Wednesday, September 30, 2015

My Saint My Hero

Recently I came across "My Saint My Hero," a jewelry company with a mission:  to be a community inspired by God to help transform lives and make the world a better place. Their beautifully unique pieces reflect the mission of prayer, preserving Church traditions, and sharing the inspiring lives of saints. Recognizing that we need heroes of today - modern day saints - cofounders Amy D'Ambra and Christine Rich provide beautiful wearable blessings in order to bring Faith, Hope, and Purpose into life. 
Each purchase enables My Saint My Hero to use the power of giving to help transform lives. For example, Harriet from Uganda, taught herself how to sew and do handcrafts in effort to try to break free from the cycle of poverty. Harriet makes necklaces for My Saint My Hero and creates each piece with a prayer devoted to the Virgin Mary. Women from the small pilgrimage town of Medgjugorje create My Saint My Hero's blessing bracelets. The economy is not easy in the country of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the work provided allows them to rise above the poverty level to put food on the table, shoes on their children's feet, and the opportunity to send their children to University. The women and their families gather together to weave the bracelets and pray for those that will wear their blessings bracelets.

I have two different bracelet blessings: the Serenity Blessing Bracelet and the Collegiate Blessing Bracelets. The Serenity bracelet has the Benedictine medal depicting the most powerful ancient cross of protection, and the cord that wraps around the wrist symbolizes the Wisdom of the Holy Spirit and the embrace of Our Blessed Mother. The Serenity prayer on the card also beautifully reminds me to accept the things I cannot change, have the courage to change the things I can, and the Wisdom to know the difference.

The collegiate blessings bracelets, also made with Benedictine medals in Medjugorje, hold the reminder that God has given each person a mission to make the world a better place and you can choose to fulfill that mission by using your hands to do good. I have the USC colors to remind myself to pray for the campus that I served on as a FOCUS Missionary Team Director. This line of bracelets also includes tips to live out your faith!

I love the layered bracelets, but My Saint My Hero has more to offer:  earrings, keychains, necklaces, prayer booklets, rosaries, sacramental gifts, and so much more! They also have a really cool Pope Francis line. :)

I highly recommend checking out this incredible company - each purchase makes a difference and provides an opportunity to share the love of our Lord.



Wednesday, August 12, 2015

If God Wills It

*This blog I wrote was first posted on Blessed Is She. Check them out here.
People often ask when I decided to become a campus missionary. My call, actually, came to me on an overseas mission trip. As I crossed the muddy waters from the Dominican Republic to Haiti, I watched the natives bathe while their children splashed in the awful smelling, cholera-infected water. Careful not to touch the water for fear of sickness, I thought to myself, “These people don’t realize that they are swimming in infected waters.
As a student, I couldn’t help but wonder what my campus would look like if I placed a spiritual lens over my eyes.
I suddenly saw my own friends unknowingly swimming in dangerous, infected waters of hopelessness, confusion, and sin.
Translating the physical poverty in the Dominican Republic to the spiritual poverty on my own college campus placed a sense of urgency and mission on my heart. I responded to this mission by giving Jesus my ‘yes’ to serve as a FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) missionary where I was called to serve at Arizona State University, then at the University of Southern California.
Inspired by Saint Pope John Paul II’s call to a “New Evangelization,” FOCUS is a national outreach that meets college students where they are and invites them into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ and the Catholic Faith.
As a missionary, I signed up to fundraise my salary, enter into a year long dating fast (in order to be more present to the students and to more clearly discern my vocation), and to move across the country in order to serve students that I didn’t even know. Each day my team (there are four of us) prays a Holy Hour, goes to Mass, and spends the rest of the day leading Bible studies, meeting for coffee dates, and finding any excuse to spend time with students.
Recently, I was blessed with the opportunity through FOCUS Missions to direct the Dominican Republic mission trip that transformed my heart over three years before. Six USC students and I met up with 18 other students and FOCUS missionaries from across the nation to work on mission alongside two priests from the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia. These holy men serve 10,000 poor people in the rural area of the Dominican Republic on the border of Haiti. The men, women, and children they serve live on the edge of extreme poverty. Most live in sub-standard housing and approximately 25% do not even have the “luxury” of an outhouse.
Prior to the trip, our mission group met for the first time in Miami at a retreat center to prepare for departure to the Dominican Republic. In celebration of the announcement of the Jubilee Year of Mercy and as a send off gift for our mission, the priest at the retreat center gave each mission trip participant a Good Shepherd pendant — the same pectoral cross that Pope Francis wears. The cross includes the image of Christ, as the Good Shepherd, and a dove above his head, symbolic of the Holy Spirit. The Shepherd is carrying the “lost and now found” lamb around his shoulders as He leads a flock of sheep. Adding this pendant to the chain around my neck, I got on the plane to the Dominican Republic praying that the Lord would show me what it means to be a witness of mercy in reflection of the Good Shepherd.
Our group of 22 spent a week digging three, ten-foot deep latrines, repairing a rundown chapel and praying with families during the day. Then, we facilitated youth ministry programs in the evenings. At our departing Mass, we prepared to leave the place and people that deeply moved our hearts. During the homily the priest said, “The people of B├ínica did not choose their crosses, and we are not here to take them away, but to do what small things we can to help them to carry their crosses well.”
One who looks through the lens of the world may feel very uncomfortable by that statement. Suffering is the worst thing that can happen in a secular world view. It is not comfortable to see someone suffering. How often are we inclined to turn our eyes from a homeless person?
Often, the American approach is to escape suffering by doing everything we can to eradicate it. However, the reality is that there will always be poverty, pain, and heartache.
The Christian approach to suffering is to live in compassion and solidarity with suffering. St. Paul in his letter to the Corinthians writes, “If one part suffers, all parts suffer with it…”. From its Latin roots, the word “compassion” literally means to “suffer with”.
As Catholics we understand that every human person has God-given dignity that cannot be diminished or taken away by circumstances of life. A person’s worth is not in physical things, but in the fact that they were created in the image and likeness of God.
There was a woman in the Dominican Republic who invited a group of our mission team over for lunch one day. She lived on a dirt floor in a hut made of mud and sticks, but she desired to serve us. Her words of incredible wisdom still resound in my heart. She said, “I have spiritual richness. Many Americans live in spiritual poverty”. In the eyes of the world, this woman has nothing, but she carried the Joy of the Cross because she has her eyes set on the joys of eternal life.
As missionaries in the Dominican Republic, our service of digging latrines and repairing a chapel was not life-changing for the people. We did what little things we could to help alleviate their pain, but the greatest gift we could give was to acknowledge their dignity as human persons and to walk with them in the midst of suffering.
Each day I meet students on campus who are carrying extremely heavy burdens. The weight of their crosses becomes apparent as they share with me the pain from a broken family, the loss of their purity, the pressure to perform academically, and their attempt to build their identity around image.
As a FOCUS missionary on a college campus, I am doing what small things I can to alleviate the pain and pressures of college by simply being present and pointing them to the mercy of the Cross of Christ. It doesn’t seem like much, but the fruit of the seeds we sow is revealed when a student says, “If it weren’t for Jesus working through you, I don’t know where I’d be.”
Our crosses take many forms, and we are all called to do what small things we can to help one another carry our crosses well. As brothers and sisters, when we look beyond the surface and extend a loving hand to those we encounter, we unite our crosses, becoming the Body of Christ – the Good Shepherd – helping to carry one another in mercy to freedom in redemption.
The faith of those I encountered in the Dominican Republic, the simple people who live off the land and mean it when they say, “Si Dios quiere…” (“If God wills it…”) taught me what it means to be a witness of mercy in reflection of the Good Shepherd and to find joy in uniting our sufferings with the Cross of Christ.
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Friday, March 6, 2015

A Call To Mission

People often ask, "When did you decide to apply to become a FOCUS missionary?" The answer is when I was on a mission trip. As I crossed the muddy waters from the Dominican Republic to Haiti, I watched the natives bathe while their children splashed in the awful smelling, cholera-infected water. Careful not to touch the water for fear of sickness, I thought to myself, “These people don’t realize that they are swimming in infected waters.” I couldn’t help but wonder what my campus would look like if I placed a spiritual lens over my eyes. I suddenly saw myself and my own friends unknowingly swimming in dangerous, infected waters of hopelessness, confusion, and sin. Translating the physical poverty in the Dominican Republic to the spiritual poverty on my own college campus placed a sense of urgency and mission on my heart.

Serving on mission in the Dominican Republic my junior year of college
in December 2011 changed my heart. It was at this moment that I knew I was being called to serve Christ on a college campus


To serve on these missions I need
to raise $5,000. If you would like to give:
send your gift to
P.O. Box 18710 
Golden, CO 80402-9809
All checks should be made out to
“FOCUS” with my name & the number
“44220” in the memo line.
donate online at

Thank you & God Bless!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

FOCUS USC: A New Chapter

As many of you know, I have transitioned from Arizona State University to the team director at the University of Southern California. It's been a crazy change but feel very blessed to be surrounded by such an amazing staff & team. I am so excited to see how the Lord will work in the hearts of students here in LA! 

Meet the new team!

Tanelle Berard
-first year missionary
-born in Canada, grew up in Iowa
-Elite Triathlon (2 time Junior National Champion & 7th place Worlds Finisher) & D1 Cross Country/Track runner)

-graduated from University of Northern Colorado in Greeley with a degree in Chemistry
-pastimes: playing sports, reading, and being outdoors

John Potts
-first year missionary
-from South Dakota
-graduated from South Dakota State University with a degree in Medical Laboratory Sciences
-worked in a regional laboratory following graduation
-pastimes: soccer, spending time outdoors, and education

Danny Zink
-second year missionary (served at Auburn University in Alabama)
-from St. Louis, Missouri
-graduated from Benedictine College with degrees in Theology & Chemistry
-pastimes: reading, playing pick up sports, theological discussions

Emily German
-team director, second year missionary
-from Humphrey, Nebraska
-graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a degree in Advertising/Public Relations and a minor in Art
-pastimes: painting & drawing, spending time outdoors & with people

Pray for us as we serve Christ at Our Savior Parish at the Caruso Catholic Center. :)

In Him,

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Nicaragua FOCUS Missions Trip: The Art of Living

It's taken me a while to post about the incredible experience of serving on a FOCUS Missions trip in Nicaragua, but I think I've finally had enough time to upack (literally & figuratively) the trip to attempt to share the impact it has had on my heart and the hearts of the students.

In the eyes of the Western world, the way that the Nicaraguans live - the clay huts, the wood burning stove, the lack of technology - is heartwrenching. We want to fix their lives, with hopes of finally allowing them to be happy, but we've totally missed the point. The people that I encountered are happy, much more than most anywhere I've ever been.

During our first day of work we took the Nicaraguans off guard with our speed and focus on the task at hand. They watched us, laughing as we got lost in our speedy work and eventually asked if we would slow down. They explained that they enjoy working alongside one another. They desired to converse and form relationships as we worked to complete the task together.  I began to recognize how easily I get caught up in my work, moving from one task to another, and forget to be totally present to those around me. The truth is that we can never completely eradicate poverty from the world - it just isn't possible. We can do everything possible to alleviate the pains of poverty, but the true beauty of serving is living with compassion and solidarity with those in poverty, and translating it to the poverty around us and within us.

Mother Teresa says, "The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love. The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty - it is not only a poverty of loneliness, but also of spirituality. There's a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God." So which is the greater poverty? The people that I encountered in Nicaragua were so filled with joy of the Gospel. They didn't desire more things or money - they were content with what they had. They recognized the spiritual poverty that many of us carried, and they reflected the hands & feet of Christ in loving us and teaching us the true importance of life. 

Celebrating Mass with the Nicaraguans was easily the most powerful of all. In recognizing the universality of the church, we recognize that Christ is present in Nicaragua and in every Mass in which we partake. This unites us all - we are brothers and sisters in Christ. We are truly the body of Christ, and they treated us in this way. During the sign of peace I felt as if my heart may explode with love as men, women, and children flocked us with hugs & kisses. They were filled with such love and gratitude for us being there. The parishoners explained to us that merely taking the time to be there, we reminded them of the importance of "going outside of yourself" to share the faith. They continued to describe their joy in sharing in the body of Christ with us.

Throughout the week we worked to replace the roof of a church - their tin roof had begun to rust away and had several holes. Later in the day we spent time praying with families and playing with the children & teaching them Bible stories. My fellow missionaries and I gave talks to the student missionaries to teach them different forms of prayer and to aid in translating the experience into lifelong mission. It was truly beautiful to see how the group came together and opened up through nightly sharing of testimonies and experiences throughout the day.

The entire time we were in Nicaragua I felt as if my heart was coming alive within me. I've realized that traveling reveals a part within myself that I never knew to exist. God reveals the beauty of Himself to me in a new way, through nature and people. I often ponder this reality of "beauty" and of "God the Creator" and the ways that God reveals himself to me through His creations. As an artist, this speaks deeply to my heart. Blessed Pope John Paul II, in his letter to Artists says, "That is why artists, the more conscious they are of their 'gift,' are led all the more to see themselves and the whole of creation with eyes able to contemplate and give thanks, and to raise to God a hymn of praise. This is the only way for them to come to a full understanding of themselves, their vocation and their mission. Not all are called to be artists in the specific sense of the term. Yet, as Genesis has it, all men and women are entrusted with the task of crafting their own life:  in a certain sense, they are to make of it a work of art, a masterpiece."

The greatest lesson that I have taken from the people of Nicaragua is the art of living. I've learned that the art of living is in being completely present to the moment at hand and to love the person next to you with the joy of Christ. It is the ability to see with God's eyes, to hear with God's ears, and to love with the heart of God. In being present I am able to recognize the way that the Holy Spirit is working through and in me right now. How I choose to respond are brushstrokes on the canvas of my life and of others, and He has entrusted me with the task of bringing Him glory through creating a work of art, a masterpiece.

If you'd like to see more pictures, check out my entire 
Nicaragua Mission Trip album here.

Monday, March 3, 2014

What is Lent?

The word "Lent" often draws thoughts of "giving something up" for a period of time. But what is the true meaning behind the 40-day season? 
At the heart of the Lenten Season lies preparation for Baptism and a renewal of baptismal commitment. As the candidates for Baptism enter their final period of preparation for Baptism, the rest of the Church accompanies them on their journey and together, we prepare to renew our baptismal vows at Easter. Lent then, is truly baptismal, whether for one who is entering the Church for the first time, or for someone seeking to grow closer to Christ and renew their Baptismal promises.

So why do people fast during Lent? Lent is about conversion, turning our lives more completely over to Christ and His way of life. Lent is a 40-day season. Let's take a look at where the number forty appears in the Bible:
-Noah waited 40 days before opening a window on the ark and releasing a dove. (Genesis 8:6) 
-Moses fasted on a mountain 40 days and returned with the Ten Commandments. (Exodus 34:28-29)
-The Israelites spent 40 years in the wilderness searching for the Promised Land. (Exodus 16:35) 
-Goliath taunted the Israelite army for 40 days before being defeated by David. (1 Samuel 17:16) 
-Jonah warned the city of Nineveh that they had 40 days until God would overthrow the city. Within those 40 days the people repented and God spared the city. (Jonah 3:4) 
-Jesus fasted in the wilderness for 40 days enduring the temptations of the devil. (Matthew 4:1-2) 
-After Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection He appeared to the disciples for 40 days and then joined His Father in Heaven. (Acts 1:3) 

As you can see, the number forty has long been biblically recognized as an important number, one often associated with a period of trial followed by grace and renewal. This is exactly how we view Lent. A time of preparation followed by renewal of spirit. In order to grow spiritually, we must turn away from sin. The goal is not to abstain from sin for the duration of Lent but to root sin out of our lives forever. Conversion means leaving behind an old way of living and acting in order to embrace new life in Christ. Fasting is a way to develop self-control and to gain the ability to say "no" to the small things we enjoy, even if they are ultimately good, so that you can say "no" to the things that draw us into sin. Fasting should also be connected to our concern for those who are forced to fast by poverty or are in need for any reason. Thus, fasting is linked to living out our baptismal promises. By our Baptism, we are charged with the responsibility of showing Christ's love to the world, especially those in need. When human suffering is accepted and offered up in union with the Passion of Jesus, we believe that our suffering can be united to that of Christ and so in union with His Passion. Fasting can help us realize the suffering that so many people in our world experience every day, and it should lead us to greater efforts to alleviate that suffering. (This recognition of suffering will become a strong reality as I set off for a FOCUS Missions trip to Nicaragua with several students and fellow missionaries in just a few days! Pray for us!)

But why put ashes on our foreheads? The ashes for Ash Wednesday are made from blessed palm branches from the previous Palm Sunday. The ashes are sprinkled with Holy Water and incensed before distribution. Ashes are applied to our forehead in the sign of the cross as the words, "Remember, you are dust and to dust you shall return" or "Turn away from sin and be faithful to the gospel" are spoken to us. The words "Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return" are from scripture. They occur after The Fall when God is explaining to Adam one of the main consequences of Original Sin -- separation from God and mortality. God reminds Adam that his body is dust, and after the fall, to dust it shall return. Ash Wednesday takes us back to that moment. We are standing in the Garden with Adam and Eve. We are dust and to dust we shall return. There is a great schism between God and us, and how can that relationship be repaired? Jesus' death and resurrection reconciles us with God, and is precisely the focal point of Lent -- Easter. We look forward with hope to the celebration of Easter. We remember that we are nothing but dust if we do not have Easter; it is only Jesus' resurrection that gives us hope that we too shall be risen from the dust. When we hear the words, "you are dust and to dust you shall return" it should call to mind the spirit of Lent, reminding us that not only are our bodies dust, but so are all of the things of this world. All money, possessions, and earthly accomplishments are not important in themselves. They are all fleeting. They are all, ultimately, dust. Lent is a time to re-evaluate our lives. Yes, we are dust. Do we spend our lives chasing more dust? Or are we chasing the one thing that can truly make an eternal difference? Are we chasing the one Being who can breathe life into dust? For a people of dust, this is our only hope. Receiving ashes on Ash Wednesday symbolizes our mortality as well as our need for ongoing repentance. It is a reminder that this life is short and merely a foreshadowing of what we shall become through the redemption of Jesus Christ on the cross. We look forward to when we are raised from the dust, in resurrected bodies like His own and called to the eternal communion of heaven.