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.