Saturday, September 3, 2016

Vulnerability and Mercy: Reflections on Mother Teresa and the Single Life

I know that I start every blog post in the same way. I know it. I naturally begin with something akin to: "where has the time gone?" And I really can't stop myself from saying it because I continually think it. It is September and there are four months left in 2016. Before I know it I will be writing my Year in Review post! But present moment, I keep reminding myself. Present moment.

This weekend is Labor Day weekend and these past couple of years where I have taken to working a part time job in addition to my full time job (why don't we pay our teachers more, y'all? ;) I appreciate the day set aside for Labor Day so much more. I was walking home last night after a full day at school and 5 hours at my part time gig and thinking: "we as Americans spend so much of our lives making money or working." And don't get me wrong, I am grateful for our strong work ethic and economy here in the States. I have traveled enough to see the alternatives but I think that we also see the downside of our sometimes misplaced value on money and capitalism...but that's not what this blogpost is about. Well, kind of.

In addition to it being Labor Day weekend and my finally having a day off, the Church is canonizing one of our modern day saints, Mother Teresa. Her life and her community which she founded has been surrounded by controversy in recent years which just makes me sad. Regardless of articles and books published with theories about her faith or misplaced funds, there is no taking away from the fact that Mother Teresa served the poorest of the poor and she made this her life's work. I'm pretty sure many of us wouldn't last a month walking the streets that she walked and encountering what she encountered in poverty. I can't deny that to look at her face, she reflects God and holiness to me:

I believe she is proof that happiness and holiness is what makes us most beautiful. There is no denying that she radiates a kind of unconventional but undeniable beauty. 

I will admit there are other Theresas that I have become more faithful to over the years: St. Therese of Lisieux is my girl and St. Teresa of Avila I have mad respect for 'cause she was a tough broad (and I don't think that she would mind me saying that).

The book "The Four Teresas" which I read in 2011 features the 3 Teresas already mentioned in this post as well as Edita Stein (turned St. Teresa Benedicta). All 4 are super powerful, holy women who I admire deeply but have mainly been drawn to the two I've already described.

In praying and reflecting with my students and with myself on Mother Teresa this week, though, I realize that she is a great example of Mercy as well as Vulnerability- two things I find myself thinking about often in this blog. Mercy and vulnerability really go hand in hand. When we are feeling vulnerable, we require mercy and are grateful for those who meet us with it. But in order to show true mercy, we must not only meet the vulnerable where they are at, but allow ourselves to be a little vulnerable as well. I believe that true Mercy comes in solidarity- when we not only meet others where they are but then sit there with them either physically, emotionally, or spiritually.

I mentioned in my last post that I was blessed to get to do this with friends from college in our formative years and also last month on our little reunion tour in Australia. We shared together, laughed together, cried together. We showed each other mercy but also met each other in vulnerability.

I have prayed so long about my vocation and have come to terms with that the Lord may be calling me to the single life and that's okay! I mean, let's be honest, I totally enjoy and it and humbly say that I think I live it pretty well! We all long, however, to be in relationship and to be vulnerable with other people. But I have finally realized that there are more ways to do that than just dating and marriage.

I read this book this summer and while not a Catholic text, it definitely helped me grow in confidence in my current state in life!

I was perhaps at my most vulnerable when I was discerning religious life- putting my life and my heart in the hands of God and also other women that I came to trust and still trust to this day. I have also been vulnerable in my attempts at dating and relationships, in my writing and in my art, but again, find myself most vulnerable in situations with these close friendships that I have fostered and put time into over the years.

What many of my college friends and I have- and also many of  my friends later in life- is perhaps (dare I say) even stronger than some marriages. There are people in romantic relationships and marriages who do not allow themselves the vulnerability or mercy that some of my friendships and family members offer me.

All this to say that there is a lot of change in the talk about the single life lately. And I am totally grateful to have people in the media finally representing a more realistic version of the single woman. We aren't the Miss Havishams crazily waiting in wedding gowns for someone to rescue us from our "misery." We are thriving, living, and growing even if our lives haven't taken the conventional path.

I keep a very tidy apartment and change my attire daily, thank you very much!

Dating and marriage are in very different states than they were years ago, and to be honest, dating and marriage in the 1950s weren't exactly the dream, either. Yeah sure, maybe it was a simpler time, but I'm okay with being married with kids at 19 not being the norm or sole expectation for women anymore.

To tie this back to my points on our American values and the canonization of Mother Teresa (can she get there, folks?? Can she?! ) ...

 Whether serving the poorest of the poor in community like our soon-to-be-saint Mother Teresa, serving children with a spouse, or serving friends and family in need, we all have the opportunity and call to be vulnerable and show others mercy. And this should be our priority as human beings. For I don't think that there is any denying that when we are in solidarity with one another, we are at our strongest. Mother Teresa showed us this in a concrete way, but there are many ways to show solidarity.

I'm continuing in this Year of Mercy, to look at the many ways we can grow and show Mercy to each other. Those ways don't always look the same or are conventional, but that doesn't make them any less valuable or important for our growth.

(Saint!) Mother Teresa of Calcutta, pray for us!

Peace,
Julia

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Moments of Mercy: New Zealand and Australia 2016

This summer may have started out a little rough, but it quickly moved into travel mode and now has somehow gotten away from me. It's August and I just received my schedule for teacher work week next week! Ah!

I am still reflecting on the trip that I just recently returned from. A college friend and I took a trip to visit one of our other friends who lives in Australia. We knew that it was God's plan that brought us to this trip, especially now, 10 years after we had last all been together. We weren't exactly sure why God had chosen this particular time- we each had certain struggles that we were going through and are in different states in life: one married with kids, two single (one perpetually single...ahem. Yours truly)-  but we tried to be there for each other, shared our struggles, listened, and learned from one another. Just like we had in our early twenties.

The benefit of traveling with people who know you so well is that you can truly be yourself and I felt very confident traveling with these ladies. The trip - in addition to just being able to see some of the world's greatest beauty down under- affirmed that I have grown spiritually and emotionally in the past decade or so, and I am exactly where God wants me to be. These ladies helped me affirm that I have evolved and the time that I have spent these last years on self reflection and self betterment has not gone to waste. I have expressed before that I often wonder if I have spent my twenties incorrectly since I entered religious life and pursued ventures uncharacteristic of "most" twenty somethings. But traveling with such equally evolved friends showed me that time spent on self reflection and in prayer is never time wasted.

And now for the trip recap! I met my friend from the States in Auckland, New Zealand. We traveled separately as we had booked our tickets separately, but it was certainly exciting to be reunited in such a beautiful and new place!

Reunited: On our first day, we pushed through the jet lag and immediately hiked up Mount Eden in Auckland. The views and greenery were totally worth it! We only had one weekend in Auckland as it was just really a layover before we met our friend in Australia. We made the most of our weekend by seeing and experiencing as much of New Zealand as possible: winetasting on Waiheke Island, the Sky Tower in downtown Auckland, the aquarium, exploring the neighborhoods of Auckland, the restaurants, the nightlife.

One of the sites I had read about in an article that turned out to be very helpful for our time in Auckland (a silly Buzzfeed article...who knew!?) mentioned a Maori shrine called a Marae that was very close to where we were staying in Mission Bay. We tried to walk there, but got lost in a neighborhood. A couple that thought we were playing "Pokemon Go" (note: we were most certainly not! but that is hilarious that they thought it) took pity on us and actually drove us to the Shrine. We didn't know what to expect, but soon enough a woman who was an educator of the Maori people found us wandering around their property and stopped to teach us about the land we were standing on.

Essentially, the Maori story is very similar to that of our Native Americans. The Maoris were said to have taken a boat from Hawaii and found New Zealand many centuries ago. However, when the British came, the Maoris were taken away from their land and placed on types of reservations, which was where we were standing. Their Marae is a shrine and their sacred space. We couldn't go in the Marae as there was a family service taking place that day, but we were grateful that Monique- our educator- took the time to tell us about her people and their heritage.

At the Marae: even though we couldn't go in the Shrine, we felt very blessed in this sacred space. 

After a weekend exploring Auckland, we took our flights to Melbourne where our Australian friend lives. It was a joy-filled reunion getting to meet her family, husband, and kids. They opened up their home to us for two weeks. Over their kitchen table we shared stories, looked a scrap books, broke bread, laughed until it hurt, played games, and shed tears. These moments were what I really came for.

While in Melbourne, my Australian friend had to work, but my other friend and I spent our days exploring the city. It is a city filled with awesome street art, laneway cafes, hip bars and restaurants, great history, beautiful gardens, cool neighborhoods, and friendly people.

 In Hosier Lane in Melbourne, a great place for street art!
A view of some of Melbourne from the river, complete with funky art!

We were there during "winter", and sometimes the skies were grey, but it was in the 50s most days- hardly a need for a real winter coat. We dressed in layers and spent our time in Melbourne exploring the city, but also got some time out for nature as well! One day, our friend's mom took us on a drive down Great Ocean Road- Melbourne's coast line- and we also took a day with our friend and her kids to the Healesville Sanctuary to see some Australian animals in their habitat!

 The sun came out for our tour of Great Ocean Road!
You looking at me, kangaroos?!

After our two weeks in Melbourne, our Australian friend was able to use some vacation time to fly with us to Queensland and the Sunshine Coast as well as Sydney. It was great to have some "down time" together. Upon our arrival in Queensland, we stopped at one of the beaches on our way to Noosa, our Sunshine Coast destination. As soon as we walked on the beach, our friend said that she spotted a whale. My Australian friend and I highly doubted this as we had just arrived on the Coast (and it wasn't even our whale watching adventure day yet! We had that, too :), but sure enough, we saw a whale that was seriously close to the beach.

Whale not pictured, but this pic was taken in the moment after we saw it. It really did happen! And we took it as a sign of blessings to come. 

The time in the Sunshine coast was warm and we had some great meals and moments of relaxation on the beach. We also took an awesome walk up to Noosa National Park and had one of the best meals of my life at a place appropriately called "The Spirit House."

Our trip came to an end in Sydney, which was a return to the more "winter weather" of rain and clouds, but each day the sun did peak out at just the right moments. On our very last day, we took a boat ride to Manly Beach from the Sydney Harbour. We spotted a very strong rainbow that lasted for most of our boat ride. I knew it was a sign of promises kept and blessings given on this journey Down Under.

 Some clouds, but also smiles in Sydney (with the Opera House behind me!)
One of the many pics I took of our rainbow on our last day in this beautiful part of the world!

Though I'm still reflecting on it, this trip continues to remind me that we are in the Year of Mercy and God's Mercy is evident in so many ways. Through His blessings, through our battles, through forgiveness, through friends, through nature, through art (we saw some of the best art exhibits in Melbourne and in Sydney!). My prayer is to continue to reflect on His Mercy in my life and how I can grow in mercy myself.

I think I have mentioned that my parish here in RVA is doing an art show dedicated to this theme of Mercy. I have signed up to help and show at it, but I am so scared and unsure of if my art will be good enough. I never seemed to be satisfied with my art these days. I'm praying to be inspired, and if I can't come up with something that I feel confident with, I will at least help others exhibit their work at the show. So far, this is what I have come up with, though I want to continue to work on it and possibly another piece:

This is inspired by the woman with the oil who anointed Christ's feet and JP2 and Pope Francis- two of our exemplary merciful popes.

Perhaps I should just paint or work on something inspired by my friends who I took this most recent journey with. No doubt they have shown me mercy throughout the years and continue to teach me about God's Mercy in our lives:



17 years of friendship and mercy...here's to many more moments of Love and Mercy to come. 

Peace,
Julia

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul 2016

Today is, as you know by now, another highly anticipated feast day for me today! Ever since my discernment of religious life (and even a little before), today's feast of Sts Peter and Paul, the Conversion of St. Paul in January, and Pentecost have all been special days for me.

I always go back and look at where I was at these times of year in previous years and the past few years the Lord has been so faithful in answering prayers for me around these times. St. Paul is certainly my dude (if there was any doubt).

Last year at this time, I got the answer to my prayer regarding my new job. The year before, I got an answer regarding a specific relationship that I was questioning.

This year (as I've previously mentioned) I've been all over the novena train, praying before Pentecost, the feast of the Sacred Heart, and now today's feast. Pretty confident that the Lord is going to come through this year as well. I've covered all of my bases.

For the Year of Mercy, I signed up for some daily email reflections. Some days' reflections are better than others, and knowing what today's feast is, I was expecting something about the two main guys- Peter and Paul. Instead, I got this reflection from a favorite Franciscan saint, Padre Pio:

"Pray, wait, and do not worry. Worrying is useless. God is merciful and will listen to your prayer… Prayer is the best weapon we have; it is the key to the heart of God. You should speak to Jesus, not with your lips but with your heart.’”

First of all, the headline said "God's Timing" which I was like...okay! On a day that I finish a novena? I get it, God! I need to trust in my prayers and your timing. So even if my answer to my novena doesn't come right away like perhaps it has in the past, I can trust that His timing is perfect.

Some watch faces I found when thrift shopping with a friend recently. I feel like the fact that they have no hands is appropriate here...no way to know God's Time!

The email also had this little nugget from St John Vianney that I also found amusing:  "The Saints did not all begin well, but they all ended well." Touche! That is especially true with the two that we honor today- Peter and Paul- but more on that later.

My summer did not get off to the start that it usually does. Usually, I have some fabulous trip right at the beginning of my break, which has made my Timehop and Facebook feeds a little painful this week. Each day I open up to some exotic location or adventure from the past couple of years- touring Ephesus in Turkey, or eating gnocchi in Rome, driving from Berlin to Prague, etc. This year, my summer started off with my car breaking down and going into the shop and the power in my apt going out for 4 days. I've also started to get a little bored. I've watched all of the Netflix and read like three books already. (Note: I KNOW NO ONE FEELS SORRY FOR ME. I know that it is a blessing to have this time off and my summer will be gone before I realize it! Also, I have New Zealand and Australia coming up soon!)


Previous early summer trips to Greece, Budapest, and Italy.

I also have some friends that are truly suffering right now. It was like all was well and good in the universe and then June came around and BAM! All of the things: breakups, breakdowns, loneliness. Bah! It is when things are going well that the devil tries to creep up on us. I know this. Doesn't always make it easier, though.

But that's why the quote from John Vianney, Padre Pio, and the readings for today's feast of Peter and Paul are so great. We are not perfect, none of these saints started off perfect, and it is all about God's timing. We know the story about Paul persecuting Christians and then when Jesus called him, he turned his life around. But the suffering didn't stop. Same with Peter. We are all familiar with his denial of Christ, even after he was called, but when the Church was left to him on the Ascension, he stepped up his game and turned it around. Timing. 



pic of me rubbing the foot of St. Peter in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican last year. Still praying for what I prayed for in that moment. Come on, St. Peter! You always were a little slower than the others, I suppose...

I take comfort in that these saints persevered in spite of their flaws and sufferings and did come out successful. Things may not be perfect, but let's be honest, they never will be. I think the reflection from Padre Pio sums it up perfectly: Pray, wait, and do not worry. The best is yet to come. 

Yay, saints, sun, and summer!

Peace,
Julia



Saturday, June 11, 2016

Summer and the Sacred Heart

Even though the Catholic Church teaches against superstition, there is an element to our faith that lends itself to look for meanings in things that may or may not be there. I don't think that the looking for meaning is wrong, as that is all we can do sometimes, but certainly if we start to place our trust in something that isn't there, we can get lost.

For example, I have taken to looking into the saints that the parishes I belong to our named for. I don't know if this is reading into things too much or not, but I am just always trying to make connections. In my adult life, I have belonged to three parishes named for St. John (the Apostle, Beloved, and Evangelist- all titles for the same guy! Soooo that has to be something, right?!) Maybe or maybe not, but I definitely have felt a draw towards St. John because of it (especially when I got to go to Patmos, Greece in 2012, where he was exiled and had the visions for the Book of Revelations):

Picture over the door of the Cave the Apocalypse in Patmos Greece with St. John and His Scribe


The man, the myth, the legend- St. John. Also, the Beloved, the Apostle, the Evangelist!

In keeping with that theme of the "beloved", my parish currently is The Cathedral of the Sacred Heart. Which never really struck me until recently when I was praying the novena to the Sacred Heart last week that this is possibly another connection for me that God wants me to explore.

(As an aside:

1.) I'm so into novenas of late

2.) This website is kind of great. It sends you daily email reminders which are oh so necessary these days. If I didn't have the reminder app on my phone to tell me most things, I would be so lost!)

I keep an image of the Sacred Heart that was blessed by a priest in my apt. In fact, sometimes, I make my friends pose for pictures with it (that's not weird, right?):


A couple of years ago, the Bishop of Arlington wrote a letter about the devotion to the Sacred Heart and encouraged all families to foster more of devotion to it. I took an interest then, but again, it was until recently that I started to put together that maybe there is something here for me- a message about God's Sacred Heart that maybe He wants me to take note of.

After praying my annual Pentecost novena, in which I used the website listed above to send me emails, the site informed me about beginning a novena to the Sacred Heart for which the feast was last week. I prayed the novena to the Sacred Heart and I believe that I am already seeing the fruits. I have noticed so many little acts of kindness and generosity around me. I believe that this is how Jesus continues to call me closer to Him, much like my girl, St. Therese. Not necessarily in big dramatic ways, but as Therese says: "the Little Way." ( I was reminded that I taught this regularly to my high school students when a former student recently mentioned me and St. Therese in his salutatorian speech at graduation this year. I am no longer at this school but it was nice to be remembered. And I'm particularly happy that he remembered that particular lesson! One never knows what kids take away from us...it truly is the little things that get through sometimes!)

I am also still supremely happy to be at the school I am at and really recognize it as a fulfillment of last year's Pentecost novena. The Pentecost novena this year has also yielded fruit, of course, but I was really struck by this calling up the Sacred Heart for my intentions.

I know that I have talked about the RCIA program at my Church and how that has been a way for me this year to connect with my faith in a different way. I have discerned, after being asked by the Director of Faith Formation, to be a part of the RCIA team this upcoming fall. We had our first meeting tonight for people who are thinking about starting the Initiation process into the Catholic Church. We gathered as we usually do, with a meal and meditation on Scripture. It is such a simple, informal format, but always exactly what we need. (probably because the apostles had similar routine with gatherings of meal and Scripture...if the method aint broke, don't fix it, right?)

We usually mediate on the upcoming Gospel for Sunday and this Sunday is the Gospel of the woman who wipes Jesus' feet with her hair and oil. All of the readings this Sunday have themes of Mercy, which are super appropriate for this Year of Mercy. It also was a good reminder as we enter into this journey of conversion with candidates for the Sacraments. This woman in the Gospel takes a risk. She is a woman and is taking expensive oil and "wasting" it on Jesus. She also shows her affection for a Him in a very vulnerable, intimate way- by kissing His feet. It is a very humble act, especially in front of Pharisees who are judging her. It reminds me that Mercy is the reward or remedy for vulnerability. When we see people who are at risk or poor or vulnerable, we should show them Mercy. A message easier said than done when we sit behind our computers these days and just want to judge. The woman in the Gospel put herself out there and was rewarded. Do we do the same for others? Do we reward their openness with Mercy? or judgment?


I found this image when searching for an image of this story. What a beautiful image of Mercy.

This act of vulnerability in the Gospel, this feast of drawing close to the Lord's own Sacred Heart, and Therese's Little Way, are all reminders to me of God's intimate love. And just to tie it all back together as you know I like to do:

No doubt St. John the Beloved also drew close to the Sacred Heart, so I believe my saint and my current devotion are certainly connected and trying to teach me something!

St. John the Beloved, St. Paul, and St. Therese- my besties who were all besties with Jesus- pray for us!

Oh and MY SUMMER STARTS THIS WEEK! NO MORE SCHOOL!!!!

Just another way the Lord is showing His Mercy this week! I truly am in awe of all the positive things happening around me right now, even if they are just "little things."

Peace,
Julia



Saturday, May 7, 2016

Mary and the Holy Spirit

Much like my post earlier this year during the celebration of the conversion of St. Paul...guess what time of year it is?!

Countdown to Pentecost!

If you have been following this blog, you know that this is my favorite time of year. So many important things and changes have happened at this time of the liturgical year for me in my life. When I was in college, it was around the time that I went to Guatemala and drew closer to the Lord through experiencing the life of the people there. A few years later, I would make the decision to make another life change and leave the convent I had entered. Two years ago, it was around the Ascension that my friend Dan was taken into heaven. And last year, I began praying and discerning making the change to move to Richmond. So many Holy Spirit driven moments.

This year, I look at my life and I have almost everything that I could want: healthy family and friends, great job(s), a great place to live, a community of friends around me. (Also, this year's international summer trip is going to be Australia and New Zealand!! I'm so excited! I will get to reunite with a dear college friend whom I haven't seen in years!)

I just booked an Air B n B this week that is close to this beach: Mission Bay in Auckland. No biggie.

It's hard to know how the Holy Spirit will move, but I trust that it will as I got this reading today:

"Jesus said to his disciples:
“Amen, amen, I say to you,
whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you.
Until now you have not asked anything in my name;
ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete." - John 16: 23

I remember really diving into these readings from John describing Christ at the Last Supper when I was in Guatemala. The Lord wants our joy to be complete. Sometimes we forget that He wants what is best for us, but He also wants us to come to Him in prayer. And sometimes it's that one thing that we are lacking that gets us to go to Him in prayer. I know that is the case for me. 

And so, even though I don't have any serious intentions at this point in my life, I am going to Him in my annual novena between the Ascension and Pentecost and praying for that one thing that could perhaps make my joy complete and leave it up to Him. 

At this time of year, we also honor Mary. And once again, if you've been keeping up with this blog (God bless you!) you know that I've struggled before with my relationship with Mary. She's not always my go-to. I often go to other saints like Paul (duh!) or Joseph or Therese. 

Now that I work at an elementary and Middle School, we have more cutesy traditions than when I worked with high schoolers. One of them being the classic, tradition May Procession to honor Mary. We had one this week (and there were lots of flowers!)



So many flowers...

And afterwards I was thinking...and maybe I have thought this before but not in this way: Mary has a special relationship with each member of the Trinity. The Father obviously loved and entrusted her because He made her "full of grace." She has the loving relationship of a Mother with the Son, and she was "overshadowed" by the Holy Spirit. This all dawned on me in a new way earlier this week and convinced me a little more to send my prayers her way, especially during this month that we honor her, particularly during this special week between the Ascension and Pentecost. 



The last thing that I wanted to share is that somehow, for the first time in my teaching career, I have really been able to share with my students about Paul and his journeys. In my previous teaching of Scripture- since it was a semester course- I had to kind of rush through the New Testament and we mainly focused on the Gospel writers. It has been awesome to focus on one of my favorite saints and remember how truly amazing it was that he gave his life so completely over to God and had such an impact on spreading our faith despite persecution. He had one encounter with Christ that completely changed him. And he was imprisoned and traveled far and wide to spread his message. He wrote letters and communicated so perfectly encouraging the early Christian community who didn't know what to do in these years after Christ's Ascension.

Pentecost will be extra special this year because I have had some time to meditate on Paul and the early apostle community and how they felt at this time between the Ascension and Pentecost. Paul Forever ;)




So it is a very joy-filled time of year and there is much to be grateful for! May the the joy of Mary and the movement of the Holy Spirit fill our hearts this time of year and always. 

Peace,
Julia 






Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The Easter Alleluia 2016

Happy Easter! It is the second week of Easter and I am finally getting to process all that this Easter season is and hopefully will be.

As I have mentioned quite frequently in this blog, I was a sponsor for a young woman who became Catholic at the Easter Vigil. It was a beautiful (3 hour +!) service, and it was such an honor to witness so many faithful people enter the Church! One of the reasons the service took so long was because we had probably 10 or so people receive Baptism and 20 or so receive Confirmation and First Communion! Alleluia indeed!

 Here is a pic of the Bishop baptizing one of the catechumens..
And here's me with my newly Catholic friend!

Even though the ceremony is long, the Easter Vigil is full of symbols and perfectly concludes the Triduum and begins the Easter season!

I spent my Easter Octave with a good friend who recently moved to California. I flew to Vegas to meet her (we had a tradition of going to Atlantic City when we both lived on the East Coast, so we thought Vegas would be appropriate for our reunion), spent a couple nights there, and then we drove back to California to see her new place.

California is one of my favorite places to visit! It's always so beautiful there. Friends reunited!

It was a restful and joyful Easter Octave indeed.

Now it is the second week of Easter and the Sunday after Easter is known as Divine Mercy Sunday. Because of my travels and because of the part-time job I have taken on the weekends, I wasn't sure if I was going to make it to Mass. I was determined, however, because Divine Mercy Sunday is one of my favorite feasts named by one of my favorite saints, Saint Pope John Paul II.

Our Lord gave St. Faustina- another Polish saint- this image called the image of Divine Mercy. Saint Pope John Paul II made the first Sunday after Easter Divine Mercy Sunday to honor this appearance of our Lord.

Because I was working and traveling but determined to get to Mass, I ended up going to a Spanish Mass on Sunday evening. I am nowhere near fluent in Spanish, but I do have an understanding of it as I studied it into college and spent two summers in Guatemala. While in Guatemala, I attended daily Mass and learned all of the Spanish responses. It also helped that I knew the theme for Sunday's Mass as well as the readings (the Spanish word for "mercy" is also very similar to the Latin; "misericordia". That word got used a lot ;)

What I could make out from the homily was that the priest introduced the concept of Divine Mercy Sunday and that this year was extra special because we are in the Year of Mercy. He also reviewed all of the readings for the day with us (Christ appearing to the apostles in the Upper Room saying "Peace be with you" and Doubting Thomas as the Gospel) and asked us where we needed mercy in our lives and who we needed to be merciful to ( I was pretty proud of my understanding of the homily, actually! I also think it was good to be taken out of my comfort zone and worship with a different community).

Even though my trip to Vegas and California was a much needed break and a week well spent, I hadn't been reading some of my favorite Scripture readings that occur that week of Easter (ie- the apostles gathering together in the early Church after these events of Christ's death and resurrection). Yesterday, I got word that yet another friend who was my peer who had been battling cancer passed away. She and I were not as close as my friend Dan who passed two years ago, but it still hit me pretty hard as she was young, full of life, and a very sweet, fun friend. I naturally turned to prayer and to the word of God in the readings of the day. I was reminded of the strength of that early apostolic community which was something that I needed and reminded me of how my friends came together when Dan had died.

I also was struck by one of the lines from the Gospel:

" just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert,
so must the Son of Man be lifted up,
so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.

This reminder of Christ's Resurrection as an opportunity for our own resurrection was of course a message of hope to me in this time of sadness for my friend.

I also turned on a show that I had been wanting to watch and finally had time to last night- a National Geographic series on God. The first episode dealt with this same theme of our human inclination to believe in an afterlife. The episode looked at the history of this belief- starting with the Egyptians who built the pyramids and wrote prayers and had rituals so that their dead could pass into the next life- and also mentioning Hindu belief of reincarnation as well as the Christian belief of salvation through Christ. I was struck how this desire to believe in an afterlife has gone so far back in human civilization. They also interviewed people who had "near-death experiences" who all commonly describe a "light" which feels peaceful and calm. We as Christians, of course, identify this as heaven, but I think it so interesting that regardless of culture or belief, we want there to be something more and a lot of our beliefs point to common themes.

And so I have hope and faith that my friends are in a better place and are at peace with our Lord and that He met them on that journey home. In this Easter season, I am grateful for the Resurrection and the peace, hope, and joy that it brings. I am also grateful for this Divine Mercy and a whole year to celebrate it.

Happy Easter!

Peace,
Julia


Friday, March 25, 2016

They Said Yes

Today is March 25. Typically, the day that we honor and remember the Annunciation. At the Annunciation, Mary posed a question to the angel who told her that she was going to have a son: "how can this be?" After the angel answered her question, she said: "let it be done according to your word"- her yes. Her fiat.

This is one of my favorite images of the Annunciation. It's in a convent in Florence, Italy which I didn't get to see when I was there this past summer. Another reason to go back!

Today, however, this feast gets trumped by Good Friday (understandably). But it is so interesting to me that today marks another day where we remember a very important yes. And this yes that Christ says for all of us today could not have been possible without that of Mary's fiat. God knew that, which is why He set aside Mary, the Immaculate Conception, for this perfect purpose.

I think it's so cool that these two days collide. The new beginning of our salvation story remembered on a day when our salvation was given to us. God is still working and the Holy Spirit is still moving and we remember it especially on days like today.

This week of Holy Week has reminded me in many ways that God is still working, which is a reminder that we all need. In a world of terrorist attacks, government debacles, and media circuses, we need the reminders of Hope and Mercy. I received these reminders this week in my Church and school communities.

On Palm Sunday, my church works alongside some other Christian churches in the area to put on a Palm Sunday procession through one of the main streets in Richmond. Sadly, there aren't too many occasions when Presbyterian, Lutheran, Episcopal, and Catholic come together. But on this Palm Sunday, we all greeted Christ together with palms and songs and walked together to witness to others in our city. A sign of hope and mercy.

Talking to my students about the Triduum and watching them pray the Stations of the Cross also gives me hope. This Lent, our 8th graders performed a type of "Living Stations" for the rest of the school. I remember doing this as a youth and when I taught at the high school, my students and I would often joke how "Living Stations" is such a weirdly Catholic thing. A rite of passage in a way. But as I sat and prayed with my school community this week the last few Stations of the Cross, I was taken with the fact that this is our faith formation in action. The faith is being handed on to the next generation. I see my students take an interest in our faith every day. And I pray and hope that they will continue to carry it and pass it on to the next.

Days like today and in times like the Triduum, it is easy to see our faith alive and in action. People around the world are celebrating in streets, in Churches, in homes, in schools. Yesterday, I went to my decidedly favorite Mass of the year- Holy Thursday- and thought: tonight is special because we are remembering the Last Supper, but we do this *every time* the Mass is said. The Holy Thursday Mass really isn't that different than every other Mass on Sunday, but somehow it feels different because of the drama of the night.

And speaking of that drama, one of my favorite parts of Holy Thursday is processing to the altar of repose after the service. So many years in my twenties I would stay and "agonize" with Jesus in the garden over whatever drama I had in my life at the time- vocation discernment, job discernment, relationship discernment. This year, for the first time, remembering the Agony in the Garden with Jesus wasn't that agonizing. I honestly have no current drama in my life. I am at peace and I am happy. It was a little strange to be so happy and at peace at a time when we remember Christ's grappling with His fate. So I united the agony of our world and country and those struggles of others with Him last night, and I gave thanks for the peace and mercy He has shown.


Praying at the altar of repose in the Cathedral last night- Holy Thursday.

Christ, like Mary, asked God a question of sorts: "Lord, if it is Your Will, let this cup pass from me." In this moment in the Agony in the Garden, He, like Mary, has an opportunity to say no. But He said yes. We remember both of these great "yes"s today. And we thank God for the Hope and Mercy they bring because of their yes this day.

Tomorrow, I know there is going to be much joy and awe at the Easter Vigil when the candidates we have been working with in RCIA enter the Church! I am so excited for these new Catholics who have shared their desire and faith with us for so long. I also know that God is going to bring conversion to those of us who need to renew our faith. This year, I know that the Resurrection is going to bring much hope and joy.

Have a blessed Good Friday.

Peace,
Julia