Sunday, December 14, 2014

Gaudete "Rejoice" Sunday

Every year when it comes time to exchange gifts on Christmas, my parents like to tell the same story about how growing up, whenever I would get a present, I would get so excited after opening it that I would jump up and down screaming. It didn’t matter what it was – an American girl doll! A bike! Socks! Gas money! – I would become so excited that practically the entire neighborhood knew (and perhaps the next street over too).

Wouldn't it be wonderful if this was the same reaction we had to the gift of Jesus Christ in our lives? This Sunday marks the third week of Advent, or Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete is Latin for “Rejoice,” a word we find sprinkled throughout the Scripture readings for Sunday’s Mass: 


“I rejoice heartily in the LORD; in my God is the joy of my soul” (Isaiah 61:10); “My soul rejoices in my God” (Luke 1:47); “Brothers and Sisters rejoice always” (1 Thessalonians 5:16).


Maybe you have experienced this feeling of joy, delight, and happiness in your own life. Perhaps when you pass an exam you studied so much for or you get a promotion at work. Maybe you experience joy when you see a friend you haven’t seen in a long time or a family member comes home for Christmas. All of these moments bring us joy and happiness. This is what Advent is all about – the joy we feel at the arrival of the Lord Jesus (both a celebration of His first coming and a preparation for His second coming). It is during this weekend we realize that the Lord is near! And we rejoice!

I pray that as we draw closer to Christmas (and break!), we are able to continue to make room for Christ in our lives and allow Him to enter more fully into our hearts. Rejoice for the Lord is near!

Peace of Christ

Here are just some of the things that bring me immense joy!

 

 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Where is God in suffering??

I think perhaps one of the most challenging questions I’ve ever been asked is, “Where is God in suffering?”

Driving home from school today I was waiting at a light and a man was standing on the sidewalk holding a sign that read, “Homeless.” I searched around for a granola bar or apple or anything from my leftover lunch and upon not finding anything, I looked up at him, made eye contact and just smiled. He smiled back and waved and I drove off as the light turned green. Then I proceeded to cry.
Now, I’m not an overly emotional person or huge crier. And I’ve volunteered at soup kitchens and food assistance programs, worked with various organizations addressing homelessness and accessible housing. I’ve even served alongside many people experiencing homelessness, young and old. Though for some reason today, looking this man in the eye really affected me. As I continued on my drive home all teary-eyed, I couldn’t help but think one thing: “why do people have to suffer?”

Today marks the 13th memorial of that horrific day – the tragedy of 9/11 and the terrible terrorist attacks that immensely affected our country. While many of my current students barely remember that day, as they were about 1 and 2 years old, we spent some of class time reflecting on it and the current situation and conflict in Syria and Iraq. My sophomores went through a slideshow I had prepared entitled “Who/What/Where is God?” They each chose two images and reflected on why they were significant to them and how they saw God in the image. Among the images included things like a laughing baby, a sunrise, an empty basketball court, a winding road, the Sacred Heart image of Jesus, an old man, crashing waves, and surely enough… the image posted below of the remains after the towers collapsed. One student chose this image and reflected on it saying, “That was a horrible day, but even through the suffering and despair, God was there.” What hope!

It is in these times of fear, pain, hardship, suffering, chaos that it feels as though God has abandoned us. Where is He? How could He possibly let something as bad as fill-in-the-blank happen? Why do people go without food in a country like the United States? Why are innocent people attacked and brutally murdered? Why are entire cities destroyed by bombings or natural disasters? Why are people persecuted and oppressed for their beliefs?

My honest answer to the question of why people suffer is that I don’t know. I don’t know why there is war and violence and hate. I don’t know why there is discrimination and abuse. I don’t know why natural disasters happen. I don’t know why there is hunger and homelessness, unemployment and disease.

I do
know that we have a God who is there through it all, especially when we need Him most. I do know that regardless of the situation – in happiness and joy, in sorrow and suffering, in pain and shame – God is there. He’s present in the people in our lives that help to get us through the tough times. He’s there in the cross that was left in the rubble on 9/11. He’s there in the relief efforts when natural disaster strikes. He’s there through the prayers of peace; in acts of random kindness.
In Social Justice class we began with talking about the biblical foundations of social justice in the Old and New Testaments. We discussed how God’s original plan all along was for the following:
  1. Humans to share in His divine life (aka human dignity) by virtue of being made in His image and likeness.
  2. Human beings to be in relationship with God and
  3. Humans to be communal beings and build communities of love and peace

Does this happen today? Sometimes. But the Fall (Adam and Eve eating the apple and all…), causes a giant break in the relationship between humans, God, and creation. It is the breakdown of God’s original plan for us all. Our human nature has been weakened and our lives are filled with ignorance, suffering, and the temptation to sin.

We are human. We sin. We are greedy and selfish, we crave power and wealth and success and will do anything to get to the top. We think our way is the best way. We are surrounded and plagued by individualism and materialism. We exploit and use each other. We sin. We are humans!!
I don’t know why bad things happen. I only know that even though we are prone to sin and go through pain and suffering, we have a loving and merciful God. A God who created us for something better. Something more.

In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”


I pray that we may open our hearts and our minds so that we may see God working in our lives. And I pray that we may have the hope to keep pushing through the pain and suffering towards the Light. 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Walk on Water

This past Sunday, Marie and I spent one of our last "free" days relaxing by the sea. No lesson plans, no class rosters, no crowds, no fee to get on the beach (best part!). Just us and the sun, sand, sea, a large iced coffee, and a good read. 

As we were swimming in the water a nearby woman on a floating inner tube approached us asking if we were getting ready to start school, mostly likely meaning going back to college. I said very confidently "Actually, we're teachers!  So yes!" I think that was the first time I said that. The first time I had acknowledged new identity as a teacher. This is the start of a whole new part of my identity, one that I had always dreamed about ever since I was 5 and making up quizzes to give to my siblings and stuffed animals.

While it's all so thrilling and exciting and finally here, to be completely honest, I'm terrified. And once again I'm not sure what I've gotten myself into. All of a sudden I will be placed at the front of the classroom with an immense amount of responsibility. I will be in charge and able to make my own decisions and control the flow of the class. I'm the teacher. I'm the adult. Am I ready for this? What if they ask a question and I don't know the answer? What if they make fun of me and think I'm weird? What if they don't think I'm funny? (Who am I kidding, of course they will....). What if I'm not this amazing, extraordinary teacher everyone thinks I'll be? What if I let them down? What if I let myself down? I feel scared out of my mind and worried that I somehow chose the wrong program or wrong school or wrong occupation all together! 

All of a sudden I feel a calmness wash over me. I can feel the warm sun on my back and cool breeze on my face. I can feel the ocean spray as it laps against the rocks where I am sitting. I see the waves tossing a boat strapped to a buoy and I wonder how often do we feel like that? Secure and peaceful at one moment like a boat on the calm water, only to be tossed about and then barely clutching on at another when the waves become rough.

I'm reminded and perhaps greatly comforted by the whimperings and terror of the disciples, especially Peter, as soon as the storm approached:
“Meanwhile the boat, already a few miles offshore, was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it. During the fourth watch of the night, He came toward them, walking on the sea. When the disciples saw Him walking on the sea they were terrified. “It is a ghost,” they said, and they cried out in fear. At once Jesus spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter said to Him in reply, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Mt 14:24-31).
Peter, cries, “Lord, save me!” Peter begins to doubt not only in His abilities, but also His trust in the Lord. He cries, “Lord, save me!” Even despite the roaring wind and sea, Jesus reaches His hand out to Peter and pulls him to safety.
What storms and wind and tumultuous waves are we faced with in life? How many times do we find ourselves floating on only to be hit by something and paralyzed by fear? We begin to doubt in ourselves and in the God who is perpetually there for us.
Like Peter, I often find myself feeling weak and inadequate. I start to believe I can no longer walk on the water and cry out to be saved. But no matter the burden, no matter the situation that has taken away any confidence, my faith in Jesus, my faith in the Lord has never stopped saving me. I just need to open my eyes to it.

I pray that you experience God working in your own life each day and are able to continue to walk on water with the Lord at your side



Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Am I On Belay?

"This is heavy. This is hard."

For those of you who don't know me, I hate heights. Like I'm terrified. But somehow that fear always becomes overruled by my love of adventure. And so about two weeks ago I found myself once again clinging to the side of a rock face at  wondering to myself how I could've possibly gotten into this once again.

It all started back in 7th grade. My family decided to take a trip out to Seneca Rocks, WV (which if you've never been is quite an AMAZING place. probably one of my favorite places on earth). We'd all stay in one of those log cabins (the real legit ones that smell like a forest and are all rustic) go on nice hikes, and just be together. Turns out this "relaxing family vacation" turned out to be incredibly stressful for my 12 year old self. As we hiked the seemingly gruesome switchback trail (it was really only 1.5 miles, but what did I know), we reached the summit of the mountain. Honestly, I couldn't tell you how breathtaking the view was then or how far the eye could see. All I could tell you is what the actual rock face looked like because that's what I focused every ounce of my attention on as I sobbed and clung to the rock for dear life, with my aunt Maggie convincing me I wouldn't die. This my friends is what a fear of heights is like. Although I was entirely safe, I had this irrational fear that I or someone would fall to their death. Needlesstosay we made it back down and I begrudgingly listened to my siblings tell me how cool the view was and how I should've explored with them. One day I thought.

Family Climbing Trip 2008
 Flash forward a few years and I'm again clutching the rock face but this time with a harness strapped to me along with an assortment of carabiners and ropes. As a Junior in high school my family decided to return to Seneca, this time with the goal to learn how to rappel and climb some. I don't know what could have possibly compelled me to do so, but there I was clinging to a rock in immense fear. All of a sudden an immense calmness filled me and I knew that it was then on the side of the mountain that God was truly present and wouldn't let me fall. Faith is what keeps you climbing even when gravity is saying no way. 

Flash forward a few more years and I am a Junior in college with the crazy idea to go on a week-long camping, caving, and rock climbing retreat called On Belay...you guessed it, in Seneca Rocks. The retreat is run every summer by my families' long time close friends Bob and Maggie McCarty (I usually say "old family friends" but for some reason they get offended by that...) for adults. This time though, instead of just simply doing one rock climbing route like I did before, we were going to climb the Summit. Aka the very top. And then rappel down 200 feet. My emotions felt like a roller coaster between No way so awesome!! and the My gosh, why am I here?! 
Long story short. I didn't do the climb.

Beloved Bob and Maggie, our fearless leaders
HA just kidding. Did I fool ya? Of course I did the climb. All 4 pitches. To the top. Then rappelled down. It was insane and empowering and ridiculous and overwhelming and joyful and crazy and spiritual all at the same time. I thought to myself I did it! Me, the height-fearer who could barely look out to enjoy the view made it to the very top. also - Never again will I do this. 

As you probably guessed, that wasn't true at all. Because this summer, a day after I got back from my crazy, stressful, jam-packed first session of graduate classes for the PACT program the opportunity to attend On Belay again. This time I dragged Sean to go with me (okay, not actually, he'd been talking about wanting to do it since I got back from the first one). It was actually absolutely amazing to be back at Seneca and camping and just being surrounded by the beauty of God's creation that I truly missed. Nature is a real destresser for me so just being there filled me with an immense calm. I no longer was worried or anxious about all of the lessons I had to plan or the units to organize or anything else I left behind at home. I felt calm and under control. If only that would happen in real life, right?

Made it to the top! 2014
Well, I am learning that it can.

We are all faced with challenges and obstacles in life. It could be a particularly difficult part of a climb where there are virtually no handholds around or maybe the overwhelming anxiety of beginning your first year of teaching like me, or maybe it is a difficult coworker or conflict at work or a sickness a loved one is suddenly faced with. Oftentimes, we have a tendency to write off certain tasks or challenges and automatically think we can't handle them. "This is heavy. This is hard" is one such phrase we would joke about while On Belay whenever we felt like sarcastically complaining, but it also demonstrated what many of us have a tendency to do (myself included!). Yes, we can acknowledge the level of difficulty or the suffering we may be faced with, but we should never let those struggles completely define who we are and what we can or cannot do.
Reality doesn't change; only our perception of reality does. (Thanks, Bob!)

At the top of the Corner Climb
We have the power to chose our attitude and how we approach certain situations we are faced with. I came to realize this when attempting a particularly difficult climb called the Corner. Just because I became stuck between a rock and a hard place (HA! Get it?!), and couldn't quite see the hand and foot holds that were higher up or around a crack in the rock, doesn't mean they weren't there. My initial position had prevented me from seeing beyond where I was to the endless possibilities available if I only reached higher or further. The handhold was always there; I just couldn't see it at first. However, once I trusted myself and trusted my belayer (thanks, Sean!) and my ultimate Belayer (aka the Big Man Upstairs God Himself!), I would reach out to make an awkward and frightening move and all of a sudden I'd be up on the next ledge safe and laughing to myself that it really wasn't as bad as I thought. I just had to trust myself.
2014 Summit

During some of my rock-climbing escapades I continue to laugh at myself for my irrational fears. I'm in a harness that's attached to ropes and belaying devices and figure 8's and carabiners (all using physics in a way that I cannot explain well enough for you to understand...the important part is that they can hold all kinds of weight and are safe). So basically, I'm safe. I clutch to the rock and make my next move. The whole thing is a series of one move after another. The end goal is to get to the top, but the real adventure and the real thrill of it - arguably the real reason people are so addicted to climbing - is not only the feeling of accomplishment felt at the top but the thrill of each move and the fear. It's the incredible amount of trust in yourself, in your belayer, in the equipment, and for many in God.

One of the biggest things I've learned through climbing is summarized by Walter Bonatti, Italian climber: "The weapons to conquer it exist inside you, inside your soul." Any obstacle we may encounter in life from a dull or difficult job to a stressful amount of papers to a fight with your best friend to facing your biggest fears can be overcome. It's as simple as that. If we have the right attitude, one of hope and faith, we can never truly fail. We must find that inner strength inside of us, from our God who is our constant belayer never letting us fall, from the support of our friends, families, significant others, communities, whoever.

As the first day of school looms in the very near future, I am faced with an overwhelming sense of anxiety about teaching. Will I be a good teacher? Will my students like me? What about my colleagues? What if I mess up? What if I fail?! Whatever my thoughts and fears may be (which may or may not go away) or the obstacles I am faced with, I know that if I keep an open attitude and take each moment of each day with an open heart and mind to the way the Holy Spirit is working in my life I know I can never truly fail.
I did it!! (again!)

If one cannot feel fear, one certainly can't feel the sublime joy of victory (Walter Bonatti).

Keep me in your prayers! You are for sure in mine!

One of my greatest belayers in life - in rockclimbing or not! 




Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Home Sweet Home

Home. There's nothing quite like one. And while every home is a house, not every house is a home. 

For those of you who do not follow my life so intently (which is probably a good thing, we all have our own stuff to keep track of), I recently graduated from Mount St. Mary's University as a BA (Bachelor of Arts but yes I like to believe I am the other BA too) and in a few short hours I will be embarking on yet another journey. This time, instead of traveling across the pond to spend ten weeks studying abroad in Ireland, I will be packing up everything I own (or whatever will fit) and moving to the land of lobsters and Red Sox. I will be joining the PACT (Providence Alliance for Catholic Teachers) program where I will be working towards a free Masters of Education at Providence College while teaching for two years at Bishop Feehan High School as a Religion teacher and living in community with other teachers in Attleboro, Massachusetts.

Between the "I can't waittttt!" And the "oh s***t what did I sign myself up for yet again" moments, I find myself thinking, "this is where God wants me" 

Dorothy said it well when she said "there's no place like home" and there certainly isn't. No place where you can handpick your crabs and drink an ice cold Natty Boh and like it. No place where you can get cheap Student Friday tickets to watch the O’s lose yet another game in the last inning. No place where you can drive from the Eastern Shore beaches to the city to forests to cow farms and fields to mountains all in one state (that’s Maryland for ya!). And no place where I can find the love and support of my awesome family and friends.
And while there's no place like your actual home, certain places can come quite close. The Mount became a home for me those four years I spent there and even today. 100 Killester Ave Dublin 5, Ireland became a home for me. And hopefully Providence will as well.  

Having all these new homes is all part of the adventure. New city, new people, new cultures, new experiences! What’s not to love!

Admittedly, it is a little overwhelming and draining…not having a permanent “settlement” for more than 3 months at a time over the last 4 years or so…having to move once again and start over. It is actually a little daunting and nerve-wracking. I am reminded of my first semester freshman year of college (although there is no Mountward Bound pre-orientation service trip this time to usher me in). It’s that feeling of fear of the unknown. No idea what to expect – Who will my new community members be? Will they like me? Will I fail? Will I live up to others’ expectations of me?

No one said it would be easy - a two year Masters of Education program while full time teaching and living in community with 6 others isn't easy. 
No one said it wouldn't take effort - being 7 hours and 5 states away from my family, friends, not to mention the man I love. 
No one said it wouldn't take courage and trust - trust on God’s plan, that He will be there to support and guide me.

As I get ready to embark on this next journey, I am reminded of a prayer of St. Patrick:

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
  
No matter what new city I move to or what new situation I am placed in, God goes before me and is with me every step of the way. As a friend so kindly reminded me, even though I am leaving all that is familiar behind me and entering a completely new path, the one constant thing that always remains is our faith. God is the foundation on which everything else can and will be built. It is our solid ground in which we begin everything else. 

In a few short hours I will be turning moving into my apartment for the summer and will attend an orientation and welcoming ceremony. Some of you may be encountering new beginnings as well, whether it is a new job, new house, new college or grad program, new vacation spot (you must be so overwhelmed…..).  In the midst of all this newness and unknown, it is important to remember now and always that we will never walk alone.  Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me.



Thursday, December 12, 2013

Mind the Gap



On this the eve of my departure from the beautiful land of Ireland you would think I’d be posting some sappy, heartfelt blog post about how amazing and unforgettable my time was here and how I’ve been changed for the better. Although that remains true, I am still working on my closing reflection of the trip and therefore am dedicating this particular post to help all you lovely readers to become better acclimated with good old Irish life and culture:

Part 1: Talk like the Irish

Marnin – Good Morning!  
Cheers – “thank you,” “hello,” “no problem,” “I agree,” pretty much anything
Crisps – chips  
Lamb burgers with chubby chips and baked beans. classic.
Chips – french fries, varieties include chubby chips (thicker fries) or skinny chips (thin like McDonalds)
Craic – no real American equivalent, means something along the lines of a lot of fun and enjoyment, can be used in the following ways: “brilliant Craic”, “the craic was in the nineties”, “the Craic was mighty”, “what’s the craic?”
Trainers – sneakers or tennis shoes
Brown bread – wheat bread
Half past – 30 mins… so like “I’ll meet you at half past 12” aka 12:30

That's grand – that’s great!
State o’ ya (or the Head on ya) – you look awful
The Fear – the intense feeling you get the morning after a rough night when you are scared and anxious and worried and terrified of what happened, likened to a hangout but worse
Banshee – female ghost/spirit
Hooligan – boisterous peson
Sinn Feinner – “Sinn Fein” is a political party of Ireland that translates to “we ourselves”…if you are a Sinn Feiner, then you are self-absorbed and selfish
Strong tea – Guinness
Water of life – whiskey 

 




Part 2: SPORTS

Although I have greatly missed the ability to watch the Ravens kick butt on game day, I have come to appreciate many of the traditional and popular Irish sports. The top sports in Ireland to watch and/or to play competitively include Gaelic football (and ladies’ football), Hurling (called Camogie for the women, which I would TOTALLY plan), soccer, rugby, and cycling, sailing, and golf (Christian that’s for you….). The top sports in terms of recreation and fitness include swimming, running, boxing, cycling, and soccer.This past Tuesday some of us had the opportunity to tour Croke Park, home of the GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association) which holds the men’s and women’s hurling and Gaelic football matches every year. It was pretty cool to see firsthand the importance that this park and the GAA had on preserving Irish history and culture. I also really loved going to the local Gaelic football game (described in a previous blog). The excitement and energy of the crowd combined with the passion and dedication of the players (even at an amateur level where none of them get paid to play) is what made the atmosphere really worthwhile!

 


Part 3: Mind the Gap

This familiar phrase that heads this section can be heard probably every 5 minutes while on board the DART (Dublin Area Rapid Transport, if you don’t know that by now you might need to go back and reread every one of my blogs- from the beginning).
I remember when I was back in middle school and I’d have sleepovers at my friend’s houses, I was always surprised by the leniency of the parent’s rules or the lack of a big home cooked breakfast in the morning or even by the movies they chose to watch. It always caught me off guard because it was different than how things ran in my home and the way I was raised.
That being said, as with spending a night at a friend’s house for the first time, entering a completely different culture can be shocking at times. There will be things that will take a lot of time getting used to and things you may never really get used to (like eating carbs on carbs on carbs every meal). People will think you and your customs are weird too (Ann still doesn’t get why I put ketchup on my eggs or why I stretch and do planks after a run or even why I sometimes went to daily mass).
If my time here has taught me anything at all, it has been that everyone comes from different backgrounds and cultures and that you shouldn’t judge or belittle or poke fun at anyone else’s family traditions or customs or beliefs because odds are, yours are just as weird.  It’s all about “minding the gap,” or realizing that yes, there is a gap between cultures, but to recognize that that’s okay. For a lot of us, this experience has been about stepping outside of our comfort zones in whatever way. It’s been about getting used to the differences and adapting. It’s about flexibility and realizing that your way isn’t always the only way. It’s about being present to people and experiencing all you can where you are. It’s about the craic.





And boy did we find the craic.

Boarding the plane home tomorrow at 3:30pm, or 10:30am Maryland time (I’ve gotten so good at counting backwards because of the time zones…). Flying into Boston then layover for a bit then home sweet home BMORE! So stoked to finally be at home! Will most likely jump into Sean’s arms and squeeze Lauren to death (and anyone else who’s at the airport!) Will sleep like a log in my own bed after these 10 weeks away (and because of the jet-lag, oh boy) and wake up Saturday for Justin and Kate’s Wedding! Sunday is the Venanzi family (my mom’s side) annual Italian cookie bake where we hand make over 1,000 Italian cookies! Holler! So excited for this jam-packed weekend. Don’t know how I’ll be not dead for it all, but excited to be home again soon!

Cheers for now!