Monday, July 31, 2017

Unleashing the Power of Scripture

I was excited when I opened my spring 2017 LifeTeen box and saw a copy of Mark Hart's book, Unleashing the Power of Scripture: A Guide for Catholics. One of my goals for the new ministry year is to provide intentional support for our teens to understand how to approach The Bible and allow it to transform their lives. This is actually an area of need expressed by some of the adults in Hispanic Ministries at our parish and would imagine it would be consistent with other adults in general in our parish. Personally, I had a draw toward Scripture from a young age and made attempts to read it at different phases in my life but did not truly start utilizing it in a more powerful way until the last couple of years. As a result, I looked forward to reading the book through the lens of how it could help me personally as well as to support others.

After an introduction, the book has 7 chapters spanning topics such as recognizing our own story within Scripture, an examination of common Catholic misconceptions related to The Bible, and multiple chapters on strategies for meaningfully praying with Scripture. As can be expected with Mark Hart, his voice shines through with humor mixed in with the seriousness. The book was engaging, and though I originally thought I would read it and then be able to recommend it to youth, along the way I realized it was inspiring me more with ways to integrate the ideas into our youth sessions. It complemented ideas I had already been thinking of, enhancing how I will be able to implement them, and also prompted me to ponder new ideas.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Living at the Core 7: Scriptural Stories on our Hearts

Living at the core means letting Scripture seep into our lives and transforming them in the process. The daily readings of the liturgical seasons provide an intentional rotation of biblical stories that apply to us personally throughout different phases of our lives since Scripture is God's living Word.

Today is the memorial of St. Martha. When I was in my early 20s and had a regular early morning Adoration, I read Joanna Weaver's Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World: Finding Intimacy with God in the Busyness of Life. 

About 13 years later I am in awe when I think about the journey of my life between now and then. At the time life felt so busy, but it seems so simple when I compare it to the context of my life now. From that phase of my life, I completed my master's program to qualify for a teaching license and began my career as an educator. Over the years I became more and more consumed with my career and I yearned for better career/family balance. Even as it became crystal clear that it was not healthy to continue living the way I was, I continued to tread water with tweaking here and there, seeing glimpses into a better way while at the same time still feeling like I was still about to drown. Nonetheless, I knew that I wanted to move beyond survival mode. I just was not sure how to get there yet, how to untangle my life and shift towards a greater sense of peace.

When I chose core as my one little word in 2015, I discovered a lot about the work I should be doing to move toward that sense of peace; however, it was not until this time about a year ago when I was in deep reflection about why a specific shift in my life felt much more challenging than I thought it should have been that I was able to pinpoint my longing for peace and silence in the midst of being a wife, mom of four, and an educator. Like the St. Augustine quote, "Thou hast made us for thyself, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee," I was realizing that in order to feel centered and grounded, I needed to find space for silence and time for prayer throughout my days.

This morning as I read the Gospel in the 5 am silence of my home, I thought back to "that book I read in Adoration" all those years ago prompting for me to search for it on Amazon. The subtitle struck me, Finding Intimacy with God in the Busyness of Life. As I was in the early phase of my vocation as a wife and mom, I was given the blessing of an anchor experience in the silence of the Adoration Chapel to think deeply about Scripture. The seed was planted that my life would be busy and that the answer to a busy life was maintaining intimacy with God. While my relationship with God was stretched thin as I held on to minimums, such as weekly Mass attendance, and I searched for a sense of balance, the answer had been provided for me years before. I just did not stop long enough to think about it. God led me though - helping me to see through my word core 2015 that even though I thought it would be about career/family balance, it was really more importantly about shifting towards a Christ-centered life, something that would take time and is still in process but ultimately is helping different areas of my life to click into place.

As I read the Gospel today, I was reminded once again of God's call to Martha, the same call that applies to each of us, "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her" (Luke 10:41-42). When we stay connected to Scripture through prayer, homilies, and resources to help us apply Scripture to the contexts of our lives, we are able to live an abundant life.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Meet Your Mother

Included in our gift bags at a recent women's conference at our diocesan retreat center was a copy of Mark Miravalle's book Meet Your Mother: A Brief Introduction to Mary. Because in the last two and a half years I have read and watched quite a bit about Mary, a lot of this book was a review; however, I still found great value in reading the book. One of the first resources I read that made me realize I had been missing out by not intentionally focusing on the role of Mary in my life was Fr. Gaitley's 33 Days to Morning GloryFr. Gaitley wrote the foreword to Miravalle's book and captured my context well, "I'm so grateful that Dr. Miravalle wrote this book -- there's such a need for it. During my travels, I meet so many people who are just awakening to the idea of Mary as their mother. Whether through the Rosary, Marian consecration or some other way, they seem to be drawing closer to her now as never before. And what a hunger they have! They feel that there's so much they don't know about her, but they want to learn -- and learn quickly" (p. 9). He also recommends the book for those who "hardly know anything" about Mary later in the foreword (p. 10), and I agree that it is a good starting point.

After the foreword, the book is organized into two main sections: the Church's teachings on Mary and her relevance in our lives today (14 chapters total) and a conclusion. The two appendices focus on how to pray the Rosary and an introduction to Marian consecration, which is actually an excerpt from Fr. Gaitley's book. Each of the chapters are quick and concise. As the title alludes, it is fairly brief; yet, it includes a lot to ponder.

One example of something that I had either not heard in quite this way, heard but was not yet ready to fully grasp, or heard but was not in a place where it was the aspect that would stand out most was the interaction between Jesus and Mary at the Wedding at Cana. I had heard descriptions of why Jesus was not disrespecting Mary with his, "Woman, what is this to me and to you? My hour has not yet come" (John 2:4); however I did not get the deeper significance of the question. Miravalle included a quote from Archbishop Futon Sheen that I loved, including that Jesus was letting Mary know with his question, "If I perform this miracle, we are on the fast track from Cana to Calvary, for everyone will then publicly know who I am, and that will eventually lead to my crucifixion. Are you, Woman, ready for this?" (p. 62).

In general, this book helped me to better appreciate and more fully understand Mary's fiat and her perfect alignment to God's will. I previously knew the concept of both, but reading this book helped to add a richness to just how amazing that was. For example, he walked through what it would be like to see someone you loved crucified, especially when knowing they were innocent. He said, "Now, during this entire horrible event, you have done nothing other than watch your loved one experience this terrible evil. Why haven't you done anything but watch? Why haven't you tried to stop it? Why didn't you defend your loved one to the people in the crowds saying such terrible things, which you knew were absolutely untrue. Because God told you not to" (p. 54).

I appreciate that this book helped me to reflect on familiar Marian aspects from new angles, which has added a depth to my meditations as I pray the Rosary and consider my journey to aligning my life to God's will.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Living at the Core 6: Praying the Rosary

I really need a Rosary, I thought as I walked towards the church after a stressful meeting and then smiled as I realized that it had become my response to wanting to ease the tension - the kind of feeling that would often make one of my colleagues joke I need a drink.

Sometimes in our faith journeys we never realize just how important a step we feel called to make will be in our lives until we look back and see the impact it has had. In 2014 I chose salud as my one little word to guide the year. It was the first year and so far only year that I chose a word from Spanish, rather than English. Salud is used in different contexts - it means health, it means cheers when saying a toast, and it means God bless you after someone sneezes. Drawing from those translations and some flexibility with nuances in the meaning, I decided that by choosing salud I would be focusing on health: mind, body, and spirit.

I was at a phase in my life where I struggled with career/family balance. I wanted to be more intentional about eating healthy and nurturing my spiritual life. Based on a prompt from Ali Edwards' One Little Word class, I wrote intentions for the year, including learning to pray the Rosary. I can't remember for sure what prompted me to choose the intention. At some point I read Matthew Kelly's section on the Rosary in Rediscovering Catholicism, but I cannot remember whether it was during that year or preceding it. It likely could have been inspired by the youth minister at our church praying the Rosary with youth as I volunteered with the 5th grade class.

While in youth programs in my own middle school and high school experience, we would make Rosaries or decades of the Rosary and pray together. However, I only remembered praying the Our Father and ten Hail Mary prayers. If our youth events focused on meditating on the mysteries, I did not remember that at all. A seminarian at a youth camp once told us about how he would pray the Rosary using his fingers while running, something that I implemented in my own life when backpacking in Spain in college. I think I prayed decades of the Rosary while in labor with my third using the same strategy as well. However, I knew that I did not understand the big picture of the Rosary.

As the end of the year approached, learning the Rosary was an intention I had not yet realized. In general, I reflected on how my one little word journey had been more of the same - a big focus on surviving, trying to cope with the level of stress without really branching out into healthy eating or focusing much on nurturing my faith. Even though late in the year, I wanted that to change, so I committed to learn the Rosary. I went online and printed off guides. I learned about each of the mysteries and the common practices of which mysteries to pray on different days. I familiarized myself with the full sequence of prayers. At that phase, I could not pray without a guide in front of me.

With my goal to learn, it was not my intention to pray the Rosary daily. I just wanted to know how to pray it. Looking back on our faith journeys, it is hard to fully understand all the factors and how they interacted with each other, but I do know that Marian Consecration (early 2015) and the Rosary have been part of the core of my journey. Before hearing about the concept of Marian Consecration, learning about the Rosary probably helped me to be more receptive to wanting to know more about how Mary could play a powerful role in my life. After reading 33 Days to Morning Glory, praying the Rosary helped me to reflect on her life and connections to implications for me.

In the summer of 2015 I committed to praying the Rosary every day in the month of July. Though I recognized the beauty and power of the practice, I thought it was more realistic on summer vacation than as part of my "real" life. Yet, each time I would commit, it felt right. Over a year later, on New Year's Eve at Confession and then again in his homily, my priest focused on making commitments and keeping them with links to Mary during the Vigil Mass for the Solemnity of Mary. The thought entered my mind to commit to praying the Rosary daily during 2017. Doing so inspired me to memorize the last little bit I needed to in order to be able to pray wherever I was at without a guide. Throughout the year I have prayed the Rosary at different times of the day and in different contexts; however, one particularly helpful time has been as a transition point during my day, such as if I am switching from working at the university to working at church or as I transition from work to going home. It can also be a good reset at lunch time.

When I began I saw it as a commitment for the year and have considered from time to time whether I would continue on or replace with a different prayer practice as we transition into 2018. Yet, this summer as I re-read my journaling from summer of 2015, I noticed that I had identified praying the Rosary daily as core. I realized that sometimes it takes time to layer in everything we identify as beneficial to our regular rhythms and routines. There are whispers over time pulling us back, reminding us these practice are worth prioritizing. Just like reading Scripture daily had some starts and stops before making it a consistent long-term part of my day, sometimes we need to recognize the value in something but then leave space to recognize we want it long-term, rather than committing for shorter periods from time to time or having a long-term intention but then falling out of the habit when it is hard to keep all the pieces in place.

These days one of my favorite ways to pray the Rosary is in the quiet of the church when no one else is around, my words filling the space of the church, going at my own pace, meditating on Mary and God as my mentors, reflecting on where I have grown and where I am still called to grow.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Days that Divide Our Lives

My childhood was divided into before and after with this date 23 years ago. Though I went to bed with a seemingly normal summer night in between my 7th and 8th grade years, I woke up and had my whole world shook to its core, losing my sense of security that my dad, the rock of strength, had provided.

The sun was gently streaming through my window as I slept, cool morning air filling the space. It took a moment for my mom's words to register. "I'm taking your dad to the hospital." Pieces of information swirled around in my mind - my dad said his head felt like it exploded as he was getting ready to leave for work; my mom said she was scared into action as she looked into the mirror and heard a voice, "Today your life is going to change, and it will never be the same;" the paramedics rushing into our living room; the comfort of my aunt arriving as my sister and I waited for further details...

Our journey that day led us to a hospital almost a couple of hours away and hours and hours of waiting for the process of his brain surgery to be complete in response to his brain aneurysm bursting. Part way through the day, we went to see The Lion King at the theater, tears streaming down our faces with the loss of Simba's dad. Then there was more time in the waiting room, and finally the words - Hope for the best but prepare for the worst. If he lives, his life will be drastically different...

That was the summer where my sense of security was taken away, but it was also the summer where I lived a miracle and saw the power of prayer in action as against all odds, I watched many transformations in my dad as we clung on to hope - a little movement here, one less tube there, a little strength gained here, some real food reintroduced there. The prognosis was poor, but instead, we saw him regain every day functioning as he re-learned how to walk and talk.

The insecurity of what we would do with the start of a new school year if my parents weren't back home from the hospital yet dissipated as he came back home in August and returned to work shortly after. It was not just a steady stream of progress though. There were also setbacks - waves of seizures - little insecurities along the way to regaining a sense of peace, each time wondering if it would be the last.

Sometimes in life, we need to be shook to the core in order to begin a slow multi-decade journey moving away from worry and towards trust in God.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, S.J.

When I chose my Confirmation Saint as a sophomore in high school in the mid-90s, it was before the Internet was big. Instead of doing web searches to reflect on which Saint to choose, I borrowed thick volumes from our church library and skimmed through the pages. Because I wanted to be a teacher, I decided on St. Aloysius based on him being the Patron Saint of Youth. I don't remember anything else about why I chose him.

In 2011, I had a draw to learn more about him and loaded a couple of items for my Kindle. I remember reading them but don't recall a lot about my thought process other than thinking they were brief and not particularly connecting with him in a more meaningful way based on reading them, though that could be more about where I was at in my faith journey than about the contents.

As I helped support the Confirmation preparation process at our church a couple of years ago, I started to think about how if I were choosing my Saint today, I probably would have chosen someone else, such as Thérèse of Lisieux or Mother Mary. Nonetheless, I still had a pull toward St. Aloysius and thought about how my journey has led me into being the Director of Religious Education and Youth Minister for my parish, a connection to working with youth in a way I had not anticipated as I had my sights set on a career as a teacher.

When I recently saw Silas Henderson's Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, S.J.: With an Undivided Heart I was excited to read a book about him at this phase of my life. I decided to start reading it as his feast day approached and was in progress with the book when I went on my retreat, which started on his feast day. While reading the book, I realized that I connected with him in more ways than I would have ever anticipated. I can see myself in his hopes, dreams, and personality. While there are obvious differences between our levels of sanctity, I appreciated the sense that I could relate to him. Learning more about him, inspired me when thinking about where I am at and considerations for on-going growth to more closely approximate his model within the context of my life and vocation.

At a recent women's conference, one of the speakers shared that she chose her Confirmation Saint solely based on matching the name to that of her Confirmation sponsor, but that while shallow in meaning when she made the decision, special connections to her Saint emerged over time. That resonated with me as I was in the midst of recognizing a deeper connection with my own.

This book read much more like a textbook than most books I read linked to my Catholic faith. With 19 chapters and 3 appendices, the book was also more substantial, which I loved as I had been seeking depth. The book provides a biography of St. Aloysius, considerations for how he can impact the lives of people today based on his life and witness, the background of his family, historical background, and information on other relevant people. It includes primary documents, such as some of his letters.

I loved seeing how his life intersected with other people from history, as well as the overall historical context during his lifetime. Seven years ago, I was especially drawn to a unit I taught about the Renaissance to my 6th and 7th graders, and one section specifically focused on Florence as the cradle of the Renaissance. At the time, I did not recognize the connection to St. Aloysius; however, while reading this book, I noticed that it was the very context and time period where he was growing up and that Florence was referred to as the cradle of his spiritual life.

While reading the book, it gave me some ideas for how to frame our 17-18 ministry year (more details to follow as it all takes shape). In connection with that, I am planning on re-reading the book with that specific purpose in mind. He is also inspiring me with implications for myself and my on-going journey. I am grateful for this opportunity to feel that sense that there was a reason why he spoke to me as I was flipping through all the different options about 20 years ago. It points toward how just as with anything else in our spiritual lives, there is much more depth and richness to emerge over time. It is a process with plenty of space to feel a sense of awe with how God works in our lives over the years, how whispers become more audible as we grow.