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