Friday, August 11, 2017

Re-Choosing, Re-Discerning, Re-Building

Today is the feast of one of my favorite saints, St. Clare of Assisi. When I was discerning religious life over a decade (gah!) ago, I spent a lot of time with a particular order of Franciscans and came to love St. Francis and St. Clare.

When I was in Assisi two summers ago, we went to Sunday Mass at the Basilica of St. Clare. This was such a blessing and my time in Assisi was also significant because I was at a crossroads concerning my career and making my move to Richmond.

Basilica of St. Clare in Assisi, Italy- June 2015

After Mass at St. Clare's, I got some time to explore Assisi on my own and had some quality prayer time in some significant places in the life of Francis. When praying in the basilica where St. Francis is buried, I pondered the message that St. Francis himself had received: "Rebuild my Church." I found in those moments of prayer my own answer to my current discernment, to "rebuild His Church" by taking a job in Richmond teaching Middle Schoolers. It was a perfect moment and I have been affirmed again and again that I am in the right place for me right now.

This summer, I have been praying about feeling TOO comfortable. I never want to feel too comfortable with something because that is when we stop growing and moving forward. I want to re-claim the choices and decisions that God has led me to make up until this point in my life, so that I can re-affirm and move forward. I don't want to become so comfortable in my ministry as a Middle School teacher that I stop seeing it as a ministry. So these past couple of weeks, before we return back to school, I have been pondering my past years in ministry, and re-choosing, re-committing myself as a minister through the work God has called me to do.

This month, this year (Aug 22 to be exact) will mark 10 years since I entered religious life. It will always be such a defining moment in my life, even though I didn't stay very long in community (just one year of postulancy). The choices and the moments that led up to that entrance 10 years ago were crucial as was my personal formation during that time. And ultimately, taking classes while in formation led me to want to pursue my Masters degree and further shaped my call to evangelize through media and education.

There have been times where I questioned some of my decisions, but I firmly believe that all of our decisions, whether right or wrong, shape who are today. And as I look back on the 10-15 years that I have been in ministry (NET Ministries post-college, diocesan youth ministry, postulancy, non-profit work, and now teaching) I know that all of my experiences have built upon each other, leading to where I am now.

I am not sure what the Lord wants me to build next or what the next building block will be. But I am confident that it will be right as long as I remain open to asking and responding wherever and whenever He says: "rebuild my Church." As for right now, I will be content and confident in re-committing to building where He has placed me, but listening for the call for that next piece, that next brick.

I also have to remind myself, that each little thing that we do can help build up the Church as well. It doesn't have to be some huge, life-changing building block. We are all a piece of the Church and make our mark in our own, many ways.

St. Francis and St. Clare, pray for us!

Peace,
Julia


Monday, July 17, 2017

Perfect Love Casts Out Fear

Halfway through the year, halfway through the summer! What??? Once again, where did it all go?

I can't complain on any accounts. 2017 has been pretty okay personally (barring the political headaches, of course) and so far, my summer has been pretty perfect as well.

I returned about 2 weeks ago from an awesome trip to Spain, Morocco, and Portugal. I had been to Spain, before, but only Barcelona, not the south of Spain. The southern part of Spain feels different than the rest of Western Europe because of the Moorish/Muslim influence in architecture and history. Some of the highlights of the trip were seeing places where the three monotheistic religions, at some point, had come together. For example,

On one of our first days, we went to Toledo and saw this Synagogue turned Christian Church that was built by Muslims! You can see influences of each of the faiths here, which I found to just be amazing that at one point in time, these three faiths somewhat coexisted (until they started driving one another out, which seems to be still occurring today).

 Moorish architecture and the influence of the Muslims can also be seen at the Alhambra in Grenada, Spain
There is Arabic written all around the Alhambra with prayers in praise to God. Beautiful!

One of our first days in Spain also happened to be the feast of Corpus Christi. When I was in Spain previously, I had the good fortune of being in Barcelona during "Semana Santa" or Holy Week, so I knew that Spain is still very much rooted in Catholicism and does their feast days up big. We caught many celebrations for the feast of Corpus Christi while in Madrid and Toledo:

 Streets of Madrid during their Corpus Christi Procession, June 2017
 The Eucharist! Corpus Christi Procession, Madrid, 2017
Outside the Cathedral in Segovia, girls in their first communion dresses for Corpus Christi

After making our way through the southern half of Spain, we took a ferry across to Morocco. My friend and I had really wanted to make this trip because of the Moroccan component. Turns out, we were in Morocco during Ramadan and this definitely impacted our experience. A lot of businesses were closed and not serving alcohol during Ramadan, which I had to respect. While I strongly believe in a separation of Church and State, there is something to be said for a people uniting in something and practicing such discipline. It was inspiring. Some nights, we would be having dinner and the people who were serving us had been fasting all day. We had to eat quickly before sundown because it would then be their turn to finally eat and break their fasts.

 More beautiful architecture in Fes, Morocco.
 A sundown celebration during Ramadan in Marrakesh, Morocco.
Hassem II Mosque in Casablanca, Morocco. There were mosques literally on every corner (not all as impressive as this) and we often could hear the call to prayer. Again, it was a very humbling and inspiring thing to witness, especially during Ramadan. 

After about 5 days in Morocco, we took the ferry back to Spain, stopped in BEAUTIFUL Sevilla, before making our way to Portugal.

We were in Portugal during the Feasts of St. Peter and Paul, which is a significant feast day for me, of course, due to my love of St. Paul and history with the Daughters of St. Paul. My friend knows that this is an important feast day for me, and we've often been traveling together on this feast and have gotten to spend it in a fun and prayerful way. This year, we toured some amazing sites in Lisbon, including the Belem Tower which was something I really wanted to see, the Hieronymite Monastery (you can google these structures and I assure you, they look exactly the same irl- in real life!), and the Cathedral in Lisbon, St. Anthony's:


Here is our St. Peter and Paul Day selfie in front of St. Anthony's in Lisbon. Fun fact: St. Anthony is the patron saint of Portugal. Even though he is known for his time in Padua, Italy, he was born in Lisbon. 

Lisbon and Portugal were beautiful and I could post so many amazing pictures from all of these places, but I definitely want to mention a couple more religious sites that were noteworthy and totally unexpected as this was a secular, not religious, tour that we booked!

 We got to visit the Shrine of Fatima- one of the most famous apparitions of the Virgin Mary took place here. It happened in 1917- exactly 100 years ago this year. In fact, the 100th anniversary of the apparition took place in May. There were still many things up for the jubliee year around the site, including where the Holy Father had held Mass just months prior.
 Inside this church are the tombs of the 3 children whom Mary appeared to. The most powerful thing for me about this place, was praying in front of their tombs. Jacinta and Francisco died as children, shortly after Mary appeared to them. But Lucia, their cousin, lived to be in her 90s and is finally at rest with them. I am currently reading a book I purchased there written by Lucia about her experiences.

After Portugal, we once again cut back into Spain, this time across the northwest and got to see Salamenca on our way back to Madrid. We also took a brief rest stop on part of the Camino that overlooks Avila, the place of my homegirl, St. Teresa of Avila! She also was all over Segovia, Spain, when we toured there as well.

Upon my return from another amazing couple weeks of summer travel, I've had time to rest and besides my travel time, the time I have to rest in the summer is my most treasured. Though my life is pretty simple, working two jobs and often 7 days a week for most of the year, makes me long for these summer days.

As mentioned, while 2017 has gone somewhat smoothly from a personal perspective, I haven't stopped struggling with it from a political perspective. I definitely went through some stages of grief for our country: denial, sadness, anger, but I will never move on to the moment of acceptance. I've just tried to refocus my dissatisfaction and not let it fester.

My problems with the current political state stem from the fact that our faith is rooted in justice. Christ makes right Adam's wrong. He heals the sick. He teaches us to do good for others by His life on earth. This sense of justice and right has been twisted to benefit those in power, rather than those Christ reached out to while on earth: the sick, the lowly, the poor.

This whole election cycle was built on fear. Fear of the other. And as I reflected on the readings this week, this is a cycle that is not new. This morning's first reading was about the Pharaoh during Moses' time who started to fear the Israelites and did not want them to gain power in Egypt. So he oppressed them and killed newborn male children. Perhaps our leaders aren't doing exactly this, but oppressing other peoples- women, Muslims, the poor- out of fear of what power they might lose...this is exactly what I see today.

Even in my readings of Fatima right now, I struggle with the fact that these children in some ways are fearful. And for children to be fearful is a normal, developmental reaction. But it says in John's letters in Scripture that: "Perfect Love casts out fear." Some fear of disappointing is healthy. To not want to do wrong is the goal. But to be always operating out of fear, I cannot see as healthy and I see us doing it more and more as a society.

Having just returned from a Muslim country, before I went, people asked if I was afraid. Afraid to go with a tour group to a country that has been approved for travel? No. I was not afraid. We were totally safe the entire time. And also as mentioned, observing the faith that the Moroccans practiced during their time of fasting was humbling and inspiring. We could learn something from that kind of dedicated discipline.

As I continue to meditate this summer, I will think about how I can continue to grow. This past Sunday's Gospel was that of Matthew's account of the parable of the Sower. This parable is so well known and so well used that it can be easy to gloss over and say: "well, certainly, I am the seed that fell on good soil." I almost glossed over it myself, but when I forced myself to look at it, I saw the ways in which I am sometimes the seed that gets scorched or choked or blown away by the wind. It is a good meditation to keep us moving forward and never get too comfortable.

I'm also approaching the 10 year anniversary of this blog which means 10 years since I entered my year of postulancy! But that is another meditation for another time.

Lots to meditate on this summer! And I'm grateful to have some time to do just that.

Peace,
Julia


Saturday, June 3, 2017

Empowerment and Faithfulness: Pentecost 2017

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth.


I just prayed the prayers for the ninth day of the Novena to the Holy Spirit. That means...it's here!

Pentecost 2017! (insert emoji praise hands here!)

My love for this feast is well documented on this blog. So as I finished my novena today, I asked myself: why do I love this feast so much? In the past, it has been the recognition of freedom that the Spirit provides. Also, the discovery that Christ sent the Spirit to us to help us on our journey; that the Spirit is our "Advocate" (according to John's Gospel). 

Today as I reflected, I am reminded that this feast day is a reminder of God's faithfulness for myself personally but also for the Church. And it is also a feast of empowerment, which has been such a theme for peoples this year.

I am reminded of God's faithfulness to me on this day in the past: the times of self discovery and new found freedom in my relationship with God. Times when I have been afraid or unsure, much like the apostles. And these reminders assure me that God is still present and will be faithful to me in the future. Even though things are going pretty smoothly right now- I've settled into my life in Richmond, working two jobs, being part of a spiritual community here, as well as my friend community- I do not want to get too comfortable in my relationship with God or with myself. This feast day is a reminder that the Holy Spirit can come down and shake things up at any time. But the beauty of that is the freedom it allows and also the gifts that the Spirit provides.

The feast day of Pentecost was a moment of faithfulness and empowerment for the Church as well. As mentioned, Christ promised His apostles that He would send them an "Advocate" to help them when He ascended back into heaven. He gave them the Spirit to help them with their mission on earth. And so the Spirit is for us, too. Pentecost reminds us that we have a mission and the Lord advocates for us by giving us the aforementioned gifts to help us in everything we may be called to do.

The Lord has been very faithful to me in always allowing me some time of rest and travel around this time of year as well. This year, I am reuniting with my teacher friend who I've traveled with in the past. We had tossed the idea of going to Morocco around a couple of years ago and this year we made it a reality! We have booked a tour that will take us to Madrid and Southern Spain, Morocco, and Portugal! I am praying to the Holy Spirit to remain faithful by keeping us safe and keeping us open to all that God has for us on this trip.

I am so looking forward to seeing all of the beautiful architecture on our trip!

Prayers for a blessed Pentecost! May we receive the gifts and power of the Holy Spirit and put them to good use this summer and beyond.

Peace,
Julia

Monday, May 29, 2017

Ascending with Mary

May is recognized throughout the Catholic Church as a month dedicated to Mary. When the RCIA program ended this year, the Faith Formation coordinator at my parish asked if I would help with an adult Bible Study with the focus being on Mary. Despite my struggle (that I've documented on this blog more than once) with connecting with the Blessed Mother, this year, I have been called upon- at least 3 times now outside of my own classroom- to speak about her and teach about her to others. So, in the spirit of Mary's "fiat", I suppose, I said "yes."

I was a little bit nervous, but my parish was using a video and workbook series that already had the lessons planned out for us, and a deacon at my parish was also going to help lead the sessions. As the Faith Formation coordinator said to me: "Julia. You are a teacher. You will be fine!" The study would consist of 4 weeks of meeting, watching the prescribed videos, small group discussion, and "homework." I knew I could handle it.

The first meeting was simple: introductions, meeting the other folks joining the study, and watching the introductory videos. A bible scholar taking us through the Holy Land and Mary's hometown of Nazareth appeared on the screen and didn't really tell me anything I didn't already know. The workbook was divided into sections based on the few times that Mary is mentioned in Scripture: her Annunciation with Gabriel, Visitation with Elizabeth, the Nativity, Presentation and Finding in the Temple, Wedding at Cana, and with John at the foot of the Cross. I could have predicted these lessons as well.

I took the workbook home, and being the study facilitator, I decided I probably should at least try to work through some of the Scripture verses set out for us to work with, even if I knew all the verses already. I felt like my students probably do on a regular basis, flipping back and forth between Old and New Testament as I jotted down answers to pre-written questions. The parallels that were made for us were also somewhat predictable for me: Old testament prophecies of the Messiah being born of a Virgin, David rejoicing bringing the "ark of the Covenant" (a term we use for Mary) into Jerusalem....it didn't look like my epiphany with Mary was going to come any time soon.

May started out more difficult that I thought it would, too. I thought that after the late Spring Break in April, the end of the year would seem like a breeze and would go quickly. This has not been the case. I don't pay too much attention to astrology, obviously, but it was said that early May had a whole lot of retrograde going on and for whatever reason, I felt it. Things just were not sitting as they should. May was supposed to be a breeze! This Bible Study was supposed to bring me an epiphany in which I would finally "get" Mary! The Easter Season is supposed to be joy filled and my favorite time of year!


I really like this image with the Holy Spirit descending upon Mary as we are approaching one of my favorite feasts, Pentecost! Come, Holy Spirit!

Today is the feast of the Ascension ( well, last Thursday was- 40 days after Easter- but our diocese celebrates it on the Sunday after), which is an important feast in and of itself, but also begins the count down to Pentecost and the end of the Easter Season. This is typically my favorite time of year. And things have begun to settle down. The school year is winding down, we have the 3 days Memorial Day weekend (which I've taken just to relax and gear up for summer), and the Bible Study is winding down as well.

As I completed the "homework" for the last bible study session, I once again kind of brushed through the Wedding at Cana lesson, knowing the story somewhat by heart. I get that there is huge significance to this story. This is where Jesus preforms his first miracle and thus begins His mission. And it starts at a request from Mary. She plays a key role in His ministry from the start. Which started to get me thinking...

God entrusted a woman to help bring about salvation for us all. And not just a woman, a young, teenaged-pregnant, Middle Eastern woman. Our society today still has an emphasis on male leadership, but it was even more-so back then. God continually broke this tradition despite its dangers and its anti-status quo. I wrote one of my research papers for my Masters degree on Old Testament women and their role in Salvation History: Sarah, an old woman, despite convention, starts salvation history with the birth of Isaac. Deborah and Jael- a judge and a harlot- help to conquer part of the Promised Land. And Jesus throughout the New Testament looks to and cares for women when other men in his society shunned them: the woman at the well, the woman caught in adultery, Mary and Martha (the sisters of Lazarus), Mary Magdalene...

And then our Bible Study took us to the foot of the Cross. Mary is mentioned here as Jesus, on the cross, looks to her and tells her to behold St. John the Beloved as her son and St. John to behold her as his mother. Essentially, Christ is giving Mary to all of us as our Mother through St. John. He wants us to look to her and she will look after us. But again, I have known all of this. It hasn't meant much to me, even though it perhaps should.

It was something else in this setting of the Passion that finally started to turn my heart to Mary. The author of the study had us look up a verse which mentioned that the apostles "scattered" during this time of the Passion and Crucifixion. Mary and the women, however, stood with Jesus at the foot of the cross. This finally struck me with the courage that Mary and these women had. When Jesus' male friends were fearing for their lives, the women were courageous and loyal. They stood by Jesus until the end when Jesus' male followers could not and did not.

Women are naturally loyal, compassionate, and strong. God has shown us this throughout Scriptures. Why, then, do we continue to cast women as meek or submissive? Irrational? Emotional? This woman that the Church holds in such high regard, why do we diminish her to this submissive servant when she was courageous, bold, brave? In the scenario that I almost looked over at the Wedding at Cana, she is the one who told Jesus that He was ready for His first miracle. She nudged Him to begin His ministry. How many times have women been the "nudge" for men to go on and then do great things with no recognition?

In this day and age, to still cast women aside, to still assume that we have no voice, to still not look at us as equal is to do a disservice to women and the plan God clearly has for women. I, too, used to view Mary as meek and reserved. But in these latter stories in particular, I no longer see her as such. Perhaps in the beginning, as a young, teenaged, extremely devout, sinless girl greeted by an angel- I cannot relate to her. I can admire her. I can aspire to be that obedient and open to God's will. But later, as she grows in age and in her identity, she is bold, she is fearless- openly telling her Messianic Son it is time for His mission to begin and standing fearlessly- when other men scattered- with Him at the end. This is the Mary that I can get behind. And this is the Mary that we should elevate and remember as well as her obedient "fiat".

Even after the Annunciation from Gabriel, Mary immediately takes action. The angel mentions that Mary's older cousin, Elizabeth, has also conceived a child. Mary immediately goes to see her cousin. I have to imagine that she was curious. I'm sure she also wanted to be there for Elizabeth. She was compassionate. She bravely traveled as a young girl to see her older cousin, seeking answers to the questions she was "pondering." She didn't merely sit and ponder like I was sometimes was thought to believe. She sought answers. All while risking her life in her time and culture with this unconventional pregnancy.

These qualities of Mary: her curiosity (she is continually "pondering all these things in her heart"), her bravery, her boldness, her strength, her taking action, her loyalty, her faith...these are qualities that I can relate to with Mary. I wish our culture would uphold these qualities in her and other women for all to see as well.

As we head towards Pentecost, I am again praying the traditional novena to the Holy Spirit. And I am not praying for anything other than just that, really. I'm praying that the Holy Spirit will send down Its gifts so that we can grow in insight and be moved to do what's best for our world, for our country, for this present time.


Peace,
Julia




Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Easter Alleluia 2017

Alleluia! He is Risen! We get to say this for the next, oh, 50 days or so and I can't wait! The Easter Season is my FAVORITE.

As we hear in the Psalm today: "The stone that the builders rejected, has become the cornerstone." Psalm 118. On Good Friday, we saw the world reject Jesus. But today, we remember that His Death and Resurrection is the cornerstone of our faith.

We repeat this Paschal Mystery- Christ's Suffering, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension- during each Mass and throughout our lives. We are constantly rejecting and rebuilding with Jesus. We are continually experiencing suffering, death, and then new life. These last few days of Triduum and Easter, however, just remind us of it.

I was actually struck by this as I was walking home from my part time job on Good Friday. I was bummed that I had to work during the Triduum (but OMG sooo happy that I have NO job to be at for the next 8 days. Blessed Easter Octave indeed!!!). However, I took some time each morning to reflect since I had to work in the evenings. And I remembered that while it is beautiful and one of my favorite things about the Church that we relive and remember these moments so vividly during the Triduum, Christ already died and rose for us 2000 years ago. While it is important to remember, I did not have to re-witness Him dying in order to truly celebrate. I just had to remember and give thanks in my heart.

Today, however, is THE day- the day that all of our other Sundays are structured around- the Resurrection! And for the past few years since I have been in grad school, I have done my best to participate in the Easter Vigil. Especially the past 2 years that I have been in Richmond helping out with RCIA. It is a beautiful night for so many reasons- the darkness, the recollection that this is what early Christians did 2000 years ago, the readings- but the best part is definitely witnessing neophytes receive the Sacraments of Initiation (Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist).

 Beginning of the Easter Vigil with the lighting of the new Paschal candle!

My favorite new Catholic from last year who became a sponsor herself this year!

Some of the newly baptized cry. Some are beaming with joy and smiles. As I witness those who have studied and prayed receive the Sacraments for the first time, I usually do a little of both. And I'm always called to re-examine my own faith. As a Catholic for 36 years, who has done all of the Catholic things for so long, it is easy to take my faith for granted. Witnessing people coming into the Church helps me re-commit to the faith that I have had to continually commit to all my life all over again.

Our bishop last night reminded us of this in his homily. He spoke of belief and that those who were receiving the Sacraments for the first time as well as those of us already Catholic, were all gathered there last night because of our belief. It is amazing that we read about those who believed in the Scriptures and we are still following in their footsteps today. Or trying to at least.

This AM, I used this article  to help me mediate further on Easter. I was struck by this paragraph (the whole article was really worth the read, though):

"Pope Francis suggested everyone find a quiet place on Easter to reflect on their problems and the problems of the world and then tell God, “I don’t know how this will end, but I know Christ has risen.”

There are many problems that we can bring to the Lord right now. I think about the apostles and how they also were afraid in this moment of Easter when they found the tomb empty. They had no idea what that would mean for them. The Romans could come for them thinking that they stole the body. The Jewish priests could seek to persecute them as they had Jesus. They gathered back in the Upper Room where they had been for the Passover and in that moment, Jesus greeted them- resurrected- and gave them Peace. 

We can go to our "upper rooms" with our fears and worries, but then must experience the Risen Christ and receive His Peace. I look forward to meditating on this as we await the advocate- the Holy Spirit- at Pentecost. But He is Risen. He is Risen now as He was then and will be when when we see Him again. 

Alleluia! Happy Easter!

Peace,
Julia





Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Lenten Check-In: Laetare Sunday 2017

Well, just like I needed Lent to start and was ready to enter into the "desert" of this season of reflection, I totally needed the check-in provided by Laetare's halfway point this past Sunday.

I was all ready to get into the reflection, the peacefulness, the meditation of Lent a month ago. Then I remembered and found that the desert life is weary, hazardous, and difficult. I haven't kept to my Lenten promises as I should. I haven't taken advantage of the discipline that Lent provides. So I am grateful for the rose reminder given to me last Sunday.

They may call it the color of "rose", but on Laetare Sunday, we wear "pink" ;)

My parish is having our Lenten penance service tomorrow, and I plan on taking full advantage of that. Hopefully, between the check-in of Laetare Sunday and the grace of penance, I will be back on track for Lent.

And just like I was so ready to start Lent, I am sooooooooo unbelievably ready for Easter! Well, mostly just my Spring Break. The kids are getting antsy, the weather is getting warmer, and I totally have the travel bug. This teacher needs a break! But we can't get to Easter without the Cross, so that's kind of where we are at right now, for better and for worse.

Speaking of the Cross, as I continue to read Richard Rohr's "Eager to Love" (the book some of my friends and I have chosen to read together this Lent), I have re-discovered the ways in which we look at the Cross as Catholics. Rohr discusses that the Cross is a negative thing that the saints view as positive, and we all do really. Because of the Cross, we have new life and redemption. Regardless of your beliefs, I think we can all agree that suffering is a part of life. And it can bring negativity or it can be an opportunity for new life. Sometimes both. The Cross is this reminder for us.

But somewhere down the line, the Cross somehow got to be a way for some of us to wallow in our own suffering or wear it as a badge of "look at me. I am suffering. What a good Christian I am." Rohr discusses that the saints did not use the self denial that the Cross provides for their own egos. They embraced the negativity of the Cross and flipped it. They embraced it for love- love of self, love of neighbor, and love of God. Just like Jesus did.

This is not an entirely new realization. Like I said, we all can understand the idea behind the Cross, I think; suffering that brings new life. Death to the self that allows for love of others. Jesus displays all of this on Good Friday. But much like the wake up call of Lent and Laetare Sunday, this passage in "Eager to Love" made me check myself as well. Am I embracing the cross? And if so, am I doing so out of love? Or bitterly for the sake of myself or ego?

Rohr also describes how St. Francis of Assisi focused his work and ministry on "human suffering, not human sinfulness." I was so struck by that phrase and how if we applied it today, it would solve so many things. If only we just addressed human suffering directly- helping the poor person we see- instead of questioning: "are they a good person worthy of my help?", we would not only be following Jesus' example, but we would probably solve a lot of the problems in our society and world right now.

So that's my quick Lenten check-in. I'm sure that when I write again we will be in the midst of the drama of Triduum or the joy of Easter. Either way, I hope that we all continue to keep on this journey that Lent reminds of to the best of our abilities.

Peace,
Julia




Sunday, February 26, 2017

Continuing Conversion: Shedding the Old for New: Lent 2017

What a difference a month makes! I am not in an entirely different place than I was when I wrote my slightly frustrated post last month, but February has continued to be a month of reflection and conversion. Lent is really late this year! Usually in February Lent has already begun, but Lent doesn't begin until March 1st- this Wednesday- and I am clearly feeling ready for some renewal.

It is amazing to me how each year my spirit kind of aches for Lent. Even though Lent is a challenge and not a celebratory time, each time around the end of winter, my body and spirit tend to ache for a discipline, a challenge- a need for change and renewal. This is what Lent offers us: a discipline and a time of renewal.

February truly has had its ups and downs. It has gone from 30 degrees to literally 80 degrees this month. Spring also seems to ache to come earlier this year. But even though the winter and cold (like Lent) may not be the most fun things, they are necessary. And while I LOVE the warm weather, it doesn't feel quite right not having gone through some of the depths of winter (Climate change IS a thing, guys!).

And so enter Lent. A time built-in by the Church for us to reflect and retreat no matter the weather.

As you can see from several of my last posts, this election has taken a toll on me, moreso than ever before. I have truly struggled to see where my Christianity fits in with all of the craziness going on online, in our country, and in our world. The Gospel is so clear to me, but to see so many people interpret it so differently has truly thrown me. And so this month I have had to really delve into and question the Gospels and what they mean to me. In many cases, I came to the same conclusions because I think that Jesus is clear. But how do I approach or treat my brothers and sisters- other Christian ones at that- who do not have the same thoughts?

I received solicited (and sometimes unsolicited) advice from a priest friends, Catholic friends, non-Catholics and sought out other local Catholic community- namely my parish RCIA community- but I was still confused. Some told me to be more vocal and not be silent. Some told me that I seemed too angry and needed to focus on peace within so that there could be peace without.  It was very timely, then,  that we had a retreat for RCIA candidates here in Richmond in the middle of February when I was really in the middle of grappling with a lot of what I have just mentioned. Taking that time was necessary and I hadn't taken even a morning like that in a while; just a time to be alone with my thoughts with the guidance of a spiritual director and Catholic community.

Even for a couple of hours, I felt a conversion. I also had a mini conversion driving (I hardly ever drive any more since everything I need is mostly within walking distance and certainly within the city proper) on the highway to seek out spiritual direction for the first time in a long time as well. As I was driving, I was called back in my mind to "previous lives" where I had struggled and grappled (sorry to keep using the same verbs!) with truth versus temptation in different ways than I am dealing with it now. But reflecting on those moments and remembering how I got through them gave me the tools and the hope that I needed to get through this month and this time and bring me refreshed and ready for the next part of the journey: Lent.

So here we are ready to start Lent this week. One of the comforting things I received when seeking help and guidance from my Catholic community were some suggestions for spiritual reading which I haven't done in a while. I am reading Richard Rohr's "Eager to Love" which is a book about St. Francis, but not in a way that I have ever seen done before.

I love how the book cover even seems very Lenten: sparse and gray....

I'm only a few pages in, but this is definitely a book I will have to devour slowly. There are so many nuggets for reflection on every page. Even though I have studied a lot about Christ and St. Francis in my lifetime, this book gives me new perspective on things I already have known. Namely, how both St. Francis and Christ kept the truths of old, but shed unnecessary or irrelevant practices and ways to make the Truth also NEW.

This is exactly what I needed right now and I didn't even realize it. I believe this is part of the solution to our cultural and ecclesial climate right now: we hold onto the Truth which is ancient but also timeless while moving forward to make things new. We need both the old and the new. And this Lent, I want to reflect on what I might need to shed in order to hold onto Truth and make way for the new.

I am grateful for this month of conversion and struggle so that I can enter the desert with Jesus this Lent and continue to shed some of the old and emerge hopeful and rejoicing at Easter.

In terms of practices for Lent this year: I'm thinking of continuing this spiritual reading, making a holy hour once a week, and giving up snacks and alcohol (except wine. Is that bad? I didn't want to be unrealistic ;)

I toyed with giving up social media, but I just need to be disciplined with it in general and practice it in moderation. I do think that I need to be vocal right now in some cases and so I am discerning and picking and choosing those moments. I am hoping that my Lenten practices will also help me be more open to listening to these moments with the help of the Holy Spirit.

I'm so pumped for Lent! What will be your shedding of the old to make room for the new this season?

Peace,
Julia

Hope in Grace and Conversion


*** post was originally written on 1/25/17 but posted a month late! Oops! ****

"I urge you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,
that all of you agree in what you say,
and that there be no divisions among you,
but that you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose.
For it has been reported to me about you, my brothers and sisters,
by Chloe's people, that there are rivalries among you.
I mean that each of you is saying,
"I belong to Paul," or "I belong to Apollos," 
or "I belong to Cephas," or "I belong to Christ."
Is Christ divided?
Was Paul crucified for you?
Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?
For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel,
and not with the wisdom of human eloquence,
so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its meaning." - 1 Corinthians 1: 10-13, 17

This reading from last Sunday's Mass struck me as I sat in Church surrounded by my Christian brothers and sisters but having felt earlier in the weekend alienated from some of the Christian community. 

This past weekend Donald Trump was inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States. I have tried for years not to be political in my posts, but as many of you know, last year I could sit silent no more. As a Christian, I felt that too many of our brothers and sisters would be hurt by the things this man was saying and would do. I thought that many other Christians would recognize this, but instead, I felt myself having to defend the faith and truth of the Gospel against other Christians. 

I have long said that neither political party in the United States is pro-life. Republicans are anti-abortion, but pro-guns, pro-cutting taxes for the wealthy, pro-death penalty, pro-cutting universal health care for those who are sick, deny that climate change is happening... How are these things pro-life? Oppositely, Democrats support a woman's right to choose abortion and clearly are out of touch with the poor middle class who ended up voting for a man who hasn't paid taxes in 18 years instead of a woman who has served their country for longer.
( I know that this paragraph sounds really biased right now, but this is what I am grappling with right now and something I have struggled with for years, so I appreciate you indulging and being patient with me...)

But some of these things are up to one's interpretation and some are absolutes. How are we to tell what is non-negotiable and what is not? This is why we can't put our trust in party or a man. But we also can't just sit by and do nothing. So I, personally, have to turn to the Gospels. 

The Gospels tell us these things:

That the Samaritan- the foreigner, the stranger- who helped the stranded, beaten man on the side of the road is the example for us, rather than the priest who passed by and did nothing (Luke 10:29-37)

That the woman who places her two coins as an offering is greater than the wealthy who give from their surplus (Luke 21: 1-4)

That a thief who is repentant and sorrowful has a chance for redemption (Luke 23: 39-43)

To give everything we have to those in need, to share our goods (Matt. 5: 38-42)


And from the letters of Paul and John:

"If someone who has worldly means sees a brother in need and refuses him compassion, how can the love of God remain in him?"- 1 John 3:17

That we are all connected and what happens to the least of our community, affects the body- 1 Corinthians 12:12-26

This is just a small smattering of the social justice issues covered in the New Testament. And more than just one issue or marginalized group fall into these examples: the unborn, the poor, the sick, the foreigner, the outcast, the sinner. Again, how are we to know which gets precedence? The Church fights for all of these groups. As Christians, we should fight for all of these groups. All of these groups are voiceless and need our help. So why are we arguing? I wish we could rally together as St. Paul asks in the reading that I posted above and recognize that as Christians we need to fight for all of these things.

Speaking of St. Paul, today is the feast of his Conversion. St. Paul was a Jew who persecuted Christians. Then he had an encounter with Christ and became the advocate that you read from above. Change is possible, but we can't just sit by and wait for it, we have to be open to it. At RCIA last night at my parish, we talked about Grace. Similarly, Grace is all around us, freely given to us, but because of our free will, we have to choose to accept it. We have to be open to it. 

Once Paul encountered Christ, he was not silent. Once he saw what was true, he wrote letters, encouraged communities, and pointed out (lovingly) what communities needed to work on. I will admit, I am struggling to be open. I am struggling to be hopeful or encouraging. But I am praying for conversion to be more open to my brothers and sisters and also to understanding where God is leading us in all of this. 

Conversion has always been one of my favorite themes thanks to St. Paul and where the Lord has led me in my life. It is a very important theme right now and I am grateful for the nudges towards conversion even it is coming from a place I didn't expect or wish that we didn't have to go through, namely, this time in our world and country right now. 

I continue to look to St. Paul and the saints for help because they, too, have been witnesses in hostile times and climates. I pray for their intercession in a new way today. 



St Paul and all you holy saints and angels, pray for us. 

Peace,
Julia

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Little Christmas 2017: Faith, Hope, and Light

Last Christmas (insert line from the delightful 80s Christmas song of the same name here. RIP, George Michael!)
I was in such denial on Christmas when my brother in law interrupted our caroling session to share the sad news about this man.

I focused a lot on Joy in Advent and in the Christmas season last year.  This year, (continue to insert line from delightful Christmas song here) I have been struck by the image of light and the need for it and hope.

My posts from 2016 included a lot about Mercy (naturally, since it was the Year of Mercy) and also (surprisingly for me) a lot about Mary. This year, as we anticipate perhaps some dark changes because of the alarming shifts in our global and national climate, I want to focus on hope and light.

Yesterday, we had our first snowfall of the winter season. In Richmond, everything- stores, gyms, museums, schools, offices- shut down. But the bars stay open! Priorities! So some friends and I have made it our annual snowday tradition to dig out of the snow and meet at some of the bars within walking distance.

As we met and chatted (and drank) yesterday, one of my very dear friends who is always so gracious about talking about faith even though she does not particularly claim a faith for herself, started talking about the differences between the various interpretations of Christianity. This has been a big thing for me recently as I still can't wrap my head around the past election and how Christians could justify voting for a man who is against so much of what Jesus explicitly spoke FOR: namely- women, the poor, and helping others.

She said that she understood many of her family and friends who are Christian operate out of fear: fear of hell, fear of doing something wrong, fear of missing a sign from God. Which I thought was a really good point and perhaps how I even lived my Christianity at certain parts of my life.

But in recent years, for me, Christianity has always been about HOPE: Hope of heaven, hope of doing the right thing, hope of seeing a sign from God. And I think this is a really good distinction that we who are Christian need to make for ourselves to keep us in check: Are we operating out of fear? Or hope?

I also wrote in my last post about the need to focus and be a the light in the darkness, which is what today's feast of the Epiphany is all about.


The Magi were learned men who had riches and education. They had studied stars and philosophy, and read about the prophecy of the Messiah that would be from Bethlehem and foretold by a star. They saw this star and they followed it. Their journey began about one thing- perhaps curiosity, prestige, answers- and became about a very different thing, I'm sure, along the way. The priest at my parish stressed that the wise men had to follow with faith. Their studies and their hypothesis and knowledge could only take them so far. At some point, they had to press on in faith.

And so it is with us in our own "stars" and our own journeys that we are all on in our lives. We make choices, we calculate, we can look back with hindsight, but at some point, we have to push on in faith that we are being led in the right direction (and I like that this theme of "Faith" also ties back into my George Michael remembrance....)

A saint whose feast falls on Jan 6 but is perhaps often overlooked because of the feast of the Epiphany, is St. Andre Bessette who the priest at my school gave a great homily on last week.

St. Andre was perhaps the opposite of the wise men: he was uneducated, not wealthy, not able bodied, but had great faith.

St Andre was an orphan who became a doorman for a Catholic school because he was sickly and couldn't do much else. The priest at Mass pointed out to us that "we might be smarter than St. Andre, we might be stronger than St. Andre, but we are NOT more humble than St. Andre." I thought that sentiment was very true and something to strive for.

So putting all of these themes and messages together: light in darkness, HOPE, following and persevering in faith...these things are what it means to be a Christian to me. And I hope that these will be themes that carry us through the Christmas season and this year. I also hope that other Christians will join me in looking at the examples these feasts set for us: that whether educated or uneducated, rich or poor, we all have our own stars to follow and all paths are equally important and valuable.

Merry Christmas!

Peace,
Julia