Saturday, June 11, 2016

Summer and the Sacred Heart

Even though the Catholic Church teaches against superstition, there is an element to our faith that lends itself to look for meanings in things that may or may not be there. I don't think that the looking for meaning is wrong, as that is all we can do sometimes, but certainly if we start to place our trust in something that isn't there, we can get lost.

For example, I have taken to looking into the saints that the parishes I belong to our named for. I don't know if this is reading into things too much or not, but I am just always trying to make connections. In my adult life, I have belonged to three parishes named for St. John (the Apostle, Beloved, and Evangelist- all titles for the same guy! Soooo that has to be something, right?!) Maybe or maybe not, but I definitely have felt a draw towards St. John because of it (especially when I got to go to Patmos, Greece in 2012, where he was exiled and had the visions for the Book of Revelations):

Picture over the door of the Cave the Apocalypse in Patmos Greece with St. John and His Scribe


The man, the myth, the legend- St. John. Also, the Beloved, the Apostle, the Evangelist!

In keeping with that theme of the "beloved", my parish currently is The Cathedral of the Sacred Heart. Which never really struck me until recently when I was praying the novena to the Sacred Heart last week that this is possibly another connection for me that God wants me to explore.

(As an aside:

1.) I'm so into novenas of late

2.) This website is kind of great. It sends you daily email reminders which are oh so necessary these days. If I didn't have the reminder app on my phone to tell me most things, I would be so lost!)

I keep an image of the Sacred Heart that was blessed by a priest in my apt. In fact, sometimes, I make my friends pose for pictures with it (that's not weird, right?):


A couple of years ago, the Bishop of Arlington wrote a letter about the devotion to the Sacred Heart and encouraged all families to foster more of devotion to it. I took an interest then, but again, it was until recently that I started to put together that maybe there is something here for me- a message about God's Sacred Heart that maybe He wants me to take note of.

After praying my annual Pentecost novena, in which I used the website listed above to send me emails, the site informed me about beginning a novena to the Sacred Heart for which the feast was last week. I prayed the novena to the Sacred Heart and I believe that I am already seeing the fruits. I have noticed so many little acts of kindness and generosity around me. I believe that this is how Jesus continues to call me closer to Him, much like my girl, St. Therese. Not necessarily in big dramatic ways, but as Therese says: "the Little Way." ( I was reminded that I taught this regularly to my high school students when a former student recently mentioned me and St. Therese in his salutatorian speech at graduation this year. I am no longer at this school but it was nice to be remembered. And I'm particularly happy that he remembered that particular lesson! One never knows what kids take away from us...it truly is the little things that get through sometimes!)

I am also still supremely happy to be at the school I am at and really recognize it as a fulfillment of last year's Pentecost novena. The Pentecost novena this year has also yielded fruit, of course, but I was really struck by this calling up the Sacred Heart for my intentions.

I know that I have talked about the RCIA program at my Church and how that has been a way for me this year to connect with my faith in a different way. I have discerned, after being asked by the Director of Faith Formation, to be a part of the RCIA team this upcoming fall. We had our first meeting tonight for people who are thinking about starting the Initiation process into the Catholic Church. We gathered as we usually do, with a meal and meditation on Scripture. It is such a simple, informal format, but always exactly what we need. (probably because the apostles had similar routine with gatherings of meal and Scripture...if the method aint broke, don't fix it, right?)

We usually mediate on the upcoming Gospel for Sunday and this Sunday is the Gospel of the woman who wipes Jesus' feet with her hair and oil. All of the readings this Sunday have themes of Mercy, which are super appropriate for this Year of Mercy. It also was a good reminder as we enter into this journey of conversion with candidates for the Sacraments. This woman in the Gospel takes a risk. She is a woman and is taking expensive oil and "wasting" it on Jesus. She also shows her affection for a Him in a very vulnerable, intimate way- by kissing His feet. It is a very humble act, especially in front of Pharisees who are judging her. It reminds me that Mercy is the reward or remedy for vulnerability. When we see people who are at risk or poor or vulnerable, we should show them Mercy. A message easier said than done when we sit behind our computers these days and just want to judge. The woman in the Gospel put herself out there and was rewarded. Do we do the same for others? Do we reward their openness with Mercy? or judgment?


I found this image when searching for an image of this story. What a beautiful image of Mercy.

This act of vulnerability in the Gospel, this feast of drawing close to the Lord's own Sacred Heart, and Therese's Little Way, are all reminders to me of God's intimate love. And just to tie it all back together as you know I like to do:

No doubt St. John the Beloved also drew close to the Sacred Heart, so I believe my saint and my current devotion are certainly connected and trying to teach me something!

St. John the Beloved, St. Paul, and St. Therese- my besties who were all besties with Jesus- pray for us!

Oh and MY SUMMER STARTS THIS WEEK! NO MORE SCHOOL!!!!

Just another way the Lord is showing His Mercy this week! I truly am in awe of all the positive things happening around me right now, even if they are just "little things."

Peace,
Julia



Saturday, May 7, 2016

Mary and the Holy Spirit

Much like my post earlier this year during the celebration of the conversion of St. Paul...guess what time of year it is?!

Countdown to Pentecost!

If you have been following this blog, you know that this is my favorite time of year. So many important things and changes have happened at this time of the liturgical year for me in my life. When I was in college, it was around the time that I went to Guatemala and drew closer to the Lord through experiencing the life of the people there. A few years later, I would make the decision to make another life change and leave the convent I had entered. Two years ago, it was around the Ascension that my friend Dan was taken into heaven. And last year, I began praying and discerning making the change to move to Richmond. So many Holy Spirit driven moments.

This year, I look at my life and I have almost everything that I could want: healthy family and friends, great job(s), a great place to live, a community of friends around me. (Also, this year's international summer trip is going to be Australia and New Zealand!! I'm so excited! I will get to reunite with a dear college friend whom I haven't seen in years!)

I just booked an Air B n B this week that is close to this beach: Mission Bay in Auckland. No biggie.

It's hard to know how the Holy Spirit will move, but I trust that it will as I got this reading today:

"Jesus said to his disciples:
“Amen, amen, I say to you,
whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you.
Until now you have not asked anything in my name;
ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete." - John 16: 23

I remember really diving into these readings from John describing Christ at the Last Supper when I was in Guatemala. The Lord wants our joy to be complete. Sometimes we forget that He wants what is best for us, but He also wants us to come to Him in prayer. And sometimes it's that one thing that we are lacking that gets us to go to Him in prayer. I know that is the case for me. 

And so, even though I don't have any serious intentions at this point in my life, I am going to Him in my annual novena between the Ascension and Pentecost and praying for that one thing that could perhaps make my joy complete and leave it up to Him. 

At this time of year, we also honor Mary. And once again, if you've been keeping up with this blog (God bless you!) you know that I've struggled before with my relationship with Mary. She's not always my go-to. I often go to other saints like Paul (duh!) or Joseph or Therese. 

Now that I work at an elementary and Middle School, we have more cutesy traditions than when I worked with high schoolers. One of them being the classic, tradition May Procession to honor Mary. We had one this week (and there were lots of flowers!)



So many flowers...

And afterwards I was thinking...and maybe I have thought this before but not in this way: Mary has a special relationship with each member of the Trinity. The Father obviously loved and entrusted her because He made her "full of grace." She has the loving relationship of a Mother with the Son, and she was "overshadowed" by the Holy Spirit. This all dawned on me in a new way earlier this week and convinced me a little more to send my prayers her way, especially during this month that we honor her, particularly during this special week between the Ascension and Pentecost. 



The last thing that I wanted to share is that somehow, for the first time in my teaching career, I have really been able to share with my students about Paul and his journeys. In my previous teaching of Scripture- since it was a semester course- I had to kind of rush through the New Testament and we mainly focused on the Gospel writers. It has been awesome to focus on one of my favorite saints and remember how truly amazing it was that he gave his life so completely over to God and had such an impact on spreading our faith despite persecution. He had one encounter with Christ that completely changed him. And he was imprisoned and traveled far and wide to spread his message. He wrote letters and communicated so perfectly encouraging the early Christian community who didn't know what to do in these years after Christ's Ascension.

Pentecost will be extra special this year because I have had some time to meditate on Paul and the early apostle community and how they felt at this time between the Ascension and Pentecost. Paul Forever ;)




So it is a very joy-filled time of year and there is much to be grateful for! May the the joy of Mary and the movement of the Holy Spirit fill our hearts this time of year and always. 

Peace,
Julia 






Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The Easter Alleluia 2016

Happy Easter! It is the second week of Easter and I am finally getting to process all that this Easter season is and hopefully will be.

As I have mentioned quite frequently in this blog, I was a sponsor for a young woman who became Catholic at the Easter Vigil. It was a beautiful (3 hour +!) service, and it was such an honor to witness so many faithful people enter the Church! One of the reasons the service took so long was because we had probably 10 or so people receive Baptism and 20 or so receive Confirmation and First Communion! Alleluia indeed!

 Here is a pic of the Bishop baptizing one of the catechumens..
And here's me with my newly Catholic friend!

Even though the ceremony is long, the Easter Vigil is full of symbols and perfectly concludes the Triduum and begins the Easter season!

I spent my Easter Octave with a good friend who recently moved to California. I flew to Vegas to meet her (we had a tradition of going to Atlantic City when we both lived on the East Coast, so we thought Vegas would be appropriate for our reunion), spent a couple nights there, and then we drove back to California to see her new place.

California is one of my favorite places to visit! It's always so beautiful there. Friends reunited!

It was a restful and joyful Easter Octave indeed.

Now it is the second week of Easter and the Sunday after Easter is known as Divine Mercy Sunday. Because of my travels and because of the part-time job I have taken on the weekends, I wasn't sure if I was going to make it to Mass. I was determined, however, because Divine Mercy Sunday is one of my favorite feasts named by one of my favorite saints, Saint Pope John Paul II.

Our Lord gave St. Faustina- another Polish saint- this image called the image of Divine Mercy. Saint Pope John Paul II made the first Sunday after Easter Divine Mercy Sunday to honor this appearance of our Lord.

Because I was working and traveling but determined to get to Mass, I ended up going to a Spanish Mass on Sunday evening. I am nowhere near fluent in Spanish, but I do have an understanding of it as I studied it into college and spent two summers in Guatemala. While in Guatemala, I attended daily Mass and learned all of the Spanish responses. It also helped that I knew the theme for Sunday's Mass as well as the readings (the Spanish word for "mercy" is also very similar to the Latin; "misericordia". That word got used a lot ;)

What I could make out from the homily was that the priest introduced the concept of Divine Mercy Sunday and that this year was extra special because we are in the Year of Mercy. He also reviewed all of the readings for the day with us (Christ appearing to the apostles in the Upper Room saying "Peace be with you" and Doubting Thomas as the Gospel) and asked us where we needed mercy in our lives and who we needed to be merciful to ( I was pretty proud of my understanding of the homily, actually! I also think it was good to be taken out of my comfort zone and worship with a different community).

Even though my trip to Vegas and California was a much needed break and a week well spent, I hadn't been reading some of my favorite Scripture readings that occur that week of Easter (ie- the apostles gathering together in the early Church after these events of Christ's death and resurrection). Yesterday, I got word that yet another friend who was my peer who had been battling cancer passed away. She and I were not as close as my friend Dan who passed two years ago, but it still hit me pretty hard as she was young, full of life, and a very sweet, fun friend. I naturally turned to prayer and to the word of God in the readings of the day. I was reminded of the strength of that early apostolic community which was something that I needed and reminded me of how my friends came together when Dan had died.

I also was struck by one of the lines from the Gospel:

" just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert,
so must the Son of Man be lifted up,
so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.

This reminder of Christ's Resurrection as an opportunity for our own resurrection was of course a message of hope to me in this time of sadness for my friend.

I also turned on a show that I had been wanting to watch and finally had time to last night- a National Geographic series on God. The first episode dealt with this same theme of our human inclination to believe in an afterlife. The episode looked at the history of this belief- starting with the Egyptians who built the pyramids and wrote prayers and had rituals so that their dead could pass into the next life- and also mentioning Hindu belief of reincarnation as well as the Christian belief of salvation through Christ. I was struck how this desire to believe in an afterlife has gone so far back in human civilization. They also interviewed people who had "near-death experiences" who all commonly describe a "light" which feels peaceful and calm. We as Christians, of course, identify this as heaven, but I think it so interesting that regardless of culture or belief, we want there to be something more and a lot of our beliefs point to common themes.

And so I have hope and faith that my friends are in a better place and are at peace with our Lord and that He met them on that journey home. In this Easter season, I am grateful for the Resurrection and the peace, hope, and joy that it brings. I am also grateful for this Divine Mercy and a whole year to celebrate it.

Happy Easter!

Peace,
Julia


Friday, March 25, 2016

They Said Yes

Today is March 25. Typically, the day that we honor and remember the Annunciation. At the Annunciation, Mary posed a question to the angel who told her that she was going to have a son: "how can this be?" After the angel answered her question, she said: "let it be done according to your word"- her yes. Her fiat.

This is one of my favorite images of the Annunciation. It's in a convent in Florence, Italy which I didn't get to see when I was there this past summer. Another reason to go back!

Today, however, this feast gets trumped by Good Friday (understandably). But it is so interesting to me that today marks another day where we remember a very important yes. And this yes that Christ says for all of us today could not have been possible without that of Mary's fiat. God knew that, which is why He set aside Mary, the Immaculate Conception, for this perfect purpose.

I think it's so cool that these two days collide. The new beginning of our salvation story remembered on a day when our salvation was given to us. God is still working and the Holy Spirit is still moving and we remember it especially on days like today.

This week of Holy Week has reminded me in many ways that God is still working, which is a reminder that we all need. In a world of terrorist attacks, government debacles, and media circuses, we need the reminders of Hope and Mercy. I received these reminders this week in my Church and school communities.

On Palm Sunday, my church works alongside some other Christian churches in the area to put on a Palm Sunday procession through one of the main streets in Richmond. Sadly, there aren't too many occasions when Presbyterian, Lutheran, Episcopal, and Catholic come together. But on this Palm Sunday, we all greeted Christ together with palms and songs and walked together to witness to others in our city. A sign of hope and mercy.

Talking to my students about the Triduum and watching them pray the Stations of the Cross also gives me hope. This Lent, our 8th graders performed a type of "Living Stations" for the rest of the school. I remember doing this as a youth and when I taught at the high school, my students and I would often joke how "Living Stations" is such a weirdly Catholic thing. A rite of passage in a way. But as I sat and prayed with my school community this week the last few Stations of the Cross, I was taken with the fact that this is our faith formation in action. The faith is being handed on to the next generation. I see my students take an interest in our faith every day. And I pray and hope that they will continue to carry it and pass it on to the next.

Days like today and in times like the Triduum, it is easy to see our faith alive and in action. People around the world are celebrating in streets, in Churches, in homes, in schools. Yesterday, I went to my decidedly favorite Mass of the year- Holy Thursday- and thought: tonight is special because we are remembering the Last Supper, but we do this *every time* the Mass is said. The Holy Thursday Mass really isn't that different than every other Mass on Sunday, but somehow it feels different because of the drama of the night.

And speaking of that drama, one of my favorite parts of Holy Thursday is processing to the altar of repose after the service. So many years in my twenties I would stay and "agonize" with Jesus in the garden over whatever drama I had in my life at the time- vocation discernment, job discernment, relationship discernment. This year, for the first time, remembering the Agony in the Garden with Jesus wasn't that agonizing. I honestly have no current drama in my life. I am at peace and I am happy. It was a little strange to be so happy and at peace at a time when we remember Christ's grappling with His fate. So I united the agony of our world and country and those struggles of others with Him last night, and I gave thanks for the peace and mercy He has shown.


Praying at the altar of repose in the Cathedral last night- Holy Thursday.

Christ, like Mary, asked God a question of sorts: "Lord, if it is Your Will, let this cup pass from me." In this moment in the Agony in the Garden, He, like Mary, has an opportunity to say no. But He said yes. We remember both of these great "yes"s today. And we thank God for the Hope and Mercy they bring because of their yes this day.

Tomorrow, I know there is going to be much joy and awe at the Easter Vigil when the candidates we have been working with in RCIA enter the Church! I am so excited for these new Catholics who have shared their desire and faith with us for so long. I also know that God is going to bring conversion to those of us who need to renew our faith. This year, I know that the Resurrection is going to bring much hope and joy.

Have a blessed Good Friday.

Peace,
Julia




Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Lenten Check-In

Well, we are two weeks in, friends. Two weeks of Lent down, about four to go. We are still a month away from celebrating Easter, for better or for worse. I know for me personally, I can use the extra time to more fully enter into this Lenten season.

These first two weeks have gone slowly, but also quickly. I find myself saying: "ONLY TWO WEEKS?!" (I gave up Facebook and snacks this year. I'm not missing Facebook much at all, honestly. But THE SNACKS. Oh, the snacks! That's how you know it was the right sacrifice to make...) but then also in the same breath saying: "Oh, good. Phew. Only two weeks. I still have time to enter into this Lenten season."

The quintessential Lenten rock reminder: In the Gospel on the first Sunday of Lent, we hear about the devil tempting Jesus to turn rocks into bread. Jesus, of course, does not. And so, the rocks are reminder of Christ's victory over temptation and the devil. 

Lent is a time of self sacrifice, but yet, I have been kind of self consumed these weeks. I had been looking for a part-time job, so I had been interviewing (talking a lot about myself and how great I am!) and was offered two (obviously, only took one!). Now, I have been trying to acclimate to my new potential schedule and job, and not leaving a ton of time for sacrifice and prayer in between.

But the moments that have called me back have been praying the Lenten novena that I have promised to pray for some intentions, certain moments with my students in my classroom, and nights spent in community with the RCIA candidates in my parish.

The journey for those entering the Church this Easter has picked up its pace as we get nearer to the big day. And it is amazing that I can feel the energy and anticipation from the candidates, catechumens, and confirmands (those looking to complete the various sacraments). Tonight, I walked in and the woman that I am sponsoring was beaming extra brightly when she told me: "I had my first confession yesterday!" She was genuinely excited and clearly full of the Holy Spirit. Just today I had talked to my students as they bemoaned having to go to Confession themselves tomorrow at school. It's amazing how we take the sacraments for granted. If only we could approach every time like those who encounter Christ for the first time.

Another man tonight at RCIA who had been brought into the Church last year, shared his testimony and I am always moved when these men and women tell of how they came to know Christ and why they wanted to seek Him in the Church. The young man told of how he searched academically for so long to find the right faith, but it was in discovering that through Baptism that he would be an adopted son of God that finally moved his heart. Since so many of us cradle Catholics are baptized as infants, I was almost envious of his conversion experience. But then I remember that I, too, have had many beautiful moments of conversion, even if I had been brought into the Church before I really knew what all of it meant.

At school, a curious student had asked me today: "why are we told to give everything to God?" It was almost as if she thought we shouldn't want to burden God with our problems, and sometimes we may feel that way. The question caught me off guard, but in a good way. In my explaining to her that God WANTS us to lay our burdens down on Him as He takes them to the cross, and takes them on Himself, I was reminded that I need to slow down this Lent and give everything- especially in this Lenten season- over to Him.

Finally, a happy moment from this beginning of Lent: I had been ministering communion at Mass while at school one Friday and found in my communion line a girl that I went to Catholic University with! She had moved to Richmond this summer as well, and we were able to exchange information and get together on the first Sunday of Lent. We went to Mass and brunch and got to catch each other up on all of the crazy things God had been doing in our lives. It was nice to recount where God has taken us- she herself having gone through the RCIA process while we were in college. God works in mysterious and perfect ways!



Come, Lord Jesus, as we seek to follow You and grow closer to You this Lent. Amen!

And that's my Lenten check-in so far! May we journey even closer to Jesus!

Peace,
Julia




Monday, January 25, 2016

The Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul: 2016


To quote an overly played (and played out) totally out-of-date pop culture reference from 2013:

GUESS WHAT DAY IT IS!?!?





The Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul!!!

It's not news by now that 8-9 years ago (yeesh) when I was discerning religious life that I had a special connection to St. Paul on this feast day. I was in need of a "blinding light" and a conversion in the midst of my suffering and I feel like I got it with the help and inspiration of Paul.

Since then, I take this day to meditate and reflect on any conversions I might need to make in my life and I ask St. Paul to help me with them.

Last year on this day, my friends and I were on a retreat that my spiritual director had planned. It was the last retreat that I have been on. I was supposed to go on one with the RCIA group that I am helping out with in my new parish, but it got snowed out!




View from my apartment window after two days of non-stop snow. We have about 1 1/2 feet!

Because the retreat last year was on this feast day, my spiritual director (who is known for coming up with awesome meditations for the rosary), gave us the Mysteries of St. Paul:

1st Mystery: Paul witnesses the martyrdom of St. Stephen
2nd Mystery: Paul's conversion and baptism
3rd Mystery: Paul preaches to the Gentiles
4th Mystery: Paul's letters
5th Mystery: Paul's Martyrdom

I prayed these mysteries today as I walked around in the snow on my 2nd "snow day" from school so far this year. It was kind of like my own mini-retreat. I am not sure what kind of conversion needs to be made in my life right now- things continue to be great!- but I know that we can always be called to some kind of conversion.

As I read the readings this AM for this feast day, I was struck by how horrific Paul had been to those he was persecuting and in turn how merciful the Lord was with Paul. The Lord wanted Paul to use his zeal for good instead of persecution and he sought after Paul, just like He seeks after everyone of us.

I'm praying today to use my zeal that I have for good and seeking- in this Year of Mercy- how I might, like Jesus and Paul, bring mercy to others.

A short and sweet reflection today. No need to over-complicate stuff, I'm keeping it simple...St. Paul, pray for us!

Peace,
Julia

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Keeping Christmas in 2016

This Christmas was one of the best in a while for me. Everyone in my immediate family seemed in the holiday spirit and even though there were definitely potential moments for stress, we somehow rallied together to eliminate those moments instead of heighten them this year. Many of us have had to go through transitions and new roles in the past couple of years, and it seemed that we finally were comfortable in those new roles (new babies, new living situations, new traditions, etc). 

When I recounted to a friend how enjoyable Christmas actually was, my friend noted that I was also happier than I was this time last year (she actually joked that I was "not homicidal" this year, referencing how I may or may not have had much bottled up anger towards many a fellow man last year. I feel that this is an extreme, and I promise, she was JOKING, though...point taken). And I AM happier, because I am in a new job and a new city that is a much better fit for where I'm at in my life right now.

During Advent, I meditated on the scene of the Nativity a lot, as Christmas songs about angels and Mary guided my thoughts to that Christmas event. Now it is the Christmas season and I am wondering how I can keep that meditation going and how I can keep the joy I experienced this Christmas in 2016.

I just read over some posts from the earlier half of this year, where I was still unsure and frustrated with what the Lord may or may not have in store for me. I wasn't hearing the answers to prayer that I wanted. But inspired by my friend Dan (who I've written about and who passed away in 2014), I decided to take my frustration and focus on pursuing Joy, which meant focusing more on Jesus than myself. 

Christmas is, of course, about these things: Joy and Jesus. So one way that we can carry Christmas throughout the season and into the new year is by drawing closer to Him so that we might pursue Him and the joy that comes with that. 

The Church also has many feasts for us to focus on in this Christmas season: St. Stephen Martyr on Dec. 26, St John the Apostle on Dec. 27, the Feast of the Holy Innocents on Dec. 28, the feast of the Holy Family the Sunday after Christmas, the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God on Jan 1, the feast of the Epiphany (usually somewhere between Jan 2-8, but traditionally celebrated on Jan 6), and the Baptism of the Lord in mid January which closes out the Christmas season. Whew!

So there is lots to focus on! I personally want to keep meditating on the Christmas Nativity scene: what did the shepherds do after they encountered the angels and the Holy Family? How would they have been changed? How did Mary and Joseph adjust to their first few days of parenthood? what did they meditate on when they were present with the Son of God in that stable? The Nativity scene gives us a lot to contemplate, even after Dec. 25 is over. I am grateful for the Christmas season and looking forward to carrying the joy of Christmas in to 2016!

Nativity Scene from my parish- the Cathedral here in Richmond. 

May the Christmas season continue to bring us joy and closer to Christ. Merry Christmas and Happy 2016!
Peace,
Julia