Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Stopping to See (and Smell!) the Signs

I wish that I could say that it's officially fall, and I suppose it technically is, but it sure doesn't feel like it. The weather has still been in the upper 80s and today it was upper 90s here in VA, but regardless if it feels like fall or not, it is October and this month is full of some of my favorite feasts.

Oct. 1- St. Therese of Lisiuex
Oct. 2- Feast of the Guardian Angels
Oct. 3- Mean Girls Day (ok, not a feast, but if you know me, it's a THING ;)
Oct. 4- Francis of Assisi
Oct. 7- Our Lady of the Rosary
Oct. 15- St. Teresa of Avila
Oct. 22- St. Pope John Paul II

And these are just a few of my favorites!

So October is a good month for prayer and intercession. Which is appropriate because September was busy as expected and last month was particularly tough. I had a couple of out of town trips scheduled that were for fun things and they were indeed fun. But I also had to extend one of those trips because after a year of suffering from the results of a stroke, my 96 Polish grandmother-Babci-passed away.

Babci and I in 2013 for my MA graduation and Easter circa 1989? '90? 

I'm still processing the loss and her life, but it was actually a very blessed time with family celebrating and honoring her life. People from so many of her walks of her long life lined up for the visitation and wake where we said a rosary with the last decade being in Polish. While we were praying, I remembered the trip to Israel with my parents earlier this year during which we saw people from Poland everywhere! It was like my Babci was with us then and I know that she is still with us now.

As many of you know, each year around the end of September, I pray my novena to St. Therese of Lisieux and ask her to show that she has heard my intentions by sending me the sign of a rose or flowers. I have prayed this novena with varying success for the past 10 years or so, but in the last 3 years in particular, she has consistently made signs known to me, including this year.

I was certainly not expecting all of these in the alley behind my house this AM when I went to take out my trash! Maybe the unseasonably warm weather is a gift after all!

Signs have been on my mind for the last month or so now. My students and I are going through the book of Genesis which is always so hard to do at the beginning of the year. There is so much figurative language but so many important stories with religious truth and symbolism. The story of Noah is always the story that they are the most familiar with and so I always show a modern movie which twists the original story slightly- Evan Almighty. 

In the film, Evan receives a series of signs from God to indicate that he has been chosen to build this ark. He is super doubtful and resists God for the first half of the movie. I also always have the students complete a worksheet while we are watching the film and ask them if they have ever received "signs" from God. In the more recent years, the ones who answer that  "yes, they have" gets fewer and fewer. Often times, they think that I am asking if they receive ridiculous ones like in the film, but I think the real issue is that their lives are so jam packed full that they don't even have time to observe anything around them (this is evident in their not picking up on various cues in the classroom, but that's another post for another time...).

I am guilty of being less observant of these signs from God myself. In the age of social media and Netflix, any spare time that I have is often spent vegging out on the couch on my phone or binging the latest series. I am grateful that I grew up in a time when these things weren't available and we had to be truly bored so that I would read, or go outside, or take time to journal, play music and pray. Because even though I don't make as much time for these latter things as I should, I still find myself doing them on occasion out of habit. I pray that this generation will also make time for and find the importance of such things, particularly in prayer.

There are several things in the Church that I feel need updating or re-looking at right now, but the things that keep me or hold me are the stories, the rituals and I believe these things are still relevant to youth today. My students love the stories in Genesis. And any time I do give them moments of silence or opportunities to reflect, they find them beneficial. They seem to make the connections when given the opportunity. We just need to give ourselves more time to observe the signs.

My goal this month is to treat every day like I treat these days around the feast of St. Therese- to try and stay open for God's signs. And that means I have to get off of my couch, turn off my phone, and stop and smell the roses sometimes.


Thursday, August 8, 2019

Summer in Ordinary Time: Trust, Surrender, Believe, Receive

Summer started off with all of the celebrations (and novenas...see previous post) in June. I continued with travels and staying busy throughout July. I followed up my NC/GA/OH trips with a PA/DE trip at the end of the month. And now the busyness is over and reality is setting in. It will be back to routine very soon. Next week, in fact.

After the celebration of Pentecost which, this year, happened in early June, we go back to the Ordinary Time in the Church that also sneaks in between the Christmas Season and Lent. But we remain in Ordinary Time now until Advent. That can seem like a really long stretch. It is the time now to prepare for that long stretch.

However, I really enjoy this end of the summer in Ordinary Time. There are lots of favorite saints' feasts (Sts. Clare, Dominic, Lawrence, Maximilian Kolbe, just to name a few) and the readings right now with Moses in the Old Testament leading the Israelites to the Promised Land match up pretty perfectly with Christ trying to educate and lead his disciples.

Since things are starting to slow down for me, I have gotten to spend much of this week in prayer. It's a great way to truly rejuvenate before I go back into ministry. Each year, I try to renew that enthusiasm and look at my job as a teacher really as a ministry. It's easy to get caught up in the day to day and forget that my job is to hand on the faith to young people. I can get caught up in the rules and the policies and the assessments, when that is the opposite of what Christ focused on. It is the message. Everything I teach and do is about a message. I need to make sure that I am sending the right one.

The Old Testament readings, as I mentioned, have been about Moses struggling to lead the Israelites peacefully to the Promised Land. One minute they are complaining about having only manna to eat, forgetting the facts that God has performed many miracles for them, one of them being that manna itself. Then, they are taken to the "land of milk and honey", but they are afraid of the Canaanites who are already there. Moses is constantly battling with them and with God about how to lead. He complains and is flawed, but he ultimately still communicates with God and tries his best to follow God's instructions. I think many of us in leadership positions can relate to Moses and his struggles.

Christ, similarly, is trying to instruct his apostles who never seem to quite trust or get it either. This week Peter has been a major character- witnessing the Transfiguration (one of the many feasts during this Ordinary Time) and wanting to build altars which isn't what Christ wanted him to get from the experience, trying to walk on water, and also being given the title of  'the rock' on which Christ's Church will be built. Peter never seems to quite get it, but he keeps trying. He doesn't give up, similar to Moses.

I got to see for myself two of the locations mentioned in the readings this week when I was in the Holy Land earlier this year. Above: The Church of the Transfiguration on Mt. Tabor. Below: Caesarea Philippi where Jesus asked the apostles "Who do you say that I am?". Peter answered correctly. 

My favorite reading from this week, however, happened yesterday. Jesus is with his disciples when a Canaanite woman approaches him. The very same Canaanites that centuries earlier, the Israelites with Moses were afraid of. The Israelites and Canaanites have a sordid history, namely because the Israelites began to believe in one God while Canaanites worshiped many and the Israelites tried to reclaim the land in their God's name.

The Canaanite Woman approaches Jesus in the Gospel because she wants Him to heal her daughter. Jesus says something very unusual to her about only being sent to "the lost sheep of Israel" and it not being "fit to take the food of children and throw it to the dogs." This doesn't sound like Jesus- being somewhat withholding and even discriminatory. She responds in a perfect and sassy way, though, saying that even "the dogs eat the scraps from their Master's table." It is a strange exchange, but somehow perfect. Here are some of my reasons why I like it:

1.) Jesus must've known that this woman would respond to such banter this way. I like to think that Christ meets us where each of us are at spiritually and emotionally. It reminds me of my friend Dan who would be so sweet and kind to all, but then knew that I appreciated sassy banter so he would do so with me. Perhaps this woman also needed such an encounter.

2.) Jesus is teaching the disciples around him a lesson. It is clear from the times of Abraham and Moses and everything in between that the Israelites are known as God's "chosen people" yet here Christ is saying that He has been sent for everyone. Not just the Jews.

3.) The reading of the Israelites being afraid to enter the Promised Land because of the Canaanites is kind of the opposite of what happens here in the New Testament with the Canaanite Woman. She is not afraid to approach Jesus and ask Him for what she wants. She has faith and believes and for that, she is rewarded. He says that her faith saves her.

Besides Moses and Peter's examples of perseverance in the readings this week, I am also reminded of a chant that we used to use in college at Adoration and times of prayer: "Trust. Surrender. Believe. Receive." The Canaanite Woman is able to do all of these things. I feel like at certain times in my life, I struggle with any one of these. Sometimes I am not trusting God, sometimes I am not surrendering or believing. The one that really gets me, though, is "receive." How is it that sometimes we won't even receive the free gifts that we are given? Perhaps we think we are unworthy. Perhaps we are afraid like the Israelites to enter the Promised Land. It may not be clear how or why were struggle with these things- trust, surrender, belief, and receiving- but it *is* clear to me that they are the path to our rewards with God and the answers to our prayers.

I am ending this summer grateful for the equal parts of being busy and relaxation. And I am certainly grateful for the time in prayer this week to rejuvenate me for the job ahead. I will be starting my 10th year of teaching! God has called me in many ways throughout my life, but this call to teach has certainly lasted the longest. I am grateful for the call. I just need to continue to: "trust, surrender, believe, and receive" in all that I do.

Pics from the past 9 years! I couldn't find 2014 so I subbed in one from a publication that I was in Fall of '14 and clearly 2016 they gave us some crazy backgrounds!!

Happy end of Summer!

Friday, July 19, 2019

Summer 2019 Take 2!

Halfway through the summer! As I mentioned in my previous post, my typical summer gallivanting is confined to Stateside this year, much like last year. After the amazing trip to the Holy Land earlier this year (which I am still receiving the fruits of), I have kind of limited myself to be an East Coast tourist this summer (aka- limited budget!)

Because of all of my travels, people often ask me for my itineraries and examples of things to do in places that I have gone. I honestly get a lot of my ideas from Pinterest and other people's blogs, so why not do a little travel post of my own?

Today's post isn't going to be spiritual so much, but a little recap of some of my journeys so far this summer physically. So if you are interested in planning some trips to the Southeast sometime soon, read on!

The first week or so of summer, I usually just like to RELAX. So I typically just do a staycation. Throughout the summer, I try to find new local places to explore to keep me busy. Plus, I feel like there is just so much of our country, our state, to see!

A couple of my favorite places to go around town are the VMFA, the Arts District here in Richmond, Pocahontas State Park, and Pony Pasture ( a spot on the James River). I made visits to all of these places my first week or so of vacation.

There are also a lot of fun places to explore just an hour or so outside of the city. I typically make a visit to Charlottesville to visit a friend and hit up some wineries, Yorktown to get my dose of history and the beach, and Norfolk which also has beach and a cute downtown. I had never been to the Chrysler Museum in Norfolk, however, and that was one of my favorite finds early on this summer. There are also lots of murals around that part of the city!

 pic from inside The Chrysler Museum in Norfolk, one of my new favorite spots!
 Only one of the many cool and unique murals around the arts district in Norfolk
Spotted the work of a Richmond artist friend/teacher in Norfolk!

After a couple of weeks just hanging out in VA, it was time for the annual travel trip! This year, I decided to explore 2 cities that many people have told me that I would love: Asheville, NC and Savannah, GA. I also found some other cool things along the way!

When planning our West Coast road trip last year, my friend introduced me to the website Atlas Obscura. You can search almost any place in the world and find weird, unique roadside attractions or museums near by. Mapping out my six hour drive to Asheville, my friend and I found lots of crazy things in the Greensboro, NC and also Winston Salem, NC area. Here are just a couple of the things I stopped and saw on my way to Asheville:

 This Woolworth store in Greensboro is now a Civil Rights Museum. It was the location of a sit in during the 1960s Civil Rights era. 
 This place was a definite cool find. Downtown Greensboro on the whole is pretty cute, but this place- Elsewhere Collective- reminded me a little of a "make your own" Meow Wolf (see last year's West Coast trip!). It is a place where artists create weird interactive pieces you can check out. 
 A little outside of Greensboro, Atlas Obscura told me about this gem. An oversized sock drawer in the middle of a small town in NC?! Why not!
Somewhere in of the Original Shell Stations. 

Once I finally made it to Asheville, I was tired, but wanted to explore downtown a little. I had been to Asheville with my family about 20 years prior when my sister and I were in high school and looking at colleges. I don't remember exploring downtown, though, and I was so surprised to see that at like 8pm on a Sunday night, the town was bumpin'! There were people out and about everywhere- restaurants, bars, on the streets. I followed the live music I heard to a brewery (there are many in Asheville) and had a beer and a burger (with many other people acting like they didn't have to work the next day!) at Wicked Weed Brewery. I recommend their beers and the burger!

Rather than write paragraphs about each spot I checked out for the next 24 or so hours, I will just list my Asheville itinerary for those who may want to check it out yourself one day!

24-48 hours in Asheville:

- breakfast at Tupelo Honey (really any meal here. I was surprised it was open at 9am, so I did breakfast since it was rather empty and wasn't disappointed. The honey really is amazing)

- walk to St. Lawrence Basillica- one of the most oddly shaped churches I have seen! Also the architect is buried in the church!

- drive out to Grove Park Inn. It is an amazing old hotel where many presidents and artists/writers have stayed including F. Scott Fitzgerald. You could really make a whole day here. I was told after the fact that if you book a treatment like getting your nails done at the spa, you can spend the whole day in the spa there! The views are beautiful and I had a good time exploring the hotel and reading my book while taking in the view.

-Folk Art Center- this was on Atlas Obscura and a bunch of blogs as something to do, but it wasn't as impressive as I wanted it to be. It is more high-end arts and crafts on display rather than the weird, folky art I was hoping for.

-Asheville Pinball Museum- barcades are all the rage these days and when I go with my friends, I have a good time, but am never too into the games. This place had EVERYTHING, though, and I really could have spent hours here. For $15 you can play any of the machines that include old original pinball, 80s video arcade games, and classic Nintendo stuff. Recommend spending some time here!

- Chicken Alley downtown has a few cool murals including this one of, well, a chicken. It has some interesting history, too (but you will have to find out for yourself!).

- River Arts District- there are some local artist shops and galleries on the other side of town that were more my vibe. Unfortunately, a lot of the stores closed around 5 or 6 (I had spent more time than anticipated in the Pinball Museum!) so I didn't get to check out many.

- Grey Eagle Taqueria and Music Hall- this located in the River Arts District. It was time for me to refuel, and once again, I followed the live music. The tacos were great and I got to watch a wonderfully weird open mic night with locals.

Phew! That was all just in Asheville! And there is even more that I missed, I'm sure!

From there, I made my way to Savannah. On my way, I stopped for a hot minute in Columbia, SC because Atlas Obscura said there were some weird things there, but I really just wanted to get to Savannah. I did see a random recreated Egyptian Obelisk in Columbia, SC and whatever this is:
A giant bolt/fire hydrant coming out of the ground? Okay, Columbia, SC!

I checked into my Air B n B in Savannah which was in an up and coming part of town (38th and Bull Street), but perfect to walk to downtown. I explored so much on my first day.

Here is my 48 hour or so take on Savannah!

Forsyth Park- this park really is picturesque! Lots of artists had easels set up to paint the sights

St. John the Baptist Cathedral- the mural paintings on the walls were amazing!

Exploring the Squares- so many squares/parks! Each has its own history, too. I saw one that was dedicated to Pulaski, a Pole from the Revolutionary War era, one dedicated to the man who wrote Jingle Bells, and the one where Forest Gump was supposedly filmed!

Jones Street- said to be one of the prettiest streets in America. It was nice, but I also think it looked similar to some of the colonial or more antiquated streets I've seen in VA

Sentient Bean- a cute, hipster coffee shop where I took refuge and got a coffee and a sandwich :) Close to Forsyth Park

Foxy Loxy- another really cute coffee shop type place that also sells beer. I sat out back and listened to more live music.

Savannah Bee Company- I did honey and mead tastings here! It was a fun thing to do and I recommend it. Honey was amazing!

Prohibition Museum- I hate statues and wax figures and this museum has a lot of them!!! But it was cool to learn about this era in time and the museum is interactive and laid out well. If you spend an extra $5, you get a drink in the speakeasy at the end. The cocktails were great!

River Street- lots of cool bars, restaurants and shops. I had lunch at the Bohemian Hotel which has a cool rooftop bar on the Savannah river.

Planet Fun- a cute retro shop for those who like 80s/90s toy and video game nostalgia. Located on Broughton Street which also had lots of cute shops and restaurants including the Savannah Bee Company.

Wormsloe Plantation- it's $10-$11 to get in, but has beautiful grounds perfect for Instagramming :) There also is a Visitor's Center with a video that tells you more about the family that lived there. It has more Revolutionary War history than Civil War history which is what one typically thinks about with plantations.

Skidaway Island- just a short drive from Wormsloe. Another $5 or so to get in. It's really for people who are camping or want to walk/bike long trails. I had already done so much walking and it was so hot out, but I still enjoyed partially walking one of the trails and taking in the unique vegetation/wetlands there.

Bonaventure Cemetery- there are some notable graves here and the oak trees with their weeping branches is aesthetically pleasing. I think I am spoiled now living in Richmond because our Hollywood Cemetery is also really impressive!

Tybee Island- my last day of the 2-3 day trip, I need to just relax. Tybee is about 20 minutes away and worth the drive. It's got really nice beaches and a cute beach town with unique shops. It was a perfect little getaway.

Green Truck Pub- this place is so unique. It was within walking distance from my Air B n B and came highly recommended. The building clearly used to be a Wendy's or some type of fast food joint, but there is a cute little bar inside now and seriously the best burger I have had maybe ever.

Maple Street Biscuit Company- I believe this is a regional chain, but the options for breakfast were great and they had me give the name of my favorite band to call out my order instead of my name! So I was secretly judging everyone when they went to claim their order based on their music tastes.

Wormhole Pub- if this place were in Richmond, I think my friends and I would be here every day. It's  a total dive but has a few pinball machines and a stage for bands to play. It had a nice little outdoor seating area, too, and cheap drinks! Also within walking distance of my Air B n B!

I really loved both Asheville and Savannah and would love to go back and visit either place! I do a lot of things on my own being single, but I was grateful to have a friend say that she wanted to join me on the latter part of my trip. So when I was cutting back up from GA back to VA, we decided to meet around the Raleigh area. But first, we went out to visit her grandparents who live in the New Bern area. On my way, I stopped to see these ruins outside of Savannah as I crossed into South Carolina- the Old Sheldon Church. I really haven't seen anything like it here in the States!

Old Sheldon Church Ruins in South Carolina

The town where my friend's grandparents live was all the way on the coast of North Carolina. I really drove all across that state this summer! But it is really cute and is apparently the original hometown of Pepsi:

A Pepsi float in the town where Pepsi was founded!

My friend and I were here when the town and others nearby were celebrating the 4th. So we got to see a small town parade and some fireworks. It completely felt like small town America, but I was here for it.

Hadn't witnessed a small town 4th celebration in a long time! But got to do it this year in Oriental, NC!

Okay. To round out the NC/SC/GA road trip, we ended the tour in Raleigh. On our way, we stopped in Wilson, NC, home of the Whirligig Park! Another weird roadside attraction that my friend found. It was worth it.

They all move in the wind! If you are the only one around, I'm sure it is really creepy! Ha ha. 

We went to the North Carolina Museum of Art to check out the Sculpture Park. Weird, interactive art has been my happy place for the past decade or so now. I was stoked to see the above Kusama piece which was a reminder of last year's Kusama show that I saw in Cleveland.

I just returned this week from Cleveland, actually. My family and I went to Cedar Point for the first time since I was in my twenties and I can confirm that in my late thirties all of the roller coasters (and waiting in line for them) are way less appealing. Also, my tolerance for spinning rides is 0 now. I'm officially old!
                                                Carousel with my niece is still safe so far...

I like to stay busy and active in the summer and so far this summer has been just that! Looking forward to relaxing a little bit more as we wind down. A month from today, I will be welcoming the new crop of Middle Schoolers back to my clasroom. Gah! Have to enjoy every bit of these last 3-4 weeks!


Thursday, June 20, 2019

Novena Season- Summer 2019

It's novena season! Pentecost came late this year since Easter was so late, so I just recently finished the novena to the Holy Spirit (the original novena) right as my school year ended. The weekend of Pentecost and the first weekend of my summer I spent in DC, an old and special stomping ground for me. As Pentecost is a celebration of the birthday of the early Church, I was in DC to celebrate. I had a friend who after many years of study, finally received his doctorate from Yale, and another friend who was celebrating her 40th birthday.

 God brought this lovely lady into my life after I had left the convent and she had just broken off an engagement of her own. We worked together for about 2 years before I started teaching and even though we don't see each other often, those roots from that time in our lives run deep!
These folks became ride or dies after my time in the convent as well. All of us are teachers, CUA grads, and perhaps the sassiest people you will ever meet. 

My love for Pentecost is documented on this blog almost every year because there have been times in my life when I felt extreme moves of the Spirit. This year, I also felt the movement of the Spirit, but in much smaller, but no less important ways. Being with these folks above (and also staying with and spending time with two other friends equally important to me but not pictured) reminded me of the good work that God has done and is still doing in my life. He has called me to work for the Church in so many different capacities and many of the folks I reunited with over this celebratory weekend have been a part of that and called to serve God and His Church in their own ways. Some of the ways have been big- I recently reunited with a friend who has opened her own art collective. One of the fellows pictured above graduated with a doctorate from Yale! Another wrote a book! God hasn't been calling me in big ways like that right now, but I know that I am happy and content because I am not envious of my friends who are doing big things. I am genuinely happy and proud of them. And I am certainly glad and grateful to call these fabulous people friends!

My summer this year doesn't include much gallivanting which is usually my claim to fame as well. Since I made the trip to the Holy Land earlier this year, that kind of covered my big, glamorous international travel for the year. I will be making a little retreat to Asheville, NC and then Savannah, GA next week- two places I have been told that I will love- so I look forward to exploring my own corner of the world a little bit.

In addition to travel, this is the time of year when I prepare for another important feast in my life: the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul. My annual novena to St. Paul starts today! Typically, I am in some exotic place when the novena to St. Paul ends: Prague, Lisbon, and Salvation Mountain, CA (can't make this stuff up!) have been locations in the recent past. I will be in NC at this time next week and I have no idea what St. Paul will have in store.

 Today's first reading was from 2nd Corinthians where Paul is basically begging them to get themselves together and get on the right track in terms of their faith in the Lord. I love Paul for many reasons, but his passion to educate and evangelize about Christ is certainly tops. 
Before the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul on the 29th, however, is the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on June 28th. It might be weird that I am praying two novenas at one time, especially since all of my prayers are entrusted to Jesus anyways, but I also have started the novena to the Sacred Heart. The devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus began in France when Christ appeared to St. Margaret Mary and told her to tell others to devote themselves to His Heart. When I was in the Arlington Diocese, the bishop at that time started a movement to increase our devotion to the Sacred Heart. We were given images to have blessed and put in our homes. He wrote a document about the devotion and gave it to people in the diocese as well. I currently am a parishioner at a parish named for the Sacred Heart. Even though I am entrusting Paul to bring my prayers to Jesus, why not also consult the Man Himself, right? I am reminded that Christ is always knocking on the doors of our hearts. There is that saying and image that we used often in our retreats during my time with NET Ministries:
We literally had a talk we would use called: Open Wide the Doors to Christ. It is an image that I haven't thought a lot about in a while, but I am reminded of it as I meditate on Christ's Sacred Heart this month. 

The door image and the "knocking on our hearts" can go two ways. This image shows Christ wanting us to let Him into our "homes" and our lives. I can certainly use this image to help me this summer. Even though I have been called to open my heart to Christ in many ways in my life, there are still times where it shuts a little. And I believe by praying these novenas this month, I am knocking on Christ's door as well (aka "listen to me! Please!" :). It is a mutual desire to visit and listen to one another, which is a pretty beautiful image to think and meditate on.

I pray that everyone has a blessed summer, no matter what big or little things are going on in our lives. And if anyone would like to join me in this Novena to the Sacred Heart or Novena to St. Paul, you should find them in those links.

Happy Summer and Blessed "Novena Season" :)


Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Bread of Life

In addition to feeling the bittersweet joy of the Easter season, this year's season is extra special because my nephew and godson made his first Holy Communion!

Even though I witness many first communions through RCIA and distribute communion to 2nd graders at school, it is another thing to go through the whole experience with a child, especially one who are especially close to.

It's hard for me to believe that it's been 8 years since his baptism!

As I was sitting there in Mass for his first communion, I couldn't help but think of my own. The night before, a childhood classmate and I were actually reminiscing a little bit about when we had made first communion together. The Church was in a different building than it is now at the parish and the Mass was of course somewhat different (I remember doing the first reading at my First Communion Mass. It also happened to be my 8th birthday!). But a lot of the routine is also the same: the dresses, the excitement, the preparation. Which is really one of the beautiful things about our faith: throughout the centuries, around the world, the Eucharist is and always has been the same.

Just had to give a little shout out to this special moment that marked the Easter season for me this year! I hope and pray that we all hold onto the excitement and awe that we have at our first communions. 

The Easter Alleluia 2019

For the past 10+ years that I have been keeping this blog, writing during the Easter season has always been a mainstay. The Easter season is so bittersweet. We certainly have the joy of Easter. That which we thought was gone and dead has been brought back to life. The weather is warmer. The clouds and cold have gone away and make room for the new life of Spring.

But as we hear in the readings of Acts of the Apostles and the Gospel of John during the Easter Season, we also remember Jesus preparing to leave the apostles to their own devices. We hear from the passages of the Last Supper discourse where Jesus prepares them for his death but reminds them that he will not leave them alone. An advocate- the Holy Spirit- is coming. I recall these readings time and again in this blog because they seem to always emulate exactly what I am feeling at this time of year.

May is a time of endings and beginnings much like the early Church. Not just in the seasonal ways I have already mentioned, but as a teacher, I have witnessed years of graduations and the anticipations of new beginnings at new high schools and colleges for those graduating students. There is also the ending of the school year and the anticipation of summer.

Five years ago during this time in the Easter season, my college friend Dan lost his battle with leukemia. And each year it seems unbelievable that he is gone, but yet also very long since the last time we were all physically together.

 How I choose to remember Dan- senior year of college. 

Usually by this time of year in May, I have my summer all planned out. This is not the case this year. Since I took my big international trip this year in February to the Holy Land, I'm not sure what this summer will bring. I will have to leave it to the winds of the Holy Spirit after Pentecost in June to direct me.

By this time, too, I have typically already blogged about my Easter Alleluia- my experience during the Easter Octave. This year, my Easter was BUSY. As I have for the past 4 years, I helped to welcome new Catholics into the Church through the RCIA process, culminating at the Easter Vigil. This year, I was once again also called to be a sponsor. This year, God united me with a like-minded, fun spirited, sassy teacher :)

                                     Welcome to the Church! Easter Vigil 2019

Much like my summers, I typically like my Spring Breaks to be restful. But last year, I was selected to serve on an Advisory Council for a national organization of Catholic teachers. I had to attend meetings at their annual conference that falls during my Spring Break.

The conference was in Chicago this year, so I tried to make the most of it and bookended the trip but stopping in Ohio on the way out to the conference and on the way back to see family. My 38th birthday also happened to fall during this time as well.

         As if I hadn't brought the sass for the past 37 years, there is certainly no question about it now...

I was originally a little bummed to be spending my break on work related things instead of spending it on a beach, but I had gotten my trip of a life time earlier in February so I couldn't complain. And as most things do, the conference and break ended up being full of unexpected blessings.

I had known that a couple of my friends from college would be attending the conference, but we ended up reuniting with quite of few folks that I haven't seen in almost a decade. It was such a blessing to see people I had prayed with (and partied with) in college continuing to serve the Church in our respective ways. Pictured above are two Catholic school principals, two Catholic school teachers, a non-profit advocate for Catholic Schools and a priest!

The Easter Alleluia was different this year, but was still a renewal. I received the inspiration and drive I needed to go back and finish this year out strong.

In closing out the curriculum with my students this year, we have been talking about achieving holiness and discerning our vocations; very familiar subject matter for me. In talking to the students, I had the peace of sharing that I am exactly where I know God wants me to be. It took a lot of twists and turns and ups and downs and questioning along the way, but I now have the confidence in knowing that I have built the life with God that I want and believe that He wants for me. Alleluia!
But I am also awaiting that breath of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost to see what He may want for me next.

Happy Easter, everyone! Even if it is the 5th week!

Monday, March 25, 2019

Lenten Check-In 2019

Typically, Lent creeps up on me. We will have just finished the Christmas season with a quick couple of introductory weeks in Ordinary Time and then, BAM! It's Lent. But not this year. This year, Easter is LATE. Every once in a while, my birthday (which is on April 22) falls around the Triduum. For example, my 30th birthday was famously on Good Friday in 2011. You may remember my post on my "last supper" in my 20s ;)

This year, Easter is the day before my birthday and for me as a teacher at a Catholic School, that means our Spring Break is oh-so late this year. However, that also means that Ash Wednesday wasn't until early March which gave me sometime to really think about Lent and enter into it more officially.

I feel like I have actually been able to enter into and take advantage of Lent this year. It could also have something to do with the fact that I went to the Holy Land in February. I can't even imagine what the Triduum is going to be like for me this year since I have all these images now of what the places like the Upper Room and Gethsemane and Jerusalem actually look like. In fact, hearing the Gospel each week now is different because I can place on a map where these places mentioned in Scripture actually are and what they look like. If you get a chance or have the means to be able to go to Israel, I highly, highly recommend it.

Today is the feast of the Annunciation. And, yes, we got to go to the place in Nazareth where it is said that this event may have took place. I wrote a little bit about it in my last post.
The Church is built over this 1st century building believed to be Mary's House. This Church is called the Church of the Annunciation. It was a place of great prayer and peace for me. 

The event of the Annunciation is a lot to wrap our heads around. Certainly, angels deliver lots of messages to various people about important children in Scripture (Abraham, Sarah and Isaac, Hagar and Ishmael, Samson's mother in Judges, Raphael to Tobit, and Zechariah and John the Baptist just to name a few!). What makes this encounter with Mary different? Well, a lot as we know. She was without Original Sin. Jesus is the Son of God. Gabriel patiently answers Mary's question (unlike Zechariah before her). Mary was a young girl (Many of the women who become surprisingly pregnant in the Bible are typically much older and thought barren). Mary was promised to Joseph, but unmarried. 

Something that I am doing for part of my prayer for Lent is taking a place that we visited in the Holy Land each day and meditating on it. I think about what the place looked like, think about my feelings from when I was there, and reflect on any Scripture passages associated with that place. Today I had randomly assigned for myself Bethsaida. Bethsaida seemingly doesn't have much to do with Nazareth or the place of the Annunciation. However, it was the home of another important person/people who said an important 'Yes'- Andrew and Peter. 

"Beth" in Hebrew means "house of". Bethlehem, for example, is "house of bread". Bethsaida is the house or home of the fishermen. Andrew and Peter were two fishermen who Jesus called to while they were fishing at the beginning of Jesus' ministry. It was actually Andrew whom Jesus called to first. He was the first apostle who said "yes" to following Jesus. Peter followed and as they say, the rest is history. 

As I have been reflecting on these places I encountered last month, I try to think about how long Jesus knew of these places and people. Nazareth where Jesus grew up is close to the Sea of Galilee, but not necessarily right next to it. It was a bit of a drive for us. Many of the places in which Jesus performed miracles and gathered his disciples were along the Sea. Bethsaida is one of these places. 

I wonder if Jesus was already friends with Andrew and Peter. I wonder if he had seen them fishing there many times before and finally asked them one day to answer the call of their lives. What the call to Andrew and the Annunciation both have in common are these invitations from God answered by individuals with absolute faith and trust. Both Mary and Andrew were put in a position to make decisions that would ultimately shape the course of history. And they both put their faith in God and said yes. They both had intimate relationships with the Son of God because of it. 

We don't hear too much of Andrew's relationship with Jesus. We hear much more of his brother Peter's complicated friendship with Christ. Was this Christ's intention? Even if Jesus hadn't known the brothers prior to that day on the Sea, He had to have known their hearts. Just as God carved out a place and a call for Mary in Salvation History, God had to have known Andrew and Peter's roles as well. 

This feast today of the Annunciation continues to be one that I am fascinated with and gives me a lot to meditate on. I love that it is paired today with my reflection on Bethsaida. These places and these stories will never be the same to me. But I really did learn while in the Holy Land that while it is a blessing to be there, we can feel God's presence and reflect on Him anywhere. 

May we think of the "yes"s that we have said that have changed our lives, especially in regards to our call(s) from Jesus.