Category Archives: All Blogs

All I Want For Christmas Is You
by Joe Sutherland

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It’s December, the most bitter-sweet time of the year! December means colder weather and fun-tacky sweaters, final exams and Christmas break, the end of the year and the start of a new one! This time of year, I always find myself reflecting on all that I’ve done, experienced, accomplished, and missed out on.

At the last RiseUp event (Shout out to you if you were there!) our speaker Sarah Swafford dropped some hard knowledge and truth about dating and relationships for our generation. It was hilarious to hear her explain the dating thought process from both a girl’s and a boy’s perspective. One of my favorite ideas that Sarah shared with us was the “Altar Switch.” The idea that when it comes time to get married, to your perfect Bride or Groom, you process up the church aisle to the altar and hit the magic “Altar Switch.” POOF! You’re suddenly exactly the man or woman you have always wanted to be for your Bride or Groom. You’re the best version of yourself, you’re holy, and in good shape, and you’re selfless, and you don’t struggle with sin or lust or addiction, and you can play 17 different musical instruments and speak 3 and half languages.

I have definitely pictured the kind of man (that’s right, MAN, not boy) that I want to be for my bride. It is a good thing to know and envision who you want to be, but that alone isn’t good enough – because there is no Altar Switch! Instead we must “strive”,to use Sarah’s words, to be the person we hope to be. Not just for our future husband or wife (if that is your vocation), but for yourself, for God, for your family and those around you.

During this Advent season (the period of preparing and waiting for Christmas and Christ’s birth), we often talk about “preparing the way for the Lord.”
I think that one of the best ways that we can prepare the way to celebrate the birth of Jesus is by preparing ourselves! Jesus only wants one thing for His birthday and for Christmas (lucky us it’s the same day), he wants you! He longs for all of us, each individually, to be in a deeper relationship with Him. What if you were to be the best you for Him?

Picture an advent calendar – one of the cute wall hangings with little squares that you open everyday. Some families have a small gift that comes with each little day on the advent calendar. Imagine if you were to make a small gift of yourself to God everyday – like an advent calendar – by bettering yourself…by striving to be the best you that you can be…
I think that come Christmas, you will have successfully prepared the way for our Lord and Savior.

Prepare Your Heart
by Liz McGillan

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Entering Advent I wanted to be able to focus more this season, to really set this time as a time of preparation for the Christ child. While there are a variety of ways that one could prepare, I took time in prayer to find what was right for me this season.

I was reminded of an awesome Pope Francis story. In a book of questions asked by children from all over the world, the Pope was asked, “What was God doing before the world was made?” In Pope Francis’ answer, I found the answer for my focus this Advent.

Think of it this way: Before creating anything, God loved. 

That’s what God was doing: God was loving.”

It hit me like a ton of bricks showing me what I had so naively missed, the very nature of the season held my answer. The holidays are a time of family and friends – a time for love.

In Matthew chapter 25 we read:

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and

 you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked

and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and 

you visited me.’ Then the righteous* will answer him and say,

‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty

and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and 

welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you

ill or in prison, and visit you? And the king will say to them in 

reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these 

least brothers of mine, you did for me.’

While usually we view these words in light of service and charity, my time on the Diocese Urban Plunge mission trip this summer showed me something deeper. While painting houses, mending floorboards, and building ramps we met the needs of those who we served. But the greatest thing we offered our clients was the time spent sitting with them and showing them our love. That was how we truly served God in them that week.

While there are needy, hungry, and thirsty people in our world – and while we should absolutely  help them when we can – there are even more people simply needing love. I could argue that it’s everyone. What we are shown in Matthew 25 is that when we love them we are loving Christ.

So my challenge for you this Advent is to join me in being intentional with my love.

Make plans with a friend, just the two of you, to hear each other and be there for each other. Maybe it’s coffee, or Christmas shopping together, or just the movies.

Without causing more stress, makes plans with your family. Maybe you have holiday traditions like a baking day that you can help set up. Maybe you haven’t had a movie or game night in awhile that you can make happen. We’re all rushing around buying presents for our family members this holiday but we’re not actually spending time together – it’s a little weird.

And what can seem like the hardest challenge – be loving toward that family member, coworker, classmate or friend that gets on your last nerve a little. I’m not saying torture you both with forced one on one time. But let the little comments slide, give them the choice of what board game or movie to watch, and grab them a cookie when you are getting one for yourself. They’re Christ too.

Let’s be intentional loving and receiving Christ in others this Advent, so our hearts can be prepared and open even more to receive Christ the Baby on Christmas.

 

The Strength of Fortitude
by Tracy Gaboyau

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Last month, I attended a retreat at the University of North Florida called the senior day of reflection. The retreat was hosted by my Catholic diocese to gather up seniors in my area and help them in the college process. Throughout the day college students from both FSU and UNF came in and informed us that while maintaining your faith in college is difficult, it is 100% manageable. Towards the end of the retreat, we had a priest come in to celebrate Mass and offer reconciliation, which I gladly took advantage of. After reconciliation, however, Father Mike explained something to me that might relate to many young faithful all over the world. Father Mike said: “you seem to know what the right thing is, but have trouble with carrying it out, I want you to pray for strength, pray for fortitude.”

The Catholic church defines the virtue of fortitude as “the moral virtue that ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good. It strengthens the resolve to resist temptations and to overcome obstacles in the moral life”. In other words, fortitude is having the courage and strength to know what the right thing is, and do it.

Many times, we know what the right thing is, but it becomes incredibly difficult to choose it over the easier thing. We must remember, though, that being kind, giving, and respectful is ten times harder than being evil, rude, and impolite. It is easier to roll your eyes or curse out an ignorant person than it is to remain kind and forgiving, even when you know you are correct, but the easier route is not the route God calls us to. He even told us in 2 Timothy 3:12 “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” Our lives as Christians aren’t meant to be easy; they are meant to be tough, demanding, and exhausting. And in return, we get the ultimate reward: eternal life with Jesus.

Similarly, anyone can simply say “I’m sorry,” or “I won’t do it again,” even both my 9 and 7-year-old brothers can do it, but it takes real strength, true fortitude, to not commit that sin again.

For many of us, the virtue of fortitude can act as the angel on our right shoulder that is constantly encouraging and pushing us to do the right thing, to do what Jesus would do. So, brother and sister in Christ, I encourage you all, just as Father Mike has encouraged me, to pray for the virtue of fortitude. Let’s challenge ourselves to overcome different forms of adversity and resist everyday temptations.

Pews Pencils and Crickets
by Joe Sutherland

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Chirp-chirp……
Chirp-chirp……

Crickets

 

Silence. An empty air.

A sound you’re probably familiar with. But maybe not comfortable with.

Sometimes you hear it (or rather, don’t hear anything) in an awkward moment. Maybe you have asked someone a tough question, and the room is silent.  Maybe somebody has told a joke that sounded a lot funnier in their head.

It’s the worst.
Silence is hard to work with.

 

Last week I had a 3 o’clock appointment with an advisor. I showed up respectably early to sign in, about 2:50 pm.

“Thank you for checking in Joe, Mr. Harrison will be right with you. You can take a seat.”
I picked a chair in the corner that looked comfortable to patiently wait for my meeting.
A solid 4 and half seconds go by before I was utterly bored out of my mind, so I grabbed my phone from my pocket.
Shoot. It’s not in my pocket. Left it at home.

I look around.

The horror sets in.

I am in the most boring waiting room in America. No phone. No book. Still 9 minutes and 50 seconds to go until my meeting.  I might not make it. I might just keel over right now.

 

Don’t worry, this isn’t a blog about how we are all completely addicted to our phones (but hey, are you?).  And I won’t try to convince you social media is Satan’s latest and greatest attempt (but hey, does he use it against you?).

 

This is about you and silence.

We are very good at stimulating our interaction-hungry brains. Phones really have served as a constant distraction. Yes, a distraction. Phones are a great tool for communication, organization, learning, and even for fun. But how often do we look to it just because there isn’t something else to look at? Have you ever pulled your phone out of your pocket to “check the time,” and then someone asks you what time it is, and you have no idea? I definitely have.

 

Prayer. Everyone’s personal relationship with God.

I don’t know about y’all, but God doesn’t really communicate with me as He did in biblical passages – thundering clouds or opening heavens.

He makes Himself known to me in the silence of prayer. But let’s be real, holy smokes, how hard is that? To sit quietly in a church (without your phone) and not think about the other 437 things you need to and want to do today. Or even think about dumb stuff.

“Hey God, thank you for today and my family. I really need your help today with — oh wow look at these little mini pencils in the pews! Where do these come from? Does the church take normal sized pencils and cut them in half and then sharpen them? Then how come none of them have erasers? ….”

Perhaps if I got better at sitting in silence throughout parts of my day (like in the waiting room, or on the bus, or in line at Dunkin) without my phone or distraction… maybe I could grow. I could improve myself and be okay with and more comfortable in silence. Just like I have gotten better at calculus and ultimate frisbee, I can get better at being calm in silence.

This is something I am working on little by little every day, and I can already begin to see how it is affecting my prayer life. I can be silent in the church and give God the chance to speak to me.
Where is your attention? Where do you want it to be?     …Who do you want it to be with?

Chirp-Chirp………       Hey God.

Texans Deshaun Watson
Walks the Walk

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Deshaun WatsonMany times in today’s society, people will talk the talk, but they will not walk the walk. Many people do not have the courage, selflessness or character to go the extra mile for others.

Houston Texans rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson is not someone who lacks these qualities.

In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, with the entire city of Houston still recovering and many people affiliated with the Texans organization doing the same, Deshaun Watson went out of his way to help somebody.

This past week, Watson and his teammates found out about two women who work for the Texans who lost everything they had to Hurricane Harvey. They lost their homes, clothes, money, etc.,

They still showed up for work to help the players; To feed them, give them nutrition and energy. Even when they had nothing, they worked to help Watson and the Texans.

Watson took notice of this, and he decided to take action to help the two women who helped his teammates and him as often as they do.

As James 2:14-26 said; “Faith Without Action is Dead.”

Watson’s action in this instance was to give the two women his first NFL game check, which totaled over $400,000

That is in all likelihood more than the two women could have ever imagined in their wildest dreams. Watson did the extraordinary to help these two women. He did as the church says all should at least try to do; Take action.

God In The Midst of Natural Disasters by Tracy Gaboyau

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Recently, I was scrolling through Twitter and I saw this:

 

Screen Shot 2017-09-05 at 12.01.50 PM

It got me thinking. What does the Bible say about natural disasters? What does the Bible say about horrible things that are occurring everyday, such as famines and floods and fires that bring harm to our brothers and sisters through no fault of their own? So, I decided to do some research, and here is what I found:

 

Amos 3:7

If a trumpet is blown in a city will not the people tremble?
           If a calamity occurs in a city has not the LORD done it?

Surely the Lord GOD does nothing
           Unless He reveals His secret counsel
           To His servants the prophets.

 

2 Chronicles 7:21-22

And at this house, which was exalted, everyone passing by will be astonished and say, ‘Why has the Lord done this to this land and to this house?’ Then they will say, ‘Because they abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers who brought them out of the land of Egypt and laid hold on other gods and worshiped them and served them. Therefore he has brought all this disaster on them.’”

 

Isaiah 54:10

“For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you.

 

I also found countless other verses, but if I were to list them all here, this blog post would never end.

From these few verses, I have come to two conclusions.

The first one being that there has to be suffering, some way some how. Life would make no sense if there was just nonstop joy from sunrise through sunset. There would be nothing to work towards, there would be no gratitude, no justice, and no fear of God.

Suffering is a very important part of everyday life, because it is where the majority of our learning happens, whether it is a great suffering, or a minor trouble. For example, when you make a mistake while doing homework, you learn from the mistake you made, which prevents you from making it again. Or when you hurt someone, or someone hurts you, you learn to not make that same mistake with other people.

It is through suffering that you truly earn things. If you simply showed up to school once and in that same day earned your diploma, it would just seem like a piece of paper. But if you truly went to school 180 days every year for 12 years, waking up early every morning, writing countless essays, taking multiple tests in every subject, spending multiple hours on an innumerable amount of essays, then you would really know the value of that diploma, because you have worked for it. Because you have suffered in order to earn it, and you have reaped the fruits of your labor.

The second conclusion I have come to is that everything God does, great or small, he does it for a reason. For everything that happens in the Bible, there is a cause and an affect. B has occurred because A has happened. When God punished Adam and Eve it was because they disobeyed him, and when God flooded the earth, it was because he was disappointed with all the evil in the world.

Therefore, if all of the uncontrollable circumstances on this earth are controlled by God, then we should have nothing to fear because: “the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” (1 Peter 5:10)

All in all, to our unknowledgable brother on twitter, here is your explanation. And to my fellow brother and sisters in Christ, I hope you have learned something new.

 

Tracy

Back In Session

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Hello Young Church! WELCOME BACK, to school, I mean. The chapter of summer has closed once again and we are leaving the days of Netflix bingeing and beach days and entering the season of waking at 7:30 in the morning, moving back into the dorms and the joy of taking the bus. It seems the best part of back to school is school supplies sales at Target, but trust me there’s so much more. This is the season of rejuvenation, we relaxed and went on adventures in summer, we reflected on our school year, now it’s time to come back stronger than ever. With your new supplies, add one more essential to your bookbag: a daily/weekly devotional. With school starting it will feel like time is slipping away.  Having a daily/weekly devotional not only prepares us for the day, but it helps us stay focus throughout the day. When starting your day off with a simple devotion, you invite the spirit of peace, joy and love into your heart and you are more keen to reject confusion, negativity and gossip. The key is finding a devotional that works for you!

1. Do you want daily or weekly?

2. Do you like a specific author?

3. Is there a specific topic you have in mind?

I have personally done devotionals that centered on Mary, a specific saint and women in the bible! I have also done devotionals for every day, and trust me, every time I start my day with devotion I enter the day stronger.

Paul tells us to put on the armor of Christ, and a devotional can be a part of your uniform for battle! As we enter fully into fall, let us not lose our discipline and continue to water the seed that has been planted within us, so that we may grow in faith and love towards Christ and toward neighbor.

In Peace,

Marlys

More Than a Coach

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There are a number adjectives that are used to describe Tom Coughlin, the former Head Coach and current Executive Vice President of the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars.

Tough.

Disciplined.

Detailed.

But what are other adjectives that Coughlin emulates as much as he does his other traits, but still go relatively unnoticed?

Devout. 

Charitable.

Thoughtful.

Coughlin, a practicing Catholic, is as embedded in the city of Jacksonville as any one man can be, and this has dated back to his arrival to the city in 1995.

He was the first coach of the cities first major sports team. He lead them to early success and has remained a legend in the area.

But the impact he has made on the residents of Jacksonville, and around the entire United States, can be found off the field as well. He is truly a man who lives his faith.

The Tom Coughlin Jay Fund Foundation, or the Jay Foundation, was started by Coughlin in Jacksonville in 1996. It is a non-profit foundation that focuses on supporting families that have children who are being treated for cancer.

While Coughlin was the Head Coach at Boston College, his position before the Jaguars, he witnessed one of his players, Jay McGillis, suffer from Leukemia.

Coughlin was able to witness firsthand the impact that cancer has on a family, both emotionally and financially. Since that point, he has been moved to help the sick and the needy as much as he can.

There are not many better ways for one to demonstrate their faith and character than to aid the sick or worse-off, and there are not many men who do this with more dignity or consistency than Tom Coughlin.

By 2004, Coughlin had expanded the Jay Fund to New York City. This continued to aid families while both increasing funds and number of families treated.

Today, Coughlin still works with the Jay Fund and hospitals throughout the country to aid cancer patients and their families. He has been able to donated over $2 million dollars in aid.

This is something that has traveled with him through his career just as much as any of his playbooks or coaching staff’s.

When Tom Coughlin steps away from football, he will be remembered as a Super Bowl winning coach, a Jacksonville legend, and an all time football authoritarian. There is no debating the impact that Coughlin has made with his work on the field.

But people should never look past the impact Coughlin makes off the field. Being Catholic is being humane and charitable, and Tom Coughlin personifies that completely.

Differing Opinions by Tracy Gaboyau

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In my sophomore year of high school, my group of friends in my class and I were discussing controversial topics. We were telling each other about our different beliefs, religions, and our views on topics such as abortion and homosexuality. Yes! I know, very heavy topics for sophomores in high school. But those are topics that allow us to learn more about the people we surround ourselves with, to step out of our “social media bubble” and discuss ideas prevalent in our society and be comfortable hearing different views respectfully.

Somewhere within our discussion a friend started to mention how he/she hadn’t been to church in months. Another added that they weren’t really dedicated to the religion they were brought up in, another decided that they should start going to church more often, and another realized that they might want to venture into Catholicism… My favorite part about the whole discussion however, was that no matter our opinion, we were all respectful of each other’s choices. And though we may not agree with them, we realized that each person was entitled to their specific belief.

What may have happened in that one class, however, is not the way it may have happened in the real world, or better yet any of my other classes. As we can see in today’s news, it can be hard to express your religious beliefs without receiving backlash from those who may not understand or agree. Whether it be Catholicism or Islam or Atheism, at times others do not understand that the passion you hold for your beliefs is the same passion that they hold for their beliefs, and just like you feel that you do not want to shift or change your views, others probably do not as well.

The point I am trying to make however, is that sticking to your beliefs, especially in high school, is difficult. We are constantly being thrown different opinions and beliefs and being put into situations that force us to identify what kind of person we are and what kind of person we want to be. I’m by no means an expert, but I have somehow made it to my senior year unscathed, and closer to God than when I started high school, and here are some of the ways I did it, I hope that they may help you:

 

Don’t be afraid to say no.

If you feel like you are being or are about to be put into a situation where you may have to compromise your religious beliefs in order to fit in, or conform, it is okay to say no. You don’t have to attend every party or every social gathering, and if you’re friends don’t respect decision to step out or remove yourself from situations, then those probably aren’t the friends you should be surrounding yourself with.

Educate people!

A lot of the times we hear others bad-mouthing our faith, it’s probably due to ignorance. Not ignorance in a negative connotation where the person realizes the way things truly are but chooses to ignore the truth, but ignorance as in literally not knowing. While it is okay to have differing opinions, it is not okay to trash talk things people know nothing about. If you hear something that is not right, kindly let people know the truth. No need to be condescending.

Respect! Others! Opinions!

Like I said before, the same way that you feel strongly about your beliefs, is the same way others may feel about their beliefs, and just like you may not want to change your opinions, others may not want to change theirs. It is okay to disagree, and it is okay to think differently. But it is not okay to give people a hard time for adhering to the beliefs they were taught at a young age, and it is also not okay to look down on someone because they are not living their life the same way that you are living yours. As stated by my sponsor Valerie, “many times people take an opinion as the truth or reality… while to the contrary an opinion is just someone’s point of view.” Do not forget that the Lord gave us freewill, and as written in Proverbs 16:9 “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps”.

 

So with these three tips I leave you, and I hope that you take them into consideration to make the 2017-2018 school year the best, most blessed, one yet.

Transfigure the Ordinary

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IMG_2545

This is a picture of me in Israel, “The Holy Land.” The mountains and valleys, the roads and cities that God Himself walked. Where Jesus was born and raised, lived and died and lived again.

I was there – in the settings of scripture – just last month. And now, I’m in Gainesville, Florida sweating off the summer heat and scraping by minute after minute in summer classes while day -dreaming of my adventurous and soul-inspiring travels last month. My God, why hast thou forsaken me?

Okay, that is a little dramatic. But have you ever caught that feeling? The post-church retreat, post-mission trip, post-pilgrimage, post-RiseUp blues? What time are you thinking back to? And now, how are you?

Maybe you’re facing the daily grind of seemingly meaningless responsibilities like me?

Or maybe the opposite? Maybe you have so much free time that you’re bored.

Why can’t I go back to this time, or this place, with these people?

What made those moments in the past so special anyways?

In math class a decent guess to a big question is usually 0 or 1. Talking about life and good things, a good guess is usually Jesus or Love. They happen to be one in the same.

Take a minute to reflect on whatever moment you thought of earlier. It was most likely a joyous and happy time.

“Every good and perfect gift is from above…” – James 1:17

Back to the picture of me. (Side Note: it’s hard not to smile when you remember Jesus is alive).

That mountain behind me is Mount Tabor. Mount Tabor is well known as the site of the Transfiguration of Christ.  (Mark 9:2-8) Peter, John, and James followed Jesus up the mountain, where he then revealed Himself and His glory to them. Imagine that! Jesus “became dazzling white.”  Peter says “Rabbi, it is good that we are here!”

Yeah, you better believe it was good to be there! Peter wanted to set up camp and stay forever. It sounds like those cherished moments in our own lives. “Can we just stay here forever?”

There are times and places when and where Christ reveals Himself and His love to us! He does so through our experiences and adventures, through our relationships with those around us.

It wasn’t long before Peter, John, and James had to return down the mountain and continue to love and serve God by loving and serving His people. We are called to look back to the times when Christ revealed Himself to us and to be inspired by our experiences with Him. He uses these high points, or “mountains,” in our lives to help encourage us through our low points, or “valleys.” So whether your valley today is the daily grind of work and responsibilities, or the struggle to motivate yourself to be productive, open your heart to the Transfiguration of Christ. He reveals the ordinary to be extraordinary. He makes all things new.

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