Friday, May 29, 2020

Pentecost 2020

One of my favorite feasts of the year is here- Pentecost. The Easter Season has been very different for us this year and when we started quarantine way back in Lent, I prayed and hoped that we would be out of this by Pentecost.

Well, we are not "out" of it, but the Holy Spirit is coming regardless, and obviously, is always with us. One of the very cool things that I have been able to be a part of this Easter season are some virtual "retreats" run by Liturgy Training Publications. A friend from college works for them and asked me to present during one of the retreats way back in April. I was honored to be asked back to co-lead two additional retreats, including the one for the readings for this Sunday.

My presenter's view during this retreat. I'm in the middle at the bottom. The others featured were my co-leaders. Attendants chatted in the boxes on the side. I was so impressed by the platform and set up!

During the retreat, we of course called attention to the Gifts and Fruits of the Holy Spirit that are given to us at Baptism but that we can pray for an increase of at any time. I take for granted as a Religion teacher that I still have these memorized, but for those who might need a refresher (the acronym for the gifts that my students always used was "puffwick"):

Piety (or Reverence in the "new" language)
Understanding
Fortitude (or Courage)
Fear of the Lord (or Wonder and Awe)
Wisdom
Counsel
Knowledge

These are referenced in the Old testament in Isaiah and the fruits are referenced in the New Testament in Galatians:

Love
Peace
Joy
Patience
Self-Control
Gentleness
Kindness
Goodness
Faithfulness

When I think about these gifts and fruits, I often think about how I might need these gifts to help myself and my relationship with God. But last night during the retreat, retreatants shared how they were praying for these gifts to help them serve others. It was truly a humbling experience and moment. People were asking for prayers so that they can be more understanding and counsel their friends at this time or be more patient with loved ones. I was especially struck by a woman who said she was praying for Piety and reverence so that she could better respect and revere those around her.

At the beginning of quarantine, I was hopeful that we would emerge from this time better. After almost three months, I feel worn out and exhausted, even though I haven't really been "doing anything". It has been emotionally exhausting to try and feel of worth and productive and to try and be a part of a community at this time. I had hopes that we would come out of quarantine even more empathetic and compassionate, but when I look at what is going around in our world and on social media, it seems like we have become even more isolated the longer this goes on. But it doesn't mean that compassion can't still happen. The Holy Spirit is coming. We will be renewed.

Because the Holy Spirit doesn't pick and choose what it does when it is called upon. As we will hear in the psalm on Sunday: "Come Holy Spirit and renew the face of the earth." When the Holy Spirit is called upon it will shake things up. That's just what it does by its nature.

When the Holy Spirit is described (even though we don't maybe think about the Spirit as often as the Father or Son) it is described through verbs and action which I will get to in a second. My solution when I have started to feel down during this quarantine has been to try and look back on the good and be grateful for the good that does exist. The retreat last night and the prayers and reflections on these gifts on the Holy Spirit was powerful. Another really powerful reflection from last night was looking at the Sequence that is said before the Gospel on the feast of Pentecost. It is something that is sometimes discarded or overlooked, but the words this year- just like many of the readings during this Easter Season- mean so much more during this time of quarantine.

You can read the sequence here with this link, but I wanted to post a picture of it as well. 

As I just mentioned, the Holy Spirit ("Ruah in the Hebrew which means "movement" or "wind" or "breath") is always described with such powerful verbs. COME. SHINE. POUR. HEAL. WASH. MELT...

I was really taken with the phrase "Melt the frozen, warm the chill" from this sequence last night. Isn't it true that we have felt "frozen" in time these last months? The Holy Spirit with its power and its gifts and its fruits can help us emerge stronger just like the apostles did after being locked up in their Upper Room scared and terrified.

I am very much looking forward to Pentecost this year. Even if it isn't going to look like what I thought or hoped it might at the beginning of this, I have to trust in that the Spirit will move us and will move us towards those gifts and fruits and that those gifts and fruits will help us help others. 

I am planning on attending Mass this Sunday as VA is now in "Phase 1" which means 50% capacity for churches. I was wondering how my parish was going to enforce this, but I received an email with a link to get a "ticket" for one of the Masses being offered this weekend, so I guess it is going to be first come first serve. Everyone has to wear a mask and keep proper distance...actually, my diocese released this video which I found really helpful and answered a lot of my questions.

Part of the beauty of the Holy Spirit is that it moves and we don't necessarily know where it is going to take us. But after this time of the Easter Season and quarantine, I am ready- maybe more than ever- ready to see where it takes us and how it renews us.

It's not a question. The Holy Spirit will renew us. We just need to be open to that movement. And I am so ready!

Happy Pentecost!
Peace,
Julia




Sunday, May 17, 2020

Waiting for the Advocate: The Sixth Sunday of Easter and Week 10 of Quarantine

Two months ago I definitely didn't think I would still be here in my kitchen, blogging about quarantine. I knew in my head that I wasn't returning to teach in my classroom this school year and that I'd be still teaching online, but I didn't realize how exhausted my students and I would be at this point. Our school year is coming to a close and summer is upon us, but I have no idea what my summer is going to look like. Usually I fill my summers with travel but that still is not able to happen at this point. States are slowly starting to lift and shift their "shelter in place" directives, but we still are only operating at 50% capacity in spaces at best, with six feet and masks in between us.

I realize that I don't sound as optimistic as my last couple of quarantine posts. I have been trying hard to keep the Easter season spirit of joy, and I've slowly started to go back into my classroom and see some colleagues and friends in social distanced spaces, but week 9 was kind of a rough one. I feel like I've exhausted every possible thing one can take advantage of during this time. I am a very goal-oriented person. Here is a list of my "accomplishments" from the over two months of quarantine:

- daily prayer, sometimes going into the churches that are open to 10 people at a time
- daily walks and exercise
- developed online lesson plans and activities for two months of curriculum
- created countless audio and video recordings for my students
- created content for an education platform I am contracted to work with
- attended meetings and numerous happy hours and "social gatherings" on Zoom. Or Meet. Or Facetime. Or Facebook. Or literally all of the available platforms for video chats at this time
- I've written and presented at least five Faith Formation sessions virtually for adults for my school, parish, and even a national organization
- I played my first RPG game. And, honestly, probably my last. It was not for me!
- I've read six books and two short stories.
- I've recorded podcast episodes with a friend about aforementioned short stories
- I've taken weekly online art classes
- I've binged Tiger King, Love is Blind, Dead to Me and probably a ton of other shows that have come out on Netflix during this time
-Watched all 9...or rather 10! of the Star Wars movies and blogged about them!
- I've driven within a 1 hr radius all around central Virginia and walked all around Richmond just to get out of my apt
- started brushing up on my Spanish and learning Polish
- looked for a new apartment (and found one!)
- cleaned out my hall closets and spaces around my apartment
- donated items from aforementioned closets and spaces
- reinstated "Cocktail of the Day" on my social media

I know there is much more that I can do and probably have done...but the point is, quarantine continues and it continues to be hard. I know we all are over this. And there is still so much to be grateful for, which I have to continue to focus on to get myself out of the heads spaces I can sometimes go to when I start to reflect a little too inwardly. At the beginning of this I was grateful for this time of introspection and I think it still is a good thing to come of this. But I can tend to over analyze and I am totally there and frankly exhausted from it.

So where is the Good News??? This is still the Easter Season. Ascension Thursday is this week and we have about two more weeks until Pentecost, which is definitely one of my favorite days. I still have hope that the Holy Spirit will be moving at Pentecost and we may be able to be free from our upper rooms while still being safe. But things aren't going to be "normal" for a while. And I do keep thinking about the apostles as we read from Acts during this time of Easter. They were nervous. They were confused. They were scared. They endured imprisonment. But it didn't stop them from delivering the word of God to the world. And it didn't stop their faith.

The Gospel today for the Sixth Sunday of Easter is from Jesus' Last Supper Discourse in John where He tells the apostles He will not abandon them. He tells them that He is sending "an Advocate" which we know is the Holy Spirit. He is comforting them because they are about to be sent into the whirlwind of Good Friday. He gives us this comfort and assurance now, too, even in this time.

The psalm today, too, references a time when God delivered and saved His people with the Exodus from Egypt and the parting of the Red Sea. Reflecting on these moments of deliverance and promises fulfilled do help to give me assurance and comfort and hope as we continue to quarantine.

Finally, today is a special day because it is the 6th anniversary of my friend Dan's death. I am struck every year with how this anniversary often falls around the Ascension. It seems this time of year is always a joyful yet bittersweet time of year. My friend was always full of joy and love for others but we miss him dearly and wish that he was still with us. The apostles, too, loved Jesus and wanted Him to stay with them, but His mission was complete at the Ascension. My friend, too, leaves a legacy that my friends and his family try to spread the good news of continually, especially on this day.

My college friends and I will be celebrating with a Zoom call this year, but we always join in prayer and raising a glass for him on this day. I know that Dan is our own "advocate" in heaven.


Dan and I during Senior Week at CUA. 


A phrase that Dan and his friends and family used during the time of his leukemia was a paraphrase from a quote from St. Julian of Norwich: "All Will Be Well". What a perfect reminder then and also now as we continue to await an end to quarantine, the feast of Pentecost, and ultimately our own ascension.

All Will Be Well. Happy Sixth Week of Easter (and tenth week of quarantine...)

Peace,
Julia

Thursday, April 16, 2020

The Easter Alleluia 2020

I think it is safe to say that when we started 2020, none of us thought we would be here. I ended 2019 posting all kinds of decade recaps with hope for the next decade.

Four months in, and the world has spent the first couple of months of this year and decade in quarantine and fighting COVID-19. I myself am in the middle of my 5th week of quarantine right now. It is my school's "Spring Break" and I was supposed to be in Baltimore this week speaking at a conference and reconnecting with many of my Catholic teacher friends and colleagues. Last week was Holy Week and I was supposed to be a sponsor for a candidate waiting to receive the Sacraments of Initiation into the Catholic Church. Now he is having to wait even longer. It is kind of hard to think of those picture posts and hopeful decade recaps now.

But it is the Easter season! A time that the Church has designated and set up for us to rejoice. So how do we rejoice in this time of quarantine?

It is easy to focus on the negative. I have struggled with this my entire life. It is easy for me right now to go through all of the things I am not doing or could be doing. But the Church calls us right now to look at the good works that God has done, doing, and will do in the times to come.

During Lent, my spiritual practice was to read the Gospel for each day and say a decade of the rosary for someone. Even though Lent is over, I want to continue this practice. I feel like I need to continue this practice in order to get outside of my head and give myself some perspective.

Plus, the readings right now and for the Easter season are so full of joy and Good News, but also some uncertainty as the apostles figure out what Christ's Resurrection means and how they are to go out and preach about it to the world.

In today's first reading from Acts, Peter and John have just healed a crippled man. The crippled man is "clinging" to them ( I love this image) and the crowd that witnessed the miracle are amazed. Peter, however, quickly points them to Christ. It is not Peter or John who are divine, it is only through the Risen Christ that they are able to work miracles. Peter points also to the prophecies of the Old Testament and Moses who foreshadow everything that Christ embodies. Peter reminds them of this so that they will believe. (Acts 3:11-26)

The Gospel for today is also from Luke (Luke wrote the book of Acts) and describes Jesus appearing to the apostles in the Upper Room after His Resurrection. This image struck me:

1.) The apostles are gathered "locked" in a room. Quarantined even?
2.) They are uncertain and afraid and think Jesus is a ghost when they first see Him. But Jesus says to them:

"Why are you troubled? And why do questions arise in your hearts?"

I mean...I feel like it is very obvious why they are troubled and what questions they have! They had just seen Him die days earlier and now here He was again in their midst.

I think the questions for us, too, are obvious right now. When will this be over? When will we have tests and a vaccine? When can we leave our "upper rooms" again?

But in this upper room, later in the Easter Season (spoiler!) the apostles will receive the Holy Spirit to guide them and give them help even when they are uncertain. It is the power of the Holy Spirit that gives Peter and John the power to perform miracles in the book of Acts.The Church teaches that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are: Piety, Understanding, Fortitude, Fear of the Lord, Counsel, Wisdom and Knowledge. I feel like we could use an increase of all of these right now.

I guess my reflection and questions for today are: What good works are we still able to see even from our upper rooms? Even in our uncertainty, are there still amazing things happening? What miraculous things is Jesus still able to do and doing during this time?

It is easy to see the negative and this is a serious time. But Easter has happened and we are in this season of joy regardless. I see joy and good works in Face Timing with my niece and nephew and family and friends. I see joy and good works in the health care providers who leave their homes to help us each day. I see joy and good works in the acts of charity communities are performing to reach out to one another. I see joy and good works in the parents who are struggling to teach their children at home.

Where do you see good works and joy even in the uncertainty of our Upper Room?

Hoping and praying that we are able to burst forth with the Holy Spirit by Pentecost (50 days after Easter. Maybe by then we will be able to see one another again in person? Maybe?!)

In the meantime, here is some more of my Easter 2020:

 Watching Easter Vigil from my apartment with candles isn't the same...
 I think my family is already over Zooming with me...this was our Easter call
Cheers to the Easter season and hopefully escaping from our Upper Rooms soon!

Peace,
Julia

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Love in the Time of Corona (or Praying the Stations of the Cross in a Time of Isolation)

Okay, so I really just wanted to use that first part as a title. I'm sure it's been done. But now I've done it, too ;)

I've come to the end of Week 3 of isolation and I have finally settled into a routine. I believe I mentioned this in my last post, but Week 1 of isolation was kind of my jam. I was excited about the novelty of working from home and trying new resources online. It was cute to learn how to play games virtually through Zoom and have Happy Hours on Google Hangouts.

Week 2 was less cute and the reality of doing this for a very long time set in. I began to grieve for this year, for my students, my travels, our economy, our livelihoods.

Week 3 has seen the putting into practice of this new normal. I get up and sometimes even shower! I wear clothes other than just pajamas. I pray. I work for a few hours, take a walk, come back to work and end the day with an activity or a phone call or Netflix. I've gotten into somewhat of a rhythm, but it doesn't make all of this any less strange or challenging.

But I have talked about all of that and how this time certainly doesn't compare in the scheme of history. I've talked about what it means that this has happened during Lent. I want to return to that as we now enter the heart of our Lenten journey with the beginning of Holy Week.

On some of my walks, I've wandered into the two Catholic Churches that are within walking distance to my apartment. Today, I went in and found myself praying the Stations of the Cross, one of our most sacred devotions as Catholics, especially during Lent.

I saw recently an article online about the origins of the Stations of the Cross and how this devotion is perfect for us in this time. The Stations were a prayer created so that when people couldn't travel to the Holy Land, they still had a way to connect with where Jesus walked on his way to the Cross. We certainly cannot make any journeys or travel right now. But our Churches are open (to 10 or less people at a time) and we can always pray this timely devotion from the comfort of our homes.

The Stations of the Cross have always been a fascinating and sacred practice for me. I love that they combine art and reflection. I love that they show both the human and divine side of Jesus, but mostly His human side. He falls. He weeps. He speaks. He allows people to help Him. And ultimately He shows us what it is to be humble and to love. He shows us how to sacrifice.

And isn't this time right now that we are in all about sacrifice? A friend whom I have kept in touch with since we volunteered together in Guatemala back in 2002, recently suggested that we do a virtual Stations of the Cross and have our friends and family members come up with the reflections. I immediately loved this idea. To have people from all different walks of life, yet united in this time of sacrifice during this time of Lent to come and "walk" together in this way, seemed perfectly fitting.

 Above is an olllld pic from that time in Guatemala back in 2002. Maggie's in the front in the blue headscarf on the left. I'm in the middle with red bandanna and rare sighting of me in jeans and baseball tee!
Maggie and I in LA in 2012...we clean up nicely when having access to warm showers and beds that don't have bed bugs!

When I was praying the Stations today, I thought of specific moments when the Stations meant a lot to me. I prayed the Stations, for example, A LOT when I was in the convent. That was a year very much spent in isolation for me. I was in a unique situation and it wasn't ending up being the best fit for me. I found myself uniting my suffering and questioning with the person of Jesus carrying that cross. Wasn't he also suffering and sacrificing? Wasn't he giving of Himself but stumbling along the way?

The time we are in right now is a time of isolation. We are doing it as a sacrifice for others. It hit me when I was in the Church today that this is what Jesus did for us: He isolated Himself by His Incarnation and Paschal Mystery. He became human but was God and what an isolating experience that must've been. And He suffered the ultimate isolation and humiliation by putting Himself on the Cross for all of us.

How can we unite our sacrifice, suffering and isolation with Christ and one another now? I think going on this remote journey that the Church has had in place for us for centuries is a good start.

Here are some of my favorite images from important times when I prayed the Stations in my life:

 Station #5 from a monastery in Indianapolis, the year I was living in the convent. 
 Station #9 from yet another convent, this time while on a retreat here in Richmond.
 Station #15- an optional station from same convent, different retreat, here in Richmond. 
 The actual 5th Station in Jerusalem from my trip last year to the Holy Land. 
Our group last year carrying a cross through the streets of Jerusalem.
My parents carrying the cross past Station #6 in Jerusalem. 

"We adore You O Lord and we praise You, because by Your Holy Cross, You have redeemed the world." - prayer said during Stations of the Cross.

Peace,
Julia

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Ode to My Grandmothers

Well, the 2 weeks that we were to "work from home" came and went. The governor of VA rocked my little world last week by saying that schools in Virginia would not return at all this year. Then came the announcement from him again yesterday that only essential travel and gatherings of 10 people or less will remain in place until JUNE 10th. June 10th?!

I am an identified introvert. I am an INFJ on the Myers Briggs. Many people- including myself- said I was made for this moment. And I will admit, when it was originally just a "work from home" for two weeks, I was all in. I was super excited about my online lesson plans. I was tweeting about all of the new resources that teachers could try and the cool things our students were doing. I was setting up virtual game nights for my friends.

But after those previously mentioned announcements were made, even my introvert heart started to sink. I live alone and I love it. And even though school would maybe not be my sole choice for extroversion, it at least allowed me guaranteed interaction each day. On the weekends, my friends and I would attend the latest gallery or restaurant openings. And if none of my friends were available for something, I would go to a museum or concert or coffee shop by myself just to get out.

Now I know I can't complain. We are in this situation because people are suffering. I am glad that we are making sacrifices as a country so that we can stop the spread of this virus to the most vulnerable. And as I mentioned in my last post, it comes at the almost too perfect time of Lent when we are to be sacrificing anyways.

But the thought of not being able to celebrate Holy Week, not being able to celebrate Easter with my family or the Church. Celebrating birthdays or Happy Hours via Google Hangouts...this was not part of the original Lenten plan for sure.

I feel like a lot of comparisons are being made to other times in history right now. Our current president has referred to himself as a "War Time" president. And maybe this is as close to that as we have gotten in this recent generation. But if I am to think about my grandparents' generation, the sacrifices and situations certainly don't even compare. But they do give me solace and strength at this time.

For example...

My Grandma Strukely and I in 2007. She passed away a few years later in 2011 at age 94. 

My Grandma Strukely was one of 5 kids and lived through the Great Depression and World War II in America. Her husband (my grandfather whom I never met) passed away when they had three young children (my dad was only six). She had to work as a single mother and raise three children on her own. She didn't drive and used to take the bus and walk everywhere. She never remarried. I remember thinking about when she passed how much she had to endure and how strong she was, though she never ever complained to me about her life.

My Babci was quite the opposite however...
My Babci and I at my Masters graduation 2013. She passed away last year in 2019 at age 96. 

My Babci always made her story and struggle known to us. And she truly did have to endure a lot. She was born in a small farming village in Poland. She was in her early 20s when World War II broke out. She had to live WWII with the reality of what the Germans were doing all around her. Her husband (my Dzia Dzia aka grandpa) was taken to work in the Concentration Camps. He made it out of them, but that horrific experience lived with them forever. She had to immigrate with my young uncle by herself to the States while my grandfather went before them to work and find a place. She cleaned houses to make money. She worked in a factory. She would always tell you that her life was tough. But she still brought joy to everyone around her and made them feel loved.

These women and their experiences certainly shaped my parents and myself. I believe I have the best of both of their strength inside of me. My Grandma Strukely was more introverted like myself and didn't necessarily always have to have people around her. But she did always have her make up on and herself put together. My Babci was much more extroverted and could care less about her outerwear, and people were drawn to her despite and maybe because of her straightforwardness and sass.

During this time, I think about what they would do. Since both of them were widowed for most of (or all) of my life, they were on their own like me. My Grandma Strukely was somewhat of a homebody, but would take a lot of walks since she didn't drive. She was always reading or on the phone or doing a crossword. The TV was usually on in the background with the news or Wheel of Fortune. My Babci ran around the house and to every store and Church and everywhere she could until her body wouldn't let her anymore. Again, I feel like both of them right now. I know now how my Babci might've felt when she couldn't go on all her outings anymore. I know the extrovert in her would be upset over this time, too. But she would do word searches, or paint, or knit, or talk on the phone as well if she had to. They would reach out and call people when they need to.

It's time for me to channel the strength and experiences of my grandmothers now. I need their strength to help me through this uncertain time. They endured way more uncertainty than this and did it on their own as well. I need to channel the way they busied and entertained themselves when they couldn't move around as they wanted to anymore.

What about you and your families? Who are your role models that you are channeling right now? These are certainly unprecedented times for us in many ways. But there are also many who came before us that can give us a guiding light.

Peace,
Julia


Wednesday, March 18, 2020

One of the Most Lent-like Lents There Ever Was?!

Wow. So this 3rd week of Lent has been a journey, huh? We have always known Lent to be a desert-like experience, but I haven't seen one like this in my lifetime for sure.

At the end of last week- the 2nd week of Lent- it was announced that schools in my area would be shut down for 2 weeks due to the Coronavirus. Many schools and towns around the country have been shut down indefinitely or even for the rest of the school year to contain this virus. Many of us have never seen such a thing. We all have lots of questions. We try to find the answers through politics or studies or social media, but we are coming up short. Could this be the most Lent-like thing that could happen?

Now I am in no way equating our struggles as a society right now with war or slavery or the Great Depression or the Plague- true desert like moments and hardships from the past. But for many of us, this kind of isolation and discipline is unknown. And the degrees of hardship vary for many. Some of us can sit inside our houses right now and work from home. Some don't have that luxury because they don't have warm homes. Some can't work because restaurants or theaters or their industry has been put on hold.

There are lots of negative things to this pandemic. I know, personally, I am very sad right now about the canceling of Masses around the world. I understand that to contain this virus, we need to stop congregating. But when one of the main purposes and definitions of Church IS to congregate...what do we do? We are taught that Grace comes from Christ in the community and from the Sacraments. What do we do when those things are denied us?

Welcome to Lent 2020. I have been texting priest friends and asking them if there is any way that I can get to a confession or Mass, but not all people have that luxury. It may be that instead of celebrating being halfway through Lent this Laetare Sunday with the liturgical rose all around us, we sit at home and think and pray by ourselves.

For families, this can be a unique opportunity to re-examine prayer together. As someone who sits alone and prays individually quite often, not having that community aspect is going to be hard for me.

But this is what Lent is- a desert experience. When Jesus was in the desert for 40 days and 40 nights, he was alone. He was tempted to think negatively about his mission. But he overcame and defeated the devil. This is a time to unite ourselves with Christ in our suffering and discipline, which is what Lent should be.

When the Israelites wandered through the desert for 40 years (number 40 = time of trial in Scripture), they were together, but there was an unknown. They had to trust that God was going to lead them out of that desert. They struggled, they fought, they discussed things that weren't true. In many ways, the conversations on the internet and social media seem like the Israelites trying to make their way through the unknown desert.

But what is the one constant in all of these scenarios? Faith in God. Ultimately, faith and trust in God is what let Jesus conquer the devil. Faith and trust in God led the Israelites (eventually!) to the Promised Land. And now, our faith and trust in God is going to get us through this as well. Not the conjecture, not the arguments- but the trust in God and the discipline and the sacrifice of Lent.

Easier said than done. Unknowns are always hard, especially in this world today where we can "know" something within seconds on our phones. But we are entering into an unknown, just like Christ, just like the Israelites, and trust in God is the answer.

I hope you all are well and hang in there. Easter and Resurrection may look different this year, but it is still coming.

Peace,
Julia

Sunday, February 23, 2020

7th Sunday in Ordinary Time Or OMG IT'S ALMOST LENT

I can't say that I am one of those people who loves Lent. I've heard people say that they love this time of year. I can't say that. I do know that I always am in need of Lent. I appreciate that we have this time of year to take the time to truly reflect on our ways and turn back to God.

But Lent can be painful! During this time, we journey along in the Old Testament with Moses and the Israelites who are wandering in the desert on their way to the Promised Land. And similarly, we journey with Jesus who begins his adult ministry with 40 days of prayer and fasting in the desert before he starts his 3 year journey to the Cross.

Thought to be the mountain where Jesus went during his 40 days at the beginning of his ministry in Jericho. Also a spot that the Israelites would have crossed on their journey into the Promised Land.

I appreciate that Jesus went off into the desert to have some silent time to reflect before he began to call His disciples and perform miracles. It shows his humanity and that He too had to take some time to make sure that He was mentally, physically, and spiritually in order before doing what He was called to do.

So while I don't love this time of Lent, I appreciate it. It is the Church's built in opportunity to have us check-in with ourselves and call us back to God if we have strayed too far from Him or His Church.

The readings today for the 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time are perfect for reflecting before we enter the desert of Lent. The Old Testament reading is from Leviticus (which doesn't get much love or read very often at Mass since it is a book mainly for Jewish priests and full of Jewish rituals) that speaks of love of enemy. Jesus echoes this message in the Gospel and tells his followers to take it even farther: to give up your cloak for your neighbor, to go the literal extra mile for your neighbor, to turn your cheek and forgive your neighbor when he/she/they hurt you.

During Lent, we try to be a little kinder, a little gentler with ourselves and with others. Yes, we give up food items or fast from bad habits (I'm giving up Instagram this year!) but these sacrifices are meant to draw us closer to God and ultimately unite us with Christ's sacrifice on the Cross. Can't say that my measly deleting of an app for 40 days will quite compare to the agape (sacrificial love) that is shown to us on Good Friday, but I am hoping that the extra time I have will be extra time to pray for others and to offer up that little sacrifice to God.

The homily I heard today was about the importance of "agape" love which is fitting since we are about to experience and remember the ultimate example of sacrificial love in the coming weeks leading up to the culmination of Christ's ministry during Holy Week. A definition of love that I have always loved (heh :) is Thomas Aquinas' a la Aristotle's definition (which my former high school students can attest to as I made them memorize it!). Love is, according to those guys: "the effective willing of the good of the other." And since it is almost Lent, now is a great time to check ourselves: have I wanted the good for people around me? Have I worked to make that good effective for them?

These are good examinations for Lent and certainly when we go to confession, but I think also for this period in our time in history. It is an election year and with the internet, it is so easy to tear down our neighbor and not wish or work for the good for them. Perhaps for Lent we can fast from internet trolling or making comments about our neighbors or perceived enemies.

What are you thinking of doing for Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving this Lent?

Ready or not, here we go into the desert journey of Lent together. May it bring us closer to God and one another.

Peace,
Julia