Sunday, September 27, 2015

Gratitude and Mercy Part 2

I'm sure it comes as no surprise that I have been inspired to blog about the Holy Father's US visit this week. It has been exciting to be Catholic this week! And even, dare I say, socially acceptable! My Catholicity tends to be the subject of social encounters more often than probably most, due to occupational hazard. My first introductions with people usually go something like this:

Person I meet for the first time: "What do you do?"
Me: "I'm a teacher!"
Person I meet for the first time: "What do you teach?"
Me: "Religion."
Person I meet for the first time: (Usually awkward pause ) "Oh...interesting!"

These interactions were even more interesting when I responded: "youth minister" as a twenty-something out on the town as you might imagine. Nothing kills the potential "meet cute" like an introduction that inserts the Church at the forefront of a dude's mind. Some people may disagree with me on this. You might think that it is a beautiful gesture to introduce Christ at first meet or  even a great method of evangelization. I have studied evangelization, folks, and the numbers don't lie. I've seen more young men divert their attention elsewhere faster than if Kate Upton were to enter the room at that very moment. 

That's why I found it so refreshing to see not just my Catholic friends saying kind things about the Catholic Church on Facebook for once. Even if it was just a funny picture of the Pope on a pizza or a Stephen Colbert singing about being a friend of Francis, the good news of the Church infiltrated our culture for one week. 

I mean, how can you not respond with joy when you see something as glorious as this. Two of my favorite things: the Pope and Pizza!

Francis has a way of making everyone feel included but challenged. And THAT is what role of the Vicar of Christ is about. Because that is what Christ was about! And ultimately, that is what our Church is about! But we have made our Church something about exclusion instead of inclusion and that is what I think Francis is really getting us to see.

I was amazed that Francis had so many specific messages for all of his many appearances and gatherings, and every time he killed it! Congress and the White House: The Golden Rule. Care for our environment. Care for the poor. Care for life in all its forms. NYC: Preach the Gospel to all people. Go out and spread the Gospel. Do not be afraid. 

These are not new messages. And everyone hears their own version of these messages, too. What I heard may not be what you did, because we bring our own biases and experiences to any message we encounter (Some media literacy learning coming at ya!!!). But the way he says these traditional messages with compassion is what makes everyone feel like he is speaking to them. He has made us feel included, loved...which is what we are all thirsting for so much.

I watched way more of the coverage from my couch than I had originally intended. I found myself drawn to watch more. Of course, I was initially jealous that I was not there at my alma mater or in a city that I had just moved from months before to experience all this in person. But the beauty of Francis, once again, is his ability to make you feel included and loved even from far away. 

My dear friends sent me these pictures via text to make me feel like I was there with them! XOXO!

I watched as the Pope touched down on Tuesday in DC. I watched him meet Obama at Andrews Air Force Base in the wind with a smile. On Wednesday, I made my students in Study Hall watch Francis and Obama speak in front of the White House. On Thursday, I eagerly awaited a transcript of his address to Congress so that I could read what I had missed while teaching that day. And that night, I watched him enter St. Patrick's Cathedral in NYC and I dusted off my brievery to pray Vespers for the first time in a long time with him and 20,000 other people. 

But this AM when I found myself drawn again to watch him address clergy in Philly, I felt some scales fall from my eyes.

I have known about the World Meeting Families since fall of last year when the diocese I was working in asked department chairs to meet and look at ways to incorporate a special curriculum for the event. I certainly wanted to do so, but I also kind of rolled my eyes as this just one more hoop I was having to jump through for the diocese. Let me explain. 

I have come to think that when we talk about "family" that this means one of a very small list of things: We are either talking about being anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage, anti-birth control or anti-cohabitation. All things that we are "anti" nothing that we are for. 

For this reason, I was not personally psyched about this World Meeting of Families. I thought it was going to be another rally about something we are "anti." And honestly, because I myself am not married and have no children, I have never felt like these discussions of "family" include me. But when I heard the Holy Father speak to the Bishops this AM, he once again compassionately spoke and it made me think like he was speaking to me. 

There is a lot of hurt surrounding the issue family. There are the reasons I have listed previously and as I mentioned, a lot of my own experiences with people who are "pro family" have been exclusive. I don't have 7+ children and that is not necessarily what the Lord has called me to. Where do I fit with this limited, traditional box that we have made "family", then? What Pope Francis said this AM reminded me as he has done time and time again that our faith and concept of family are so much more than what we have limited them to be. 

He expanded and broadened this box of what the threats to family have become. It's more than just the things we hear about all the time. He mentioned that issues affecting the family are things like our consumerism, our devotion to social media, our individualized and isolated society. Essentially, just like there are many, many more "pro life" issues than just being "anti-abortion", there are many, many more issues affecting the family.

I can't tell you how it refreshing it felt to be "included" in this way. These are issues that I can relate to. This expanded my way of looking at "family issues" and this is why, once again, our Pope is so special. He makes all of us feel loved and included and that essentially is at the heart of family, isn't it?

This doesn't mean that we should not be challenged or questioned when we are discussing matters of family, but the root of our message should always be love...not exclusivity. I am blessed to be a part of the family that is the Catholic Church. A family that has a Holy Father that wants to include as many children as possible...just like Christ.


Saturday, September 19, 2015

Gratitude and Mercy

I think for maybe the first time in my life (that sounds dramatic. Let's go with:" at least in my most recent memory") my prayers have been solely that of gratitude. I remember being in the convent and confessing something and the priest telling me that the cure for whatever it was that I was struggling with at the time (probably lack of trust on my part) was gratitude. And I have come to find that gratitude can be the cure for many, many things.

I am truly grateful for the answered prayers that I began to share on this blog this past summer. Since then, the Lord continues to affirm and show answers to prayer in abundance. After taking the risk of receiving a cut in pay and switching to teach Middle School, God has affirmed that this is where I am meant to be. I have been fully supported and welcomed by the new staff and students at the school that I am at. I have the opportunity to be creative in my new position. I found and am able to afford an apartment in a great part of town and am able to take a class at a local university in hopes of (possibly) pursuing another degree next year (stay tuned!).

None of these things are earth shattering or life changing. But as I've discovered in my 30s, my relationship with God is now more dependent on the day to day rather than major life changes. I am still searching for some answers regarding my vocation. But more and more God continues to affirm that the little decisions that I am making are affirming my true call to share the faith with others. And it's been an awesome answer to my reflection on God's covenants in my life that I started in Lent.

Quintessential Pic of a rainbow over Richmond when I was out running(ish) the other day! Covenants and signs of promises kept!

So I have been very grateful in my prayer lately. Of course I move away from DC right before the Holy Father is going to be there, but I am still super excited about his visit. I feel like we need the blessing and insight that he will bring to our country now more than ever. And not in a desperate kind of way, but with an upcoming election and an opportunity for change, I think that the Pope's message (whatever it may be) will be much needed.

The Holy Father has also proclaimed an upcoming Jubilee year starting this Dec. 8- the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Typically, Jubilee years happen every 25 years, but as I may have said before, this Pope does what he wants! When a Jubilee year is celebrated, the Holy Door is opened, and any pilgrim that walks through it, receives an indulgence of forgiveness of sin.

Here's my pic of the Holy Door in St. Peter's from my trip there this summer! You can see how it's sealed up now, but come Dec. 8, it will be open!

I know that many think that this Pope has been more progressive or forward thinking, and it's true that he thinks differently than some of our more recent popes, but he really isn't saying anything new. He is just simply reminding us of the facets of our faith that many may have lost sight of. With this special Jubilee Year, he is calling it the Year of Mercy which I think is just so perfect. We have forgotten that our faith is about second chances and forgiveness. So while some people think he is being super radical making it easier for people to get annulments or being forgiven of abortion, this really is nothing new. Anyone who seeks God's Mercy is able to receive it if they truly do seek it. I think the Holy Father is just reminding us of that and I LOVE IT! Who doesn't need God's Mercy?!?

The last little thing that I've been reflecting on comes from last week's Sunday Gospel which was a complex one. There was a lot in it:

"Jesus and his disciples set out
for the villages of Caesarea Philippi. 
Along the way he asked his disciples,
“Who do people say that I am?” 
They said in reply,
“John the Baptist, others Elijah,
still others one of the prophets.” 
And he asked them,
“But who do you say that I am?” 
Peter said to him in reply,
“You are the Christ.” 
Then he warned them not to tell anyone about him.

He began to teach them
that the Son of Man must suffer greatly
and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes,
and be killed, and rise after three days. 
He spoke this openly. 
Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 
At this he turned around and, looking at his disciples,
rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan. 
You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

He summoned the crowd with his disciples and said to them,
“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,
take up his cross, and follow me. 
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake
and that of the gospel will save it.” - Mark 8:27-35

First, there is the question of who Jesus is, which isn't an easy one. Then, He predicts His Passion. When Peter doesn't want to accept that this will happen to Jesus, Jesus throws Peter under the bus. And finally, Jesus hits us with: anyone who wants to follow Him, must take up our cross and lose our lives. Uh...what just happened here???

I meditated on this passage with some of my students, who, as 6th graders tried really hard to make sense of it, but naturally it was difficult for them. I chose for my own meditation to focus on the "taking up our cross" part for my prayer. Even though my prayers have been one of gratitude, there's always that one thing, right? There's that thorn that St Paul talks about, that thing that keeps us close to Christ. 

The priest who said Mass on Sunday, in his homily, reminded us not to compare our crosses with one another's. This is always difficult to do. We want to see if our cross is "bigger" or "heavier" than others or the opposite: "at least MY cross isn't like  _____." This isn't really helpful in our own spiritual journey. We simply just need to do as Christ says in the Gospel: pick it up and embrace it. And, to tie everything back to gratitude, perhaps even add our prayer of gratitude for it as it brings us closer to uniting ourselves with Christ. But that sounds much more glamorous than it actually is, I know.

Another thing I am grateful for this week: I wanted to get involved in my new diocese and my new parish, which is the Cathedral:
pic of Cathedral at night. Notice the turning leaves! FALL IS COMING!!!

The DRE at the Cathedral said that her main need was for that of sponsors for the RCIA program (for those inquiring to become Catholic at Easter). We had our first meeting this week and I am really glad that I volunteered. In all my years of ministry and study, I really haven't worked with adult faith formation, so I'm excited for the experience. It is so refreshing to see people who want to learn about the faith and to see the Holy Spirit working in our lives. 

There are just a lot of really good things going on and in the air right now...(especially that cool nip in the air that means all things FALL!) and my response is just gratitude, gratitude. 

Here's to a great start to one of the most wonderful times of the year! And gratitude for the reminder of God's great, amazing Mercy. We are united in prayer!