Sunday, September 7, 2014

Seek and Ye Shall Find?

While I try to have my Facebook, Instagram, Vine, Twitter, and various social networks fool my followers into presuming the contrary, I can usually be found most nights on my couch in my Snuggie watching Jeopardy and going to bed at geriatric hours. (I am fully aware that I am fooling no one.)

In the spirit of my geriatric Jeopardy watching habits (and the subject matter for this post), I have entitled this blogpost in the form of a question. For anyone who is a Jeopardy watcher knows: woe to the person who falters in their question-answer, lest they face the wrath of Alex Trebek.

I feel that this picture best sums up Alex and the frightening National Treasure that he is...

This post is about questions. And more importantly, how those questions can help us grow in our faith. 

You may not even have felt the need to ask this question, but yes. I am back at school. And yes, the school year is off to a good start. The routine of teaching is almost old hat now- this now being my FIFTH year- but I am grateful for my students and for the prompting of the Holy Spirit for always keeping even the most routine curriculum interesting. 

I like to begin my sophomore course with an excerpt from a US Bishops' document on "Living Faith." I've probably mentioned it here before, because this is now my ninth semester teaching this course (ahhh...WHAT). It discusses that faith should be "living and active" and suggests some things that adults should do to foster their faith. 

One of the things that the bishops' suggest is to question. I always ask my students if they are surprised that the bishops would want us to question our faith. This year in particular, the students had much to say about this point, but not in the way that I expected. Usually students think that questioning could lead to the person leaving (not living) their faith or the students are apathetic entirely. This year, most of the kids were totally on board and agreed that questioning our faith is really the only way for our faith to grow, and I agree.

There is a danger when our faith becomes stagnant. Whether that be thinking that we know everything there possibly is to know about our faith and that we are sooooo holy and don't possibly need to learn anything more OR that we completely reject everything that we've heard and don't care to learn more. We can't grow if we are stagnant, so we must continually search and ask questions. 

One of my students even gave me new insight into a Scripture passage that I thought I had down. She mentioned the parable of Jesus saying that we need to have faith like a child. We often interpret this story to mean that we need to just accept and trust like a child, but she pointed out that kids are often asking questions: "Why? Why? WHY?" Amirite? So in order to have faith- faith like a child- we need to question. 
I thought that was brilliant. I'm so grateful that I have a job that nourishes me in my own faith.

The other piece that comes with questioning, though, is that we have to be open to an answer. Jesus also says, "Ask and you shall receive. Knock and the door shall be opened." I, personally, have nooooo problems asking the questions, but it is trusting the answer that gets me. 

When a child asks a question, he or she trusts that you have the answer. They ask and then they accept. For me, it is not the questioning that is hard, but the acceptance. I have to trust that when I seek, when I ask, I will be given an answer and that it will be the answer that I was looking for.

I am forever asking the question: "Am I living it right?" (a la John Mayer "Why Georgia" circa 2002, of course)

Interestingly enough, neither Alex Trebeck nor John Mayer are men known for their humility or patience...

 And there's that temptation to look forward and backwards and say "if only" instead of trusting that God is doing His work right now in the present. I know this is a struggle for those of us who are single, but I've encountered it with some of my married friends with families, too. When I visit high school friends from Ohio, some of them do express concern with not having ever really left the town we grew up in. And likewise, I wonder if I could've done something differently to achieve the settled, stable status that they have acquired which seems to be the "American Dream."

But we know that comparing ourselves and asking those types of questions don't necessarily help us move forward. Those types of questions can actually make us become quite stagnant. They are helpful if they help us to accept where we are or move forward. They are not helpful if they make us quit searching as I discussed with my students earlier. 

I do question if I am sometimes off of the path that God has laid out for me. But it is this question that also keeps me coming back to Him. While many of my friends have found that great love of their life, I am reminded that my great love has been with God and His Church. He has taken me from Ohio to DC, to Guatemala to Spain, to NoVA to Greece to Poland. I've traveled all over this country meeting people in His Church through volunteer programs and have even gotten an inside glimpse on the vocation of religious life. And like that image of the child, I need to trust that God is taking me where I need to go.

When I question where I am and where I am going, the answer does ultimately bring me back to Him. So I must trust that my questions will continue to be answered in His way and in His Time as He has so many times before. 

I'm grateful for the journey The Lord has taken me on and that He continues to honor my questions with the love and patience of a Father and Friend. May we all learn to be patient with one another in our questions and with ourselves, but never stop searching.

Peace,
Julia

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Choosing Happiness

I have been a life-long early riser. The girls I used to wake up at slumber parties at 6am will tell you this. (I would eventually learn to just entertain myself for three hours or so until the *normal* time for children who have sleepovers arose. I would do so by playing quietly with my friends' Barbies or memorizing the pictures and figurines in their respective bedrooms. That doesn't sound creepy, right?)

My propensity for early rising came in handy on our recent European journey as we had more time to see all of the things, and I've made a commitment to continue waking up early this summer so that I would have more "me" time and resent having to run off and spend my day watching someone else's child a lot less (I do really like the family and child I nanny!!! It's not them, it's totally me).

When I came back from my European "tour" ( i will be bougie and henceforth call it that ) and went to see Father for spiritual direction, he asked me how I was going to keep all of the graces received from the trip going. Well, that was a good question. I kinda shrugged my shoulders and said: "I dunno know. Keep praying and read Scripture?!" Standard Catholic spiritual direction answer.

So turns out, this getting up early in the summer and taking some time to do just that- pray and read Scripture- *is* the way that I am keeping the graces of my trip going. Because seriously without it, I could return quickly to the Debbie Downer I all too easily become most days out of the year.




NBC, please don't sue me for the use of this picture. The joke would really be on you...


Take for instance this morning: My body is sore and doing things that I'm pretty sure just come with being 33, but I DONT LIKE IT. I wobble to my bathroom and think to myself that I look like a 91 year old grandmother sans cane (not MY 91 year old grandmother, though, because that woman does vodka shots for breakfast and still mows her own backyard) meanwhile knocking a bottle of hot pink nail polish  (I think the color is actually called Cajun Shrimp. Actually, I know this because why would you name a nail color that? And please don't judge me for owning it...) off of my shelf immediately shattering it all over the commode and the wall. Cut to getting into my car and seeing that the tire pressure light is* still* on after I filled the tires with air yesterday meaning that I will have to now take my car in and figure out what to do with the child who will no doubt not love spending her morning in an auto repair shop instead of taking her dolls to the pool. 

We've all had these mornings, I'm sure. Minus the shrimp colored nail polish as we have already established that I'm probably the only woman who owns such a thing. I wanted to crawl out of my body and scream. The internet told me I needed to get the following things to remove nail polish from a wall: rubbing alcohol, a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser, water, soap, and acetone. But I knew that what I needed to do to right then was to pray.

I am now going to in a complete non-sequitur jump from talking about my trivial day to Thomistic philosophy because that is what I do.

I teach my students the difference between "joy" and "happiness" using St Thomas Aquinas' definitions (which I may have borrowed from Fr James Martin, SJ's book, "Between Heaven and Mirth." Check it out!). In Latin, the words are delectatio (delight) and gaudium (joy). Delight pertains to sensory things while Gaudium is “attainment of an object that one regards as good for oneself or another.” This goes along with Aquinas' definition of love which I know I've used over and over again: "the effective willing of the good of the other." Ergo, joy is connected to love.

I often point out to the students that a joyful person does not always have to be happy. We can love and attain the good and not be necessarily emotionally happy. Happiness is about the tangible things, the sensory. And while joy and love are the surperior good, we all know that our culture is obsessed with the sensory.

Where am I going with all of this???! Well, all of these things are a choice. We choose to do the good for others, which means we choose love and joy. Likewise, we can choose happiness.

It started with the Happiness Project for me- choosing to find one image of tangible happiness, something that I could point to, each day. Then came the grace of the European "tour" (ahem), and now I am choosing to see the positive in each day with the help of my daily prayer and God's grace.

So here are today's positives so far: When I took my car in today, the child did not freak out that we had to spend our morning perhaps not as planned. The repairmen quickly found the screw that had screwed my up my car (heh) and I was only out of $15 instead of a tire. The nail polish will still be there when I get home and I will deal with it after i get that pedicure I had planned with a friend. Thus, my happy for the day.

We can't let the lies of the devil or Facebook or both convince us that everyone else is happier than we are. As I tell my students, God's grace is a free gift always waiting there for us. We just have to choose to open it each day. You like that metaphor? Never go into a classroom without a metaphor. Pro tip.

Also, I refuse to acknowledge that tomorrow is the beginning of August. That may be a misuse of the choice for happiness but shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh...let me have my happy for now.

Enjoy the rest of summer (while i do everything in my power to hold onto it!!)

Peace,
Julia 


Saturday, July 12, 2014

Grace and Dependence: The Continuation of Happiness

If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you most likely know what I have been up to and can probably guess what this post is going to be about: I just returned from (as my aunt called it) "the trip of a lifetime."

 Budapest.
 Vienna.
 Salzburg.
Munich.
 Berlin.
 Prague.
Krakow.

My teacher friend and I had planned this trip in the winter from hell in hopes that we would have something to get us through the tough season. I don't think we even realized what an amazing trip we had planned and the grace and happiness that it would truly bring.

We chose to fly into Budapest because it was the cheapest location central to some of the places on our list to travel. Budapest totally took us by surprise as it is a beautiful city. After a really long 24 hrs or so of travel, our adrenaline kept us up at least long enough to explore the city before we took off the next day for Vienna (a place that I had traveled before and fallen in love with long ago).

One of my favorite moments that first day in Budapest was exploring across the Chain Bridge and turning around to see this amazing view:


I was glad that we would get to return to Budapest at the end of our trip to explore and take in more.

We left the next day for Vienna. Oh, and did I mention we rented a car in Budapest as our plan was to drive through all of these great places? We had looked into trains and buses and polled some friends before we left and decided that the road trip would be the best, er, route. We had no real idea, though, if we could manage it without getting lost, the car stolen, or some other potential terrible thing that renting a car might bring upon us. We just put our trust in the Lord and in each other's abilities to get us through and to our pleasant surprise, the journey went without a hitch!

Well, except in Vienna. We arrived a little later because we hadn't quite figured out the GPS and it took us the rural way instead of the highway. But we got to see some of Bratislava, Slovakia, on our journey and we also learned that my friend is MUCH better with maps than I as we toured Vienna. She helped us find the main sites that we wanted to see. Unfortunately, because it took us a while to get to Vienna and figure all of this out, we didn't have as much time as we would've liked there. But we did get to see all of this:




people watching opera *outside* of the Vienna Opera House....pretty cool, huh?

I had been to Austria before, but my friend really wanted to go to Salzburg, which was on our way up to Germany, so we spent a day there. It really is one of the most beautiful cities that I've been to and I'm amazed that I am so blessed that I have been there twice now in my life:



The hills are truly alive in Salzburg!

From Salzburg, we did a quick dash to Munich and saw some cool buildings and churches which made me think that Disney's version of Germany is probably modeled after Munich:



Berlin was one of my favorite cities on the trip. We spent 2 nights there (as opposed to our quick one day, one night in each city) and took a walking tour which took us to some really eye opening places: the parking lot that now exists above Hitler's bunker, the Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie, the book burning plaza...there is so much of our modern history in Berlin which made it one of the most interesting places for me. It was also interesting to see how the city is responding to these recent moments in history. Art has really flourished as a result (just another reason why I enjoyed the city so much and hope to return). Also, currywurst isn't terrible :)

 Berlin by night.
 Quotes on Museum Island
 Currywurst isn't the worst. heh.

art on the Berlin Wall.

After the weekend in Berlin, we journeyed to Prague. And for me, this is where the spiritual portion of the journey sets in :)

We traveled to Prague on the Feast of St. Paul. We all know about my relationship/lovefest with St. Paul. We arrived in Prague and were a little overwhelmed by the city. I had heard that it was touristy, but it was much larger of a city that we had anticipated and our hostel was in "New Prague" as opposed to the more touristy "Old Prauge." We weren't sure what Prague had in store for us, but as we ventured towards the Old Town, we discovered the Prague that we had imagined and took a walking tour with our tour guide who became a new friend. OH and his name was PAUL. I took that as the first in a series of signs that God had got this trip and also all of the intentions that I had been carrying with me.

 Center of "Old Town"
Us with some new Norwegian friends and PAUL our tour guide and Czech beer expert!

After Prague, it was onto Poland. This, for me, was going to be one of the most important parts of the trip (though we really did pick some truly special places all around to visit!). We decided to hit up Czestochowa first before making our way to our hostel in Krakow.

For those of you who aren't familiar, Our Lady of Czestochowa is THE Marian devotion of Poland. She's like the Guadelupe of Poland. The Black Madonna icon has been around since like the 800-900s and has said to have many miracles attributed to it. It has survived wars, protected kings and castles, and I have heard about this icon for the past 33 years of my life. So for me, this was a very important pilgrimmage and I am SO grateful that my friend and travel companion understood that.

We arrived at Czestochowa at almost exactly the perfect time. The Black Madonna icon is only unveiled at certain hours of the day and we had come at just the right time. There were people waiting to get in when we arrived:

 people waiting to get into the Black Madonna chapel
 Icon behind the veil
 Our Lady of Czestochowa!

The icon was unveiled with much pomp and circumstance. There were trumpets and organ and singing as the icon was slowly revealed. I was struck by the silent reverence of the pilgrims there, however. In some countries, such a sight might have evoked wailing and screaming and flailing (i'm thinking Latin America or Italy- people with much more jovial and celebratory traditions) but in *my* homeland, we take things SERIOUSLY. It was quiet, but you could feel people pushing to get to the front to see her. Ah, silent, passive aggression. Something my family knows so well. It was all making sense now!

After the sign on St. Paul's feast day and this moment in Czestochowa, I really began to feel God's grace in this trip. I knew that it was going to be a blessed trip, but as I said, I don't think my friend and I could have predicted how pretty flawlessly this trip went. And I know it is because of God's grace.

We made it to Krakow and we both enjoyed the city much more than I think we thought we would. We made the trip to Auschwitz which could be a whole other blog post in and of itself. I was most saddened by the remnants of the crimes- hair, shoes, suitcases- saved from the victims who we all knew perished. The ray of hope in Auschwitz was seeing St. Maximilian Kolbe's cell where he starved to death in order to save another man. St. Pope John Paul II had left a candle there and it was yet another one of these grace filled moments of the trip. Getting to walk where St. JP2 had walked in the streets of Krakow, seeing where he once lived, and his office as a bishop was certainly another graced moment of the journey.

I swear that I started this post intending just to talk about the grace from this trip but I guess I couldn't do that without sharing the whole journey in detail! Needless to say, after Krakow, we journeyed back to Budapest, enjoyed our last day in Europe (ironically the 4th of July) at the Baths of Budapest:

and then safely returned our car to the Budapest airport where we flew to Moscow (of all places to celebrate freedom on the 4th) where we endured a pretty painful layover before the long flight home.

Phew! Okay. So NOW what I really intended to blog about: the grace I am feeling this summer after a very long winter. In my previous post, I told you about the 100 Days of Happiness that my friend had started because we were both having similar negative attitudes about the beginning of this year. In addition to committing to looking at the moments of happiness in my life for 100 days, I also planned this trip, signed up for an art class, and made a commitment to get outside of myself and enjoy time with others and doing things that *I* wanted to do.

And that, paired with God's grace, has made all the difference :)

The Sunday that I returned from Europe was still the July 4th holiday weekend, and so the priest at Sunday Mass preached a little about Independence (which we value sooo much. myself included!) vs Dependence. He made the point that while Independence IS certainly a gift, it is dependence that helps us in our relationship with God. That really made me meditate as someone who values her independence sooo much (because it allows me to plan amazing trips like this!) I have come to realize this year that I do need to depend on others and depend on God, as much as I like to go it alone at times.

So this post really ended up just being a trip journal more than a theological reflection, but I think I said what I wanted to say and that was this: this summer is going to be a good one because I have experienced God's grace and recognize that I depend on Him and others as well as my independence to achieve happiness.
May the 100+ days of happy continue in 2014!

I'm not even bitter this summer about my commitment to spend my days working with children! This first week of nannying has been great because I had my grace-filled trip abroad (and I think there must be a huge development from 4th to 5th grade that has also made baby girl much more independent, too!) Huzzah for summer!

 Baking cupcakes with her friend!
 Cupcakes are kind of our thing now...
And 90s sitcoms are far superior than the Disney Channel ones I endured last year.

St. Paul and Our Lady of Czestochowa, pray for us! I am so grateful for your intercession and blessing so far this year!

Peace,
Julia

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

100 Days of Happy

Back in the winter of this year, a friend contacted me about starting a project called: 100 Days of Happiness. The idea was to post one picture a day on social media of something, anything, that made us happy that day.

Being pretty into social media, I did not think that this would be difficult for me. But as noted previously in this blog, winter was rough this year. We had many snow days, even in March (we began on the project on March 1) and there were many days in the early Spring which consisted of me going to work, coming home, working out, cooking dinner, and watching Netflix.

So, sometimes, my days of happy looked like this:


 catching up with shows on Demand in my snuggie, checking off my to-do list, grabbing coffee with a friend, or fixing a nice dinner for myself.

But even those days ended up being still some of my favorite moments. The project forced me to look at the little things in my day that could bring about some moment of happiness.

The project began on March 1, like I said, and actually ended on my FAVORITE feast as you all know, Pentecost!!

 Happiness Day 1- March 1- haircut with Missi :)
Happiness Day 100- June 8- celebration of 100 happy days with my old roomie who started the idea for the project

I couldn't believe that the project ended on my very favorite feast day that has meant so much to me in the past. But then again, I could believe it, because God would do something like that :)

At our 100 day celebration, my friend and I reflected on how the project had indeed produced much positivity and happiness for us. Both of us had started the project feeling somewhat negative about our lives for whatever reasons, and ended the project having reaped many happy moments for which we were grateful.

For me, I know that our minds and our relationship with God work together. Faith and Reason. There is no denying that psychologically if we are in a good place, we are going to bring about positive things. You can call that energy or the universe or whatever, but I also believe being mentally and spiritually healthy keeps us more open to God's work in our lives.

So for that reason alone, I'm not surprised that my 100 days ended on the day when the Holy Spirit is given to us to help us to go out and do what we are called to do. I have always been energized and renewed by that mission of Pentecost, and this year's feast was another unique way of looking at that call.




Today also marks one month since Dan has passed into eternal life. Amid those 100 happy days, were days of some of the most intense sadness that I've experienced but also days of so much beauty.

I was recalling to my spiritual director yesterday that my friend Dan just embodied the theological virtues of Faith, Hope and Love soooooo well. And I struggle for whatever reason with them at times. My spiritual director noted that we all have these virtues given to us at Baptism and it is not a matter of receiving an increase of them, but rather a realization of their presence in our lives. Dan had an intense realization of these, especially in the last years of his life as he was suffering. And I am still just in awe that in such intense suffering that these virtues COULD be more realized by someone. That is the power and mystery of the Paschal Mystery: suffering producing beauty and good.

One of the things that can keep us from realizing these virtues fully in our lives is an inability to forgive or let go of grudges. This week's readings have been about an evil man named Ahab who through Elijah and God's grace finds the truth about God. And God forgives him.

The Gospel passage for today is particularly convicting and always has been for me:

"Jesus said to his disciples:
“You have heard that it was said,
You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.
But I say to you, love your enemies
and pray for those who persecute you,
that you may be children of your heavenly Father,
for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good,
and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.
For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have?
Do not the tax collectors do the same?
And if you greet your brothers only,
what is unusual about that?
Do not the pagans do the same?
So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”- Matt 5: 43-48

Not that I think that I have many enemies or so many people who are difficult to love, but I do like a challenge. And I am convicted that Christ says in not so many words that essentially loving people who are easy for you to love and who love you is kind of sub-par. Loving those who are difficult to love- that is the call and the challenge.

This message is good for me to hear as I have taken on a more administrative role at the school this semester :) I never realized that managing the students could be the easy part of my job!

I feel like I've only skimmed the surface of the importance of witnessing the life and loss of Dan, of the realization of the theological virtues, and of the intensity of these 100 days of happiness as it coincides with the call at Pentecost. Hopefully, I will have time to reflect this week as SUMMER BEGINS and perhaps I will also be moved to reflect more as I journey through some beautiful parts of the world on my Eastern European tour the next two weeks!! We are going to Budapest, Vienna, Salzburg, Munich, Berlin, Prague, and Krakow- a week from today!!!


Just some pics to get me geared up for the trip!

Man, I love summer. Happiness indeed. Last summer was a little rough as I was learning how to balance all my new-found free time in my own apartment outside of grad school. This summer is going to be well balanced: some awesome travel plans (and then some nannying to afford said awesome travel plans :)

Have a peaceful, blessed summer everyone. See you when I get back!! ;)
Peace,
Julia



Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Follow Love Always Part 2

It's been over 10 ten days since my friend, Dan Lyons, entered into eternal life. But I still have only just begun to process this.


These past 10 days have been filled, however, with friends, with heartfelt connections and condolences from so many people, and with LOVE.

 Friends gathered in PA after Dan's wake

Thoughtful gift from coworkers in honor of Dan

The quote on the prayer card for Dan (I still can't believe that he has one) sums up brilliantly who he is and his relationship with Christ. I can only hope to aspire to be like Dan, who strove so much to be like Christ that we compared him to Christ in more than one homily and eulogy. He was a true disciple.

The thing that made Dan so much like Christ was his love. It just radiated to everyone that he met. I know that after death we tend to glorify people, but the parallels between Dan and Christ's life truly were staggering: he suffered, died, and lives on through the legacy he left with the people he trained to share it.

Tomorrow is the feast of the Ascension, and as I mentioned in my last post, my friends and I have experienced in new ways what the apostles must have felt like in these days. Our example is gone and we are confused and sad, but we are motivated to spread the good news of his legacy.

As I said previously, Dan just personified and expressed love so well. I believe he did this because he always lived in the present moment. He had a way of planning for the future while still enjoying the present. He traveled, he accomplished goals, (though his brother pointed out in his eulogy that Dan never *actually* had a *real job* for nearly 10 years! :), and he planned a life with his amazing wife, Hanna. But in each moment he was presented, he enjoyed it and he loved.

The theme of the present moment has been a theme for me for more than a while now. It is now just clicking, as I finally stopped to reflect today, that LOVE in the present moment is our vocation. I've been searching forever for the meaning of my vocation and isn't the root of everyone's vocation, Love? And love is certainly best when in the present moment, because when else can you give it?

It makes me so sad that it has taken something like this to get a lot of us to wake up and love more deeply, more openly, more courageously, but that is what the Paschal Mystery was and is. Christ had to suffer and die so that we might understand God's immense love. My heart is bursting with sadness and love simultaneously, but love will win because it already has.

Dan, we love you and miss you. Thank you for what you have taught and continue to teach each of us about love. Intercede for me and for us that we might be better teachers of love.

I look forward to the day when we meet again and can sing karaoke with the Lord!!! We might have to pick a different song selection this time, though:


I hope you will all join me in praying the novena for the Holy Spirit as we approach Pentecost these next 10 days. May these next 10 days be filled with the joy of the Holy Spirit and with love.

Peace,
Julia


Monday, May 5, 2014

Easter Alleluia Week 2- Follow Love Always

The Easter season has come in full force this year. As I've said, I love the Easter Season and the readings leading up to Pentecost. This year (our "Jesus year" interestingly enough) many of my friends and I find ourselves really living this liturgical season in a very real and intense way.

The Easter octave was full of family, friends, and travel, celebrating events and feasts with people I love. That has continued this past week, though it has definitely taken on a more thoughtful and reflective tone.

When I returned from my Spring Break travels on Divine Mercy Sunday, I received news that one of my close college friends' leukemia had returned for the third and "last" time. They are admitting him into hospice.

This is my friend Dan, whom I've mentioned on this blog various times since he was first diagnosed with ALL in 2009. You may have also read the blog that he and his wife Hanna have kept during their journey these 5 years:

Here's a pic from 2003 during our senior week at CUA


About 8 years later at our friends' 30th birthday in 2011:

And 3 years later- taken this weekend with some other CUA friends in Dan and his wife's apt.



This news has hit all of Dan's friends and family hard, but we have come together in the way that we know best- prayer.

The day following the news, my women's prayer group and I started a novena and also made plans to go to Adoration that week to pray for Dan. I also made plans to see and spend some time with him.

The two times that I was fortunate enough to spend with Dan this past week were truly blessed. I hadn't seen him since a fundraiser we had done in his honor a year or two prior as his health had been up and down since his bone marrow transplant in 2012. I wasn't sure what to expect, but he was in great spirits and we were able to make jokes and reminisce and tell each other that we love each other.

When at CUA, my friends and I attended weekly Praise and Worship Adoration which was held Wed nights in one of the chapels on campus. It had apparently been a dream of Dan's to have his wife Hanna experience this event. So my friends brought praise and worship Adoration to Dan and Hanna's apartment this Saturday:

My CUA friends came into town and we celebrated Mass in the apartment together...
 And also Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament:
Words cannot express what I experienced in that room on Saturday. Our friend (now Father) Dave gave an amazingly beautiful homily on the Road to Emmaus comparing Dan with Jesus and us with the disciples walking alongside of him asking him questions about where he was going and "couldn't he stay a while longer with us."

These readings during the Easter season reflect the beauty and the mystery of the Paschal Mystery. Jesus has suffered and overcome death. The apostles are delighted but also deeply confused. I can say that I gain more and more insight into what the apostles experienced in those days as I continue my own journey with Jesus.

In that "upper room" on Saturday, we came to better understand what the apostles must have felt. Their friend was telling them that he was going to leave them. They begged Him to stay because they did not understand. But they trusted with faith that He would continue to lead and watch over them. This is the Paschal Mystery that I teach to my students- we all must suffer and die, but we rise and ascend and it is because Christ did so that we have the consolation and the hope to do so as well.

There have been times in my life where I doubted or even regretted the way I spent much of my 20s- devoting hours in prayer and service to the Church. There have been moments where I questioned if I was "doing it wrong" since the rest of the world put priority on  partying, dating, money, and self-pursuits. This weekend, though, there was no question. I was SO glad for the foundation that my friends and I have been given and the choice we all made to devote ourselves and time to Christ and each other through prayer and service at a young age. In times of hardship like in this present time, we went immediately back to what we knew and what we did well- coming together in prayer.

I encouraged my students today at school to pursue their faith in some way in college. My experience this weekend was too powerful to not share and to not want that for young people today.

Dan and his wife left for PA today where he will do his hospice care. Please continue to pray for him, but as some of my friends have noted: we don't worry about Dan. He's going to be fine. It's the rest of us that we will need to worry about.

It was exactly like this with the apostles in the early Church after the Ascension (which that feast is coming up later this month). They were confused, afraid, but had the solace and the understanding of the teaching they were given by their Rabbi.

The first readings from Acts have been about the apostles enduring all kinds of suffering as they spread the Gospel message. In one of the passages, they are actually rejoicing because they are enduring suffering for Christ. I myself still struggle with this. But then I see someone like my friend Dan, taking on suffering and integrating it into who he is and his relationship with Christ so well. I see his wife being extremely generous and giving with her time to him and to each of their friends even though she herself is suffering. I see my friend who has lost two parents to cancer reaching out in ways that no one else can because she has been through this twice. So many apostles for Christ- rejoicing in the midst of suffering. I can't possibly complain or explain.

And the Gospel passages have been about the feeding of the 5,000. A reminder that when we doubt, when we are hungry, God provides for us in abundance. New life comes in new ways that we can't expect or imagine, even in suffering.

Today's Gospel is the follow up to last week's miracle of the multiplication of the loaves. Jesus addresses the fact that it isn't the SIGN or the miracles that satisfy, but the nourishment that the people received. That's what  keeps them coming back. I can attest to this fact. We have all been praying for signs, but what was the most special, the most important this weekend was the foundation. The relationship. The encounter with Christ and with each other. That spiritual nourishment and encounter is what truly satisfies, more than the surface level signs.

I am so grateful again for my friends, for our foundation in faith, and for the Paschal Hope in time of great pain and mystery.



I will end with this image and some last thoughts on my friend and this mystery of suffering, death, and resurrection. I saw many flowers on my walk/jog (mostly walk ;) today, but this one flower surrounded by unopened buds struck me. Sometimes we are the flower standing alone, waiting for something or someone to join us. Sometimes, we are the buds looking on at a flower that has already bloomed in great admiration. My friend Dan is the flower at this time. We are all looking to him because he has achieved so much in such a short time. We are in awe and inspired.

At the encouraging of some friends that were staying with me this weekend in my apt, I posted a note Dan had written to me on our Senior retreat. In it, he said to me: "Follow love always. It is worth fighting for."

I want to follow love always in whatever forms it presents itself. I want to fight like my friend has fought. He has reminded me what the Lord has already shown me- shown us- Love *is* worth fighting for.

Peace,
Julia








Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Easter Alleluia and Divine Mercy Sunday 2014

After a long winter, Spring is finally here and also Easter! The Octave of Easter is always celebratory for me (because it is also my Spring Break ;), but this year it was celebratory in many different ways.

I haven't gone home to Ohio for Easter since 2010:

I think Easter was in March that year, but it was warm enough to sit outside and have a beer by the Lake!

And it is Easter year round in Lorain, OH with the infamous Easter Basket at Lakeview Park

This year, it was also warm (finally!) and I again got to spend time with family. Though, this year there were some new additions:

Me and my new niece, Natalie (the sun was in her eyes ;)
 My cousin's new little one, Jillian (wearing her Easter Monday Dyngus Day outfit!)
 And this guy who also wasn't in the picture 4 years ago but is going to be 4 this fall! My nephew, Lucas:
So the theme of my Easter Octave this year was family (but also- babies! So many!)

One of the other celebratory things that I got to do this Easter Octave was experience Dyngus Day in Cleveland with some of my other Polish relatives. If you are not aware of what Dyngus Day is, you can read about it here (and I suggest that you do! :).

I also got to celebrate my 33rd birthday. Year 33 is supposedly the "Jesus Year". The year that Jesus completed His mission on earth (until He comes again). He performed the mystery that we just celebrated- the Paschal Mystery. He suffered, died, rose, and ascended into heaven.

You may recall that I turned 30 (the year that Jesus begins his ministry in Scripture ) 3 years ago in 2011 on what turned out to be Good Friday that year. This year, my 33rd fell during the Easter Octave. I just find this so appropriate. Ever since my first communion (My 8th birthday ;) my birthdays have kind of synced up with themes in my life with Christ. I hope that this means that this year- my Jesus year- that some of my mission and mystery will also be revealed come to fulfillment!

Speaking of mission...Today is Divine Mercy Sunday which is always such a powerful, special day in the Church. SAINT Pope John Paul II ( I get to say that now!) instituted this day based on the visions and instructions given to another fellow Polish saint of his- St. Faustina. The Holy Father then died around Divine Mercy Sunday in 2005 ( I was in Europe on that day in '05 and will be in Europe again this summer, the year of his canonization! What a blessing!). Today, on Divine Mercy Sunday 2014, he is canonized a SAINT along with another really holy pope, SAINT John XXIII!

I was obviously not alive during St. John XXIII's papacy, but I have grown to respect him since my studies for my Masters. It was he that really began Vatican II and then passed it on to Paul VI (another fav pope of mine, but also before my time). I read the Vatican II documents during my studies and they have forever changed the direction of the Church and also inspired so many- including St. John Paul II- with the idea of the "New Evangelization" of our Catholic Church.

It was really cool because on this day- the canonization of Sts John XXIII and John Paul II- I got to hear the former Dean of Catholic U's Theology School give the homily at the parish I went to Mass at today. It was such a nice and perfect surprise! He spoke about the popes and their influence on the Church and evangelization and it was fitting that the message was delivered by someone who ran the school from which I learned about these popes and much of their work that allows *me* to my own work on evangelization.

Monsignor Irwin (the aforementioned former Dean) used today's Gospel which is the story about doubting Thomas to really hammer home this idea of evangelization. Msgr began by talking about 21st century methods of evangelization and how we perhaps need to move away from books in some cases and go towards something like TED talks as a method of evangelization since the young are not so much connected to texts as they are texting. He reminded us that in the early Church images like stained glass and statues (eek! :) and icons were used to demonstrate the teachings of the Church.

He mentioned a Church in New York- St Thomas Episcopal Church- that apparently has 4 images of Thomas and the stages he went through in today's Gospel story (I tried to find these images to no avail. if you are familiar with them or find them, let me know, as I'm very interested in these now!): Doubt, Despair, Confession, and Mission.

Doubt: Thomas is known for doubting the message that Jesus was indeed resurrected. Each of us obviously experience doubt throughout our lives and stages of faith. Msgr used a Tennyson quote that I really liked when speaking about this: "There lives more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in half the creeds." Doubt that seeks understanding is good. It is when we stop search altogether and just become indifferent is what is dangerous.

Despair: Thomas was no doubt (heh. get it?) despairing at this time when his friends were talking about Christ's resurrection. His last real encounter with Jesus was watching his friend and teacher suffer trial and death. Perhaps his despair clouded the truth for him. I know that despair certainly does this for us.

Confession: Thomas finally sees the risen Christ and confesses not only of his doubt, but also professes that he does now, indeed, believe. This confession then moves to his mission, which confession should also do for us. Once we recognize the truth, we confess to it and move on so as not to let anything hold us back.

Mission: Thomas went out and proclaimed the message of the Gospel supposedly to India. We are to go out and profess what we have witnessed and "seen" in our own personal encounters with Christ.

Thomas confessing and seeing the risen Christ after his doubting

Our two newest saints now among the ranks of St. Thomas! So cool!

I just love it. All of it. I love Easter and I love when everything coincides and just seems to fit together to make sense.

After the confusion and darkness of winter and Lent, we get the joy and clarity of Spring and Easter! Alleluia!

And I can't WAIT to go to Krakow this summer (oh, yeah, didn't I mention I'm going to Eastern Europe this summer!!!!) and see how my people (the Poles ;) are going to honor their new holy saint!

Sts. Thomas, John XXIII, and John Paul II, pray for us!! Happy Easter!

Peace,
Julia