Wednesday, May 25, 2016

St. Philip Neri, patron saint of joy

May 26 is the memorial of one of my favorite saints, St. Philip Neri. He has a special place in my heart because he was on fire with love for the Lord and had a wonderful way of drawing others to the Faith -- through his warm sense of humor and charismatic personality. He treated everyone with equal dignity and respect and dedicated himself to helping others, regardless of their class or their state in life He demonstrated heroic charity and desired to bring all into a deeper relationship with the Lord. John Henry Newman, one of his followers, wrote this of him: "Nothing was too high for him, nothing too low. He taught poor begging women to use mental prayer; he protected orphans...Cardinals hung about his room, and popes asked for his miraculous aid in disease...It was was his mission to save people, not from, but in, the world."*

St. Philip Neri was born in Florence, Italy on July 22, 1515, one of four children of the notary Francesco Neri. His mother died when he was very young, but a very capable and competent stepmother filled her place. Although they were related to Italian nobility, the family was quite poor. Philip was a cheerful and friendly boy, who was well-liked by all who knew him.

At eighteen, Philip was sent to the town of San Germano, where he lived with a childless relative who had a business there to train as an apprentice and heir. Philip had a strong aptitude for business. Soon after his arrival, Philip began speaking of his conversion, which dramatically changed his life. He left his relative’s home and set out for Rome, as he had a vision that he had a mission to fulfill there. He left without money or a specific plan, trusting in God’s providence.

In Rome, he found shelter in the home of Galeotto Caccia who offered him an attic and a few basic necessities in exchange for tutoring his two sons. During his first two years there, he lived as a recluse, spending time in prayer and eating small meals. Then, for the next three years, he studied philosophy and theology at the Sapienza and St. Augustine’s Monastery, where he was a brilliant student. Quite suddenly, he stopped taking classes, sold all his books and gave his money to the poor. Philip now set about on a new venture – to evangelize the people of Rome.

He started out in a very direct manner, making friends with people on street corners and in the public squares. His warm, friendly manner, his cheerfulness, and his wonderful sense of humor would catch the attention of passersby, and once caught, they found it difficult to escape. He had a magnetic personality and an appeal that drew others to him and held their interest. His usual question, “Well brothers, when shall we begin to do some good?” frequently brought a positive response. Without hesitation, he would take them with him to visit and care for the poor in the hospitals or to pray in the Seven Churches. His days were given up totally for others, but his nights were filled with solitude as he spent them either in a church porch or in the catacombs along the Appian Way.

During the Easter season of 1544, while praying in one of the grottos along the Appian Way, he received a vision of a globe of fire, which first entered his mouth and then his chest. He felt a dilation of the chest. He was filled with such strong divine love, that he fell to the ground, crying out in joy, “Enough, enough, Lord, I can bear no more!” When he stood up, he discovered a swelling over his heart, which gave him no pain.In the year 1548, when Philip had been carrying on his mission for ten years, he founded the Confraternity of the Most Holy Trinity – a group of laymen who met regularly for spiritual growth. He also popularized the devotion of the forty hours – exposing the Blessed Sacrament for forty hours, on three successive days, in honor of the forty hours Christ spent in the tomb. Philip had accomplished much by the time he was thirty-four, but his spiritual director felt he could be even more effective as a priest.

On May 23, 1551, he was ordained. He carried on his mission mainly through the confessional. He started hearing confessions before dawn and continued for hours, while men of women of all ages and social rank flocked to him. In his later years, Philip became weak and suffered from many illnesses, each of which was cured through prayer.

On the feast of Corpus Christi, May 25, 1595, Philip was in a radiantly happy mood. All day he had heard confessions and met with visitors. About midnight, he had a severe hemorrhage and the other priests were called to his bedside. They prayed over him and then he raised his hand in Benediction to bless them one last time. As he raised his hand, he passed to his eternal reward.

Six years later, he was beatified and Pope Gregory XV canonized him in 1622. He was known not only as “The Humorous Saint”, but also as the “Apostle of Rome.” St. Philip Neri is the patron saint of joy.

Quotes From St. Philip Neri

“Bear the cross and do not make the cross bear you.”

“There is no purgatory in this world. Nothing but heaven or hell.”

“Sufferings are a kind of paradise to him who suffers them with patience, while they are a hell to him who has no patience.”

“Men are generally the carpenters of their own crosses.”

"Let me get through today, and I shall not fear tomorrow."

“The greatness of our love for God may be tested by the desire we have of suffering for His sake.”

 “The true servant of God recognizes no other country but Heaven.”

"Cheerfulness strengthens the heart and makes us persevere in a good life. Therefore the servant of God ought always to be in good spirits."

Prayer to St. Philip Neri

O holy St. Philip Neri, patron saint of joy, you who trusted Scripture’s promise that the Lord is always at hand and that we need not have anxiety about anything, in your compassion heal our worries and sorrows and lift the burdens from our hearts. We come to you as one whose heart swells with abundant love for God and all creation. Hear us, we pray, especially in this need (make your request here). Keep us safe through your loving intercession, and may the joy of the Holy Spirit which filled your heart, St. Philip, transform our lives and bring us peace. Amen.

(Excerpted, in part, from Gold in the Furnace, Jean M. Heimann, copyright 2004)

- copyright Jean M. Heimann May 2016

*Blessed John Henry Newman as quoted in the May 2016 Magnificat, page 386.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Novena to the Sacred Heart of Jesus begins Wednesday

The month of June is singled out for devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The novena to the Sacred Heart begins on Wednesday, May 25 and ends on Thursday, June 2, the eve of the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which takes place on June 3 this year.

Efficacious Novena to the Sacred Heart of Jesus

I. O my Jesus, you have said: "Truly I say to you, ask and you will receive, seek and you will find, knock and it will be opened to you." Behold I knock, I seek and ask for the grace of...... (here name your request)
Our Father....Hail Mary....Glory Be to the Father....Sacred Heart of Jesus, I place all my trust in you.

II. O my Jesus, you have said: "Truly I say to you, if you ask anything of the Father in my name, he will give it to you." Behold, in your name, I ask the Father for the grace of.......(here name your request) Our Father...Hail Mary....Glory Be To the Father....Sacred Heart of Jesus, I place all my trust in you.

III. O my Jesus, you have said: "Truly I say to you, heaven and earth will pass away but my words will not pass away." Encouraged by your infallible words I now ask for the grace of.....(here name your request) Our Father....Hail Mary....Glory Be to the Father...Sacred Heart of Jesus, I place all my trust in you.

O Sacred Heart of Jesus, for whom it is impossible not to have compassion on the afflicted, have pity on us miserable sinners and grant us the grace which we ask of you, through the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary, your tender Mother and ours.

Say the Hail, Holy Queen and add: St. Joseph, foster father of Jesus, pray for us.

~ St. Margaret Mary Alacoque

 Information on Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus

The Twelve Promises of the Sacred Heart of Jesus to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque

1. I will give them all the graces necessary in their state of life.

2. I will establish peace in their homes.

3. I will comfort them in all their afflictions.

4. I will be their secure refuge during life, and above all in death.

5. I will bestow abundant blessings upon all their undertakings.

6. Sinners shall find in my Heart the source and the infinite ocean of mercy.

7. Tepid souls shall become fervent.

8. Fervent souls shall quickly move to high perfection.

9. I will bless every place in which an image of my Heart shall be exposed and honored.

10. I will give to priests the gift of touching the most hardened hearts.

11. Those who shall promote this devotion shall have their names written in my Heart, never to be effaced.

12. I promise thee in the excessive mercy of my Heart that my all-powerful love will grant to all those who communicate on the First Friday in nine consecutive months the grace of final penitence; they shall not die in my disgrace nor without receiving their Sacraments. My Divine Heart shall be their safe refuge in this last moment.

Day 12: Learning to Love with the Saints Blog Tour

Today, Storyteller, Author, Blogger, Podcaster and Radio Host Tony Agnesi reviews Learning to Love with the Saints: A Spiritual Memoir at Finding God's Grace in Everyday Life. Tony is well-known for his inspirational writing and storytelling, so take a look to see what he has to say about Learning to Love with the Saints and while you're there, check out his other reviews, podcasts, stories, and quotes.

The Feast of Mary Help of Christians

Today, May 24, is the feast of Mary Help of Christians.

The tradition of this devotion dates back to 1571, when Mary Help of Christians saved the whole of Christendom when Catholics throughout Europe prayed the Rosary. The great battle of Lepanto occurred on October 7th 1571. For this reason this date has been chosen as the feast of the Holy Rosary. In 1573, Pope Pius V instituted this feast in thanksgiving for the decisive victory of Christianity over Islamism.

Near the end of the 17th century, Emperor Leopold I of Austria took refuge in the Shrine of Mary Help of Christians at Pasau, when 200,000 Ottoman Turks besieged the capital city of Vienna, but a great victory occurred thanks to Mary Help of Christians: on September 8th, Feast of Our Lady's Birthday, plans were drawn for the battle. On September 12, Feast of the Holy Name of Mary, Vienna was finally freed through the intercession of Mary Help of Christians. All Europe had joined with the Emperor crying out "Mary, Help!" and praying the Holy Rosary.

In 1809, Napoleon's men entered the Vatican, arrested Pius VII and brought him in chains to Grenoble, and eventually Fontainbleau. His imprisonment lasted five years. The Holy Father vowed to God that, if he were restored to the Roman See, he would institute a special feast in honor of Mary. Military reverses forced Napoleon to release the Pope, and on May 24th  1814, Pius VII returned in triumph to Rome. Twelve months later, the Pope decreed that the feast of Mary Help of Christians, be kept on the 24th of May.

St. John Bosco (1815 - 1888) was a dynamic priest who founded the Salesian Order in the XIX century in Italy. His many prophetic dreams, beginning at age nine, guided his ministry and gave insights on future events.

On May 14, 1862, Don Bosco dreamed about the battles the Church would face in the latter days. In his dream, the Pope of those days anchors the 'ship' of the Church between two pillars, one with a statue of Mary (Auxilium Christianorum or 'Help of Christians') and the other with a large Eucharistic Host

St. John Bosco wrote about his congregation, the Salesians:  "The principal objective is to promote veneration of the Blessed Sacrament and devotion to Mary Help of Christians. This title seems to please the august Queen of Heaven very much."

The Salesian Sisters of St John Bosco or Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, are the sister order of the Salesians of Don Bosco.

St. John Bosco, himself, on June 9 1868, dedicated to Our Lady Help of Christians, the mother church of his congregation at Turin (Italy). The Salesian Fathers and their Sisters have carried the devotion to their numerous establishments.

Prayer to Mary, Help of Christians 

 Most Holy Virgin Mary, Help of Christians, how sweet it is to come to your feet imploring your perpetual help. If earthly mothers cease not to remember their children, how can you, the most loving of all mothers forget me? Grant then to me, I implore you, your perpetual help in all my necessities, in every sorrow, and especially in all my temptations. I ask for your unceasing help for all who are now suffering. Help the weak, cure the sick, convert sinners. Grant through your intercessions many vocations to the religious life. Obtain for us, O Mary, Help of Christians, that having invoked you on earth we may love and eternally thank you in heaven.

 ~Saint John Bosco, modern Apostle of young people (1815-1888)

Monday, May 23, 2016

Day 11: Learning to Love with the Saints Blog Tour and Book Giveaway

Today, Virginia Lieto, inspirational author, speaker, blogger, and theology professor reviews my new book, Learning to Love with the Saints: A Spiritual Memoir and will be giving away an autographed copy! Go visit her at Virginia Lieto and enter to win!

There's only one more day for the blog tour, but you won't want to miss this last stop! On Tuesday, May 24, Tony Agnesi reviews Learning to Love with the Saints at Finding God’s Grace in Everyday Life. 

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Day 10: Learning to Love with the Saint Blog Tour and Book Giveaway

Today, Melanie Jean Juneau hosts the blog tour for my new book, Learning to Love with the Saints: A Spiritual Memoir at Association of Catholic Women Bloggers and Joy of Nine9. She is a top notch writer and blogger, so be sure to read her review!

Here are the remaining stops on the Blog Tour and Book Giveaway for Learning to Love with the Saints:

Monday, May 23--Virginia Lieto, Review, Virginia Lieto  Book Giveaway!

Tuesday, May 24 -- Tony Agnesi, Review, Finding God’s Grace in Everyday Life 

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Learning to Love with the Saints: Blog Tour and Book Giveaway

Today, Patrice Fagnant - MacArthur at Spiritual Woman hosts the blog tour for my new book, Learning to Love with the Saints: A Spiritual Memoir. An avid reader, a gifted writer, and a seasoned reviewer, Patrice shares her honest opinion of the book.

Here are the remaining stops on the blog tour:

Sunday, May 22 -- Melanie Jean Juneau, Review, Association of Catholic Women Bloggers  and Joy of Nine  

Monday, May 23--Virginia Lieto, Review, Virginia Lieto  Book Giveaway!

Tuesday, May 24 -- Tony Agnesi, Review, Finding God’s Grace in Everyday Life 

Friday, May 20, 2016

Seven Quick Takes: Book Giveaway!

1. This has been a very busy week! My new book, Learning to Love with the Saints: A Spiritual Memoir officially launched on the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima exactly one week ago today. My shipment of books and new business cards arrived on Wednesday along with a second shipment of books  on Thursday. There have been speaking requests plus book signings and more... Whoa! It's exciting and exhausting all at the same time. In addition, I have been conducting a book blog tour this past week which extends until Tuesday, May 24.

Today, on day 8 of the blog tour, the sweet Jeannie Ewing interviews me at Love Alone Creates. She asked me some very intelligent and insightful questions, so go check it out! Be sure to enter to win a first edition, autographed copy of Learning to Love with the Saints: A Spiritual Memoir.

If you would like to learn more about Learning to Love with the Saints and enter to win a free book,  here is the blog tour schedule:

Friday, May 13 -- Ellen Gable Hrkach, Review, Plot, Line, and Sinker  

Saturday, May 14 -- Rosemary Bogdan, Review, A Catholic Mother’s Thoughts
Book Giveaway!

Sunday, May 15 -- Carolyn Astfalk, Review, My Scribbler’s Heart Blog
Book Giveaway!

Monday, May 16 -- Lisa Mladinich, Interview, Patheos and Amazing Catechists,
Book Giveaway!

Tuesday, May 17—Nancy HC Ward, Review, Joy Alive in our Hearts
Book Giveaway!

Wednesday, May 18 -- Esther Gefroh, Review, A Catholic Mom in Hawaii

Thursday, May 19 -- Barb Szyszkiewicz, Review, Franciscan Mom  
Book Giveaway! and Catholic Mom

Friday, May 20--Jeannie Ewing, Interview, Love Alone Creates
Book Giveaway!

Saturday, May 21-- Patrice Faganant McArthur, Review, Spiritual Woman

Sunday, May 22 -- Melanie Jean Juneau, Review, Association of Catholic Women Bloggers  and Joy of Nine

Monday, May 23--Virginia Lieto, Review, Virginia Lieto , Book Giveaway!

Tuesday, May 24 -- Tony Agnesi, Review, Finding God’s Grace in Everyday Life

2. Just to give you an idea of what Learning to Love with the Saints: A Spiritual Memoir is Like, here are some comments from some of the reviewers:

"Jean has written a stunningly beautiful spiritual love story which she now shares with the world in this book. You won’t want to miss it. Walk along with Jean as you read her story and allow the saints that Jean affectionately and so aptly tells about, lead you ever deeper into a loving relationship with Our Lord."

--Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle, EWTN TV Host, Speaker, and Author of The Kiss of Jesus, Bringing Lent Home with Pope Francis, The Miraculous Medal, Catholic Mom's Cafe, Rooted in Love, Angels for Kids, and many more books.

"With Learning to Love With the Saints, Jean M. Heimann has written a beautiful and moving memoir that illustrates how the holy saints' examples not only increase our faith, but give us the strength we need in difficult times. Highly recommend!" 

--Ellen Gable Hrkach, award-winning novelist and book coach

"Jean’s tender and deeply personal memoir is, a love story of how Christ wooed her soul via the example of joyful Catholics both living and in Heaven. Jean relates, in the context of her journey, precious wisdom on how to find your way home, in the midst of trials and suffering, to the arms of Our Lord."

--Leticia Velasquez, author of A Special Mother is Born and From the Hub to the Heart

"At some point, we will suffer tragedy, loss, or illness.  In Learning to Love With the Saints, Jean M. Heimann shows us that suffering can be transformed into love as we take the hands of our heavenly companions and journey with the saints through our times of trial and hardship.  Like Jean, we can learn how to love the most difficult people and circumstances by modeling our lives after the virtues exemplified by the saints."

--Jeannie Ewing, author of From Grief to Grace: The Journey from Tragedy to Triumph and Navigating Deep Waters: Meditations for Caregivers.  

"It is one thing to read about God working through the great saints who seem so distant from us. It is quite another to see him working through someone who keeps journeying on, because God’s love is working in and through them. This book is inspiring and uplifting and I recommend it knowing that it can do for others what it has done for me. " 

--David Torkington – Spiritual Theologian, speaker and retreat leader, author of Wisdom from the Western Isles.

"Jean M. Heimann's blog and first book are dedicated to telling the stories of saints. In Learning to Love With the Saints, Jean shares her own surprising and inspiring faith story, tracing a path walked with growing devotion and conviction." 

--Barb Szyszkiewicz, OFS; freelance writer and editor, blogging at Franciscan Mom and author at Catholic Mom

"Jean M. Heimann's Learning to Love With the Saints is wise and full of beauty, a memoir to be savored and brought to prayer. Read it and be blessed, and then share it with someone you love."

--Lisa Mladinich, catechist and workshop leader, author of True Radiance: Finding Grace in the Second Half of Life

"Journey with Jean Heimann in this memoir and you'll find yourself growing closer to God and learning about His mercy."
 - Sarah Reinhard, author and blogger,

3. The Feast of Corpus Christi is May 29 this year, so let's get started on the Novena, which begins today. 

Novena Honoring the Body and Blood of Christ

I thank You, Jesus, my Divine Redeemer, for coming upon the earth for our sake, and for instituting the adorable Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist in order to remain with us until the end of the world.
 I thank You for hiding beneath the Eucharistic species Your infinite majesty and beauty, which Your Angels delight to behold, so that I might have courage to approach the throne of Your Mercy. 
I thank You, most loving Jesus, for having made Your- self my food, and for uniting me to Yourself with so much love in this wonderful Sacrament that I may live in You. 
I thank You, my Jesus, for giving Yourself to me in this Blessed Sacrament, and so enriching it with the treasures of Your love that You have no greater gift to give me.
 I thank You not only for becoming my food but also for offering Yourself as a continual sacrifice to Your Eternal Father for my salvation. 
I thank You, Divine Priest, for offering Yourself as a Sacrifice daily upon our altars in adoration and homage to the Most Blessed Trinity, and for making amends for our poor and miserable adorations. 
I thank You for renewing in this daily Sacrifice the actual Sacrifice of the Cross offered on Calvary, in which You satisfy Divine justice for us poor sinners. 
I thank You, dear Jesus, for having become the priceless Victim to merit for me the fullness of heavenly favors. Awaken in me such confidence in You that their fullness may descend ever more fruitfully upon my soul. 
I thank You for offering Yourself in thanksgiving to God for all His benefits, spiritual and temporal, which He has bestowed upon me. 
In union with Your offering of Yourself to Your Father in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, I ask for this special favor: (Mention your request). 
If it be Your holy Will, grant my request. Through You I also hope to receive the grace of perseverance in Your love and faithful service, a holy death, and a happy
eternity with You in Heaven. Amen. 

O Lord, You have given us this Sacred Banquet, in which Christ is received, the memory of His Passion is renewed, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us.
You have given them bread from Heaven. 
Having all sweetness within.

Let us pray. God our Father, for Your glory and our salvation You appointed Jesus Christ eternal High Priest. May the people He gained for You by His Blood come to share in the power of His Cross and Resurrection by celebrating His Memorial in this Eucharist, for He lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever. Amen. 

O Jesus, since You have left us a remembrance of Your Passion beneath the veils of this Sacrament, grant us, we pray, so to venerate the sacred mysteries of Your Body and Blood that we may always enjoy the fruits of Your Redemption, for You live and reign forever. Amen.

4. Spring is here and it's planting season. Here is what our garden looks like so far. It's coming up -- at least part of it anyway!

5. A reader wrote me about the struggle she has with virginity in this sex-crazed world and asked for advice. If you would like to add your own ideas, please mention them in the comments.

6. Today is the Feast of St. Bernadine of Siena, who is the patron saint of communication.  A Franciscan friar and preacher, St. Bernardine is known as “the Apostle of Italy” for his efforts to revive the country's Catholic faith during the 15th century.

7. I have met Alveda King and really like this life-affirming lady.

Have a wonderful weekend!

For more Quick Takes, please visit Kelly at This Ain't the Lyceum.


Thursday, May 19, 2016

Learning to Love with the Saints: Book Blog Tour and Giveaway

On Day 7 of the blog tour for my new book, Learning to Love with the Saints: A Spiritual Memoir, a long-time popular blogger whom I have known for many years, the avid reader and talented writer BarbSzyszkiewicz, also known as Franciscan Mom, reviews my book at both Franciscan Mom and Catholic Mom today. Go visit her and enter to win at both sites and enter to win a free, first edition, signed copy of my book at Franciscan Mom.

Visit these sites for the remainder of the tour:

Friday, May 20--Jeannie Ewing, Interview, Love Alone Creates 
Book Giveaway!

Saturday, May 21-- Patrice Faganant McArthur, Review, Spiritual Woman

Sunday, May 22 -- Melanie Jean Juneau, Review, Association of Catholic Women Bloggers  and Joy of Nine

Monday, May 23--Virginia Lieto, Review, Virginia Lieto, Book Giveaway!

Tuesday, May 24 -- Tony Agnesi, Review, Finding God’s Grace in Everyday Life

A reader writes: “I need advice on how to live despite the way the world projects virginity with such negativity.”

A female reader from Africa writes: I am on the verge of giving up. I feel very different from every other person in the world and I am wondering what reward I would get for my being chaste from birth. I have never accepted intimate relationships with anyone, part of me wonders if that is what the church preaches, part of me is unhappy, part of me finds my way of life satisfying. The other part wonders if I have a life at all. I don't exactly need a relationship, but I wonder what to do with my life when I need one. I wonder if I would join a convent when I don't get one, and I wonder if that's the life I want for myself. I need advice on how to live despite the way the world projects virginity with such negativity. I need an assurance that I am not insanely weird, and I need to know that God would be there to direct my life for the best.

Hang in there! Don’t give up! God is with you and will give you the grace you need to keep you strong in the battle. I am praying for you now and will continue to lift you up in my daily prayers.

As a Catholic who follows the teachings of the Church, you will naturally feel different than the rest of the world. That’s perfectly normal. As Christians, we are called to live our lives in opposition to that of the rest of society because our values and beliefs are radically different. Jesus was considered a “radical” in his time, and so, too, Catholics who live out their faith in our sex-crazed culture today are perceived as “different” or “weird” simply because they refuse to follow the ways of the world, but follow in the footsteps of Christ.

You mention several concerns so I will attempt to address each of them. First, you state: “I am wondering what reward I would get for being chaste from birth.”

Essentially, you are asking, “What’s in it for me? What am I going to get from making this sacrifice?” Let me ask you this, “Do you love God? Are you grateful for all the sacrifices He has made for you? Do you daily thank God for becoming man, dying an excruciatingly painful death on the cross and opening up the gates of Heaven for you through His suffering, death, and resurrection?  Do you make little sacrifices each day to show Him how much you love Him? He does not need our love, but we desperately need Him in our lives. We could not even breathe one breath if He stopped thinking about us. He knows every hair on our head, our every thought, our every desire, and He is there for us always. He speaks to us even when we are too busy to listen or when we drown out His voice with noises (our smart phones, our I-pods, and video games). He is present in the Eucharist and in the tabernacle, waiting for you night and day to come and open up your heart to Him and pour out your troubles and concerns. Your life is not about your will or your pleasures; it is about pleasing Him and doing His will, because unless you determine what it is that He wants you to do in this life, you will never be truly happy. True happiness occurs only when our will conforms to God’s will. He is our Loving Father and always wants what is best for us. He is our Protector and our Guide. He loves us in a way that we cannot even begin to imagine.

First, if you are not already doing so, start by spending at least fifteen minutes in prayer each day, and then increase that by five minutes weekly. Each of us needs to spend about an hour each day in prayer. However, the amount of time isn’t as important as the quality of our prayer. It’s about developing a personal relationship with our dear Lord and Savior. In addition to prayer, I would recommend attending Mass as often as possible, frequenting the sacraments often, reading the Bible, studying the Catechism of the Catholic Church, going to Adoration, and praying both the Chaplet of Divine Mercy and the Rosary.

What reward can you expect to receive?  From a spiritual viewpoint, when you abstain from sex outside of marriage, you avoid committing mortal sin, which halts the flow of grace to your soul and cuts off your relationship God, turning you away from your Creator.  When you refrain from committing serious sin, you continue to receive God’s grace –  an outpouring of His life within you. More importantly, when you obey God’s commandments, you can expect to receive your Eternal Reward – Heaven.

On a practical level, when you are chaste, you receive the reward of remaining sexually healthy and avoiding HIV and STD’s, which can rob you of your fertility. Many birth control devices which are believed to protect us from pregnancy (although they are often unreliable) are very unhealthy for our bodies and do not protect us from venereal diseases. By remaining abstinent, you will avoid unintended pregnancies. Abstinence is 100% effective against HIV, STD’s, and pregnancy. As a single person and as a student, I am sure that avoiding pregnancy is very important to you at this point in your life because you have goals that you want to accomplish.

Lastly, even if you did not believe in God, wouldn’t you feel better if you respected your body and not let it be used like an object to be tossed away when someone was finished with it? We are not garbage, yet sometimes we let others use us as if we were. Remaining abstinent helps you keep your self-respect. Thus, abstinence will enable you to stay emotionally healthy.

As Catholics, we believe that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit; they are tabernacles, which carry Jesus Christ in the Eucharist within them. Our bodies are sacred. They are holy vessels and we need to treat them that way – with dignity and respect. Living chastely makes dating relationships healthier. It insures that you are seeing the image and likeness of God in the person you’re with and that he is respecting the image and likeness of God in you.

You state: "part of me wonders if that is what the Church teaches." You seem to be unsure about the teachings of the Church on virginity and sexuality so let me clarify that for you.

The Catholic Church teaches that true joy comes from God. From that perspective, the only way a sexual relationship can bring such joy is if it is engaged in by a man and woman who have brought God into it through the sacrament of matrimony. Sex inside marriage is beautiful and involves giving ourselves as a gift, totally and unselfishly, to our spouse and vice versa. The gift of virginity is a precious treasure that we reserve for the one we love and are committed to in lifetime sacramental bonds of love. Even secular studies have shown the most satisfying sexual relationships occur in committed relationships, particularly in marriage. Catholic married couples report having the most satisfying sex lives.

Many studies have shown that if a couple has had sex before marriage, they are much more likely to get divorced. The divorce rate for couples who live together before marriage is almost twice that of couples who do not cohabitate. Have you read any books on the theology of the body? I will list some at the end of this post that I think will be useful to you.

The Catholic Church teaches that sex outside of marriage is fornication. Fornication is carnal union between an unmarried man and an unmarried woman and is a grave sin (CCC 2353). St. Paul condemns fornication in 1 Corinthians 6:18. All aspects of intimate contact associated with the marriage act also constitute fornication for Jesus said, "I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Matthew 9:28). If lustful looks are adulterous, how much worse is lustful physical contact?

You state: “I need advice on how to live despite the way the world projects virginity with such negativity. I need an assurance that I am not insanely weird, and I need to know that God would be there to direct my life for the best.”

The best advice I can give you is stay grounded in your faith. Join a group of faithful young Catholic adults who can support you and pray with you and for you. I realize that you live outside of the United States and I am not familiar with the faith-based groups that exist in your country. However, I would suggest that you contact your local Catholic diocese. Find a spiritual director who can advise you and assist you with your concerns and who can help you discern the vocation which God is calling you to enter into.

Read the Scriptures daily. Remember you are not alone. There are many young adults who share your concerns and who remain chaste and live lives of abstinence.

Here are a few of my favorite passages:

“For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” – Jeremiah 29: 11

“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” – John 15:13

 “The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” – Zephaniah 3: 17

I will continue to lift you up in my prayers. Stay in touch and let me know how you are doing.

List of Theology of the Body Books I Recommend for You:

Fill These Hearts: God, Sex, and the Universal Longing – Christopher West (Image, 2012)

Pure Womanhood – Crystalina Everett (Catholic Answers, 2005)

Theology of Her Body – Jason Everett (Ascension Press, 2009)

Love and Responsibility – Karol Wojtyla (Pope St. John Paul II) (Ignatius Press, 1993) – This is more advanced. You will most likely need a spiritual director to guide you with this one.

Perhaps some of our readers would also like to share their advice.