Sunday, February 26, 2017

Continuing Conversion: Shedding the Old for New: Lent 2017

What a difference a month makes! I am not in an entirely different place than I was when I wrote my slightly frustrated post last month, but February has continued to be a month of reflection and conversion. Lent is really late this year! Usually in February Lent has already begun, but Lent doesn't begin until March 1st- this Wednesday- and I am clearly feeling ready for some renewal.

It is amazing to me how each year my spirit kind of aches for Lent. Even though Lent is a challenge and not a celebratory time, each time around the end of winter, my body and spirit tend to ache for a discipline, a challenge- a need for change and renewal. This is what Lent offers us: a discipline and a time of renewal.

February truly has had its ups and downs. It has gone from 30 degrees to literally 80 degrees this month. Spring also seems to ache to come earlier this year. But even though the winter and cold (like Lent) may not be the most fun things, they are necessary. And while I LOVE the warm weather, it doesn't feel quite right not having gone through some of the depths of winter (Climate change IS a thing, guys!).

And so enter Lent. A time built-in by the Church for us to reflect and retreat no matter the weather.

As you can see from several of my last posts, this election has taken a toll on me, moreso than ever before. I have truly struggled to see where my Christianity fits in with all of the craziness going on online, in our country, and in our world. The Gospel is so clear to me, but to see so many people interpret it so differently has truly thrown me. And so this month I have had to really delve into and question the Gospels and what they mean to me. In many cases, I came to the same conclusions because I think that Jesus is clear. But how do I approach or treat my brothers and sisters- other Christian ones at that- who do not have the same thoughts?

I received solicited (and sometimes unsolicited) advice from a priest friends, Catholic friends, non-Catholics and sought out other local Catholic community- namely my parish RCIA community- but I was still confused. Some told me to be more vocal and not be silent. Some told me that I seemed too angry and needed to focus on peace within so that there could be peace without.  It was very timely, then,  that we had a retreat for RCIA candidates here in Richmond in the middle of February when I was really in the middle of grappling with a lot of what I have just mentioned. Taking that time was necessary and I hadn't taken even a morning like that in a while; just a time to be alone with my thoughts with the guidance of a spiritual director and Catholic community.

Even for a couple of hours, I felt a conversion. I also had a mini conversion driving (I hardly ever drive any more since everything I need is mostly within walking distance and certainly within the city proper) on the highway to seek out spiritual direction for the first time in a long time as well. As I was driving, I was called back in my mind to "previous lives" where I had struggled and grappled (sorry to keep using the same verbs!) with truth versus temptation in different ways than I am dealing with it now. But reflecting on those moments and remembering how I got through them gave me the tools and the hope that I needed to get through this month and this time and bring me refreshed and ready for the next part of the journey: Lent.

So here we are ready to start Lent this week. One of the comforting things I received when seeking help and guidance from my Catholic community were some suggestions for spiritual reading which I haven't done in a while. I am reading Richard Rohr's "Eager to Love" which is a book about St. Francis, but not in a way that I have ever seen done before.

I love how the book cover even seems very Lenten: sparse and gray....

I'm only a few pages in, but this is definitely a book I will have to devour slowly. There are so many nuggets for reflection on every page. Even though I have studied a lot about Christ and St. Francis in my lifetime, this book gives me new perspective on things I already have known. Namely, how both St. Francis and Christ kept the truths of old, but shed unnecessary or irrelevant practices and ways to make the Truth also NEW.

This is exactly what I needed right now and I didn't even realize it. I believe this is part of the solution to our cultural and ecclesial climate right now: we hold onto the Truth which is ancient but also timeless while moving forward to make things new. We need both the old and the new. And this Lent, I want to reflect on what I might need to shed in order to hold onto Truth and make way for the new.

I am grateful for this month of conversion and struggle so that I can enter the desert with Jesus this Lent and continue to shed some of the old and emerge hopeful and rejoicing at Easter.

In terms of practices for Lent this year: I'm thinking of continuing this spiritual reading, making a holy hour once a week, and giving up snacks and alcohol (except wine. Is that bad? I didn't want to be unrealistic ;)

I toyed with giving up social media, but I just need to be disciplined with it in general and practice it in moderation. I do think that I need to be vocal right now in some cases and so I am discerning and picking and choosing those moments. I am hoping that my Lenten practices will also help me be more open to listening to these moments with the help of the Holy Spirit.

I'm so pumped for Lent! What will be your shedding of the old to make room for the new this season?

Peace,
Julia

Hope in Grace and Conversion


*** post was originally written on 1/25/17 but posted a month late! Oops! ****

"I urge you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,
that all of you agree in what you say,
and that there be no divisions among you,
but that you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose.
For it has been reported to me about you, my brothers and sisters,
by Chloe's people, that there are rivalries among you.
I mean that each of you is saying,
"I belong to Paul," or "I belong to Apollos," 
or "I belong to Cephas," or "I belong to Christ."
Is Christ divided?
Was Paul crucified for you?
Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?
For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel,
and not with the wisdom of human eloquence,
so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its meaning." - 1 Corinthians 1: 10-13, 17

This reading from last Sunday's Mass struck me as I sat in Church surrounded by my Christian brothers and sisters but having felt earlier in the weekend alienated from some of the Christian community. 

This past weekend Donald Trump was inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States. I have tried for years not to be political in my posts, but as many of you know, last year I could sit silent no more. As a Christian, I felt that too many of our brothers and sisters would be hurt by the things this man was saying and would do. I thought that many other Christians would recognize this, but instead, I felt myself having to defend the faith and truth of the Gospel against other Christians. 

I have long said that neither political party in the United States is pro-life. Republicans are anti-abortion, but pro-guns, pro-cutting taxes for the wealthy, pro-death penalty, pro-cutting universal health care for those who are sick, deny that climate change is happening... How are these things pro-life? Oppositely, Democrats support a woman's right to choose abortion and clearly are out of touch with the poor middle class who ended up voting for a man who hasn't paid taxes in 18 years instead of a woman who has served their country for longer.
( I know that this paragraph sounds really biased right now, but this is what I am grappling with right now and something I have struggled with for years, so I appreciate you indulging and being patient with me...)

But some of these things are up to one's interpretation and some are absolutes. How are we to tell what is non-negotiable and what is not? This is why we can't put our trust in party or a man. But we also can't just sit by and do nothing. So I, personally, have to turn to the Gospels. 

The Gospels tell us these things:

That the Samaritan- the foreigner, the stranger- who helped the stranded, beaten man on the side of the road is the example for us, rather than the priest who passed by and did nothing (Luke 10:29-37)

That the woman who places her two coins as an offering is greater than the wealthy who give from their surplus (Luke 21: 1-4)

That a thief who is repentant and sorrowful has a chance for redemption (Luke 23: 39-43)

To give everything we have to those in need, to share our goods (Matt. 5: 38-42)


And from the letters of Paul and John:

"If someone who has worldly means sees a brother in need and refuses him compassion, how can the love of God remain in him?"- 1 John 3:17

That we are all connected and what happens to the least of our community, affects the body- 1 Corinthians 12:12-26

This is just a small smattering of the social justice issues covered in the New Testament. And more than just one issue or marginalized group fall into these examples: the unborn, the poor, the sick, the foreigner, the outcast, the sinner. Again, how are we to know which gets precedence? The Church fights for all of these groups. As Christians, we should fight for all of these groups. All of these groups are voiceless and need our help. So why are we arguing? I wish we could rally together as St. Paul asks in the reading that I posted above and recognize that as Christians we need to fight for all of these things.

Speaking of St. Paul, today is the feast of his Conversion. St. Paul was a Jew who persecuted Christians. Then he had an encounter with Christ and became the advocate that you read from above. Change is possible, but we can't just sit by and wait for it, we have to be open to it. At RCIA last night at my parish, we talked about Grace. Similarly, Grace is all around us, freely given to us, but because of our free will, we have to choose to accept it. We have to be open to it. 

Once Paul encountered Christ, he was not silent. Once he saw what was true, he wrote letters, encouraged communities, and pointed out (lovingly) what communities needed to work on. I will admit, I am struggling to be open. I am struggling to be hopeful or encouraging. But I am praying for conversion to be more open to my brothers and sisters and also to understanding where God is leading us in all of this. 

Conversion has always been one of my favorite themes thanks to St. Paul and where the Lord has led me in my life. It is a very important theme right now and I am grateful for the nudges towards conversion even it is coming from a place I didn't expect or wish that we didn't have to go through, namely, this time in our world and country right now. 

I continue to look to St. Paul and the saints for help because they, too, have been witnesses in hostile times and climates. I pray for their intercession in a new way today. 



St Paul and all you holy saints and angels, pray for us. 

Peace,
Julia

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Little Christmas 2017: Faith, Hope, and Light

Last Christmas (insert line from the delightful 80s Christmas song of the same name here. RIP, George Michael!)
I was in such denial on Christmas when my brother in law interrupted our caroling session to share the sad news about this man.

I focused a lot on Joy in Advent and in the Christmas season last year.  This year, (continue to insert line from delightful Christmas song here) I have been struck by the image of light and the need for it and hope.

My posts from 2016 included a lot about Mercy (naturally, since it was the Year of Mercy) and also (surprisingly for me) a lot about Mary. This year, as we anticipate perhaps some dark changes because of the alarming shifts in our global and national climate, I want to focus on hope and light.

Yesterday, we had our first snowfall of the winter season. In Richmond, everything- stores, gyms, museums, schools, offices- shut down. But the bars stay open! Priorities! So some friends and I have made it our annual snowday tradition to dig out of the snow and meet at some of the bars within walking distance.

As we met and chatted (and drank) yesterday, one of my very dear friends who is always so gracious about talking about faith even though she does not particularly claim a faith for herself, started talking about the differences between the various interpretations of Christianity. This has been a big thing for me recently as I still can't wrap my head around the past election and how Christians could justify voting for a man who is against so much of what Jesus explicitly spoke FOR: namely- women, the poor, and helping others.

She said that she understood many of her family and friends who are Christian operate out of fear: fear of hell, fear of doing something wrong, fear of missing a sign from God. Which I thought was a really good point and perhaps how I even lived my Christianity at certain parts of my life.

But in recent years, for me, Christianity has always been about HOPE: Hope of heaven, hope of doing the right thing, hope of seeing a sign from God. And I think this is a really good distinction that we who are Christian need to make for ourselves to keep us in check: Are we operating out of fear? Or hope?

I also wrote in my last post about the need to focus and be a the light in the darkness, which is what today's feast of the Epiphany is all about.


The Magi were learned men who had riches and education. They had studied stars and philosophy, and read about the prophecy of the Messiah that would be from Bethlehem and foretold by a star. They saw this star and they followed it. Their journey began about one thing- perhaps curiosity, prestige, answers- and became about a very different thing, I'm sure, along the way. The priest at my parish stressed that the wise men had to follow with faith. Their studies and their hypothesis and knowledge could only take them so far. At some point, they had to press on in faith.

And so it is with us in our own "stars" and our own journeys that we are all on in our lives. We make choices, we calculate, we can look back with hindsight, but at some point, we have to push on in faith that we are being led in the right direction (and I like that this theme of "Faith" also ties back into my George Michael remembrance....)

A saint whose feast falls on Jan 6 but is perhaps often overlooked because of the feast of the Epiphany, is St. Andre Bessette who the priest at my school gave a great homily on last week.

St. Andre was perhaps the opposite of the wise men: he was uneducated, not wealthy, not able bodied, but had great faith.

St Andre was an orphan who became a doorman for a Catholic school because he was sickly and couldn't do much else. The priest at Mass pointed out to us that "we might be smarter than St. Andre, we might be stronger than St. Andre, but we are NOT more humble than St. Andre." I thought that sentiment was very true and something to strive for.

So putting all of these themes and messages together: light in darkness, HOPE, following and persevering in faith...these things are what it means to be a Christian to me. And I hope that these will be themes that carry us through the Christmas season and this year. I also hope that other Christians will join me in looking at the examples these feasts set for us: that whether educated or uneducated, rich or poor, we all have our own stars to follow and all paths are equally important and valuable.

Merry Christmas!

Peace,
Julia



Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Light in the Darkness- Advent Week 3

It has been over a month since the election and my hope has spun around in various stages since then. I woke up in darkness, but then felt the support and compassion in the safe spaces of the messages being sent around me by like minded people. I wanted to use this dark time as an opportunity to be light to others.

But the devil doesn't like it when we try to light the darkness. He wants the darkness to permeate. And he is willing to use whatever it takes to tempt us into darkness. And he is very good at disguising what is false into something that seems good and true.

This year, like perhaps no other year that I have had in ministry, I have been able to take my Media Studies degree and put it to use even some 13 years later. The media and the face of it may change, but the underlying theories of mass media have not. Fortunately, I studied the theories of media instead of the production of it, which seemed crazy at the time, but now we live in a world in which the mediums have changed, but no one knows how to use these mediums or what messages they send.

I have long been a big advocate of using the media to evangelize, to spread the good news. But this gets harder and harder to do when so much news is fake and people no longer know what to believe. Everyone has become an author of "news" now, and even those who are good and earnest can be easily swayed.

We need the message of the Gospel more than ever these days, for this message has stayed true for thousands of years and offers light in the darkness.

My advent promise this season has been to read from the prophet Isaiah, which we kind of do anyway as a Church in Advent. The readings from Isaiah have hit close to home more than ever this year, as he describes a world that is living in darkness, similar to the one I feel like we are living in now, but offers the hope of the coming Savior. It is this hope that we need now. It is the message that has not been altered. It is the message that has proven true over time.

It was the reading from Zephaniah that really struck me yesterday on the feast of St. Lucy (one of my favorite saints. Mainly because I think the image of her holding the plate with her eyeballs is cool)


"Thus says the LORD:
Woe to the city, rebellious and polluted,
to the tyrannical city!
She hears no voice,
accepts no correction;
In the LORD she has not trusted,
to her God she has not drawn near.

For then I will change and purify
the lips of the peoples,
That they all may call upon the name of the LORD,
to serve him with one accord;" - Zephaniah 3:1-2

I think the thing that makes me saddest is that this election seems to have made us no longer want to listen to Truth or each other. The line from Zephaniah "she hears no voice" struck me. I feel like those that have been elected leaders aren't listening to people (or to intelligence briefings that might help them better run the country). And I think that we have heard so many voices over this past year that we just don't want to listen to each other any more, myself included.

In Advent, we are waiting for this time when the Lord will "purify the lips of the people...to serve him with one accord" but we cannot force this. This has to happen in God's time. We can encourage and support one another in prayer and action, but this is not something that we can make happen. No matter how I might want to force someone's hand or "purify their lips" on my own, this is for God to bring about, no one else. This brings me to my next point.

I have also been saddened this year because more and more people that call themselves Christians are not setting the example that we need to set. We are adding to "the tyrannical city" and oppressing people either with our words and/or what we choose to look away from. I have found that fellow Christians are either trying to force people's hands and condemn beliefs or are looking away from what is going on in our world completely. I have already addressed the forcing of the hand and oppression of others. And to the latter, this is a time of waiting, but I have been always taught that Advent is a time of "active waiting." We should be taking action, not just waiting to see what will happen.

So fake news, "tyrannical cities", passive Christians...where is the hope? Our hope is in our trust. I have to trust in goodness and God prevailing as the prophets foretell. Do I have to trust the media and my elected officials? Not blindly. They will have to earn my trust. And we have the right to challenge and correct them if what we have trusted them to do is not being done.

Though it has been tough to trust people of late for all of the reasons I have mentioned above, I have to keep telling myself we are a broken, flawed people. But that doesn't mean that we have to settle for that. We can work for change. And change is mentally and physically exhausting. But we have models for us in the saints, in our Blessed Mother, and in the Savior who stood up in the face of adversity, relying on their trust and relationship with God.

And so we persevere in hope, having to get up, dust ourselves off and try again as these models have showed us. There is light in the darkness, but we have to actively follow and pursue it, not just wait and see what happens.

St. Lucy, patron saint of the blind, open our eyes to the Light of Truth in Jesus this Advent and always.

Peace,
Julia

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Happy New Year: Advent 2016

Happy New Year! Today is the first Sunday of Advent and the first day in our new liturgical year! Most people I know can't wait to get out of 2016. As I posted last time, 2016 hasn't been too bad for me personally, but I am ready for a new focus and Advent is always a great time to slow down and re-focus.

I took this time this last week between the Feast of Christ the King and the start of Advent to take a breath and make a little mini-retreat. I am still not sure what 2017 and the New Year will bring, but I focused a lot this past week on trust (which is always a recurring theme for us with God, I feel like...just look at all the stories in the Old Testament and salvation history! Struggling to trust God has kind of been our thing as a human race).

I stayed in the mountains for a couple of nights which was beautiful and peaceful and this image of the road kind of dropping off into the mountains where I stayed ended up being one of my meditations in trust:

For example, I don't know where the next year will take me, much like you cannot see the direction of this road until you get to it. This is also a great exercise in being in the present moment.  I know that there will be some curves and valleys and hills beyond this, but I need to trust that the Lord will be there leading me and just focus on walking in that moment.

In addition to re-focusing on trust, I meditated on what I want to do for Advent this year. Last year, I used Christmas songs to pray with which I still think was a kind of cool meditation and did help to get me into the Christmas spirit.

While in the mountains, though, I thought of the themes of Peace and Waiting as are common for Advent and I thought about how the Old Testament prophet Isaiah was a really good model for these themes. And so I've decided to read a little from Isaiah each day (which we often use during Advent in the daily readings anyways. For example, today's first reading is from Isaiah and is about how Christ will bring peace not war which is a contrast from what Jesus says in the Gospel a little bit, but that's another reflection for another time! I'm all about beating our "swords" into "plowshares" right now with all of the crazy post-election talk going on between everyone these days. We can certainly put down our social media "swords" and work on helping one another instead!)

I also want to continue my meditation on Mary since I seemed to have turned a corner with her of late in the way that I perceive her. I am also doing a talk on Mary for our RCIA group in December which will be a nice challenge and an additional reason to meditate on her this Advent.

Mary, like Isaiah, is another character we often journey with during Advent for she, too, is waiting for Christ in a unique way as His mother. I'm going to focus on her and her many titles using this litany and hope to get some light and inspiration this Advent!

How are you going to prepare for Christmas and the new liturgical year? It's already here! I'm grateful for this built in time of Advent for mediation on the peace, light, and hope that Christ brings into our world. Happy New Year!

Peace,
Julia

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Feast of Christ the King 2016: A Year in Review

Another liturgical year comes to a close today, and with that, we reflect on this past year: the Year of Mercy. I am so grateful that Pope Francis had the foresight to give us such a focus this past year, because as many of us have expressed throughout the year, 2016 was kind of the worst. It wasn't bad for me personally, but so many of my friends had trying years and our country and our world certainly suffered a lot: from the deaths of some treasured artists like David Bowie and Prince, to earthquakes and floods, to the Syrian refugee crisis, to the "dumpster fire" that was this presidential election. So I am grateful that Pope Francis gave us this focus of Mercy ahead of time and I pray that we can carry that focus into the new liturgical year.

Today is the Feast of Christ the King which ends the liturgical year and so I post yet another "Year in Review." Again, 2016 was pretty alright for me, but I continue to pray that Mercy will guide us into Advent even though the "doors of Mercy" are now shut. We need Mercy now more than ever, so I will continue to carry this year's theme with me into the new liturgical year. 

I rang in the New Year as I often do with some of my besties...this year in NYC!
 Then I went to Philly to celebrate one of my original ride or die's 35th bday! (Little did we know we'd be taking an adventure of a lifetime together later this year!!)
 I got to sponsor this new favorite into the Catholic Church
 And I celebrated my 35th with friends and lots of HATS!
 I went to Vegas and got to visit one of my favorites in CA
 And we celebrated the life of a dear friend who was gone too soon...we still miss you, Steph.

 I finished out my first year as a Middle School teacher with an amazing staff at a school that I love!
 I went home to Ohio for a week in the summer and got to have fun with many of my cousins...
 More family and cousins :)
 And was reunited with college friends in the land Down Under!!!!
 New Zealand/Australia 2016!!!

I was inspired and challenged by the Year of Mercy and participated in my first Art shows!
 I wore my 8th bridesmaid dress and celebrated the wedding of two of my best friends...


And ended the year with a quick trip from the 'rents in RVA!

So I have much to be thankful for as we close out this year and look towards Advent. I have no idea what 2017 will hold, but I'm finding being in the present moment much easier as I get older. I know that 2017 will bring blessings and challenges, but I am grateful that I have so many loved ones to encounter these blessings and challenges with. I am excited for new opportunities, new ways to grow closer to others and the Lord. Bring on Advent and the new year!

Happy New Year!
Peace,
Julia

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Feeling Better: Hope and Mercy

I needed to write my post last week as I was coming out of a dark fog waking up into a reality I didn't think possible. I apologize that I strayed from my typically theological narrative. I don't want to ignore that post or "move past it" because I still very much am feeling through how powerful the results of this election are for me. I am still sad. And it is not because one political party won out over another. Voting is never about parties for me. It is about who we elect to represent and make decisions for our country and I am still very sad and disappointed in that decision.

But this weekend and this week, I am reminded that even a president is not my sole leader or authority. He or she plays a very real and powerful authority in our world, but not the most powerful. I have had to go back to my original narrative and voice: God is our center. I prayed a novena before the election to put Him in control of whatever the outcome. And I still believe that He is watching over us (He might be shaking His head!) and has a plan. 

This coming Sunday is the last Sunday of this liturgical year. And this year has been marked as the Year of Mercy. After the results of last week and the backlash that we have seen in protests around the country since those results, it seems this Year of Mercy has really been preparing us for the year to come. How are we (who are clearly so divided as a country right now) going to come together and have mercy for one another?

I, personally, have tried to be much more conscious of being kinder to others, looking others in the eye, and just generally being more compassionate this week. While my initial response was anger and disbelief, it has moved to- not acceptance per se because I will never accept that this result is "okay"- but more hopeful. Though some of the protests have been violent, I've mostly just experienced kindness, openness, and acceptance from others who share the concern for those who may be hurt by this election. Not ironically, they are the same as those that were outcast in Jesus' day: women, the sick, the poor, the foreigner. 

The readings for this coming Sunday's feast of Christ the King remind us of the kind of King we have. It is not a Gospel reading of Jesus in all of His Glory in heaven. The reading we get is of Him on the cross, offering His life for the good of mankind. And one of the thieves crucified next to Him denies Christ's kingship, while the other acknowledges it: "Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom." Jesus assures the thief- the outcast, the sinner- that "indeed, he will be with Him in paradise." We have a king that sacrifices Himself and forgives. 

That is the model that we have for authority. Not what we have seen in this election. And I will continue to pray that more and more people will accept humility as a sign of kingship. Though, we are in good company- it didn't make sense to the people in Jesus' time and it still doesn't seem to make sense to us now. 

Over and over again, I have mentioned how I am humbled when I work with people in the RCIA program at my Church who want to become Catholic. Tonight I prayed with a few men who are seeking full entrance into the Church. One in particular was very honest with me, we prayed together, and at the end both had tears in our eyes. We talked about our appreciation for the blessed Mother and all her different "faces": Our Lady of Guadelupe, Lourdes, Czestochowa- she presents herself to all of us in ways that we can relate to. 

I have long struggled in my relationship with Mary, but I also read an article recently that reminded me that she embodies so many of those outcast today: she was a young pregnant girl, pregnant outside of marriage, a Middle Eastern girl in an oppressed society, mostly voiceless in the eyes of her society...SHE was the one that was chosen to give us the Son of God. She represents so many of those who I am sad for and afraid for today. So I may have finally solved my own Mary mystery for myself: Mary represents those who are outcast- those we are fighting for, crying for, praying for. And I will lift them up to her for the next four years and as long as I have to for She is the one who, through the Holy Spirit, brought Mercy personified into the world. 

Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of the Americas, pray for us. 

Peace,
Julia