with the Olympics. 14 of my last 15 posts on my personal Facebook page have been about the Olympics. I’m currently camped out at my friend’s house in eastern Montana while she’s away on vacation, mostly so I can watch the Olympics undisturbed for 4 days.1 I’ve been looking into Olympic podcasts so I can listen to the tearjerking stories while I drive. With the refugee team and Simone Manuel blazing a trail and Simone Biles dominating like nobody before, it’s no wonder I’m hooked.

Michelle CarterBut there’s more to it than just national pride and feel-good moments. Again and again, as I sit on my butt eating popcorn for dinner, I watch these incredible athletes take the 30 seconds they’ll ever have on camera and use them to praise the Lord. Take Michelle Carter, gold medalist in shot put. Can you name one shot-putter ever? Can you even name Michelle Carter, the day after she won? This woman has this moment and only this moment, and she pointed to Jesus.

JohnsonDavid Boudia and Steele Johnson turn every interview into a proclamation of the Gospel. Simone Manuel gives a new dream to every little Black girl in America and gives glory to God. Every Brazilian athlete seems to be crossing himself. And night after night the name of Jesus Christ is spoken by anchors as we see his image above Rio de Janeiro. These, it seems, are God’s Olympics.

I’m not surprised to see how many athletes love the Lord–he’s rather marvelous, after all. What’s impressive to me is that they’ve clearly planned their remarks, to some degree, and their top priority is to speak the name of Jesus. This doesn’t happen by accident–it happens because lovers of God plan ahead and are intentional about giving God glory.

Simone ManuelListen to the way some of them are talking–it’s awkward. These aren’t people who just happen to be comfortable talking about God; they’ve made a deliberate choice, planned their witness, and carried it out, unrelated as it may be to the question they’re supposed to be answering. They’re not natural-born evangelists. They’re not all clever or eloquent or well-equipped to witness to the Lord, they’re just intentional.

So what? So you can be, too. One of the greatest obstacles I find Catholics face when trying to evangelize is that they have no idea how to start. They’re not necessarily afraid of talking about Jesus; perhaps they are and they’re just ready to fight through the fear. But however willing they are, they just have no idea where to start.

“Did you see the preview for the new Star Wars movie?”



There are times when you really ought to sit somebody you love down to have a serious conversation about God and love and sin and mercy. But those aren’t daily occurrences. More often, it’s the little things, the quick asides or the personal stories or the mention of Mass, that gives someone who’s questioning an opportunity to ask.

But we’re not trained to recognize these opportunities, so they slide by and we spend hours and hours with people without once mentioning the Person we love most. So what can we do about it? Mimic the Olympians and be prepared. Here are a few ways to do that:

1. Change your language.

A simple first step is just to add your love of God into your constant conversation. When something good happens, respond, “Praise God!” instead of “Sweet!” When someone comments that something’s gone well for you, instead of saying, “I guess I’m lucky,” try, “God takes really good care of me.” When there’s yet another tragedy, go with, “God, help us,” or, “Lord, have mercy,” instead of profanity. When congratulated, “God is very good.” Little things like that build up into a culture of mentioning Jesus and make it clear that you’re a person of faith.

2. Prepare for specific questions.

When I meet new people, I’m ready. They’re going to ask, “Where are you from?” I’m going to answer, “Well, I’m originally from Washington, D.C. but now I’m a missionary so I live out of my car.” Ball’s in your court, friend. Want to talk about Jesus?

You probably don’t have such an obvious opening as that (unless you work for the Church or are studying theology or something). Most of the time people ask you ordinary questions and you give ordinary answers. But could you give deeper answers?

Option A:
“So, what do you do?”
“Oh, I’m a lawyer.”
Option B:
“So, what do you do?”
“Law’s my day job. But my heart’s in youth ministry/street evangelization/marriage prep retreats.”

Option A:
“How’d you guys end up in Tennessee?”
“I got a job at the college down the road and after I moved on from that job we ended up staying.”
Option B:
“How’d you guys end up in Tennessee?”
“I got a job at the college down the road. But when it was time to move on from that job, the Lord just made it really clear that he wanted us here.”

Option A:
“Got any travel plans this summer?”
“I’m not really sure yet. We’re thinking about….”
Option B:
“Got any travel plans this summer?”
“I’ve been praying about that. I’d really like to go visit this church in Wisconsin where they say the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared. Have you heard about it?” (Note: I didn’t say pilgrimage or shrine or apparition–don’t use insider lingo!)

This doesn’t mean you launch into a script and ignore the person you’re talking to. It just means that you consider in advance what everyday conversations are opportunities for you to share about what God has done in your life.

3. Don’t censor yourself.

Sometimes the easiest way to witness to the Gospel is just being real with the people around us. But we don’t want to make them uncomfortable, so we censor the Jesus part of our lives to avoid making a scene. But think about it: if somebody loves you, they want to hear about the important stuff in your life, even if they’re not interested in those things.

Think about it this way: this year, Leicester City Football Club beat impossible odds (5,000 to 1) to become Premier League Champions (basically win the Superbowl after going 0-8). If you’re a Leicester fan and you have a buddy who hates soccer/football, you’re not just going to pretend nothing happened. You’re not going to go on for 2 hours, but you’ll mention it, talk about it for a few minutes, and then respect his lack of interest by moving on. And if he’s any kind of a friend, he’ll be glad to hear you talk about something that excites you so much.

The love of God is more incredible than any athletic Cinderella story, more life-changing, more lasting. And yet we censor it out of our conversations. Maybe one step in evangelizing like an Olympian is just not to leave it out. When someone asks about your weekend, mention that you went to confession. Share one thing you heard in the homily. Talk about the conference you went to.

If you’re prepared for this, it can be more than just a throwaway line. When you encounter God in a powerful way, figure out a two sentence way to share it–and the love of God that inspired it.

“I went to confession on Saturday. It’s just amazing to know that God loves me enough to forgive me no matter what. Then I went to a concert and….”

“My trip abroad? It was amazing! There was this one little town where we saw the incorrupt body of a Saint. 150 years and it hasn’t decayed at all! And she was just some nobody but God even loves nobodies.”

“My favorite artist is Jimmy Needham. He’s got this great soulful feel to him and his lyrics just wreck me, they’re so full of the love of God.”

Now all of those could be things you say and then give your friend an opportunity to question or respond. Or you can gauge their comfort level and change the subject yourself. But don’t do them the disservice of ignoring the most important things in your life; that’s not friendship.

My approach to evangelization (believe it or not) tends to be less beat-down-the-door and more open-the-door-a-crack-and-step-back. All I’m trying to do is start a conversation. If you don’t want to have that conversation, cool, let’s talk about The Office. But I think most of us let countless opportunities slide past because we aren’t prepared.

If there’s one thing I learn from the Olympics, it’s that I’m a lazy slob who thinks she deserves a round of applause for standing up. But this year, I’m learning something else: all it takes to be a mouthpiece for the Spirit is a lot of openness and a little intentionality. So I’m going to challenge you all:

  1. Come up with one phrase to incorporate into your daily conversation that opens things up a little more to the Lord.
  2. Think of 2 everyday questions that you can answer by talking (even just a little) about Jesus.
  3. Each weekend, take a look back at the past week to see 3 areas where God was working. Figure out how (if the situation is right) you can briefly describe these experiences in a way that shares God’s love for people.
  4. Evangelize like an Olympian!!

Any other tips for simple ways to share the name of Jesus? Got other examples of questions and answers that can be opportunities for evangelization? Please share in the comments!

  1. Side note: quickest way to make me love you? Invite me to stay at your house while you’re gone, giving me my first vacation in 2 years. I’ll even water your plants! []
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