Saturday, June 20, 2015

St Paul and the Catch 22

What happens when you have a summer schedule with more free time? For me, it means several things:

1.) an infinitely more relaxed Julia.
2.) more time to read
3.) more time to pray
4.) more reading + prayer + more relaxed = more time for blogging.

And so, after a couple of non-blog months, we have the two posts in one week summer special.

(Also, thanks to those of you who saw my tweet re: my last post and assured me that there are others besides my mother who still read this blog. Also, hi, Mom. :)

I spoke earlier this week about Joy and how if we want to grow in Joy, we need to grow closer to Jesus. And as I've defined other times on this blog, joy is underlying and long term. It is not the same as temporary happiness. And it is motivated by love.

St. Paul points out another way that we can remain close to Jesus: the thorns in our sides. I know that I've also posted about this as my long-standing love affair with St. Paul and his boasting in weakness is well documented. Today, the first reading was from Paul's 2nd Letter to the Corinthians (also, btw- his rant yesterday about "talking like an insane person" I also found endearing) is one of my favorites:

"Brothers and sisters:
I must boast; not that it is profitable,
but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord.
I know a man in Christ who, fourteen years ago
(whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows),
was caught up to the third heaven.
And I know that this man
(whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows)
was caught up into Paradise and heard ineffable things,
which no one may utter.
About this man I will boast,
but about myself I will not boast, except about my weaknesses.
Although if I should wish to boast, I would not be foolish,
for I would be telling the truth.
But I refrain, so that no one may think more of me
than what he sees in me or hears from me
because of the abundance of the revelations.
Therefore, that I might not become too elated,
a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan,
to beat me, to keep me from being too elated.
Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me,
but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you,
for power is made perfect in weakness.”
I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses,
in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me.
Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults,
hardships, persecutions, and constraints,
for the sake of Christ;
for when I am weak, then I am strong". - 2 Corinthians 12: 1-10

I love this passage for so many reasons but mostly because I think that we all identify with Paul's pleading to God to take "the thorn" away, whatever it may be for us. And that Paul goes on to identify that thorn as the thing that God allows so that we might stay close to Him.

I know that this may sound a little messed up, but this is the heart of the Paschal Mystery: suffering and death is what brings about new life. And while I know I often tell God: "Hey! I will praise you forever if you give me what I want! You don't have to use this thorn in my side! Give me all the good stuff and I will stay close to You! Promise!" God knows humanity better than that. How often do we truly go to God in prayer when things are going all smooth vs how often we go to Him when things are not? It's humanity that's a little messed up. We are the ones who often only turn to Him when we have "thorns."

And so God uses these thorns and allows them so that we can rely on His strength, and therefore, draw closer to Him.

It's a Catch-22, I know. We want to grow closer to God to understand Love and Joy and sometimes (read: most of the time) that requires suffering. It's a Catch-22. It's the Paschal Mystery. But hey, at least we are in good company:

And! And! Jesus tells us "not to worry"! Another fav reading was the Gospel for today! No coincidence that the Church pairs this with St. Paul's thorn tales, lest we begin to worry about our weaknesses:

"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life,
what you will eat or drink,
or about your body, what you will wear.
Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?
Look at the birds in the sky;
they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns,
yet your heavenly Father feeds them.
Are not you more important than they?
Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?
Why are you anxious about clothes?
Learn from the way the wild flowers grow.
They do not work or spin.
But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor
was clothed like one of them.
If God so clothes the grass of the field,
which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow,
will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?
So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’
or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’
All these things the pagans seek.
Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.
But seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness,
and all these things will be given you besides.
Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself.
Sufficient for a day is its own evil.” - Matthew 6:24-3

I mean, c'mon guys. Wild flowers are pretty and so are birds, but we know they got nothing on us.

Happy Summer! Beware of post-Italy blogpost coming soon! 


Monday, June 15, 2015

In Pursuit of Hope and Joy

Typically, I write a post around the feast of Pentecost, proclaiming how it is my favorite feast of the year and that the Holy Spirit is moving and doing something big in my life. Notice how this was not the case this year.

Where are you this year, Big Guy???

Pentecost has come and gone, and so has the joy of the Easter season. The joy of summer has arrived, but Pentecost did not bring the movement that I had hoped for this year. I had prayed for it, as I do every year, with the novena from the feast of the Ascension to Pentecost, but the Holy Spirit didn't want to come my way, at least not in the way that I had hoped for.

Hope and Joy have been things that I have blogged about for years now. I know that these things are not unique to pray for, and everything in our lives seems to be cyclical. About 5 years ago, I was desperately searching for a change at work and finally in the summer of that year, the job at the school I now teach at fell in my lap. 7 years ago, I wanted out of the decision I had made for my vocation, and then about a month or so after, I was led back to DC.

Trust is another thing that we work on from time to time and I was working on last year by reading "The Way of Trust and Love" by Jacques Phillipe. Not to say that I feel like I have "mastered" trust. We are always challenged to trust. But I do feel like I have come a long way in my confidence in God and His work in my life. I know that the prayers I made in my novena to the Holy Spirit were heard, maybe just not in the way that I would have liked. I know that the Lord is looking out for me. I can't lose my joy in Him, however. And I can't lose hope.

It's hard when it seems like everyone around you has had their prayers answered: Friends who prayed for babies now pregnant. Friends who prayed for homes or moves now moving on. And you are staying put when you also prayed for the Holy Spirit to move you as well.

But we can't lose our joy. We have to remain joyful for those around us because that joyful spirit will also aid in us not feeling sorry for ourselves. Back when I was on NET, we used in a talk this acronym for JOY: "Joy comes when you put Jesus first, Others second, and Yourself third." All year, since Advent, I have been reflecting on and praying for Joy. But joy really comes when we draw near to the Lord. The closer we are to Him, the more joyful we are going to be. The homily I heard by a visiting Franciscan priest this Sunday also reminded me of this. Sometimes we lose the joy even at Mass. Franciscans are known for their joyfulness. I was grateful for this reminder and this Franciscan joy this weekend.

St. Francis does look pretty celebratory here, while that other guy can't be bothered...

And then there is Hope, which my spiritual director reminded me this past visit, stems from Praise. I had been told before that when we are feeling negative, we should try and practice gratitude. And similarly, when we are in need of hope, we should praise God simply for who He is. It is hard not to be joyful and hopeful when are praising the Lord for all of the Good He has done and the Good that He is.

There is a Jewish prayer that is said at Seder meals that I became aware of a few years ago called the Dayenu prayer. Essentially, it is a list of things that the Lord did for the Jews and the Jews pray that "if God had only done _______ (insert one of the things the Lord has done here, like 'Lead them out of Egypt'), It would have been enough."

I challenge my students to create their own Dayenu prayer, and as I pray for hope in praise and gratitude, I have been making my own. "If God would have only given me the health of my family, that would have been enough." "If God would've only provided for me throughout my life, that would've been enough."

Try your own Dayenu prayer when you are seeking prayers of gratitude, praise, and joy. And even though Pentecost has come and gone, that doesn't mean that Holy Spirit has left. He is still our advocate. We just need to surrender and let him do his advocating.

I am also grateful for SUMMER and some upcoming travel in a week or so to ITALY where I will get to see some of the best stuff from my guys St. Paul and St. Francis!!! Hoping and trusting that the Holy Spirit will be bestowing some graces on us while we are there.


Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Heart of Worship: Easter Alleluia 2015

Happy 4th Week of Easter and Good Shepherd Sunday!
Since we are about halfway through the Easter season already, I guess it's time for me to give my Easter Alleluia post and Easter season update.

I began this Easter season with a source of great joy for me: lots of food, art, music, and travel! For this Spring Break's adventure, I chose to go to a US city that I had heard and read a lot about: Austin, TX.

Austin has been on my bucket list for a couple of years now due to all the food shows and blogs I have watched and read. And it did not disappoint!

I flew in on Good Friday, and by Friday night I had done and seen many of the things on my "to do list":

Here is a Sample of my nerdy "to do list" for your reference should you ever go to Austin! I did all this and more!

Friday was Good Friday, so I fasted all day knowing that I would have one great meal as soon as I landed in Austin. I started by hopping in my rental car and going to a contemporary art gallery that I had read about online. There was a really cool exhibit from an artist named Tom Sachs that paired hardware with various media....right up my ally!!

Then I took a walk down East 6th Street which is famous for its wild night life, therefore, I took this stroll at 5pm so that I could avoid some of the wild night life ;) I stopped at the infamous Driskill hotel and had a cocktail, then continued my journey to South Congress where I stopped and watched "the bats" on the Congress Street bridge (it's a thing. Millions of bats live under this bridge and then every night around March and April they fly out from under it to migrate. It's kind of impressive. And smelly) and found one of the music venues on my list- The Continental Club- for a night cap and some amazing blues music. 

You can see from my Saturday and Sunday agenda above, I kept busy and fully enjoyed my time in Austin. Saturday night and Sunday AM, I got some good prayer time in. I also had ample time to pray on Good Friday during my travel time. All in all it was a well balanced trip. I must say, I have learned in my 34 years how to plan a great trip for myself!

On Easter Monday, I drove to Odessa, TX to stay with one of my friends from NET who I hadn't seen in 5-6 years since her wedding that I was in. She now has two kids and it was lovely to have some restful, catch-up time before heading back to Austin to fly out on Wed. 

My friend and her husband also own this glorious treasure- a velvet painting of Tom Seleck- which was a highlight of the trip as well and proves why this friend and I are indeed friends.

So, that was my Easter/Spring Break. On Easter morning, I reflected at the little desk in my (adorable!) Air B and B cabin before going to the Austin Cathedral for Mass (not to be confused with the Cathedral of Junk which is also in Austin and I thoroughly enjoyed exploring the day before!) on the Resurrection, joy, and New Life that Easter brings. One of my Facebook friends posted a picture of John and Peter running to the tomb, as mentioned in John's Gospel, and I thought of how amazed and overjoyed and probably astonished  Peter and John must've been at the thought of Jesus rising from the dead- something He had alluded to them over and over beforehand but they probably weren't sure of. 

You can see the hope and astonishment in their eyes. I love this image. 

Selfie at the Cathedral of Junk. Not to be confused with where I celebrated the Lord's Resurrection- St. Mary's, Austin Cathedral.

I also thought on Easter Sunday of my friend Dan who has been Resurrected with Christ. This month marks ONE YEAR since I heard the news of him being placed in hospice. I continue to pray to Dan to intercede for us and continue to reflect on the way that he lived the Paschal Mystery with such LOVE.

As many of you know, the readings during the Easter season are from the Acts of the Apostles and are about the Apostles going out and spreading the Good News of Jesus' Paschal Mystery: His suffering, death, Resurrection and Ascension. I am always struck by many of these stories: of Peter and John bursting out of jail by the help and grace of the Holy Spirit. By Philip teaching the Ethiopian eunuch about the Gospel and baptizing him, by Saul who is persecuting these men and then has an encounter with Ananias and most importantly, the Lord. 

This latter story was the reading this past Friday and Father gave a homily talking about the trust needed by both of these men, but particularly Ananias. I can imagine how scared Ananias must've been to be told that he needed to go and see someone who had been murdering believers like him. He had to trust in the Lord's plan. He had to put aside his fear and trust.

I am currently at sort of a crossroads myself. I believe that I am going to be entering a time of discernment soon that could necessitate a move. I have to go back to the "Heart of Worship" which are lyrics to a song that were formative in my teens and twenties and remind me constantly what this journey really is all about: Worship and the Lord. Evangelization has always been one of my passions. It is why I loved retreats and discerned time with NET. It is why I discerned religious life with sisters who used Media to spread the Gospel. It is why I loved my grad school classes- reading documents on spreading the faith in our Church gave me life. It is why I teach. And the Lord may be calling me to evangelize in new ways soon, so I need to go back to the Heart of Worship and trust like Ananias and listen to what He is calling me to do. 

Even though this Easter season has been very busy, I believe that is probably what it was like for the apostles, too. Jesus spent 40 quick days with them before ascending and leaving them to fend for themselves. I pray that this Ascension Thursday and (my favorite!!) Pentecost, I will be ready to be sent out to do whatever the Lord might be calling me to do with the new life that He gives me. 
I pray that you all, too, may be able to enter into this Easter Season with much joy and new life!

I also wanted to update some of you on another friend that I was praying for who also lost the battle with cancer recently. Janet Kusterer is the mom of two teens (now young men!) whom I worked with during my years as a youth minster in Leesburg. She and her husband Steve were instrumental in helping me get that ministry started. They were so helpful and supportive during those years and have remained good friends. Janet had battled cancer on and off for 20 years. She died a little over a week ago and I was blessed to join the St. John's community last weekend to pray in her honor. She was a very faithful woman, and her whole family and community have an amazing amount of faith, I have no doubt that she is united with our Lord and with Dan and that they are guiding and watching over us.

Here's a picture from 2011 with Janet, Steve and I. Steve was honored that year for his years as a youth ministry volunteer. 

And lastly, no Easter Alleluia update would be complete without a little update on my birthday :) This year was #34, so I've officially lived longer than Jesus. I'm always grateful that people are so generous with their time and gifts. It makes the celebration so special. This year included some surprise gifts a few days before my bday in the mail from a friend in FL, some hang times in Richmond the weekend before with friends and some TWIN PEAKS art, and on the day of my birthday, my advisory had a cake for the student whom I share a bday with and many students were sweet with cards and bday wishes. I also went out that evening to do some LIVE KARAOKE with a band and in honor of my TX trip had some BBQ with my friends. 

 bday cake in advisory!
 Meeting Lucy from Twin Peaks in Richmond!
Friends at Hill Country BBQ before the Live Karaoke!

All in all a GREAT first half of the Easter season with many blessings, joys, and things to reflect/pray on. 

May the rest of our Easter Season be blessed as we journey towards the descent of the Spirit at Pentecost!


Sunday, March 29, 2015

Finding The Passion

As Holy Week approaches with Palm Sunday this weekend, I'm once again realizing how bad I am at this present moment thing!!! Where did my Lent go?? Even as I announced it to my students on Friday, reminding them to take advantage of the upcoming liturgies, they seemed relatively shocked that Lent was coming to a close.

And so, I am forced to reflect once again: how did this Lent go? I was moderately successful at keeping my Lenten promises: only indulging in my sworn off cheese a couple of times on the designated feast days and maybe a Sunday or two. And the time that I did take for my Lenten prayer, the prayer was very beneficial. Notice that I said for the time I did take...oops.

I love Holy Week, though. And I love the Easter Season. I love the drama and the joy that this week and season bring. And even if we haven't been as successful as we would've liked with our Lenten commitments, there is still time! This week is perhaps the most important of them all: a week to truly remember the Sacrifice that was made with our own sacrifices of time, fasting, and prayer.

You may remember that I was encouraged this Lent to look at my own Salvation History. I got caught up in the covenants that the Lord as made with me. He has provided and kept promises and provided salvation in so many ways, so many times.

But now we are approaching the crux of Salvation History: Holy Week and The Passion. In praying about this, I was forced to think of my own passions. And not necessarily my own sufferings or "deaths", though that would also be a good thing to meditate on this week,

When I looked up the word "passion", two definitions popped up. One is the definition that I teach to my students: "the suffering and death of Jesus." The other is the one that most of society is familiar with: "strong and barely controllable emotion."

How different these definitions are. Christ's suffering and death required an immense amount of discipline and self control and then ultimately a dying (literally) to self. It was selfless. The latter definition seems the opposite. It seems indulgent and promoting a lack of self control.

For me, passion is a deep fervor and drive. It is a something that you foster and it moves you. And so as we move forward towards the Passion, I think of Christ's inner drive that moved Him to die for each one of us and I think of what drives me.

And what does drive me these days? What am I passionate about? What do I receive life from? Because I believe that ultimately our passions are life giving, just like Christ's.

Again, in researching the many concepts and definitions of "passion" I found this article that made some interesting points, but not all that I necessarily agree with. The article asserts that our passion comes from our successes. And to an extent, I can agree with that. We find our passion for something when we realize that we are good at something....sometimes. But I have many friends that are passionate about music, who aren't necessarily musical themselves. And we all know that I have a passion for art, when my art is amateur at best.

I did, however, like the image and title that article used about passion being like a mystical unicorn:
In some ways, passion does seems like this mystical unicorn that is illusive and somewhat mythical. Everyone is "looking" for it, but do not know where to find it.  But I do believe that passion is real. We have to. Otherwise, what is life worth living for?

For many, our passions come from our relationships. Our families. For me, my passion does come from my relationship with God. I have a passion for sharing my faith (obvi ;). And I do have a passion for some of the things I consider myself good at: music, teaching, :) And then I have some things that I am passionate about that I'm not necessarily good at: art, staying active, being compassionate to others ;)

As we approach Holy Week, I'm going to try and persevere in holding onto the present moment, taking in each day as I can. And I will try to get caught up in Christ's Passion (and passion) for us as well as discern my own driving forces and passions.

Here we go...entering into Holy Week!!


Thursday, March 5, 2015

Covenants: Lenten Check In

Another snow day, another day to blog. I swear that DC didn't always used to be like this. When I was in college, we would have (maybe) a big snow storm or two in Dec or January and then that was it. I distinctly remember walking around campus in March with short sleeves on and no jacket. The past two years, however, have been terrible for snow!

And while a snow day can be a gift and I am surely grateful for the extra time to reflect and relax, there comes a time when enough is enough.

Some people think snow is pretty. And, well... I guess :) But I have almost always seen it as inhibiting. I think of all the things that I can't do when there is snow: I can't drive anywhere. I can't get the things I wanted to get done accomplished. And right now I am sad because it may mean that I can't fly home to see my 92 year old grandmother this weekend.

Happy belated birthday, Babci!

I suppose this is part of my nature- to see the negative side of things- and it is something I have been working on the past decade or so. I'm getting better :) I have mentioned that one of my resolutions has been to be more positive in the present moment.

But I think that the way I view snow, is the way many of us view the Church. We think about what the Church says that we can't do. We feel inhibited, instead of the gift that the Church is.

In addition to trying to be positive in the present moment this year, I am trying to reflect on my salvation history with God. I have found this to be life-giving so far this Lent. I am taking time in my prayer to think about key moments in my life with God. Allowing Him to affirm me, and also to reflect on the promises we have made and carried out: our covenants.

As usual, my personal reflection crosses over with my work. Occupational hazard. I have been teaching my sophomores about Old and New Testament covenants. But the focus has helped me to, again, look at the promises God has made and fulfilled for me and (hopefully) encouraged them to reflect on the same in their own lives.

Another thing that Father encouraged me to do this Lent was to take some time to pray through my art. My art class for this Winter/Spring started last week, but last night we had the opportunity to do something in which I was able to apply my Lenten commitment.

The assignment/technique was to create symbols of importance to us in bold black paint and then to pick a favorite color to layer over that. And then go over again in another color layer.

The symbols I picked were very much part of my reflection on covenants. I thought of how light is always a sign of God's presence, so I was very much taken with the idea of a flame or candle. The candle (obvi) also represents baptism, where we first made our vows with God.

I also have been struck by the Noah story since I have been teaching it and reflecting on it in the liturgical readings lately. The symbol of water reminds of us Baptism, but water is also destructive in the story of the Flood. For me, the boat (ark) and water is a reminder of peace and also of trust. I think of the story where Jesus calms the water while on the boat because the apostles were frightened. That is the quintessential story of trust for me. And when we place our trust in God, it can bring great peace. Just like the peace we may feel when sitting calmly on a beach or a lake.

My friend and I always have commented that if you have water, sun, and a mountain you can find your "chi"...I have all of those things here :)

I was grateful for the opportunity to apply my Lenten reflection to an art lesson and I hope to continue this theme of promise and covenants throughout Lent.

What has God promised you? What have you promised Him? What are the signs He has given you as a part of this covenant? This is something I've been reflecting on with my students and I pass those questions onto you.

Happy Lent!


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Create in Me: Lent 2015

I am having one of my lamer Mardi Gras' this evening.

In the past, I have met up with friends at bars or hosted gatherings at my house. Last year, I even made my own "King Cake":

Yeah, I know...not a real "king cake." But I got the colors right! And there were beads!

Today we had a (legitimate!) snow day, so I've hunkered down in true shut in style. I worked out, did a little art, read a little, and then I took to my journal and my rosary for some pre-Lent reflection. Definitely wasn't doing that a couple of years ago out at the bar.

But every year, it seems, I am "ready" for Lent. Like it or not. I took the time to look at the last SIX YEARS of Ash Wednesday posts on this blog and nearly every time, I was preparing myself. (Last year and 2013 were particularly well-written years should you care to take a look yourselves ;)

I went to Spiritual Direction a few days ago in order to prepare myself for Lent once again. As, I've said many a time before, Father encourages me to give up something that I can indulge in on Easter, but also (obvi) do things that will bring me closer to Jesus. So here is the plan:

Fasting: In looking back on previous Lents, I've done some pretty standard (but good!) things: Facebook, alcohol, music in my car, meat...this year I'm a little embarrassed but the thing that I've discerned that would be actually good for me to give up and would be a sacrifice is (drumroll!)

Every woman I have told this to has been horrified. I can't explain what the connection between women and cheese is, but it is real and it is strong. I seriously have cheese and crackers as meals more often than I can count or would like to admit. Also, things to consider: all the things that cheese is on! Pizza, cream cheese on bagels/desserts, feta cheese on salads, cheese flavored snacks! So many cheese things! I think this may be harder than I think.

But giving up cheese isn't going to necessarily bring me closer to God. And so, we have prayer and almsgiving as well. Father always gives me really creative ideas for prayer, especially during Lent. Lately in the liturgical readings, the Creation stories have been recounted. I have also been teaching them to my students. Father encouraged me to look at myself and my relationship with God as His creation. And maybe even reflect on that, er "Creation" creatively, like through my art. Then, as we progress towards the Paschal Mystery, I should think of my own "salvation history" just as we do through Scripture in Lent.

I actually wrote my own "salvation history" (because of course I did) while with the Daughters in the convent. But that was nearly 8 years ago. I, no doubt, have a different perspective on my history of salvation and relationship with the Lord.

The readings today- the day before Lent begins- feature the story of Noah and Mark's account of Jesus rebuking the disciples for not understanding the feeding of the 5,000. When I teach my students Scripture, I make them pay attention to numbers. If they learn nothing else in my class, they understand that numbers in Scripture are symbolic. In today's readings, the number 7 was all over them. (7 being the "covenant" number, symbolizing a promise).

I was glad to get this reminder of God's promises as I begin to delve into my own salvation history this Lent. The challenge is going to be to really let the Holy Spirit take over as I work on it towards the Triduum. Father emphasized that I shouldn't plan it out (which is so against my nature!), but rather, see where the story takes me.

The only time that I really dive into something without a plan is with my art. I think that it is why it is so therapeutic for me. I LOVE plans. But with art, I find that my work is better (probably because I don't really know how to paint ;) when I experiment and let the materials just come together to make something aesthetically pleasing.

It's not Lent quite yet, but as has become my snow day tradition, here is what I made today:

 This stuff never looks like much, but takes a lot longer than you might think!

I saw Degas' Little Dancer at the National Gallery last is my own "Tiny Dancer"

I look forward to where this Lent will take me!

Today also is the 9 month anniversary of Dan's death. 9 months is kind of a weird amount of time, as we all know that a child can be ready to enter the world at this point. It's once again no coincidence that we remember Dan on a day of JOY before a day of solemnity. I'm grateful that he encouraged us to say the rosary and that my friends and I have committed to doing this every month on his anniversary.

A rosary and some reflection is probably one of my best spent Mardi Gras' after all.


Friday, February 13, 2015

Encountering God and Others in the Present Moment

I feel like I have been fighting time lately. January has already come and gone. It is mid-February. I had made the new year's resolution to continue my Advent and Christmas promise: to stay positive in the present moment. Like many new year's resolutions, I have already most certainly failed. But I never surrender. And so, like I said, I feel like I am fighting time. Trying to hold onto it so that I can keep my resolution.

But my resolution wasn't to hold on to the present moment, necessarily. It was to simply be present. I do still need to let go when the moments pass by. But like most letting go, it is difficult to do. It is difficult to realize that I may not have lived that moment fully, that the moment will and does pass.

I have come to realize that this is what I apparently do in February- think a lot. We are stuck inside with not a lot to do, it is cold, and the cold somehow paralyzes us. We are just waiting and praying for winter to be over and totally bitching about it in the meantime.

I was totally prepared to come to my prayer tonight and complain. Why does it seem like time is passing me by, Lord? Why are we all seemingly stuck inside just letting it pass us by?!

But, like what often happens to me when I go to God to bitch, He doesn't let me do it for long. Mainly because He often reminds me of His goodness and how the darkness has not and will not overcome it.

Tonight, when I went to my journal to unleash my wrath, I first took a look back at some entries from earlier this year. Probably because I couldn't truly believe that so much time has already passed.

Let me catch you all up on what the past six weeks or so have looked like:

I have taken a part time job at a winery. I think I knew from previous experience that I tend to get bored in the winter, so I was looking at Craigslist and pursued a couple of opportunities posted at some local wineries. I really enjoyed my interview (and the wine) at the winery that I am now working at, so I took the job and have been working off and on more a less once a week there. It's been good to get me out of the house, meet new people, and a generally just enjoy that part of VA and, oh yeah, the wine!

So that has been good for me and so far a very positive experience. But it probably has added to the fact that I have not had much time for reflection.

At my last women's group meeting in December, we had decided to bring back our annual retreat that we used to do with my spiritual director (see 2010, 2011, and 2012!). Instead of an overnight as we had done in the past, we made it a day retreat as now many people have kids and it is hard to get away for more than a few hours.

The morning of the retreat, my friend from my women's group sent me an email reminder that it was the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. HOW DID I FORGET (see posts from Jan. 25 from like every year since 2008!) I can't believe that I hadn't planned it that way, but of course, it was confirmation that God did. (If you didn't already know, I love the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul!)

I also just realized this year that the Feast of St. Francis de Sales- the patron of the school that I work at- is Jan 24: the day right before my man, St. Paul's. It is so interesting how God brings these saints into my life...

 Above: St. Francis de Sales; Below: St. Paul

Apparently, I have a thing for dude saints with beards who like to write.

A couple of days before the retreat with my spiritual director, the staff at school had a Salesian retreat with an Oblate of St. Francis de Sales. He gave us the message: Live Jesus- How? Love Now. He had a lot of good things to say, but there was that theme of LOVE and theme of the present moment.

I am still processing the retreat that we had on the Conversion of St. Paul with my spiritual director. In many ways, it was similar to retreats we had done in the past, but in many ways it was different. It was a day retreat, so it was much shorter, and the messages that Father had for us were multi-faceted, but in a different way than they had been before. He focused much on our culture and also on gender- specifically on the roles of Mary and Joseph.

The topic of gender is a complicated one, it seems. I very much identify myself as a feminist. And I don't know why that is such a hot button word. It just means that I believe men and women should be treated equally and given equal opportunities and rights. I know that men and women are different. But it doesn't mean that we aren't equal.

When I teach the Creation stories from Genesis, we talk about the figurative language and the symbol of God creating woman from man. It doesn't mean that woman is lesser. The symbol represents that we are equal and meant to be in relationship. Men and women compliment one another because we are different and balance each other out.

Father spoke about how women tend to be stronger in suffering and that we need to be mindful of the virtue of courage. Mary, of course, is the model of this courage in suffering. But I think we all know that I struggle with Mary and her quiet strength. Both Mary and Joseph possess qualities that men and women alike need. We all should look to both of them for inspiration and guidance- namely because they encountered Jesus in a special and real way.

And that is what it came down to [the retreat and just life in general] for me: once again it is about our encounter with Jesus; just like Paul's encounter with Christ changed him. And the second part of that is how we let that encounter shape our encounter(s) with others.

Paul wrote to individuals and communities encouraging them and lifting them up when people were discouraged. He even did so while he himself was imprisoned. Mary and Joseph were in awe when they watched their Son encounter others. We can only assume that this encouraged them to treat others with the same respect and dignity that they saw their Son exhibit.

Father reminded us on retreat of something that I have been discussing with my students in these Creation stories: we need one another. Man and woman. Friend or foe. Student and Teacher. Parent and child. Man and Wife. Friends and Best Friends. We need one another to grow and reach our full potential ( I totally stole that full potential thing from a Vatican II doc...yay, grad school!)

So as I sit here and examine: "where has my time gone?" I need to think of it more as an examen (heh. See what I did there? If not, look into some St. Ignatius already, will you?):

Have I used my time wisely? When have I encountered Christ? How did I share Christ with others?

On that retreat, I realized how blessed that I was to have been sharing and encountering Christ with some of those people since I was 18. 15 years!!! Again, it makes me wonder: where has the time gone...

But I guess what I learned from my prayer tonight is that I shouldn't be concerned so much with the limits of time, but rather the limitlessness of our encounters with God and what they can produce. I also came up with a kind of cool way of thinking of Mary that might help me a little in my devotion to her: Mary, the Mother of Love. If God is Love, and she is the Mother of God, it makes sense. I like looking at her in this way. That is an attribute that I can always respect and desire.

May we BE present and Love in the present moment And may the present be about our encounters with God and with others.