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.


(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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The Weekender Link Party
Simple Moments Stick

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.”


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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

feet washing

(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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#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!

PicMonkey Collage

(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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#TestimonyTuesday Link-Up // How We Met

Today I am joining the Testimony Tuesday community. They share about how much God has done in their lives. What an amazing link-up! Count me in. Today I will be sharing how Steven and I met, because it is such a testimony of the goodness of our loving Father.


(Credit: Sarah Renee Studios)

Mary’s Take

“In December of 2011 I made the decision to attend a Young Adult Retreat for the Diocese of Cleveland at Saint Basil the Great in Brecksville, Ohio. I was hesitant and wavered if I wanted to attend, but my mom encouraged me and in a last minute decision I headed over. The retreat started at 6:00pm with dinner. A handsome man asked if he could sit at my table. The rest of the evening, I could not stop thinking of him. During adoration I even prayed that he would sit next to me… and then he did! When he did, my heart melted (talk about butterflies!) I did not say more than two words to him, but I knew he was truly someone special.

On December 31, the retreat ended and I went home to search for him on Facebook (naturally). I saw that we had over 30 mutual friends and realized we were also members of the Teens Encounter Christ community. That evening I went to a New Years Eve benefit concert at Communion of Saints in Coventry. A few of those mutual friends were there, so of course I asked them about him. Their responses were, “He is the nicest boy” or “He is such a great guy!”

I friend requested him immediately. After a few small conversations, we began our adventure with a date at Tommy’s in Coventry. We followed with dates to Little Italy, the Cleveland Art Museum, and the Cleveland Aquarium. Steven swept me off my feet and our fairy-tale began!”

Steven’s Turn

“I had a friend from college who persuaded me to go on a retreat the day before it started. I was very hesitant about going, because I only knew one person that would be there. When I arrived it was dinner time and I asked to sit at the table Mary was at. We did not talk much then, but later in the night I was kneeling next to her during Adoration and noticed she had a ring on her finger. I later found out this was a Claddagh, which she wore on her ring hand with the heart facing out since she was single. Being a guy I had no idea of what it meant. I just thought she was taken.

After the retreat she sent me a really sweet message over Facebook and wished me a Happy New Year and asked if I enjoyed the retreat. For some reason I knew there was something special and I could not wait to respond. We sent some messages back and forth and I tried to see if she was free to go to a Theology on Tap, but she had class. Then we decided to go to dinner at Tommy’s where I spilled water on myself… twice. She did not seem to mind and said yes to a second date and every date since.”

You guys, every date since. The story of how Steven and I met has God’s fingerprints all over it. We met at a Catholic retreat… Goodness, our Father is SO good. Never once does He let us walk alone. He is such a faithful Lord.

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Holly Barrett