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!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Visitation: Fourth Sunday of Advent 2015

I truly can't believe that I have kept this blog for over 8 years now. What is my life??

Well, life is kind of awesome right now because it is Christmas Break!!!!

This year, the break wasn't nearly as needed as in years past, though I will still totally take it! Teaching Middle School is still fun and new and the students are still lovely to me (though, they started to show their less-than angelic sides the last day of school, which was to be expected).

Right before the break, we finished up our unit on the Old Testament History Books which I've taught many times before, but it's so awesome to teach it to 6th graders who have truly never heard about some of these characters or stories before.

One of the characters that a lot of the 6th grade boys particularly loved was Samson for some reason. And I guess he is the most super hero of the Judges, so that makes sense. For Advent, I've been committed to reading the daily Scriptures and as you know, meditating on one Christmas carol each day. Yesterday, the first reading was from Judges and it was about Samson's birth. When the kids and I read this a couple of weeks ago, the similarities to the New Testament was not wasted on them. See for yourselves:

"There was a certain man from Zorah, of the clan of the Danites,
whose name was Manoah. 
His wife was barren and had borne no children. 
An angel of the LORD appeared to the woman and said to her,
“Though you are barren and have had no children,
yet you will conceive and bear a son. 
Now, then, be careful to take no wine or strong drink
and to eat nothing unclean.
As for the son you will conceive and bear,
no razor shall touch his head,
for this boy is to be consecrated to God from the womb. 
It is he who will begin the deliverance of Israel
from the power of the Philistines.”

The woman went and told her husband,
“A man of God came to me;
he had the appearance of an angel of God, terrible indeed. 
I did not ask him where he came from, nor did he tell me his name. 
But he said to me,
‘You will be with child and will bear a son. 
So take neither wine nor strong drink, and eat nothing unclean. 
For the boy shall be consecrated to God from the womb,
until the day of his death.’”

The woman bore a son and named him Samson. 
The boy grew up and the LORD blessed him;
the Spirit of the LORD stirred him." - Judges 13

Sound familiar? I asked the kids why they thought the Scripture writers so often used this technique of a "miraculous birth." And they totally got it: "to show God's power." Yes! And also to show the importance of the child.

The Gospel for yesterday was then that of Gabriel announcing to Zechariah that Elizabeth, in her old age, is going to have John the Baptist. Zechariah doesn't believe this, and whenever I taught this story to teens, they always believed that Zechariah got a bad rap. He was muted until John's birth because he asked the angel: "How shall I know this?" similar to Mary's "How can this be?" which the angel totally answers for her without muting her.

Well, I could get all in to how the Greek language was super specific and their questions have super specific and different connotations, but I won't for the purposes of this blog post. It is already too stream of consciousness as it is and I shall spare you, dear reader. Moving on then!

We hear today, however- the 4th Sunday of Advent- of two important, aforementioned children and their miraculous births:

"Mary set out
and traveled to the hill country in haste
to a town of Judah, 
where she entered the house of Zechariah
and greeted Elizabeth.
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting,
the infant leaped in her womb, 
and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, 
cried out in a loud voice and said, 
“Blessed are you among women, 
and blessed is the fruit of your womb.
And how does this happen to me, 
that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, 
the infant in my womb leaped for joy.
Blessed are you who believed
that what was spoken to you by the Lord
would be fulfilled.” - Luke 1:39-45

I have mentioned earlier this year that when I moved to RVA, I wanted to get involved at my new parish, which happens to be the cathedral parish. When I met with the Director of Faith Formation, she said that they needed sponsors for RCIA. I was glad to be working with adults instead of kids for once, and it has been such a blessing. Each week, we as an RCIA community- sponsors and candidates- look at the Scriptures for the upcoming Sunday together. It is so awesome to explore Scripture with this group of adults- some of who have been involved with their faith for a while and some who are looking at it with new eyes. It helps me, too, to look at the Scriptures with new eyes.

We had an awesome discussion last week about this Gospel from Luke of the Visitation between Mary and Elizabeth. First, of how interesting that it seems that Mary may have traveled to see Elizabeth alone, which would have been unheard of in the Middle East at that time. She most likely would've traveled with a caravan of people, but it makes no mention of that here. Whether she traveled alone or not doesn't exactly matter, but it's interesting that I always sort of assumed she had, even though that may not have been culturally correct.

Also, one of the men in our group asked if it were true that women could truly tell when another woman was pregnant. Like, would Elizabeth really have sensed that Mary was with child. The women in the group all agreed that we can totally tell when a woman is pregnant. I myself have never been pregnant, of course, but I totally can tell when my friends are going to tell me that they are. Namely, they don't touch the alcohol that they normally would, but a friend just knows that there is a certain joy or glow about them when they are going to make such an announcement.

Not having been pregnant, I always was kind of caught off guard with the phrases about John the Baptist "leaping" in Elizabeth's womb at the sense of Jesus' presence. Like, I get that babies kick and move and stuff, but it's a little weird that John the Baptist could sense Jesus in Mary's womb, right? But if we look back at the technique used when describing Samson, these phrases kind of make sense. Luke is showing that John the Baptist, from the beginning, was excited about Jesus. That from birth he was chosen to "prepare the way" for Jesus and announce the Messiah to all when they were older. Looking at it in that sense, it is kind of a beautiful gesture, really.

Look! I found an icon that adequately sums up the weird beauty of this event!

John the Baptist is always a major player in the Advent journey, but this year more than ever I've been kind of attune to his role. The monsignor at my parish gave an awesome homily last week using Oscar Romero as an example of a modern day John the Baptist. The two did have some similarities: they challenged others with messages that the people of the time did not want to hear. They were not well liked by the government officials of their time and place. They both were martyred for their faith and proclamation of the Gospel.

St. John the Baptist and Oscar Romero, pray/intercede for us!

With this time of Advent drawing to a close and Christmas coming soon, there will be many "visitations" of our own as we visit with family and friends. May we keep in our minds and hearts the greetings of John the Baptist and Elizabeth when we greet the Christ Child and His Mother at Christmas, and carry that same joy and enthusiasm with all that we meet.

Merry (almost) Christmas! Only two more weeks of 2015!!!