The Weekender Link Up // #PrayForTheWorld

Every night before we head to sleep, Steven and I pray an Ignatian Daily Examen together. We call it the “CPR” prayer.

C – Claim your blessings.

P – Pinpoint victories and losses.

R – Renew commitment to Christ.

In a way, it allows us to pray backwards through the day. We first center ourselves in God’s presence. Sometimes are cuddled up on the couch and other times I have already put on my pj’s and I am tucked in bed with the lights off. We start by reviewing our day with gratitude. We look at where God was present throughout our day with the people we interacted with and the work we accomplished. We look at the small things, like meals together, good conversations, and beauty in nature. God is in the details.

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(Credit: Sarah Renee Studios)

After we review our blessings, which are sometimes many, we pay attention to our emotions. God is in the movements of our emotions through the day. Sometimes we are bored, elated, angry, or sad. We talk about how God has allowed us to have victories and losses throughout those emotions. We also remember how we fell short and sinned, if we had an argument with each other or were a little lazy and unproductive at work. During the time of losses, we also talk about the world. Steven has a much better world view than I do, so he updates me on current events and what is happening around the globe. When I heard about the attacks in Paris, I immediately paused to pray. Steven said that there is something about Paris that makes it much more real. It might be because so many of us have traveled there or had friends there, but regardless of the reason, we had to pinpoint that loss and pray for all those impacted by this tragedy and the other tragedies occurring throughout the world. Our hearts break when members of our human family are hurting.

Finally, we renew our commitment to Christ. We talk about what we are going to do tomorrow for Jesus. I mention what plans I have the next day and how I can incorporate my faith into what I have scheduled. Steven often reflects on how he can say a Divine Mercy Chaplet or listen to Christian music throughout the work day. Our plans are usually not epic, but God is in the small, sweet moments of our day. We please Him by smiling at a co-worker, mentioning how glorious the weather is, or calling a friend who we know is struggling. We joyfully look forward to the next day, knowing that with Christ at our center we can do all things.

There is always something to pray about, there is always something to be grateful for, and each day is filled with both moments of great joy and great sorrow.

The Ignatian Examen comes from Saint Ignatius of Loyola, who encouraged people to talk to Jesus like a friend. This type of prayer resonates well with us, because Jesus is not only our Lord but also our best friend. We are able to ask for help, protection, courage, wisdom, and all those amazing graces we need to thrive each day. When we center ourselves in the spirit of gratitude and view life as a gift, we are able to place our confidence in God knowing that He is walking with us each step of the journey.

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#BISsisterhhood Link-Up // Unconditional

 

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A week before our wedding, Steven and I went to Reconciliation. Through the Sacrament, God made us knew creations. We had to admit that we weren’t perfect. We had to bring our shortcomings to failings and our wounds to the Lord. We had to bring them to the light.

We knew we needed to be there. We had burdens in our lives that we needed to get off our hearts. We knew we had a lot of sin to empty before we began our journey as husband and wife.

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(Credit: Sarah Renee Studios)

The Lord’s heart is merciful. It is so hard to remember and grasp this, especially when we feel as if we are falling short. We can feel unworthy of His forgiveness and grace. Our sin breaks the Father’s heart, but our relationship is restored when we run to Him with open arms. Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. His love is relentless, eternal, and unconditional. 

When Steven and I are weary, our Heavenly Father allows us to rest in His presence. When Steven and I feel unworthy of love, the Father reminds us we are His masterpiece – fearfully and wonderfully made. When we cry, the Lord looks to us with His Sacred Heart. When we stray like the prodigal son, our Heavenly Father patiently waits for our return to welcome us home with open arms. When we are tangled up in sin, our Heavenly Father comes right into the mess and meets us in the confessional with an ocean of mercy. 

Before our wedding, Steven and I recognized our need for confession. We are human; we sin. We had to perform an Examination of Conscience in order to look deeply into our lives and see where we have failed to love the Lord, those around us, and ourselves. Then we had to…

Go!

I think this is the hardest part. Even at our retreat a few weekends ago, we had to encourage each other to go. When Steven was nervous, I looked at him and I said, “Go, be a saint!” Those nervous thoughts are from the evil one trying to separate us from the love of God. 365 times in Scripture the Lord tells us, “Be not afraid.” The Lord is ready for you, ready to meet you with His tender unconditional love.

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(Credit: Sarah Renee Studios)

After waiting in line for a few minutes, it was my turn to confess my sins to the priest, who stands in persona Christi capitas et spousa. I love this part of confession. I believe that I am confessing my sins to Christ Himself. After I was finished, I walked out of the confessional feeling light and free. I felt ready to enter into the Sacrament of Marriage, because I had repented for my sins and received absolution. I was ready to do my penance and soak in the graces I had been given in order to fully embrace our marital vows.

I asked Steven what his favorite part of confession was and he said, “I like it’s healing power and the light feeling joyful feeling you get when walking out of there and the smile that is on your face.” What a sweet, true sentiment.

God today, wants you to be an amazing person. He has amazing plans for each of you. Take all of your weight and lay it at the foot of the cross. You do not have to do it on your own. If you’re nervous about confession, remember those thoughts are not from our Heavenly Father. He does not work through fear. He works through compassion and grace.

“Everything I am, everything I long to be, I lay it down at Your feet.”
Matt Maher, Lay it Down

Want to find a Reconciliation time near you? Check out Mass Times or Catholics Come Home to find a nearby parish.

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Linking up with Blessed Is She to talk about the theme “Unconditional”

Show and Tell Link-Up // Labre Project

Today I am linking up with Andrea on her ‘Show and Tell Tuesdays’ series! Today’s topic is: A service project or mission trip you have been a part of. This topic is very near and dear to my heart. In college I was a participant and leader in the Labre Project, a ministry at John Carroll University. My very first week as a student at John Carroll, a dear friend invited me and I was ruined for life – as the Jesuit motto goes to say. The Labre Project shares food, faith, and friendship with homeless men and women living in Cleveland.

The Labre Project started with a few students from Saint Ignatius High School, a Jesuit college preparatory school in Cleveland. A few students set out in a van with food they had left over from a school event. These students went into the streets of Cleveland and offered food to homeless individuals they saw sleeping on the streets, alleys, and sidewalks. What was beautiful is that they enjoyed it so much, they went out the next Sunday, and the next, and continued to go out every Sunday since.

The ministry name comes from Saint Benedict Joseph Labre, the patron saint of homeless people. The Labre Project was brought to John Carroll University by a group of Saint Ignatius alumni in 2004. The project has continued since 2004 and continues to grow and thrive to this day – never missing a week.

The purpose of Labre was never to feed the homeless. It was always about friendship… and the warm meal was a great bonus. The friendships I created through the Labre Project were mutually beneficial. My walls were broken down, I was pushed far out of my comfort zone, and I had the chance to see the face of God in every single individual I met. The individuals I met would look forward to seeing me and if I was absent would say, “where is Mary this week?” Trust me, it was rare for me to miss a Friday. I just loved it so very much.

Every Friday, students from John Carroll met at 3 PM to prepare food for the evening. The food came from the Cleveland Food Bank. We would also pack up bins filled with toiletries, socks, clothes, shoes, etc. to hand out throughout the course of the evening. My junior and senior year I served as the donations leader and coordinated our messy, messy donations room. After the food was prepared and the bins were packed, there was a brief prayer reflection in the chapel on campus which prepared our hearts and centered us on the true reason for our ministry, which was far beyond earning service hours. At the end of the evening, we would return and pray BY NAME each person we met. I say by name, because these individuals were children of God and naming them reminded us of their dignity as members of our one human family.

What would a typical night look like? 

After prepping and praying, two vans would leave from John Carroll. One van would travel to the East side of Cleveland one to the West. We would visit individuals of all walks of life living in a variety of circumstances. Most individuals we met in hidden places, while others were more public. Some lived along train tracks. A few lived in low-income housing. Most of our friends we saw every.single.week. They knew where to meet us and would wait for our arrival. Others we would see walking along the road or resting and we would stop by to offer them a warm meal and a brief chat, asking how their week was going and if we could bring anything for them in the coming week.

When I graduated from John Carroll in 2012, leaving my friends from Labre was the hardest part of graduating. I moved to Virginia and felt empty without visiting my homeless brothers and sisters each week. I would often sit in my apartment on Friday evenings and think about where the van would be and who they would be visiting. I prayed for them by name and continue to do so on a regular basis. Although I may not see them any more, my friends will always hold a deep place in my heart from their influence, compassion, and witness of perseverance in the face of difficulty.

Join me in the Saint Benedict Joseph Labre Prayer. Let us pray that all individuals without homes may be granted the dignity and worth they are due as children of our great and loving God. Let us pray for all those who are unemployed, underemployed, periodically or permanently homeless. We pray for those unable to afford rent, for children living out of cars, and for all those without access to daily food and water. We also pray for those who live the corporal works of mercy by feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, and clothing the naked. May their ministry be powerfully blessed.

“Saint Benedict Joseph Labre, you gave up honor, money, and home for love of Jesus. Help us to set our hearts on Jesus and not on the things of this world. You lived in obscurity among the poor in the streets. Enable us to see Jesus in our poor brothers and sisters and not judge by appearances. Make us realize that in helping them we are helping Jesus. Show us how to befriend them and not pass them by.

Saint Benedict Joseph Labre, you had a great love for prayer. Obtain for us the grace of persevering prayer, especially adoration of Jesus in the Most Blessed Sacrament.

Saint Benedict Joseph Labre, poor in the eyes of men but rich in the eyes of God, pray for us.”

Amen

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#Marriage Link Up // Feet Washing Ceremony

Today I am linking up with Messy Marriage, To Love, Honor and Vacuum, and To Travel and Beyond to talk about our feet washing ceremony.

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When Steven and I were planning our wedding reception, we knew we wanted to add our own Catholic touches. Something we had always admired was couples who added a feet washing ceremony to their reception. We immediately wanted to follow in their footsteps, so to speak.

“If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” (John 13: 14-15)

For us, a feet washing ceremony was a sign of being humble, thoughtful, and willing to serve each other. We had a pitcher with just a little water in it, a bowl, and a towel. I went first. I sat in a chair and Steven helped take my shoes off (which, I have to admit was nice after wearing 4 inch heels all day). He gently washed my feet. Then we switched. Sometimes only the bride has her feet washed, but we knew we both wanted to serve each other.

Washing my husband’s feet was a sign of love and honor for him, my new spouse. Kneeling before him showed my great love for him and placed me in a position of prayer and humility. When he washed my feet, I felt an overwhelming sense of love from both Steven and from the Father. I felt that I would never have to “go it alone” again. I also felt humble, knowing that I was being served and allowing my husband to help me.

The entire ceremony was beautiful. We wanted to follow the example of Christ. Was it a bit awkward? Yes. But it boosted our commitment to each other and was a gentle reminder of how loved I am by husband and by my Lord.

A side note: We had a song picked out to play during the ceremony (Love Never Fails by Brandon Heath), but our DJ missed the memo and did not play the song. At first we felt funny since it was so quiet and since we specially chose that song, but afterwards many, many of our friends came up to us and complimented us on how silent the room was (seriously, you could hear a pin drop). It meant the world that our friends and family were so supportive. My eyes are tearing up just remembering how many compliments we received throughout the night.

“Love is the river than flows through. Love is the arms that are holding you. Love is the place you will fly to. Love never fails you.” Brandon Health

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(Credit: Sarah Renee Studios)

I am thankful we chose to do this ceremony. I am also thankful our photographer captured this beautiful moment for us to treasure forever and remember our daily call to lay down our lives for one another.

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To Travel and Beyond
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#BISSISTERHOOD LINK-UP // CROWN OF CREATION

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“Nobody likes to talk about it and we all struggle with it as women.” Sarah Swafford

Here is the truth about your body: It is beautiful. It is holy. It was made for wondrous deeds. You were created for a purpose. The Lord made you in His image and likeness. I could shout from the rooftops how beautiful and marvelous you are.

Yes, including those parts that you may not love… especially those parts!

“You are altogether beautiful, my darling; there is no flaw in you.” Song of Solomon 4:7

As women we have been battling self confidence and body image since we have been 12 years old, or maybe younger. The struggles might have come from girls who made fun of you at school or a mom with impossibly high standards. The struggles might have come from a hurtful father or a tough ex-boyfriend. We all have this deep pain. It is very real for each of us. Sometimes this pain leads to more pain and we struggle with anorexia or bulimia, depression and anxiety. Sometimes we struggle to feel enough or that we are unwanted.

Trust me when I tell you that you are not alone. 

As women we have to acknowledge these wounds and build up all that has been torn down, because we are the crown of God’s creation.

Our bodies house our beautiful feminine soul! God gave us one body for a reason. We are called to cherish this body. We have to believe in ourselves. You are enough, you are enough, you are enough. God loves you just the way you are. People in your life love you just the way you are, and I want you to love you just the way you are.

Whenever you get that worry and that anxiety to be perfect, run to Christ and do not look any other direction. Run into His arms and rest in His presence. Cry. Pray. Breathe. Be.

Believe that you are loved. Believe that you are beautiful. You, my dear sister, are the crown of creation.

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Linking up with Blessed Is She and #BISsisterhood to talk about Crown of Creation.

#Tell His Story Link-Up // The Proposal

“Holiness means giving ourselves in sacrifice every day. And so married life is a tremendous path to sanctity!” Pope Francis

Steven proposed on November 15, 2014. I cannot believe it has been almost a year since that beautiful, holy day. Today is Wednesday, so I am joining in with the #TellHisStory Link-Up to share our proposal story, because it has has God’s fingerprints written all over it. So friends, here is our proposal story, written by the best Divine author.
Her Side

When God writes your love story, you know it is going to be beautiful. When I was a sophomore in college, I was introduced to Patti through a mutual friend. We were both searching for roommates and met up for coffee to see if we would be a good fit. Long story short, we lived together for two years and formed an incredible friendship. Patti was right along my side when I met Steven and she has been a constant friend throughout Steven and I’s love story.

Steven, well aware of our friendship, worked with Patti to bring me to John Carroll University’s Saint Francis Chapel – one of my favorite places in the world. Patti is a current student at Walsh University studying for her Doctorate in Physical Therapy. Her next clinical rotation was near John Carroll and she asked if I would like to visit apartments with her. I, of course, said yes! On our way, Patti said she needed to stop and use the restroom at Carroll and suggested we could walk through campus to get to the apartment.

She asked if I wanted to walk through the chapel while we were there and my heart exploded with joy. I knew my best friend would be there waiting for me. I immediately saw him praying peacefully by the tabernacle. He later told me that he was praying on the rosary I gave him a few years ago for Christmas – the rosary was for his future wife. My heart… my heart. I carried it in my bouquet on our wedding day and we held it during our engagement pictures!

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(Credit: Sarah Renee Studios)

When I walked over, Steven took my hand and we prayed a Hail Mary together. We have an incredible devotion to the Blessed Mother, so it was perfect for her to be a part of our proposal. Steven then got down on one knee and used my full name – Mary Cecilia Anastasia Semenczuk – to ask me to be his wife. I said “yes, yes, yes!” before he could even finish.

Afterwards we celebrated with dinner at Melt (yum!) and went to visit his parents and my parents. We are so blessed! It was a beautiful proposal. I could not have dreamed up anything more beautiful, simple, and fitting of our relationship.

His Side

I wanted to propose at John Carroll, because it is a very special place to her. It is also special to us because Mary was a student there when our dating adventure began. I could not ask her friend to ask until I knew that the ring was in, because I wanted it to be a surprise. I do not keep surprises very well. I had two days to plan the proposal with her best friend Patti.

The day of I had planned on getting a haircut and arriving at John Carroll at least an hour before they did; however, Mary needed me to pick her up Ginger Ale, because she had a stomach ache. Before walking into the hair cut place I picked it up for her and brought it to her and then made an excuse to go watch the Notre Dame game. Then the fun began.

Patti was picking up Mary to go looking for apartments, because Patti had a new rotation close to John Carroll. The Notre Dame game kind of threw Mary off the scent of a proposal at John Carroll that day. I stopped to pick up flowers and then went to Saint Francis Chapel and sat and prayed before they got there. Patti asked Mary if she wanted to go to the Chapel and they came in.

I sat down next to Mary and we prayed a Hail Mary. Then I asked her to stand up while I got on one knee. Then I asked her if she would marry me. She said yes before I finished asking the question. We were both super excited and met a student at John Carroll while we were taking pictures at Mary’s beloved Saint Ignatius statue who was even more excited than we were. We then went to Melt for dinner and visited both our parents to share the good news.

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#BISsisterhood Link-Up // Communion of Saints

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“I suffered a lot but my soul was singing!”

I’m joining in with the #BISsisterhood Link-Up today to share with you about Blessed Chiara Luce Badano. As we approach the feast of All Saints this weekend, it is a wonderful time to pause and remember the legacy of this soon-to-be-saint dressed in blue jeans.

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I first fell in love with Chiara when I found out she failed math in high school and loved to wear blue jeans. Hello,soul sister! Then as I read more, I found a best friend in her.

Chiara was born in 1974 in Sassello, Italy. She loved to sing, hike, play tennis, and spend time with friends. She was a very simple, kind-hearted young teenager who kept Jesus at the very center of her life. She even referred to him as her “spouse” and consistently attended daily mass.

One day while playing tennis, Chiara felt a felt a sharp pain in her shoulder. Soon after the incident she was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, an aggressive form of bone cancer. When she became ill, she said, “For you, Jesus. If you want it, I want it too” and continued to put her faith in Him.

She is a prime example of love and suffering. She continually gave her pain to Jesus, trusting in His will and timing, up until the moment of her death in 1990. Her life, love, and light shows me how to lay my suffering down at the feet of the cross. I do not have to bear any of my suffering alone. We do not have to bear our suffering alone!

Come, holy spirit, teach us how to live more like Blessed Chiara!

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#4: Finish the Marian Consecration

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This Spring Steven and I finished 33 Days to Morning Glory, a do-it-yourself retreat in preparation for Marian Consecration. We spent 33 days studying about and praying with the teachings of St. Louis de Montfort, St. Maximilian Kolbe, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, and Blessed John Paul II.

What I find especially neat is that you begin your retreat on a specific Marian Feast Day. We started on our Lady of Fatima, which is April 10th.

Steven and I went to a wedding on August 14th (the Feast Day of Saint Maximilian Kolbe, who Steven and I fell in love with during the 33 days) and after the wedding at Peak ‘n Peak we drove up to the Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima in Lewiston, New York. It was a total spur of the moment random trip (which completed #1: Visit a New Church & #94 Go on a Spontaneous Adventure). I am not realizing until just at this moment how cool it is that we started our consecration on Our Lady of Fatima and then we got to visit the shrine!

“Never be afraid of loving the Blessed Virgin too much. You can never love her more than Jesus did.” Saint Maximilian Kolbe

What I loved about our consecration:

  • Total consecration to the Blessed Mother is beautiful beyond measure.
  • A set time to pray with Steven every day.
  • We gave Mary an even larger role in our lives and we feel more passionately in love with her as our Mother.
  • The passages to read were very do-able. We did not feel overwhelmed. It was the perfect amount of nightly reading and reflection.

If you’re interested, let me know! I would love to give you more information.

Enjoy a few pictures from the Shrine!

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#78: Attend 3 Weddings

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“Marriage is a feast – a Christian feast, not a worldly feast…some are more preoccupied with the exterior signs, with the banquet, the photographs, the clothes and the flowers…These are very important things in a feast, but only if they are able to show the true motive of your joy: the blessing of the Lord on your love.”

Pope Francis, St. Peter’s Square, 14 February 2014

I will be sharing with you updates on my “101 in 1001” list. First up is #78: Attend 3 Weddings

Steven and I were blessed this year to witness three couples lay down their lives for each other in holy marriage. We believe marriage is a sacrament which has the power to sanctify, to make us holy, and to draw us into deeper relationship with Christ. It has been beautiful for us to look at these three couples as true witnesses of sacramental love. We have been inspired by their devotion to the Lord, their unwavering love of the Catholic faith, and their ability to stay focused on the sacrament during each step of their engagement. We are joyful to have such holy friends!

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Rob and Karisa
May 23, 2015

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Jillian and Jason
August 14, 2015

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Katie and Patrick
October 17, 2015
Love, Mary

PS. We cannot wait to celebrate our 50th anniversary year with these three amazing couples! 2015 was a great year to get married 😉

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