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!

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Waiting for the Advocate: The Sixth Sunday of Easter and Week 10 of Quarantine

Two months ago I definitely didn't think I would still be here in my kitchen, blogging about quarantine. I knew in my head that I wasn't returning to teach in my classroom this school year and that I'd be still teaching online, but I didn't realize how exhausted my students and I would be at this point. Our school year is coming to a close and summer is upon us, but I have no idea what my summer is going to look like. Usually I fill my summers with travel but that still is not able to happen at this point. States are slowly starting to lift and shift their "shelter in place" directives, but we still are only operating at 50% capacity in spaces at best, with six feet and masks in between us.

I realize that I don't sound as optimistic as my last couple of quarantine posts. I have been trying hard to keep the Easter season spirit of joy, and I've slowly started to go back into my classroom and see some colleagues and friends in social distanced spaces, but week 9 was kind of a rough one. I feel like I've exhausted every possible thing one can take advantage of during this time. I am a very goal-oriented person. Here is a list of my "accomplishments" from the over two months of quarantine:

- daily prayer, sometimes going into the churches that are open to 10 people at a time
- daily walks and exercise
- developed online lesson plans and activities for two months of curriculum
- created countless audio and video recordings for my students
- created content for an education platform I am contracted to work with
- attended meetings and numerous happy hours and "social gatherings" on Zoom. Or Meet. Or Facetime. Or Facebook. Or literally all of the available platforms for video chats at this time
- I've written and presented at least five Faith Formation sessions virtually for adults for my school, parish, and even a national organization
- I played my first RPG game. And, honestly, probably my last. It was not for me!
- I've read six books and two short stories.
- I've recorded podcast episodes with a friend about aforementioned short stories
- I've taken weekly online art classes
- I've binged Tiger King, Love is Blind, Dead to Me and probably a ton of other shows that have come out on Netflix during this time
-Watched all 9...or rather 10! of the Star Wars movies and blogged about them!
- I've driven within a 1 hr radius all around central Virginia and walked all around Richmond just to get out of my apt
- started brushing up on my Spanish and learning Polish
- looked for a new apartment (and found one!)
- cleaned out my hall closets and spaces around my apartment
- donated items from aforementioned closets and spaces
- reinstated "Cocktail of the Day" on my social media

I know there is much more that I can do and probably have done...but the point is, quarantine continues and it continues to be hard. I know we all are over this. And there is still so much to be grateful for, which I have to continue to focus on to get myself out of the heads spaces I can sometimes go to when I start to reflect a little too inwardly. At the beginning of this I was grateful for this time of introspection and I think it still is a good thing to come of this. But I can tend to over analyze and I am totally there and frankly exhausted from it.

So where is the Good News??? This is still the Easter Season. Ascension Thursday is this week and we have about two more weeks until Pentecost, which is definitely one of my favorite days. I still have hope that the Holy Spirit will be moving at Pentecost and we may be able to be free from our upper rooms while still being safe. But things aren't going to be "normal" for a while. And I do keep thinking about the apostles as we read from Acts during this time of Easter. They were nervous. They were confused. They were scared. They endured imprisonment. But it didn't stop them from delivering the word of God to the world. And it didn't stop their faith.

The Gospel today for the Sixth Sunday of Easter is from Jesus' Last Supper Discourse in John where He tells the apostles He will not abandon them. He tells them that He is sending "an Advocate" which we know is the Holy Spirit. He is comforting them because they are about to be sent into the whirlwind of Good Friday. He gives us this comfort and assurance now, too, even in this time.

The psalm today, too, references a time when God delivered and saved His people with the Exodus from Egypt and the parting of the Red Sea. Reflecting on these moments of deliverance and promises fulfilled do help to give me assurance and comfort and hope as we continue to quarantine.

Finally, today is a special day because it is the 6th anniversary of my friend Dan's death. I am struck every year with how this anniversary often falls around the Ascension. It seems this time of year is always a joyful yet bittersweet time of year. My friend was always full of joy and love for others but we miss him dearly and wish that he was still with us. The apostles, too, loved Jesus and wanted Him to stay with them, but His mission was complete at the Ascension. My friend, too, leaves a legacy that my friends and his family try to spread the good news of continually, especially on this day.

My college friends and I will be celebrating with a Zoom call this year, but we always join in prayer and raising a glass for him on this day. I know that Dan is our own "advocate" in heaven.

Dan and I during Senior Week at CUA. 

A phrase that Dan and his friends and family used during the time of his leukemia was a paraphrase from a quote from St. Julian of Norwich: "All Will Be Well". What a perfect reminder then and also now as we continue to await an end to quarantine, the feast of Pentecost, and ultimately our own ascension.

All Will Be Well. Happy Sixth Week of Easter (and tenth week of quarantine...)