Monday, January 31, 2011

Retreat- "Intense Love"

We kind of look like the poster children for retreats, don't we? :)

What a week!!

I finished my first semester as a teacher, had to go without heat or power in my house for the 2nd time in like 2 weeks (3rd time in a year), AND had an awesome retreat with some amazing people.

My head is going to kind of explode with all the awesomeness/tiredness that is my life right now, but I just wanted to highlight the retreat 'cause I know alot of you were praying for us (thanks! ;).

My spiritual director led 13 friends and I on a retreat in Middleburg, VA this past weekend. Father picked the theme centered around "Intense Love" and gave 5 talks about 5 "amorous mysteries": 1 John 4 (God is Love), John 3:16-17 (For God so Loved the World), Matt 22: 37-39 (Love of God and Love of Neighbor), John 15:13 (No Greater Love ), and 1 John 4:16-19 (We Love Because He First Loved Us)

Some points that really hit home for me were some of Father's starting points:

- Love is based in trust and faith. If we don't have faith/belief and then do not trust in that faith/belief- we cannot love.

- We have to be open and accept love.

- God is the source of all love.

Father also talked about the love languages, four loves, and how God fits into and expresses all these types of love. I was particularly struck by the romantic love of God.

I still have to reflect on all that God is doing and has done in the past year since last retreat, but God has certainly proven His Love for me and I feel Him asking me to be open as I was when I was discerning the convent. The discernment process before I entered required this trust, faith, and acceptance of God's love- also, I had to examine the romantic love of God since He was going to be the main Man in my life!

It was really cool to see that from all different vocations- there were 3 couples on retreat, some singles, a married mom, and 2 engaged folks-we all connected to this theme of the "Intense Love of God" in different ways.

There were 14 of us- the same number of retreatants we had last year ;) Some of the folks were the same, some new. The snow and power outages put some kinks in our plans last minute, but the snow ended up adding a peaceful stillness for me in the end. As someone who has been vocal about how much I dislike snow and winter, I found myself enjoying the snow covered, quiet scenery on retreat.

I also find it interesting that we've had 14 people on retreat both years. Teaching Old Testament, I teach my students how the Gospel writer Matthew used the number 14 in his genealogy to bring the point home that Jesus was from David and therefore the Messiah. 7 is a symbol of a sacred oath or covenant in Hebrew culture and so the number 14 was doubly perfect! I like to think the same of our group: doubly perfect! :)

The retreat was definitely a great way to start 2011 and to end my first semester. I'm so blessed to have such great friends and spiritual director!

Here's to "intense love" in 2011 ;) Thanks again for your prayers!



Saturday, January 22, 2011

Wintry Mix

So, I kind of have the 'winter blues'. It's been uber cold this winter so far, but thankfully not TOO much snow (like Christmas '09 and early '10). But I just don't do well with cold. Especially when it is kind of overcast which has been the case pretty much the whole month of Jan.

My moods very much go with the seasons. In Spring, I always seem to have the hope that seeds planted will grow. In the summer, I bask in the warmth of the sun and enjoy the process that is faith. In fall, I reap the harvest of the seeds and fruits that were planted and grown through spring and summer. But winter....after we put away the lights from Christmas....always feels kind of dead.
Even with the hope of the new year, the lifelessness that surrounds me in nature kind of brings me down. Plus, we retreat into our homes since it's so freaking cold outside (and actually, this year, we were cold INSIDE. Our heat broke down SEVERAL TIMES).

The first night without heat was perhaps okay. It was kind of exciting frontiering the whole thing. My roommates and I were building a fire, gathering all the space heaters and blankets we could find, and made it a community event. But as it continued throughout the week, we started to disperse. We would go to respective friends' houses or take turns being the one to stay home alone waiting for the heating guy to come and would gather all the space heaters around our cold, lonesome selves.

Kind of depressing.

Well, THE HEAT IS ON again (I hope this doesn't jinx us, but I continually played this Glenn Frey song throughout the week. YOU ARE WELCOME for this 80s reminder! :) but I'm struggling to get out of the wintry mix that's still kind of lingering inside.

At the beginning of this month, I was still into the liturgical feast-ing going on. I kind of love the feast of the Baptism of Our Lord. All the imagery of new life through water that Christ has given us by his birth and death. I have been subbing for a friend of mine's parish- playing piano all month for Mass. The liturgy was really well done on the feast of the Baptism. We all received holy water and renewed our baptismal vows.
Having taught Baptism in my Sacraments course this past semester (WHICH IS NOW OVER! HUZZAH! I'm kind of 'second year' teacher in a way now 'cause I get to reuse my lesson plans!!! phew!) and taking grad school classes on liturgical catechesis and formation-I appreciate all the more now the gifts of our baptism and its effects on us.

But now we are in Ordinary Time. And not to knock it, but after all this feasting...where did the party go, Church???

This weekend marks the anniversary of the decision of Roe v Wade and while you know me- I'm not going to go into the politics of it (like a true moderate ;) - I am always blown away by the amount of prayer that goes on at all these events the weekend before the March for Life. Our Church community really rises up and comes together in PRAYER and that is something I think anyone would say is the real importance of this time.

While abortion is a dark issue and winter a dark time, we manage to make the most of it and focus on the need for prayer in our world. Last night I participated in a holy hour that a Catholic musician friend of mine was playing at. I met him through our Arlington Diocesan Workcamps, but hadn't seen him in a while. When he started playing, the good times and fruits that I usually associate with my summer Workcamp experience became present. And Jesus of course was also very present :)

While speaking about the pro-life movement, my friend read Romans 5:3-5:

"but we even boast of our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance,
and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope,
and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the holy Spirit that has been given to us."

I know I've written about hope time and time again and probaby used this verse. But we can never hear about HOPE too much. This time, the "boasting in afflictions" and "proven character" really struck me. It's hard to make ourselves vulnerable and boast in our afflictions in a way that isn't self pity, but really shows the good work Christ has done in us. And making ourselves vulnerable and focusing on Christ gives us character. Every challenge that comes our way produces character- PROVEN character. And then HOPE. Which our world so desperately needs. We ALL need and want hope.

He also sang a few songs that meant a lot to me, but then sang "Here I Am Lord" which- as a music minister- I've come to roll my eyes at and almost distain (no offense, Dan Schutte :) just because it is SO overused it has become trite to me. But the way my friend sang it yesterday...he told us to really focus on the words. I was sitting there going, "yeah, yeah- Here I am Lord. I get it. Use me for your mission. Send me....I've said this all before. I'm always GOING. I'm always BEING SENT. Whatever."

But for some reason the "If You lead me" line stuck out to me this time. He will not send us out alone and we cannot do anything on our own. We can only do what He leads us to do and He will lead us if it is His Will. So we need not worry about persevering alone, which is perhaps what the winter blues sometimes make us feel- that we are in this cold world alone.

So while there is darkness and overcast and cold- there is hope.

I'm soooooooooooo looking forward to RETREAT NEXT WEEKEND. You cannot even believe!! This current pro-life weekend is certainly going to be very prayerful and produce much fruit. But I hope it's only a prequel to next weekend :)
We are united in prayer, folks! This season and this weekend in particular.
OH! And Here are some high (and low lights ;) of this month:
Celebrating my college friend (whose parish I've currently been playing for) as he is honored for his past 7 years in ministry there.

Me in my hoodie scarf and snuggie, braving the cold that was OUR HOUSE ;(

Until next time-

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Christmas, New Years, Epiphany: Man, I Love a Party!

In some ways, the Christmas season isn't as exciting as when we were children. Some elements of magic and mystery are certainly gone. But in other ways, the knowledge that comes with the wisdom of being older brings an added beauty to the season (And 2011 will bring about my 30th birthday, speaking of getting older. Yipes! You know there will be blogs. It's also on GOOD know there will be themes ;)

And let's not also forget that Christmas still means there's a good reason to party ;)

Though the event of Christmas may not be as magical as when we were children, we know that Christmas isn't about magic. It's about a Gift. And that Gift can sometimes be uncomfortable (like when you get socks or an awful jumpsuit or something, but not this year- I got GIFT CARDS 'cause my family is AWESOME! ;) it is ultimately a reason to give thanks and celebrate. The Gift of Life, Love, (er, Liberty? but of course! Jesus= Freedom:)

Christmas gives us a time to celebrate as does the promise of the New Year. I heard a sermon on my way to Mass this morning (that's right- I pregame sermons WITH sermons! I'm an overachiever) on (surprisingly) a secular station that was talking about how at New Years we celebrate because we have new expectations. And we delight in- almost as we did as children at Christmas- at the "magic" of what God could possibly do for us this year.

But we all KNOW that God doesn't give us everything we expect/ask. He often throws curve balls and that can make us uncomfortable. But He always gives us what we need at the time.

Really, the only thing we can expect is to become uncomfortable at some point in our year. Not to be a Debbie Downer, but because of our Original Sin, it just happens. And it's not necessarily something super sad or sick or suffering (though those things might happen) but we can expect to be taken out of our comfort zones at some point this year, whether it be a conversation with someone or something more dramatic like a change at work or relationships. The only promise we can really expect God to keep is that He will help to make us the best woman or man we can be. And sometimes that hurts.

But this post is about parties!! Today is the feast of the Epiphany. We remember the three wise men arriving to worship the baby they studied and heard about. Theirs was probably not always a comfortable situation. It was a long trip, they were traveling in community (can you imagine how many "are we there yets?" Ugh. I can't.), were probably wondering if there really was anything under that star anyway, and how would the news of what they found change them.

Plus, they were men of wealth and power. They didn't go to babies, they made babies come to THEM? Right?! Yet they humbled themselves and made the long trek on their own. And when they got there, they rejoiced and worshiped a baby who had not yet proven to be as great or as powerful as they. But they went on faith. They made the most out of the situation, out of the journey- and they were pleased with what they found- even if it wasn't what they had expected.

The priest at Mass this morning spoke of Archbishop Fulton Sheen's theory that people are sometimes frightened to go to the manger. We occupy ourselves with so much at Christmas- but do we really approach the manger like the wise men do? With wonder and awe, humility, curiosity? Or do we go with our expectations? Or do we not go at all because we are afraid of what the journey might bring? That the journey is too great or too hard?

That journey to the manger theory, as well as the sermon on expectations and comfort this morning, were good challenges for me in this new year. I really don't have any expectations for 2011. I have some hopes, but I don't know what I'm expecting. I wonder if that's a good thing or not. Maybe I can try to be like the wise men and study, hope, and journey- even without expectation- and just rejoice. Though it is good to expect something from God. I do know I look forward to the end of this month when my spiritual director will lead a retreat for some friends and myself. I expect to be brought out of my comfort zone and challenged that weekend. I also expect to have a little fun :)

What are your reflections on Epiphany? There are so many elements of this feast to think about. It's a shame that often the part of the wise man in the school nativity play gets second fiddle :) I think one year we cut out the shepherds and wise men altogether but somehow had an angel and a donkey...hmm...

Regardless, Epiphany's pretty important. The Christmas season is drawing to a close, but I'm holding on until the Feast of the Baptism of our Lord for one last good week of Christmas celebrating!

Speaking of celebrating, above are some highlights from my Christmas season so far! (You will note in particular, well, highlights... as well as new bangs which are recent features ;)

Above pics: Roommates and I at our annual Christmas Open House, a friend and I out for New Year's Eve, and my new nephew and I on Christmas Day.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!