Sunday, November 27, 2016

Happy New Year: Advent 2016

Happy New Year! Today is the first Sunday of Advent and the first day in our new liturgical year! Most people I know can't wait to get out of 2016. As I posted last time, 2016 hasn't been too bad for me personally, but I am ready for a new focus and Advent is always a great time to slow down and re-focus.

I took this time this last week between the Feast of Christ the King and the start of Advent to take a breath and make a little mini-retreat. I am still not sure what 2017 and the New Year will bring, but I focused a lot this past week on trust (which is always a recurring theme for us with God, I feel like...just look at all the stories in the Old Testament and salvation history! Struggling to trust God has kind of been our thing as a human race).

I stayed in the mountains for a couple of nights which was beautiful and peaceful and this image of the road kind of dropping off into the mountains where I stayed ended up being one of my meditations in trust:

For example, I don't know where the next year will take me, much like you cannot see the direction of this road until you get to it. This is also a great exercise in being in the present moment.  I know that there will be some curves and valleys and hills beyond this, but I need to trust that the Lord will be there leading me and just focus on walking in that moment.

In addition to re-focusing on trust, I meditated on what I want to do for Advent this year. Last year, I used Christmas songs to pray with which I still think was a kind of cool meditation and did help to get me into the Christmas spirit.

While in the mountains, though, I thought of the themes of Peace and Waiting as are common for Advent and I thought about how the Old Testament prophet Isaiah was a really good model for these themes. And so I've decided to read a little from Isaiah each day (which we often use during Advent in the daily readings anyways. For example, today's first reading is from Isaiah and is about how Christ will bring peace not war which is a contrast from what Jesus says in the Gospel a little bit, but that's another reflection for another time! I'm all about beating our "swords" into "plowshares" right now with all of the crazy post-election talk going on between everyone these days. We can certainly put down our social media "swords" and work on helping one another instead!)

I also want to continue my meditation on Mary since I seemed to have turned a corner with her of late in the way that I perceive her. I am also doing a talk on Mary for our RCIA group in December which will be a nice challenge and an additional reason to meditate on her this Advent.

Mary, like Isaiah, is another character we often journey with during Advent for she, too, is waiting for Christ in a unique way as His mother. I'm going to focus on her and her many titles using this litany and hope to get some light and inspiration this Advent!

How are you going to prepare for Christmas and the new liturgical year? It's already here! I'm grateful for this built in time of Advent for mediation on the peace, light, and hope that Christ brings into our world. Happy New Year!


Sunday, November 20, 2016

Feast of Christ the King 2016: A Year in Review

Another liturgical year comes to a close today, and with that, we reflect on this past year: the Year of Mercy. I am so grateful that Pope Francis had the foresight to give us such a focus this past year, because as many of us have expressed throughout the year, 2016 was kind of the worst. It wasn't bad for me personally, but so many of my friends had trying years and our country and our world certainly suffered a lot: from the deaths of some treasured artists like David Bowie and Prince, to earthquakes and floods, to the Syrian refugee crisis, to the "dumpster fire" that was this presidential election. So I am grateful that Pope Francis gave us this focus of Mercy ahead of time and I pray that we can carry that focus into the new liturgical year.

Today is the Feast of Christ the King which ends the liturgical year and so I post yet another "Year in Review." Again, 2016 was pretty alright for me, but I continue to pray that Mercy will guide us into Advent even though the "doors of Mercy" are now shut. We need Mercy now more than ever, so I will continue to carry this year's theme with me into the new liturgical year. 

I rang in the New Year as I often do with some of my besties...this year in NYC!
 Then I went to Philly to celebrate one of my original ride or die's 35th bday! (Little did we know we'd be taking an adventure of a lifetime together later this year!!)
 I got to sponsor this new favorite into the Catholic Church
 And I celebrated my 35th with friends and lots of HATS!
 I went to Vegas and got to visit one of my favorites in CA
 And we celebrated the life of a dear friend who was gone too soon...we still miss you, Steph.

 I finished out my first year as a Middle School teacher with an amazing staff at a school that I love!
 I went home to Ohio for a week in the summer and got to have fun with many of my cousins...
 More family and cousins :)
 And was reunited with college friends in the land Down Under!!!!
 New Zealand/Australia 2016!!!

I was inspired and challenged by the Year of Mercy and participated in my first Art shows!
 I wore my 8th bridesmaid dress and celebrated the wedding of two of my best friends...

And ended the year with a quick trip from the 'rents in RVA!

So I have much to be thankful for as we close out this year and look towards Advent. I have no idea what 2017 will hold, but I'm finding being in the present moment much easier as I get older. I know that 2017 will bring blessings and challenges, but I am grateful that I have so many loved ones to encounter these blessings and challenges with. I am excited for new opportunities, new ways to grow closer to others and the Lord. Bring on Advent and the new year!

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Feeling Better: Hope and Mercy

I needed to write my post last week as I was coming out of a dark fog waking up into a reality I didn't think possible. I apologize that I strayed from my typically theological narrative. I don't want to ignore that post or "move past it" because I still very much am feeling through how powerful the results of this election are for me. I am still sad. And it is not because one political party won out over another. Voting is never about parties for me. It is about who we elect to represent and make decisions for our country and I am still very sad and disappointed in that decision.

But this weekend and this week, I am reminded that even a president is not my sole leader or authority. He or she plays a very real and powerful authority in our world, but not the most powerful. I have had to go back to my original narrative and voice: God is our center. I prayed a novena before the election to put Him in control of whatever the outcome. And I still believe that He is watching over us (He might be shaking His head!) and has a plan. 

This coming Sunday is the last Sunday of this liturgical year. And this year has been marked as the Year of Mercy. After the results of last week and the backlash that we have seen in protests around the country since those results, it seems this Year of Mercy has really been preparing us for the year to come. How are we (who are clearly so divided as a country right now) going to come together and have mercy for one another?

I, personally, have tried to be much more conscious of being kinder to others, looking others in the eye, and just generally being more compassionate this week. While my initial response was anger and disbelief, it has moved to- not acceptance per se because I will never accept that this result is "okay"- but more hopeful. Though some of the protests have been violent, I've mostly just experienced kindness, openness, and acceptance from others who share the concern for those who may be hurt by this election. Not ironically, they are the same as those that were outcast in Jesus' day: women, the sick, the poor, the foreigner. 

The readings for this coming Sunday's feast of Christ the King remind us of the kind of King we have. It is not a Gospel reading of Jesus in all of His Glory in heaven. The reading we get is of Him on the cross, offering His life for the good of mankind. And one of the thieves crucified next to Him denies Christ's kingship, while the other acknowledges it: "Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom." Jesus assures the thief- the outcast, the sinner- that "indeed, he will be with Him in paradise." We have a king that sacrifices Himself and forgives. 

That is the model that we have for authority. Not what we have seen in this election. And I will continue to pray that more and more people will accept humility as a sign of kingship. Though, we are in good company- it didn't make sense to the people in Jesus' time and it still doesn't seem to make sense to us now. 

Over and over again, I have mentioned how I am humbled when I work with people in the RCIA program at my Church who want to become Catholic. Tonight I prayed with a few men who are seeking full entrance into the Church. One in particular was very honest with me, we prayed together, and at the end both had tears in our eyes. We talked about our appreciation for the blessed Mother and all her different "faces": Our Lady of Guadelupe, Lourdes, Czestochowa- she presents herself to all of us in ways that we can relate to. 

I have long struggled in my relationship with Mary, but I also read an article recently that reminded me that she embodies so many of those outcast today: she was a young pregnant girl, pregnant outside of marriage, a Middle Eastern girl in an oppressed society, mostly voiceless in the eyes of her society...SHE was the one that was chosen to give us the Son of God. She represents so many of those who I am sad for and afraid for today. So I may have finally solved my own Mary mystery for myself: Mary represents those who are outcast- those we are fighting for, crying for, praying for. And I will lift them up to her for the next four years and as long as I have to for She is the one who, through the Holy Spirit, brought Mercy personified into the world. 

Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of the Americas, pray for us. 


Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Stronger Together

I have tried, over the years, to not get too political in my blog, in my job, or in social media posts. My friends and family who know me well know where my political views lie. I, of course, pray and vote with my conscience, and that is often difficult because as a Catholic there is never a clear cut candidate or party.

But this election has broken me. I never talk about who I will vote for in class, but all of my students this year knew that I did not like Donald Trump. It started back in the primaries when there were several candidates. None of us thought he would actually become the nominee. Then he did.

Then launched, as we all know, one of the most horrifying and telling presidential campaigns in recent history. As a public speaking and media literacy teacher, I told my students that this campaign was different for many reasons because instead of using facts (logos) and ethos (credibility) for their rhetoric as most candidates in the past, these two nominees were using pure pathos (emotions) to persuade their supporters. And I do believe that one did that even more so than the other. He relied on less facts and more fear and anger to get his votes. And he won the election.

In the past, I have remained silent when I was told that there was only one party or candidate that I could or could not vote for. This year, I broke my silence because I could not stand by and be told that someone who has been caught on tape saying racist, misogynistic, and terrifying things was a candidate that I should vote for. This is not who we are as Christians, though it seems to be who we are as Americans right now.

In many ways, because of where our focus is right now as a country (aka ourselves and self preservation), we brought this upon ourselves. I could continue to be negative and add to this web of fear speech, but instead I'm going to shift my focus for I still believe that we are "Stronger Together."

When I woke up this morning I knew that I would have to put on a brave face, but I was sad and nervous about how to address my students. Again, I teach media so we have all been watching this election together. Though, it was so tough this year since we had a candidate saying things like  "I could literally shoot someone in the street and would still get votes." How was I supposed to talk about this with 11 year olds? How was I suppose to tell them that in my 35 years of life I have never experienced anything like this and this is not what an election should be?

When I walked in this AM, though, my students read me well and came in somewhat quiet. I knew that many of them (as I work in a rich, white, privileged area) were actually excited about the outcome because their parents were. They asked respectfully: "can we talk about the election?" While I really didn't want to at all, I knew that they needed to and we should. I just reminded them as I always teach them that we can have a discussion but we need to look at all sides and be respectful of others. We were able to do so and all was well. I even got some knowing looks and smiles from former students in the hallways and I appreciated their sincere empathy and sympathy.

And I am so grateful that I do teach religion because there are always, always opportunities to pray. We prayed for our future elected officials. We prayed for the state of our country. We reflected on Luke 14:7-14 aka the parable of the wedding banquet that teaches us to be humble and reach out to the poor. We talked about how Christ is a light in the darkness. And this started to turn my dreary day around.

I thought when I woke up this AM, the world had ended. But as I went through my day and encountered Christ, I am encouraged and motivated by others. We are not going to sit back and be voiceless. We are going to have our voices be heard: as women, as children of God, as Christians, as humans. As it says in Scripture: "Perfect Love casts out fear." Christ alone is our perfect love. And Love always trumps hate.

We are clearly divided as a country right now, this election has made that clear. But we are "stronger together." I hope that this election brings about the change of our hearts so that both sides can stop living in fear and start working and building a strong future together.