Monday, January 25, 2016

The Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul: 2016

To quote an overly played (and played out) totally out-of-date pop culture reference from 2013:


The Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul!!!

It's not news by now that 8-9 years ago (yeesh) when I was discerning religious life that I had a special connection to St. Paul on this feast day. I was in need of a "blinding light" and a conversion in the midst of my suffering and I feel like I got it with the help and inspiration of Paul.

Since then, I take this day to meditate and reflect on any conversions I might need to make in my life and I ask St. Paul to help me with them.

Last year on this day, my friends and I were on a retreat that my spiritual director had planned. It was the last retreat that I have been on. I was supposed to go on one with the RCIA group that I am helping out with in my new parish, but it got snowed out!

View from my apartment window after two days of non-stop snow. We have about 1 1/2 feet!

Because the retreat last year was on this feast day, my spiritual director (who is known for coming up with awesome meditations for the rosary), gave us the Mysteries of St. Paul:

1st Mystery: Paul witnesses the martyrdom of St. Stephen
2nd Mystery: Paul's conversion and baptism
3rd Mystery: Paul preaches to the Gentiles
4th Mystery: Paul's letters
5th Mystery: Paul's Martyrdom

I prayed these mysteries today as I walked around in the snow on my 2nd "snow day" from school so far this year. It was kind of like my own mini-retreat. I am not sure what kind of conversion needs to be made in my life right now- things continue to be great!- but I know that we can always be called to some kind of conversion.

As I read the readings this AM for this feast day, I was struck by how horrific Paul had been to those he was persecuting and in turn how merciful the Lord was with Paul. The Lord wanted Paul to use his zeal for good instead of persecution and he sought after Paul, just like He seeks after everyone of us.

I'm praying today to use my zeal that I have for good and seeking- in this Year of Mercy- how I might, like Jesus and Paul, bring mercy to others.

A short and sweet reflection today. No need to over-complicate stuff, I'm keeping it simple...St. Paul, pray for us!


Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Keeping Christmas in 2016

This Christmas was one of the best in a while for me. Everyone in my immediate family seemed in the holiday spirit and even though there were definitely potential moments for stress, we somehow rallied together to eliminate those moments instead of heighten them this year. Many of us have had to go through transitions and new roles in the past couple of years, and it seemed that we finally were comfortable in those new roles (new babies, new living situations, new traditions, etc). 

When I recounted to a friend how enjoyable Christmas actually was, my friend noted that I was also happier than I was this time last year (she actually joked that I was "not homicidal" this year, referencing how I may or may not have had much bottled up anger towards many a fellow man last year. I feel that this is an extreme, and I promise, she was JOKING, though...point taken). And I AM happier, because I am in a new job and a new city that is a much better fit for where I'm at in my life right now.

During Advent, I meditated on the scene of the Nativity a lot, as Christmas songs about angels and Mary guided my thoughts to that Christmas event. Now it is the Christmas season and I am wondering how I can keep that meditation going and how I can keep the joy I experienced this Christmas in 2016.

I just read over some posts from the earlier half of this year, where I was still unsure and frustrated with what the Lord may or may not have in store for me. I wasn't hearing the answers to prayer that I wanted. But inspired by my friend Dan (who I've written about and who passed away in 2014), I decided to take my frustration and focus on pursuing Joy, which meant focusing more on Jesus than myself. 

Christmas is, of course, about these things: Joy and Jesus. So one way that we can carry Christmas throughout the season and into the new year is by drawing closer to Him so that we might pursue Him and the joy that comes with that. 

The Church also has many feasts for us to focus on in this Christmas season: St. Stephen Martyr on Dec. 26, St John the Apostle on Dec. 27, the Feast of the Holy Innocents on Dec. 28, the feast of the Holy Family the Sunday after Christmas, the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God on Jan 1, the feast of the Epiphany (usually somewhere between Jan 2-8, but traditionally celebrated on Jan 6), and the Baptism of the Lord in mid January which closes out the Christmas season. Whew!

So there is lots to focus on! I personally want to keep meditating on the Christmas Nativity scene: what did the shepherds do after they encountered the angels and the Holy Family? How would they have been changed? How did Mary and Joseph adjust to their first few days of parenthood? what did they meditate on when they were present with the Son of God in that stable? The Nativity scene gives us a lot to contemplate, even after Dec. 25 is over. I am grateful for the Christmas season and looking forward to carrying the joy of Christmas in to 2016!

Nativity Scene from my parish- the Cathedral here in Richmond. 

May the Christmas season continue to bring us joy and closer to Christ. Merry Christmas and Happy 2016!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Visitation: Fourth Sunday of Advent 2015

I truly can't believe that I have kept this blog for over 8 years now. What is my life??

Well, life is kind of awesome right now because it is Christmas Break!!!!

This year, the break wasn't nearly as needed as in years past, though I will still totally take it! Teaching Middle School is still fun and new and the students are still lovely to me (though, they started to show their less-than angelic sides the last day of school, which was to be expected).

Right before the break, we finished up our unit on the Old Testament History Books which I've taught many times before, but it's so awesome to teach it to 6th graders who have truly never heard about some of these characters or stories before.

One of the characters that a lot of the 6th grade boys particularly loved was Samson for some reason. And I guess he is the most super hero of the Judges, so that makes sense. For Advent, I've been committed to reading the daily Scriptures and as you know, meditating on one Christmas carol each day. Yesterday, the first reading was from Judges and it was about Samson's birth. When the kids and I read this a couple of weeks ago, the similarities to the New Testament was not wasted on them. See for yourselves:

"There was a certain man from Zorah, of the clan of the Danites,
whose name was Manoah. 
His wife was barren and had borne no children. 
An angel of the LORD appeared to the woman and said to her,
“Though you are barren and have had no children,
yet you will conceive and bear a son. 
Now, then, be careful to take no wine or strong drink
and to eat nothing unclean.
As for the son you will conceive and bear,
no razor shall touch his head,
for this boy is to be consecrated to God from the womb. 
It is he who will begin the deliverance of Israel
from the power of the Philistines.”

The woman went and told her husband,
“A man of God came to me;
he had the appearance of an angel of God, terrible indeed. 
I did not ask him where he came from, nor did he tell me his name. 
But he said to me,
‘You will be with child and will bear a son. 
So take neither wine nor strong drink, and eat nothing unclean. 
For the boy shall be consecrated to God from the womb,
until the day of his death.’”

The woman bore a son and named him Samson. 
The boy grew up and the LORD blessed him;
the Spirit of the LORD stirred him." - Judges 13

Sound familiar? I asked the kids why they thought the Scripture writers so often used this technique of a "miraculous birth." And they totally got it: "to show God's power." Yes! And also to show the importance of the child.

The Gospel for yesterday was then that of Gabriel announcing to Zechariah that Elizabeth, in her old age, is going to have John the Baptist. Zechariah doesn't believe this, and whenever I taught this story to teens, they always believed that Zechariah got a bad rap. He was muted until John's birth because he asked the angel: "How shall I know this?" similar to Mary's "How can this be?" which the angel totally answers for her without muting her.

Well, I could get all in to how the Greek language was super specific and their questions have super specific and different connotations, but I won't for the purposes of this blog post. It is already too stream of consciousness as it is and I shall spare you, dear reader. Moving on then!

We hear today, however- the 4th Sunday of Advent- of two important, aforementioned children and their miraculous births:

"Mary set out
and traveled to the hill country in haste
to a town of Judah, 
where she entered the house of Zechariah
and greeted Elizabeth.
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting,
the infant leaped in her womb, 
and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, 
cried out in a loud voice and said, 
“Blessed are you among women, 
and blessed is the fruit of your womb.
And how does this happen to me, 
that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, 
the infant in my womb leaped for joy.
Blessed are you who believed
that what was spoken to you by the Lord
would be fulfilled.” - Luke 1:39-45

I have mentioned earlier this year that when I moved to RVA, I wanted to get involved at my new parish, which happens to be the cathedral parish. When I met with the Director of Faith Formation, she said that they needed sponsors for RCIA. I was glad to be working with adults instead of kids for once, and it has been such a blessing. Each week, we as an RCIA community- sponsors and candidates- look at the Scriptures for the upcoming Sunday together. It is so awesome to explore Scripture with this group of adults- some of who have been involved with their faith for a while and some who are looking at it with new eyes. It helps me, too, to look at the Scriptures with new eyes.

We had an awesome discussion last week about this Gospel from Luke of the Visitation between Mary and Elizabeth. First, of how interesting that it seems that Mary may have traveled to see Elizabeth alone, which would have been unheard of in the Middle East at that time. She most likely would've traveled with a caravan of people, but it makes no mention of that here. Whether she traveled alone or not doesn't exactly matter, but it's interesting that I always sort of assumed she had, even though that may not have been culturally correct.

Also, one of the men in our group asked if it were true that women could truly tell when another woman was pregnant. Like, would Elizabeth really have sensed that Mary was with child. The women in the group all agreed that we can totally tell when a woman is pregnant. I myself have never been pregnant, of course, but I totally can tell when my friends are going to tell me that they are. Namely, they don't touch the alcohol that they normally would, but a friend just knows that there is a certain joy or glow about them when they are going to make such an announcement.

Not having been pregnant, I always was kind of caught off guard with the phrases about John the Baptist "leaping" in Elizabeth's womb at the sense of Jesus' presence. Like, I get that babies kick and move and stuff, but it's a little weird that John the Baptist could sense Jesus in Mary's womb, right? But if we look back at the technique used when describing Samson, these phrases kind of make sense. Luke is showing that John the Baptist, from the beginning, was excited about Jesus. That from birth he was chosen to "prepare the way" for Jesus and announce the Messiah to all when they were older. Looking at it in that sense, it is kind of a beautiful gesture, really.

Look! I found an icon that adequately sums up the weird beauty of this event!

John the Baptist is always a major player in the Advent journey, but this year more than ever I've been kind of attune to his role. The monsignor at my parish gave an awesome homily last week using Oscar Romero as an example of a modern day John the Baptist. The two did have some similarities: they challenged others with messages that the people of the time did not want to hear. They were not well liked by the government officials of their time and place. They both were martyred for their faith and proclamation of the Gospel.

St. John the Baptist and Oscar Romero, pray/intercede for us!

With this time of Advent drawing to a close and Christmas coming soon, there will be many "visitations" of our own as we visit with family and friends. May we keep in our minds and hearts the greetings of John the Baptist and Elizabeth when we greet the Christ Child and His Mother at Christmas, and carry that same joy and enthusiasm with all that we meet.

Merry (almost) Christmas! Only two more weeks of 2015!!!


Sunday, November 29, 2015

So This is the New Year! Advent 2015- A Year in Review

Advent is here! And with that, a new liturgical year. Time to take a look back on the end of 2014 and 2015 and look ahead to the Year of Mercy!

Started the year out in Philly with these two...been doing NYE with these guys for years now!
 We had a terrible winter again this year, so a friend and I planned a trip to see our friend in Florida

I did Spring Break on my own this year, went to Texas to explore Austin and visited a friend

 Above: Rang in my 34th birthday with some BBQ and live band karaoke in DC!
 Below: Wine Club with some of my favorite fellow teachers continued with Memorial Day celebration!

 Summer 2015 brought a trip to Italy, a trip home to see my family (niece and nephew featured below) and a move to RVA  for a new job and to be closer to some of my favorite girls ( also below).

 I only had one wedding this year!!!! A favorite from RVA! And let's not forget that I spent much of this year working up in NoVA at the winery:
The above pictures were just some of the highlights. There were so many to pick from this year! So many great trips, new friends, new adventures. I took art classes, started teaching a new grade at a new school, developed a new curriculum and became an RCIA sponsor (and I'm super excited for the Easter Vigil this year because of it!). And most recently, I've had many friends come to visit me in my new place in RVA. This year's themes have definitely been that of Gratitude for God's gifts and looking forward to the Year of Mercy which starts during Advent on Dec. 8- The Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

As I look toward the year of Mercy and Christmas, I think about what I should do, of course, for Advent. It's here! And I no longer have my spiritual director close by, so I'm left to come up with my own spiritual exercises for now. I definitely want to get back into reading the daily readings. I had done well with that when I first moved to Richmond, but of course life and craziness start to creep in. My students had to make Advent calendars with something that they were going to do each day during Advent. I wanted to do the same, but wanted to have a consistent theme.

I started getting into the holiday spirit EARLY this year. It's hard not to when it's in our faces on TV and in the stores and on the streets. I was watching a movie recently over Thanksgiving and the song "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" was featured. I thought of what beautiful lyrics that song has and an idea came to mind: why not meditate each day during Advent on the lyrics of a religious Christmas song?

I want to focus on the Incarnation this Advent- what it means that Jesus came into our world. I think Christmas Songs do a really good job of this. The authors of those songs had deep spiritual roots and took time and meditation to write them. And so, I've decided that my Advent promise is to be more intentional and incarnational; to read the Scriptures every day and to meditate on the lyrics of a religious Christmas song leading up to Christmas. To really bring the Word of God to life this Advent.

I thought...maybe this should be a Christmas season meditation? But the more I thought about it, Advent is preparing us for the Incarnation. And like I said before, I think the messages of most of these Christmas songs really help us to focus on the event of God becoming flesh, which is The Incarnation.

If you want to follow a long with me, here is the list that I've made for myself! I started out strong, and then started to have to pull from the archives for some of these songs, but I'm excited and feel free to pray along with me!

Nov. 29: O Come, O Come Emmanuel
Nov. 30: It Came Upon a Midnight Clear
Dec. 1: Silent Night
Dec. 2: O Holy Night
Dec. 3: Hark the Herald Angels Sing
Dec. 4: Angels We Have Heard on High
Dec. 5: I Saw Three Ships/Ding Dong Merrily on High (2 separate songs...1 is shorter than the other!)
Dec. 6: Do You Hear What I Hear?
Dec. 7: Bring a Torch Jeanette Isabella
Dec. 8: Away in a Manger
Dec. 9: The First Noel
Dec. 10: Joy to the World
Dec. 11: We Three Kings
Dec. 12: Fum Fum Fum
Dec. 13: Twas in the Moon of Wintertime
Dec. 14: Go Tell it on a Mountain
Dec. 15: Coventry Carol/Once in Royal David's City (again, another double up!)
Dec. 16: God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
Dec. 17: Good King Wenceslas
Dec. 18: O Come All Ye Faithful
Dec. 19: O Little Town of Bethlehem
Dec. 20: What Child is This
Dec. 21: Mary Did You Know
Dec. 22: Little Drummer Boy
Dec. 23: The Friendly Beasts
Dec. 24: Lo How A Rose E'er Blooming

There has been, of course, lots to pray for this year. Our world seems ever more volatile and hostile with reports of terrorist attacks, random acts of violence with guns, and just general lack of empathy for one another everywhere. We need the Peace and Mercy of Christ ever more this Advent. Again, I think the messages of these Christmas carols also promote those things. Let's pray that the Peace of Christ really does become Incarnate in a new way this Advent and Christmas seasons.

O Come, O Come Emmanuel!

Saturday, November 7, 2015

32nd Week in Ordinary Time

I'm not accustomed to naming my blog posts according to the ordered time of the Church, but the fact that tomorrow is the 32nd week in Ordinary Time struck me. There are 34 weeks of Ordinary Time in our liturgical calendar. That means that the end of this year in the Church is coming soon. As you know, I am accustomed to reflecting on my year around this time in November. We still have a couple of weeks until Advent so I'm not quite there yet, but it struck me that it is coming soon. Time to prepare for that preparation of Advent.

As a school teacher, I often notice how October just flies by. It seems like we start off fairly easy in August or September, just getting to know our students and getting back into the swing of things in our classrooms. And then October comes and BAM! ALL OF THE THINGS: football games, school plays, field trips, fundraisers. It's like we feel that by October, we should be able to handle all that the crazy that school year will throw at us and we pretty much jam it all into that one month. Not entirely sure why.

I was very much feeling the October crazy this year as you might imagine: new school, new town, new grade levels. But I went with the flow, did my best to keep my head above water, and enjoyed myself along the way (it's FALL after all! The best time of the year!)

Suddenly, it's November and the time that we start to think of the beginning of the end in more ways than one. We start by remembering our holy saints with the feast of All Saints Day and follow with remembering our deceased loved ones with All Souls Day. As I start to know- for better or for worse- more people who have died, these feast days become more important and dear. This past week, the beginning of  November also happened to be my most stressful week at my new school so far. With the end of October came the end of the first quarter at my new school and the end of a quarter is often stressful for teachers regardless of how long they have been in a place. I joked that I would be getting all of the souls in purgatory out this past All Souls Day as I sat for three hours in parent-teacher conferences.

November often has been a time of retreat for me, too. When I was at CUA, we often had our Antioch retreats which I led my Senior year. When I was a youth minister, I always ran some kind of fall retreat. And when I taught at the high school, we ran our Kairos retreats around this time.

 Scene from Kairos 5 location last year...
View from retreat center in MD where I led many a youth ministry retreat.

There is something about the end of the year that makes us reflect and the Church also reminds us of this with the feasts like All Saints and All Souls as well as the upcoming feast of  Christ the King. The earth and the Church are all kind of pulling us to slow down, reflect, and prepare for the winter and new year to come.

So it was a gift today to have a personal retreat of sorts this AM without my really realizing that it would be nor how much I needed it. I saw a flyer at my school for a talk by one of my favorite priests at a nearby parish. I immediately signed up and this AM was the morning of the talk. I figured that Fr Martin would give me something insightful and what he ended up saying (as I find more and more these days post my Theology degree) was nothing entirely new. But it is always life giving to have someone affirm things that you already know and remind you of why you do what you do.

Father James Martin, SJ is very much a media priest which is probably why I feel drawn to him. He does what I always have dreamed of doing and strive to do: he uses print, social media, and television to hand on the Catholic faith, particularly to audiences who may not understand what it is that Catholics do. I think his ministry is so important and I felt like such a fangirl when I rolled up to the Church this AM:

 I wanted to get a selfie with him, but the line after the talk was LONG. So I just posted the above pic on all of my social media outlets.

Father spoke of his trip to the Holy Land which was the subject for one of his more recent books. He also spoke of the Incarnation- the divinity and humanity of Christ- which is always an interesting mediation, no matter how many times you study or teach it. We can never really wrap around our minds the fact that Christ was both fully human and fully divine and what that means.

I was delighted because he told many fun stories, but when it came to Scripture, he used some of my favorites- many from the Gospel of Mark where Jesus is very, very sassy and very human. We see Him get angry at his apostles, tired, and Father specifically used the story where Jesus has a playful moment with the Syrophoenician woman with the demonic daughter: "He said to her, “Let the children be fed first. For it is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.”

She replied and said to him, “Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s scraps.”

Then he said to her, “For saying this, you may go. The demon has gone out of your daughter.”- Mark 7:27-29

It's such a weird interaction for the super compassionate Jesus. It seems harsh for Him to say this to a woman, but I've always taken this passage as playful. Jesus knows where each one of us is at. He knows what we need and how we will respond. Perhaps for this woman, this was the type of interaction that she needed to believe.

Fr Martin also used two of my very favorite stories in the Gospels: The Raising of Lazarus (which I know I've written about before, specifically when still in the convent) and The Calling of Zacchaeus. The story of the Raising of Lazarus has been significant to me in finding out who I am to Jesus. I remember hearing a priest speak about this passage when I was at CUA- about how Jesus would weep for us, just like He did for Lazarus because we all have the possibility to be that close to Him. I used this example as a testimony for years while on NET and in youth ministry. When I was in the convent, the passage was more about the death of Lazarus as I was dying to myself and feeling like I was leaving "a stench" (sorry for the graphic, but that's reference to the passage itself!). It was meditating on this passage that perhaps led me to the decision to leave the convent and that religious life was not ultimately for me. Now, and specifically today, the passage shows me so much about who Christ is: his humanness, his power, his love.

A couple of weeks ago in the October crazy, I had to attend one of many diocesan sessions that I've had to take part in since I've moved to this new diocese. I'm grateful that the diocese wants to assure that their catechists have proper training, but....ahem...theology degree. So I drove to VA Beach, against my will, but which ended up being worth it because I got to see and spend time with a high school friend and her son:

 My friend and her son RJ on his first pony ride! I got to witness it firsthand..
RJ still has mixed feelings about spending the day with me which is fair.

At the required catechetical session beforehand, as part of a group discussion, the facilitator asked us to share with the people around us our favorite childhood Scripture story. I shared that one of my favorites had been the story of Zacchaeus. The guys I shared with were for some reason taken aback by this. They thought it was very Theology teacher of me for some reason...I'm still not quite sure why.

The reason I liked the story as a child, I think, is because it was easy to imagine as a child: a short man, probably my height back then as I was always a giant, climbed a tree to see Jesus better. What child doesn't like to think about climbing trees? And best yet, Jesus sees Zacchaeus in that tree and calls him down from all the crowd to have dinner with him. Another great visual for me as a child: dinner with Jesus!

And as I grew older, I began to appreciate even more the significance of the story and Christ's actions in it. He called a sinner- a taxcollector- from a crowd and this befuddled the others but led Zacchaeus to conversion. As an adult, I can see the compassion and challenge in it. But I like to think that I understood this as a child as well.

Father Martin used this story to show once again, both Christ's humanity and divinity and how we as a Church are to welcome and include others...even those we think aren't worthy or are "sinners" (and surprise! We all fit that category!) As I wrote when I last posted about the Pope, I agree that this is something we struggle with as a Church: welcoming people and encouraging conversion, not demanding it.

The talk and reflection today comes at this perfect time of early November- the 32nd week in Ordinary Time- where we round out "the October crazy" and prepare for the beginning of the end of the year. I'm grateful to have this food for thought and prayer at this time and am looking forward to the hope and reflection of the end of this liturgical year and the beginning of Advent.

Happy 32nd week in Ordinary Time! May it be extraordinary.


Sunday, September 27, 2015

Gratitude and Mercy Part 2

I'm sure it comes as no surprise that I have been inspired to blog about the Holy Father's US visit this week. It has been exciting to be Catholic this week! And even, dare I say, socially acceptable! My Catholicity tends to be the subject of social encounters more often than probably most, due to occupational hazard. My first introductions with people usually go something like this:

Person I meet for the first time: "What do you do?"
Me: "I'm a teacher!"
Person I meet for the first time: "What do you teach?"
Me: "Religion."
Person I meet for the first time: (Usually awkward pause ) "Oh...interesting!"

These interactions were even more interesting when I responded: "youth minister" as a twenty-something out on the town as you might imagine. Nothing kills the potential "meet cute" like an introduction that inserts the Church at the forefront of a dude's mind. Some people may disagree with me on this. You might think that it is a beautiful gesture to introduce Christ at first meet or  even a great method of evangelization. I have studied evangelization, folks, and the numbers don't lie. I've seen more young men divert their attention elsewhere faster than if Kate Upton were to enter the room at that very moment. 

That's why I found it so refreshing to see not just my Catholic friends saying kind things about the Catholic Church on Facebook for once. Even if it was just a funny picture of the Pope on a pizza or a Stephen Colbert singing about being a friend of Francis, the good news of the Church infiltrated our culture for one week. 

I mean, how can you not respond with joy when you see something as glorious as this. Two of my favorite things: the Pope and Pizza!

Francis has a way of making everyone feel included but challenged. And THAT is what role of the Vicar of Christ is about. Because that is what Christ was about! And ultimately, that is what our Church is about! But we have made our Church something about exclusion instead of inclusion and that is what I think Francis is really getting us to see.

I was amazed that Francis had so many specific messages for all of his many appearances and gatherings, and every time he killed it! Congress and the White House: The Golden Rule. Care for our environment. Care for the poor. Care for life in all its forms. NYC: Preach the Gospel to all people. Go out and spread the Gospel. Do not be afraid. 

These are not new messages. And everyone hears their own version of these messages, too. What I heard may not be what you did, because we bring our own biases and experiences to any message we encounter (Some media literacy learning coming at ya!!!). But the way he says these traditional messages with compassion is what makes everyone feel like he is speaking to them. He has made us feel included, loved...which is what we are all thirsting for so much.

I watched way more of the coverage from my couch than I had originally intended. I found myself drawn to watch more. Of course, I was initially jealous that I was not there at my alma mater or in a city that I had just moved from months before to experience all this in person. But the beauty of Francis, once again, is his ability to make you feel included and loved even from far away. 

My dear friends sent me these pictures via text to make me feel like I was there with them! XOXO!

I watched as the Pope touched down on Tuesday in DC. I watched him meet Obama at Andrews Air Force Base in the wind with a smile. On Wednesday, I made my students in Study Hall watch Francis and Obama speak in front of the White House. On Thursday, I eagerly awaited a transcript of his address to Congress so that I could read what I had missed while teaching that day. And that night, I watched him enter St. Patrick's Cathedral in NYC and I dusted off my brievery to pray Vespers for the first time in a long time with him and 20,000 other people. 

But this AM when I found myself drawn again to watch him address clergy in Philly, I felt some scales fall from my eyes.

I have known about the World Meeting Families since fall of last year when the diocese I was working in asked department chairs to meet and look at ways to incorporate a special curriculum for the event. I certainly wanted to do so, but I also kind of rolled my eyes as this just one more hoop I was having to jump through for the diocese. Let me explain. 

I have come to think that when we talk about "family" that this means one of a very small list of things: We are either talking about being anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage, anti-birth control or anti-cohabitation. All things that we are "anti" nothing that we are for. 

For this reason, I was not personally psyched about this World Meeting of Families. I thought it was going to be another rally about something we are "anti." And honestly, because I myself am not married and have no children, I have never felt like these discussions of "family" include me. But when I heard the Holy Father speak to the Bishops this AM, he once again compassionately spoke and it made me think like he was speaking to me. 

There is a lot of hurt surrounding the issue family. There are the reasons I have listed previously and as I mentioned, a lot of my own experiences with people who are "pro family" have been exclusive. I don't have 7+ children and that is not necessarily what the Lord has called me to. Where do I fit with this limited, traditional box that we have made "family", then? What Pope Francis said this AM reminded me as he has done time and time again that our faith and concept of family are so much more than what we have limited them to be. 

He expanded and broadened this box of what the threats to family have become. It's more than just the things we hear about all the time. He mentioned that issues affecting the family are things like our consumerism, our devotion to social media, our individualized and isolated society. Essentially, just like there are many, many more "pro life" issues than just being "anti-abortion", there are many, many more issues affecting the family.

I can't tell you how it refreshing it felt to be "included" in this way. These are issues that I can relate to. This expanded my way of looking at "family issues" and this is why, once again, our Pope is so special. He makes all of us feel loved and included and that essentially is at the heart of family, isn't it?

This doesn't mean that we should not be challenged or questioned when we are discussing matters of family, but the root of our message should always be love...not exclusivity. I am blessed to be a part of the family that is the Catholic Church. A family that has a Holy Father that wants to include as many children as possible...just like Christ.


Saturday, September 19, 2015

Gratitude and Mercy

I think for maybe the first time in my life (that sounds dramatic. Let's go with:" at least in my most recent memory") my prayers have been solely that of gratitude. I remember being in the convent and confessing something and the priest telling me that the cure for whatever it was that I was struggling with at the time (probably lack of trust on my part) was gratitude. And I have come to find that gratitude can be the cure for many, many things.

I am truly grateful for the answered prayers that I began to share on this blog this past summer. Since then, the Lord continues to affirm and show answers to prayer in abundance. After taking the risk of receiving a cut in pay and switching to teach Middle School, God has affirmed that this is where I am meant to be. I have been fully supported and welcomed by the new staff and students at the school that I am at. I have the opportunity to be creative in my new position. I found and am able to afford an apartment in a great part of town and am able to take a class at a local university in hopes of (possibly) pursuing another degree next year (stay tuned!).

None of these things are earth shattering or life changing. But as I've discovered in my 30s, my relationship with God is now more dependent on the day to day rather than major life changes. I am still searching for some answers regarding my vocation. But more and more God continues to affirm that the little decisions that I am making are affirming my true call to share the faith with others. And it's been an awesome answer to my reflection on God's covenants in my life that I started in Lent.

Quintessential Pic of a rainbow over Richmond when I was out running(ish) the other day! Covenants and signs of promises kept!

So I have been very grateful in my prayer lately. Of course I move away from DC right before the Holy Father is going to be there, but I am still super excited about his visit. I feel like we need the blessing and insight that he will bring to our country now more than ever. And not in a desperate kind of way, but with an upcoming election and an opportunity for change, I think that the Pope's message (whatever it may be) will be much needed.

The Holy Father has also proclaimed an upcoming Jubilee year starting this Dec. 8- the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Typically, Jubilee years happen every 25 years, but as I may have said before, this Pope does what he wants! When a Jubilee year is celebrated, the Holy Door is opened, and any pilgrim that walks through it, receives an indulgence of forgiveness of sin.

Here's my pic of the Holy Door in St. Peter's from my trip there this summer! You can see how it's sealed up now, but come Dec. 8, it will be open!

I know that many think that this Pope has been more progressive or forward thinking, and it's true that he thinks differently than some of our more recent popes, but he really isn't saying anything new. He is just simply reminding us of the facets of our faith that many may have lost sight of. With this special Jubilee Year, he is calling it the Year of Mercy which I think is just so perfect. We have forgotten that our faith is about second chances and forgiveness. So while some people think he is being super radical making it easier for people to get annulments or being forgiven of abortion, this really is nothing new. Anyone who seeks God's Mercy is able to receive it if they truly do seek it. I think the Holy Father is just reminding us of that and I LOVE IT! Who doesn't need God's Mercy?!?

The last little thing that I've been reflecting on comes from last week's Sunday Gospel which was a complex one. There was a lot in it:

"Jesus and his disciples set out
for the villages of Caesarea Philippi. 
Along the way he asked his disciples,
“Who do people say that I am?” 
They said in reply,
“John the Baptist, others Elijah,
still others one of the prophets.” 
And he asked them,
“But who do you say that I am?” 
Peter said to him in reply,
“You are the Christ.” 
Then he warned them not to tell anyone about him.

He began to teach them
that the Son of Man must suffer greatly
and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes,
and be killed, and rise after three days. 
He spoke this openly. 
Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 
At this he turned around and, looking at his disciples,
rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan. 
You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

He summoned the crowd with his disciples and said to them,
“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,
take up his cross, and follow me. 
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake
and that of the gospel will save it.” - Mark 8:27-35

First, there is the question of who Jesus is, which isn't an easy one. Then, He predicts His Passion. When Peter doesn't want to accept that this will happen to Jesus, Jesus throws Peter under the bus. And finally, Jesus hits us with: anyone who wants to follow Him, must take up our cross and lose our lives. Uh...what just happened here???

I meditated on this passage with some of my students, who, as 6th graders tried really hard to make sense of it, but naturally it was difficult for them. I chose for my own meditation to focus on the "taking up our cross" part for my prayer. Even though my prayers have been one of gratitude, there's always that one thing, right? There's that thorn that St Paul talks about, that thing that keeps us close to Christ. 

The priest who said Mass on Sunday, in his homily, reminded us not to compare our crosses with one another's. This is always difficult to do. We want to see if our cross is "bigger" or "heavier" than others or the opposite: "at least MY cross isn't like  _____." This isn't really helpful in our own spiritual journey. We simply just need to do as Christ says in the Gospel: pick it up and embrace it. And, to tie everything back to gratitude, perhaps even add our prayer of gratitude for it as it brings us closer to uniting ourselves with Christ. But that sounds much more glamorous than it actually is, I know.

Another thing I am grateful for this week: I wanted to get involved in my new diocese and my new parish, which is the Cathedral:
pic of Cathedral at night. Notice the turning leaves! FALL IS COMING!!!

The DRE at the Cathedral said that her main need was for that of sponsors for the RCIA program (for those inquiring to become Catholic at Easter). We had our first meeting this week and I am really glad that I volunteered. In all my years of ministry and study, I really haven't worked with adult faith formation, so I'm excited for the experience. It is so refreshing to see people who want to learn about the faith and to see the Holy Spirit working in our lives. 

There are just a lot of really good things going on and in the air right now...(especially that cool nip in the air that means all things FALL!) and my response is just gratitude, gratitude. 

Here's to a great start to one of the most wonderful times of the year! And gratitude for the reminder of God's great, amazing Mercy. We are united in prayer!