Saturday, November 7, 2015

32nd Week in Ordinary Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday, September 27, 2015

Gratitude and Mercy Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Saturday, September 19, 2015

Gratitude and Mercy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Friday, July 10, 2015

I Love Summer: An Answer to Prayer!

Oh, man. There is nothing like summer for a teacher. People wanna hate as you start posting those Facebook countdowns: "last day of school!" "summer vacation!" And you start posting pics of you by the pool or on your summer European tour (Ahem).

And I get it. Non-teachers work really hard, too. But we spend more time with people's kids than probably their parents do, and all I can say is some people's kids are not the angels they think that they are!

This Spring in particular, I was getting really burnt out at my school. This is the end of my fifth year there (hard to believe!). I can remember praying so hard about five years ago to find a new job and the Lord led me to this school and to teaching.

Well, as I mentioned, this Spring was particularly hard for me at school and I started praying once again for the Lord and the Holy Spirit to move. They took a little longer than I would've liked, but after a couple of novenas to the Holy Spirit and St. Paul, I finally got the answer and the movement that I was praying for.

After five years at the high school and 15 + years (on and off) in DC, I am moving to a place that I have come to really love: Richmond, VA!

I used this image five years ago when I quit my previous job to start teaching...still appropriate today!

When I started my discernment this past Spring about what I wanted to do and what move I wanted to make, I had lots to take into consideration: did I still want to teach? Did I want to go back into media? Did I want to go back into parish work? Do I want to stay in DC or go somewhere else?

It came down to: yes, I am still called to teach right now. And I really wanted a new start, but somewhere that I knew that I would have a community. I have developed a really fantastic community of friends in RVA over the past couple of years and when it came down to it, I wanted to be down there.

I have been fortunate enough to have become pretty darn good at discerning, if I do say so myself. Entering a convent in your 20s will do that to you. You learn alot about yourself and how to listen to what is God, what is you, and what is neither. This decision to move to Richmond really was a group effort: Me, God, St. Francis and St. Paul!

I was praying the novena to St. Paul at the end of June (leading up to his feast day with St. Peter on June 29th). And as I was last year, I was finishing up this novena while on a trip to Europe :)

Last year, I finished the novena while in Prague where we met and hung out with our tour guide, appropriately named Paul!

Paul is the guy with the snazzy suspenders in the middle here...

This year, I finished the novena in Assisi (hence, the discernment help from St. Francis):

The view from St. Clare's Basilica in Assisi. She helped me too....

As I was praying in the Basilica of St. Francis ( a little walk from the Basilica of St. Clare. I think it's so perfect that they are buried within walking distance of each other!), I meditated on Francis' message from the Lord: "Rebuild my Church." It is the message that our current Holy Father has adopted and one of the reasons he took the name Francis. In St. Francis' case, he thought that this message meant building an actual Church. He later found that it meant that he needed to restructure and re-inspire the Church as a community of believers.

I took that message to heart and I really believe that one of the ways that the Lord wants me to "rebuild his Church" is through teaching the youth of our Church, as I have been doing for the past several years. Pretty much my entire career.

I will, however, be making a transition from high school to 6th grade when I make the move down the Richmond this year! Lord, help me!! And I know that He will.

So that is the movement going on in my life right now. I am grateful for the answer to prayer and I am so grateful for our trip to Italy and the time off this summer!

I'm spending the rest of my summer looking for places to live down in RVA and working part-time at the winery that I began working at this winter. It's so far been a great balance of relaxation and keeping myself busy.

How I spent my 4th of July weekend....pouring Virginia wine!

I could go on and on about our trip to Italy, but all I will say right now is that it was amazing. Italy is everything that people say about it and we got to see a lot of it. The beautiful buildings and waterways in Venice, the amazing art and architecture in Florence, the serenity and simplicity of Assisi, and the history and culture of Rome. Here are just some highlights:

 Approaching Venice with our water taxi...
 Gondola rides in Venice!
 By far the most interesting pizza that I had...mussels IN my pizza!
 selfie in Bell Tower next to Duomo in Florence!
St Peter's in Vatican City!

I will leave you with some thoughts on the readings this week. Now that I am back in the States and working just part-time (instead of every day like I've done the past 2 years as a nanny...what was I thinking?? Working full time in the SUMMER?! :) I have had time, as I said, to relax, discern, pack, and pray.

The first readings this week have been from Genesis: the story of Jacob and Joseph. In particularly, their journeys and travels: Jacob fleeing from Esau and having his "ladder" dream, his return to see Esau and having his "wrestling with God" dream, Joseph's brothers journeying to Egypt during the famine, and today's reading of Jacob taking his family to Egypt to be reunited with Joseph.

These stories are all very familiar to me because they are the stories that I taught my freshmen 10 times over the course of 5 years. Both Jacob and Joseph are dreamers. Jacob was a little more devious than Joseph, but God rewarded him all the same. Today's story in particular really required Jacob to trust God. He had to uproot his family and take them to a foreign land (a land which would later come to enslave the people of Israel) which couldn't have been easy. (I mean that literally. Jacob had children by four different women. That's a lot of baggage to take with you!)

But the key elements to each of their journeys were trust and faith. And that is what I am taking with me as I make my journey to a new job, new location. I am grateful that the Lord answered my prayers and that it was, as I said, a team effort.

Excited for the journey! Hope that you all are having a blessed summer.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

St Paul and the Catch 22

What happens when you have a summer schedule with more free time? For me, it means several things:

1.) an infinitely more relaxed Julia.
2.) more time to read
3.) more time to pray
4.) more reading + prayer + more relaxed = more time for blogging.

And so, after a couple of non-blog months, we have the two posts in one week summer special.

(Also, thanks to those of you who saw my tweet re: my last post and assured me that there are others besides my mother who still read this blog. Also, hi, Mom. :)

I spoke earlier this week about Joy and how if we want to grow in Joy, we need to grow closer to Jesus. And as I've defined other times on this blog, joy is underlying and long term. It is not the same as temporary happiness. And it is motivated by love.

St. Paul points out another way that we can remain close to Jesus: the thorns in our sides. I know that I've also posted about this as my long-standing love affair with St. Paul and his boasting in weakness is well documented. Today, the first reading was from Paul's 2nd Letter to the Corinthians (also, btw- his rant yesterday about "talking like an insane person" I also found endearing) is one of my favorites:

"Brothers and sisters:
I must boast; not that it is profitable,
but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord.
I know a man in Christ who, fourteen years ago
(whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows),
was caught up to the third heaven.
And I know that this man
(whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows)
was caught up into Paradise and heard ineffable things,
which no one may utter.
About this man I will boast,
but about myself I will not boast, except about my weaknesses.
Although if I should wish to boast, I would not be foolish,
for I would be telling the truth.
But I refrain, so that no one may think more of me
than what he sees in me or hears from me
because of the abundance of the revelations.
Therefore, that I might not become too elated,
a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan,
to beat me, to keep me from being too elated.
Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me,
but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you,
for power is made perfect in weakness.”
I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses,
in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me.
Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults,
hardships, persecutions, and constraints,
for the sake of Christ;
for when I am weak, then I am strong". - 2 Corinthians 12: 1-10

I love this passage for so many reasons but mostly because I think that we all identify with Paul's pleading to God to take "the thorn" away, whatever it may be for us. And that Paul goes on to identify that thorn as the thing that God allows so that we might stay close to Him.

I know that this may sound a little messed up, but this is the heart of the Paschal Mystery: suffering and death is what brings about new life. And while I know I often tell God: "Hey! I will praise you forever if you give me what I want! You don't have to use this thorn in my side! Give me all the good stuff and I will stay close to You! Promise!" God knows humanity better than that. How often do we truly go to God in prayer when things are going all smooth vs how often we go to Him when things are not? It's humanity that's a little messed up. We are the ones who often only turn to Him when we have "thorns."

And so God uses these thorns and allows them so that we can rely on His strength, and therefore, draw closer to Him.

It's a Catch-22, I know. We want to grow closer to God to understand Love and Joy and sometimes (read: most of the time) that requires suffering. It's a Catch-22. It's the Paschal Mystery. But hey, at least we are in good company:

And! And! Jesus tells us "not to worry"! Another fav reading was the Gospel for today! No coincidence that the Church pairs this with St. Paul's thorn tales, lest we begin to worry about our weaknesses:

"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life,
what you will eat or drink,
or about your body, what you will wear.
Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?
Look at the birds in the sky;
they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns,
yet your heavenly Father feeds them.
Are not you more important than they?
Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?
Why are you anxious about clothes?
Learn from the way the wild flowers grow.
They do not work or spin.
But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor
was clothed like one of them.
If God so clothes the grass of the field,
which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow,
will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?
So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’
or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’
All these things the pagans seek.
Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.
But seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness,
and all these things will be given you besides.
Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself.
Sufficient for a day is its own evil.” - Matthew 6:24-3

I mean, c'mon guys. Wild flowers are pretty and so are birds, but we know they got nothing on us.

Happy Summer! Beware of post-Italy blogpost coming soon! 


Monday, June 15, 2015

In Pursuit of Hope and Joy

Typically, I write a post around the feast of Pentecost, proclaiming how it is my favorite feast of the year and that the Holy Spirit is moving and doing something big in my life. Notice how this was not the case this year.

Where are you this year, Big Guy???

Pentecost has come and gone, and so has the joy of the Easter season. The joy of summer has arrived, but Pentecost did not bring the movement that I had hoped for this year. I had prayed for it, as I do every year, with the novena from the feast of the Ascension to Pentecost, but the Holy Spirit didn't want to come my way, at least not in the way that I had hoped for.

Hope and Joy have been things that I have blogged about for years now. I know that these things are not unique to pray for, and everything in our lives seems to be cyclical. About 5 years ago, I was desperately searching for a change at work and finally in the summer of that year, the job at the school I now teach at fell in my lap. 7 years ago, I wanted out of the decision I had made for my vocation, and then about a month or so after, I was led back to DC.

Trust is another thing that we work on from time to time and I was working on last year by reading "The Way of Trust and Love" by Jacques Phillipe. Not to say that I feel like I have "mastered" trust. We are always challenged to trust. But I do feel like I have come a long way in my confidence in God and His work in my life. I know that the prayers I made in my novena to the Holy Spirit were heard, maybe just not in the way that I would have liked. I know that the Lord is looking out for me. I can't lose my joy in Him, however. And I can't lose hope.

It's hard when it seems like everyone around you has had their prayers answered: Friends who prayed for babies now pregnant. Friends who prayed for homes or moves now moving on. And you are staying put when you also prayed for the Holy Spirit to move you as well.

But we can't lose our joy. We have to remain joyful for those around us because that joyful spirit will also aid in us not feeling sorry for ourselves. Back when I was on NET, we used in a talk this acronym for JOY: "Joy comes when you put Jesus first, Others second, and Yourself third." All year, since Advent, I have been reflecting on and praying for Joy. But joy really comes when we draw near to the Lord. The closer we are to Him, the more joyful we are going to be. The homily I heard by a visiting Franciscan priest this Sunday also reminded me of this. Sometimes we lose the joy even at Mass. Franciscans are known for their joyfulness. I was grateful for this reminder and this Franciscan joy this weekend.

St. Francis does look pretty celebratory here, while that other guy can't be bothered...

And then there is Hope, which my spiritual director reminded me this past visit, stems from Praise. I had been told before that when we are feeling negative, we should try and practice gratitude. And similarly, when we are in need of hope, we should praise God simply for who He is. It is hard not to be joyful and hopeful when are praising the Lord for all of the Good He has done and the Good that He is.

There is a Jewish prayer that is said at Seder meals that I became aware of a few years ago called the Dayenu prayer. Essentially, it is a list of things that the Lord did for the Jews and the Jews pray that "if God had only done _______ (insert one of the things the Lord has done here, like 'Lead them out of Egypt'), It would have been enough."

I challenge my students to create their own Dayenu prayer, and as I pray for hope in praise and gratitude, I have been making my own. "If God would have only given me the health of my family, that would have been enough." "If God would've only provided for me throughout my life, that would've been enough."

Try your own Dayenu prayer when you are seeking prayers of gratitude, praise, and joy. And even though Pentecost has come and gone, that doesn't mean that Holy Spirit has left. He is still our advocate. We just need to surrender and let him do his advocating.

I am also grateful for SUMMER and some upcoming travel in a week or so to ITALY where I will get to see some of the best stuff from my guys St. Paul and St. Francis!!! Hoping and trusting that the Holy Spirit will be bestowing some graces on us while we are there.


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!