Friday, January 5, 2018

Fire and Ice: Happy New Year- 2018!

Happy New Year! Even though the liturgical year began at Advent, there is still something exciting about officially starting a new calendar year. There is always hope of the possibilities, reflections on the year past, and relief that some things are now solidified in the year behind us.

I am trying not to have any expectations of this new year. Last year, I began with much trepidation because of the incoming president. Because of the results of all of the political drama last year, I expect this year to have much of the same. But because I also saw many movements begin to emerge and communities come together last year, I do also expect there to be positive response to that expected drama.

And that's all I've got so far for 2018.

Except! I've already also had two snow days in this new year, and with snow there also comes reflection on my part. Snow days can be good and bad for me. Who doesn't love the mandated time to stay inside and relax? And while I loooooove living alone, too much time alone isn't good for me. I like to be on the go and have options. Snow can also inhibit that for me.

Some of the positive things that came out of last year, were new Christian communities of women that kind of presented themselves to me. I have always been a part of women's prayer groups since I started my serious Christian journey, and didn't realize how much I missed or needed that practice since I've moved to Richmond.

One of the groups that I have become a part of has decided to read Ronald Rolheiser's "The Holy Longing" together. We just started the book in December and will meet to discuss the first chapter later this month.

This book is a Catholic spiritual classic, so I can't believe that I hadn't read it in its entirety before.

The book begins by just introducing the concept of spirituality and the soul. The author illustrates the point that the soul needs many things to nourish it, otherwise it will not be healthy. He uses the symbols of fire and water to show us that we need both passion and peace to sustain the soul.

After reflecting on the ancient symbols of fire and water, my nerdy brain immediately went to Game of Thrones' forces of Fire and Ice that are so prevalent and important in the series and show!

Rolheiser makes the case that it is no coincidence that many ancient rituals focused on these symbols of fire and water. Fire represents the passion and energy that the soul needs to be ignited. Water represents the peace and cleanliness that it also needs to survive.

I think as Christians- and especially as a Catholic- we focus so much on the water element needed for the soul. We understand the tranquility that prayer provides and the cleanliness that the Sacraments of Baptism and Confession give. The Holy Spirit and the Light of Christ are the images often associated with fire in our faith and we certainly believe that they provide the ignition and power to spark and sustain that faith.

But we need our own sparks as well, right? The Light of Christ and the Holy Spirit are perfect and holy and sustaining. It can be argued that we shouldn't need anything else. But we are human. And isn't the Trinity found in all life-giving things?

For example, I find both fire and water- passion and peace- in art and prayer. These things ignite me and calm me simultaneously and I believe that the Trinity is certainly evident in both.

As an introvert, I think I also tend to the waters of peace more often because I know that I need them for my own rejuvenation. But I also recognize that I need to go out and step outside myself and be around loved ones to ignite fire and energy, otherwise the waters will start to drown me (how far can I go with this metaphor, do we think? :)

Every New Year's Eve (with maybe only a couple exceptions in the last couple of years), some of my college friends and I get together to ring in the new year. We go all out. We dress up, we shell out for a hotel and food and drinks, and we just celebrate. This annual celebration gives me so much life that sustains me for weeks to come. It also gives my heart peace to be with people who know me and have loved me for a really long time now.

Certainly to party and wine and dine can ignite fire and bring energy into our lives. But I also have found at periods of my life that too much of it just burns me out (the metaphor that keeps on giving!). So like all things, the fire and water are about balance. And the Trinity can certainly be at the center of both things because we need both to sustain our soul.

This icy snow day at the beginning of this new year has me thinking: what ignites the fire in my soul? What can I do to spark it? And similarly, what brings me tranquility and peace? As I mentioned, sometimes things can do both. Travel and celebrations and art ignite my soul. But they also bring me peace and tranquility.

We can certainly expect more of those things, then, for me in 2018!

Happy New Year!
Peace,
Julia

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Rejoicing in Mary: Third Week of Advent 2017

Advent has been different this year for many reasons. For one, it is very short this year! The fourth week of Advent only lasts for barely 24 hours before we celebrate Christmas Eve that same night as the fourth Sunday of Advent. I find myself wanting to celebrate Advent a little longer which makes NO sense because I should be rejoicing that it is now almost Christmas!

The third week of Advent has been a week of rejoicing, but for different reasons. On Gaudate Sunday last Sunday, I found myself very grateful for community. The previous and second week of Advent had been filled with celebrations and meetings with various communities in my life: faith communities, work communities, and friend communities. I was out celebrating almost every night that week! And even though I am an introvert, I do enjoy a party when I know it will be with a strong community.

Advent has also been different for me this year because I have been doing the 33 day consecration to Mary, but a slightly different version than I have done in the past. This version was suggested by a friend and former member of one of the many communities I have been apart of in my life, who knows me well. The consecration focuses on Mary (obviously) through the lives of three of our more modern day saints: St. Maximilian Kolbe, St. Teresa of Calcutta, and St. Pope John Paul II. (Two out of the three are of my beloved Polish heritage! I've got good genes :)

As I mentioned in an earlier post, 2017- particularly at the beginning of this year and also this fall- were a struggle for myself and many of us. Our country has exposed many of our open wounds in our culture and in our history and we are very divided on how to deal with them. It seems as soon as I would regain hope, a new wound would be opened and I would be overwhelmed again. I also have mentioned that it feels lonely to be a Christian in this time. Well, a Christian, at least, who seems to interpret the Gospel in a way that is very different than the Christians shown in the mainstream media.

Taking this journey with Mary through the eyes of these great saints has helped, however. Each of them must've felt very alone and overwhelmed in their lives: Maximilian died in a concentration camp in Poland. I can only imagine the sadness and confusion he must've felt to witness such evil. Teresa of Calcutta surely was overwhelmed by the poverty she encountered in India and in our world. She even experienced the "dark night of the soul" where she lost the consolation of "feeling" God is near. And lastly, John Paul II suffered when a person attempted to take his life, and he also witnessed ramifications of the Holocaust and the Cold War.

If all of these saints also felt alone or overwhelmed, like I believe they must have, I am- we are- in very good company. The opposite of being alone.

 St. Maximilian Kolbe with the Auschwitz prisoner's attire is heart wrenching...
 Love this image of St. Teresa of Calcutta!
Look at that holy, Polish saint!

Today, I woke up to more bad news in the media. Every day when it seems like it can't get worse, it does: fighting in Jerusalem fanned by our own president, tax bills being passed in the middle of the night that will cut taxes for the wealthy, threats of nuclear war from the East, tampering from spies in Russia with our democracy, people believing fake news to be real. I was feeling overwhelmed again, but then I started my meditation for the day.

The author spoke of Mary as the ultimate mediator of God's Mercy. Pope Francis reminded us almost two years ago about the importance of Mercy as well. We need God's Mercy in times like these. Only His perfect Love and forgiveness can fix and heal us.

Mary stood at the foot of the cross. So many must've thought all hope was lost in that moment. But as Christ poured out His Mercy for sin, she stood there willing to help and continuing to trust. She can help us receive and administer God's Mercy as she did then with her strength.

I've mentioned before that this year, more than ever, I've come to finally appreciate and understand Mary's role as one of strength. The author of the book we are using shows her as "perceptive" and knowing the needs of others at the Wedding at Cana. He shows her bravery and openness in the midst of suffering in the foot of the cross. These are things that I, we, need right now.

As we continue to draw closer to Christmas- thinking about God bringing His Light into the world- I continue to hope that we realize that Christmas is about Light. Peace. Hope. Joy. Not money. Not fear. Not condemnation. Jesus came into the world to speak against those things.

I have to remind myself that the Light has already conquered the darkness and Truth sets us free. God is that Light and that Truth and we remember this at Christmas.
May the Light that Christ brings at Christmas give us the Peace that we need.

Peace,
Julia

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