Saturday, March 17, 2018

Lenten Laetare Check In- 2018

Happy 4th Week (almost 5th week) of Lent! I told my students that we only had one more week next week until Holy Week and they were amazed. I remember when I was that age thinking that Lent took forever! It's a little sad for me to learn that they think that time passes as quickly as I do now as an adult. I have many theories on that, but that is a blog post for another time.

It is also probably important to note that today is St. Patrick's Day! I am not Irish, but I do love celebrating this day. It involves a saint's feast day, beer, and the color green...what's not to love?
 Remembering our dear friend Dan who loved St. Patrick's Day in 2015
Throwback to disapproving Irish Car Bombs, especially when put in plastic cups way back in 2007

St. Joseph's Day is another upcoming feast day that I look forward to- not just because it allows me another day to break my Lenten fast! I always pray the Novena to St. Joseph at this time and I have entrusted many important prayers to him in the past- like passing my comps in 2013 and looking after our friend Dan in 2014. In this age of chaos and selfishness in our culture and community, I am in awe of St. Joseph even more for sticking with God's plan for him and his family. If he would not have embraced his role as a foster father, who is to say what would have happened to us. St. Joseph, pray for us!

Laetare Sunday was last Sunday, which means we are more than halfway through with Lent. Now is the time to check in and see how we are doing with our Lenten promises of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. If we have failed in any way, it's okay. There is still time to make preparations and commitments before the holiest of weeks in the Church coming up on Palm Sunday.

My fasting has been committing to the Whole 30 which is no dairy, no alcohol, no grains, no many things I love! I have certainly failed. But each time I did, I recommitted and kept going rather than call it a wash.

As far as prayer, this has probably been the most fruitful for me this Lent. I have been using the devotional book that the Christian feminist group I am a part of has been going through together this Lent. It examines the book of Exodus. The first couple of weeks were hard because we all struggled to understand why God would be so angry and vengeful towards Moses, towards the Pharaoh, towards His Chosen People. Exodus is also hard because there are so many sections about laws and practices that can be considered excessive and moot in 2018.

What I have taken away from the passages in Exodus:

- we need rituals and sacrifices and discipline, God doesn't. He gives us laws for us to learn and grow.
- rituals can bring community together. People can all use their gifts in different ways as offerings to God.
- We should not lose focus when other idols or "gods" tempt us from straying from following God
- Moses was given a really, really hard task. He probably should have delegated more! It would have been less stressful! His father-in-law, Jethro, tried to tell him to do so!
- We really need to trust in God and others, even when they seem untrustworthy or illogical
- Though Israel was the first to practice monotheism, God is for all of us. Christ expanded God's covenant so that salvation is for all people and we are all now chosen.
- We should not "veil" our worship or radiance for God. We need to share His light with others

And that's what I've got so far. I'm sure as we continue to journey towards Easter this salvific story will take new forms and meaning.

I also have been praying for many special intentions that were given to me at the beginning of Lent. If you signed up to be prayed for on my Google form that I posted around Ash Wednesday, know that I have been praying for you daily!

In regards to almsgiving, I always clean out my closets at this time and give at least 5 items to charity. I've done the closet cleaning, just need to take the items to the drop off location sometime before Easter.

Last year, I was searching for community, and so far this year, community has played such an important role in my self care and relationship with God. I continue to be grateful for His faithfulness and providence. I look forward to celebrating with all of the carbs and Alleluias in the Easter season!

Finally, this Sunday's Gospel for the 5th Sunday of Lent has so many beautiful and noteworthy elements. When I met with the RCIA group this week, someone was called upon to spontaneously lead us in reflection of this passage from John and the Holy Spirit really moved through her. It was awesome to see. We noted that the Greeks were following Jesus around, not just the people of Israel. And not necessarily because they were wanting to harm Him, but because they were curious about Him. We thought this was interesting for many reasons. For one, it truly shows that the Messiah is for all of us. And this really would have shaken the Jewish chief priests even more about Jesus' ministry. Do we want to be like chief priests who were intolerant of Christ and did not welcome His followers? Or do we want to embrace all who want to follow Christ like Jesus did, regardless of background?

Christ also uses this metaphor about a grain of wheat needing to die in order to live. He is foreshadowing His own death and Resurrection, but I think it is certainly applicable to our sufferings and deaths as well. Suffering and "dying" to self is necessary to produce goodness and new life sometimes. This is a good reminder as we near the end of Lent and prepare for new life in the Easter season.

Happy St. Patrick's Day and (almost) end of Lent!

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Thoughts and Prayers

If you have been following any platform of social media in the past year and a half, you may have noticed the backlash surrounding the phrase "thoughts and prayers." If not, I'm not sure whether to commend you for being able to remove yourself from social media in such a way that you've avoided this, or to ask if you regularly frequent figurative holes to reside in.

Joking aside, as a Christian feminist I have struggled with the backlash against this phrase. I appreciate the sentiment that those opposed to the phrase are trying to express. Namely- in the case of natural disasters, mass shootings, war, and other situations that demand governmental and humanitarian response- saying that "our thoughts and prayers are with those affected by (insert tragedy here)" is not enough. Natural disasters require aid. Mass shootings require a change in gun laws. War torn countries require our attention, action, and help.

However, as a Christian woman, I do believe in the power of prayer. So hearing things like "you can keep your thoughts and prayers" can be a response that I sympathize with but also isn't necessarily helpful in trying to build an effective dialogue that will allow both sides to come together on these issues that for whatever reason divide us. What can maybe be an appropriate response on both sides to situations that require faith but also action?

As a Catholic, I have always been taught that faith and works go together. And as a Scripture scholar, I go to the Bible for guidance. St. James' letter is the text most often quoted on this idea of faith and works being dependent on one another:

"What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?
If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day,

and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it?

So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead."- James 2:14-17

St. James would seem to be supporting the "keep your thoughts and prayers" camp here in a way. What good are our thoughts and prayers if we are not backing them up with action?

But on the opposite side, we need not neglect the power of prayer if we are persons of faith. Jesus says in Matthew's Gospel while debating the devil in the desert:

"one does not live on bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God."- Matt. 4:4 

Jesus is referencing the Old Testament here as He combats the devil. He is referencing this verse from Deuteronomy:

"He therefore let you be afflicted with hunger, and then fed you with manna, a food unknown to you and your ancestors, so you might know that it is not by bread alone that people live, but by all that comes forth from the mouth of the LORD." - Deut. 8:3

And later, the book of Deuteronomy goes on further to say:

"But when you have eaten and are satisfied, you must bless the LORD, your God, for the good land he has given you."- Deut. 8:10

In other words, when the work of the Lord is done, we should not forget Him and give thanks.

But not everyone in our society believes what we believe as Christians. So our thoughts and prayers may really not mean much to them. It doesn't mean that we cannot give them, but we do need to do more.

Christ says in His Sermon on the Mount in Matthew's Gospel that we should keep our prayers in secret and not go boasting about them (Matthew 6: 5-8). However, He also says that "where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am with them." (Matt. 18:20). So which is it?

Sin is always about our intention. That is to say, no one can know if our intentions were good or not, ultimately,except for God. We may really truly want to help people with our prayers, and we can certainly pray for them. But only God will see those intentions and prayers initially.

If we want people to see our faith and see our intentions, it must be done through action. We can pray in secret. We can pray in our faith communities. But if we want people to see our true intentions, we have to show them through service. And, yes, I believe that prayer can make change. But God uses us as agents of change.

There is a famous quote that is attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: "Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words." This is to say that we can live and communicate the Gospel through our actions and we know the other adage that accompanies this: "actions speak louder than words."

I believe that St. James and St. Francis took their cues from Jesus. They saw Him both speaking AND acting: from His many miracles of healing to His physical action of giving up His life. The action and image of the cross certainly says more than we could ever say or think. And that action was His prayer.

So thoughts and prayers? Or actions? I say, let your action be united with your prayer let your prayer motivate your action.


Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Entering the Desert: Lent 2018

Happy Valentine's Day/Ash Wednesday! The joke going around social media this year is that we are putting the "lent" in Valentine's Day today. I'm sure St. Valentine would have wanted it no other way.

Some years, Lent just kind of creeps up on us, especially when Easter is early, which it is this year. However, in a shocking turn of events, I actually find myself more ready for Lent than I have been in a long time. I credit the new communities that I have found myself a part of this year and specifically a group of ecumenical Christian feminist bloggers.

The lady-bloggers and I are in the getting-to-know-each-other stage of the relationship, and we are taking the time to share reflections in a group chat and some of us are even trying the Whole 30 together. Nothing says sisterhood like helping each other get through 30 days without cheese, wine, and carbs!

We also decided early on to do a Lenten devotional together. The one that we chose is a study of Exodus.

Exodus is one of the books of the Bible that I enjoy teaching in my Scripture course and my students enjoy learning about. It, of course, has huge significance in our Christian Paschal Mystery since Jesus was celebrating Passover when instituting the Eucharist at the Last Supper. I'm not sure why, then, I was surprised that our Lenten devotional is truly focusing just on the Exodus story and not much else. And even though we are just one day into it, I'm already totally on board with the journey that it is going to take us through.

Exodus starts where Genesis leaves off. Joseph of "technicolor dreamcoat" fame is the last major patriarch we read about in Genesis and he has risen to power in Egypt and the rest of Jacob's family has come to join him due to famine. At the beginning of Exodus, however, the new pharaoh in Egypt is not having any of Joseph's fame and has decided to oppress the Israelites, making them slaves.

It is not lost on me that we start Lent thinking about oppression. We think about the oppression of our sin. We think about the things that weigh us down and hold us back from uniting more fully with God. I feel like I can see where this devotional is taking my lady-bloggers and I, but we all know what happens when one "assumes." I'm going to try and keep an open mind.

In thinking about oppression, I can't help but think of all of the different groups of people still oppressed around the world. Victims of human trafficking. Victims of oppressive governments. Victims of racism and sexism. And today we watched on the news yet another school shooting take the lives of innocent school children. I believe that our own society is oppressed by our selfishness and enslavement to big businesses, political parties, and lobbies like the NRA. We are so trapped that we can't stop something so simple as not allowing gun violence to continue to take the lives of our citizens.

I am praying that as we continue through this Lenten journey, we will be liberated in some way from the oppression of this world and realize the freedom that we have in the truths of Christianity-two of those truths being Love and Forgiveness. And I believe in the power of prayer, but I know that action needs to be taken as well. I'm interested in looking closely at Moses as the model for this as the ladies and I move through the study.

God liberating His people through Moses is one of the quintessential salvation stories. Second only probably to that of  the ultimate story of salvation- His Son's saving us by His Cross and Resurrection. I am looking forward to diving into this mystery with Moses and with a community that I very much prayed for last year. 

Something else that I am doing for prayer this year, is something that I have modeled after a friend that I have kept in touch with from ministry during my time in Arlington. Each year, she asks for prayer requests from others on social media and commits to praying for them each day of Lent. I have taken a page from her book this year, and asked for intentions via social media. I have made a list and am keeping them close as we journey towards Easter. Know that readers of this blog count as well :)

I'm praying that this is a blessed Lent for all of us this year. One of true love and liberation.


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!

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.


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.