Wednesday, February 22, 2012


It's that time of year! (Also, sometimes Catholics are funny. See Rick Roll above :)

I am fascinated each year with what people expect from or why they participate in Lent. More specifically, Ash Wednesday. Technically, it is NOT a "Holy Day of Obligation." It's not a high feast! All Saints Day, Solemnity of Mary, Ascension, Easter, Christmas...these are some of our high feast days. And yet...people LOVE them some ashes!

I think I've made the point the before that people just love them some FREE (Catholic)STUFF.

I heard on the radio this morning that an Episcopal Church (I think) was dispensing ashes like at a Metro stop or in their parking or lot or something. You didn't even have to go to the service. People just want the ashes.

And this is fascinating to me as a "signs and symbols" kind of girl. Why do people want to wear the ashes? What does it signify to them and to others? What do we get out of it? Are we supposed to get anything out of it?

I also love other people's fascination with the ashes and the little Catholic childhood stories that surrounds our traditions. For example, I was in our "ministry center" at school where students can come by during their study hall and talk with a campus minister (mostly, I've just become really good at Uno and card games, but it has its moments...) and the ashes on each other's foreheads was naturally a conversation.

Student: "Ah! I really want to touch my forehead!"

Me: "you are good! at least you are conscious they are there still. I touch my forehead then remember when I feel the remnants on my  hands."

Another student: "You can barely even see mine!"

Me: "you wanted them darker?"

Student: "yeah!"

This was interesting to me. When I was in Junior High, people would run to the bathroom to try to wipe off their ashes so they weren't so dark. Not me, though, of course. Not because I'm holy, though. Oh, no. I didn't want them to appear dark either (omg, that was SO embarrassing to have the priest with the monstrous thumb who would just dig into those ashes and you just KNEW you were going to get them all over so much so that they dripped onto your nose!!) but I was too afraid to touch them. Someone somewhere in my catechesis  had convinced me that it was super sinful to wash them or wipe them off. I wanted to wipe them off like the cool junior high kids, but I was apparently too conscientious of a child.

I shared this memory of mine with my students. When I made the point that I was too afraid to wipe off the ashes, one student sighed: "aww!" And this made me pause for some reason.

1.) I guess I had forgotten what a very conscientious child I had been. I never wanted to do ANYTHING wrong or disappointing.

2.) Am I still as conscientious today?

I was kind of impressed that my students wanted to have the darker ashes. Today when I was driving home I saw a girl running in my neighborhood. She had to be about the same age as my students, possibly from the neighboring Catholic school and her ashes were very dark. I was struck by them and that then reminded me of mine, which I had forgotten since my swoop bangs conveniently cover them (Junior High Julia would've LOVED the swoopy bangs! Full Ash Coverage with NO guilt! Too bad Junior High Julia's bangs were curled, feathered, and teased early 90s style...joke's still on me, I guess...)

Anyway, all this to say: what do we think about Ash Wednesday? Is it significant to us and for what reason? Is it because we GET something and get to show something off? And if so, why are we proud to show it off? What is our intention?

Lastly, everyone always wants to know: "what are you doing for Lent?" I have wanted to try and go vegetarian for a while, and so I have taken Lent as my opportunity to try and do so. Of course, diets and personal goals are not the reason we should try something out for Lent, but for the sacrifice. I do think giving up meat will be a sacrifice since the majority of my (ahem, frozen, "Lean Cuisine") meals right now consist of chicken and/or turkey. I also haven't done a food fast, personally, in a while, so I'm looking forward to the challenge. One of my best Lents was the Lent of '99 when I fasted from food in a somewhat extreme way- only one large meal a day (I drank alot of milkshakes and smoothies, though :) I did it truly for the spiritual sacrifice of it, which was impressive for a 17 year old, I think. I remember reaching for pretzels and snacks in the middle of the day, but really thinking of the Cross in those moments. I grew alot spiritually that Lent because of it, and the weightloss was only a side benefit, as it, of course, should be.

So when I was talking to my students about Lenten fasting, we read the Gospel for today Matt 6:1-6, 16-18. It is a temptation to try and use Lent as a diet or for personal notoriety but Matthew's Gospel is very clear: do not boast. Do not even "let your left hand know what your right is doing." My students actually understood these points: don't whine about your sacrifice. Don't boast about it. Your Heavenly Father hears you in secret.

And of course, Lent is more than just "giving up." There is prayer and "almsgiving" too. I plan on really trying to focus on the almsgiving this year by spending time with roommates and friends more throughout Lent. I have become kind of the introvert since teaching took over my life. I spend all day TALKING to people. So  when I get home, I just DON'T. I think this will be a good offering for me.

And also, prayer. I do try to "journey" with a saint. The Blessed Mother and I have an on again off again relationship, and so I would like it to be back "on" during these 40 days, 40 nights ;)

Pray for me and I will pray for you all during this Lenten season! I pray we are drawn closer to God through whatever offering/sacrifice we choose.

Happy Lent!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Love 'N' Lourdes

Today is the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes- the apparition of Mary that St. Bernadette saw in Lourdes, France in 1858.

Many of my closest friends have been to Lourdes and have a great devotion to Our Lady of Lourdes because of it. When this date rolls around, I think of them and the great things that have happened for them because of their devotion. And then I pray that Mary will hook me up as well :) (I did have a friend light a candle for me there this summer on pilgrimmage! So it was like I was there, right?? )
I think it's cool that my close friends and I can share a devotion like this together. But then again, I am a huge nerd :)

In my grad studies and in the readings at Mass this week, a theme that keeps popping up is idol worship. In the daily readings, the stories of David, Solomon, and their successors show how the Israelites were weak and needed a king and then the kings themselves were weak and poor examples to the Israelites.

In idol worship news: Many non-Catholic Christians think that we "worship" Mary. But we believe that she is our strong intercessor and believe that since she IS the Mother of GOD, Christ is likely to listen to her prayers :)

But back to this week's readings...The kings didn't always have bad intentions- we know David's intentions were often good, and God will reward Him with the descendant of Christ Himself because of it- but they often did bend to their own wills or the will of the people. (Solomon- exhibit A: allowing his many wives to worship pagan gods...)

In my grad class we just read Ezekiel and BOY if my students only knew the racy stuff that was in there! They might start to think the Bible was almost as "good" as Jersey Shore!

I always kind of brushed over Ezekiel because I never understood it. And for good reason- his prophecies rival the crazy that we see in the images of the Book of Revelations. Who can decipher it?

Um, my 90 year old priest prof of course.

No, but for reals...Ezekiel Chap 16 and Chap 23 would get my students interested for all the wrong reasons. Ezekiel swears that God is telling him that the people of Israel are like a man who would sleep with a prostitute and goes into detail. (Also, there is nothing more uncomfortable than reading said details with two priests in a small classroom, one at the age of 90...)

I will never find myself teaching Ezekiel Chap 16 & 23, I'm pretty sure, even though I now know the meaning. Which is a shame, because I think that it is something we can relate still relate to (not the prostitute part!! Get your head out of the gutter...)

Over and over we see the Israelites falling away from God and He keeps sending prophets and kings and judges to get them back. Finally, He sends His only Son who can truly redeem us all.

With Valentine's Day coming up, "love is in the air." But these readings of late speak to me of love (and not because the women in Ezekiel are giving it freely)

I always start out my Scripture course with Taylor Swift's "Love Story" because 1.) I'm hip like that. 2) because I want the students to see that the Bible is God's Love Story with humanity...

...even the crazy parts like Ezekiel and Revelations.

The Bible is God continually reaching out to a broken world and THIS is what we can relate to. Our lives and our world is still broken. But we have the Good News that God has sent His Son into the world and we have only to "love God with all our heart, soul, and mind." (Mt 22: 37)

God loves us sooo much! And so I am inspired to share in that love this Valentine's.

ALSO, yesterday, one of the religion teachers at school had a speaker come talk to her students and since I wasn't feeling so well, I hopped on that train and took my students to hear him too :)

It was a guy who I had actually heard speak on Theology on Tap and found his story inspiring. Long story short, he is a young guy who had some huge heartbreaks in his life: loss of his mother, a failed marriage, and health issues. But he took up running and felt God calling him to run across the U.S. and use prayer as his motivator.

His story is pretty unbelievable- 3,700 miles!! Running!! Um...I can barely run a 5k.

I think the kids were inspired by his athletic achievement, but I was inspired by how close he stayed with God. He took prayer intentions from others before and while on the road and the prayers kept him going. And he has heard back from people saying that their prayers were answered. The power of prayer and his commitment to holiness and prayer is really what inspired me.

If prayer can motivate him to run across the country, certainly prayer can inspire me just reap the benefits of a deeper relationship with God! He persevered TRULY in "Running the Race." It's a good reminder that I need to persevere in prayer...even if it seems pointless or hopeless or monotonous at times.

Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us!


Sunday, February 5, 2012

SuperB Owl Sunday

WHOM do you wish to win the Super Bowl?

I saw this clever play on the Super Bowl- "the Superb Owl"- on Facebook and I prefer owls to football, so I thought I'd address Super Bowl Sunday in this way :)

Plus, birds- and owls in particular- are ALL the rage these days. Also, mustaches. That may seem like an aside, but they are both very much related and both very much hipster. I should know, since I have hipster tendencies myself.

Let it be known, however, that this blog had a bird background well before this trend, true to my hipster tendency form. ( This is an aside and a beloved joke between my friend @ChristineMarieN and I: "Why did the hipster burn his tongue?" "He ate pizza before it was cool ;) My blog's bird background was simply a sick homage to my Twitter obsession, but now it is widely known that if you want something to seem cool and infinitely more expensive, simply "Put a Bird on It".

While I do care to keep up with pop trends, I don't care much for professional sports, I must say. But I get that people uphold these athletes and teams in the same way my family might uphold Rock and Roll or the Beatles. And I do think there is something about it that brings humanity together and we should honor those who reach high achievements... I get it.

I, however, also taught an excerpt from Gaudium et Spes (The Second Vatican Council document on The Church in the Modern World) and had my students reflect on a few paragraphs including this passage:

"But what is man? About himself he has expressed, and continues to express, many divergent and even contradictory opinions. In these he often exalts himself as the absolute measure of all things or debases himself to the point of despair. The result is doubt and anxiety." - The Church in the Modern World, 12.

I had the students reflect on how we exalt certain celebrities or athletes and then how that can lead to our own "debasement" of ourselves. We go to the two extremes- either wanting to exalt ourselves or not realizing our self worth.

St. Paul, however, has something for us again today in this morning's readings:

Brothers and sisters:
If I preach the gospel, this is no reason for me to boast,
for an obligation has been imposed on me,
and woe to me if I do not preach it!...

Although I am free in regard to all,
I have made myself a slave to all
so as to win over as many as possible.
To the weak I became weak, to win over the weak.
I have become all things to all, to save at least some.
All this I do for the sake of the gospel,
so that I too may have a share in it. - 1 Corinthians 9: 16-23

St. Paul makes himself "a slave to the gospel" and makes himself "weak" so that others may be saved. Is this debasement? Does St. Paul not know his self worth?

Of course not. We know St. Paul takes his new identity in Christ and when he is trying to "win people over" it is not for his own glorification or desire to be liked. He truly just wants others to find the truth in Christ. It's his "obligation" (as it is ours as Baptized Christians, like it or not!) and he embraces the challenge fully and purely.

This pure motivation for the gospel is easier said than done, which is why we are "running the race." :)  St. Paul and the epistle writers often use athletes as images and symbols because of their discipline. And what greater discipline is there than to follow the gospel inside and out for its own sake and the sake of others??

So perhaps we can admire our athletes for their discipline and take it as an example to exalt the Gospel- not ourselves. But also to know that we are worth so much since we are made in the image and likeness of God and Christ gave his life for us.

Also, I just want to give a shout to God for His help in overcoming one of the struggles I began this year with. I know we are only a month in, but He has given me MUCH grace in choosing to be supportive and joy-filled for these upcoming weddings and celebrations I've got going on this year. I was a little leary in beginning 2012, but now I have much hope and joy for this year and I know that's all His doing :)

Enjoy the SuperB day!