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Staying Hopeful by Tracy Gaboyau

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I’ve never had anyone ask me directly: “Why do you believe in God?” and if anyone did I honestly don’t think I would be able to formulate words. As a teenager, I am constantly growing into my faith and strengthening my relationship with God. Though I may not know about the Catholic faith as much as my confirmation sponsor, or my priest, or my bishop, I do know the joy that I experience at every youth convention that I go to with my youth group. I know the great feeling of triumph I get whenever I am exposed to the Holy Sacrament. I am best friends with the exhilaration of having a great confession, and I am in love with the way any and every Gospel has a way of shape-shifting itself and making itself true in any instance of my life.

That being said, however, it is (and I think I speak for anyone that has ever walked this earth when I say this) almost impossible to remain in that state of bliss forever, nevertheless a whole day. One way or another, whether it be things not going our way, or having to make sacrifices, or having to overcome difficult adversities; we will get moments when we are sad. If you’re a teenager like me, your hormones will go crazy, and you’ll want to scream and cry and yell all at the same time. But hey, that’s okay. (Okay, maybe not the screaming and yelling thing, but you get it).

With every situation we face, we are always given the choice as to how we want to react to it. In a good situation it’s always easy to be content, take it in, and remain hopeful. But what about the situations when we’re put on edge, and we’re hanging by a thread? It becomes a lot more difficult to remain hopeful when the hope that you did have is lost or has been destroyed by an unfortunate situation.

One of my favorite aspects of the Catholic Church and its teachings are the theological virtues. If you are not familiar with them, these include faith, hope, and charity. In reality, I think all three of these virtues idealize the Catholic faith, but the one I want to focus on today is hope. The Catechism defines hope as “the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit.”

While it is impossible to remain in the state of bliss I mentioned above forever, we shouldn’t let the unfortunate circumstances we are faced with alter the way we view that bliss, or alter our perception of hope. God gave us the gift of hope as a message saying, “hey listen, no matter the situation, there’s always a chance for improvement. As long as you have me in your heart, I will never abandon you”, so who are we to say all hope is lost?

Take the future, for instance, due to its uncertainty, and our fear of failure, we at times decide to take matters into our own hands and exclude God. We have to remember however, that fear is the opposite of hope. Whereas fear disconnects us from our joy and our feeling of protection in God’s hands, the virtue of hope reaffirms our faith and our beliefs in the grace of the Holy Spirit.

In Jeremiah 29:11, it is written, ““For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” I think of this verse quite often, actually. When the lives of innocent people are lost at a concert, in a place where people come to have fun and live life, when I hear of the injustices haunting our society in ways I thought were left in the 1960’s, when I hear that children are being orphaned over a fight for power-I always think, how are we supposed to bounce back from that?

Though we don’t get to choose what happens in our lives, or on this earth, we do get to choose how to react to it. And God calls us to react to it with faith, hope, and charity.

Remember: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” (1 Cor. 2:9) So hey, keep your chin up.

The Call by Chanel Obas

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Before I was a little less than 14 years old, church was a place I only went to on Sundays. I felt like I had to be there and rarely would listen. But after my last two weeks of summer that all changed.
The summer of 2016, I attended a Simple Life Camp at my church. I was very hesitant on going but I wasn’t busy and I, thought it could be fun. We weren’t allowed to have technology there and had to do a lot of volunteer work. The other kids there were so entertaining and friendly. Most of all they all had a strong passion for God, and that really influenced me. When my youth group and I volunteered, seeing the people so thankful for every little thing we did made me feel so appreciated. After that, I started listening in church more, doing a lot of volunteer work on my own, and becoming more involved in school and church. Now I love church! I love my youth group, and it’s my favorite place to be! Being Catholic isn’t just attending church. It’s being more involved and sharing the catholic life with others.

Another event I went to that reminded me of this was the Diocese of St. Augustine High School Youth Conference. It was my first year attending this youth conference. At first, I was homesick, but after hearing the speakers, Tommy McGrady, Katie McGrady, Robin Shipley, and others, I felt like I fit right in there. By the time it was over, I was disappointed to have to leave but once again felt influenced by everything I had learned. From the discussions about friendships to how much God loves us, I will never forget that retreat!
In conclusion, God loves all of us. Whatever pain we face or sins we commit he will never stop loving us, and we should never stop loving him. Everyone gets the call from him, and when it happens, it’s a miracle!

LOVE by Emma Stockli

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“Oh Romeo, Oh Romeo. Wherefore art thou Romeo?” Every girl swoons over this line in William Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet. But love isn’t as simple as it seems in Romeo and Juliet. Love is something you have to work at and work for. It isn’t easy, it’s very complex and stupid. But everyone wants someone to love and love them in return. There are different types of love: family, friendship, love of oneself and true unbiased love. The easiest one to start off with is family.

The people you were born into is our family. You don’t always have to like them but you always will love them. They will always be by our side through thick and thin. Loving family comes naturally, they are the fungus on the tree that helps it survive. Some families are different, composed of different people, but still a family. Many families stay in contact when loved ones move away and others simply are too busy to care. My family is complex, half live in Florida and the other half live in Ohio. Out of those who live in Jacksonville, FL I mainly see my immediate family. My sister and myself lead very busy life and when we do get a chance to see our parents or even our grandparents it is truly a treasure. My aunt on the other hand has a mind of her own and no filter. I don’t like her most times but there is still a family bond that we share and I love her no matter what.

Love of friendship takes more effort, in some cases great effort, to form. People tend to click right away and the love and respect come naturally. Other people you first have to tolerate, get to know them, become acquaintances, then y’all will talk on a regular basis. (With technology being influential in today’s society, it is easy to keep in touch with people) But you still have to put in effort to get a result. This type of love isn’t like your family love where it come naturally, but you have to choose to love our friends. You have to work for what you want and what you bring to the relationship is multiplied in return. My best friend in the whole wide world, we clicked initially but there were some bumps in the road. We have been friends since 2009 and by the end of 2011 we had gotten into a fight and weren’t talking. I graduated high school in 2013 and that summer we reconnected and have been closer than ever. She may live far away from me but with technology we facetime each other every day or whenever we need to talk or vent.

To be able to love yourself completely takes great effort. There may always be something that you don’t like about yourself but loving every aspect of yourself will in turn make someone love you for every aspect. This type of love is a daily challenge, even and every moment challenge. Loving yourself is something you choose to do every day. You are the only one who can affect how you love yourself. I’m 22 years old and somedays I wake up hating aspects of myself. Then throughout the day I end up using those aspects and learning to love every single part of me. You have to be optimistic when loving yourself. I have yet to do it but I keep moving forward and find new parts of myself to love. The one aspect that I deal with loving on a daily basis is my weight. Since I was young I have always been the chunky, tall girl. That has stuck with me because I still carry the weight. I have however learned how to dress myself to make it seem that I am an average weight and loved how I have felt in some outfits.

True, unbiased love is what we search for our whole lifetime. In Biblical terms it is called “Agape” which means the truest form of love. Not all the time we see when this form of love is given to us. We are in denial that we are even given this. Jesus is that true unbiased love. We search for that love through other people but come up empty handed because humans don’t know how to love without biases. There seems to always be a condition with the love you receive from someone else. But with God, there are no conditions. He wants us to come to him as we are, broken and shattered because he loves us with this “Agape” love. William Shakespeare also said “Who could refrain that had a heart to love and in that heart courage to make love known?” We have a heart to love, will we have the courage to bring it to God so he can make his love known through us?

Mercy Me? by Lilly Pirrung

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Growing up I often heard that being merciful is giving away my extra clothes, spending a few extra dollars on food for the begging man that stands in the Target parking lot, and maybe also praying for those in prison. That is very much what mercy is, but perhaps it’s a little more than that too.

I thought I was a pro at this whole mercy thing until a couple of months ago when I realized that I definitely wasn’t. I was spending some time with Jesus in adoration praying about a couple of different situations that involved a couple of different friends. These situations caused a lot of confusion, anger, and pain not only for me, but for others who I care a lot about. Naturally, I was very upset. For a while, I took my anger out on the people that hurt me and my friends by talking poorly about them, by ignoring them, and by hoping that what they did would come around and bite them in the butt. I felt this way until I flipped open my bible to the parable of the prodigal son. In the parable the son takes all of his inheritance and wastes it on alcohol, parties, and a life that really wasn’t worth living. When the son finally ran out of money he had no other option than to return to his father. When he returned home his father embraced him, kissed him, and put the finest clothes on him and then celebrated with a huge feast.

It hit me then that I had no clue what mercy actually was and that I was far from living a merciful life.

I have read that parable 100 times before and really thought nothing of it. When I read it on that Wednesday night in front of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament I knew that I was called to be like that father, to be that friend. I knew that instead of hating the people that hurt me that I needed to be merciful to them. I needed to love them. So that’s what I did. I began to love the people that hurt me and the people that hated me. I began to love the people that annoyed me and the people who didn’t even realize the mess that they had made. It was difficult. My friends asked why in the world I would be choosing to love when I had every reason to hate. Even the people that hurt me asked the same thing. Despite those comments and the comments that I even made to myself, I chose to love. Now, what does that mean? What does it mean to love?
To love someone that has hurt you means to simply be kind. To not talk about them, to not continually bring up what they have done, to not ruin their reputation, but to forgive. Depending on how serious the situation is, loving someone doesn’t necessarily mean forgetting what they have done, but letting it go in order for you both to move on. To love means not spreading rumors about the girl who made rude comments to you at school, not getting upset when someone misunderstands you, and calmly asking your best friend why she lied to you instead of freaking out. Love is still wanting the best for others despite what they might think about you. To love means to be merciful.

In the last few months I have learned that mercy is far more beautiful than I had originally thought. It’s been hard. At the same time, this choice to be merciful has been so so so rewarding. Choosing to be merciful has allowed me to recognize the times when the people around me have shown me mercy and it has helped me love those people more. The rewards go both ways and its absolutely beautiful.

I challenge you to find at least one person to be especially merciful to. Be merciful to everyone you meet by letting go of the little things that, in the long run, don’t really matter. I also challenge you to find the prodigal sons in your life. Love them. Show them kindness. And show them mercy.

Finding Your Calcutta by Rachel Hearn

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So as you all know, or may not know, the fabulous Emily Wilson came and spoke at the most recent Rise Up event. She spoke to us about recognizing our talents and finding our Calcutta, or our mission field, where can we use our talents to love our brothers and sisters?

This is something I personally struggle with…. alot. I have a hard time figuring out what my personal talents are because I get into this perpetual cycle of comparison.

“I sounded pretty good, but not as good as her.”

“Yeah I like my drawing, but its not as good as his.”

” I wish I could speak in front of people as easily as they do.”

It’s very easy to fall into this trap of thinking we are not good enough because we think someone else is better than us.

In a world that is constantly telling us we aren’t good enough, the challenge of finding and using your talents to change it seems monumental. Good news is, you have talents, I promise! As the sometimes cliche bible verse tells you, “you are fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Psalm 139)

The God of the universe created you to have a special mission, a special purpose in your life. A mission that I cannot fulfill, Sally down the street can’t fulfill, only you can. So that’s actually pretty cool.

Now I can’t give you some magical formula that’s going to make the clouds open up and you’ll recognize your gifts (if you find that please share I would appreciate it), but what I can give you is some consolation in the fact that you are not alone. Especially as a senior in high school, the question of “what am I even good at,” pops up in my mind all too often. Here are some questions that have helped me kind of decipher, at least as much as I need to know right now, where God is pulling my heart.

What excites me?
What makes me lose track of time?
What do I long to do?

Chances are theres at least one thing that you answered to all three of these. God can speak to us through our desires, and these desires can usually point us to our gifts and talents. You may have an unusual gift, like maybe you make really good cookies, like the best cookies ever and you LOVE making these cookies you could bake them for hours, and you really just want to open your own cookie bakery. Well, congratulations you have found a talent. Maybe you could make cookies for someone who is having a bad day, or for a poor blog writer who needs motivation to do her homework. There are numerous ways you can use that talent to make someone’s day just a little bit brighter and a little bit better. Congratulations, again, you have found your Calcutta:reaching out to your community to spread happiness and joy and love in the form of your delicious cookies.

Obviously that is a simple example of an answer to a very big question, but it really is just as easy as that. I guarantee you there is a gift you have that you are missing that could help change the world one person at a time.

This isn’t me saying I have this whole thing figured out, because I don’t, but my prayer for myself as well as everyone reading this blog (hi mom), that we all can recognize those special gifts and talents our loving Father has given us to give to others, after all like St. Catherine of Sienna said, if we are who we are created to be we will set the world on fire (with love of course.)

Sarah Heim
Shares Her Story

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7 out of 10 girls believe they don’t measure up, or they’re not good enough concerning their looks, performance in school and relationships. 44% of teens use skipping meals as a way to lose or control their weight. I should know, I was one of those statistics.

When I was 12 years old, I was confident and didn’t really pay attention to how others saw me. Then in 7th grade, my crush told me that I was fat, and I have had body issues ever since. The following summer I tried to convince my family that I was sick and couldn’t swallow so I wouldn’t be questioned for my sudden loss of appetite. In just one week I lost 10 pounds and was almost put into the hospital for dehydration. I quickly realized that I have a fear of needles and an IV just wasn’t worth it, but not everyone has it so easy. Fast forward two years to freshman year and I’m on Instagram where I constantly compare myself to celebrities and my friends. I thought that I needed their body, their nose, and their hair. I convince myself that in order to have friends and be in with a certain group I needed their looks. Fast forward a few years and I continue to struggle with my body image, but I am no longer making myself sick over it. What changed is that I have learned to view myself as God views me. I’ve turned to scripture to help with my insecurities. My favorite verse when I’m not feeling myself is Song of Solomon 4:7 “You are altogether beautiful, my love, there is no flaw in you.” I have learned that I am truly loved and made perfect by Jesus and what others think of me is not my problem. I am truly beautiful in the eyes of Jesus, and he is the one I am trying to impress.

How do you see yourself? Is it the same image that God sees?

“Up To Me” by Maggie Kalka

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Who is God? Who is Jesus? What is the Eucharist or the Holy Trinity? Last year I could give you the textbook answer that the catechism would approve of for all of those questions and more. Thirteen years in Catholic school will do that to you. The answers might have gotten me an A on a religion test, but they wouldn’t be personal.

My personal relationship with my faith was lacking. I found myself comparing my faith to other peoples’ relationship with God. And because I had gone to Catholic School since the age of 5, my family went to church every Sunday, and I was involved with my parishes youth group, I thought I was good. I didn’t have a strong desire or feel the need to get to know God or Jesus on a personal level.

But thanks to college, I was shown that I was so wrong. I knew college was going to change a lot of things, and I figured it would challenge my faith. But I never thought my relationship with God would end up becoming so much stronger. I got involved at St. Francis, the Catholic Church that was associated with the University of Alabama. Thanks to the persistence and persuasion of one of the Focus missionaries at St. Francis, I somehow ended up in a bible study for other freshmen girls that was led by said Focus missionary. (If your school has Focus missionaries, talk to them. They are some of the coolest, most amazing people ever!) I went on a retreat and joined an intermural team through the church. And suddenly, before I had even known what happened I was surrounded by people with a deep faith and love for God. They showed me that there was so much more to the Church and God then what I had studied in religion class. I was being shown how amazing a true personal relationship with God is. I had plenty of role models and resources to look to, to create that relationship. It was just up to me.

Now, I met some of my best friends through my bible study and we get together once a week and grow in faith. I can’t wait for school to start back up in the fall so I can go to Mass every Sunday with my friends and Mass and Meal on Tuesday nights. I’m excited to go and play different team sports with people from Church and know that no matter how awful I am at it, they will still treat me with kindness and compassion. I am still struggling and building up a personal relationship with God, but I have a better idea of what that relationship will look like and who to turn to when I need help thanks to my brothers and sisters in Christ.

Submarine Christian by Emma Kee

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They say faith is tried multiple times in a person’s life; that at times it is easier to hold onto your faith than others. This was my struggle seven years ago. Both my sister and I were transferring from Catholic school, where we were born and raised, into a public school in Ponte Vedra. It was a transition to remember. God had been a part of my school life ever since I could remember. The first couple of months were hard, as they always are for kids in a new school, but I grew to admire it. The thing is, I’d been given the basics of where I could find God, but I realized you could find Him everywhere else as well. Sometimes, life experiences and good works are what make a person truly closer to God.

I am what you may call a “submarine Catholic”. I do not go every Sunday like I should, I surface only at Easter and Christmas and a few times in between. The thing is, my faith in Jesus is now stronger than ever. Public school has allowed me to represent my faith in what I consider a real world setting. In the seven years I have been attending public school, I have met all sorts of people from a wide range of faiths. Some believe in Jesus, and some do not, but they remind me of the Good Samaritan. While many may not believe in Jesus, but in another religious figure, I do believe that they are going to the heaven I’ve learned about because of their kindness. And I believe that for us Catholics, claiming to believe in Jesus is simply not enough. It is not the one-way ticket to heaven. I believe we must grow in faith by serving others in our community. That’s where I find God in a personal way.

My biggest source of Catholic faith has come from Camp I am Special. Camp I am Special has been around since the 1980s and is a camp for children and adults with disabilities. In other words, it has impacted the lives of thousands for over 30 years. At camp, local high school students volunteer as buddies who are matched to each individual camper for their session week. One of my classmates was a buddy this past summer and came out of the experience as a new Catholic. At Camp I am Special, one 30 minute mass is performed on Sunday along with fun and interactive prayers throughout the week. I think this serves as proof that experience and service work to bring young people to our faith faster than any sort of schooling. Believing is only a part of the path, we accomplish the journey by how we choose to act.

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