Sunday, December 23, 2012

Confident at Christmas

No, that subject heading is not meant to be an oxymoron or read sarcastically. Seriously. I am going to write about how we should feel confident at Christmas. I dare say no sane woman has ever attempted this before.

It seems contradictory to the stressors that we have placed on the season: buying the perfect gift, shedding the extra pounds put on by Christmas cookies, fearing what inappropriate thing grandma will say about us or our significant other (or lack there of...) this year.  We get STRESSED at the holidays. But we should feel confident at Christmas because the overall message(s) are of hope, peace, joy, and love.

It's the 4th Sunday of Advent. And this year, the 4th week of Advent really only lasts a day. We kind of get a free-bee on Christmas this year. A few less days of repenting? A few days closer to feasting and rejoicing? I'll take it. And the readings for today carry this theme of confidence that I am talking about:

Micah in the first reading is sure of the Savior. Of his origin, of His ability to save. There is no doubt in his voice: "He shall stand firm and shepherd His flock..." That's right. Our Savior isn't going anywhere. He is here to save. Heh.

The psalm response: "Lord MAKE US turn to you...and we shall be saved." We don't even have to turn our own heads to see Him! God will do it for us if we ask and let Him!

And I personally love the reading from Hebrews that discusses the Will. Because although, it sounds really nice that God could "make us turn our heads" there is also an element to that that sounds domineering and not so fun. The reality is, we have our WILL and it was given to us for a reason. And in a beautiful way, the author of Hebrews tells us, it was Christ's Will to die for us so that we don't have to make our own offerings anymore. It is an exchange of our wills now. And isn't that really what Love is? Follow this with me for a second.

This (along with this theme of confidence) is something that my spiritual director and I have been speaking about the past few times we've met, and then I also heard this in my Theology course this semester: Our Intellect + Our Will is what defines or makes up Love.

If you think about it, it is true. What we know about a person, makes us love them. And when we know them so well, we can even predict what they might do! And it is our choice, our will to love them. Marriage, in a sense, is two people willing themselves to each other. Of their own free will. In love.

In the Gospel for today, we see a confident Mary who goes to get confirmation about her cousin being with child. Elizabeth praises Mary's confidence in the Lord: "Blessed are you who believed that what the Lord has spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled." - Luke 1: 45

A couple of months ago, we began the year of faith. And I told myself I was going to focus on the gift of the Sacraments as well as my relationship with Mary. This Gospel passage today really helps me connect to Mary. What am I currently believing that the Lord has spoken to me? What am I confidently sharing with others about Him as she did?

And in terms of the sacraments in this year of faith, my spiritual director gave me this beautiful exercise that the Holy Father has suggested to the faithful: make a pilgrimage to the place of your baptism.

Each Christmas, we go to the Church where I was baptized- my grandmother's Church. The same church my parents, my cousin were married in. Same church where we celebrated my grandfather's and uncle's funeral Masses.

I went yesterday and spent a little time in prayer. I walked in and took a seat by the baptismal font. Who knows if it's the same one I was baptized in, but it was kind of cool to think about. I walked passed the altar and saw that a monstrance was all in its place, all ready for adoration! I love when I wander into places not knowing about Adoration and then Jesus shows up. He's so good to me like that.

I got to go to confession, too, at this Church which was a great way to experience two of the sacraments that I can receive regularly- Eucharist and Reconciliation- while meditating on my baptism. I highly recommend and encourage you readers to have an opportunity to do the same!

Place where the magic happened:

Oh, and another reason I am feeling super confident this cousin and I went to my grandmother's to take part in a nearly century-old tradition: pierogi making. And we didn't screw it up! The matriarch of the family may have even COMPLEMENTED us on our work. This is HUGE, people:

 The master at work on the dough. Bowls are overrated.

 The pinching is seriously everything...

I didn't ruin Christmas! Yet!

Happy 4th Sunday of Advent aka the eve before Christmas eve this year! And Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Advent 2012!

Here we are- Advent! Some years it sneaks up on me, some years I can't wait for it to begin. But as God would have it, in the spirit of this pretty great year, it has been a good balance right now of challenge and peace. As it should be right? I think I keep proving to myself that by our 30s, we finally start to get things right ;)

I know it's week two...I couldn't find one with two candles lit and I'm not that tech-literate to create my own. Though I did find this fun generated image on the internetz:

I last blogged on the Feast of Christ the King. With that feast, which ends the liturgical year, began my prayers for a holy Advent. I wanted to enter into the season fully. I went to confession right away, made some resolutions (I am re-committing to daily Mass for one. This school year we switched to a five minute earlier start time for classes and somehow that through my whole morning off! Finally getting it back into gear this Advent!) and am trying to make my daily prayer time special and Advent-y.

I think around this time of year I find myself blogging about hope because it just fits in so easily with the season. No one gets sick of hope,though, right? My thoughts are naturally drawn to hope again this year and like I said, we can never have too much of it.

I love the readings from the prophets during Advent that speak of this hope that I can't get enough of:

"The desert and the parched land will exult;
the steppe will rejoice and bloom.
They will bloom with abundant flowers,
and rejoice with joyful song...

Strengthen the hands that are feeble,
make firm the knees that are weak,
Say to those whose hearts are frightened:
Be strong, fear not!
Here is your God..."  Isaiah 35: 1-10

I think I have blogged before about the difference between "Christmas Joy" vs. "Easter Joy". "Easter Joy" comes from the fruit of our suffering having entered into the desert with Jesus during Lent. Advent is a penitential time, too, but one of more waiting and anticipation. And the Joy of Christmas is more a free gift (certainly, the salvation of the Resurrection is free gift! But in the Spirit of Lent, it is a joy we feel after weeks of sacrifice).

Let's put it this way: Easter is more like  an "ALLELUIA! OM THANK GOD EASTER IS HERE!" than "oh, HEY. Christmas is pretty sweet!" . Christmas joy comes out of these messages of hope from the prophets and it is unexpected and truly free.

And so on that note, I'm just feeling real positive this month, y'all! I have passed one test so far towards my Masters degree, I have one final this week which I am also feeling surprisingly confident about. 

My prof gave us about 13 options for possible exam questions last week. ( I made sure to tell him that 13 was a terrible number, but I'm guessing since he teaches the course which is actually numbered TRS 666, he isn't one for numerology or superstition. Priests are like that. )

At first I was overwhelmed about the research I might have to do to find all the answers to said questions,  but once I dove into my notes I realized a.) I had taken REALLY good notes (despite all the texting and tweeting I did through classs...sshhh! I become the WORST student after teaching all day!! and b.) the concepts wouldn't be as hard to remember as I first thought. Whew!

Today in one of my sophomore classes a student actually asked me (without her knowing it) one of the questions on the exam! We were talking about human suffering and Christ's own suffering and she asked: "Does God the Father suffer?" One of my exam questions was on the heresy of patripassianism and I FREAKED OUT. I was like "NO! I know this one! And the answer is NO!" 

I then attempted to explain to her "divine impassibility" the best I knew how. 

I then emailed my prof to tell him all of this and that I was going to nail Question #2 should he ask it on the exam.

He wrote back to tell me he LOL'd. 

This is my life. 

I'm such a nerd.

But Advent Hope! It's here! Christmas Joy! Let's get it! I'm all about it! 

It all reminds of THIS SONG that my roommate introduced me to (whom I'm soo thankful for, btw. Mainly because she watches tragic reality television with me. We gagged together when we watched Honey Boo Boo make "sketti" and also are obsessed with Tamar Braxton- "GET YOUR LIFE!")

Anyways, as the song says: Go get your blessing! It's your time!

(Mary Mary also have their own reality show, too, btw ;)

Peace, Love, Hope and JOY-


Sunday, November 25, 2012

Feast of Christ the King

As previously mentioned, this was like, one of the best years ever for me. It was filled with friends and family celebrations (aka WEDDINGS) but also a lot of time focusing on myself, my studies, etc.

We get realllllyyyy excited for Advent and Christmas, but Christ the King is a pretty cool feast in and of itself. Just like last year, my sophomores' unit on the Ascension fell around this feast of Christ the King again. It's great because my mind is already focused, then, on the gift of the Ascension and what it means for us and it helps me enter into the "end is near" readings of this end of the liturgical year.

We all know how I love NYE (going to LA this year!!)....the feast of Christ the King is like New Year's Eve in a way. The first Sunday of Advent is our "new year" in the Church, so this feast of C to the K is always a chance to look back on the year, but also look forward to new year's resolutions of Advent and, of course, ahead towards our end goal of heaven.

So it's time to start thinking...what is going to be my Advent repentance/resolution? How did I live this past year? And am I working towards my end goal of heaven?

I have a lot of goals in sight: end of the semester. End of 2012. End of grad school. But right now is the time to prepare for those ends the best way I know how. Similarly, now is the time for us to think about how we are preparing for Christmas, for the New Year, and ultimately, heaven.

This image of Christ the King has Jesus looking super official as the authority of Heaven and Earth...but the priest today at Mass reminded us (as I also do with my students), Christ was not the typical King. He is now sitting on his throne in heaven where he is in all of his glory, a glory so great that we can't imagine the beauty that is the beatific vision....BUT we know that he embraced the broken and was himself broken before taking His rightful place.

This verse from Hebrews is always comes to mind: "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are--yet was without sin."- Hebrews 4:15

Love it. I am also grateful for this feast because it helps remind me that OMG ADVENT IS COMING!!! Time to get on the resolutions for the penitential season stat.

Oh! And it was about this time last year that we were all worried about the NEW TRANSLATION of the is that working out for ya? I still get tripped up on the Gloria and Nicene Creed myself, but think of how far we've come! :)

Happy New Year, guys! It's almost here!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Giving Thanks 2012

Around Advent, I like to recap the the year in pics. Advent is almost here and 2012 has been a stellar year!!! I finished my 2nd full year of teaching and began my 3rd. I began my last *full* year (hopefully) of grad school!! I traveled to ALL of the places! AND...of course...

The Year of the Wedding 3.0:

And back in Feb.

Don't judge...I recycled some dresses. Also, I had to say no to 3 weddings that are not featured here and I still have 1 more to go! Whew!!

When I found out that I was going to be going to all of the weddings last year I knew that I was going to have to chose to make 2012 be a little about me as well. Check and check:

 If you are going to go to a wedding, in FL, might as well make the most of it...

Viva Puerto Rico!

And of course, there was Greece...

 A little East Coast fun: Philly, Atlantic City....
...and West/Midwest! LA...
 And home to Ohio for some family fun.

And like the weddings, the travel hasn't stopped yet! Over the Christmas break, I plan to go back home to Ohio for a week and then head back out to the West Coast and celebrate New Year's Eve in LA!

So what am I grateful for this year? Obviously, the above people and places which I have been blessed to have included in my year. I'm grateful that I've gotten to do ME this year. I debated a little during my last session of spiritual direction whether or not I've been too selfish this year. I wouldn't change anything about this year. But I am aware that after I have finally obtained my Masters, I need to probably slow down and start to give back my time again.

(This fall, however, I made it a goal to do one of *my favorite* things several times: go to a winery every weekend. I made it prob 5 out of 8 or so weeks :)

2 of VA's finest :)

I am grateful for all of my friends, but in a special way my single girls this year. I have received so much support from all of my friends and family, but it's been especially nice to know I can call on my girls and they are always there at the ready to grab a drink, go shop, or just chill out and watch some bad reality TV. I've actually decided to forgo the traditional thanksgiving this year, and while I will miss being with my family,  I've decided to take a little break from the travels and stay here in DC with one of my best friends for turkey day (hey, she said she would cook, so I'm in. I'm in charge of the wine, of course! ;)

And I have high hopes for 2013! It will mark 10 YEARS from graduating from CUA the *first* time and should include me graduating from the same institution a *second* time!

Also, as much as I have been blessed to live with many awesome solid roommates over the years, I think 2013 will include me moving out on my own and possibly becoming a...gulp...homeowner?!? We shall see what God has in store.

I definitely made the most out of 2012 and I am so grateful!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 12, 2012

New Evangelization

So I don't know if you all know this, but there's kind of a lot of things that have happened in our country recently. Sandy. An election. A day to honor those who have served in war.

While I clearly am not afraid of sharing  my religious beliefs, I do refrain from making overarching political statements because I do let my faith, obviously, influence my politics and I do happen to believe there is no particular political party in our country that encompasses my beliefs. I also happen to believe that while absolutely we should let our faith and values inform our politics, we have separation of church and state and freedom of religion (which has become a hot button issue, so I know y'all know this too!). God Himself gives us the guidelines, but he also gives us free will. Love is, by design, a choice. Love is not forced. (see this awesome video of my favorite little priest talking about Thomas Aquinas' definition of love :) We can share with others our beliefs and vote from our own consciences, but that is really all we can do.

Oh, yeah. And we can PRAY. I know that seems really trite, perhaps, but I was amazed at the amount of people who took to facebook and Twitter to judge rather than pray. And, trust, I am just as guilty as the next when it comes to using Twitter for Judgy McJudgerton things. I will be the first one to tell you when the woman in front of me is buying 12 boxes of kitty litter or the guy on Jeopardy collects Star Wars action figures just to make myself feel witty. But come on, people! If you really want people to buy into your point of view, HONEY. NOT VINEGAR.

And also prayer. Because our Church is guided by the magisterium insofar as they are guided by the HOLY SPIRIT. And how does one receive insight from the Holy Spirit? Prayer. 

I'm not gonna lie, I started to feel a little lost and hopeless after this election, but not for the reason some of my fellow Catholics were. I was more saddened by the Catholics I saw posting the Facebook messages I mention above. I was more saddened by the homilies I heard that chose to sway our political beliefs instead of our belief in the Gospel.

It is easy to make ourselves seem like an authority on something when we can't see the person we are speaking to like on Facebook or Twitter. And I'm not saying we shouldn't use these to evangelize, because, come on! I'm a media girl. Also, I'm clearly blogging. Sharing our beliefs via social media is a part of the New Evangelization. But the goal of using these cultural tools is to meet people where they are at. Not bark down to them from whatever level you think you are on.

Okay. I need to stop myself lest I fall into the very same category which I am speaking against. New evangelization also involves prayer. It involves us looking into ourselves FIRST and converting ourselves FIRST so that we might lead others to Christ by our example.

I was starting to lose hope...but then I saw this from Cardinal Dolan (yes the man who gave a blessing at the RNC and DNC) and I was reminded of how the Holy Spirit moves and that the Spirit is in control, not us:

I'm not naive...i know some of you won't read the whole thing :) But the thing that sold me are the following points which I will share with you:

"We cannot engage culture unless we let Him first engage us; we cannot dialogue with others unless we first dialogue with Him; we cannot challenge unless we first let Him challenge us."

.   .    .

"​To be sure, the sacraments of initiation - - Baptism, Confirmation, the Eucharist - - charge, challenge, and equip the agents of evangelization. Without those sacraments, we remain isolated, unredeemed, timid and unfed.

​But, the Sacrament of Reconciliation evangelizes the evangelizers, as it brings us sacramentally into contact with Jesus, who calls us to conversion of heart, and allows us to answer his invitation to repentance -- a repentance from within that can then transform the world without."

and also this:

"With this as my presidential address, I know I risk the criticism. I can hear it now: "With all the controversies and urgent matters for the Church, Dolan spoke of conversion of heart through the Sacrament of Penance. Can you believe it?" 

To which I reply, "You better believe it!" 

First things first! "

First things first. We need to look into our own hearts, pull out our own plank in our own eyes, and meet others where they are at:

"The premier answer to the question "What's wrong with the world?" "what's wrong with the church?" is not politics, the economy, secularism, sectarianism, globalization or global warming . . .none of these, as significant as they are. As Chesterton wrote, "The answer to the question 'What's wrong with the world?' is just two words:'I am,'"

​I am! Admitting that leads to conversion of heart and repentance, the marrow of the Gospel-invitation. . . If we want the New Evangelization to work, it starts on our knees."

Thank you, Holy Spirit, for inspiring each of us and giving us hope. And thank you, Cardinal Dolan, today, for these inspiring words!


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

When it Rains...

I'm not going to even dignify Sandy by finishing that sentence. Humpf.

I write this blog post on day two of Hurricane/TropicalStorm/ThatEvilWitch Sandy. I was supposed to be on Kairos II with our students this week. I was really bummed when I found out the retreat was being cancelled, mostly because I know a lot of students were looking forward to it. But God works in mysterious ways and there is much more to be concerned/pray for at this time, obvi.

I am definitely praying for my friends in NYC, NJ, DE, PA, MD, effected by Storm Sandy. We are okay here in DC/VA. My house is once again without power, but frankly, we are getting used to it. This is like the third time I've been displaced because of weather/power related things in the past 2 years. Whatevs. I can always rely on a Starbucks to be open for wifi and a warm drink. #FirstWorldProblem solved.

Since there wasn't much else to do this morning but stay still and just be, I took some to pray. I prayed for my friend Dan who is getting his bone marrow transplant today. I prayed for my godson and nephew, Lucas, who turns 2 today! I'm praying for my friend's grandfather who is dying. So much to pray for! It can start to feel hopeless or debilitating, especially as we sit in the cold, wind, and rain.

But I opened the readings for the day, and it never ceases to amaze me that when I am at my surliest, God can give me hope in His Word.

The first reading for today is everyone's "favorite", Ephesians 5 which I've blogged about before. At a time like this, I thought God had to be joking with me. Was this the reading He prompted me to read?:  "Husbands love your wives, wives be subordinate to your husbands..." Really? How was this supposed to be offering me inspiration?

But the Church always has a method to Her seeming madness. The Gospel is often the answer to the Old Testament/First Reading confusion. So I looked at the Gospel: The Mustard Seed. Hmm. Really?

But as I said, God always restores me even when I don't think any sense can be made of a situation. Many of my prayers today had to do with people I am in relationship with. The first reading gives the basic model of ANY relationship, not just a marriage: loving as Christ loves His Church. We all need to be subservient at times when our friends are in need. And right now I was asking how I might be in service to my friends. BOOM. Prayer problem answered :)

And the Gospel, too, gave me hope and insight. The Mustard Seed can seem like a cliche or overused Gospel passage, which is why I was frustrated with the sight of it at first. But that is because its message is true and basic: even the TINIEST bit of faith can save us. God does the rest. What a hopeful message in this time when we are perhaps overwhelmed.

So I share this good news with you today: let us serve one another as Christ serves his Church. And if we just surrender the tiniest bit to God with faith, He will take care of any of our needs.

I will leave you with a pic of my little nephew in honor of his birthday and also a pic that might look familiar from this blog scene:

 Happy 2nd Birthday, happy little guy!
Left: power outage of Jan. 2011, Right: Today, Oct. 2012. I realized I was in the exact same outfit of survival: hoodie scarf made by nuns and Snuggie. Sigh. My life!

Stay warm and know of my prayers!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Year of Faith

An obligatory blogpost to serve as a public service announcement about that thing you've probably already heard about:

In case you didn't already know, Pope Benedict has announced tomorrow: Oct. 11, 2012 until Nov. 24th, 2013 (the feast of Christ the King that year) as the "Year of Faith". He explains this in a document called "Porta Fidei" or "Door of Faith" which you can read here. Who writes like a 16 page "letter"? The pope.

You may be asking yourself: what's so special about Oct. 11, 2012? If you are like my students, you might think it is because tomorrow is 10/11/12. You might think that until I and one of your intelligent classmates points out, when it is 10/11/12 here, it will be 10/12/12 somewhere else, and that the Pope isn't really a numerology type of guy anyway.

The deal with Oct. 11, 2012 is that it is the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council and the 20th anniversary of the 1st publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Knowing that I am older than the CCC makes me feel doubly OLD. I mean, how is it possible that I am OLDER than something the Catholic Church produced?!?

(also, as an aside, when I asked my students what they thought it was the 50th anniversary of, one student legit said "Jesus." Yup. To which I replied: 'Yes! In fact, my parents are older than Jesus.' Can't wait to tell them! ;)

I took this opportunity to discuss the pope's letter- "Door of Faith"- with my students and I do the same now with you, my lovely, lovely blog readers. The Holy Father is calling for a renewal of faith in this year that we celebrate some of the great things to come out of Vatican II and the catechism. He asks us to return to Scripture, retrace the steps of history and people who came before us, and rediscover our faith.

So I encourage you to read the document and think about what you might do differently in this year of faith. I'm going to continue to explore my relationship with Mary (as I mentioned a couple of posts prior) and also hopefully celebrate by GETTING MY MASTERS IN THEOLOGY and passing my comprehensive exams in the Spring! :)

I will leave you as the Holy Father begins his letter: "The door of faith is always open for us, ushering us into the life of communion with God and offering entry into his Church." I think it's interesting that he starts with this visual: an open door.
Ummm...yeah. I'm not trying to be ironic here. I legitimately couldn't find a small jpg of an "open door..." My bad.

I don't think too many people think about an "open door", unfortunately, when they think of the Catholic Church. Perhaps  many would think that the door to faith is closed and dead bolted with some secret code or key only given to a few.

Or if you are like me, the door of faith is sometimes of revolving door, just going round and round in a cycle.

What does the door to your faith look like? Do we believe the Holy Father's words about the open door of our faith? If not, what can we do to try and embrace that?

Happy Year of Faith! Please continue to keep my friend Dan in your prayers as well as some other special intentions that have been brought to me lately. Thanks! You guys are the best.


Saturday, September 22, 2012

Reaping the Harvest

I know I constantly talk about the spiritual cycle and also how I love all of the things about Fall.

See exhibit A from last year

Exhibit B from year prior (just the last bit on harvesting of my FAVORITE things about fall: FALL WINE! And it comes so timely: just as school starts. THERE ARE NO COINCIDENCES, people!)

I was reflecting this week on how great a week it had been. School seemed to go smoothly and quickly as we've "fallen" into the routine, the weather was starting to become just right for a light jacket, and all felt right in the world....


To speak ONCE AGAIN about the cycle of life, there is no coincidence that it is many a person's favorite season. (this is only my 2nd favorite McSweeney's article on fall. The 1st is too profane to link as I have previously mentioned last year, but enjoy!)

My mood is always heavily affected by the weather and so winter is THE WORST. Things outside die and I feel dead inside (Okay, that was a bit dramatic, but you get the point). Spring starts to bring about some life and I get excited to see the sun again, but Spring and Summer can still be WORK. (Well, not really anymore since I've taken up teaching....but....hmmm. Maybe I'm not the greatest example of this...)  But it's hot out and (if and when) we are working, there is sweat on our brow and while we may get some days at the beach, they are much deserved because we've been working to maintain whatever is we are trying to maintain throughout the year (for some of us, it's just a tan :)

My point is, by fall we are ready to reap the harvest of our year's efforts! We have fruit to show for the hard labor we've put in for the year,  and we are ready to slow down and enjoy the nice weather that comes with these fruits.

The school year can confuse us a bit because we've really just started, but in reality, we are nine+ months into the year! A BABY could be produced by this time! New Life! (I think my body just broke out into hives a little bit with the mention of babies, or it could just be my seasonal allergies, but again, YOU GET MY POINT). A lot has happened in these past nine months of 2012 and now it's time to start enjoying our efforts before the cold comes again and takes it all away.

So reap and enjoy this harvest! We will give thanks for it at the END of fall, but Imma start enjoying it from the get-go. Glass of wine, anyone? Pumpkin flavored EVERYTHING?! Let's DO THIS.


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Holy Mother! (of Grace)

So clearly I have been off the blog train this past "back to school" month and unfortunately, that means prayer time has also been a little derailed (see what I did there? ). If you haven't figured out already, muh prayer often inspires muh blogs. And lately the inspiration has been lacking at the fault of no one but, well, me, myself, and I.

You may recall when I went to spiritual direction last...oh, wayyyyy back in June (eep!) Father had told me  not to focus so much on goals or routine for my prayer in the summer, but on confidence in my prayer and in Jesus. He described it as a Marian Peace.

Here's the thing...I feel like I need to back up and explain a little of my relationship with Mary. I didn't really have one until college when I realllllyyyy liked a boy and my spiritual director at the time told me to pray a novena to Mary using the Memorare (which I had never heard of before that point). I was open to it (mainly because of the boy!) and prayed the novena. On the 9th day, I got my answer...but it wasn't the one that I wanted. Thus begins my relationship with the Mother of God: she had answered my prayer, but she was the tough love type in my eyes.

And so brings us to present day. I finally sat myself down in the chapel during one of my free periods at school and tried to do my regular routine of spiritual reading and journaling. That wasn't quite working, so I thought of how Father told me just to rest in prayer and focus on confidence in the Lord. While that was certainly very lovely, I am a girl who likes a bit of a challenge. So my mind shifted from Christ's Love to Mary- the woman of "tough love."

There she was- waiting to challenge me. I instantly thought: "it is easier for me to pray to Christ. Much more difficult to win over the MOTHER of the one you love." Right?

Mary doesn't need to be "won over", of course, but I like that idea. It helps to push me a little. Christ and I- we are good. I know He loves me. We were engaged after all! So I like the idea of using Mary to get to Christ in a different way, a new way, a more challenging way. You may recall that I often add a rosary during the Penitential seasons of Advent and Lent. I am going to make praying to Mary during my prayer time more of a point right now- even though those seasons are still far off. And I'm hoping she will draw me closer to her son in a new way.

As usual, what is happening in my classroom also affects my prayer and lately we've been talking about GRACE. I've taught Sacraments so many times that sometimes I take God's Grace for granted. It is indeed a free gift that we cannot earn. People misunderstand that. We think that we need to DO something. And there certainly are things that we Catholics can do to receive EXTRA grace (sanctifying, sacramental, and all that...) but it's not that we earn it. God gives it. Freely.

I went to Confession this evening and Father told me for my penance to pray some Hail Marys (alright, Mary!) and reflect upon God's Mercy. And so I did (need to make it a true confession, right??). The first thought that came to my mind was similar to what I thought earlier in the chapel at school: "You make it so easy for us, Lord. One Confession. Sins erased. You make it EASY for us. WE make it hard."

In an election year, I get pretty excited about the political process, but it also STRESSES ME OUT. CAN"T WE ALL JUST GET ALONG?! We tend to make things difficult. But I think we need to do what the priest told me today after Confession. Let's think about God's Mercy and Love. St Paul (as usual) as some cool things to say about Love (one that we should be familiar with):

"If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal." 1 Corinth. 12:31

Man, are there some people that sound like resounding gongs these days! Where is the love?! There is just no pleasing everyone. Even Jesus says so in the Gospel:

"For John the Baptist came neither eating food nor drinking wine and you said: 'He is possessed by a demon.' The Son of Man came eating and drinking and you said, 'Look, he is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.' But wisdom is vindicated by all her children." - Luke 7: 35

The free gift of Grace can help us overcome the negative effects of our Original Sin. (Arguing and bitterness and hate to name just some!) And Grace can help clear out the gunk keeping us from moving forward in our lives and our relationship with God. Let's pray to Our Lady of Grace for our country and for all who need prayers:

Our Lady of Grace, pray for us, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.


Sunday, August 26, 2012


My newest Sunday pre-Mass ritual consists of getting my cup of coffee and then going to my computer and pinning all of the things on Pinterest. As Dionne from Clueless would say that "Cher's main thrill in life is a makeover. It gives her a sense of control in a world full of chaos" so does Pinning give a woman a sense of control over what she cannot and will not ever really have in life...expensive wedding dresses, home decor, and the like.
Cher and Dionne from Clueless, 1995...a year before any of my current students were born....

Only on Pinterest can one learn how to make a basket out of plastic bags and a headband out of old tshirts!!!

I also made a web-stop to Facebook this morning (as you do) and saw that one of my "friends" commented on the connection the Church makes between Marriage and the Eucharist in today's Mass readings.

(also, do your FB friends leave statuses and comments about the Eucharist?? I mean, you follow this blog, so probably...)

I always try to make a point of reading the Scriptures for Mass ahead of time so that I can really reflect on them, but this Facebook status today made me even more eager to delve into this morning's readings.

The first reading from Joshua contains the famous verse that some people might have hanging in their homes (I bet you can find a throw pillow or something with this first on it on Pinterest!):

"As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord." - Joshua 24:15

The 2nd reading is the rather infamous one from Ephesians 5 that can make some people cringe:

"As the Church is subordinate to Christ, so wives should be subordinate to their husbands...Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the Church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her..."

I will say, I much prefer the "shorter form" of this reading that eliminates some of the "submissive" language, but the point is not wasted on me. Plus, it also says that husbands need to love their wives with the utmost sacrifice and give totally of themselves, so there's that.

The Gospel is a continuation of The Bread of Life discourse from John 6 where the disciples have just heard that they must drink of His Blood and eat of His Flesh, so they are understandably puzzled. They say: "This saying is hard; who can accept it?" and "as a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him."

The theme or connection I find in all of these readings actually has to do with serving and following. Joshua announces that he and his family will "serve and follow" the Lord. Wives and Husbands must "serve and follow" one another. The Eucharist is Christ's presence to help us "serve and follow" Him.

Something that we as humans do that makes us unique from other creatures is express this desire and intent to serve and follow through a vow. I HATE when speakers and writers use Websters dictionary definitions to make a point, but here it goes:

A vow- from the Latin "votum" promise- is a promise or an oath. A solemn promise or declaration.

Why is it important for us as humans to make vows? We make vows to God through Sacraments like Baptism and Marriage, but even outside of the Church people fight so that they might be able to make a public declaration or vow of their love for someone or something.

And it baffles me that we want so much to make these vows (particularly in marriage) we even know why? For some, it is because they feel it will give them equal rights. For others, so they can feel they meet the expectations of society or a "timeline". And still for some, so they feel they have a "special day" and can wear a poofy dress on a reality show.

Consecrated religious make vows and take years to discern the promises they are going to make to God. In some marriages, we hear people make promises but perhaps do not fully realize what they are promising. And still even more often, our godparents make baptismal vows for us and we never think of those promises again.

When I was discerning religious life, people asked me why I wanted to do it. I had many responses, but one was that I would be vowed or consecrated to something. It was important for me to be vowed to something. It still is. I would like to share and make vowed promises with someone.

We all want to belong. We all want to be loved and have that love assured. But I think we need to really discern what motivates us to want to "serve and follow" something or someone so much so that we want to declare that publicly in a promise. A vow is a beautiful thing that we as humans can share. As I continue to discern what God is calling me to, I want to look at all the ways I can belong and live out the vows I have already made and renew in Baptism.

One last nerdy thing: this summer, I studied the origins of some of the Sacraments. Namely, the Sacraments of Initiation (Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist) and also Marriage. The CCC (Catechism of the Catholic Church) says that Baptism is the gateway, it is the door to all of the other Sacraments. Likewise, the other Sacraments take root in our Baptism. People can get married in the Church now and not necessarily be Catholic, but in the early Church, a sacramental marriage was two baptized Christians stating that they wanted to live out their Baptismal call in a partnership together.

I know this could start a whole new debate or blogpost, but to go back to the original thought sparked by my Facebook friend- the readings, Marriage, the Eucharist...they are connected. They all contain people making promises or vows to serve and follow. As our country fights about who can and who cannot make "vows", let's all think about what a public promise rooted in Baptism means to us...

That's a little bit heavy, huh? I think I will also leave you with something random. Not terribly related, but also not terribly UN-related, one of my latest indie-hipster album loves is appropriately entitled "Vows" by Kimbra. You should check it out. I promise you won't regret it. Heh.


Monday, August 20, 2012

Back to the Beginning

Well, the summer of awesome has come to a close. Sniff, sniff! (And it was an awesome summer! So many things! So many places!) I am so grateful for this summer. I think it was something that I really needed and I saw it in many ways as the answer to my prayer that I made back in January at our annual retreat.

This realization prompted me to look back at the entries I wrote in January, especially now as I begin a new school year. Beginnings always hold much hope. And I remember back in January I was looking for that hope.

Father focused the retreat on the Epiphany (the feast where the Magi visit the newborn Jesus) and our own searching. At one point we broke up into groups and he had us focus on the gifts the Magi actually brought to Jesus- gold, frankincense, and myrrh. You might recall that I had myrrh and that it was the oil that held a bitter sentiment.

I recalled this part of the retreat today, perhaps because maybe, just maybe I'm a little bitter about having to put an end to my fabulous travels and life of leisure and return to a routine. Some of the bitterness also has to do with my Pauline "thorn in my side" that I blogged about a couple of weeks ago. But remembering that the gift of myrrh has much symbolism in Christ's sacrifice, helped me to want to offer these very small bitter sacrifices just like I did back at the beginning of this calendar year. I pray I can keep that attitude throughout this upcoming school year.

I feel like lately there have been soooo many prayer intentions that have come my way. I ask that you also pray for some my special intentions: friends whom have had parents and relatives pass away, my friend Dan who has leukemia, and in thanksgiving for my friend G who received another miracle with the adoption of her second child!

I have also been very grateful and humbled to have several people spontaneously tell me that they were thinking of or praying for me lately. I don't know if I should be concerned....nah. I'm just grateful. Thank you for your prayers. They are always welcome and appreciated!

My summer ended with a quick visit from my parents, which I am also grateful for. After 13 or so years, we still love taking in all that DC has to offer together. Here are some pics of us at various National monuments and treasures :

 My parents in front of a piece of the Berlin Wall at the Newseum...

 The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial

I do have hope for the coming year because God has been faithful in honoring my prayers in the past. This year, however, is the year that the Holy Father has dubbed the Year of Faith. (Read the link for details!)

There are some pretty significant anniversaries in the Church linked with this year. I am excited to meditate on all the things "The Year of Faith" can mean/bring! And again, no one should be surprised that I'm excited about a new liturgical thing.

Happy New Year, kind of, in a way...again! :)


Monday, August 6, 2012

Open Up the Church and See All the People

This past week I got to witness a NEW liturgical event off of my nerdy liturgical checklist! (Note: this list does NOT actually exist. I am not THAT nerdy. Though, when I was at the event, someone who knows me well said something to the effect of: 'isn't this on your bucket list?' And she was not wrong...)

A Church Dedication was the liturgical event I never knew I needed on my bucket list :)

So let me back up. After finishing undergrad, I signed up for a year of volunteer work with NET (as we all know by now). When I finished my tour with NET, I knew I wanted to get into youth ministry and I began my first "real world" full-time job as a junior and senior high youth minister at a parish.

When I walked up to said parish for my interview (back in 2004!) there was a hand-made painted billboard with a thermometer on it indicating where the parish was at in terms of raising funds to build a church. And when I walked into the parish center (I was early of course because that's how I do. I mean, it was an interview!) I asked the receptionist: "Where IS the Church?" She pointed towards the doors I was already facing...a hall more than a church made of cinderblock with detachable chairs, a cross, and a barely recognizable tabernacle inside.

I worked at the parish for three years before I decided to enter the convent. This place holds a special place in my heart. The parishioners were all so supportive of me and took my clueless 23-26 year old self under their wings as I tried to establish a ministry (and myself!) there.

This past week at the Workcamp, I ran into some of the parishioners from the parish. They told me their Church was FINALLY built and opening this week! They invited me to the dedication. A priest at the camp told me if I had never been to a Church Dedication before I really needed to go. Twist my arm!

The day of the dedication, I drove down the street I had driven down many times years prior and as I rounded the corner towards the Church, there were cars already being parked way down the street. The Church was enormous and I immediately knew this was going to be a cool event.

I saw people walking towards the old parish center, however, and then I ran into someone I knew. I asked him if the ceremony was beginning in the old worship space and he said that we would be starting there and then walking over to the Church together to hand the bishop the keys!

 Hanging out and waiting in the old worship space in the parish center
 Walking over to the new Church!
Entering the doors after handing the Bishop the keys!

It took us all a while to file in. I had run into some of the teens I used to work with ( now college students and college graduates!) and one of the girls sat and hung out with me during the service.

She told me that 1,100 people had RSVP'd...and I knew I was not among the 1100 :) So there were way over a thousand people at this event and once we got inside this huge Church it was already packed.

All of the people! I'm standing way in the back!

I was so grateful to have the girl I was sitting with next to me. She had been pretty involved in the youth group when I was there, especially our Workcamp trips and meetings, and she had taught CCD at the parish for years. She was always just a fun, well-rounded kid but obviously grounded in her faith. I mean, here we were, two young adults hanging out for 3+ hours at a church service. And we were GEEKING OUT about it!

Before the Mass really got started, we were flipping through the program and squealing to each other: "Oh look! They are going to dedicate the relics of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta!" "OMG! They have to go around and bless the walls! So cool!"

I mean..geeking. out. In the true sense of the phrase.

But our rituals ARE so cool and so SYMBOLIC. I've been teaching Confirmation candidates and my Sacraments students for years how important the material of "oil" is symbolically. In the Old Testament, they would anoint a person king with it. It is obviously a symbol of strength since we maintain machines with it. We cook with it. It is a symbol of flavor and life!

The symbol of oil was a key player in this event as the Bishop anointed the altar with it and the priests placed it in the sign of the cross on all of the walls. This consecrates the Church to God just as Samuel anointed David with oil in the Old Testament.

After the bishop spread the oil on the altar, some of the parishioners chosen to be a part of the ceremony came and mopped it up with towels. This kind of reminded me of the scene of the Passion where the women took towels to wipe up the blood of Christ after his scourging. The altar is a symbol of sacrifice and so I just thought of all of this sacredness and history coming together before us at this moment.

Women were chosen to place the linens on the altar for the first time- just like women in the New Testament went to the tomb to wrap and anoint Christ's body after the Crucifixion. And after the linens were placed on the altar, it truly was like the Resurrection! Suddenly, people brought flowers out and started to adorn and decorate the altar. I am not doing the moment justice, but the girl and I looked at each other and seriously almost started crying. It was a cool moment.

I mentioned to the girl sitting with me several times, "if only we felt this sense of community and closeness to the Scriptures EVERY Mass." At this Mass the energy of the people was so evident. And the Scriptures and history of our faith unfolding before us, connecting us to it, was so clear. I know that we should feel this way at every Mass.

The priests going around the Church incensing EVERYTHING :)

Wiping down the altar after the anointing with oil

Similarly to how I had felt when at Ronnel's funeral, I felt this sense of family. The Church is my family. These young people that I worked with for years and now seeing grown up were like my kids. The parishioners of this parish are like distant relatives. At one point I said to the girl sitting next to me, "I love that you can appreciate these nerdy liturgical things like me!" To which she responded, "well, you raised me right!" Sniff!
(Though, let's be clear, I am only 9 years older than she. Raised is a stretch...)

I was just so proud of and grateful for all these families who had dedicated themselves to the Church for so long. Ones who had helped me with my ministry, but now I see, they just love the Church. And they really were the ones teaching ME all along.

If you ever get to go to a Church Dedication, it is LONG, but I highly recommend it! Even after all of my travels, it was probably one of the highlights of my summer.


Saturday, August 4, 2012

Why I Shouldn't be Allowed at Bridal Showers

Here's the thing. If I ever get married, (which HAS been projected by Steve the financial planner for 2015, though moved from its original projected date of 2013... But MARK YOUR CALENDARS) you can just send all the gifts I registered for to my house. You don't even have to wrap them. I already know what you got me. (They actually take the guest's name when you purchase something off wedding registries now. The mystery is gone.) And I will send you a thank you text or tweet and save a tree from hand-written thank you cards. BETTER YET: I WILL LIVE TWEET the event. Deal?

I mean, people talk about how the Church is behind the times, but I think in many ways the bridal industry is keeping us in the 1950s. Women gathering around to watch other women open cooking ware and hand out dishtowels as prizes? Come on, ladies. If we are modern women in our other "lady ways", let's step up these traditions. Who's with me?!

Or maybe it's just me and I should be banned from all bridal showers. Exhibit A:

There's a lot going on on that recipe card. I totally got the recipe from my "Food" board on Pinterest...

First of all, I put the bride's name where you are actually supposed to put the item that the recipe is for. Sigh. You would think after all the showers I've been to.... Also, I totally just downloaded this recipe from a website. I mean, that's what the internet is FOR, right??

I don't want to crash and burn all of your bridal hopes and kitchen dreams, ladies. Clearly, a traditional bridal shower is just not for me. Gathering with other ladies to talk about lady things can be nice...I suppose...but for me those things are: alcohol. And maybe shopping.

However, I am getting REALLY good at making those bow bouquets:
Perhaps one day this skill will come in handy. You never know!


Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Thorns and Pearls

Today's Gospel included Matthew's account of the Pearl of Greatest Price which truly was Good News for me to hear this morning:

"Again, the Kingdom of heaven is like a merchant
searching for fine pearls.
When he finds a pearl of great price,
he goes and sells all that he has and buys it."- Matthew 13:45-46

(And I just happened to be wearing Grandma Strukely's pearls today, y'all! Look at that!)

I'm pretty sure women use and identify with this Gospel verse a little bit more than men. I know that is INCREDIBLY stereotypical of me, but Ima go ahead and say that women like being told they are the beautiful pearl that God is willing to sell everything for...though, it is an important message for men to hear, too. (You guys are beautiful and worthy too! :)  The analogy certainly applies to both. 

I needed to hear this Gospel today because I had been struggling with a particular "thorn" that has been placed in me for whatever reason.  Oh wait, I know the reason. God uses these "thorns" to keep us close to him. Allow me to explain...

For me, the "thorn" changes. In my earlier 20s, it was elements of my personality that I was struggling and grappling with. These things kept me humble and continually drew me to God in prayer. For a while it was employment and finding the perfect job that humbled me and had me going to God in prayer. 

Now, of course, it is not something exactly NEW but something that keeps me going to Him. I actually prayed today if He could take it away and give me a new "thorn,"  that would be swell. We'll see how He responds to that. But how very Pauline of me! My man St. Paul kinda did the same thing (kinda):

"Although if I should wish to boast, I would not be foolish, for I would be telling the truth.
But I refrain, so that no one may think more of me than what he sees in me or hears from me...Therefore, that I might not become too elated, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan, to beat me, to keep me from being too elated.
8Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, 
but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” 

I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me.
Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong." - 2 Corinthians 12: 6-10

St. Paul wins every.time. Right?

Despite the thorns He might give us, God loves us. It is important to remember we are always the treasured pearls that He has given everything for. 

So I'm showing off my pearls and embracing my thorns today and banking on God's Grace through it all.


Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Julia in July

So, um, yeah. That whole last blogpost about rest? I didn't really get any in July.

But July was still awesome. And I will try to make up for all of the rest I didn't get (in the last 2-3 weeks especially) starting now.

To recap: I went to LA for the 4th of July and spent time with friends that I have spent many 4ths with (and also several New Year's Eves...apparently we like to celebrate holidays that have lots of sparkly things and public explosions together...)

My 4th of July fellas...
When I posted on Facebook that I'd be in LA for a week, I had two friends from two separate volunteer ministries that I'd been involved with contact me and want to get together. Both friends I hadn't seen in probably 8 years or so. One I met when I was in Guatemala before senior year in college and one I met during my year with NET:

 Maggie and I re-connecting...both Catholic school high school teachers now!
Araceli and I representing for our NET small group 8 years later

Both these ladies are ones I totally admire and have a lot in common with. I was stunned but so grateful that they would want to meet up and hang out with me several years later. God works in mysterious but awesome ways! It was so cool that I got to serve with both of these ladies in different capacities for the Church and we are all still doing work for the Church several years later.

After a week of fun visits, the guys told me they would be coming to the East Coast for a wedding and that I should join them. And who am I to say "NO" to a wedding? So, that same week I returned to DC I found myself hanging with my CA friends again this time in Philly, Philly...

which meant I got to re-connect with ANOTHER one of my favorites who lives in Philly:

LC and I post-wedding!

After catching up with my girl LC and saying goodbye to the guys (for reals this time) it was off to visit my fam in Ohio.

I spent a lot of time with my nephew which was good for several reasons 1.) I feel like a terrible aunt for not being around much 2.) he's actually at the age where he has a little personality now and likes to play and have fun!

my nephew and I playing with my Iphone...he doesn't seem sure about it, which is fair...

I spent about 4 days in OH and didn't even get a full day before I arrived back in DC after my trip and packed up for the annual Diocesan Workcamp.

In the past, I've really looked forward to this special week, but this year I think all of my travels had caught up with me. I was tired from the start and had lower energy than usual. I had originally started helping at these camps as a way to stay involved in the Diocese as well as youth ministry since I was in the Archdiocese of DC and working for a non-profit when I moved back 4 years ago. Since teaching keeps me doing youth ministry with the Diocese full time now, I had to kind of assess: "what am I doing here?" Does God really want me here this week? Of course, God revealed that I was meant to be at the camp, but it was a challenge for me this year. A good challenge, and it was good to re-evaluate motives and open myself up to the Holy Spirit to try and hear what He might be saying to me that week..

The Program Team at camp wearing plaid for our friend Ronnel that passed away this year...

But now I'm home! And finally ready to rest! It's a little less than three weeks until teachers go back and get ready for our students who return the following week. I plan on spending these last weeks of summer finishing up some directed research with a professor and working on my tan by a pool :) Oh, and my parents are coming for a visit for a few days since they haven't been to DC in a year or so...

Spending time in prayer is also definitely on my agenda for the next couple weeks. The week at Workcamp did shake me up a little and made me take notice to the Holy Spirit again (remember when I couldn't get enough a couple summers ago? Oh, and hey! This entry involves an LA trip, too! Coincidence?) and I'm trying to listen to where the Spirit is leading in my life 'cause I think (I know!) He is doing something!

I'm grateful for the many friends I've been able to interact with this summer. Some old, some new, and some REALLY old ones I hadn't seen in a while :) God is good and the Spirit is moving...

Hope you all are having a blessed summer. I've got several prayer requests these days, so if you could, keep my intentions in your guys are the best :) We are united in prayer,