Sunday, November 26, 2017

Year in Review- Feast of Christ the King 2017

It's here! The Feast of Christ the King! Which brings an end to The Year of Grace and our liturgical year.

It was a different kind of year with a different kind of vibe, but many, many blessings nonetheless. Here are my highlights from this year!

So I rang in the New Year in RVA this year with some of my very best people. 


In March of this year, we opened up our new Middle School building with the bishop's blessing. Unfortunately, we lost the bishop this year in August. I'm grateful for the few times that I got to meet him.


I continue to be blessed by my school community and my fellow teachers. Here is an outing we took to the VCU River Center in April. 


 I spent my 36th birthday this year with a friend from Philly who came down on our Spring Break. She can be seen above with some of my Richmond friends as they try to help me with online dating (they weren't successful!) She and I spent some time in RVA and then drove to Charleston for a music festival!


I got to visit family in Ohio for a cousin's wedding in May. 
And one of my besties and I took our trip to Spain, Portugal and Morocco this summer! With stops in Avila and Fatima to name a few!


My immediate family took a family vacation to Virginia Beach this past August.
Fall was very busy and had its ups and downs, but my friends and I always go all out for Halloween!
And this year's Thanksgiving was very blessed because of the people I met and chatted with at this table. 

All in all, another great year spent with friends, family, and doing things that I love. I have to say that I am blessed. Looking forward to whatever He brings in the new year.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

To Jesus Through Mary

I really am on a roll this week! It is amazing what some quality prayer and reflection time can do!

As I mentioned in my last post, I have begun the re-consecration to Jesus through Mary as emphasized by St. Louis de Monfort. Today is only day 3, but I already have started to receive some great insights.

The author of the book that my friend and I are using used this quote by de Monfort today and it struck me: "Satan, being proud, suffers infinitely more from being beaten and punished by a little and humble handmaid of God, and her humility humbles him more than the divine power."

In the past, I have struggled with quotes like this. I feel like I haven't been able to relate to Mary in my life because she is always described as "little and humble." How can her humility defeat evil more than divine power?

I also struggle with my image of Mary because she is so often depicted like a white Renaissance queen or movie star. This is literally what popped up when I googled: "Mary Middle Eastern girl." WHAT?!

Enter this past year with this current administration. The above de Monfort quote jumped out at me because, thanks to this current elected administration, I can see how a humble, little girl would infuriate a proud, disturbed power.

I've written earlier this year about how God has been calling me to look at Mary and my relationship with her more closely. I have had to give several talks about her this last year to various groups, and I also was asked to lead a Bible Study on her at my parish this past May. Even though I struggle, I struggle with this political climate more! And it is interesting that because of our current political climate that I am beginning to understand and appreciate Mary.

Mary is everything that I believe our current administration looks down on and detests: female, poor, foreign, refugee, good, pure. The men in power in our country have tried to create so many laws in the past year to denounce and oppress people like Mary. In a weird way, because of that, I am now able to see our need for  her and appreciate her more. De Monfort's quote made me realize that it is true that her humility would embarrass the proud if brought down by someone like her. And therefore, I see now more than ever, our need for her prayers and strength!

That may be a twisted way of going about understanding her, but to me it makes sense. And going to Fatima this year, too, showed me that she wants us to go to her in times of war and fear and trial. She tells us to pray the rosary and go to her when things in the world are not right.

So it finally is making sense to me and I am looking forward to re-consecrating myself to her Son through her strength as well as entrusting our world to her. I pray that she can teach us all how to join together in her humble way to defeat the evil in our world.

Peace,
Julia

Friday, November 24, 2017

Giving Thanks 2017 Part 2

This is always how it goes, isn't it? I don't write for a while, and then I have back to back to back posts for two weeks in a row!

I wanted to follow up my previous post because the Lord continues to work in overtime these past couple of weeks for me. He has brought about many graces for me of late and I will take them! As I mentioned previously, the year has been tough and dark at times, but He has reminded me so much of His providence and faithfulness lately. I just have to document it and give Him His due!

In my last post, I mentioned that I had recently discerned quitting my second job as a part-time bartender. Quitting this job, I believe, really freed me and opened me up to all of these graces that I am experiencing now. I took a risk, though, because I wasn't sure (and still am not exactly) if I will be able to sustain my lifestyle without that little bit of income. I will say that when it comes to finances and work, God has always been very, very generous with me. He always provides. Even though I am  a teacher and I don't make a lot, I believe that He knows that I am working for His Church and He always makes sure that I can make ends meet.

For example, in the woman's prayer group meeting that I had last week, I reconnected with someone who also does music ministry. I did not know that she was actively doing music ministry in the area, but she offered to put me on the sub list at her parish so that I could make some extra money. I already have had one opportunity there so far! I also floated my name to some other parish music ministers in the area and received an email from someone I don't even know and he passed my name along to a spiritual leader at a nearby hospital. Their chapel is having an Advent prayer service next week for which I will be playing! It is truly, truly amazing how God provides and how I always conveniently forget this is equally amazing. Ha!
Some of the new gigs may involve me playing the organ, which I don't really know how to play sooo...I decided to try and learn recently!

Like I said, I was called in to sub at a parish already and the Mass was actually for a funeral. Playing for weddings or funerals is always extra pressure because this is a very important event in these people's lives and they are trusting you to help celebrate it. I have been lucky to always have positive experiences, but I still get nervous nonetheless, especially at a parish with people I haven't met before.

The funeral was for an 89 year old woman. I didn't know much about her other than that. That is the other interesting thing about playing for funerals. You don't often know the people who have passed away. The family and guests give you little clues, and I often learn a lot from the homilies and eulogies.

This woman who had passed was apparently always smiling. She also was (from what I can intuit) an accountant and ran some kind of business doing people's taxes when it wasn't common for a woman to do so. The man who gave the eulogy did an excellent job and he read a letter from the woman's granddaughter. The granddaughter said that she was proud of her grandmother and that she was an inspiration to her. She was proud to have a grandmother who was "ahead of her time", running her own business and working hard her whole life. She apparently retired only two years prior at the age of 87! I can't even imagine! But it sounded like she loved life and her work.

It made me think, of course, of my own grandmother who is going to be 95 next year! I, too, am proud of my grandmother and the hardships she has been through. It made me think of what I would say if I were ever in that position and it made me feel for the family and feel closer to the woman who was being eulogized. It is an honor to be let in to those kinds of moments for a family. It's more than just a paycheck.

I'm also really interested see how this Advent service at the hospital goes next week. There are children who will be singing and I will be accompanying them. I went to rehearse with them and meet with the woman in charge this Wed before Thanksgiving. These kids are YOUNG. Like...pre-school to 1st grade young. Those of you who know me, know that working with kids that young is outside of my comfort zone! But I enjoyed meeting them and the staff members at the hospital and I know that the event will be blessed. How awesome that God hooks us up with these opportunities when we need it?? That's what I mean about grace!

My fellow "table hosts" and I yesterday at The Giving Heart on Thanksgiving

Yesterday was Thanksgiving and I usually spend it with friends in Northern VA, but this year I stayed in Richmond and decided to volunteer. A friend recommended working with The Giving Heart which plans this large meal at the convention center downtown every year. I heard that they sometimes serve up to 3,000 people.

My job as a table host was simply to sit with those who came to the meal and chat with them and make them feel welcomed. My fellow table hosts pictured above and I were fortunate to dine with a family of 5- a mother and daughter, the daughter's boyfriend and two of her friends from her shelter. I was so glad to be a part of this event. Everyone was so, so pleasant and happy. As you can see, table hosts were invited to decorate their tables. I was fortunate that one of our table hosts was a veteran at this and brought beautiful decorations! All of the volunteers took pride in their tables and all of the people we met were grateful and personable. I definitely recommend doing this event or something like it if you are able. I was done by 2:30pm and able to join some friends for drinks and meal #2 after. It was a great way to spend the holiday and what I believe a holiday like Thanksgiving is about. It restored my faith and hope in humanity for a few hours :)

These are just a few of the graces I have received in the last few days. I also was able to spend a couple of nights having good conversation (and beer) with my teacher coworkers and I have started my most recent novena(s) that will end on the Feast of Christ the King and Christmas respectively.

A friend from my volunteer year asked if I had ever made a Consecration to Jesus through Mary (as written and practiced by Louis de Monfort. Many, many of the saints and popes have done this same prayer!). It's a 33 day exercise with readings and prayers that ends on a Marian feast. When my friend asked me if I had done it before, I knew that I had, but I couldn't remember when. Turns out I have made it THREE times! Once before the convent, once in the convent, and once after the convent!

You sign the letter at the end of the Consecration when you finish the 33 days. I definitely don't recall the first two times that I did this! Am I old? Or was I just so taken in by the Holy Spirit? Ha! The former for sure!

So I have started my re-consecration with my friend and we will be ending on Christmas. I think it's the perfect way to spend Advent and definitely long overdue! I'm looking forward to walking with my friend and Mary this Advent season.

Just a few more days of this liturgical year! Get ready for some end of the year posts for Christ the King very soon!

I'm so grateful for all of God's Grace in this Year of Grace and looking forward to what the new year brings.

Peace,
Julia

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Giving Thanks 2017

I have taken somewhat of an intentional hiatus from this blog this fall. First of all, I've been at this for 10 years! I need a break! JK. I just want to make sure that everything I post is thoughtful and intentional.

Also, if I am honest, I was not feeling like myself this September. I often struggle with the change from the warmer to colder seasons, but this year hit me much harder. I believe the political and societal climate also had something to do with it. Christianity has never been easy in the history of the faith. And we are certainly not having to face the lions pits in the ways of early Roman martyrdom. However, I have felt like Christians have been pitted against each other these days. We should be coming together and uniting against the cultural pitfalls, but instead, I believe that even Christians are divided with our own interpretations of the Gospel right now. I know that this also isn't new. But it has taken it's toll on me and I have had to work through and continue to work through feeling as one fighting in my own lion's den with my own Christian faith on some days.

I have had some changes at the school that were positive, but not without some growing pains. It seems that God heard my prayer from this summer of my wanting to re-claim and once again choose my vocation of teaching. I have been given many opportunities to reflect on my call as a teacher this year and I am continuing to do so.

Many feast days have come and gone. The feast of St. Therese of Lisieux on Oct. 1 was once again blessed with answered prayers. She reminded me of her and God's presence and the grace of prayer. One of the things I had been praying about during the novena was the possibility of quitting my second job. Working long days and shifts on weekends was good for my bank account, but also taking its toll on my spirit. I believe that I got my "rose" from Therese during that novena and finally decided to take the risk and quit my second job. Whether or not the financial cut will bring its own new stressors has yet to be seen, but I know now that getting out of the rut I didn't even realize I was in has been freeing.

I didn't take a picture of the rose that I got this year, but here is a picture of me with a St. Therese look alike in Melbourne, Australia...

I also started going to spiritual direction again. I had not had a spiritual director since I moved down to Richmond and clearly nearly three years without spiritual direction was also becoming an issue for me. I started meeting weekly with a Benedictine sister and feel like I got the uplifting support and accountability that I had been missing.

All this to say, I think that I am feeling better now. Even though it is getting colder and our political climate hasn't gotten any easier, I feel like a weight has been lifted off of my shoulders. It is amazing what some accountability and positive feedback can do!

Something a Catholic friend tweeted once that has stuck with me is that around this time of year, we start "aching for Advent." It has been well documented that I love New Year's Eve and the new liturgical year. I LOVE the time that lends itself for reflection and am eagerly awaiting the Feast of Christ the King so that we once again reflect as a Church on the Incarnation. I love the anticipation of newness and new possibilities.The new year is coming! We are ending Ordinary Time in about 2 weeks and Advent will be here.

During this time as we near Thanksgiving, I am grateful for all of the above listed experiences. 2017 has been a tough year for our world, our country, and our spirits. However, we know that hardship produces new opportunities and new life. I continue to pray that we can hold on to hope and that there will soon be a calm after this storm.

I figured out years ago that when I have these darker moments in life, that I need to step outside of myself. That is why I took up art a couple of years ago. Being able to create and share with others is essential in tearing our interior clouds away. This Thanksgiving I have decided to volunteer to help at a community meal rather than just take some time for myself like I often do (see: teepee in the mountains from last year!). I also am going to be joining a group of faithful young women tonight in prayer (something else that I had been missing from my DC days).

I am grateful that 2017 is winding down and that weights have been lifted. I know, however, that there is still much work to do. I look forward to tackling it now that I have more time to breathe and have the support that I need.

Despite the darkness that we sometimes may feel, there is much to be thankful for.

Peace,
Julia


Saturday, August 26, 2017

Moments of Grace

Last year in 2016, The Year of Mercy got a lot of hype. The pope had called upon this theme of Mercy just at the right time and we all were talking about it. Cathedrals were designating "mercy doors" and we were walking through 'em. This time last year, I was also participating in my *first* art show and trying to come up with works I would feel comfortable showing pertaining to this theme of Mercy.

 Here are the two pieces I did for The Year of Mercy show. The above is a meditation on Christ's mercy to women in Scripture and also St. John Paul II's mercy to the man who shot him in the 80s. Below is an abstract of a Church in Guatemala that I have been to where a priest was martyred and whose cause has recently been brought to beatification this year. 
Today, as I looked back on the art show and the Year of Mercy, I am reminded that 2017 was dubbed the Year of Grace. So why haven't we really been talking about it? Or have we just kind of been taking it for granted, like we do with so many of God's graces? Or is it just me?! ;)

As I thought about the Year of Grace for the first time in a while this AM, I wondered: "If I were to participate in an art show with the theme of Grace...what would I try to depict? What would be my inspiration?"

Grace is given to us at birth. Grace is something we are given to help us overcome sin and evil. Sanctifying, saving Grace is given to us in the Sacraments. Grace is given to us when someone looks kindly on us or extends a helpful gesture. These are just some of the many examples of Grace in our lives.

For me, moments of Grace have come in the form of moments in front of the Eucharist at Adoration or on retreats. I have had moments of Grace with friends and family when we all just know we are all at the right place at the right time. I've received moments of Grace in Churches and in visiting cities all over the world. I have received Grace when the Holy Spirit gives me the right thing to say when my own words fail me. I have received Grace in prayer, particularly in novena prayers answered with a sign.

I guess that Mercy was such a big deal because an act of forgiveness is often seen as a grander gesture. Grace can come at much more frequent, less grand moments. But Grace and Mercy can be as grand and/or as frequent as we want or need them to be. I believe that Grace is all around us, but we don't always seize those moments or messages from God when He is giving them to us. Or perhaps we don't always recognize God's Grace for the power that it is and can be.

When taking a Confirmation name at 16, I chose the name Grace. Partly because I liked the name and wanted to be cool, but also because I recognized at some level that God had bestowed a special Grace on me to get me to that point in my life. I am not always cognizant of the Graces being given to me, so I know that I need to pay attention to them more, especially as this liturgical year is almost done!

What are some of the many graces in your life? How do we use this grace to our advantage? And how are we going to seize these moments of grace as we continue through this Year of Grace?

Perhaps I will come up with some images of Grace in art before this Year of Grace is through.

Peace,
Julia  

Friday, August 11, 2017

Re-Choosing, Re-Discerning, Re-Building

Today is the feast of one of my favorite saints, St. Clare of Assisi. When I was discerning religious life over a decade (gah!) ago, I spent a lot of time with a particular order of Franciscans and came to love St. Francis and St. Clare.

When I was in Assisi two summers ago, we went to Sunday Mass at the Basilica of St. Clare. This was such a blessing and my time in Assisi was also significant because I was at a crossroads concerning my career and making my move to Richmond.

Basilica of St. Clare in Assisi, Italy- June 2015

After Mass at St. Clare's, I got some time to explore Assisi on my own and had some quality prayer time in some significant places in the life of Francis. When praying in the basilica where St. Francis is buried, I pondered the message that St. Francis himself had received: "Rebuild my Church." I found in those moments of prayer my own answer to my current discernment, to "rebuild His Church" by taking a job in Richmond teaching Middle Schoolers. It was a perfect moment and I have been affirmed again and again that I am in the right place for me right now.

This summer, I have been praying about feeling TOO comfortable. I never want to feel too comfortable with something because that is when we stop growing and moving forward. I want to re-claim the choices and decisions that God has led me to make up until this point in my life, so that I can re-affirm and move forward. I don't want to become so comfortable in my ministry as a Middle School teacher that I stop seeing it as a ministry. So these past couple of weeks, before we return back to school, I have been pondering my past years in ministry, and re-choosing, re-committing myself as a minister through the work God has called me to do.

This month, this year (Aug 22 to be exact) will mark 10 years since I entered religious life. It will always be such a defining moment in my life, even though I didn't stay very long in community (just one year of postulancy). The choices and the moments that led up to that entrance 10 years ago were crucial as was my personal formation during that time. And ultimately, taking classes while in formation led me to want to pursue my Masters degree and further shaped my call to evangelize through media and education.

There have been times where I questioned some of my decisions, but I firmly believe that all of our decisions, whether right or wrong, shape who are today. And as I look back on the 10-15 years that I have been in ministry (NET Ministries post-college, diocesan youth ministry, postulancy, non-profit work, and now teaching) I know that all of my experiences have built upon each other, leading to where I am now.

I am not sure what the Lord wants me to build next or what the next building block will be. But I am confident that it will be right as long as I remain open to asking and responding wherever and whenever He says: "rebuild my Church." As for right now, I will be content and confident in re-committing to building where He has placed me, but listening for the call for that next piece, that next brick.

I also have to remind myself, that each little thing that we do can help build up the Church as well. It doesn't have to be some huge, life-changing building block. We are all a piece of the Church and make our mark in our own, many ways.

St. Francis and St. Clare, pray for us!

Peace,
Julia


Monday, July 17, 2017

Perfect Love Casts Out Fear

Halfway through the year, halfway through the summer! What??? Once again, where did it all go?

I can't complain on any accounts. 2017 has been pretty okay personally (barring the political headaches, of course) and so far, my summer has been pretty perfect as well.

I returned about 2 weeks ago from an awesome trip to Spain, Morocco, and Portugal. I had been to Spain, before, but only Barcelona, not the south of Spain. The southern part of Spain feels different than the rest of Western Europe because of the Moorish/Muslim influence in architecture and history. Some of the highlights of the trip were seeing places where the three monotheistic religions, at some point, had come together. For example,

On one of our first days, we went to Toledo and saw this Synagogue turned Christian Church that was built by Muslims! You can see influences of each of the faiths here, which I found to just be amazing that at one point in time, these three faiths somewhat coexisted (until they started driving one another out, which seems to be still occurring today).

 Moorish architecture and the influence of the Muslims can also be seen at the Alhambra in Grenada, Spain
There is Arabic written all around the Alhambra with prayers in praise to God. Beautiful!

One of our first days in Spain also happened to be the feast of Corpus Christi. When I was in Spain previously, I had the good fortune of being in Barcelona during "Semana Santa" or Holy Week, so I knew that Spain is still very much rooted in Catholicism and does their feast days up big. We caught many celebrations for the feast of Corpus Christi while in Madrid and Toledo:

 Streets of Madrid during their Corpus Christi Procession, June 2017
 The Eucharist! Corpus Christi Procession, Madrid, 2017
Outside the Cathedral in Segovia, girls in their first communion dresses for Corpus Christi

After making our way through the southern half of Spain, we took a ferry across to Morocco. My friend and I had really wanted to make this trip because of the Moroccan component. Turns out, we were in Morocco during Ramadan and this definitely impacted our experience. A lot of businesses were closed and not serving alcohol during Ramadan, which I had to respect. While I strongly believe in a separation of Church and State, there is something to be said for a people uniting in something and practicing such discipline. It was inspiring. Some nights, we would be having dinner and the people who were serving us had been fasting all day. We had to eat quickly before sundown because it would then be their turn to finally eat and break their fasts.

 More beautiful architecture in Fes, Morocco.
 A sundown celebration during Ramadan in Marrakesh, Morocco.
Hassem II Mosque in Casablanca, Morocco. There were mosques literally on every corner (not all as impressive as this) and we often could hear the call to prayer. Again, it was a very humbling and inspiring thing to witness, especially during Ramadan. 

After about 5 days in Morocco, we took the ferry back to Spain, stopped in BEAUTIFUL Sevilla, before making our way to Portugal.

We were in Portugal during the Feasts of St. Peter and Paul, which is a significant feast day for me, of course, due to my love of St. Paul and history with the Daughters of St. Paul. My friend knows that this is an important feast day for me, and we've often been traveling together on this feast and have gotten to spend it in a fun and prayerful way. This year, we toured some amazing sites in Lisbon, including the Belem Tower which was something I really wanted to see, the Hieronymite Monastery (you can google these structures and I assure you, they look exactly the same irl- in real life!), and the Cathedral in Lisbon, St. Anthony's:


Here is our St. Peter and Paul Day selfie in front of St. Anthony's in Lisbon. Fun fact: St. Anthony is the patron saint of Portugal. Even though he is known for his time in Padua, Italy, he was born in Lisbon. 

Lisbon and Portugal were beautiful and I could post so many amazing pictures from all of these places, but I definitely want to mention a couple more religious sites that were noteworthy and totally unexpected as this was a secular, not religious, tour that we booked!

 We got to visit the Shrine of Fatima- one of the most famous apparitions of the Virgin Mary took place here. It happened in 1917- exactly 100 years ago this year. In fact, the 100th anniversary of the apparition took place in May. There were still many things up for the jubliee year around the site, including where the Holy Father had held Mass just months prior.
 Inside this church are the tombs of the 3 children whom Mary appeared to. The most powerful thing for me about this place, was praying in front of their tombs. Jacinta and Francisco died as children, shortly after Mary appeared to them. But Lucia, their cousin, lived to be in her 90s and is finally at rest with them. I am currently reading a book I purchased there written by Lucia about her experiences.

After Portugal, we once again cut back into Spain, this time across the northwest and got to see Salamenca on our way back to Madrid. We also took a brief rest stop on part of the Camino that overlooks Avila, the place of my homegirl, St. Teresa of Avila! She also was all over Segovia, Spain, when we toured there as well.

Upon my return from another amazing couple weeks of summer travel, I've had time to rest and besides my travel time, the time I have to rest in the summer is my most treasured. Though my life is pretty simple, working two jobs and often 7 days a week for most of the year, makes me long for these summer days.

As mentioned, while 2017 has gone somewhat smoothly from a personal perspective, I haven't stopped struggling with it from a political perspective. I definitely went through some stages of grief for our country: denial, sadness, anger, but I will never move on to the moment of acceptance. I've just tried to refocus my dissatisfaction and not let it fester.

My problems with the current political state stem from the fact that our faith is rooted in justice. Christ makes right Adam's wrong. He heals the sick. He teaches us to do good for others by His life on earth. This sense of justice and right has been twisted to benefit those in power, rather than those Christ reached out to while on earth: the sick, the lowly, the poor.

This whole election cycle was built on fear. Fear of the other. And as I reflected on the readings this week, this is a cycle that is not new. This morning's first reading was about the Pharaoh during Moses' time who started to fear the Israelites and did not want them to gain power in Egypt. So he oppressed them and killed newborn male children. Perhaps our leaders aren't doing exactly this, but oppressing other peoples- women, Muslims, the poor- out of fear of what power they might lose...this is exactly what I see today.

Even in my readings of Fatima right now, I struggle with the fact that these children in some ways are fearful. And for children to be fearful is a normal, developmental reaction. But it says in John's letters in Scripture that: "Perfect Love casts out fear." Some fear of disappointing is healthy. To not want to do wrong is the goal. But to be always operating out of fear, I cannot see as healthy and I see us doing it more and more as a society.

Having just returned from a Muslim country, before I went, people asked if I was afraid. Afraid to go with a tour group to a country that has been approved for travel? No. I was not afraid. We were totally safe the entire time. And also as mentioned, observing the faith that the Moroccans practiced during their time of fasting was humbling and inspiring. We could learn something from that kind of dedicated discipline.

As I continue to meditate this summer, I will think about how I can continue to grow. This past Sunday's Gospel was that of Matthew's account of the parable of the Sower. This parable is so well known and so well used that it can be easy to gloss over and say: "well, certainly, I am the seed that fell on good soil." I almost glossed over it myself, but when I forced myself to look at it, I saw the ways in which I am sometimes the seed that gets scorched or choked or blown away by the wind. It is a good meditation to keep us moving forward and never get too comfortable.

I'm also approaching the 10 year anniversary of this blog which means 10 years since I entered my year of postulancy! But that is another meditation for another time.

Lots to meditate on this summer! And I'm grateful to have some time to do just that.

Peace,
Julia