Monday, July 17, 2017

Perfect Love Casts Out Fear

Halfway through the year, halfway through the summer! What??? Once again, where did it all go?

I can't complain on any accounts. 2017 has been pretty okay personally (barring the political headaches, of course) and so far, my summer has been pretty perfect as well.

I returned about 2 weeks ago from an awesome trip to Spain, Morocco, and Portugal. I had been to Spain, before, but only Barcelona, not the south of Spain. The southern part of Spain feels different than the rest of Western Europe because of the Moorish/Muslim influence in architecture and history. Some of the highlights of the trip were seeing places where the three monotheistic religions, at some point, had come together. For example,

On one of our first days, we went to Toledo and saw this Synagogue turned Christian Church that was built by Muslims! You can see influences of each of the faiths here, which I found to just be amazing that at one point in time, these three faiths somewhat coexisted (until they started driving one another out, which seems to be still occurring today).

 Moorish architecture and the influence of the Muslims can also be seen at the Alhambra in Grenada, Spain
There is Arabic written all around the Alhambra with prayers in praise to God. Beautiful!

One of our first days in Spain also happened to be the feast of Corpus Christi. When I was in Spain previously, I had the good fortune of being in Barcelona during "Semana Santa" or Holy Week, so I knew that Spain is still very much rooted in Catholicism and does their feast days up big. We caught many celebrations for the feast of Corpus Christi while in Madrid and Toledo:

 Streets of Madrid during their Corpus Christi Procession, June 2017
 The Eucharist! Corpus Christi Procession, Madrid, 2017
Outside the Cathedral in Segovia, girls in their first communion dresses for Corpus Christi

After making our way through the southern half of Spain, we took a ferry across to Morocco. My friend and I had really wanted to make this trip because of the Moroccan component. Turns out, we were in Morocco during Ramadan and this definitely impacted our experience. A lot of businesses were closed and not serving alcohol during Ramadan, which I had to respect. While I strongly believe in a separation of Church and State, there is something to be said for a people uniting in something and practicing such discipline. It was inspiring. Some nights, we would be having dinner and the people who were serving us had been fasting all day. We had to eat quickly before sundown because it would then be their turn to finally eat and break their fasts.

 More beautiful architecture in Fes, Morocco.
 A sundown celebration during Ramadan in Marrakesh, Morocco.
Hassem II Mosque in Casablanca, Morocco. There were mosques literally on every corner (not all as impressive as this) and we often could hear the call to prayer. Again, it was a very humbling and inspiring thing to witness, especially during Ramadan. 

After about 5 days in Morocco, we took the ferry back to Spain, stopped in BEAUTIFUL Sevilla, before making our way to Portugal.

We were in Portugal during the Feasts of St. Peter and Paul, which is a significant feast day for me, of course, due to my love of St. Paul and history with the Daughters of St. Paul. My friend knows that this is an important feast day for me, and we've often been traveling together on this feast and have gotten to spend it in a fun and prayerful way. This year, we toured some amazing sites in Lisbon, including the Belem Tower which was something I really wanted to see, the Hieronymite Monastery (you can google these structures and I assure you, they look exactly the same irl- in real life!), and the Cathedral in Lisbon, St. Anthony's:

Here is our St. Peter and Paul Day selfie in front of St. Anthony's in Lisbon. Fun fact: St. Anthony is the patron saint of Portugal. Even though he is known for his time in Padua, Italy, he was born in Lisbon. 

Lisbon and Portugal were beautiful and I could post so many amazing pictures from all of these places, but I definitely want to mention a couple more religious sites that were noteworthy and totally unexpected as this was a secular, not religious, tour that we booked!

 We got to visit the Shrine of Fatima- one of the most famous apparitions of the Virgin Mary took place here. It happened in 1917- exactly 100 years ago this year. In fact, the 100th anniversary of the apparition took place in May. There were still many things up for the jubliee year around the site, including where the Holy Father had held Mass just months prior.
 Inside this church are the tombs of the 3 children whom Mary appeared to. The most powerful thing for me about this place, was praying in front of their tombs. Jacinta and Francisco died as children, shortly after Mary appeared to them. But Lucia, their cousin, lived to be in her 90s and is finally at rest with them. I am currently reading a book I purchased there written by Lucia about her experiences.

After Portugal, we once again cut back into Spain, this time across the northwest and got to see Salamenca on our way back to Madrid. We also took a brief rest stop on part of the Camino that overlooks Avila, the place of my homegirl, St. Teresa of Avila! She also was all over Segovia, Spain, when we toured there as well.

Upon my return from another amazing couple weeks of summer travel, I've had time to rest and besides my travel time, the time I have to rest in the summer is my most treasured. Though my life is pretty simple, working two jobs and often 7 days a week for most of the year, makes me long for these summer days.

As mentioned, while 2017 has gone somewhat smoothly from a personal perspective, I haven't stopped struggling with it from a political perspective. I definitely went through some stages of grief for our country: denial, sadness, anger, but I will never move on to the moment of acceptance. I've just tried to refocus my dissatisfaction and not let it fester.

My problems with the current political state stem from the fact that our faith is rooted in justice. Christ makes right Adam's wrong. He heals the sick. He teaches us to do good for others by His life on earth. This sense of justice and right has been twisted to benefit those in power, rather than those Christ reached out to while on earth: the sick, the lowly, the poor.

This whole election cycle was built on fear. Fear of the other. And as I reflected on the readings this week, this is a cycle that is not new. This morning's first reading was about the Pharaoh during Moses' time who started to fear the Israelites and did not want them to gain power in Egypt. So he oppressed them and killed newborn male children. Perhaps our leaders aren't doing exactly this, but oppressing other peoples- women, Muslims, the poor- out of fear of what power they might lose...this is exactly what I see today.

Even in my readings of Fatima right now, I struggle with the fact that these children in some ways are fearful. And for children to be fearful is a normal, developmental reaction. But it says in John's letters in Scripture that: "Perfect Love casts out fear." Some fear of disappointing is healthy. To not want to do wrong is the goal. But to be always operating out of fear, I cannot see as healthy and I see us doing it more and more as a society.

Having just returned from a Muslim country, before I went, people asked if I was afraid. Afraid to go with a tour group to a country that has been approved for travel? No. I was not afraid. We were totally safe the entire time. And also as mentioned, observing the faith that the Moroccans practiced during their time of fasting was humbling and inspiring. We could learn something from that kind of dedicated discipline.

As I continue to meditate this summer, I will think about how I can continue to grow. This past Sunday's Gospel was that of Matthew's account of the parable of the Sower. This parable is so well known and so well used that it can be easy to gloss over and say: "well, certainly, I am the seed that fell on good soil." I almost glossed over it myself, but when I forced myself to look at it, I saw the ways in which I am sometimes the seed that gets scorched or choked or blown away by the wind. It is a good meditation to keep us moving forward and never get too comfortable.

I'm also approaching the 10 year anniversary of this blog which means 10 years since I entered my year of postulancy! But that is another meditation for another time.

Lots to meditate on this summer! And I'm grateful to have some time to do just that.