Monday, June 25, 2012

Highlights from Greece

My co-worker and friend who led our recent trip to Greece commented on my photos on Facebook: "did you post these the second you got home?" Answer: yes. I also have already unpacked and done laundry! This is just how I do. I get things DONE. Plus, it helps me to process things right away rather than put off 'til later.

So here is the obligatory blog post...not but 2 days after my return! You're welcome.

Two of my colleagues and I (who are also young teachers, btw... Together we covered the areas of English, History, and Religion- all important subjects that could be incorporated into this trip, though the trip really wasn't meant to be a solely curricular one. The students also made abundantly clear that this was not the goal of their trip either anyways. Sigh.)

We met the students at the airport and flew to Paris for what turned out to be barely a layover. The airline actually held our plane to Athens for us which was good because we had 23 of us sprinting through what I'm SURE is the biggest airport in the world. Half of us got separated from the rest of the group in that jog through the Paris airport and I had visions of "Home Alone" dancing through my head. But we all made it.

Our first full day in Athens was a marathon as well. We did the Olympic Stadium, the Athenian Acropolis (fun fact: we always think of the Acropolis in Athens when we here the word, but most ancient cities had an acropolis), Parthenon, Athens' Market, Athens' Museum, and the Temple of Poseidon all that day.

 Olympic Stadium
 Me in front of the Parthenon
In front of The Temple of Poseidon
Temple of Poseidon from a distance

We had a free day the next day in Athens, but it also happened to be the day of the notorious elections in Greece so there wasn't much to do. All the shops and major sites were closed. Many of the kids decided to go to the beach. But my friend leading the trip and I led a make-shift tour of our own through some of the residential parts of Athens:

 picking oranges (they weren't very good...)
 Walking through neighborhoods....

 jumping into private pools :)

On Monday, we left for our cruise! The first stop was Mykonos. Each of the islands we would stop at had their own character. Mykonos was by far (for me) the prettiest and most quaint.

Tuesday was the most exciting for this Bible-geek. It was the most Scriptural day of our tour. We made a stop in Turkey in the morning and went to Ancient Ephesus. It was soooo cool to see where St. Paul and St. John most likely walked and where St. Paul preached and was imprisoned:

 Theater at Ancient Ephesus
 One of the first Christian symbols left by early Christians
Ruins of where St. Paul was imprisoned.

Also on Tuesday, we cruised to Patmos where St. John was inspired to write the Book of Revelations and was also exiled. They wouldn't let us take pictures inside the "Cave of the Apocalypse" where he had the vision, but it was definitely one of the more memorable and moving parts of the trip for me. I got to see where St. John laid his head and I put my hand where he once put his. You can see the cracks in the cave that were said to have formed after he had this vision of Christ about the Book of Revelations.

This image is one that I bought an icon of and depicts St. John's vision of Christ that he saw in the Cave:
 St. John envisioning Christ all in white, holding the judgment keys as well as the 7 angels representing the 7 cities St. John needed to share his message to.
 Outside the Cave

Me loving Patmos!

Wednesday, the ship took us to the Island of Rhodes where the most stand-out thing for me was the town of Lindos. Rhodes had some Medieval influences, but the ruins at Lindos were from 3rd/4th century B.C. I believe...

This was also a day that we finally started to bond with some of the students. Some of our group had taken it upon themselves to not really do the excursions but just sit aboard the ship all day and get into trouble. The students that came with us to Rhodes and Lindos, though, showed us that they were awesome and in Greece for the right reasons. My friend and I gave them the name "Team Alpha" or the "A-Team" :)

 Team Alpha :)
View from the Top of Lindos!

Thursday took us to Crete and then later beautiful Santorini. We only had a couple hours in Crete, so my friend and I happened upon a cab driver that promised to show us the highlights before our ship left the port. His name was Cristos. How can you go wrong with a man named after Christ? You can't. Cristos was awesome and took us to the Palace of Knossos and gave us a tour of Crete.

 Palace of Knossos

Us and Cristos our cab driver from Crete!

Santorini rivaled Mykonos for the most beautiful island. It is built on the top of the mountain, so you have to take either a cable car, a donkey, or walk 500+ steps. We opted for the cable car (I was not about to press my luck with a donkey!)

 Beautiful Santorini!
One of the best places ever to have a cocktail :)

Friday we finally disembarked the cruise ship and went back to Athens. Our tour guide took us to Delphi which is about 3 hours from Athens, but totally worth the trip. It is, of course, where the Oracle of Delphi originated and has so much cool history.

 Where one would speak to the "oracle"
 Temple of Apollo at Delphi
 Overlooking the Theater at Delphi
From the top of Delphi!

After our last night in Athens, we headed back to the now infamous Paris airport where we got a true layover and made a successful return to the States. Despite wanting to leave some of our troublemakers in the Aegean Sea at times, the trip was totally worth the price (free for me! only spent money on souveniers, excursions, some food and drink :) And it was definitely a trip of a lifetime! I recommend it to everyone!

Though I am glad to be back in the States and STUDENT FREE for 2 whole months! Whee!

The coming month of July is going to be crazy: trip to LA, trip home to OH, and then Workcamp! But summer is off to a great start.

Hope you all are well!

The Dress That Changed My Life

On the plane from Athens back to Paris this past weekend, the student sitting next to me gave me a stack of fashion magazines to help me pass the time. I came across an ad for an essay contest in one of them: "The _________ That Changed My Life." It was asking for submissions about an item of clothing that signified a life change.

I had always joked with my sister that a dress in Urban Outfitters that we saw on one of my "free days" in the convent was what made the switch in my head go off that religious life wasn't for me. I even said I would entitle a chapter in my life's memoir to it! So, naturally, I had to write a submission. 

If I make the cut, my essay will be published in this well-known fashion mag! Thought I would share my submission with you all:

"The Dress That Changed My Life"

“You could wear this if you left!,” my sister said as she held a yellow and white striped summer dress out to me. We were in a typical shopping mall in Middle America (in an Urban Outfitters, to be exact) during what was becoming a new Sunday “free day” ritual for us. 

“Free days” came once a month for me.  On this particular “free day” I stood there in my white Oxford button up blouse and knee-length shapeless navy blue skirt admiring all of the frocks I once would not have hesitated to try on and purchase. But now as I stood  in my make-shift habit with only a light blue hoodie to make my appearance more modern, I reminded myself: “you live in a convent now.” And I shook my head and only smiled to my sister.

Clearly, I need to backtrack a bit. 2007 was the year I turned 26. It was also the year I happened to leave the job that I loved and entered a convent. It was a decision that I made freely and happily. It was not a spur of the moment decision, but one I had pondered for a while. I was confident and eager to live a life of such sacrifice because I thought it would help me be my best self in the world. Even if it meant leaving my fashionable closet behind.

The yard sale that I had before I entered the convent was one not to miss. I had told all of my friends to come by and take their pick from my modern and fashionable closet of J. Crew, Anthropologie, and the like. But something inside my mother told her to make sure I saved one box of my treasured wardrobe  “just in case” the life of the convent turned out not to be for me.

And now here, in the Urban Outfitters with my sister, on the day once a month that I was allowed to be “out in the world” with her, I was having an existential crisis. 

To be clear, it wasn’t that the dress itself was so phenomenal. And I had been contemplating making a move back to the ordinary for a while. In the beginning, the ideas of poverty, chastity, and obedience had been so liberating. But were they for me? This year had been set up for me to decide, but now, in an incredibly superficial way- with my sister holding out that bright, summer dress so contrast from the drab clothes I had taken- it seemed like the decision was being made for me.

This mall dress represented more than just the life I once had, but the joy that I used to feel. I had hoped and prayed that the life I chose in the convent would bring me the same joy, but the reality was becoming that the life wasn’t for me. It was nobody’s fault, and it was so much more than just the superficial choice to wear fashionable clothes or not. The clothes I stood before with my sister on that day had begun to represent the insecurity I had been feeling about my decision regarding my new life instead of the joy it was supposed to bring me.

And so even though I only smiled to her on that day, the words she spoke to me stuck in my head: “if you left, you could wear this again.” And wear that dress again I would. 

Shortly after that day, I went to my superior and told her that this life was not for me. She already knew it. She did not try to keep me in a lifestyle that did not allow me to feel like myself and I respected her so much for it. 

Life is certainly more than a closet full of dresses, but it is about the joy found in being yourself. I am grateful for the opportunity I received that year to truly discern how to best be myself, which turned out to be in that cute summer dress.

Monday, June 11, 2012

We Are Family

It's no surprise that I am feeling introspective after attending the Funeral Mass for my friend Ronnel whom I've mentioned in a previous post last week. 

It still doesn't feel real that he's gone and I know that sounds so cliche, but it seems that we speak in cliche at times like these because we just don't know how to put it into words for ourselves.

I have attended a fair amount of funerals and am always moved by them as, again, I'm sure we all are.
What struck me today was the presence of my friends from my years participating in Diocesan Youth Ministry, which is how I know Ronnel. It wasn't a surprise that we were all there- that is how we knew each other, after all. What I was struck by was how we truly were like family. So much so in this case, that some of our friends who are also youth ministers were actually pallbearers.

It shouldn't surprise me, though, that we are a family because of our ministry. We have spent many long nights staying up late to put together retreats and service camps to help minister to teens. We have spent time together praying at Mass and participating in His Sacraments. This is what the Church was founded on: the ministry and prayer of the apostles. We each go out and do our own work during the days and nights, but when we come together, we are community. Despite our broken and very different personalities, we are the Church as how it was designed by Christ to be- ministers and community.

Ronnel embraced this role as a minister so much more than many of us. It was evident by that showing at his funeral Mass today. We had even teased him not but 2 weeks ago at a Workcamp meeting about his "Rain Man"-esque ability to know random facts about the Diocese.

As a single person, sometimes I wonder about family. I obviously have one back in Ohio who have been excellent examples of Christ's love to me. But I know for sure now that the Church is my family. If I didn't already know it before, I saw it there today as all of us came together for Ronnel: teens he had worked with, other adult volunteers from his program, youth ministers, was a true Church family.

It is moments like this in which God reminds me that though the road is hard sometimes, His Church is worth it. My strongest relationships and most powerful experiences have been from meeting people and investing time in His Church.

Thank you, Ronnel, for reminding us of this. And please give a good shout-out to Jesus for us!

I just pray that you all can have similar experiences of Christ through people, relationships, and His Sacraments. It is no coincidence that when we are united through Him at a retreat, or a service trip, or at funeral Mass we feel close to those around us. That is because we are living community as God really intended: giving of ourselves with the goal of uniting to Him. And we can do this in many of our relationships if we choose to do so.


Thursday, June 7, 2012

Shameless Promotion

So, you guys...I'm technically "published." ;)

Check out the blurbs for Sister Helena's new book!

Also, check out the book! I meant what I said :) Grateful to the Daughters and hoping I'll get more than just a blurb published one day!


Perseverance and the Paschal Mystery

The end of the school year is so close! The finish line is in sight. This time next week, I will be packing up and heading off to Greece!

But in the meantime, much perseverance is needed. And so I was very grateful for the readings this morning at Mass:

Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David:
such is my Gospel, for which I am suffering,
even to the point of chains, like a criminal.
But the word of God is not chained.
Therefore, I bear with everything for the sake of those who are chosen,
so that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus,
together with eternal glory.
This saying is trustworthy:

If we have died with him

we shall also live with him;
if we persevere
we shall also reign with him.
But if we deny him
he will deny us.
If we are unfaithful
he remains faithful,
for he cannot deny himself." 2 Tim. 2: 8-15

We all know of my strong affinity for St. Paul :) Here he is giving us a dose of reality, but also hope, as only he can do! Sometimes, living the Gospel means suffering and we feel chained by it. We think of all the things we "can't do" because of what living the Gospel can mean. But that is NOT the reality of the Gospel: "the word of God is not chained" and we bear with everything for the sake of others and the hope that His unchained Word brings.

I needed to be reminded of this today as we near the end of the school year. Why have I been running this race in the first place? It is because of the Gospel, the Paschal Mystery- the suffering, death, Resurrection, and Ascension- that I teach but also that we can all relate to in our own lives.

Most recently our diocese has experienced a suffering and death. We have lost a youth minister that was very involved in the Workcamps that I help with in the summer. This summer is going to be very strange and different. The death was somewhat sudden, and the ministry community is feeling this loss. Please pray for the teens he worked with and for the ministry of our diocese. Also please pray for the repose of his soul. He was a joyful and faithful servant and I'm sure he his enjoying the company of the Lord now in heaven.

The Gospel today was also a hopeful reminder to me of why we do what we do as Christians: The Greatest Commandment (s):

"One of the scribes came to Jesus and asked him,
"Which is the first of all the commandments?"
Jesus replied, "The first is this:
Hear, O Israel!

The Lord our God is Lord alone!

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,

with all your soul, with all your mind,

and with all your strength.

The second is this:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
There is no other commandment greater than these."
The scribe said to him, "Well said, teacher.
You are right in saying,
He is One and there is no other than he.

And to love him with all your heart,

with all your understanding,

with all your strength,

and to love your neighbor as yourself

is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices."
And when Jesus saw that he answered with understanding,
he said to him, "You are not far from the Kingdom of God."
And no one dared to ask him any more questions."
Mark 12: 28-34

As the year has drawn on, I have somewhat forgotten this basic truth: it is all about Love. We follow the Gospel because of Love. I teach the Gospel because of Love. God is Love and all He wants is US. He wants to love us and be loved by us. I want my students to know that they are loved by God and He just wants to love them back.

In the past month, I have not been as faithful to going to daily Mass, spiritual direction, and my prayer as I have been in the past. I'm hoping that summer will allow me the time and energy to get back "in line with the Resurrection" (to quote a favorite phrase from our latest Kairos retreat :). I also hope and pray for the many people who are experiencing a suffering or a loss right now and that we might all unite in the hope and joy of the Resurrection.

RIP, Ronnel. We miss you.