Sunday, April 6, 2014

The Resurrection and the Life

This Sunday's Gospel for the 5th Sunday of Lent is one that has had a lot of meaning for me throughout the years. When I was first really delving into my relationship with God in my late teens, early 20s, this Scripture was a message to me of God's personal love for me. And those moments of real, true personal love and relationship are so crucial when forming a relationship with anyone, but especially God.

This past Sunday's Gosepl was John 11:1-45 or the raising of Lazarus. As I mentioned, when I was first getting to know God and myself, I focused mainly on the emotion expressed by Jesus in this passage. This gospel contains one of the shortests phrases in Scripture: "and Jesus wept." It should come as no surprise that as a teen or woman in my early 20s that Christ's display of emotion was the focus for me because that seems to be what women in our teens and early 20s DO: we emote. I heard a homily on this passage at age 20 or 21 in which the priest encouraged us to imagine Christ weeping for us like he did Lazarus because he loves us just as much as his friend. Again, for an early 20 something, this emotional connection helped make Christ much more real to me. I liked the idea of Jesus having human emotions because that made God more tangible in my eyes. And the idea that He cared for me the same way as he did a close friend that He personally knew while on earth, well, that idea also kind of blew my mind at the time.


A few years later as I was struggling in the convent, the idea of "coming out of the tomb" like Lazarus struck me. I felt like I had been "buried" and needed to come back to  life. Even the sister that was my formator agreed that a vocation wasn't meant to feel like I had died, but rather, a vocation was supposed to bring us to life! I contemplated that as I contemplated this gospel once again. I didn't like who I was at that place and time. I thought I had a "stench" to take an image straight from the Gospel (Martha is afraid to roll the stone away like Jesus asks because she knows her brother has been dead for four days and this is the desert, right?) The stench of death was something that she feared and was going to keep her from allowing Jesus to do His miracle. I, too, was afraid of what might happen if I came back out of the convent, back to "life", but ultimately, I trusted God just as I had when I went in the convent, and I have definitely been given new life.

So much so that when I hear this gospel today, I just get excited about the Resurrection. Easter is almost here! And this miracle clearly foreshadows the amazing thing that Christ will do Himself in just another week or two. All of the readings this Lent have been so great. As the priest who gave the homily at Mass today said, we have gotten to journey with Christ and be taught in different "classrooms." Lent began with the "classroom" of the desert where He was tempted for 40 days. Then we were taken to the "classroom" of Mt. Tabor and got to see our Lord transfigured. Then we heard of the woman at the well and the cleansing of the blind man- two stories of purification and cleansing. And now, the week before Holy Week, we close out Lent with this very special Gospel of Resurrection and new life.

What struck me today is the transformation of Martha. I've always been able to relate to Martha, particularly the story for which she is most well known: she works, while her sister sits at Christ's feet. Today, though, Christ encounters Martha while Mary stays home. She gets to have the special encounter with Christ. Which shows me that Martha has learned something. She has changed her priorities. She has changed her ways.

When Christ asks her: "Do you believe this? [that her brother will rise]" She answers by showing her true conversion: "Yes, Lord, I have come to believe that You are the Christ." I have come to believe. This phrase shows her progress, the time she has put in getting to know the Lord and letting Him work in her life. She has come to believe. But it has been a process.

The concept of time in this story also struck me as important today. The priest at Mass today also pointed out that he often questioned, as we perhaps have, "why does Jesus remain for two days when he hears his friend is sick?" Why not go right away to see Lazarus? Jesus addresses this later before he raises Lazarus and says: "Father, I thank you for hearing me. I know you always hear me, but because of the crowd I have said this." He had to wait for two days so that this miracle would be even bigger. Bigger than just healing a sick person as he had done before. He waits so that He can bring the dead back to life and have an even bigger miracle so that we might see and believe.

These two messages of Martha's transformation and the necessity of Jesus' waiting hit home to me today and it is amazing that one Gospel passage can come to life (no pun intended ;) in so many different ways at the very right times for me. I can identify with Martha's progress. I have also come to know and to believe in Jesus since 10 years ago, 5 years ago...but those moments helped in my transformation. Also, I love the message that Jesus waits, which doesn't make sense, but allows an even bigger miracle to happen so that we might believe.

I am praying and trusting in the waiting. I often ask Jesus: "why are You waiting? Had you only come sooner, this that or the other may have happened!" But today I realized it is so that myself and others may see the good work He does and will do because of the waiting.

Lord, I have come to know and believe that You are the Resurrection and the Life. I can't wait until Easter!

Hope you all have a blessed 5th week of Lent as we prepare for the Holiest of Weeks!

Peace,
Julia


Friday, March 28, 2014

Faith, the Holy Spirit, and the Absurd

Don't look now, guys, but Laetare Sunday is this weekend! WHAT. I know, right? That means we are almost through with Lent! Pretty hard to believe...this Lent has gone by fast! Ha. Fast. Get it? Um, wow...yeah. Anyways...

So it's time to do a check in with ourselves and our Lenten promises. This year I gave up Facebook and alcohol. I'm almost surprised by how little I miss both of them (though I did sign on FB for the Solemnity of St Joseph and the Feast of the Annunciation. I was accused of being "that Catholic" which I think was meant to insinuate that I was "using" the feast days, but that was not the case at all! I was genuinely psyched about each feast and wanted to acknowledge them throughout the respective days. Oh, okay, and I suppose also wanted to share a few statuses and pictures ;)

 March 25: Feast of the Annunciation and 9 more months 'til Christmas! Gah!
March 19: the great Foster Father of Jesus, St. Joseph. I started a month long novena to him on his feast which should end around Easter! Pumped!

I also committed to making "acts of faith" each day this Lent ie- moments and situations that I stop and offer up to God. This was inspired by the Therese book my prayer group was reading (mentioned in my previous posts). My spiritual director did question how I was going to keep track of this or gauge how I was doing with the commitment, so we decided I should also try to make an examen each night to think of the moments in which I did or did not hand over as an act of faith to God. I'm mostly conscious of this commitment, but I think Laetare Sunday is going to have to be a reminder to kick it into gear before Holy Week.

I'm sure I've mentioned this before, but I love when the unit that I teach on Exodus falls during Lent. The story of Exodus is such a good parallel and reminder of the Paschal Mystery (and coincidentally the other course I teach :). Today we were discussing the Exodus itself- Pharaoh finally releasing the people and then changing his mind to come after the Israelites. The Israelites were so overjoyed and amazed at the salvation of the Passover and finally being released from slavery (or bondage as the Charlton Heston classic "The 10 Commandments" uses repeatedly and for some reason the way they say it makes me giggle). But then they immediately begin to distrust when they've been in the desert for a while and the Pharaoh comes after them. My students and I today were talking particularly about the trust it must have took to cross the Red Sea- not knowing if at any minute the water would cease to be parted and crush them or if the Egyptians would reach them.

I am always struck and humbled by how we are like the Israelites- on board with God when things are going well, but then quick to turn on Him when things don't go our way. In my Paschal Mystery course, we talk about what it means to be "poor in spirit" and the textbook defines it as "poverty of heart" or "recognizing our great need for God."

These stories of Exodus and moments or acts of faith in our lives constantly show our "great need for God." The Passover and the Paschal Mystery (suffering, death, Resurrection and Ascension) are such amazing stories of salvation. I am particularly struck today for our need of salvation and in gratitude for the beautiful mercy and salvation God provides.

In finishing up our Therese book for women's group, I found this quote which I brought to prayer and our group this week: "Another attitude that purifies our heart thoroughly is gratitude. That is because it prevents us from getting tangled up in discouragement, sadness, withdrawal into ourselves, bitterness, dissatisfaction, discontent, etc.” Philippe, pg 112

I remember going to Confession once and my penance being to be grateful and make prayers of gratitude because all of my sins had been so selfish. We do withdraw into ourselves when we focus on what we are lacking rather what we have, and so gratitude can save us from ourselves.

I am particularly grateful for the stories and gift of Salvation mentioned in the salvific stories of our faith above. And I'm so grateful for my friends. My friends pull me out of myself and as I was looking around my women's group this week I was noting...they are all so NICE! All of my friends- in my prayer group or not- are all so giving and generous and I wonder sometimes what they possibly see in me, but they must see something! Or that just goes to show how nice they really are!

I got to spend a day in VA beach recently with a friend from high school who is seriously the nicest person on the planet. She just constantly giggles and smiles and loves. I have no idea how we became such good friends, but I'm grateful that she appreciates my sass and sarcasm and we balance each other out!

In addition to gratitude, my spiritual director in our last meeting reminded me again to call upon the Holy Spirit in this time of Lent. We don't often think about the Spirit until after Easter (50 days to be exact!) but it makes sense to call upon the Holy Spirit in times of doubt- in times where we need to make an act of faith.

Jesus gave the apostles the Holy Spirit in a time of great uncertainty for them. He had just ascended into heaven - aka left them to fend for themselves after three years of ministry- and the Holy Spirit was their gift and guide to help them. We, too, should call on the Holy Spirit in our times of doubt and uncertainty- that is what it is there for!

The Holy Spirit has certainly been there for me in some of my more confusing times. Pentecost is a special feast for me. And I've recently realized something else that has been there for me in times of uncertainty and this is much more....abstract (omg, I am SO SORRY for the puns this post!!!)

Art!





Specifically abstract art, I guess! I told you all I had signed up for an art class to keep myself sane this winter. Well, I've found it really helpful and necessary in my life right now for whatever reason, and I realized this is not the first time that the absurd in art has actually given me assurance. Remember The Special Place in St. Louis? One of my co-postulants at the time and I would go there and just encounter the absurd abstract art hanging out in the woods at that park close to the convent. I suppose the uncertainty of the time in my life and uncertainty of the art together made sense!

I believe I'm at another crossroads in my life right now that is uncertain and so art has once again proven itself a means of clarity and catharsis. I'm grateful for the opportunity to take these classes and for the support of my teacher and friends who don't think I'm crazy :)

I've been struggling my whole life with control- I think a lot of people do. Writing and art and music, well the arts in general, allow us to let go and be vulnerable in a safe, therapeutic way and I'm grateful for these gifts!

So that's my check in: Acts of Faith, Gratitude, the Holy Spirit, and my absurd art :) I will be carrying these things with me as I journey towards Easter. I hope and pray that you are also having a blessed Lent!

Oh, and I went on a hike in Northern VA the other day (when it wasn't actually 20 degrees) and the usually lush landscape of the VA hills looked like this:


That is seriously a picture I took the other day. VA or desert wasteland?! You decide. I suppose it is Lent appropriate...I just can't wait for Spring!

Peace,
Julia


Monday, March 3, 2014

The Goal of Faith aka Do Not Be Discouraged aka Lent 2014

It is almost here! Lent 2014. I can't define how I feel about it. I really want to enter into Lent this year, and I'm looking forward to the opportunity it presents. but I wouldn't say I'm pumped about it...one is never really *pumped* about 40+ days of repentance and sacrifice are they?

For some reason, rocks always say "Lent" to me. Perhaps because the devil tempts Jesus to turn them into bread in the Scripture reading we always begin the Lenten season with. (Matthew 4:1-11. A good Lenten meditation could be: what are the "rocks" in our lives that we are tempted to trade in and just get rid of quickly rather than wait and embrace to see what they reveal? Oooo...that's a good one for me right now in my life!)

When I went to search for "rock" images, this picture above entitled "Colorful Rocks" popped up. Hmmm..are they really all that colorful?!? Apparently, whomever posted this pic is much more of an optimist than I. And that's what this blogpost is about!

The devil is a sneaky, sneaky terrible evil, evil thing. I really can't emphasize sneaky and terribly evil enough. I have been talking to my friends about depression which is something that many of us (myself included) have struggled with at some point in our lives. Depression is a thing that I am convinced is of the devil. He takes our lives and makes us think that they are worthless or pointless and he does this at the most inopportune moments of our lives- often when there is no reason for us to feel depressed or when things are actually really JUST FINE. (The author of Hyperbole and a Half writes a really hilariously accurate depiction of depression in her blog. Warning: there is some "language" but if you have ever experienced depression, these posts can be comic relief. Here is post 1 and her later post 2).

I have been reading this book with my women's prayer group and continue to find great lights in it, even though I have read many of Fr. Philippe's books and books about St. Therese before. Today, paired with the readings of the day, I found a great insight about Trust vs Discouragement.



The author asserts that the root of our discouragement is when we put trust in ourselves, rather than in God. This was, for whatever reason, I real revelation for me this morning even though I'm sure I've realized it before. Similarly, the first reading from Peter's letter also challenged me in regards to the genuineness of our faith:

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who in his great mercy gave us a new birth to a living hope
through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead...

In this you rejoice, although now for a little while
you may have to suffer through various trials,
so that the genuineness of your faith,
more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire,
may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor
at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

Although you have not seen him you love him;
even though you do not see him now yet you believe in him,
you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy,
as you attain the goal of faith, the salvation of your souls." - 1 Peter 1:3-9

How often do we think of our trials as proof of the glory and honor of the revelation of Jesus?! And the "goal of our faith" as the salvation of our souls?

As Lent approaches, there is a temptation (once again- stupid devil!!) to use Lent as a time of "self improvement" instead of what the readings tell us today: to honor the revelation of Jesus Christ. We will only be discouraged, as Father Philippe notes, if we try to put trust in ourselves this Lent, rather than on Christ. 

The root of Adam and Eve's and now our Original Sin is that they focused on themselves instead of trusting God. And that sin has been haunting and plaguing us ever since. Fr. Philippe brings up another prominent hindrance for us in our effort to trust God: shame. As I mentioned already, the devil loooovvvessss to use this on us, like he did Adam and Eve (remember the whole clothing themselves and being embarrassed of their bodies suddenly??) 

Our tendency to become discouraged and ashamed keeps us from not only trusting God but from attaining the "goal of our faith" which is purity of heart and true love of God. Not only do we get discouraged but then we want to run and hide ourselves rather than just confidently approaching God and saying we are sorry! GAH! I really, really hate this guy and the havoc we allow him to cause:


So this Lent, I'm going to try to not be discouraged and focus less on myself and more on God (which is no revelation, but more just the purpose of Lent anyways); to honor HIS sacrifice and not think about ours. 

I'm doing the what has become somewhat common place thing now of giving up Facebook, but mainly because this is a major source of discouragement for me lately.



I am, however, keeping up a commitment I made with a friend to "100 days of Happy" where we post one pic for a 100 days of things that make us happy in order to deter these tendencies of discouragement with gratitude. I will be posting these on Instagram, which may seem like I'm substituting one social network for another, but I think both commitments will be good for me....ah! I mean...for the glory of God!!! See? It just sneaks up on us!

What I'd REALLY like to give up this Lent, however, is this terrible snow and winter, but do not be discouraged, right?? Spring is coming :)

Blessed Lent!

Peace,
Julia





Friday, February 14, 2014

Faith 'N' Love

So I'm blogging twice in one week which rarely ever happens anymore. But we have had the winter from hell and I've been alone with my time and thoughts for over a month now! Despite my best efforts to sign up for classes and make plans with friends, we cannot beat the elements. The devil or God or the universe or somebody is really trying to test my ability to stay positive when I have already expressed difficulty with these snow days and have had nothing but time on my hands.

But I know that if this is my lot in life right now, it could be so much worse. And while I don't think comparing our situations to one another's is healthy, I think it is a good reality check once in a while. A lot of close friends and relatives have experienced death recently. Like, freakish, out of the blue, incomprehensible death. Which only adds to the sadness and starkness of this already harsh, harsh winter.

I have been discussing the story of Noah with my freshmen and usually this is one of those Old Testament stories that gets people confused: "why is God so angry? Why would He wipe out His creation?" These are valid questions and I don't always have the best answers to them. But this year, for the first time, my students seem to get the positive messages from this story. Noah was faithful. He was chosen to "save" creation. God protected he and his family and rewarded him for his faithfulness. God gave creation a second chance and new life.

Today is Valentine's Day (but the running Catholic joke is that it is technically the Feast of Sts. Cyril and Methodius:



 some of my Byzantine peeps that were missionaries to my Eastern European brethren. Holla!)

and it seems to be one of those holidays we put a lot of stock in. You either have something special to do for it or not. You are either "loved" by someone or not. It's so polarizing when we look at it this way! But I really think it shows our DEEP need and desire in all of us to be loved.

Since we have had these two snow days this week, I've been taking my prayer time in the morning (usually I have to do it in the evenings when I am working) and yesterday I really focused on the theological virtue of FAITH. When my students and I were discussing the Noah story, we tried to relate the story to our own lives. Has there ever been I time where we just had to trust and have faith? Wouldn't it be so much easier if God just spelled out His plan for us and gave us everything we needed?

I was once again amazed that the majority of students who spoke up seemed to understand what it takes many of us so long to realize: if God gave us everything, we wouldn't get to exercise our free will. We wouldn't need to have faith. And ultimately, we wouldn't truly love. Because LOVE is a choice and that's what makes it special.

It's like you've either got someone asking you this or you don't. And that's just silly. You guys can all be mine, okay? 

That's why we all want to be loved so much. We know that it is a choice and we fight so hard to have people "choose" to love us. And some of us feel that if people haven't "chosen" us, that we aren't loved.

But alllllllll of our needs and thoughts on Love come back to God. For as it says in Scripture:

"We love because He first loved us." - 1 John 4:19

And I know that might sound so cheezy (but isn't all love a little cheezy at times?) but humans are imperfect. We mess up and distort love all the time. We will never do it perfectly. God is the one who IS love and He loves us all unconditionally. He has already chosen each and every one of us.

It has been my faith that has led me to know that I am loved. When I was 16, I was going through perhaps typical teenage issues, and it was then that I turned my life to God and my started pursuing my faith. I turned to God because I didn't know what else to do and was looking for something to fill my need. So many of us turn to other things to fill this need we feel in our lives. I don't know what prompted me to do it, but this is perhaps why I enjoy working with teenagers- they are just open at that age. They are searching and usually open to anything that will fill their aching need to feel chosen and loved. At some point, we have to go past these feelings and really learn to exercise our faith when don't "feel" it.

We all still feel this aching and need to be loved as I mentioned already. It really and truly is our faith- that belief and hope in something we don't always see or feel- that leads us to the confidence and knowledge that we are loved.

I pray for all those who are in need of the knowledge that they are loved today (and everyday!). And I'm grateful for those who have helped me realize and know that I am loved.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Oh and just because Catholics are creepy and weird- here's the skull of the actual St. Valentine. This is the real origin of St. Valentine's Day- honoring the saint who came before us, right? Right.


Peace!
Julia

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Goal of Confidence

I have been wanting to write a blog post for a couple of weeks now and it's not that I didn't have the time. I have had nothing but time these days, unfortunately. Ugh. Sigh.

I know, I know. I should be grateful for this extra time because some of you are busy moms or students or have a job that requires 60+ hours a week! But  I have never been good at just sitting. It comes from my immigrant, hard working, Eastern European farmer ancestors or something. I constantly need to have a plan or some kind of goal that I'm working diligently on. Without those things, I often can feel lost and without any worth or purpose. And that a sad Julia makes.

Confidence is something that I have had an interesting relationship with. I feel like my parents did instill it in me and I was blessed to excel at many things that gave me confidence growing up. But man, if I ever did one of those things a little bit less than perfectly, or even worse- did them WRONG- I was crushed.

This has, apparently, carried into my adult life. I have been told that what has gotten me many gigs or jobs in the past was my confidence (even if it was total ruse! Ha! Fooled them!) and that I seem to carry myself with confidence. But since I have been sitting around with lots of time on my hands, I've started to doubt myself and God's plan and lose my confident identity along with all of that.

Enter the feast of the Presentation and a number of books that I have been reading.

Okay, so like I said, I've been wanting to blog ever since the time around the Feast of the Presentation, Feb. 2. This has always been a fun feast for me. It's no Conversion of St. Paul in my book (man, I am SUCH a nerd! Who has favorite fan feast days like this?!) but I LOVE the Gospel reading for the feast and the event itself.

If you aren't familiar with the story, it goes like this (and I'm paraphrasing Luke's Gospel, of course):

It is Jewish custom to present a newborn in the temple before a priest after it is born (similar to our idea of Baptism, but not really). Mary and Joseph show up and this ooollllllddddddddd man Simeon is there. He has been waiting for the Messiah for FOREVER and has been really patient and faithful about it. Anna, an old widow is also there praying as she has done this ever since her husband died like decades ago. Jesus is brought into the temple and both of them just KNOW that this is the Messiah and they tell Mary and Joseph so. They also are super grateful to God for allowing them to be in the presence of the Messiah before they die.


I have always loved the characters of Simeon and Anna. Maybe because they are old and I have a soft spot in my cold, stoney heart for old people (some women love babies or small dogs...I love geriatric people, particularly men. What can I say). But today when I was praying, it hit me: their faithfulness was rewarded. Their years of praying and waiting- fulfilled and totally worth it. And this makes me happy and hopeful for myself.

So many things can shake our confidence and make us want to give up hope because that is almost easier. We go through a break up, so we obviously are going to be single forever and never get to date again. We don't get a job, so we are obviously going to be unemployed and/or in a miserable soul crushing job for the rest of our lives. I mean, it's possible. We can become that self-fulfilling prophecy, if we choose to let those things truly shake our confidence. OR we can be positive and take our destinies in our hands (with the help of the Lord, of course).

The last time I met with my spiritual director, I was mentioning St. Paul (naturally) and the experience that I had with St. John's feast day as well as reading the St. Hildegard book (all of which I blogged about here). He encouraged me to look at the connections I had with each of them and see if they had anything in common. I also decided to throw St. Therese in the mix 'cause she's been my girl in the past and my resurrected women's group is going to be reading and discussing THIS:


I was praying about it and I discovered that all of these saints had complete confidence in God. St. John and St. Therese my students often see as even bordering arrogant with the way they write about themselves: St. John calling himself the "beloved disciple" in his Gospel and Therese often gushing about being God's little flower or little girl.

Paul and Hildegard are a little more humble on the surface, flat out acknowledging that they are weak in their writings but that they have been given a gift from God that they have to share. Both of them also had visions and were preachers and writers.

So, confidence. After a month or so of floundering around questioning my identity and worth, I finally just kicked myself in the butt and told myself STOP IT. DO STUFF YOU LIKE AND QUIT WORRYING.

I was reading yet another book, but this one a very secular self-helpy type. It suggested making lists of things you've always wanted to do and then set goals of things you will do each week, every other week, or once a month.

And so, I have set goals such as calling friends (like actually calling, not just texting) and setting up get togethers more often, TRAVELING more 'cause that made my heart so happy two years ago, re-committing to my women's prayer group, COOKING at LEAST once a week, playing my piano more, reading a book for fun a week, AND ART CLASS:


 Fingerpainting with acrylics part 1 and 2....top is clearly a town in Ireland at night reflected off of water and bottom is Barcelona with the Gaudi bridge in the forefront...I think I'm a natural!
I've already found much peace and reward in my faithfulness to these commitments...banking on the confidence coming back as well :)

Peace,
Julia



Monday, January 20, 2014

Me + St. Paul = Love

Oh, St. Paul...I just can't help myself! My spiritual director has tried to keep me away from Paul (yeah, I know. This is a thing that happens to me...), wanting me to step outside my "spiritual comfort zone", look to other saints and Scriptures and what not,  but you just can't keep this girl away! In my hour of need, I always come back to Paul. Especially as we are approaching one of my fav feasts- The Conversion of St. Paul (Jan. 25th)!

While we are on the subject, here are some of my favorite Pauline go-tos. Don't mind if I do:

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"for I know him in whom I have believed and am confident that he is able to guard what has been entrusted to me until that day." (2 Tim 1: 12, we sang a beautiful hymn with this verse when I was with the Daughters)

"it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me"  (Gal 2:20,  just classic Paul :)

"Therefore, let us throw off everything that hinders...and persevere in running the race marked out for us..." (Hebrews 12:1, Paul is often credited with writing Hebrews, but it's not confirmed. But this verse sounds pretty Pauline and it inspired the title for this blog- duh!)

"Love does not insist on its own way...love never ends....so faith, hope, and love remain these three, but the greatest of these is love" (1 Corinth 13, again, classic Paul and heard at every wedding ever)
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

This feast of the Conversion of St. Paul became really important to me when I was with the Daughters in my year of postulancy. I had been struggling with whether or not my issues of living in the convent were of my own doing- a need to die to myself- or if this vocation was just not for me. I prayed so hard to be able to die to myself and to give everything I had to investing in where God had placed me in that moment, which was the convent. We all know I ultimately decided it wasn't just me, that it wasn't the life for me, but I believe St. Paul helped me get through the dark times when I was questioning. 

I am praying a novena now that will end this Saturday, the feast of Paul's Conversion. Though I am a pretty different woman now at 32 than I was at 26, I find myself again asking similar questions and experiencing similar feelings about where God has placed me. When I was struggling in the convent, I felt restless. I wanted to be DOING something with my gifts, but I felt restricted. I knew the day would come when I would be called to use my gifts, but the struggle in that moment was painful. Though the situation is much different now, I feel once again, restless. I want God to just call me to or show me the next thing already. So as I prayed today, I thought back to the times I felt this way in the convent and wondered what got me through? The answer: St. Paul. 

So I'm going to him and his words again right now in the midst of this novena. I'm praying for revelation and peace, but also that I can handle whatever God gives me in the present. I had to sustain my restlessness for another 5 months between the Feast of the Conversion and Pentecost (when I ultimately left in '08) and I'm praying I don't have to wait that long for what's next, but I trust in God's time.

Is it weird that I'm still reminiscing and reflecting so much on my measly nine months in the convent many years later??! I guess it was just a pretty defining moment when I had to sell my stuff and quit my job and surrender my life and all that ;) I had a strong sense of self then, but I think I have an even stronger sense now because of it. And the discernment that happened at that time is worth going back to (see exhibit A from this time two years ago as well). I don't think that I am living in the past, but just looking for things that worked then to help me with the future. 

But God continues to reaffirm and show me that it is all about the present moment. Take today's Gospel for instance:

No one sews a piece of unshrunken cloth on an old cloak.
If he does, its fullness pulls away,
the new from the old, and the tear gets worse.
Likewise, no one pours new wine into old wineskins.
Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins,
and both the wine and the skins are ruined.
Rather, new wine is poured into fresh wineskins.- Mark 2: 16-22

This Gospel very much goes along with Paul's classic verse to the Galatians: "it is no longer I who lives, but Christ that lives in me." We have to throw off the old if we are to live with the new. Paul certainly did that. So this Gospel passage, along with Paul, reminds me- we can't go back, we can't hold on. We have to move forward and persevere in the present.

Thanks, St. Paul...hoping you will hook me up as well at the end of this novena too, buddy.


I mean, just look at that face...

Peace,
Julia


Thursday, January 2, 2014

Wonder and Awe- Christmas and Happy 2014!

Man, just like Advent before it, this Christmas season: I'm so into it!

And I'm going to go ahead and pat myself on the back for planning a pretty awesome Christmas break for myself. If there is anything I love in this life it is using time efficiently and a well executed plan. No, but seriously. I know that sounds dull and nerdy, but that is a reality.

After finishing up the week of midterms and last week of school, I headed to Ohio to spend some time with old friends and the fam. I went to one of my dad's gigs with a high school friend. You didn't know that my dad could pack the house and bring it down with his mad musical skills, did you? Well, now you do. Please see below.

Speaking of my parents, this coming weekend, on the Feast of the Epiphany, my parents will celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary. I can't describe how proud and happy for my parents that I am. In today's world where everyone just does what they want and is afraid to commit, my parents have self-sacrificed for my sister and I and for each other. I know that it has not always been easy, but they have always worked and fought for what was right and they have taught me how to persevere for things that really matter. So even though I've since returned from Ohio once on this break, I'm going back to celebrate and honor them and their marriage this weekend.
I mean, how cute are they?

Okay, but before I get too ahead of myself, I spent some time in Ohio. A week to be exact, before returning to VA and getting to spend end 2013 and begin 2014 with some of my current VA and East Coast friends. (I also am going to go ahead and say we looked pretty good when we were ringing in 2014, not gonna lie. Here I am dolled up in Atlantic City with some friends this New Year's Eve):

It's all about the sassy selfie these days. 

But I'm getting ahead of myself again! Ugh. Okay, while I was home I got to spend a lot of time with friends and family, like I said. I also got to take some time in prayer and focus on that "being still in the present moment" resolution that I had made during Advent.

 The Christmas sing-a-long is an honored tradition in my musical family. Here's a cousin and I leading the others with our inherited talents.
There were also so many babies this Christmas. SO many. Here's me with just one of many. 

On the feast of St. John the Beloved (Dec. 27) I got to go to one of my favorite chapels in Ohio and reflect on one of my favorite saints. St. John (as I'm sure I've mentioned before because there is nothing new under the sun or in this blog) has kind of followed me around in my life. He's the namesake of many of my male relatives, the namesake of the first parish I worked for at my first job, and also the patron of not one, not two, but THREE of the parishes I have belonged to in my day. He's also one of my favorite evangelists/epistle writers AND I got to see where he was exiled during my trip to Greece. Needless to say, St. John is a fave.

As I spent time in that chapel on John's feast day, I recommitted to the resolution I had made during Advent: to be still and present in every moment. Since this is the first year in a while where I don't have anything on any kind of agenda, I hopefully will be able to practice what I have been reflecting on for months now- being holy and present to each opportunity in the present moment. That means throwing myself fully into every aspect of my job, every opportunity, and every relationship that I believe God has put before me.

I love this picture of St. John the Beloved below- it is kind of exactly how I picture the "beloved disciple" and I also like to picture myself at times just resting in the arms of Jesus. Usually that image of rest comes after I can't 
 run or hide from Him any longer (think Jonah minus the whale)...I think John the Beloved was probably a little more forth coming and willing to follow Jesus than that, but whatevs. All that to say that I like and can relate to this picture.

You may also remember that I had been praying for a saint, particularly a female one, that I could pray to and get to know a little better. WELL, I've found her! St. Hildegard of Bingen is my new BFF and also one of the newest female doctors of the Church (named by Benedict XVI, I believe in 2011ish). I had been praying, like I said, for a saint to kind of present herself to me and I kept hearing of late about this newly appointed doctor. She's from the Middle Ages, wrote poems, had visions, wrote liturgical music, and is a mystic. She also was allowed to preach and traveled around speaking to people and evangelizing. A woman! In the Middle Ages! Allowed to speak and preach to large crowds! The feminist in me loves it. I've been reading a book that includes some of her poetry, accounts of her mystical visions, and a little about her life and I just find her so inspiring, especially for a woman of that time period. So be on the lookout for more to come from me about her:

Okay, so: Exams then Ohio, Christmas, back to VA, Atlantic City for New Year's, VA again and back once more to Ohio this weekend. That's a good couple of weeks planned and spent, amirite???

And that brings me to the present. Today, I was praying and struck by the nativity scene that was still up (because it's still Christmas until the feast of the Baptism of the Lord in mid-January! Sunday after the Epiphany!) and I realized I hadn't seen very many creches this season. 

All of the figures- the Holy Family (which the feast for the Holy Family was last Sunday- also such a beautiful feast with much fruitful reflection! So many great feasts during the Christmas season!), the shepherds, the animals and the guests of honor this weekend- the Magi- were all turned towards the baby Jesus:

(Okay, so there's one rogue donkey not looking at Jesus, but you know how donkeys are...)

I just thought that this is what Christmas is about- all of us looking towards the gift God has given us- His Son, our Savior. And that's when the title for this blog post popped in my head. Christmas is about Wonder and Awe- one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit (Fear of the Lord, really, but Wonder and Awe kind of sounds better :)- and that's what I will hope to focus on this weekend as I wonder and awe at my parents' 40 years of marriage, a new year full of God's possibilities, and hopefully each and every moment that God gives me.

Happy New Year and blessed Christmas season!

Peace,
Julia