Sunday, December 13, 2020

Joy in 2020: Gaudate Sunday

It's the 3rd Sunday of Advent. We've made it halfway through Advent and almost all of 2020. The pink (or rose as it's technically called) candle that we light on the Advent wreath this week reminds us of this and reminds us that we are to rejoice. 

Rejoice? In 2020? How do we find joy even in this year? 

I may submit to you that this year is the year that we have had to learn how to cultivate joy the most. Let me explain. 

Joy is more than happiness. Happiness is a temporary emotion. Joy is something that is underlying and greater. We can be joyful people but not always necessarily happy. This year has certainly not been a happy one. We have seen pain and suffering due to this virus and also the pain and suffering that has existed in our country for centuries due to hatred and racism. 

So where is the joy? We each have different things that bring us joy and I still think that this year is the year we have had to search for those things in new and real ways. We have had to give up those temporal things that give us happiness- like celebrating in large groups or going to a concert- and look for what will sustain us for much longer than those temporary things. 

Now, certainly, we can find joy in groups and in music and maybe some of the things that we've had to give up, but we've had to focus on the things this year that truly matter, and this is how we cultivate joy. 

In my adult life, I've grown to make going to confession a habit as much as I can. I try to go pretty frequently. When I was at CUA, it was so easy to run into the Basilica on campus, that I almost started to take the sacrament for granted. Now, I try to go on Saturdays, but sometimes Saturdays are the days I am running around doing errands, so I really have to schedule it in. 

Since it is Advent and Advent and Lent are the liturgical seasons we focus on repentance, I scheduled some time in to go to confession yesterday. I went to a parish and priest that I had never been to before just to kind of get my out of my comfort zone or routine. When it came time to give me my penance, the priest gave me something that in all of my 30+ years of going to confession I don't think that I have heard before. He told me to "Praise the Lord" as my penance. 

And it occurred to me- isn't this what those who were healed by Christ did in the Scriptures? After He had healed them, didn't they go forth rejoicing? It makes so much sense and I couldn't believe that I have never been given this penance before. Why should we go away still lamenting our sin when He has given us His forgiveness? This was the perfect penance for this week focusing on Joy as well. 

When we think of Jesus, do we think of joy? Perhaps we think of Him as a pretty serious guy, but he would have rejoiced with those that he healed. He would've celebrated things with his apostles and friends. He would've enjoyed spending time with His Holy Family. 

On this Gaudate Sunday in 2020, it's a great time to think about what brings us true joy and what brought Christ joy as well. Do we count ourselves as a source of joy for Him and others? 

Today is a great day to meditate on joy and to go forth praising the Lord for all that we do have in our life. Even in a year when we have had to deny ourselves much, there is still joy. We may have had to see it and experience it differently this year, but even in 2020, joy is still there below the surface. 

Yesterday was also the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. I played for Mass that has a large Hispanic population and I loved seeing all the flowers and roses amid the rose candle yesterday. 

Here's to being a little closer to Christmas, a little closer to the end of this year, and finding joy even in the darkness. 


Saturday, December 5, 2020

Advent 2020: Wait for It

2020 has been about many things and many of those things have been dark and serious. I don't want to make light OF the darkness that we have had to face and are still facing, but during this time of Advent, we are to start thinking of light IN the darkness; to think about some of the more positive things in our lives and wait with joyful and grateful hearts. This can certainly be difficult in this time. I am currently re-reading Pope Francis' "Evangelii Gaudium"  which he wrote back when he began his papacy in 2013. To read it now in this darkness of 2020 is a little jarring, but also a good reminder that darkness will not last forever. 

To jump to something much more trivial but still joyful for me, Hamilton appearing on Disney Plus was one of the brighter lights this year. I had been familiar with and listened to the soundtrack, but had never seen the production. Since it has aired in July of this year, I've probably watched it at least thirty times and I'm not exaggerating. Not having many places to go this year certainly has contributed to the amount of times I have watched it, plus, we do have to find joy in the smallest things these days.

I was recently trying to name my top five songs from the show and the song "Wait for It" is on that list. It's a song where we get a glimpse into the differences between Hamilton and his friend-turned-enemy, Aaron Burr. While Hamilton is "young, scrappy and hungry" (to quote the song "My Shot") and works "Non-Stop" (the song that ends Act One), Burr sings that he is willing to wait for the things that are to come to him. 

I have always found myself somewhere in the middle of these methods of achievement. I certainly am like Hamilton in his go-getter spirit. If there is something that I want, I will work to obtain that thing as quickly as I can. However, in life, we know that don't get everything that we want. So there are naturally somethings that we have to wait for. 

Advent, as we know, is a time of waiting. And I don't know about you, but usually Advent sneaks up on me and then is over before I even realize it. This year, because of the pandemic, hopefully our preparation for Christmas isn't filled with as much busy-ness. We are hopefully avoiding stores, avoiding gatherings, which means less hustle and bustle. I know that I already feel like my first week of Advent has been much more focused and centered than in the past, and therefore more felt. 

It helps that- to borrow a line from Burr- we are "lying in wait". We have been waiting all year for a vaccine and for our lives to return to what they were before March. We are waiting for a time when we can gather and see friends and relatives as we once did. Maybe we've even gotten a little better at waiting? I have never been a patient person. Ever. However, throughout my life, I have gotten a little better at making the most of the times that I've had to wait for something. I've gotten better at shifting focus and being grateful for the things that I have instead of the things that I am still waiting for. 

I think that this time of 2020 has been just that. Hopefully, we are looking at the things that we are grateful for instead of the things that we don't have right now. Where Aaron Burr is certainly painted in a light that makes him look foolish for waiting in the show of Hamilton, I empathize with him. As Ecclesiastes says, there is a time for everything. And right now is the time to wait- both liturgically and literally- as we wait for a vaccine. 

So how are we going to use this time of waiting? I've decided for Advent to not look at my phone first thing in the morning and "wait" to use social media until after I've prayed. It's been a little challenging, but ultimately I've done it successfully and it's been productive. I've been using some prayer devotionals that use Scripture and poetry to remind me of times where God has made things new. 

We are in a new liturgical year since Advent has begun. Things may not feel very new right now since we've been in this holding pattern since March. It's been a nice reminder to read from Scripture that God's people have had to wait throughout Salvation History, but God has always been faithful when it was time for something new to begin. For example: Noah and the new life after the Flood, the Israelites and the new life in the Promised Land after 40 years in the wilderness, Simeon in the scene of the presentation where his eyes have "finally seen the salvation" of the Messiah in Jesus, just to name a few. The whole of Salvation History is waiting- from the beginning of the creation stories until we meet our God and hopefully remain with Him in heaven.  

However we are preparing for Christmas this year, I hope that we are relying on gratitude and God's faithfulness to get us through. He always provides in His time, we just have to "Wait For It". 

Happy Advent!

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Christ the King 2020 Edition

This weekend is the feast of Christ the King AKA the last week of the liturgical year. 

We somehow made it through 2020, y'all. 

As has become custom for me at this time of year, I like to do an annual round up of my year and we all know that 2020 was a doozey. 

But in many ways, this year was one of my most full and productive, surprisingly. Just like the years about a decade ago that I thought would be terrible because of the endless weddings or vocation woes or jobs that I just tolerated, God brought joy and goodness from those periods of suffering. This year's suffering has been on a much larger scale, of course, but I have seen goodness and change flourish and emerge, despite the hardships. 

To be a Scripture nerd for a second, during the time of the Babylonian Exile- a period where the Jews were being invaded and captured by Babylon which was a time of great turmoil for the Jews- they produced some of their most beautiful poetry and psalms and grew closer to their Jewish faith and their God. It is recorded in the Wisdom and Prophetic sections of the Old Testament. 

While this year of 2020 will go down as one of the strangest in our history, it also produced many movements and work that will hopefully carry through to make change in this decade to come. 

Here are some of my highlights:

We started the year so optimistically...roaring 20s indeed!
January and February were "normal" with trips to VA beach and Texas with friends. 

The last flight I took  the weekend that the world shut down. Clearly, there was no one on it. 
Week 1 of remote learning and not the last.
Attending Palm Sunday (and all Masses from March-June) from home.

Birthday 2020...and pretty much how the rest of 2020 looked from Zoom.
Finally getting to bust out of the upper room and get to the beach with a couple of friends. 

Black Lives Matter protests in Richmond- summer 2020
Mini-road trips to DC around VA in the summer...
I became a part of so many projects! Virtual Retreats for Liturgy Training Publications and starting my own podcast to name two!

Oh! And I moved to a new neighborhood and a new apt!
Going back to school in person and more local getaways distanced with friends. 

Halloween was much smaller this year, but still fun with some of my core people...and we didn't get to celebrate my dad's 70th as we had originally planned, but I still got to drive to Ohio to be with family.

Oh, and we got a new president after a historic election!

Honestly, the year was strange and isolating at times, of course, but a lot of good things were produced as well. I know that we have all experienced this year differently and I continue to pray for our health and our country. This year was a lot, but we learned and grew a lot. I've learned more than ever that we can only plan so much. I have no idea what to expect in 2021, but I hope to continue a lot of the growth that was started this year. 


Saturday, October 3, 2020

Fall 2020 Check In- Neediness and The Little Way- Also, Quarantine Week #30?!

 It has been a minute since I have written. As I've summarized previously, the first couple of months of this year were "normal". I was out and about with friends and family, visiting galleries, flying on planes, going to bars and restaurants. 

Then the shutdown happened. From March until about July, I was trying to find things to do with my time at home. I tried to visit outdoor spaces, have small outdoor gatherings with friends, and find new and old hobbies like podcasting, blogging, using virtual and social media to catechize and connect with others...I even made some more art. 

Here is some of the weird art I made during quarantine. I took a virtual class and we used modern artists to take inspiration from - my attempts at Picasso, Kusama, and Kehinde Wiley above. They aren't great, but it was therapeutic to connect with a class I used to take in Arlington virtually.

Then August came and it was time to head back to school. I had reservations and Teacher Work Week this year was unlike any I had experienced in my 11 years of teaching. Though, by the end of the week, I grew more confident in my school's plan to re-open and it was good to be surrounded by my colleagues again. 

September seemed to fly by, though I began to see the fruits of some of my labor. The podcast I had started in July was in full swing. I started to feel almost "normal" again. Even though teaching and gatherings looked different with masks and distancing, I almost started to feel like myself again.

Setting up my distanced classroom.
Exploring an outdoor art installation. 
My friend's art show opening. 

Making pierogies to remember a year since Babci entered eternal life.

Then this week hit. Just as I had started to feel normal, I was reminded this week that it is still 2020. 

The presidential debates were embarrassing to me. Our president who has been downplaying the virus that has been shutting our country down and killing thousands contracted it, right before the election. Heavy rains burst through Richmond and into my classroom. I came into school the day after the debates to water everywhere. I was discouraged by several other things this week at school and beyond. I was quickly humbled that things are still not "normal."

I love fall, but when the days start to get shorter and the weather starts to get colder, my mind and body know that winter is coming and there is a shift. I definitely suffer from SAD- seasonal affective disorder- and it seems that every year I experience that shift. 

Luckily, this time of year is also the time I am reminded of God's faithfulness by a great saint. 

My girl- St. Therese of Lisieux 

Ever since I read her autobiography, A Story of a Soul, my attitude towards this saint known as The Little Flower changed. I had previously wondered how I could ever connect to a saint who died so young and knew from a young age that she wanted to serve God as a nun and who came from a whole family of holy people. 

In reading her autobiography, however, I related to Therese's openness about her selfishness and being spoiled as a child. She recognized her neediness and turned it into generosity. 

During this week, when my neediness started to seep in, I was glad to have the reminder of this saint's Little Way. She committed to doing small things to step outside of herself- to be kinder to those in her convent that weren't kind to her. Her attitude of humility was exactly what I needed during a time when I start to turn inwards on myself because of the weather, because of the cultural climate, because of whatever this time of year tends to bring for me. 

St. Therese is also said to show signs of flowers or roses for answered prayers. I have documented in blogs past the signs that she has given to me. I always tell my students about the novena that I pray to her and they want to know if I've received a flower from her. 

I have yet to receive my flower this year, but on her feast day- Oct. 1- I went for a much needed walk to get out of my head and I felt her and God's presence with me. There weren't signs of flowers, but the sky was unique to me that night- with the clouds looking like mountains- and I felt like Therese would find some kind of analogy for mountains in the clouds as a way to draw us closer to God. 

I feel a little calmer today as I continue to battle my self-centeredness with gratitude. It seems small, but that was what St. Therese was about- finding the little, small things as a way to unity with God. I was also struck by the readings for today, too. The Old Testament readings this week have all been from Job (and we all know how things went for him, yet he remained faithful to God) and Psalm 119 really got me today. The whole thing struck a chord with me, but this line in particular:

"It is good for me that I have been afflicted,
that I may learn your statutes."- Psalm 119: 71

I want to be clear- I know that I have not been that afflicted. My afflictions are very small compared to others. St. Therese reminds me of my littleness and to take gratitude as the antidote to any sadness that I may have. 

I am grateful for the health of myself and those close to me. I am grateful for a job I love. I am grateful for shelter. I am grateful to be able to live a comfortable life. I am grateful to have people who love and care for me. I am grateful to be able to share gifts and time with others. 

As we enter into this time of short days and harvest, our thoughts can shift to what is dying or disappearing, but it also is a time to reap from our labor of the summer, and I do feel that, too. 

I have to continue to be hopeful and grateful. It is the only way- The Little Way. 

I hope that you all continue to stay safe and healthy and may you reap the fruits of your harvest as well.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

New Podcast! Introducing "Seven Mile Chats"

Since quarantine and COVID are not showing any signs of letting up any time soon, I started to think about what else I might be able to do to connect with others and share faith during this time. I really enjoyed working with a friend on his podcast earlier this year and wondered if that might be something that I could do myself. My friends were all super supportive and have helped me to put together this new podcast. Introducing...Seven Mile Chats!

I am really excited about this project because I get to talk about something that I love and know a little bit about- Scripture- and I get to do it with friends. I want to say thanks to everyone who encouraged me and helped me to put this together whether that be as a guest, creating the artwork, or giving me tips and insight on how to do this. 

The introductory teaser episode is out today with official episodes to drop each week. Subscribe on iTunes and Spotify! And let me know if you would like to be a guest and talk Scripture with me. 


Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Mid-Summer, Mid 2020 Check-In

Well, June turned out to be quite a strange frenzy of a month, but perhaps the month that we needed. Today's post is really just for me to document kind of where I'm at with this very chaotic year.

2020 started out "normal". It was winter, though not quite the severe winter that we usually would have. I don't think that we had any snow in Richmond which is actually a little abnormal, but I was doing what I do: teaching, hanging out with friends, going to art shows, bars, gatherings, events. I even took a couple of flights in February and early March to hang out with friends and family.

As we all know, in mid-March, immediately after I returned from my last flight, it was time to quarantine. I recently looked back at my old posts and journals and found that even though we were in this time of quarantine, it hadn't really sunk in as to what that meant yet. We had been told we only would be out of school for two weeks. I even still went to a couple of friends' houses those two weeks in March (albeit they were small, outside gatherings). But once March 31st hit and it was known that we wouldn't be returning to school that year, the reality of what we were facing started to sink in.

April was full on lock-down as it was the month where we saw the most spikes and peaks of the virus. My conference in Baltimore was canceled. My trip to Ohio for Easter was canceled. Holy Week and Easter were streamed from my computer in my apartment. My birthday was a Zoom party and any social gatherings were also on Zoom. I truly didn't leave my apartment except for groceries and exercise (and once to see the new apartment I was eyeing) during the entire month and first half of May.

May was still pretty much lock down as Richmond didn't open anything back up until the very end of the month. And on Memorial Day this year, George Floyd was murdered. Richmond opened just in time for our streets to be flooded with protesters and for us to face the realities of our centuries of oppression over black lives.

June was a frenzy of a month. Now that things were starting to re-open simultaneously with protests, I had some choices to make. I chose to go to the Outer Banks in NC with my friend's family for the first week of June. It ended up being the right choice for me at the time. Not many people were at the beach yet, and we stayed quarantined in the house we rented for the entire week. I came back to Richmond refreshed after two months of being holed up in my apartment alone.

June also saw the re-opening of Church for me and I was able to start attending Mass in person again and even getting hired to play piano for some Masses and make the money I wasn't able to make when quarantined. Of course things weren't back to "normal". Mass looks different now. We register before we attend. We wait in line to go in and wear masks We are asked questions about our health and then are sat six feet from each other in roped off pews. It isn't "normal" but it has become, as we have all heard and said, "the new normal".

Throughout June, I started to see friends- again in small groups, mostly outdoors. I started to take little mini-trips around DC and VA to outdoor things as most indoor activities were still closed. I started to make a list of State Parks to visit and visited a few of those parks. I blogged A LOT in June as there was a lot to think about. I started to reach out to friends and Catholic organizations and think about what I could do to keep myself busy in case we don't go back to school.

And that brings me to July. Museums have opened back up, which are my happy place, so I went to quite a few this past first week in July. June and July also saw my first restaurant experiences. I have been to two or three outside and two inside. I can still count on one hand the establishments I've been to, and I want to keep it that way. As much as I have been appreciative to go and do some of the things I enjoyed doing before all of this, I don't want us to rush to do and open all of the things too soon. Yes, it has been four months so far in these various stages of quarantine. Yes, I want to go back to school. But I don't want us to if we aren't ready and if we continue to run around and do all of the things, we won't be ready. It won't be worth the risk. Cases of COVID are continuing to appear and while VA numbers are staying relatively low, they aren't disappearing. In other states that have reopened, the numbers of cases are going back up.

I need to keep reminding myself that we are still in quarantine. So this month, I am going to travel a little bit- to see my friend in Philly and my family in Ohio- but the weeks in between those things, I'm staying in my apartment and quarantining still. So, I'm still looking for and working on projects, blogging, maybe starting a podcast? Who knows. I'm also starting to think about what I will need to do to my lesson plans depending on what school will look like in August. I'm bracing for all possibilities and it is a little overwhelming.

But the constant in ALL of this is God's hand and prayer. Quarantine has been a time for me to reflect, for better or for worse, and have consistent prayer time each day. It's been a time for me to have to reach out to others in different ways. And I know that God has His hand in the movements in our country, the shaking up of our systems, and the reckoning we are having with our culture right now. 2020 has been weird and hard. In some ways, it has gone by really quickly. I don't know what the second half of 2020 will bring, but I think we are seeing the possibilities and I hope that we do what is right and take care of ourselves and one another.

Today is the feast of St. Kateri Tekakwitha- the first Native American saint. Her story is complicated, much like our country's history. But we know that she had a heart for God and people which is what made her a saint. St. Kateri Tekakwitha, pray for your Church and your country. We need you and your prayers right now!

Stay safe, everyone. But know that we've got this if we work together and do what is best for the common good: wearing masks, staying in as much as we can, supporting black lives and lifting up our voices for those in need.


Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Shout-out to St. John the Baptist

A few of our saints in the Catholic Church get more than one feast day to recognize and honor them. Obviously, Mary, the Mother of Jesus has numerous feast days throughout the year. My favorite saint, St. Paul, has at least two that I can think of. Today's saint- St. John the Baptist- also has at least two days to honor him: one to commemorate his birth and the other to honor his martyrdom.

Today, we remember the birth of St. John the Baptist which is actually remembered and recorded in the Gospel of Luke. All of the Gospel writers include John the Baptist insomuch as they mention that he baptized Jesus. However, Luke gives a background to the announcement of his birth and even parallels the announcement of John with the announcement of Jesus. Luke also includes the birth and naming of John which is the Gospel for today (Luke 1:57-80) John the Apostle (not to be confused with today's John, John the Baptist) includes an amazing soliloquy of sorts from John:

This passage from John's Gospel is beautiful to me because it really shows John the Baptist's character. He was a humble guy. He was a New Testament prophet in a time that didn't really have a lot of prophets. He bridged the prophets of the Old to Christ Himself. The prophets in the Old Testament were also strange characters and misunderstood. Many of them were outcast because of the messages that they were given to proclaim. We see John described in the Gospels as living in the desert, wearing camelhair, and eating locusts. But he wasn't so weird that people didn't come to him. John the Baptist had a following of his own before Jesus (at age 30) decided it was time to begin His Ministry. We always describe John the Baptist as the kind of precursor to Jesus. Again, he was the one who continued the ministry of the prophets of old, telling people to get ready for the Messiah, and then actually ended up baptizing the Messiah Himself. 

St. John the Baptist could've made his own little following about himself instead of about Christ, but he was always focused on the one to come- the Messiah. John is such an important character because of these things- his humility, his connection to God and the prophets, as well as being the cousin of Christ Himself! And he was proclaiming the Gospel- the Good News of Jesus- before that was even a thing. It isn't until after Christ's Death and Resurrection that we see the women coming from the tomb to proclaim the Good News about Christ the Messiah. And it isn't even until after Pentecost and receiving the Holy Spirit that the other apostles get in on that. St. John the Baptist had the Holy Spirit in a way before any of the other disciples knew what that was. He was the O.G. of disciples. A total hippie/hipster, doing things his own way before it was "cool". 

Perhaps this is why I am drawn to St. John the Baptist- not because I am so humble or cool- but because I admire someone who is a trailblazer and does his or her own thing and goes his or her own way. He still had a purpose and a "cause" though, and that sole purpose was always to point the way to Jesus. In the discourse from John above, St. John says his famous quote: "He must increase, I must decrease" when talking about himself and Jesus. That is a motto that is always a humble reminder of what ministry is about. 

In this time of quarantine and the Black Lives Matter movement, we need modern day St. John the Baptists. We need trailblazers who are pointing the way to truth. We need leaders who are proclaiming what is true not for their own sake, but for the sake of the greater good. St. John is described in the Gospels as "a voice crying out in the desert". There are voices crying out in our "desert" today. Will we listen to their truth? Or discard them as St. John the Baptist and the prophets before him were disregarded?

When I was in Israel last year, we got to visit the Church of the Visitation- aka the home of St. John the Baptist as a child. We got to see the marker designated as the place of his birth. Earlier that day, we had visited Bethlehem- the place of Jesus' birth. It was very moving and powerful to have our day bookend-ed by these two very powerful, very connected births- the Messiah's and the one who went out before him to prepare his way. 

 marker in the Church of the Visitation designated St. John the Baptist's birth
The Church of the Visitation in the Hill country of Judah, Israel.

Icon of St. John the Baptist from the Church of the Visitation- love his hippie/hipster look!

This time of quarantine may be a little like St. John's "desert"- a time when we are preparing for something greater to come. St. John the Baptist can be our guide as we navigate through this unprecedented time. May we be humble and ready for when Truth does appear. And may we lead others to Truth, not for our own sake, but for the sake of the greater Good. 

St. John the Baptist, pray for us. 


Monday, June 22, 2020

Encounters With Grace

In my last post, I wrote about how I believe that we encountered the Body of Christ in a new way this year. Instead of the Eucharistic Processions that we are maybe used to seeing on the feast of Corpus Christi- with the Body of Christ in a monstrance paraded through the streets- we saw the part of the Body of Christ that is crying out for justice taking to the streets demanding to be considered an equal part of the whole Body.

Both of these types of processions are encounters. When you see Christ in a monstrance being carried through the streets, you cannot help but look at Him. It is the same when we see the people who make up the Body of Christ shouting and chanting that they are not being treated equally. You cannot help but see and hear and think about their message.

In this time of quarantine and the increased visibility of the Black Lives Matter movement, we are encountering things in a way in which we haven't before. Some of these encounters are painful because they are forcing us to look at ourselves and our country and maybe see things that we would rather not see. Or maybe this time is painful because we aren't able to truly encounter friends, family, and our environments as we once did because of the virus.

I really think a lot of what we are seeing going on in our country right now- and even in the Church- is a result of something that happened way before quarantine, however. We had stopped encountering one another in a sense. Even before quarantine, we would so often encounter one another online instead of in person. It is so much easier to choose the opposite of an opportunity for grace when leaving a comment on someone's Facebook page than we speaking with them face to face. Even working at a Catholic School where our students are given opportunities to experience Christ in the sacraments and in prayer, even there, opportunities for grace can go unused.  Whether it be a misunderstanding with a parent, or teachers not communicating as we should when we encounter one another, opportunities and encounters for grace can pass us by. These are just two very simple examples from my every day life before we as a country started to look at much larger pandemics- both scientific and social.

Grace is what the Church teaches is the free gift that we are given to help us with sin. When we as Catholics receive the Body of Christ in the Eucharist, we believe that we are receiving Christ Himself. And with His presence, He gives us grace- which is a type of strength to help us live our lives in a more holy way. We believe in "actual grace", too, which is a free gift for everyone. Grace helps us to draw closer to God and what is good and true.

I think one of our issues just as humans in general is that we constantly want to focus on that encounter with sin, and not so much leave room for the encounter of grace. We do this with ourselves by maybe just focusing on the things that we do wrong, and not being gentle with ourselves and forgiving ourselves when we make a mistake. I know as a perfectionist, I struggled with this for years, personally. I had to start giving myself space to mess up, accept it, and not focus so much on the negative that I thought I had done.

We also do this with people we don't agree with- we focus on the sin, rather than the opportunity for change. I again see this online and in my school, and now we see it on a much larger stage with the conversations that we are having surrounding the issues in our country. These conversations CAN and should be opportunities of grace- freedom from our sin. Protests are calling attention to a gravely wrong sin that we have accepted for so long- racism. But in order for grace to come from this moment, we have to do as Christ did. We have to encounter. We have to engage.

One of my favorite Church documents is Our Hearts Were Burning Within Us which was a document that bishops came out with over twenty years ago to help adults encounter their faith more. It takes the Scripture story of the Road to Emmaus from Luke's Gospel and essentially breaks down what happened in that story and applies it to how we are to encounter our faith. Namely, that we encounter Christ in the following things: conversation and in breaking bread as the two in that story did (If you aren't familiar with the Road to Emmaus story, here it is. Scroll down to verse 13).

Image: Gang nacn Emmaus by Robert Zund, 1877

The men in that story have a conversation about the events that happened to Jesus. They are physically talking to Jesus, so they are praying in a sense. They then gather for a meal and receive the sacramental grace of breaking bread with Jesus. It is for us too, then, that our faith will grow if we are talking to God in prayer, conversing with one another, and sitting down together in community and in sacraments.

In this time of quarantine, some of these things are hard. We can't all sit together right now. Some of us still can't go to Mass and receive the sacraments. But we can pray and then let that prayer spark conversations with others. And if we are in a phase of quarantine that allows us to go out and have a conversation with someone- whether that be an elected official, a protest, or someone that maybe we disagree with or need to reconcile with- then we should. These are how moments of grace can happen. We need to encounter people and engage, but then allow them room for change. Grace is a free gift, but it requires openness. Grace has to be given freely and freely received.

It may seem to some that Black Lives Matters protesters are being forceful with their message right now and not leaving an opportunity for grace or change, but I don't think that is true. Because of the force that was and is used on African Americans for centuries, they are being forceful with their message, but what I see is a call to engage and encounter. Protesters are not forcing us to do something- we still have the freedom to choose to engage with their message or not (and this is part of privilege). African Americans have not had the freedom to choose in the past and because of this, our systems are still set up so that they do not have the same privileges and freedoms as others.

If I think about what Christ would do and where He would be if still physically walking the earth today, I believe that He would absolutely be down in the crowds speaking with others, trying to bring healing to those who are hurting, trying to bring about understanding and change. Wasn't He always doing that in the Scriptures? He is always depicted preaching in crowds, walking among the people and engaging with them, whether that person be a leper, a tax collector, a woman, a foreigner...anyone considered an outcast. Christ is still present among us...but through US. We need to be His hands and feet. We need to encounter and engage.

Juneteenth- a holiday that has long been celebrated by African Americans, but just recently started to get the recognition it deserved- happened to be the Feast of the Sacred Heart this year. The date of this feast varies depending on when Easter and Pentecost happen, but I think it is fitting that on a day when we finally are talking about Civil Rights and significant African American history, we also celebrate Christ's burning love for us. This feast day reminds us that we are all called to encounter Christ's Sacred Heart. By engaging with one another, we can encounter grace- a help for our sin. And this will ultimately draw us closer to His Sacred Heart and one another.

The stage has been set. The conversations are happening. The question remains:

How will we encounter that grace today?


Sunday, June 14, 2020

We are the Body of Christ

Corpus Christi is one of my favorite feast days. I have documented it well on this blog, just like my love of Pentecost. Also similar to my experience with Pentecost, I first really witnessed the feast of Corpus Christi when I went on school mission trips to Guatemala in 2001 and 2002.

Picture of Corpus Christi Procession, San Lucas Toliman, Guatemala, 2002.

I had never seen a Eucharistic procession before this time in my life. I had been to Eucharistic Adoration, but not seen the Eucharist processed through the streets as some communities do all around the world. I have since then traveled to many places around the world and seen Corpus Christi celebrated in a way that I, personally, wish that we would do more of in the States.

In Guatemala, each family created altars and shrines to the Blessed Mother and the Blessed Sacrament in their homes. The priest would then bring the Eucharist through the streets and into their homes to bless their house and visit their shrines. We followed the Eucharist into each person's space and said prayers for and with them.

Because of our current time of quarantine, it is hard to picture something like this happening right now. It is hard to picture people in large groups going with each other into a small space like someone's home. We are being socially distanced in our Churches now and, even in these larger spaces, it is still challenging for us to pray together. But Eucharist is still happening. Eucharist, in many ways, may not look like what it did before COVID-19 hit, but we are gathering as a body as best as we can and we are finding new ways to be the Body of Christ.

Similarly, during this time in which our country is once again discussing the need for systemic change in our country's many structures, I am wondering if these protests are not, in a way, a form of Eucharistic Processions in our time? Follow me here. We have had many processions through the streets recently where I live here in Richmond. People have organized and brought their voices and instruments to the streets to call attention to black lives and the need for change in our country regarding everything from monuments to white men who fought to keep black people enslaved, to dismantling the systems we have in place that still ultimately oppress people of color. Are these protests not still processions of the Body of Christ?
Image taken from NBC Protest in front of Robert E. Lee Statue, Richmond VA, 2020

As the priest at the Mass that I went to today reminded us, WE are the Body of Christ. We sing songs in Mass about being the Body of Christ, but what does it really mean to be it? I think we are seeing what it means in very real ways today.

While Christ as the head is perfect, the body is not. The body of Christ can be broken and is certainly suffering right now, but that does not make it less of the body. In a Eucharistic procession, the priest and the people draw the community to Christ. With the Body of Christ literally in the monstrance, we ask the community to receive Christ and our message that He is with us. I know that the protests have not done this in the same way, but have they not drawn attention to their message and the suffering parts of the body?

The Body of Christ is not always pretty. When Christ was bleeding on that Cross, after enduring beatings and scourging, it may have been easier for some people to look away from His Body. The Body of Christ right now is literally and figuratively bleeding. Are we going to help it? Contemplate it? Take care of it? Do what we can to engage with it? Receive it? Or are we going to look away?

St. Paul says:

"But God has so constructed the body as to give greater honor to a part that is without it,
so that there may be no division in the body, but that the parts may have the same concern for one another. If [one] part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy."- 1 Corinthians 12: 24-26

I pray that our Church and its members may not look away from the parts of the body that are suffering right now. They are literally calling out to us and processing in the streets. I know personally that it is much easier not to engage in that hard conversation with that person that may not agree with me. I have deleted my own share of posts or comments on social media rather than engage that person in conversation. But am I lifting up the Body of Christ if I don't have that conversation or am I looking away from it?

When I think about Christ and His ministry, He went to all of the broken parts of the Body: the poor, the prostitute, the tax collector and engaged with them. He said things like: "take me to your house for dinner!" "Come down from that tree!" "Go, and rejoice, your faith has saved you!" We need to be Christ on earth and engage in these times with the people we may have rather looked away from. It is one way that we can uphold and help the Body of Christ right now. We should see the Body processing in the streets and receive the message that it has for us so that we can then better engage with that part and bring it to Christ, the Head.

Happy Feast of Corpus Christi.


Sunday, June 7, 2020

Black Lives Matter 2020 Edition

The Holy Spirit came in with a bang.

The Holy Spirit came in a way that maybe a lot of us weren't expecting, but that was needed.

I write because it helps me process. I also write to educate when I can. I also write to document. This week has given us as a world and a country a lot to process, educate ourselves about, and I hope that we will document.

It's hard to comment on what is going on right now because 1) I am a white, privileged woman. But I have found that being silent does not help people get justice and that even if I don't think that my voice is important, there is always someone who is listening that may need to learn, not necessarily from me, but maybe from my research or someone who is smarter or more qualified than me that I can share about.

2.) We are still living in and through this time in history, so it is hard to comment on what will come of it. We have gone from global pandemic (which we are still very much in) to radical movements  because three more African American lives- those of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd- were taken due to systemic racism that lies in our culture and in our policing systems.

The purpose of this blog post is to share what I can in hopes that I can maybe help someone who is struggling to understand what is happening right now. It's also my own very tiny contribution because I don't want to remain silent. I cannot possibly sum up everything that we are all feeling. I think one of the downfalls of the internet is that we want to simplify everything into one concise comment or meme and sometimes those things if done right can be effective. But racism in this country is so deeply rooted in our systems, it is going to take more than just what is happening this week, more than one blog post.

On Saturday, May 30, I was attending yet another Zoom party for a birthday of a friend. While I was online, I could hear sirens and helicopters outside of my apartment. I live in Richmond, VA, about two blocks from The Daughters of the Confederacy building and maybe half a mile from Monument Avenue which holds several monuments to white male soldiers who led the Confederacy. I texted some friends to see what was going on and was told that protesters had been organizing and mobilizing and were moving through tagging monuments and even setting The Daughters of the Confederacy building on fire.

This was the moment that I had to process and decide. The George Floyd murder had happened over Memorial Day which was back on May 25. All of that week, up until the protests, I had said nothing. Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor's deaths had actually happened before we went into shutdown and I remember hearing about them and seeing a couple of posts, but I said nothing.

With the protests happening literally two blocks away from me and helicopters flying over my head, I could not ignore or stay silent anymore. The protests forced me to look at what was going on. The protesters did tag and set fire to buildings and structures, but they did so to buildings and structures that stand for a racist ideology and our racist past. I have long agreed with taking our confederate statues and monuments down, but in the capital of the Confederacy? I never thought it would happen. I had tried to talk about the issue of taking monuments down with my students for the past couple of years, I had addressed cases like Trayvon Martin's with them, I had wept for Tamir Rice, and I tried to make a case for Colin Kaepernick with them, but other than those dialogues (which are important and I am glad that I have in my classroom), I have mainly stayed silent.

The morning after the protests, I (like many other white people of privilege, I noticed) walked over to see what had been done to the structures. I took some pictures and posted them, again, to document. And then I went to Church for the first time since the middle of March when quarantine had started.

My parish has been very organized now that Phase 1 has been implemented in Richmond. I had to sign up online to receive a "ticket" to Mass (which certainly felt weird, but I get that we need to document who is attending and make sure we stay at 50% capacity) and answer questions about my health. We waited in line to be checked in and while I was waiting in line, I heard some older white people standing behind me saying it was "such a shame" that the protesters were causing destruction to our monuments. I wanted to turn around and say something to them. But I didn't.

I could've turned around and said: "People are angry." "Those monuments stand for hate." "Destroying monuments is nothing compared to destroying lives." But I didn't.

I went into my first Mass, one that I thought was going to be a joyful end to the Easter season, with a very heavy heart. I was glad that our bishop addressed the movements happening outside our doors and we prayed. I then actually got into my car shortly after the Mass and joined my friend's family for a week in North Carolina for a beach trip. I obviously hadn't planned to leave town when all this was going on- it was the last week of school, we had been just been moved to Phase 1 of quarantine, and now my city and cities around the world were starting a movement- but I retreated. And I'm not going to fault myself for that completely because after two months of quarantine and ending the school year as I did, I believe I needed this past week for some self care. While at the beach, I took time each day to read articles, sign petitions, post on social media about what was happening in Richmond and around our country. I tried not to be silent, even though I was still removed.

Today is a new day. I am back in Richmond and about to head to Mass for the second time. I hope that today, if I hear comments in line, that I will say something. I plan on attending some of the protests that are continuing here in my city. I will continue to post and read and educate myself.

For those of you who might be wondering- why now? Well, "why not now?" And "why hasn't it happened sooner?" might be the better questions. I personally do think that the quarantine has had something to do with it. People have had time to sit and process and also to mobilize since many of us are at home. I also think that having a president who has allowed racism to come to the surface has angered people enough that people will not sit quiet anymore. Similar to the "Me Too" movement and Women's March that mobilized after we elected a president who openly said that he would sexually assault women by grabbing them and making fun of a female reporter's "bleeding", I think in a weird way, this presidency has allowed these issues emerge to the surface where we can't look away anymore. We can't say that theses issues don't exist, because they are in our faces. This is NOT a credit to him in any way, but to the people that are mobilizing and creating movements and who are not tolerating his behavior and I think that is "why now."

Also, we don't want any more black lives to be taken. Too much blood has been shed in this country due to systematic racism. If you don't understand what that means, here is a video I thought explained it well. And if you are someone who thinks we should say "All Lives Matter", here are a couple of passages in Scripture that I think point out otherwise:

- In Paul's 1st Letter to the Corinthians (chapter 12: 12-27), he says that we are all parts of the one body of Christ. But that when one of the parts of the body is hurting, the whole body suffers with it. Right now, black lives are the part of the body is hurting, so we call attention to it. We lift them up. We are still all one body, but that part needs attention and healing right now. That is what the Church's Catholic Social Teaching on Solidarity has long taught.

- The Parable of the Lost Sheep (Luke 15)- Christ is the Good Shepherd. When one of the sheep is "lost", He leaves the 99 to go and find it. Right now, we need to attend to that one part of the sheepfold and serve them and help them, just as Christ would.

- The Beatitudes (Matthew Chapter 5)- We know that all are "blessed", but Jesus calls out and separates those who are truly blessed. The poor, the mourning...aren't these the communities crying out now?

So what can we do to help? I have actually heard from people in the black community that we should not ask them what we can do right now, but rather we should research for ourselves. Read books and articles by black authors. Support black business owners. Follow black artists and advocates on social media. Listen to podcasts by black content creators. Hear their stories.

We live right now in a "cancel culture" where we hear of something that we don't agree with and we immediately want to write off that thing or person. I have struggled with this concept for the past couple of years. There are some things that absolutely need to be cancelled- things like the confederate monuments that were put up during the Jim Crow era to remind an entire demographic of people of the war and people that wanted to oppress and enslave them, for example. In the "Me Too" movement- people like Harvey Weinstein who had assaulted hundreds of women- needed to be taken down so that he wouldn't assault another woman again. But most of us, in most cases, we need room for growth and forgiveness. We need time to educate and learn and reconcile. I have heard from at least two friends that seeing people's posts about Black Lives Matter has made them change their ways of thinking. Having open dialogues does work. But so do large demonstrations that people can't look away from.

I believe the Church and ultimately Christ have always taught me what I need to know for difficult situations that I may not know how to deal with myself. Christ does say in the Gospels that if something is leading you to sin (or in this case influencing evil in the world), to cut it off. But Christ's whole mission and Paschal Mystery (his suffering, death, and resurrection) was about forgiveness. He died so that we could have redemption. He says in the Scriptures to correct your brother if he has wronged you, and to go to the Church or the courts if he has wronged you, but not to harm him or humiliate him or tear him down.

I know that this time is confusing and we are all processing a lot. This is just the beginning, just a start to hopefully some great changes. But it isn't going to be easy. Tough conversations are going to be had. We are going to have to rely on those gifts of the Holy Spirit if we want to see the fruits.

I'm going to end with a quote that I found this week that sums up some things that I have been feeling well:
All Will Be Well. But it is going to be a long, uphill climb- one that our black brothers and sisters have been on for centuries and the rest of us are just waking up to. We need to use our voices when necessary and we need to listen when necessary.

Black Lives Matter.


Friday, May 29, 2020

Pentecost 2020

One of my favorite feasts of the year is here- Pentecost. The Easter Season has been very different for us this year and when we started quarantine way back in Lent, I prayed and hoped that we would be out of this by Pentecost.

Well, we are not "out" of it, but the Holy Spirit is coming regardless, and obviously, is always with us. One of the very cool things that I have been able to be a part of this Easter season are some virtual "retreats" run by Liturgy Training Publications. A friend from college works for them and asked me to present during one of the retreats way back in April. I was honored to be asked back to co-lead two additional retreats, including the one for the readings for this Sunday.

My presenter's view during this retreat. I'm in the middle at the bottom. The others featured were my co-leaders. Attendants chatted in the boxes on the side. I was so impressed by the platform and set up!

During the retreat, we of course called attention to the Gifts and Fruits of the Holy Spirit that are given to us at Baptism but that we can pray for an increase of at any time. I take for granted as a Religion teacher that I still have these memorized, but for those who might need a refresher (the acronym for the gifts that my students always used was "puffwick"):

Piety (or Reverence in the "new" language)
Fortitude (or Courage)
Fear of the Lord (or Wonder and Awe)

These are referenced in the Old testament in Isaiah and the fruits are referenced in the New Testament in Galatians:


When I think about these gifts and fruits, I often think about how I might need these gifts to help myself and my relationship with God. But last night during the retreat, retreatants shared how they were praying for these gifts to help them serve others. It was truly a humbling experience and moment. People were asking for prayers so that they can be more understanding and counsel their friends at this time or be more patient with loved ones. I was especially struck by a woman who said she was praying for Piety and reverence so that she could better respect and revere those around her.

At the beginning of quarantine, I was hopeful that we would emerge from this time better. After almost three months, I feel worn out and exhausted, even though I haven't really been "doing anything". It has been emotionally exhausting to try and feel of worth and productive and to try and be a part of a community at this time. I had hopes that we would come out of quarantine even more empathetic and compassionate, but when I look at what is going around in our world and on social media, it seems like we have become even more isolated the longer this goes on. But it doesn't mean that compassion can't still happen. The Holy Spirit is coming. We will be renewed.

Because the Holy Spirit doesn't pick and choose what it does when it is called upon. As we will hear in the psalm on Sunday: "Come Holy Spirit and renew the face of the earth." When the Holy Spirit is called upon it will shake things up. That's just what it does by its nature.

When the Holy Spirit is described (even though we don't maybe think about the Spirit as often as the Father or Son) it is described through verbs and action which I will get to in a second. My solution when I have started to feel down during this quarantine has been to try and look back on the good and be grateful for the good that does exist. The retreat last night and the prayers and reflections on these gifts on the Holy Spirit was powerful. Another really powerful reflection from last night was looking at the Sequence that is said before the Gospel on the feast of Pentecost. It is something that is sometimes discarded or overlooked, but the words this year- just like many of the readings during this Easter Season- mean so much more during this time of quarantine.

You can read the sequence here with this link, but I wanted to post a picture of it as well. 

As I just mentioned, the Holy Spirit ("Ruah in the Hebrew which means "movement" or "wind" or "breath") is always described with such powerful verbs. COME. SHINE. POUR. HEAL. WASH. MELT...

I was really taken with the phrase "Melt the frozen, warm the chill" from this sequence last night. Isn't it true that we have felt "frozen" in time these last months? The Holy Spirit with its power and its gifts and its fruits can help us emerge stronger just like the apostles did after being locked up in their Upper Room scared and terrified.

I am very much looking forward to Pentecost this year. Even if it isn't going to look like what I thought or hoped it might at the beginning of this, I have to trust in that the Spirit will move us and will move us towards those gifts and fruits and that those gifts and fruits will help us help others. 

I am planning on attending Mass this Sunday as VA is now in "Phase 1" which means 50% capacity for churches. I was wondering how my parish was going to enforce this, but I received an email with a link to get a "ticket" for one of the Masses being offered this weekend, so I guess it is going to be first come first serve. Everyone has to wear a mask and keep proper distance...actually, my diocese released this video which I found really helpful and answered a lot of my questions.

Part of the beauty of the Holy Spirit is that it moves and we don't necessarily know where it is going to take us. But after this time of the Easter Season and quarantine, I am ready- maybe more than ever- ready to see where it takes us and how it renews us.

It's not a question. The Holy Spirit will renew us. We just need to be open to that movement. And I am so ready!

Happy Pentecost!