Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Light in the Darkness- Advent Week 3

It has been over a month since the election and my hope has spun around in various stages since then. I woke up in darkness, but then felt the support and compassion in the safe spaces of the messages being sent around me by like minded people. I wanted to use this dark time as an opportunity to be light to others.

But the devil doesn't like it when we try to light the darkness. He wants the darkness to permeate. And he is willing to use whatever it takes to tempt us into darkness. And he is very good at disguising what is false into something that seems good and true.

This year, like perhaps no other year that I have had in ministry, I have been able to take my Media Studies degree and put it to use even some 13 years later. The media and the face of it may change, but the underlying theories of mass media have not. Fortunately, I studied the theories of media instead of the production of it, which seemed crazy at the time, but now we live in a world in which the mediums have changed, but no one knows how to use these mediums or what messages they send.

I have long been a big advocate of using the media to evangelize, to spread the good news. But this gets harder and harder to do when so much news is fake and people no longer know what to believe. Everyone has become an author of "news" now, and even those who are good and earnest can be easily swayed.

We need the message of the Gospel more than ever these days, for this message has stayed true for thousands of years and offers light in the darkness.

My advent promise this season has been to read from the prophet Isaiah, which we kind of do anyway as a Church in Advent. The readings from Isaiah have hit close to home more than ever this year, as he describes a world that is living in darkness, similar to the one I feel like we are living in now, but offers the hope of the coming Savior. It is this hope that we need now. It is the message that has not been altered. It is the message that has proven true over time.

It was the reading from Zephaniah that really struck me yesterday on the feast of St. Lucy (one of my favorite saints. Mainly because I think the image of her holding the plate with her eyeballs is cool)

"Thus says the LORD:
Woe to the city, rebellious and polluted,
to the tyrannical city!
She hears no voice,
accepts no correction;
In the LORD she has not trusted,
to her God she has not drawn near.

For then I will change and purify
the lips of the peoples,
That they all may call upon the name of the LORD,
to serve him with one accord;" - Zephaniah 3:1-2

I think the thing that makes me saddest is that this election seems to have made us no longer want to listen to Truth or each other. The line from Zephaniah "she hears no voice" struck me. I feel like those that have been elected leaders aren't listening to people (or to intelligence briefings that might help them better run the country). And I think that we have heard so many voices over this past year that we just don't want to listen to each other any more, myself included.

In Advent, we are waiting for this time when the Lord will "purify the lips of the serve him with one accord" but we cannot force this. This has to happen in God's time. We can encourage and support one another in prayer and action, but this is not something that we can make happen. No matter how I might want to force someone's hand or "purify their lips" on my own, this is for God to bring about, no one else. This brings me to my next point.

I have also been saddened this year because more and more people that call themselves Christians are not setting the example that we need to set. We are adding to "the tyrannical city" and oppressing people either with our words and/or what we choose to look away from. I have found that fellow Christians are either trying to force people's hands and condemn beliefs or are looking away from what is going on in our world completely. I have already addressed the forcing of the hand and oppression of others. And to the latter, this is a time of waiting, but I have been always taught that Advent is a time of "active waiting." We should be taking action, not just waiting to see what will happen.

So fake news, "tyrannical cities", passive Christians...where is the hope? Our hope is in our trust. I have to trust in goodness and God prevailing as the prophets foretell. Do I have to trust the media and my elected officials? Not blindly. They will have to earn my trust. And we have the right to challenge and correct them if what we have trusted them to do is not being done.

Though it has been tough to trust people of late for all of the reasons I have mentioned above, I have to keep telling myself we are a broken, flawed people. But that doesn't mean that we have to settle for that. We can work for change. And change is mentally and physically exhausting. But we have models for us in the saints, in our Blessed Mother, and in the Savior who stood up in the face of adversity, relying on their trust and relationship with God.

And so we persevere in hope, having to get up, dust ourselves off and try again as these models have showed us. There is light in the darkness, but we have to actively follow and pursue it, not just wait and see what happens.

St. Lucy, patron saint of the blind, open our eyes to the Light of Truth in Jesus this Advent and always.


Sunday, November 27, 2016

Happy New Year: Advent 2016

Happy New Year! Today is the first Sunday of Advent and the first day in our new liturgical year! Most people I know can't wait to get out of 2016. As I posted last time, 2016 hasn't been too bad for me personally, but I am ready for a new focus and Advent is always a great time to slow down and re-focus.

I took this time this last week between the Feast of Christ the King and the start of Advent to take a breath and make a little mini-retreat. I am still not sure what 2017 and the New Year will bring, but I focused a lot this past week on trust (which is always a recurring theme for us with God, I feel like...just look at all the stories in the Old Testament and salvation history! Struggling to trust God has kind of been our thing as a human race).

I stayed in the mountains for a couple of nights which was beautiful and peaceful and this image of the road kind of dropping off into the mountains where I stayed ended up being one of my meditations in trust:

For example, I don't know where the next year will take me, much like you cannot see the direction of this road until you get to it. This is also a great exercise in being in the present moment.  I know that there will be some curves and valleys and hills beyond this, but I need to trust that the Lord will be there leading me and just focus on walking in that moment.

In addition to re-focusing on trust, I meditated on what I want to do for Advent this year. Last year, I used Christmas songs to pray with which I still think was a kind of cool meditation and did help to get me into the Christmas spirit.

While in the mountains, though, I thought of the themes of Peace and Waiting as are common for Advent and I thought about how the Old Testament prophet Isaiah was a really good model for these themes. And so I've decided to read a little from Isaiah each day (which we often use during Advent in the daily readings anyways. For example, today's first reading is from Isaiah and is about how Christ will bring peace not war which is a contrast from what Jesus says in the Gospel a little bit, but that's another reflection for another time! I'm all about beating our "swords" into "plowshares" right now with all of the crazy post-election talk going on between everyone these days. We can certainly put down our social media "swords" and work on helping one another instead!)

I also want to continue my meditation on Mary since I seemed to have turned a corner with her of late in the way that I perceive her. I am also doing a talk on Mary for our RCIA group in December which will be a nice challenge and an additional reason to meditate on her this Advent.

Mary, like Isaiah, is another character we often journey with during Advent for she, too, is waiting for Christ in a unique way as His mother. I'm going to focus on her and her many titles using this litany and hope to get some light and inspiration this Advent!

How are you going to prepare for Christmas and the new liturgical year? It's already here! I'm grateful for this built in time of Advent for mediation on the peace, light, and hope that Christ brings into our world. Happy New Year!


Sunday, November 20, 2016

Feast of Christ the King 2016: A Year in Review

Another liturgical year comes to a close today, and with that, we reflect on this past year: the Year of Mercy. I am so grateful that Pope Francis had the foresight to give us such a focus this past year, because as many of us have expressed throughout the year, 2016 was kind of the worst. It wasn't bad for me personally, but so many of my friends had trying years and our country and our world certainly suffered a lot: from the deaths of some treasured artists like David Bowie and Prince, to earthquakes and floods, to the Syrian refugee crisis, to the "dumpster fire" that was this presidential election. So I am grateful that Pope Francis gave us this focus of Mercy ahead of time and I pray that we can carry that focus into the new liturgical year.

Today is the Feast of Christ the King which ends the liturgical year and so I post yet another "Year in Review." Again, 2016 was pretty alright for me, but I continue to pray that Mercy will guide us into Advent even though the "doors of Mercy" are now shut. We need Mercy now more than ever, so I will continue to carry this year's theme with me into the new liturgical year. 

I rang in the New Year as I often do with some of my besties...this year in NYC!
 Then I went to Philly to celebrate one of my original ride or die's 35th bday! (Little did we know we'd be taking an adventure of a lifetime together later this year!!)
 I got to sponsor this new favorite into the Catholic Church
 And I celebrated my 35th with friends and lots of HATS!
 I went to Vegas and got to visit one of my favorites in CA
 And we celebrated the life of a dear friend who was gone too soon...we still miss you, Steph.

 I finished out my first year as a Middle School teacher with an amazing staff at a school that I love!
 I went home to Ohio for a week in the summer and got to have fun with many of my cousins...
 More family and cousins :)
 And was reunited with college friends in the land Down Under!!!!
 New Zealand/Australia 2016!!!

I was inspired and challenged by the Year of Mercy and participated in my first Art shows!
 I wore my 8th bridesmaid dress and celebrated the wedding of two of my best friends...

And ended the year with a quick trip from the 'rents in RVA!

So I have much to be thankful for as we close out this year and look towards Advent. I have no idea what 2017 will hold, but I'm finding being in the present moment much easier as I get older. I know that 2017 will bring blessings and challenges, but I am grateful that I have so many loved ones to encounter these blessings and challenges with. I am excited for new opportunities, new ways to grow closer to others and the Lord. Bring on Advent and the new year!

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Feeling Better: Hope and Mercy

I needed to write my post last week as I was coming out of a dark fog waking up into a reality I didn't think possible. I apologize that I strayed from my typically theological narrative. I don't want to ignore that post or "move past it" because I still very much am feeling through how powerful the results of this election are for me. I am still sad. And it is not because one political party won out over another. Voting is never about parties for me. It is about who we elect to represent and make decisions for our country and I am still very sad and disappointed in that decision.

But this weekend and this week, I am reminded that even a president is not my sole leader or authority. He or she plays a very real and powerful authority in our world, but not the most powerful. I have had to go back to my original narrative and voice: God is our center. I prayed a novena before the election to put Him in control of whatever the outcome. And I still believe that He is watching over us (He might be shaking His head!) and has a plan. 

This coming Sunday is the last Sunday of this liturgical year. And this year has been marked as the Year of Mercy. After the results of last week and the backlash that we have seen in protests around the country since those results, it seems this Year of Mercy has really been preparing us for the year to come. How are we (who are clearly so divided as a country right now) going to come together and have mercy for one another?

I, personally, have tried to be much more conscious of being kinder to others, looking others in the eye, and just generally being more compassionate this week. While my initial response was anger and disbelief, it has moved to- not acceptance per se because I will never accept that this result is "okay"- but more hopeful. Though some of the protests have been violent, I've mostly just experienced kindness, openness, and acceptance from others who share the concern for those who may be hurt by this election. Not ironically, they are the same as those that were outcast in Jesus' day: women, the sick, the poor, the foreigner. 

The readings for this coming Sunday's feast of Christ the King remind us of the kind of King we have. It is not a Gospel reading of Jesus in all of His Glory in heaven. The reading we get is of Him on the cross, offering His life for the good of mankind. And one of the thieves crucified next to Him denies Christ's kingship, while the other acknowledges it: "Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom." Jesus assures the thief- the outcast, the sinner- that "indeed, he will be with Him in paradise." We have a king that sacrifices Himself and forgives. 

That is the model that we have for authority. Not what we have seen in this election. And I will continue to pray that more and more people will accept humility as a sign of kingship. Though, we are in good company- it didn't make sense to the people in Jesus' time and it still doesn't seem to make sense to us now. 

Over and over again, I have mentioned how I am humbled when I work with people in the RCIA program at my Church who want to become Catholic. Tonight I prayed with a few men who are seeking full entrance into the Church. One in particular was very honest with me, we prayed together, and at the end both had tears in our eyes. We talked about our appreciation for the blessed Mother and all her different "faces": Our Lady of Guadelupe, Lourdes, Czestochowa- she presents herself to all of us in ways that we can relate to. 

I have long struggled in my relationship with Mary, but I also read an article recently that reminded me that she embodies so many of those outcast today: she was a young pregnant girl, pregnant outside of marriage, a Middle Eastern girl in an oppressed society, mostly voiceless in the eyes of her society...SHE was the one that was chosen to give us the Son of God. She represents so many of those who I am sad for and afraid for today. So I may have finally solved my own Mary mystery for myself: Mary represents those who are outcast- those we are fighting for, crying for, praying for. And I will lift them up to her for the next four years and as long as I have to for She is the one who, through the Holy Spirit, brought Mercy personified into the world. 

Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of the Americas, pray for us. 


Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Stronger Together

I have tried, over the years, to not get too political in my blog, in my job, or in social media posts. My friends and family who know me well know where my political views lie. I, of course, pray and vote with my conscience, and that is often difficult because as a Catholic there is never a clear cut candidate or party.

But this election has broken me. I never talk about who I will vote for in class, but all of my students this year knew that I did not like Donald Trump. It started back in the primaries when there were several candidates. None of us thought he would actually become the nominee. Then he did.

Then launched, as we all know, one of the most horrifying and telling presidential campaigns in recent history. As a public speaking and media literacy teacher, I told my students that this campaign was different for many reasons because instead of using facts (logos) and ethos (credibility) for their rhetoric as most candidates in the past, these two nominees were using pure pathos (emotions) to persuade their supporters. And I do believe that one did that even more so than the other. He relied on less facts and more fear and anger to get his votes. And he won the election.

In the past, I have remained silent when I was told that there was only one party or candidate that I could or could not vote for. This year, I broke my silence because I could not stand by and be told that someone who has been caught on tape saying racist, misogynistic, and terrifying things was a candidate that I should vote for. This is not who we are as Christians, though it seems to be who we are as Americans right now.

In many ways, because of where our focus is right now as a country (aka ourselves and self preservation), we brought this upon ourselves. I could continue to be negative and add to this web of fear speech, but instead I'm going to shift my focus for I still believe that we are "Stronger Together."

When I woke up this morning I knew that I would have to put on a brave face, but I was sad and nervous about how to address my students. Again, I teach media so we have all been watching this election together. Though, it was so tough this year since we had a candidate saying things like  "I could literally shoot someone in the street and would still get votes." How was I supposed to talk about this with 11 year olds? How was I suppose to tell them that in my 35 years of life I have never experienced anything like this and this is not what an election should be?

When I walked in this AM, though, my students read me well and came in somewhat quiet. I knew that many of them (as I work in a rich, white, privileged area) were actually excited about the outcome because their parents were. They asked respectfully: "can we talk about the election?" While I really didn't want to at all, I knew that they needed to and we should. I just reminded them as I always teach them that we can have a discussion but we need to look at all sides and be respectful of others. We were able to do so and all was well. I even got some knowing looks and smiles from former students in the hallways and I appreciated their sincere empathy and sympathy.

And I am so grateful that I do teach religion because there are always, always opportunities to pray. We prayed for our future elected officials. We prayed for the state of our country. We reflected on Luke 14:7-14 aka the parable of the wedding banquet that teaches us to be humble and reach out to the poor. We talked about how Christ is a light in the darkness. And this started to turn my dreary day around.

I thought when I woke up this AM, the world had ended. But as I went through my day and encountered Christ, I am encouraged and motivated by others. We are not going to sit back and be voiceless. We are going to have our voices be heard: as women, as children of God, as Christians, as humans. As it says in Scripture: "Perfect Love casts out fear." Christ alone is our perfect love. And Love always trumps hate.

We are clearly divided as a country right now, this election has made that clear. But we are "stronger together." I hope that this election brings about the change of our hearts so that both sides can stop living in fear and start working and building a strong future together.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Vulnerability and Mercy: Reflections on Mother Teresa and the Single Life

I know that I start every blog post in the same way. I know it. I naturally begin with something akin to: "where has the time gone?" And I really can't stop myself from saying it because I continually think it. It is September and there are four months left in 2016. Before I know it I will be writing my Year in Review post! But present moment, I keep reminding myself. Present moment.

This weekend is Labor Day weekend and these past couple of years where I have taken to working a part time job in addition to my full time job (why don't we pay our teachers more, y'all? ;) I appreciate the day set aside for Labor Day so much more. I was walking home last night after a full day at school and 5 hours at my part time gig and thinking: "we as Americans spend so much of our lives making money or working." And don't get me wrong, I am grateful for our strong work ethic and economy here in the States. I have traveled enough to see the alternatives but I think that we also see the downside of our sometimes misplaced value on money and capitalism...but that's not what this blogpost is about. Well, kind of.

In addition to it being Labor Day weekend and my finally having a day off, the Church is canonizing one of our modern day saints, Mother Teresa. Her life and her community which she founded has been surrounded by controversy in recent years which just makes me sad. Regardless of articles and books published with theories about her faith or misplaced funds, there is no taking away from the fact that Mother Teresa served the poorest of the poor and she made this her life's work. I'm pretty sure many of us wouldn't last a month walking the streets that she walked and encountering what she encountered in poverty. I can't deny that to look at her face, she reflects God and holiness to me:

I believe she is proof that happiness and holiness is what makes us most beautiful. There is no denying that she radiates a kind of unconventional but undeniable beauty. 

I will admit there are other Theresas that I have become more faithful to over the years: St. Therese of Lisieux is my girl and St. Teresa of Avila I have mad respect for 'cause she was a tough broad (and I don't think that she would mind me saying that).

The book "The Four Teresas" which I read in 2011 features the 3 Teresas already mentioned in this post as well as Edita Stein (turned St. Teresa Benedicta). All 4 are super powerful, holy women who I admire deeply but have mainly been drawn to the two I've already described.

In praying and reflecting with my students and with myself on Mother Teresa this week, though, I realize that she is a great example of Mercy as well as Vulnerability- two things I find myself thinking about often in this blog. Mercy and vulnerability really go hand in hand. When we are feeling vulnerable, we require mercy and are grateful for those who meet us with it. But in order to show true mercy, we must not only meet the vulnerable where they are at, but allow ourselves to be a little vulnerable as well. I believe that true Mercy comes in solidarity- when we not only meet others where they are but then sit there with them either physically, emotionally, or spiritually.

I mentioned in my last post that I was blessed to get to do this with friends from college in our formative years and also last month on our little reunion tour in Australia. We shared together, laughed together, cried together. We showed each other mercy but also met each other in vulnerability.

I have prayed so long about my vocation and have come to terms with that the Lord may be calling me to the single life and that's okay! I mean, let's be honest, I totally enjoy and it and humbly say that I think I live it pretty well! We all long, however, to be in relationship and to be vulnerable with other people. But I have finally realized that there are more ways to do that than just dating and marriage.

I read this book this summer and while not a Catholic text, it definitely helped me grow in confidence in my current state in life!

I was perhaps at my most vulnerable when I was discerning religious life- putting my life and my heart in the hands of God and also other women that I came to trust and still trust to this day. I have also been vulnerable in my attempts at dating and relationships, in my writing and in my art, but again, find myself most vulnerable in situations with these close friendships that I have fostered and put time into over the years.

What many of my college friends and I have- and also many of  my friends later in life- is perhaps (dare I say) even stronger than some marriages. There are people in romantic relationships and marriages who do not allow themselves the vulnerability or mercy that some of my friendships and family members offer me.

All this to say that there is a lot of change in the talk about the single life lately. And I am totally grateful to have people in the media finally representing a more realistic version of the single woman. We aren't the Miss Havishams crazily waiting in wedding gowns for someone to rescue us from our "misery." We are thriving, living, and growing even if our lives haven't taken the conventional path.

I keep a very tidy apartment and change my attire daily, thank you very much!

Dating and marriage are in very different states than they were years ago, and to be honest, dating and marriage in the 1950s weren't exactly the dream, either. Yeah sure, maybe it was a simpler time, but I'm okay with being married with kids at 19 not being the norm or sole expectation for women anymore.

To tie this back to my points on our American values and the canonization of Mother Teresa (can she get there, folks?? Can she?! ) ...

 Whether serving the poorest of the poor in community like our soon-to-be-saint Mother Teresa, serving children with a spouse, or serving friends and family in need, we all have the opportunity and call to be vulnerable and show others mercy. And this should be our priority as human beings. For I don't think that there is any denying that when we are in solidarity with one another, we are at our strongest. Mother Teresa showed us this in a concrete way, but there are many ways to show solidarity.

I'm continuing in this Year of Mercy, to look at the many ways we can grow and show Mercy to each other. Those ways don't always look the same or are conventional, but that doesn't make them any less valuable or important for our growth.

(Saint!) Mother Teresa of Calcutta, pray for us!


Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Moments of Mercy: New Zealand and Australia 2016

This summer may have started out a little rough, but it quickly moved into travel mode and now has somehow gotten away from me. It's August and I just received my schedule for teacher work week next week! Ah!

I am still reflecting on the trip that I just recently returned from. A college friend and I took a trip to visit one of our other friends who lives in Australia. We knew that it was God's plan that brought us to this trip, especially now, 10 years after we had last all been together. We weren't exactly sure why God had chosen this particular time- we each had certain struggles that we were going through and are in different states in life: one married with kids, two single (one perpetually single...ahem. Yours truly)-  but we tried to be there for each other, shared our struggles, listened, and learned from one another. Just like we had in our early twenties.

The benefit of traveling with people who know you so well is that you can truly be yourself and I felt very confident traveling with these ladies. The trip - in addition to just being able to see some of the world's greatest beauty down under- affirmed that I have grown spiritually and emotionally in the past decade or so, and I am exactly where God wants me to be. These ladies helped me affirm that I have evolved and the time that I have spent these last years on self reflection and self betterment has not gone to waste. I have expressed before that I often wonder if I have spent my twenties incorrectly since I entered religious life and pursued ventures uncharacteristic of "most" twenty somethings. But traveling with such equally evolved friends showed me that time spent on self reflection and in prayer is never time wasted.

And now for the trip recap! I met my friend from the States in Auckland, New Zealand. We traveled separately as we had booked our tickets separately, but it was certainly exciting to be reunited in such a beautiful and new place!

Reunited: On our first day, we pushed through the jet lag and immediately hiked up Mount Eden in Auckland. The views and greenery were totally worth it! We only had one weekend in Auckland as it was just really a layover before we met our friend in Australia. We made the most of our weekend by seeing and experiencing as much of New Zealand as possible: winetasting on Waiheke Island, the Sky Tower in downtown Auckland, the aquarium, exploring the neighborhoods of Auckland, the restaurants, the nightlife.

One of the sites I had read about in an article that turned out to be very helpful for our time in Auckland (a silly Buzzfeed article...who knew!?) mentioned a Maori shrine called a Marae that was very close to where we were staying in Mission Bay. We tried to walk there, but got lost in a neighborhood. A couple that thought we were playing "Pokemon Go" (note: we were most certainly not! but that is hilarious that they thought it) took pity on us and actually drove us to the Shrine. We didn't know what to expect, but soon enough a woman who was an educator of the Maori people found us wandering around their property and stopped to teach us about the land we were standing on.

Essentially, the Maori story is very similar to that of our Native Americans. The Maoris were said to have taken a boat from Hawaii and found New Zealand many centuries ago. However, when the British came, the Maoris were taken away from their land and placed on types of reservations, which was where we were standing. Their Marae is a shrine and their sacred space. We couldn't go in the Marae as there was a family service taking place that day, but we were grateful that Monique- our educator- took the time to tell us about her people and their heritage.

At the Marae: even though we couldn't go in the Shrine, we felt very blessed in this sacred space. 

After a weekend exploring Auckland, we took our flights to Melbourne where our Australian friend lives. It was a joy-filled reunion getting to meet her family, husband, and kids. They opened up their home to us for two weeks. Over their kitchen table we shared stories, looked a scrap books, broke bread, laughed until it hurt, played games, and shed tears. These moments were what I really came for.

While in Melbourne, my Australian friend had to work, but my other friend and I spent our days exploring the city. It is a city filled with awesome street art, laneway cafes, hip bars and restaurants, great history, beautiful gardens, cool neighborhoods, and friendly people.

 In Hosier Lane in Melbourne, a great place for street art!
A view of some of Melbourne from the river, complete with funky art!

We were there during "winter", and sometimes the skies were grey, but it was in the 50s most days- hardly a need for a real winter coat. We dressed in layers and spent our time in Melbourne exploring the city, but also got some time out for nature as well! One day, our friend's mom took us on a drive down Great Ocean Road- Melbourne's coast line- and we also took a day with our friend and her kids to the Healesville Sanctuary to see some Australian animals in their habitat!

 The sun came out for our tour of Great Ocean Road!
You looking at me, kangaroos?!

After our two weeks in Melbourne, our Australian friend was able to use some vacation time to fly with us to Queensland and the Sunshine Coast as well as Sydney. It was great to have some "down time" together. Upon our arrival in Queensland, we stopped at one of the beaches on our way to Noosa, our Sunshine Coast destination. As soon as we walked on the beach, our friend said that she spotted a whale. My Australian friend and I highly doubted this as we had just arrived on the Coast (and it wasn't even our whale watching adventure day yet! We had that, too :), but sure enough, we saw a whale that was seriously close to the beach.

Whale not pictured, but this pic was taken in the moment after we saw it. It really did happen! And we took it as a sign of blessings to come. 

The time in the Sunshine coast was warm and we had some great meals and moments of relaxation on the beach. We also took an awesome walk up to Noosa National Park and had one of the best meals of my life at a place appropriately called "The Spirit House."

Our trip came to an end in Sydney, which was a return to the more "winter weather" of rain and clouds, but each day the sun did peak out at just the right moments. On our very last day, we took a boat ride to Manly Beach from the Sydney Harbour. We spotted a very strong rainbow that lasted for most of our boat ride. I knew it was a sign of promises kept and blessings given on this journey Down Under.

 Some clouds, but also smiles in Sydney (with the Opera House behind me!)
One of the many pics I took of our rainbow on our last day in this beautiful part of the world!

Though I'm still reflecting on it, this trip continues to remind me that we are in the Year of Mercy and God's Mercy is evident in so many ways. Through His blessings, through our battles, through forgiveness, through friends, through nature, through art (we saw some of the best art exhibits in Melbourne and in Sydney!). My prayer is to continue to reflect on His Mercy in my life and how I can grow in mercy myself.

I think I have mentioned that my parish here in RVA is doing an art show dedicated to this theme of Mercy. I have signed up to help and show at it, but I am so scared and unsure of if my art will be good enough. I never seemed to be satisfied with my art these days. I'm praying to be inspired, and if I can't come up with something that I feel confident with, I will at least help others exhibit their work at the show. So far, this is what I have come up with, though I want to continue to work on it and possibly another piece:

This is inspired by the woman with the oil who anointed Christ's feet and JP2 and Pope Francis- two of our exemplary merciful popes.

Perhaps I should just paint or work on something inspired by my friends who I took this most recent journey with. No doubt they have shown me mercy throughout the years and continue to teach me about God's Mercy in our lives:

17 years of friendship and's to many more moments of Love and Mercy to come. 


Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul 2016

Today is, as you know by now, another highly anticipated feast day for me today! Ever since my discernment of religious life (and even a little before), today's feast of Sts Peter and Paul, the Conversion of St. Paul in January, and Pentecost have all been special days for me.

I always go back and look at where I was at these times of year in previous years and the past few years the Lord has been so faithful in answering prayers for me around these times. St. Paul is certainly my dude (if there was any doubt).

Last year at this time, I got the answer to my prayer regarding my new job. The year before, I got an answer regarding a specific relationship that I was questioning.

This year (as I've previously mentioned) I've been all over the novena train, praying before Pentecost, the feast of the Sacred Heart, and now today's feast. Pretty confident that the Lord is going to come through this year as well. I've covered all of my bases.

For the Year of Mercy, I signed up for some daily email reflections. Some days' reflections are better than others, and knowing what today's feast is, I was expecting something about the two main guys- Peter and Paul. Instead, I got this reflection from a favorite Franciscan saint, Padre Pio:

"Pray, wait, and do not worry. Worrying is useless. God is merciful and will listen to your prayer… Prayer is the best weapon we have; it is the key to the heart of God. You should speak to Jesus, not with your lips but with your heart.’”

First of all, the headline said "God's Timing" which I was like...okay! On a day that I finish a novena? I get it, God! I need to trust in my prayers and your timing. So even if my answer to my novena doesn't come right away like perhaps it has in the past, I can trust that His timing is perfect.

Some watch faces I found when thrift shopping with a friend recently. I feel like the fact that they have no hands is appropriate way to know God's Time!

The email also had this little nugget from St John Vianney that I also found amusing:  "The Saints did not all begin well, but they all ended well." Touche! That is especially true with the two that we honor today- Peter and Paul- but more on that later.

My summer did not get off to the start that it usually does. Usually, I have some fabulous trip right at the beginning of my break, which has made my Timehop and Facebook feeds a little painful this week. Each day I open up to some exotic location or adventure from the past couple of years- touring Ephesus in Turkey, or eating gnocchi in Rome, driving from Berlin to Prague, etc. This year, my summer started off with my car breaking down and going into the shop and the power in my apt going out for 4 days. I've also started to get a little bored. I've watched all of the Netflix and read like three books already. (Note: I KNOW NO ONE FEELS SORRY FOR ME. I know that it is a blessing to have this time off and my summer will be gone before I realize it! Also, I have New Zealand and Australia coming up soon!)

Previous early summer trips to Greece, Budapest, and Italy.

I also have some friends that are truly suffering right now. It was like all was well and good in the universe and then June came around and BAM! All of the things: breakups, breakdowns, loneliness. Bah! It is when things are going well that the devil tries to creep up on us. I know this. Doesn't always make it easier, though.

But that's why the quote from John Vianney, Padre Pio, and the readings for today's feast of Peter and Paul are so great. We are not perfect, none of these saints started off perfect, and it is all about God's timing. We know the story about Paul persecuting Christians and then when Jesus called him, he turned his life around. But the suffering didn't stop. Same with Peter. We are all familiar with his denial of Christ, even after he was called, but when the Church was left to him on the Ascension, he stepped up his game and turned it around. Timing. 

pic of me rubbing the foot of St. Peter in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican last year. Still praying for what I prayed for in that moment. Come on, St. Peter! You always were a little slower than the others, I suppose...

I take comfort in that these saints persevered in spite of their flaws and sufferings and did come out successful. Things may not be perfect, but let's be honest, they never will be. I think the reflection from Padre Pio sums it up perfectly: Pray, wait, and do not worry. The best is yet to come. 

Yay, saints, sun, and summer!


Saturday, June 11, 2016

Summer and the Sacred Heart

Even though the Catholic Church teaches against superstition, there is an element to our faith that lends itself to look for meanings in things that may or may not be there. I don't think that the looking for meaning is wrong, as that is all we can do sometimes, but certainly if we start to place our trust in something that isn't there, we can get lost.

For example, I have taken to looking into the saints that the parishes I belong to our named for. I don't know if this is reading into things too much or not, but I am just always trying to make connections. In my adult life, I have belonged to three parishes named for St. John (the Apostle, Beloved, and Evangelist- all titles for the same guy! Soooo that has to be something, right?!) Maybe or maybe not, but I definitely have felt a draw towards St. John because of it (especially when I got to go to Patmos, Greece in 2012, where he was exiled and had the visions for the Book of Revelations):

Picture over the door of the Cave the Apocalypse in Patmos Greece with St. John and His Scribe

The man, the myth, the legend- St. John. Also, the Beloved, the Apostle, the Evangelist!

In keeping with that theme of the "beloved", my parish currently is The Cathedral of the Sacred Heart. Which never really struck me until recently when I was praying the novena to the Sacred Heart last week that this is possibly another connection for me that God wants me to explore.

(As an aside:

1.) I'm so into novenas of late

2.) This website is kind of great. It sends you daily email reminders which are oh so necessary these days. If I didn't have the reminder app on my phone to tell me most things, I would be so lost!)

I keep an image of the Sacred Heart that was blessed by a priest in my apt. In fact, sometimes, I make my friends pose for pictures with it (that's not weird, right?):

A couple of years ago, the Bishop of Arlington wrote a letter about the devotion to the Sacred Heart and encouraged all families to foster more of devotion to it. I took an interest then, but again, it was until recently that I started to put together that maybe there is something here for me- a message about God's Sacred Heart that maybe He wants me to take note of.

After praying my annual Pentecost novena, in which I used the website listed above to send me emails, the site informed me about beginning a novena to the Sacred Heart for which the feast was last week. I prayed the novena to the Sacred Heart and I believe that I am already seeing the fruits. I have noticed so many little acts of kindness and generosity around me. I believe that this is how Jesus continues to call me closer to Him, much like my girl, St. Therese. Not necessarily in big dramatic ways, but as Therese says: "the Little Way." ( I was reminded that I taught this regularly to my high school students when a former student recently mentioned me and St. Therese in his salutatorian speech at graduation this year. I am no longer at this school but it was nice to be remembered. And I'm particularly happy that he remembered that particular lesson! One never knows what kids take away from truly is the little things that get through sometimes!)

I am also still supremely happy to be at the school I am at and really recognize it as a fulfillment of last year's Pentecost novena. The Pentecost novena this year has also yielded fruit, of course, but I was really struck by this calling up the Sacred Heart for my intentions.

I know that I have talked about the RCIA program at my Church and how that has been a way for me this year to connect with my faith in a different way. I have discerned, after being asked by the Director of Faith Formation, to be a part of the RCIA team this upcoming fall. We had our first meeting tonight for people who are thinking about starting the Initiation process into the Catholic Church. We gathered as we usually do, with a meal and meditation on Scripture. It is such a simple, informal format, but always exactly what we need. (probably because the apostles had similar routine with gatherings of meal and Scripture...if the method aint broke, don't fix it, right?)

We usually mediate on the upcoming Gospel for Sunday and this Sunday is the Gospel of the woman who wipes Jesus' feet with her hair and oil. All of the readings this Sunday have themes of Mercy, which are super appropriate for this Year of Mercy. It also was a good reminder as we enter into this journey of conversion with candidates for the Sacraments. This woman in the Gospel takes a risk. She is a woman and is taking expensive oil and "wasting" it on Jesus. She also shows her affection for a Him in a very vulnerable, intimate way- by kissing His feet. It is a very humble act, especially in front of Pharisees who are judging her. It reminds me that Mercy is the reward or remedy for vulnerability. When we see people who are at risk or poor or vulnerable, we should show them Mercy. A message easier said than done when we sit behind our computers these days and just want to judge. The woman in the Gospel put herself out there and was rewarded. Do we do the same for others? Do we reward their openness with Mercy? or judgment?

I found this image when searching for an image of this story. What a beautiful image of Mercy.

This act of vulnerability in the Gospel, this feast of drawing close to the Lord's own Sacred Heart, and Therese's Little Way, are all reminders to me of God's intimate love. And just to tie it all back together as you know I like to do:

No doubt St. John the Beloved also drew close to the Sacred Heart, so I believe my saint and my current devotion are certainly connected and trying to teach me something!

St. John the Beloved, St. Paul, and St. Therese- my besties who were all besties with Jesus- pray for us!


Just another way the Lord is showing His Mercy this week! I truly am in awe of all the positive things happening around me right now, even if they are just "little things."


Saturday, May 7, 2016

Mary and the Holy Spirit

Much like my post earlier this year during the celebration of the conversion of St. Paul...guess what time of year it is?!

Countdown to Pentecost!

If you have been following this blog, you know that this is my favorite time of year. So many important things and changes have happened at this time of the liturgical year for me in my life. When I was in college, it was around the time that I went to Guatemala and drew closer to the Lord through experiencing the life of the people there. A few years later, I would make the decision to make another life change and leave the convent I had entered. Two years ago, it was around the Ascension that my friend Dan was taken into heaven. And last year, I began praying and discerning making the change to move to Richmond. So many Holy Spirit driven moments.

This year, I look at my life and I have almost everything that I could want: healthy family and friends, great job(s), a great place to live, a community of friends around me. (Also, this year's international summer trip is going to be Australia and New Zealand!! I'm so excited! I will get to reunite with a dear college friend whom I haven't seen in years!)

I just booked an Air B n B this week that is close to this beach: Mission Bay in Auckland. No biggie.

It's hard to know how the Holy Spirit will move, but I trust that it will as I got this reading today:

"Jesus said to his disciples:
“Amen, amen, I say to you,
whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you.
Until now you have not asked anything in my name;
ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete." - John 16: 23

I remember really diving into these readings from John describing Christ at the Last Supper when I was in Guatemala. The Lord wants our joy to be complete. Sometimes we forget that He wants what is best for us, but He also wants us to come to Him in prayer. And sometimes it's that one thing that we are lacking that gets us to go to Him in prayer. I know that is the case for me. 

And so, even though I don't have any serious intentions at this point in my life, I am going to Him in my annual novena between the Ascension and Pentecost and praying for that one thing that could perhaps make my joy complete and leave it up to Him. 

At this time of year, we also honor Mary. And once again, if you've been keeping up with this blog (God bless you!) you know that I've struggled before with my relationship with Mary. She's not always my go-to. I often go to other saints like Paul (duh!) or Joseph or Therese. 

Now that I work at an elementary and Middle School, we have more cutesy traditions than when I worked with high schoolers. One of them being the classic, tradition May Procession to honor Mary. We had one this week (and there were lots of flowers!)

So many flowers...

And afterwards I was thinking...and maybe I have thought this before but not in this way: Mary has a special relationship with each member of the Trinity. The Father obviously loved and entrusted her because He made her "full of grace." She has the loving relationship of a Mother with the Son, and she was "overshadowed" by the Holy Spirit. This all dawned on me in a new way earlier this week and convinced me a little more to send my prayers her way, especially during this month that we honor her, particularly during this special week between the Ascension and Pentecost. 

The last thing that I wanted to share is that somehow, for the first time in my teaching career, I have really been able to share with my students about Paul and his journeys. In my previous teaching of Scripture- since it was a semester course- I had to kind of rush through the New Testament and we mainly focused on the Gospel writers. It has been awesome to focus on one of my favorite saints and remember how truly amazing it was that he gave his life so completely over to God and had such an impact on spreading our faith despite persecution. He had one encounter with Christ that completely changed him. And he was imprisoned and traveled far and wide to spread his message. He wrote letters and communicated so perfectly encouraging the early Christian community who didn't know what to do in these years after Christ's Ascension.

Pentecost will be extra special this year because I have had some time to meditate on Paul and the early apostle community and how they felt at this time between the Ascension and Pentecost. Paul Forever ;)

So it is a very joy-filled time of year and there is much to be grateful for! May the the joy of Mary and the movement of the Holy Spirit fill our hearts this time of year and always. 


Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The Easter Alleluia 2016

Happy Easter! It is the second week of Easter and I am finally getting to process all that this Easter season is and hopefully will be.

As I have mentioned quite frequently in this blog, I was a sponsor for a young woman who became Catholic at the Easter Vigil. It was a beautiful (3 hour +!) service, and it was such an honor to witness so many faithful people enter the Church! One of the reasons the service took so long was because we had probably 10 or so people receive Baptism and 20 or so receive Confirmation and First Communion! Alleluia indeed!

 Here is a pic of the Bishop baptizing one of the catechumens..
And here's me with my newly Catholic friend!

Even though the ceremony is long, the Easter Vigil is full of symbols and perfectly concludes the Triduum and begins the Easter season!

I spent my Easter Octave with a good friend who recently moved to California. I flew to Vegas to meet her (we had a tradition of going to Atlantic City when we both lived on the East Coast, so we thought Vegas would be appropriate for our reunion), spent a couple nights there, and then we drove back to California to see her new place.

California is one of my favorite places to visit! It's always so beautiful there. Friends reunited!

It was a restful and joyful Easter Octave indeed.

Now it is the second week of Easter and the Sunday after Easter is known as Divine Mercy Sunday. Because of my travels and because of the part-time job I have taken on the weekends, I wasn't sure if I was going to make it to Mass. I was determined, however, because Divine Mercy Sunday is one of my favorite feasts named by one of my favorite saints, Saint Pope John Paul II.

Our Lord gave St. Faustina- another Polish saint- this image called the image of Divine Mercy. Saint Pope John Paul II made the first Sunday after Easter Divine Mercy Sunday to honor this appearance of our Lord.

Because I was working and traveling but determined to get to Mass, I ended up going to a Spanish Mass on Sunday evening. I am nowhere near fluent in Spanish, but I do have an understanding of it as I studied it into college and spent two summers in Guatemala. While in Guatemala, I attended daily Mass and learned all of the Spanish responses. It also helped that I knew the theme for Sunday's Mass as well as the readings (the Spanish word for "mercy" is also very similar to the Latin; "misericordia". That word got used a lot ;)

What I could make out from the homily was that the priest introduced the concept of Divine Mercy Sunday and that this year was extra special because we are in the Year of Mercy. He also reviewed all of the readings for the day with us (Christ appearing to the apostles in the Upper Room saying "Peace be with you" and Doubting Thomas as the Gospel) and asked us where we needed mercy in our lives and who we needed to be merciful to ( I was pretty proud of my understanding of the homily, actually! I also think it was good to be taken out of my comfort zone and worship with a different community).

Even though my trip to Vegas and California was a much needed break and a week well spent, I hadn't been reading some of my favorite Scripture readings that occur that week of Easter (ie- the apostles gathering together in the early Church after these events of Christ's death and resurrection). Yesterday, I got word that yet another friend who was my peer who had been battling cancer passed away. She and I were not as close as my friend Dan who passed two years ago, but it still hit me pretty hard as she was young, full of life, and a very sweet, fun friend. I naturally turned to prayer and to the word of God in the readings of the day. I was reminded of the strength of that early apostolic community which was something that I needed and reminded me of how my friends came together when Dan had died.

I also was struck by one of the lines from the Gospel:

" just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert,
so must the Son of Man be lifted up,
so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.

This reminder of Christ's Resurrection as an opportunity for our own resurrection was of course a message of hope to me in this time of sadness for my friend.

I also turned on a show that I had been wanting to watch and finally had time to last night- a National Geographic series on God. The first episode dealt with this same theme of our human inclination to believe in an afterlife. The episode looked at the history of this belief- starting with the Egyptians who built the pyramids and wrote prayers and had rituals so that their dead could pass into the next life- and also mentioning Hindu belief of reincarnation as well as the Christian belief of salvation through Christ. I was struck how this desire to believe in an afterlife has gone so far back in human civilization. They also interviewed people who had "near-death experiences" who all commonly describe a "light" which feels peaceful and calm. We as Christians, of course, identify this as heaven, but I think it so interesting that regardless of culture or belief, we want there to be something more and a lot of our beliefs point to common themes.

And so I have hope and faith that my friends are in a better place and are at peace with our Lord and that He met them on that journey home. In this Easter season, I am grateful for the Resurrection and the peace, hope, and joy that it brings. I am also grateful for this Divine Mercy and a whole year to celebrate it.

Happy Easter!


Friday, March 25, 2016

They Said Yes

Today is March 25. Typically, the day that we honor and remember the Annunciation. At the Annunciation, Mary posed a question to the angel who told her that she was going to have a son: "how can this be?" After the angel answered her question, she said: "let it be done according to your word"- her yes. Her fiat.

This is one of my favorite images of the Annunciation. It's in a convent in Florence, Italy which I didn't get to see when I was there this past summer. Another reason to go back!

Today, however, this feast gets trumped by Good Friday (understandably). But it is so interesting to me that today marks another day where we remember a very important yes. And this yes that Christ says for all of us today could not have been possible without that of Mary's fiat. God knew that, which is why He set aside Mary, the Immaculate Conception, for this perfect purpose.

I think it's so cool that these two days collide. The new beginning of our salvation story remembered on a day when our salvation was given to us. God is still working and the Holy Spirit is still moving and we remember it especially on days like today.

This week of Holy Week has reminded me in many ways that God is still working, which is a reminder that we all need. In a world of terrorist attacks, government debacles, and media circuses, we need the reminders of Hope and Mercy. I received these reminders this week in my Church and school communities.

On Palm Sunday, my church works alongside some other Christian churches in the area to put on a Palm Sunday procession through one of the main streets in Richmond. Sadly, there aren't too many occasions when Presbyterian, Lutheran, Episcopal, and Catholic come together. But on this Palm Sunday, we all greeted Christ together with palms and songs and walked together to witness to others in our city. A sign of hope and mercy.

Talking to my students about the Triduum and watching them pray the Stations of the Cross also gives me hope. This Lent, our 8th graders performed a type of "Living Stations" for the rest of the school. I remember doing this as a youth and when I taught at the high school, my students and I would often joke how "Living Stations" is such a weirdly Catholic thing. A rite of passage in a way. But as I sat and prayed with my school community this week the last few Stations of the Cross, I was taken with the fact that this is our faith formation in action. The faith is being handed on to the next generation. I see my students take an interest in our faith every day. And I pray and hope that they will continue to carry it and pass it on to the next.

Days like today and in times like the Triduum, it is easy to see our faith alive and in action. People around the world are celebrating in streets, in Churches, in homes, in schools. Yesterday, I went to my decidedly favorite Mass of the year- Holy Thursday- and thought: tonight is special because we are remembering the Last Supper, but we do this *every time* the Mass is said. The Holy Thursday Mass really isn't that different than every other Mass on Sunday, but somehow it feels different because of the drama of the night.

And speaking of that drama, one of my favorite parts of Holy Thursday is processing to the altar of repose after the service. So many years in my twenties I would stay and "agonize" with Jesus in the garden over whatever drama I had in my life at the time- vocation discernment, job discernment, relationship discernment. This year, for the first time, remembering the Agony in the Garden with Jesus wasn't that agonizing. I honestly have no current drama in my life. I am at peace and I am happy. It was a little strange to be so happy and at peace at a time when we remember Christ's grappling with His fate. So I united the agony of our world and country and those struggles of others with Him last night, and I gave thanks for the peace and mercy He has shown.

Praying at the altar of repose in the Cathedral last night- Holy Thursday.

Christ, like Mary, asked God a question of sorts: "Lord, if it is Your Will, let this cup pass from me." In this moment in the Agony in the Garden, He, like Mary, has an opportunity to say no. But He said yes. We remember both of these great "yes"s today. And we thank God for the Hope and Mercy they bring because of their yes this day.

Tomorrow, I know there is going to be much joy and awe at the Easter Vigil when the candidates we have been working with in RCIA enter the Church! I am so excited for these new Catholics who have shared their desire and faith with us for so long. I also know that God is going to bring conversion to those of us who need to renew our faith. This year, I know that the Resurrection is going to bring much hope and joy.

Have a blessed Good Friday.