Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Heart of Worship: Easter Alleluia 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

Peace,
Julia

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Finding The Passion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace,
Julia

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Covenants: Lenten Check In

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

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

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

Happy belated birthday, Babci!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

Happy Lent!

Peace,
Julia

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Create in Me: Lent 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I look forward to where this Lent will take me!

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

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

Peace,
Julia

Friday, February 13, 2015

Encountering God and Others in the Present Moment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace,
Julia

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Christmas and the New Year: Preserving the Present Moment

Merry Christmas! (Because it still is :) I am still relishing in the light of my (tiny, Charlie Brown-esque) Christmas tree and I hope that you are, too!

And Happy New Year! Even though I begin my year-end reflection around the Feast of Christ the King (the end of the liturgical year), I cannot help but continue that reflection when we get the benefit of being introduced to a new calendar year as well. I love New Years'!!!

When I lived with my 2 roommates in Maryland- right after I returned from the convent- we would come up with themes for the new year. They usually had something to do with our dating (or lack thereof) relationships: "The Year of High Expectations", "The Year of Low Expectations", and "The Year of NO Expectations" (You can see the progression of how one led to another :) were all themes for us at one point in time.

While dating and relationships continue to be a goal and theme in my 30s, it is not necessarily what I want to make as a focus this year. Rather, as I was driving up to Philly on Dec. 31 to ring in the new year with friends, I quickly reflected and prayed on what my own theme for the year might be. It's true that I don't really have any expectations for this year. In 2012, I had so many weddings, I had prayed to be loving to all those I was going to encounter and to make the time in between weddings about taking care of me. That ended up being one of my favorite years. 2013 was the year of finishing grad school and moving out on my own, and I made 2014 the year of BUSY. But I have no idea what 2015 will bring!

I could make it another year of "no expectations", but I do think it important to make some kind of focus or goal if possible. As I look back on 2014, the idea of the "present moment" was huge. My friend Dan had taught us to love in the present moment. My women's group reading Cardinal Van Thuan taught us to hope in the present moment. During Advent, I was focusing on the Joy in the present moment. And being so busy last year, which was great, I regretted not holding onto those moments of 2014 more. So this year will be the year of embracing and preserving each present moment.

I am such a planner by nature. This makes me good teacher and also a good social coordinator for my friends :). However, I am always thinking of the next thing. This has also come up a lot with my spiritual director who also often has to encourage me to just stop and enjoy what the Lord is calling me to do in the present. And so, I think this should be a really good theme and focus for 2015.

I have heard it said that what you spend your time doing on New Year's Day is how you will spend the rest of your year. As I mentioned, this year I went to Philly. I have spent the last several New Year's with the same group (ish) of friends.

We usually find a hotel with an open bar and some kind of package that includes a band or DJ or dancing and then we crash at the hotel for the night. It has been one of my favorite nights of the year for so long, but I love dressing up and sharing the night with these guys.

And so, my New Year's Day often consists of brunch with this group and then driving back from wherever we crashed to rest off my hangover :)

Oh, except the year that we were in LA for NYE. That New Year's Day we watched the sunset in Palos Verdes and we all agreed that was one of our favorite New Years' ever:



This year, I awoke in 2015 to this view of Independence Hall in Philly:

Not too shabby!

We had brunch (though I must've paced myself much more sensibly because I was not hungover...yay for finally learning by 30!:) and then since I was in Philly, I drove a few more miles to see my favorite Philly resident and spend my New Year's Day with these two:


Philly Frands!!!

We spent the day chatting about friends, life, and watching a marathon of Portlandia. And then I got in my car satisfied and full up on friendship for 2015.

If there's a theme in any of this...you know I will find it! :)  I think what I can say for these friends that I spent this New Year's with is that all of us have followed our hearts and embraced the "less conventional." None of us are married or in traditional relationships and we have embraced that. We live and love as God has called us uniquely to be and we own it.

I can't speak for these friends, but I know that I have struggled, and I'm guessing that they have too, with having to fit into the mainstream: being married with 2.5 children by this age, owning your own home with a yard, etc. My path was different: I joined a convent and discerned that for much of my 20s instead of dating. I've been called to a full time ministry and my friends have their own stories and paths. We simply don't fall into the traditional, mainstream convention and I don't think that we are fighting that. I think that we have accepted it and are relishing in it!

And so, I wish you all of the self acceptance and living and loving in the present moment that 2015 will offer!

Peace and Happy New Year,
Julia

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

I've Got That Joy, Joy, Joy...

Happy 3rd week of Advent!

The theme of joy has been strong for me this Advent. I shared that I am working on being more joyful this Advent season, or as Father helped sort out for me during spiritual direction, really just being more positive overall. See, joy is something that is more deeply rooted. I know that I have shared Aquinas' definition(s) of joy before because everything on this blog is cyclical, and I've been teaching the same course using the same lesson on joy for 4 years now.

But just for good measure (and my own sanity), I'm going to share them again. The Thomistic definitions that I share with my students are: delectatio (delight) vs. gaudium (joy). Delight is something that is sensory. I delight in music. I delight in coffee and chocolate. I delight in my students cracking a joke or a smile in class.

Joy is something deeper. Joy has to do with the attainment of the good. Just like Aquinas' definition of love: "The effective willing of the good of the other." Love and Joy are connected. When we attain the good, or joy, we want to share it, which can grow into love.

I have been focusing on this in my Advent prayer and in class, and I have had some tough reactions from my students this go around with this lesson. In the past, I may have gotten disagreements with the distinction between happiness or joy. There may have been some misunderstandings. But this year, I get...nothing. Almost no reaction to the material. And that startles me. Am I not getting the point across? Am I not being enthusiastic enough? How can these kids not care about JOY?!?!

Our culture, sadly, cares soooooo much about the sensory- what makes us happy. I have also been surprised this year about how many students think that happiness has the long lasting effect, and joy is temporary. The kids all want to be happy. But joy is much harder to understand and perhaps attain. And I make the point of saying that happiness is not always a good. Something can make us happy that isn't necessarily good for us. Joy is always about the good.

But then there is the whole thing about defining the good to begin with. Absolute truth is always hard for people to understand. People think that what is "the good" for one person is different for another. I want to be clear: "the good" is always the truth. And the truth is unchanging. Because God is unchanging.

All hope, however, is not lost. In this joy lesson, we also talk about prayer. And for me, prayer is a gateway to joy. It is an avenue for peace. My students often struggle with "how to pray" but my hope is not lost that they won't understand the importance of it. I know that they know it is important to pray. It's just convincing them to do it.

I wish that I could emphasize even more to them the joy that my friend Dan exhibited. I use with them quotes from Fr. James Martin's book "On Heaven and Mirth" and one of these quotes is "Holy people are joyful...because God is the source of all joy." I tell them that holy people may not always be "happy", but there is always this underlying peace and joy because they understand "the good" which is God.

Dan was holy and he was joyful. His joy came from his understanding of and relationship with God. And that transformed into love. The love and joy he had radiated from his person. Today is the 7th month anniversary of his death. This past weekend- Gaudate Sunday to be exact- was Dan's 34th birthday. It is not a coincidence that his birthday fell on the Sunday when we think about joy. I know that Dan had the most joyful birthday of all this year as he celebrated it with the angels and saints in complete union with our Lord.

My friends and I have committed to praying a rosary on the monthly anniversary of Dan's death. I said mine today reflecting with this little guy as I also reflect on the joy of the season...

Children are joyful because they are innocent and pure. When we start to mess with our knowledge of the truth and the good is when we start to mess with our joy.

So tonight, I'm praying about things that are joyful and meditating on things that bring joy.


I got much joy when I saw the liturgical color of WHITE on my iMissal calendar- Christmas is coming!!!
I received much joy meditating tonight with my Christmas lights on...

And this might be more happiness than joy, but my friends who make me funny memes bring me delight (and their friendship brings me joy).


You're welcome!

I'm going to use that meme forever.

Just an aside: the Pee Wee Christmas Special was one of the best ever recorded. If you can find that on the internetz, you are welcome in advance.

God bless you all! Keep the joy!
Peace,

Julia