Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Easter Alleluia and Divine Mercy Sunday 2014

After a long winter, Spring is finally here and also Easter! The Octave of Easter is always celebratory for me (because it is also my Spring Break ;), but this year it was celebratory in many different ways.

I haven't gone home to Ohio for Easter since 2010:

I think Easter was in March that year, but it was warm enough to sit outside and have a beer by the Lake!

And it is Easter year round in Lorain, OH with the infamous Easter Basket at Lakeview Park

This year, it was also warm (finally!) and I again got to spend time with family. Though, this year there were some new additions:

Me and my new niece, Natalie (the sun was in her eyes ;)
 My cousin's new little one, Jillian (wearing her Easter Monday Dyngus Day outfit!)
 And this guy who also wasn't in the picture 4 years ago but is going to be 4 this fall! My nephew, Lucas:
So the theme of my Easter Octave this year was family (but also- babies! So many!)

One of the other celebratory things that I got to do this Easter Octave was experience Dyngus Day in Cleveland with some of my other Polish relatives. If you are not aware of what Dyngus Day is, you can read about it here (and I suggest that you do! :).

I also got to celebrate my 33rd birthday. Year 33 is supposedly the "Jesus Year". The year that Jesus completed His mission on earth (until He comes again). He performed the mystery that we just celebrated- the Paschal Mystery. He suffered, died, rose, and ascended into heaven.

You may recall that I turned 30 (the year that Jesus begins his ministry in Scripture ) 3 years ago in 2011 on what turned out to be Good Friday that year. This year, my 33rd fell during the Easter Octave. I just find this so appropriate. Ever since my first communion (My 8th birthday ;) my birthdays have kind of synced up with themes in my life with Christ. I hope that this means that this year- my Jesus year- that some of my mission and mystery will also be revealed come to fulfillment!

Speaking of mission...Today is Divine Mercy Sunday which is always such a powerful, special day in the Church. SAINT Pope John Paul II ( I get to say that now!) instituted this day based on the visions and instructions given to another fellow Polish saint of his- St. Faustina. The Holy Father then died around Divine Mercy Sunday in 2005 ( I was in Europe on that day in '05 and will be in Europe again this summer, the year of his canonization! What a blessing!). Today, on Divine Mercy Sunday 2014, he is canonized a SAINT along with another really holy pope, SAINT John XXIII!

I was obviously not alive during St. John XXIII's papacy, but I have grown to respect him since my studies for my Masters. It was he that really began Vatican II and then passed it on to Paul VI (another fav pope of mine, but also before my time). I read the Vatican II documents during my studies and they have forever changed the direction of the Church and also inspired so many- including St. John Paul II- with the idea of the "New Evangelization" of our Catholic Church.

It was really cool because on this day- the canonization of Sts John XXIII and John Paul II- I got to hear the former Dean of Catholic U's Theology School give the homily at the parish I went to Mass at today. It was such a nice and perfect surprise! He spoke about the popes and their influence on the Church and evangelization and it was fitting that the message was delivered by someone who ran the school from which I learned about these popes and much of their work that allows *me* to my own work on evangelization.

Monsignor Irwin (the aforementioned former Dean) used today's Gospel which is the story about doubting Thomas to really hammer home this idea of evangelization. Msgr began by talking about 21st century methods of evangelization and how we perhaps need to move away from books in some cases and go towards something like TED talks as a method of evangelization since the young are not so much connected to texts as they are texting. He reminded us that in the early Church images like stained glass and statues (eek! :) and icons were used to demonstrate the teachings of the Church.

He mentioned a Church in New York- St Thomas Episcopal Church- that apparently has 4 images of Thomas and the stages he went through in today's Gospel story (I tried to find these images to no avail. if you are familiar with them or find them, let me know, as I'm very interested in these now!): Doubt, Despair, Confession, and Mission.

Doubt: Thomas is known for doubting the message that Jesus was indeed resurrected. Each of us obviously experience doubt throughout our lives and stages of faith. Msgr used a Tennyson quote that I really liked when speaking about this: "There lives more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in half the creeds." Doubt that seeks understanding is good. It is when we stop search altogether and just become indifferent is what is dangerous.

Despair: Thomas was no doubt (heh. get it?) despairing at this time when his friends were talking about Christ's resurrection. His last real encounter with Jesus was watching his friend and teacher suffer trial and death. Perhaps his despair clouded the truth for him. I know that despair certainly does this for us.

Confession: Thomas finally sees the risen Christ and confesses not only of his doubt, but also professes that he does now, indeed, believe. This confession then moves to his mission, which confession should also do for us. Once we recognize the truth, we confess to it and move on so as not to let anything hold us back.

Mission: Thomas went out and proclaimed the message of the Gospel supposedly to India. We are to go out and profess what we have witnessed and "seen" in our own personal encounters with Christ.

Thomas confessing and seeing the risen Christ after his doubting

Our two newest saints now among the ranks of St. Thomas! So cool!

I just love it. All of it. I love Easter and I love when everything coincides and just seems to fit together to make sense.

After the confusion and darkness of winter and Lent, we get the joy and clarity of Spring and Easter! Alleluia!

And I can't WAIT to go to Krakow this summer (oh, yeah, didn't I mention I'm going to Eastern Europe this summer!!!!) and see how my people (the Poles ;) are going to honor their new holy saint!

Sts. Thomas, John XXIII, and John Paul II, pray for us!! Happy Easter!


Sunday, April 6, 2014

The Resurrection and the Life

This Sunday's Gospel for the 5th Sunday of Lent is one that has had a lot of meaning for me throughout the years. When I was first really delving into my relationship with God in my late teens, early 20s, this Scripture was a message to me of God's personal love for me. And those moments of real, true personal love and relationship are so crucial when forming a relationship with anyone, but especially God.

This past Sunday's Gosepl was John 11:1-45 or the raising of Lazarus. As I mentioned, when I was first getting to know God and myself, I focused mainly on the emotion expressed by Jesus in this passage. This gospel contains one of the shortests phrases in Scripture: "and Jesus wept." It should come as no surprise that as a teen or woman in my early 20s that Christ's display of emotion was the focus for me because that seems to be what women in our teens and early 20s DO: we emote. I heard a homily on this passage at age 20 or 21 in which the priest encouraged us to imagine Christ weeping for us like he did Lazarus because he loves us just as much as his friend. Again, for an early 20 something, this emotional connection helped make Christ much more real to me. I liked the idea of Jesus having human emotions because that made God more tangible in my eyes. And the idea that He cared for me the same way as he did a close friend that He personally knew while on earth, well, that idea also kind of blew my mind at the time.

A few years later as I was struggling in the convent, the idea of "coming out of the tomb" like Lazarus struck me. I felt like I had been "buried" and needed to come back to  life. Even the sister that was my formator agreed that a vocation wasn't meant to feel like I had died, but rather, a vocation was supposed to bring us to life! I contemplated that as I contemplated this gospel once again. I didn't like who I was at that place and time. I thought I had a "stench" to take an image straight from the Gospel (Martha is afraid to roll the stone away like Jesus asks because she knows her brother has been dead for four days and this is the desert, right?) The stench of death was something that she feared and was going to keep her from allowing Jesus to do His miracle. I, too, was afraid of what might happen if I came back out of the convent, back to "life", but ultimately, I trusted God just as I had when I went in the convent, and I have definitely been given new life.

So much so that when I hear this gospel today, I just get excited about the Resurrection. Easter is almost here! And this miracle clearly foreshadows the amazing thing that Christ will do Himself in just another week or two. All of the readings this Lent have been so great. As the priest who gave the homily at Mass today said, we have gotten to journey with Christ and be taught in different "classrooms." Lent began with the "classroom" of the desert where He was tempted for 40 days. Then we were taken to the "classroom" of Mt. Tabor and got to see our Lord transfigured. Then we heard of the woman at the well and the cleansing of the blind man- two stories of purification and cleansing. And now, the week before Holy Week, we close out Lent with this very special Gospel of Resurrection and new life.

What struck me today is the transformation of Martha. I've always been able to relate to Martha, particularly the story for which she is most well known: she works, while her sister sits at Christ's feet. Today, though, Christ encounters Martha while Mary stays home. She gets to have the special encounter with Christ. Which shows me that Martha has learned something. She has changed her priorities. She has changed her ways.

When Christ asks her: "Do you believe this? [that her brother will rise]" She answers by showing her true conversion: "Yes, Lord, I have come to believe that You are the Christ." I have come to believe. This phrase shows her progress, the time she has put in getting to know the Lord and letting Him work in her life. She has come to believe. But it has been a process.

The concept of time in this story also struck me as important today. The priest at Mass today also pointed out that he often questioned, as we perhaps have, "why does Jesus remain for two days when he hears his friend is sick?" Why not go right away to see Lazarus? Jesus addresses this later before he raises Lazarus and says: "Father, I thank you for hearing me. I know you always hear me, but because of the crowd I have said this." He had to wait for two days so that this miracle would be even bigger. Bigger than just healing a sick person as he had done before. He waits so that He can bring the dead back to life and have an even bigger miracle so that we might see and believe.

These two messages of Martha's transformation and the necessity of Jesus' waiting hit home to me today and it is amazing that one Gospel passage can come to life (no pun intended ;) in so many different ways at the very right times for me. I can identify with Martha's progress. I have also come to know and to believe in Jesus since 10 years ago, 5 years ago...but those moments helped in my transformation. Also, I love the message that Jesus waits, which doesn't make sense, but allows an even bigger miracle to happen so that we might believe.

I am praying and trusting in the waiting. I often ask Jesus: "why are You waiting? Had you only come sooner, this that or the other may have happened!" But today I realized it is so that myself and others may see the good work He does and will do because of the waiting.

Lord, I have come to know and believe that You are the Resurrection and the Life. I can't wait until Easter!

Hope you all have a blessed 5th week of Lent as we prepare for the Holiest of Weeks!