Friday, December 31, 2010

Ending on a high note

I've got to be quick because I'm going out in just a few minutes. I'm spending the night with my closest guy friends from high school; we've done this every year since I was about 13. I couldn't imagine myself anywhere else.

New Year's Eve has always been a very weird, sensitive time of year -- when I first began my spiritual journey, it was this night when my then-partner told me he was cutting himself. A few weeks before that, I had made the decision to walk away from the occult, one that would leave me completely empty-handed and powerless.

It took me a long time to realize that the answer to all of that was Christ, but I did eventually figure that out. It will be five years ago tomorrow morning that I laid in my bed at 16, stared at the ceiling and told God to take over.

I'm a different person now, though I guess that's to be expected given the way people mature in their teens, but my life philosophy is totally different. There was very little driving me back then, only how to get everything I wanted and doing it all my way. I was both very shallow and very selfish.

Now, it's funny. I still have my moments, and often most of my troubles come when I wrestle control back from God insisting that I have the right answers. But in every moment I humble myself, suck it up and remember where my heart belongs, things always straighten out.

It's hard to believe that about a year ago I was teetering on the edge of nihilism and disbelief. I never want to go through that again, ever.

My Mom-Mom is still with us by the grace of God, and relatively stable, too. Both she and my Grandma were able to spend the day with my family on Christmas morning. I can remember the tears a few weeks before that, when she had said last Christmas would be her last. She was wrong, and I've thanked God every day since for the time we've gotten. My cat, too, is hanging in there, scrawny as could be but as the vet said yesterday, "She's 14. She looks damn good." ;)

And my faith has slowly but surely come around, and I dare say I feel stronger than ever before. The change came in the summer when I learned to be grateful for every blessing that comes my way, no matter how small or trivial. Couple that with fall retreat and learning to orient my life in the present moment, and I'm so happy to feel like myself, truly myself, for the first time in a long time.

Of course, I do have a lot of regrets. I lost my best friend this year, and I mourn that every day, but I still believe that for now, this is what's best. I know we pray for each other and that God and time works a lot of healing. That's all the reassurance I need. A lot of people that were in my life last year are no longer so close, mostly thanks to distance and time, but the ones closest to me have been phenomenal. I'm very lucky.

Here I am, on the eve of my graduation year with a budding freelance career and plenty of avenues to explore when May comes. The road ends here, but now's the time for me to blaze my own path. I'm ready.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Friday, December 24, 2010

'Twas the night before Christmas...

...And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us. Talk about Christmas gifts. Have a wonderful, blessed Christmas; I'm off to spend it with my family. :)

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Little Reminders

Since Advent, I've been doing this six-minute devotional given to us by the pastor of the university parish. To be honest, it's been pretty shallow thus far, but every now and then it gives me something important to think about, like a recent post about people we need to forgive.

Last night, after spending the evening with a friend who will graduate with me, I had to admit that those old apprehensions about May came back in full force, and with it, so did the rest of my worries.

I tried to pray it out, but it was no good -- I just couldn't shake my blues. Finally, I told God that I knew He was still taking care of me and that was that.

A few hours later, I read my devotional for the day, and was amazed at what I found.

Mary and Joseph probably had no idea what they were getting into when she was first pregnant with that little boy. At 14 she likely never dreamed that her life would be surrounded by miracles, that a sword would pierce her own heart as she watched her only Son be rejected by mostly everyone, only to be executed as a criminal.

But then again, the book said, she never knew He would conquer death and become the hope of all mankind, either.

All they could do was surrender themselves with complete confidence to whatever God would want of them. And while it might have been a mess, they always had the strength they needed to get though each day, one at a time.

One day at a time.

I shook my head, laughed, and went to sleep happy. He really is taking care of me.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Advent Music Monday: Francesca Battistelli

Because it's not Tuesday until I go to sleep and wake up. ;)

Tonight I bring you what's technically a Christmas song, but one I love enough to share early. It's an original by Francesca Battistelli, who emerged onto the Christian music radar only a few years ago with her infectious "Free to Be Me." Now married with a baby boy of her own, Francesca's music has (at least in my opinion) matured a great deal since those days, and I think you'll find that reflected in this song. It's also from Our Lady's POV, which is always neat.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Restless Waiting

There's been a lot on my mind this week. I don't really know how to express any of it.

Gaudete week is all about rejoicing. I heard it described recently as peeking around the corner into the living room on Christmas Eve, if only out of pure longing.

And then the pastor at the parish Newman is now incorporated in said that we need to reflect on the gift of Christian joy, so that we might better radiate it to others. But in the midst of all that, he asked why we weren't weeping for those that didn't know or rejected the love of God.

Ever the reverent soul, I snickered. In the front pew. Thankfully, only one of my friends noticed, and she understood.

You know, I've been through Romans a few times thanks to daily Mass and my own studying a few years back, but a friend pointed out a verse to me last night that I somehow never noticed before. Paul writes:

I have great sorrow and constant anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and separated from Christ for the sake of my brothers...

I had to read that twice before I understood. Even Paul felt like throwing the whole thing away now and then. In some strange way, that's consoling for me.

This is just a messy time of year -- so much peace and wonder and insanity that comes when we stuff my whole clan into one house. Yet there's always that itch in my bones that never really goes away -- it's magick and "Ole Scratch" convincing me now and then that things would be so much simpler if I just did things my way.

But we all know where that landed me, aye? Thankfully I'm used to this needling in early winter, and it passes quickly. I've learned to shrug it off and pay close attention to Advent in moments like these. After all, He did come for the restless ones probably most of all. And that's something to rejoice over.

Patience, I tell myself. It's almost time.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Advent Music...Tuesday?

A day late and a dollar short this week .. I've been (and unfortunately still am) very sick this finals week. So before I crawl back under the covers, here's your gift for the week.

We lit the rose candle this weekend -- Gaudete Sunday! We depart from the reflection on the End Times for now in order to shift focus to the joyful birth of Christ we'll celebrate in just 10 days.

This is an old Latin chant I'm very fond of, by a Celtic group named Anuna.



And a rough English translation of the chorus and verses:

Rejoice, Rejoice!
Christ is born
Of the virgin Mary,
Rejoice!

It is now the time of grace
That we have desired;
Let us sing songs of joy,
Let us give devotion.

God was made man,
And nature marvels;
The world was renewed
By Christ who is King.

The closed gate of Ezekiel
Has been passed through;
From where the light rises
Salvation is found.

Therefore let our assembly now sing,
Sing the Psalms to purify us;
Let it praise the Lord:
Greetings to our King.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Advent Music Monday! Casting Crowns

I've been listening to Christmas music pretty much nonstop since our local station made its annual conversion to 24/7 holiday tunes two weeks ago.

At the same time, the nationally syndicated station I listen to for Christian rock, Air 1, has been mixing in contemporary Christmas arrangements by popular artists in the genre.

I love it all, really, and I've found myself saying more than once recently, "Oh, I should blog about this song," especially given I'm bound and determined to actually make something of Advent this year.

Voila. Introducing an Advent rendition of the Music Mondays I started elsewhere. :)

This week, here's "I Heard the Bells of Christmas Day" by Casting Crowns. The only element that remains the same from the original version is the lyrics. The change-up is dark and passionate, and super fun to play on piano, too. ;)

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Forgiving

One of the things I think I've struggled the most with as I settled into the Church was the obligation of forgiveness.

What had me stuck was a passage in the Gospel that says if our brother sins seven times seventy times, we still need to forgive him if he asks for it.

"That's just outrageous!" I used to say to my old confessor. "All that does is let people walk on us."

He was quick to correct me in saying that forgiving isn't synonymous with being a doormat. We have every right to speak up when we are being treated unfairly. Sometimes, I wish I had known that sooner. Too often I've found myself holding my tongue out of what I thought was charity, be it at home or elsewhere, only hurting more in the process.

It was still something that confused me until fairly recently on retreat. One night while everyone was sleeping, I dug into one of my favorite theological classics -- C.S, Lewis' Mere Christianity. 

He has a whole chapter dedicated to forgiveness, but his philosophy is nothing like the one that I thought Christians held: we have to be friendly and  connected to people if we have truly forgiven them. If your best friend hurts you grievously, you have to go right on being their best friend and act like nothing ever happened if you're being true to Christ's words.

Honestly, where do I come up with some of these things? This is why you're not supposed to follow Him alone. (And also why spiritual direction exists.)

Yes, we are obligated to forgive even the worst sinner. This holds true even if he isn't sorry, is a killer, a rapist, or a cheater.

But forgiving someone doesn't mean we have to like them. Not even a little. We are still allowed to be righteously angry, hurt, and vulnerable, providing it's not unreasonable.

To forgive, we just need to sincerely want the best for the person who has hurt us, and for them to be whatever God wants them to be. Wanting that is the definition of loving someone in a Christian way.

I've been going through a book of Advent devotions that was suggested to me at Newman, and last night it said Advent is the time to let go of unforgiveness.

I lost some good friends this year, and will be the first to admit I made a lot of mistakes, too. Saying "I'm sorry" isn't always good enough in either case, unfortunately.

But I know that I can pray sincerely for those I've hurt. Every day that I do, I receive a little more healing.

"And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us..."

Maybe there's something to those words, after all.

Monday, November 29, 2010

A different kind of Advent

This weekend while I was home for Thanksgiving break, I went to Mass at home to kick off the Advent season (read: go to Confession). What I found was that there was a whole lot more changing instead of just the addition of purple banners.

For one thing, the church was almost completely full.

Now, let me explain...I've been going to church there off and on (mostly off until my reversion) for 14 years. I've never seen it full except on Christmas Eve. Ever.

The choir was double the size (I heard from an older gentleman who often chats with me that it's even bigger on Sundays), some of the songs were different and -- miracle! -- people actually sang.

I found myself asking somewhere around the offertory if I was in the right church. Boy, was I impressed.

I've had a lot of uncertainty and mixed feelings surrounding the merger of many parishes in my local Diocese of Camden (you can read more about it at Abide With Us), but I left on Saturday night thinking that it might not be so bad at all. In fact, the effects have been pretty astounding. And this is only just the beginning; we still need to name the new parish and fully combine finances. All that caused this swarming of the pews was the elimination of simultaneous Masses at both churches.

Now, all we need to do is wait to see how the priest situation turns out. I will definitely be praying for good things.

This may very well be the start of something good!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Baby Bowen and Gratitude

One of my favorite Christian bands is Sanctus Real, a rock group headed by singer Matt Hammitt. He's famous for capturing hearts with his emotional lyrics paired with powerful melodies. Go on and listen to "Lead Me" on their website to get an idea of what I mean.

Earlier this fall, Hammitt found a new source of inspiration: the birth of his third child and first son, Bowen. He's had so many bumps and triumphs in his first months of life, and tonight his story graces ABC World News during an episode of gratitude.

This resonated with me, as someone who followed baby Bowen's progress on the radio, through Matt's Twitter, and Bowen's Heart, a website the family built chronicling his struggle for anxious supporters. I had a rough start, too -- born 3 months premature, I was under 2 lbs and spent 81 days in the hospital.

We all have a lot to be grateful for this week. I hope all of you have a happy and blessed Thanksgiving!

Here's the segment from ABC. Grab your tissues.

Friday, November 19, 2010

You have got to be kidding me.

Journalists see hairy things. We deal with extremists, idiots, tragedy and hatred on a regular basis. I can remember a friend of mine walking out of the newsroom in tears on the second day of her internship following an interview with a man who lost his son in an ATV wreck.

In features, things are admittedly swayed in the optimist's direction -- we focus on those things that make people feel good and showcase the power of the human spirit.

Through all of it, we uphold with a near-religious zeal the freedom of expression, no matter what. When we face an opinion opposed to ours, we have to hold fast to those values and bite our tongues, even when it hurts.

Sometimes, though, I have to draw the line. I have to separate myself from what I've been trained to do and rail a little. My boss always used to tell us that above all, we're still humans with real emotions and it's okay to let them out.

That said, what the hell. My faith in society has just been flushed down the toilet.

My friend Megan alerted me to the rhetorical bloodbath that is Birth or Die, a blog run by a Minnesota couple that has chosen to put the life of their unborn child in the hands of strangers on the Web. On Dec. 4, they will use the results of an on-site poll to determine whether to keep the baby or abort it.

A poll. For a human life!

Naturally, the site has been found and exploited by 4chan (do yourself a favor and don't visit), a notorious forum of organized individuals who thrive on cruelty, sadism, and some seriously perverted ideas. They flooded the poll with votes for abortion, and earlier it was almost even. Pete, the father of this unborn child, wrote that the votes would still count, because every voice deserved to be heard.

This is an extreme example of what happens when there is no regulation on our freedoms. Don't get me wrong; as a rule I am mostly anti-regulation. But this website is beyond disgusting. There are some questions as to whether or not it's even real, but I don't think that's even relevant. The fact that someone would even consider doing this is unbelievable.

Please vote. And pray for this family, who is clearly lacking in guidance.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

When it counts...

Pray instead of worry.
Pray instead of worry.
Pray instead of...

Even as I have done my level best to hang on to the incredible changes that took place in me this past retreat, there are some things that even the strongest among us can't ignore right now.

Yesterday, a company that owns the vast majority of newspapers in this area made massive cuts in the form of layoffs. People I know in the industry lost their jobs. The total number of dismissed workers is hovering around 200 now. The vast majority of these open positions will not be filled. People like me who are starting to put out feelers for life post-graduation are suddenly finding many doors shut in our faces all at once. I've heard from a stringer friend at another South Jersey paper that they are quickly running out of money to pay her for the work she's done.

This comes at the heels of a less-than-stellar test grade, a case of sinusitis that hit on my 21st birthday, and reaching the end of my rope on some professional issues. I am praying hard about making some changes in the very near future.

The problem is, I have no idea what to do. May is coming, and with it, a world that seems all too reluctant to offer me a comfortable place anywhere, let alone in my field.

I don't mean to sound dreary -- in all honesty, it's in moments like these where I'm especially grateful for the hope and provision that I will always have because of Christ. The majority of my friends in the journalism industry don't have that assurance like I do, and are despairing after yesterday's punch in the gut. The hardest thing is thinking about where we will be tomorrow. Where this field is concerned, absolutely no one is safe.

But you know what? Faith teaches me not to worry about tomorrow. All I can do is be brave, keep my head up, and surrender the rest to God. He's always taken care of me, and I can put my confidence in that.

I'm still in need of some serious direction as I consider my next immediate step, though. Please pray for my (professional) discernment.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

High Dive

I stand on my tip-toes at the edge of the board, staring down at the water below. I can't see what's under the surface and have no way of knowing what's ahead of me or how this is going to go. I can only have faith and throw myself forward with joy and the tiniest bit of wild abandon. ;) (Just a little. I promise.)

Enough with the metaphor. If we want to get technical, I'm reaching the last milestone of my youth tonight. I'll be 21 in a few hours ... welcome to the rest of life, etc.

I could let it become dry and boring and ordinary like that, living with regrets, in sadness or in fear of the future. But I won't. I can't. I'm made of different stuff than that.

The future is bright. Now all I have to do is take the leap and see where He'll lead me.

All I can say is that I am humbled by everything that's happened this far, and the number of unbelievable and amazing people that support me. I think of the person I was this time last year, and I can say without hesitation that I've grown a great deal since then.

God is so good to me, and I know that this is only the beginning.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Freedom from the future

I've been meaning to write for well over a week now, and then midterms happened. Even now there is so much I should be doing -- for one thing it's going on three and I'm still dressed -- but I think if I let this go any longer I'll never find the time.

Retreat was interesting in a lot of ways. There was more structure than last year under our old chaplain, probably because our new priest spent many years running a retreat house in the U.K. Of course, the fact that this year had a central theme had a lot to do with that, too.

Pray instead of worry -- story of my life. Now and then I find myself thinking "let go and let God" ... even though my old confessor drove me crazy with that slogan and I never listened. He was right, though. And for the first time in my life, I can say that I think I'm finally learning to do that.

We spent a good deal of time going over some of my favorite passages in Scripture -- most of Matthew 6 particularly. And every now and then he would send us off for 20 minutes to journal and pray. As I did, I finally allowed myself to make an uncensored list of every fear and worry that plagued me. That first night, I filled the page and let the tears come over how controlling I have let them be. I was so frustrated with myself, disappointed, and scared. If I lost this much sleep at only 20, what would I be like in another 20 years?

Over the next 24 hours I wrote a lot more, during Father's talks, during those periods of reflection, and sometimes at night after everyone else had gone to sleep, always praying for peace. The real change came on my quiet hour.

Saturday afternoon I walked the grounds, watching the leaves blow (have you ever noticed that it looks as if a hand is scattering them? I have. God's little fingerprints, I like to think. :)) until I found my way to the little church that's always empty, letting me pray aloud. Every time I walk in there, I'm flooded with memories -- I lashed out at Him there once in October when I lost love, and again in March after I had lost my faith.

This time, I asked a stream of questions, most of them like my list, "What am I supposed to do about...?"

Until last weekend, May 13, 2011 was going to be the end of my world. I would be ripped from the safety of academia and shoved, helpless, into the real world where nothing was certain. No Newman, less independence living at home, less contact with friends. Providing a life for myself -- a job, somewhere to live, a support system, maybe a new church, (please God) someone to walk with me in marriage someday...What am I going to do? How am I going to do this? I can't do it by myself!


Just like that, it hit me, all that we had been learning, and I was stunned into silence. "Who among you by worrying can add a moment to his life?" "Have no anxiety about anything." "You see how God cares for the sparrows, so how much more will He care for you? You are much more precious than they."

God has gotten me this far. Every step of the way, He has come through, even though it's not instantaneous and sometimes rocky. And He's promised me only this moment, not tomorrow. I can't worry about the future anymore. When I do, I miss today. Hell, I might not even be here tomorrow. But I have the present.

Trusting in His providence 100% for the first time is so liberating. I was always so scared to do it, but I left my baggage at the altar in Elverson and walked away. I'm okay with that, because as long as I stick with Him, I'll get where I need to be. That's something we're promised, too, and He always keeps His promises. End of story.

ETA: This verse literally just appeared on my Facebook. A God hug, as Cat says...


Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. 
--Proverbs 3:5-6

Friday, October 15, 2010

Heading for the hills!

Just a brief post tonight because it's after 2:30, I've gotten very little sleep this week, and still have a suitcase to pack.

My campus ministry is joining up with another college in the area for our usual semester retreat this weekend in Elverson. We leave this afternoon, and I'm thrilled to say that all of this week's homework is taken care of, so I'll have no worries while I'm there.

That's ironic, considering our theme will be "pray instead of worry." Where was this retreat last fall? Or last spring? Some things are constant in my life, and worry is unfortunately one of them...I'm looking forward to seeing what God will do. All I know is that when it comes to retreat weekends, He never disappoints.

That said, I leave with an open mind, open heart, and a very big bag of junk food. ;) I'll remember the particular intentions of those of you I know to pray for, and ask that you do the same for us.

See you Sunday!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Delivered!

Okay, so get this.

You'll remember that last week I wrote a post lamenting about how much pressure I'm under where music ministry is concerned. This weekend, in order to try and curt tail some of my stress, I decided to work ahead and prepare for several weeks' worth of Masses at once. This way, I'd already have the songs "under my fingers" if you will, which would make things a lot less tedious when it came time to use them this month.

At some point in the process, I turned to the next song and discovered a page worth of *mess* -- four sharps in the key signature, 6/8 for a time signature (fun, but hard to sight read), and no music given for the verses. After a solid two hours of learning music, seeing that made me snap. In typical girl fashion, I got all watery and went stomping off to the shower to deal with my blood pressure.

While there, I did some serious praying on a lot of bitterness that I've experienced lately, including my responsibilities to the paper and Newman, plus some unexpected hurt by a friend that has left me feeling more than a little bruised in the romance department. (Not you, Joe. Promise.) Essentially, what I said was "Lord, you know that I have all of this frustration and sadness on my shoulders, and I am really having a hard time dealing with it all at once like this. Please give me the strength to handle it, or handle it yourself?"

Today...I mentioned to our chaplain that I wouldn't be playing a certain Mass in a few weeks. He said that was fine, and then added as an afterthought: "Oh, by the way, you won't need to do the piano at St. Bridget's -- that's a large burden on you, and so they're going to bring someone in."

WHAT? Really??? To top it off, he also heard me singing today at the rehearsal, and added that taking me off the piano would add a very strong alto/tenor to the group. Singing, by the way, is why I joined music ministry in the first place.

And within five minutes of that encounter, I got a chance to reconcile with the gentleman who had hurt me. I knew last week that I hadn't been very good to him -- giving someone the cold shoulder and a "don't touch me" just because of my own hurts was not my proudest moment. But, because I actually humbled myself and apologized, things are a lot better now. In the process, I've found that the hurt I was hanging onto has eased a great deal.

Just like that, two big stressors in my life have been completely removed. God answers prayers, folks. :)

Friday, October 1, 2010

Sex, Booze and ... Jesus?

This entry's title expresses the thoughts of the local media and student body as we advertised Theology on Tap this week. A South Jersey "chapter" of the young adult fellowship had its debut outing yesterday at the bar right down the street from campus.

Never would I have pictured myself at a bar with 80 other people ages 18 to 35 listening to a talk about chastity and rocking out to Kutless over drinks. But it happened, and it was awesome. =) (For the record, I didn't drink anything of my own, thank you very much. One more month!)

Our speaker for the evening was Dawn Eden, a rock journalist and Catholic convert who published The Thrill of the Chaste: Finding Fulfillment While Keeping Your Clothes On in 2007.

"God wants you to have great sex," she joked, earning a hearty applause from the crowd. She quickly followed that up with the clarification that great sex is the kind that is given to one person freely, fruitfully and for life in marriage. But it doesn't mean we have to shut ourselves down and become asexual as long as we're single.

It's funny how so many people believe the way to stay pure is by viewing anything sexual as perverted and evil. The problem with this way of thinking is twofold: first, it backfires in the sense that resisting it is like ignoring an elephant in the room; you will go crazy if you try to act like your sexuality is nonexistent. When Dawn told us this, there was a sense of shuffling feet and people shifting awkwardly in their chairs. One of my girl friends nudged me knowingly in the ribs. Clearly, Dawn knows how we suffer. ;)

The second problem is that if sex is evil, then so is your body, your emotions and your thoughts. Too often people end up resenting any sort of pleasure under that philosophy, and that's gnosticism, which is unhealthy on a lot of levels (not to mention heretical, haha).

So if abstinence is the wrong way to stay pure, what's the right way? Chastity is different because it doesn't ignore sexuality or try to force it away. Instead, it just shuffles our priorities to a place where emotional intimacy and communication are number one. You can be very intimate and very happy without ever touching the person you love -- and as someone who was in a long-distance relationship for three years, I can attest to that. :)

Is it difficult? Absolutely. Do you screw up sometimes? For sure. But there is something so freeing in not having to worry about providing for a man's (or woman's) "needs," being judged or compared or disrespected or used. When you commit to being chaste, you commit to loving a person for the way God created them, and not just for the what they can do, if you know what I mean.

On a college campus, chastity is a laughable concept. Just about everyone feels like their goal in life is to get physical as quick as possible, and for some, with as many people as possible. My college paper runs a weekly sex column that has actually stirred up fierce debate on campus. Some are calling him a pig, and many others are saying "Hey, that's just how guys are." It's a mess of confusion, degradation and hurt.

It might be unpleasant a lot of the time, and I might be waiting a lot longer than my peers because of my commitment to stay a virgin until marriage (I hear people like me are avoided because of that! Their loss.), but in the end, the lack of baggage is totally worth it.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Confessions of a Disgruntled Music Minister

I've always said that I would never post anything online that I wouldn't want broadcast on the news, and the same holds true for this blog, at least to a certain extent. But at the same time, a lot of the reason why I write here is to work out both my triumphs and my face plants.

Today was a big, fat face plant.

The short version of it is that I stumbled into Newman an hour into music rehearsals because I was at a birthday party for my baby cousin. When I got there, seven pairs of eyes were on me. There's only so much you can accomplish without a pianist, after all. The predictable knot of anxiety tightened on cue in my stomach.

I'm not going to lie -- I hate this job. It fell into my lap as our old pianist fell out with the group and left unexpectedly. I've never had more than a year of formal lessons, and the 15 years I've been playing piano has been by ear and sight reading. Thankfully, I can read music, which has helped immensely in this process.

But then there's the issue of dealing with eight singers, a clarinet player and a flute player, the majority of whom don't read music, learning about what makes a proper liturgy, dealing with the priest's opinions, suggestions, and last minute changes. I know a fair bit of my home church's hymnal from Mass, but often the songs that are chosen for me are totally unfamiliar. Of course, on top of my classes, the newspaper and my freelancing gig, I'm expected to learn all of these songs by Sunday, supply the propers for Mass, and get the congregation singing.

Some days it goes down pretty well, but on days like today we just fall flat on our faces. One month from now, we're going to be moving to the local parish, where I'm naturally going to be playing for the student Masses.

...I can barely hold together a Mass while hiding in a dark basement chapel, let alone a church!

Couple that with having to abstain from Communion because I couldn't leave rehearsal to confess, and leaving my purse in the car, forcing my parents to drive it all the way back up here from home, I'm about ready to curl up in a ball and forget tonight happened. :P

The most that I can do on days like these is take a long, deep breath and trust that this job wouldn't have fallen to me if God didn't find me capable of it. Sometimes, I wonder if He's thinking of the right person when He does these things. ;) But hey, I've gotten this far. And I can take the good with the bad, too. Serving others is worth it in the end...but man, sometimes it's frustrating.

Better luck next week, I hope.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Benedetto, Britain, and Media Bull

So the Holy Father has been spending the weekend over in the UK. Good stuff going on over there. (It's refreshing to hear him actually speak in a language I can understand, too.)

Of course, the Church being in the state it's in, anything the pope says is going to be met with fierce opposition, which to some extent is fair and justified.

Though I have to admit tonight that, as a member of the media, watching the coverage of this trip is torturous. That is, when it's even being covered at all. The prayer vigil with Benediction from Hyde Park earlier this evening wasn't broadcast in English secular media.

It's been a huge talking point on most of the major news programs on this side of the pond, but predictably, they completely miss the point.

"Pope speaks to victims of sexual abuse," the headline reads on my AOL homepage. Brian Williams tells me tonight that this trip comes as the Church is still reeling from the most recent scandal. And 6ABC showed plenty of video footage of angry mobs. Never mind the incredible joy and love so obvious in the cheers of thousands at the vigil.

"But tell me what ELSE happened!" I complained at the TV. Part of me can guess what the response in the media would be to that: Nobody cares what else happened. Priests molest little kids. And we're supposed to be the world's watchdogs. Anything else Benedict has to say is unimportant.

Both the Catholic and the reporter in me are frustrated tonight. I know it, the Pope knows it, we all know it...the Vatican screwed up big time. They've apologized over and over and over again, making both spiritual and financial reparation for the sins of that 1% in the clergy who have shamed us. Will the media ever let the Church move forward?

The pack mentality drives me insane. Could we not actually suspend our judgments long enough to do our jobs and cover all sides with fairness? Charity, even?

I guess not.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

On Vulnerability

I'm a reporter. It's a part of my job to ask people questions about themselves, to dig deep and find out their stories. Sometimes, I have to make people uncomfortable.

It's a little bit ironic, then, that when it's me in the hot seat, I just can't handle it.

It's something that I've been thinking about for the past few weeks, as my campus lost one chaplain in favor of another at the end of last semester. Now we have a new priest, someone whom we're all getting to know for the first time. At the same time, my parish at home is in the final stages of a merger process that will shift both the staff and congregation around. Both situations are far from comfortable, and in a way that's almost predictable for me, I find myself setting up walls. I deal with change by being stubborn and refusing to go with it.

As a rule, I am way too chatty and don't listen well enough. But at the same time, there are select few people to whom I actually show my true colors. That's not to say that I'm fake -- I'm about as real and honest as it gets -- but I can count on one hand the number of people that get to see me actually ... vulnerable.

Too often, I'm an open book. That has come back to bite me more than once, and in other circumstances I've given away pieces of myself that I can't take back now (emotionally and otherwise). So I suppose that it's fair to say being distant at first is my defense mechanism.

Opening up is so hard. In a way, if I open up to you, a bond is formed. Showing tiny parts of my heart and soul, that's so intimate and so scary. And more often than not in my life, those bonds have faded through time, distance or trouble. Sometimes, it just seems easier not to open up at all.

God has done so much to teach me humility and to accept that I need people. But it doesn't mean that allowing myself to be vulnerable is any less painful. More than anything else, I hate my neediness. The more I need people, the more I'm going to get hurt in the end.

How do I deal with that?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Woah.

Another gem to go on the list of a million reasons why I love Fr. Corapi:

"Who knows. Maybe on their deathbed that person that you love says 'Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner' because you were the one that cried for them and prayed for 40 years for them to come home. Truth brings a sword, that's the proximate effect of it, but its ultimate end is unity. So have a little patience! Be at peace! Be still and know that He is God! I'm sure that we put more people into hell than the amount that ever actually gets there."

Really, what can I say to that? Holy cow.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Acclimating

There is something both torturous and insanely gratifying about copy editing with an exhausted brain and fingers stained with ink. Purple ink.

The newsroom on campus is winding down for the night. All of our regular staff members have gone home, nowhere near brave enough to work into the wee hours. Only the editorial board, about ten of us, are still here; we'll stay here until the paper is done. The first issue will be printed in time for tomorrow morning, and every single page passes my desk for approval before the final draft is sent out. My advisor tells me I have the good mentality for a copy editor with the hours I keep (this morning's bedtime was 4:30 a.m.)

No pressure. Deep breath. The only things keeping me awake and sane through this process are caffeine, adrenaline and of course, grace.

It's a tedious job, but I love it. Really, I'm loving this whole year already. The atmosphere is almost tangibly different from last year. My roommates are friendly, sociable, and not wild partiers. There has been no anonymous vomit on my living room carpet as of yet. Then again, anything better than that is a huge step up.

We've been excited by the addition of several new freshman to Newman. This includes not one, but two pianists at around the same level of experience as me, and one girl who's cantored for three years. I asked God for help with the music ministry, and once again, He's provided.

The editors at the school paper aren't always my kind of people, but I've been doing this long enough to learn how to bite my tongue and act with charity. This year is definitely shaping up to be a lesson in patience and humility, which is good ... I need lots of both if I have any hope of surviving in this field.

More than ever, being on campus feels like being at home. My out of shape calves are readjusting to walking everywhere after a summer behind a desk, I've been going out more than I could have ever anticipated, and am doing my best to take every opportunity that is sent my way.

Now and then, I remember that when May comes, I have to go home for good. I have to leave my second family behind. I have to ... be an adult.

That's the future threatening to rear its ugly head on me. But I'm prepared now. I know where my hope is, and besides, the only thing I can control is today.

On that note, back to work. I have some ideas brewing for future posts, it's just a matter of finding the time to sit down and do it.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Keeping it simple...

I'll be back with the school update this weekend, if I have time.

I told myself that I'd get more sleep this year. (I swear that half the reason I was in such bad shape emotionally last semester was because I ran on 4-5 hours of sleep for weeks at a time.) At almost 3:30 a.m., I'm not off to a good start. *snort*

Actually, I'm cleaning my room. Mama says that I tend to leave a tornado of papers everywhere I go, and without her to nag me up here, it's ten times worse. So every now and then I clear the place out. I do feel less scattered when I'm done.

In the process, I was thinking about old friends ... and something that Justin taught me a long time ago. It's not necessarily a Wiccan thing per se, but it serves them and us well:

If it's broken, fix it. And if you can't fix it, ditch it. Keep what works. God helps those who help themselves.

I threw that saying out a long time ago because I thought it smelled too much like relativism (Sorry, hon. I know it was stupid.) and I was scared to follow through. But look at what I did this summer. I cut out all of the petty things that wasted my time or caused me to stumble ... even though it hurt ... and look at where it's gotten me. =)

You guys are rarely ever wrong about these things. Maybe I should listen more often. ;)

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Stepping Up and Stepping Out

As I write this, I'm sitting in the midst of piles and piles of mess. It's always a project when you have just a few days left to take inventory of your entire life and stuff it all in boxes to haul to another county. Oh, to be in college. I caught myself singing Audrey Assad again as I packed: "Boxes full of things that I've shuffled and shifted place to place / all the years of me, everything I want to keep and throw away. / I know it's time, it's time to come clean..."

When I came home this summer, I was a tangle of anxiety and bitterness. Every day, I prayed for peace. Then, right as July rolled in, something amazing happened: I found it.

"God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." The thing that needed to change, I realized, was me.

It had been me all along that shut down in denial when my relationship with my ex failed in the fall, and again at Christmas when Mom-Mom couldn't leave the house. I refused to accept God's help, and instead shut Him out in anger.

It did take a lot of courage to turn that around. I had to lay myself down and let God pull me out of the muck, but to do that, I had to admit that I needed support. When I did, I got in spades.

I've learned a lot of life lessons since then: how to appreciate the little things, worry less about the future and instead enjoy the ride. To stand up for myself and what I know is right. To fall gracefully and accept that yes, I do have limits. Who my friends are, and who they're not.

It hit me tonight singing in church that I'm going to trade in my back seat pew for being not only in Newman's music ministry, but their accompanist. In September, I was the new kid at the student newspaper. I had to crawl my way up to earn the respect of the other writers and the editorial board. Now I'm sitting on the board as head copy editor. And just recently, the Gannett daily I spent the summer with as a lowly intern has invited me to join the team as a freelancer. My first assignment will be filed next weekend.

I've been asked to step up in every part of my life all of a sudden. And you know what? I love it. So many people I trust have told me that I've changed, that I'm stronger. That I'm vibrant again.

This song will always be my theme from this summer.It reminds me of my best friend screaming at the TV over the World Cup, my cubicle neighbor doing Zumba in the newsroom and reminding me to stay carefree. To go big, or go home. That's my goal!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

How narrow *is* the narrow gate?

"I am a blind man trying to find the way,
A deaf man with my ear to the ground, just listening for what You say;
I got no voice to sing the songs written
By the prophets on the subway walls:
The Kingdom is a golden table, and we are beggars all..."

--Audrey Assad, "Breaking Through"


I was warned tonight before I even walked out of the confessional that I was going to love the readings and homily. But what he actually meant to say was that they were written for me.

The narrow gate is a classic picture that I imagine for a lot of people rubs the wrong way. It did for me, for a long time. No one comes to the Father except through Christ, the narrow gate. No one means no one. Put up, or shut up. (God, forgive me.)

And all too often, we're so quick to assume about ourselves, about others. We look at people and sometimes before we even realize we've done it, we've judged their souls and the state of their lives when, really, we don't know jack.

In my late teens when I started making my way back to the Church, I fell in with a group of people who believed you were either going to heaven or hell, and unless you were praying, frequenting church and evangelizing everyone you knew, you weren't one of the lucky ones. And up until a few months ago, I was involved with a group of Catholics that believes if you so much as sneeze at Mass, you're in mortal sin.

You can probably imagine the damage that's done to my own soul. The narrow gate for me has been one preceded by harsh judgments and fear -- not for myself like most scrupulous people, but for those I love most. Not out of pride, per se, but because I truly believed that to be the position of the Church.

"Are they God?" That question was posed to me in confession about someone else, but I realized it applies to me just as much, if not more. Who am I to say who is and isn't saved? Who died and made me know better than the Church?

...Which, by the way, is not as rigid as I often believe her to be. The sacraments make it EASIER to get to heaven. All grace comes from the Church, yes, but where does the Church get her authority? GOD.

And thankfully, He's a lot more merciful than I'll ever be. This just needs to take root in my heart, not just in my head. Again, He's teaching me humility. I'm more at peace now than I've been since high school. But I've still got a long way to go.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Speechless

I don't even have to write anything. Just watch. I had the great pleasure of seeing them perform this live two weeks ago.



Please support and spread the word about the gentlemen of Straight No Chaser.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Haunted...

Tonight, the lullaby of crickets is such a comfort to me. Couple that with a half pint of Ben and Jerry's, and I'm finally starting to feel semi-normal again.

Put bluntly, tonight sucked. After our car broke down this morning and I missed all three Masses at my home parish, I got the opportunity to go to our sister parish for an evening Mass. For the sake of charity, all I'll say is that I'm very lucky I got to go at all.

I wrote about the experience privately, but I want to share some of it here. As it turns out, this church is my family's funeral church. I have never been there under happy circumstances, and tonight wasn't much better.

The place is big and white, open and empty, and within two seconds of my getting up to the main level, the smell hits me in the face like a brick wall. It's heavy and stuffy and immediately sends a chill clear down to the marrow in my bones. I'm sure it has little to do with the fact that I'm wet from the rain.

Incense. My parish never uses it, so it's never been the scent of comfort and beauty for me. Instead, it brings back awful memories, ones of a great cloud coming down over our heads as if to muffle the sounds of quiet sobbing in the pews. "The stuff of death," as my mother always said.

And here it was, after I had literally fought to get here, to get myself to the one place that could put life back into me when I was angry and wanting to give up. It was like a taunt. Had she not been furious with me at the time, I would have seriously considered heading right back down the elevator and home.

But no...down the little ramp and into the sanctuary. Front and center, just to the left of the altar. People stare. They don't know me here. I don't know them. I don't belong here. And as far as I can see, rows and rows of pews. Pews that were once full of my family, most of them now empty or occupied by strangers. I walk all the way to the back, eyes down to avoid conversation, and slide into the last pew. Immediately, tears come. The view from here was nearly identical when we buried my grandfather in Ocean City three years ago.

The acoustics are incredible though as we chant the alleluia a cappella. On a normal day, the musician in me would love it, but tonight all I can think of is Schubert's Ave ringing out as a last farewell.

You get the idea. It's the only time I can ever remember having seriously BAD mojo after leaving a church...even my worst days at my home parish didn't make me feel that raw. The Eucharist calmed me down, and my confessor being the celebrant helped (everything happens for a reason, I guess), but not by much.

I won't go back again, not unless I have to. The place holds too many memories that I'd rather forget.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Loaded Question

I can't sleep. I'm going to see the gentlemen of Straight No Chaser in concert tomorrow night, and I'm giddy.

Meanwhile, I realized that I forgot one immensely important detail when I combed through the Gospel in my last post.

"Who do you say that I am?"

This question Christ asks is so simple, yet means so much. What do we perceive Him to be? He's not asking what or who He is, but what Peter says He is.

Jesus can mean so many different things to different people. To some, He serves as a refuge; for others, He is a source of derision or mockery. He has been used for politics and power, love, and for some people, even an excuse for hatred of others. (This can go both ways, liberal and conservative.)

Peter exemplifies all that when he explains the many different identities people had assigned to Jesus. He was called all sorts of things then, and still is today. But he gets it right in the end: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."

I'll leave you tonight with a question that was once posed to a bunch of college kids at a Sunday evening Mass by my (now former, sigh) chaplain. I had forgotten this moment until reading those words again.

Sure, Jesus wants to know what people are saying. But buried underneath those words, as there usually is with Him, is a subtle challenge. Who does Christ say WE are?

Who are we, anyway?

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Obstacle of Stubbornness

On Thursday, the Gospel reading was particularly interesting in a way that I must admit was a bit unexpected. I wanted to write about it earlier, but between my friend's visit and running school errands, it didn't happen. Better late than never though, right? :)

The passage should be a familiar one to any Catholic who pays even a little bit of attention: Matthew 16:13-23. The first half is usually the part that we can recite blindfolded, and to be honest, it was hard not to just skim the whole thing because I've read it, heard it, and had it preached to me so many times.

Rather than cutting off at verse 18, though, the dialogue between Peter and Jesus continues on, poignantly showing Peter's blatant outrage over Jesus' claim that He would soon be handed over and killed. "God forbid, Lord," he says, scandalized. I don't blame him one bit. I think I can make a reasonable assumption here in saying a lot of people would have behaved similarly.

But the way Jesus reacts here definitely gave me pause. Like this weekend, I really slowed myself down and allowed a passage I'd never read into very deeply sink in. "Get behind me, Satan. You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do."

What does this mean for us? For me, He is pointing out the truth of how me-focused and blind humankind can be. We've made it our life's mission to muddle through with as little pain and as much comfort as we can possibly get away with. To suffer is our ultimate fear.

But to Jesus, it's absolutely necessary. To avoid it is to give in to the voice of the enemy.

That, too, gave me pause. If we are really and truly willing to follow Him anywhere and "do whatever He tells [us]" as Our Lady asks, sometimes it's going to get a little hairy.

We need to get ourselves out of this narrow-minded perspective and try to see the big picture. Of course, it's going to be rare that the whole thing is clear ... but maybe if we ask for the grace to see God's hand at work in even the most difficult of circumstances, or ask ourselves, "What lesson am I being taught here?" we will no longer be obstacles to Him.

That's where I am right now. The events of this summer have encouraged me to be humble, open and teachable. I'm far from good at it, but the better I get, the more I'm being shown, and the happier I am.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Overwhelmed

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to meet one of my friends from an internet circle, a Salesian seminarian who lives a few hours north of me. After a solid 18 months at least of trying to get together with no luck, it was wonderful to finally do it, especially given he'll be unable to travel once entering the novitiate next weekend.

The day was nothing terribly extravagant -- just a very long lunch, Mass and pizza with my folks -- but I can say today that I got an education in the Faith that I've never had before.

He's got a way of telling things like it is and playing hardball that really appealed to me, to the point that I actually worked out one of the biggest kinks in my spiritual life just by talking things out. (That is really all I've needed to do with my confessor for a while now. I don't need much more than time to talk about things.)

Still, the afternoon gave me a great deal to think about, and we showed up at the church before the lights had even been turned on. Instantly, I thought back to one of the only other times I've gotten there early, my initial confession when I reverted. That day, I told myself that I was accepting a cross by starting on this journey alone.

Sometimes, being without my family, it still feels like that. I went to confession with our vicar #2, and then sat in the pew and fidgeted for a while. My friend, the seminarian of the future that he is, prayed the rosary on his iPod.

After a while of my squirming, I told him I was thinking too much. Before I could ramble, he told me to shut up and pray. I did.

"Lord, I don't know what I'm going to do after graduation. I'm going to be alone again."


I went on in this way for some time, and then, He shattered my thought train in its tracks. STOP, my heart said. Turn your head and look at what's there.

A brother. One of MY brothers.

And in that moment, I thought of all my Rowan friends, my Phatmass and ExWitch families. People from all over the world who are united for His sake. We don't have to be physically together to be supportive of one another. The body of Christ does that all on its own. And then the Spirit gave me this verse, one I've just skimmed over in the past.

"There is no one who has left house or brothers ... for my sake and for the gospel that will not be given a hundredfold more now in this time ... brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands ..." (Mark 10:29-30, RSV-CE).

I have full confidence now that this verse is true and trustworthy, because after years of waiting, all of that has finally been given to me.

Listening to the Our Father recited during a Mass always gives me goosebumps. All of those voices, united with those of the Church in heaven, and stretching all the way back to Jesus' time with the disciples, are family. That does not change with death, because death isn't the end for us.

The weight and scope of all of that hit me for the first time yesterday. All I can say is that I am so glad.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Move Along

"And all ya gotta keep is strong...
And even when your hope is gone,
Move along, move along
Just to make it through."
--"Move Along," The All American Rejects

I haven't heard that song in a long time. I used to listen to it a lot when I was in middle school, screaming out the words with my friends on band trips, dancing to it at my grandma's house after school. So when it came on the radio today, it was a blast from the past that instantly brought a smile to my face, and a stronger message that I see clearly now:

Keep moving.

Emotionally, I'm a bit of a "runner." My friends see it when I take to odd periods of solitude, my ex-boyfriend did when things would get especially tricky and I'd just shut down and try to pretend as if nothing was wrong. Even my confessor becomes a victim of it now and then. Sometimes, I avoid him like the plague. Not that any of that has ever done me any good ... sooner or later, my loner ways get the best of me and I end up breaking down. I thrive and am happiest when I surround myself with people that can share the journey with me. So when I push everyone out, it's very foreign.

Between my cat, my grandmother, recent bad luck on the road learning to drive, an issue at work and a particularly painful visit from "Aunt Flo" complete with hot flashes, I've had the week from hell. The other day, I burst into tears at nearly midnight, curled up on the couch while I poured out nearly a year's worth of troubles to my mother.

I am always quick to deny it, but I always end up admitting with sheepishness and humor that she really does know best.

She told me that I am way too worried about my future. In fact, I get myself so wrapped up in the future that instead of enjoying the present, I have been walking around with no appetite, a stomach full of angry knots and a heavy heart. And for what?, she asked me. What good does sitting around and crying about a future that is entirely out of my hands going to accomplish?

"Nothing," I told her in a watery voice.

She's right about me. I have wasted so much time, more than she might ever realize but you folks who read this blog will know well, on concerning myself with things that I have no power over. I have mourned for the ill in my family for months on end, and it's starting to affect me physically now. And for what?

That was such a lightbulb moment for me, and while it's taken me several days to process it, the relief has been palpable.

I spent a lazy morning in bed, my kitty tucked safely behind my knees. Then, I spent the entire afternoon with my Mom-Mom, chatting about school and laughing until our sides hurt. Not a drop of worry in it...and how much happier I've been!

I don't know what the future holds. But Matthew 10 rings out over and over again in my mind: Do not worry about tomorrow. As the Lord provides for the birds of the air who do not reap or sow, He will provide for you.

For me. No matter what. As David says in my favorite psalm, "You who dwell in the shelter of the Most High . . . say to the Lord, 'My refuge and fortress, my God in whom I trust.'" (91:1-2).

WHY do I worry so? It's needless. And in that realization, I can move along in relative peace.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Down Day

Let's face it, not every day can be sunshine and rainbows. I am learning to accept that as a part of life. It's sticky, but a worthwhile lesson.

I had the weekend from hell, mostly due to yet another bad day driving, and most recently, my 13-year-old cat has taken a turn for the worse, health wise. This morning, she attacked me.

All at once, the things I cherish most in this life are being ripped away. I've been nauseous and exhausted for days, no doubt caused by my recent anxieties.

But tonight I was reminded of the Gospel where Jesus says to just worry about today. I've been thinking so much about the future lately - life without my grandmother, without my cat, without school and my Newman family. And predictably, it overwhelmed me and I am crumbling.

I can't let that happen. I am called to live in the present moment, and that is still full of fierce purring and Mom-Mom's laughter.

I can be thankful today. And someday, while it won't be anytime soon, I know that life will go on and turn into something a little more like normal. Until then, every day is brand new. The sun will rise in the morning. I'm going for a drive with Dad, then back to work. For now, that is all the future I need.

Please pray for me, and for my family.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Perseverance and Prayer

Sometimes, I think the folks at my parish must think that I've lost my marbles. Then again, I don't think many people know someone who snickers at the Scripture readings during Mass. But really, what they don't realize is why I find it so funny: so often in those pages, the voices and personalities are my own. There's something so relieving in knowing that the Lord put up with people just like me, even back then.

Tonight, it was Abraham in the passage where he pesters God to death (you know what I mean) about the fate of the innocent people living in Sodom and Gomorrah. God says once that they would be spared, but Abraham just isn't satisfied with that answer. Not until he gets it spelled out in a way so specific it borders on paranoia: what if there were only 40 innocents? Thirty-five? On and on he goes.

I must say I experienced a great deal of empathy for him. We both worry so much about God's patience toward us and the people around us. We're constantly questioning if we've done well, or well enough to make it "count."

Our new parochial vicar #2 -- stay tuned, it changes every time I blink these days -- is a phenomenal preacher, and today he talked about two things: persistence, and answered prayer. He hit me below the belt with both. The gist of his homily was fairly simple, but also loaded: most of the time we don't get what we want from God.

It doesn't come the way we wanted, in the package we wanted, on the time frame we wanted or in the circumstances we wanted it to. People pray for peace, sure, but if only one or two people pray, we only receive a little. God wants to give us so many gifts, but what do we ask for? Do we act like we really want salvation, for the coming of the Kingdom, or do we just ask once and give up?

We have to be persistent, and trust that as God puts together even the tiniest pieces in the puzzle, it will cause a ripple effect that will come to blossom in the fullness of time. But ONLY then, not before.

The same goes for prayers that are answered with a "no" or "not yet." God's will for us is perfect love and holiness. If He permits a relationship to fail, maybe it wouldn't have brought that completely. Maybe there is something even better He sees that we don't. Perhaps for me, the personal way to holiness at least right now is in singlehood. If someone is ill and won't recover, God might be bringing that person into a deeper experience of Himself that they would never have found if they remained well. Maybe people die before their time because their job here was done. Only God sees the big picture. With humility and grace, we can pray to receive that wisdom, too. This summer, I think I'm learning to look at my recent experiences with His eyes.

Then, he really hit it home with this one: Say you have family that isn't faithful. And you pray and pray for them to come back to the Church, but no luck. He said to consider our motivation: are we asking because we really want them saved, or because we're afraid of God not loving them? Or are we just tired of their behavior and nag God for Him to make them the people WE want them to be, instead of accepting them where they are, flaws included? Is it really about them, or us?

Damn.

Sometimes, God holds off on blessing us until we learn some greater lesson. If we have trust and faith in His will, sooner or later, even some of the hardest things in life -- even loss or illness -- will make at least a little more sense. Keep asking. Keep seeking. As the Gospel promises, we will be answered.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Accepting Humanity

Today, I got to spend the day with one of my best friends. While we went to high school together, it wasn't until our graduation day that we actually connected for the first time. She also happens to be a strong Catholic, so naturally having her around has been a breath of fresh air over the last few years.

As we ran around and spent time together today, we also had to stop at some point to go to Mass. We decided on her parish; ironically, it happens to be the one that my mother and her siblings were raised in.

I've not been on the top of my game lately, and to say that is really understating where I have been over the last little while. Thankfully, my prayer life is strong...there have just been some other issues that have been keeping me from fully cooperating with what God was asking of me. Put simply, if you know me, you know what this means: I had to go to Confession before Mass today.

Now this might be a little bit silly to admit, but I was completely thrilled at the prospect of getting to confess some pretty hairy stuff to someone who had never seen me before, and won't see me again so soon that he'll ever remember who I am. Score! And as I walked through the stained glass door that led to the refreshingly sunny confessional, I made a split second decision that ended up having a huge impact on my experience there.

For the first time in my entire life, I went to Confession behind the screen.

...It was really, really nice. It didn't take me long to do my business, but there was something comfortable and reassuring about getting everything out in the open behind a floor to ceiling purple drape. (I wonder if it was purple for penance, or just an interesting decorative decision.) I've always been a little bit hesitant to go behind the screen, thinking it to be a little bit of a cop out. Now, mind you, I mean absolutely no judgment to those that prefer it that way -- in fact, after doing it myself I can definitely see the appeal that it might have. It just ... personally, for me, feels a little bit like hiding and not being brave enough to truly own up to my sins by looking another man in the eye. Hey, I come from a family where testicular fortitude is a necessary and lauded personality trait. ;)

But, I digress. My litany of wince worthy sins now behind me, I exhaled deeply and waited to hear the priest's response. What he said drew an unexpected giggle out of me:

"Well, first of all, welcome to the human race."

Nice. The slight Jersey Italian accent reminded me at once of both my old confessor and my grandfather.

What I got from the good monsignor is the reminder that I've been playing games with God's mercy, and that while He's certainly used to it in all of humanity's failings, it doesn't excuse me. However, that doesn't mean I should act as if I can achieve perfection so early on the journey. He's not looking to see how many times I fall down, the priest said, but how many times I get back up again, and how quickly I endeavor to do so.

There was so much peace in that advice. It seems that I am always waiting for the next time to be the one that crosses the line, the sin that finally tries God's patience in such a grievous way that He refuses to forgive me.

Not true. Not as long as I recover from my stumbling and keep moving forward.

As my own confessor likes to remind me these days, faith and a relationship with God is my choice. He is not going to beg me to follow after Him, and He's not going to bribe me, either. He's just going to call, and wait to see how I respond.

Maybe not every answer of mine is "yes" at this point in my life. I'm working on that. But what I do know is that the number of "no" answers have been decreasing. That's my goal ... progress is everything!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Introducing Audrey Assad!

You are the highway I travel,
As I watched you carve streets of gold from sand and gravel,
I gave You brokenness, You gave me innocence and now
This road leads to glory.

For love of You, I'm a sky on fire,
For love of You, I come alive,
And it's Your Sacred Heart within me beating,
Your voice within me singing out
For love of You...


--"For Love of You," Audrey Assad


Around this time two years ago, I discovered and then later introduced to my bloggers one of the newest bands on the Christian music scene at the time, Tenth Avenue North. I've been a huge fan of them since that day and have been glad to see them go on to win multiple awards for their work. They definitely deserve it!

So today, I want to introduce you all to someone else. I know that just writing about her isn't a good luck charm for her future success, but I definitely want to give her as much recognition as I possibly can.

A few years ago, Audrey Assad left her family's Brethren and non-denominational background in search of a certain richness she found in the work of the early Church Fathers and others. That road happily led her to the fullness of truth in Catholicism, and I am more than convinced that we have gained a real gem in her, not only in musical talent but in faith.

Those of you who are familiar with the music of Matt Maher -- and really, if you've read this blog for more than two seconds you should be -- might recognize Audrey as the backup vocalist for many of his songs. As it turns out, the two of them are good friends. Now, she's been signed to the same record label as both Maher and Tenth Avenue North. Her debut album, "The House You're Building," drops mere hours from now on the 13th. From the previews I've caught, it's a collection of piano and vocal pieces that not only lead you into worship, but give some intimate and heartfelt insight on Audrey's own walk with God. It's sure to be a powerful album, and I expect her to go far in the music industry with it. Please, if you can spare the $10 or so for iTunes, do yourself a huge favor and download it tomorrow. You can also buy the CD on Amazon.

Now, for your listening pleasure, here's a live acoustic performance of the album's first single, "For Love of You." I'd like to note here that she's every bit as good live as she is on the album...a sign of a talented musician, for sure!

I wrote this at 10. It's after midnight now, so get to iTunes!


Monday, July 12, 2010

Learning to Crawl

Yet another life lesson fell into my lap today--or rather, my inbox.

My confessor knows me better than I know myself sometimes. Remember back in April I wrote an entry wondering if my struggles in faith were prolonged by my own fear?

Well, his email was my entry verbatim as we reflected on the good that came from that rough season. I admit that I laughed when I read it. There are only some situations where I am truly an open book to people...and now it is coming back to bite me in ironic ways. Ha.

At the same time, I found myself a little sore that he didn't clue me in sooner. But as I chewed on it, there is something important that I can remember a dear friend saying to me years ago. He's been a Wiccan priest for almost two decades now and back when I was still seeking Him, he was my shoulder.

I can remember lashing out at J for taking a step back and telling me that I needed to work things out on my own for a time. I didn't get it, and was furious with him for well over a year.

But you know, I came out of that experience knowing myself better than I ever had previously. What's funnier is that by then I knew that I needed to go back to the Church. The day I told him, terrified and in tears before my first Confession, he was one of my first supporters. If I recall correctly, he told me it was about time.

Sometimes, the people that care the most about us are the ones who give us a kick in the ass and make us walk on our own rather than coddling.

And once again, while a little older and wiser now, I am still profoundly grateful for the lesson.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Burning and Burying

Over the last week and a half, the Gospel from last weekend has been tugging at me more or less nonstop. Eve though I wrote about it once already, it seems that every time I read it another layer of depth or meaning opens up to me.

First, let me talk about a dream I had last week. I usually dream regularly, but for the most part they’re petty and not anything of particular significance. This time, what happened was striking enough to remember well.

I was in a mansion, dusty and old but still in use. It was reminiscent of a bed and breakfast, cozy yet elaborate in d├ęcor, very comfortable. A lot of people I knew were there, most of them old friends from my high school days whom I no longer keep touch with simply because of time and distance.

I spent some time walking the whole place, taking it all in, noticing the people yet not really interacting with them. In time, I returned to my room and gathered just a few things that have personal significance for me, including my glasses (which, oddly, I wasn’t wearing at tearing at the time), my Bible, a childhood stuffed animal and those in my family that were there. Once we were all outside, I set the place on fire.

…Dramatic, no? Certainly not my style.

It took a few days of mulling it over, but I came to wonder if it had something to do with leaving the past behind and clinging to only those things that were most precious to me. Coupled with how impacted I was by the Gospel and recent events in my personal life, it seemed like a likely reason.

Then, I happened to notice the homily of a priest acquaintance who is also one of my favorite preachers. Father’s homily reflected on those elements of last weekends Gospel that originally caught my attention, but then mentioned something else that was uniquely interesting.

“Let the dead bury the dead.”

This doesn’t have to refer to people either, but really anything in our pasts…sometimes, there are things we just cannot repair despite our best efforts, and the best thing we can do is let it go, accept that we cannot change the past, set our hands to the plow and keep on going.

Recently I realized that I was firmly rooted in the past and trying to do things that I was simply incapable of doing. Now, I realize that. I have decided to leave the people and things of my past behind in order to truly embrace where God is calling me to be today.

As much as it hurt to do that, I realize now that it’s for the best. And I’m confident that God has some amazing things in store for me.

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Price of Freedom

Yesterday, while we celebrated the 234th birthday a country built on freedom, I found myself given pause to consider my own freedoms.

The freedom of speech has given me the ability to stand for those who are voiceless and marginalized, and against those who would value justice over mercy.

The freedom of religion allows me to dare proclaim healing and peace that comes only through Christ. Though some may ridicule me for it and many may not understand, no one can take away my ability to speak out.

And the freedom of the press is, put simply, the source of my very livelihood. Without it, I would be unable to do my job with the integrity and fairness it deserves, no longer serving the people but the best interests of this government. I would be a panderer, not a truth-seeker.

Most of all, I'm thankful for the ability to free myself from the chains that this life forever tries to bind me to. Anything is possible for God, and with Him there are no limits. That breathes new life into Independence Day.

Listen to Straight No Chaser. They are so beautiful.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Moving

Last night on EWTN's The Journey Home, a Dominican priest revert said something that resonated profoundly with me: "In the spiritual life, you're either progressing or you're going in reverse. There is no status quo. You're either spiritually growing, or spiritually dying."

That's heavy, for sure. But the more I mulled that over, the more I realized it to be true. When things are good in our walk with God, there is always that tendency to relax, to sink down into our peaceful security and maybe get a little too comfortable. Maybe our walls come down, even just a little. And when that happens, little by little we find ourselves praying less, focusing less on Him, and going about our business convinced that we're okay and don't need to hold onto Him so fiercely.

Then, perhaps before we know what hit us, we're on our faces wondering went wrong. As I am tossed around like a stone in the ocean and am getting all my rough edges smoothed out this summer, I find myself again sensing that urgency I did over the winter. We can't allow ourselves to get cozy in our faith, or really in any life state. There's a constant ebb and flow of things, and if we don't stay on our toes and keep our head up, we'll be pummeled. And given the consequences of that, it's no wonder that Jesus seems so insistent that those who intend to follow him act immediately without looking back.

Check out part of the Gospel from this past weekend:
As they were proceeding on their journey someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus answered him, “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.”

And to another he said, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, let me go first and bury my father.” But he answered him, “Let the dead bury their dead. But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

And another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but first let me say farewell to my family at home.” To him Jesus said, “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God."

We can't stay stuck in the past, or hold so tightly to the present that we are unwilling to be moved. If we linger on things that are behind us, we'll never reach our full potential, never grow, never heal.

So, just ride the waves with Him before you. It's definitely better than getting stuck in the riptide.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A Tiny Spark

Just some quotes tonight.

"If there are people in your life who have left the Church, God has put you there, not to condemn or judge them, but to witness to what Jesus has done for you. They will see your love and peace...but most of all, your joy. Not happiness, but joy that He has given you."
--Mother Angelica

"Sometimes I want to rewrite the Padre Pio quote so it says 'Pray, hope, and DON'T FREAKING WORRY YOU STUBBORN, ANXIOUS MULE.' I am inclined to think that's the way it actually went, given his temperament, but that's just me. I think the new version is much better."
--Myself (a lot of my friends liked this one)

"If a tiny spark of God's love already burns within you, do not expose it to the wind, for it may get blown out. Keep the stove tightly shut so that it will not lose its heat and grow cold. In other words, avoid distractions as well as you can. Stay quiet with God. Do not spend your time in useless chatter."
--Saint Charles Borromeo

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Counting Blessings

Sometimes, when the darkness of this world settles in around us, the effects can be paralyzing.

Stress.
Anxiety.
Despair.
Anger.
Death.

And at the bottom of them all, a question: Why?

It's an ages-old dilemma that philosophy and theology have struggled to reconcile in who knows how many ways. Heaven knows that I lost many a good night's sleep wide at my apartment on campus pondering just that, and often crying bitterly to the God who I believed had shut the door on me.

I've since come home for the summer, dead-set on healing. With time, it's happening, even as the chaos here grows thicker. Receiving consolation on Pentecost was the motivator I've needed to rekindle my relationship with God, and while it's been a cautious and difficult road, I'm getting there. Given the gravity of the situation, I find I have little choice but to lay myself down at His feet and trust that, when the time comes, He'll carry me.

Until then, I've developed a deep sense of gratitude for what blessings do come my way. If I really allow myself to examine my life, it's amazing to me how many answered prayers I really have gotten this year. The fellowship I've needed for so long has come to me in more abundance than I ever could have asked for, I have spent 20 wonderful years with my grandmother, am slowly beginning a new and comfortable friendship with my ex, have a great summer job, close family, and a confessor that refuses to let me walk alone.

I am so lucky. And when I consider that, I find joy.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Hearing Voices

On Monday, I was privileged to have the opportunity to meet internationally-recognized speaker Johnnette Benkovic at a feminism conference in town.

She referenced St. Francis deSales several times, specifically his Introduction to the Devout Life, which says that God speaks in that silence at the bottom of our hearts.

I'm not going to lie -- I've been reckless lately. There's been things coming out of my head and mouth that haven't done so since before my reversion three years ago. That spooked me, and needless to say I've been showing my face at the confessional a lot these days.

Yet, last night, as I was seconds from cutting that rope that ties me to Christ yet again, a voice resounded loud and clear at the bottom of my heart, so much so that it actually spilled out verbally.

NO!

...Excuse me? I'm trying very hard to forget my problems, enjoying that fact, and I end up crying "NO!" in the midst of it?

Stopped me in my tracks, that did. The still, small voice of God that was planted in my soul at baptism, sealed in Confirmation and is brought to fruition at every Eucharist is sometimes, to my shock, louder than my very will. And trust me, I'm Italian; I know plenty about strong wills.

That one moment has been enough to inspire me today. Three years ago, I didn't know how to hear that voice. Two years ago, i wasn't sure how to yield to it. It was in that first 18 months as a Catholic, when I went head to head and will to will with my old confessor (also Italian!), that I as truly formed and learned to respond to my conscience.

Now, miraculously, it seems that the grace of God is finally inspiring me to listen both for, and to, that voice.

Who is this woman, and what did she do with...me?

Monday, June 7, 2010

Making the Choice

A small thought before I turn in for the night...

Almost daily I still struggle with anxiety and fear about the future. In a way that has pleasantly surprised me, I find that it's slowly becoming easier to cope. I'm noticing the physical effects settling in, and am able to shut it down once I recognize it. And I'm learning to relax, to focus on the present, and reaffirm my trust in God.

Nothing in life is ever certain--I've said that more than once here. As much as the Church claims certainty, this humble laywoman cannot claim her faith with utmost assurance. I pray for that grace daily.

What I can give is my fiat. I can give myself up with joy to whatever He wants to walk with me through. Holding out my hand and trusting that He will not only hold it, but guide my steps on this journey is a very difficult task, but I can do it.

A few weeks ago, I sat down with my pastor who just recently lost his father. I said, "Monsignor, how did you cope when he suffered? How are you getting through it now?"

What he said resonated as a profound truth for me. "I get through one day at a time, no more than that. Sometimes, it's one moment at a time."

That's all I've got to give, my choice to believe. God sets Himself before us in the midst of a world that can be calloused, dark and terrifying, and says, "Choose."

I choose to live a life of joy, compassion, hope, redemption, and trust that the Lord I confess is One who keeps His promises.

I may be wrong. But if I am, I know that my life at the end will have been rich and honorable.

That assent is a very small step. But that's really all He ever wants or needs of us--a mustard seed.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Regime Change Revisited

Time and again, I am learning a real lesson from God this summer.

I need to rely on Him, not only most of all but as my sole refuge.

A while back, I was talking to a sympathetic and intuitive Baptist friend from my early days as a Christian. We were talking about the people that go in and out of our lives with time, and I mentioned how I sometimes miss my old confessor. More to myself than to him, I asked, "Why does God always take away the few people I've grown to trust with my faith?"

His answer was telling: "Maybe God is teaching you to be more open with others, and to trust Him."

The next day, I got the news that our chaplain has been put on part-rime status, as he's now been appointed chaplain of every state university in the diocese. Yikes.

Today, I learned that the assistant director of our Newman house has accepted a job at a different university.

Suddenly, two of the people I relied on most at school are leaving. I understand this to be God's will, not only for them, but for me as well.

My friend was right--this is a rough season for me, to be sure, and I'm grateful in saying that it's eased so much already. I worry what going back to campus will be like--will I fall back into apathy and nihilism?

Not if I rely on Him. I have always made excuses about how it's always good to have someone, "you know, tangible," to be my shoulder. I admit that with four priests now assigned to my parish, I worry about losing my confessor, too. But I have God.

The other side of this tunnel is close and bright. And at the end of it, my relationship with God will be so much stronger. That is a serious silver lining.

Friday, June 4, 2010

On Relevance

The other day, I was talking a lot with my friend Jenn about liturgy, and the direction the Church is headed versus where it's been. Eventually, we got into a discussion of our favorite Catholic artists, some of whom have become affiliated with the LifeTeen program.

We both have different issues with LifeTeen, but for me, it was striking that they try so hard to be "relevant" to the youth. And in today's Protestant communities, relevant is rather often a combination of emotional preaching and flashy lights and sounds.

The issue there is simple: that does not build faith. That builds a psychological response to some nice aesthetics that youth confuse for faith. It leads to an incredible mountaintop experience, but as soon as they head back to their "regular" Mass, the thrill is usually gone.

Now, I'm not saying the whole program is a wash. I tend to support them--and when they hit a kid with the real truth of the Church and Christ in the Eucharist? The changes are profound. But let's be honest with ourselves. How often does that happen there before the sounds and shininess of it all gets to them?

Beyond that, there's something very obvious here that's telling. Our definition of "fresh" and "progressive" and "exciting" changes over time. And so often, a lot of denominations are constantly stretching themselves in trying to reach others by using the things that are fresh and relevant. But what happens when the cool things change so much they can't keep up? We lose the core.

And then, despite all of the ridicule and pressure she receives from both within and outside her boundaries, Catholicism remains mostly unchanged. Certain huge denominations in the United States are being ripped apart right now over ordination of women or GLBT individuals. Every denomination has accepted birth control now, a reversal of position that we all held universally until the last century.

God is unchanging and beyond our whims. Truth, then, is the same.

Where, then, is the Truth? I would say it's where the Truth and foundation of worship remain unchanged.

"Upon this Rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it."

I'm so glad to be Catholic.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Patient Affliction

(I had set a private quota of four posts a month. I fell short for May, so look out. I'm gonna set the place on fire for June. Get ready!)

Admittedly, when the dark night first came on me in February, I dropped mostly everything spiritual from my life. I still went to Mass three times a week, but my appearances there were more physical in nature. More often than not, I found myself in front of the tabernacle just...sitting there, waiting for something to happen.

And then, on Pentecost(!), something did.

Really, should I be surprised? How big is God? Alleluia. :)

The reading we used was one from Ezekiel, where he is given the power to create life from dry bones. Something stirred within me. We humans are little more than sinew and bone, knit together by millions of cells and kept alive by the blood coursing through our veins. It's all so simple, yet at the same time, so terribly precise and complicated.

Had one thing gone wrong in our evolution, we'd not have survived. Had the world not been created in the exact circumstances it was, there would have been no possibility for life. The odds of it turning out just right like this are billions to one. And all of that hit me in the midst of a thirty-second reading.

There is a God.

Couple that with the reverence around me and my confessor's homily spearing that core desire for revival in everyone's soul...and like that, I was back. I believed again.

Since then, the Holy Spirit has been tugging at my heart something fierce, likely wanting to make up for lost time. I've compensated by catching up on the 2.5 months of daily Mass readings I never read when I was feeling down. Over and over again, the theme of patience under affliction came up, like this from St. Peter:

"Beloved, do not be surprised that a trial by fire is occurring among you, as if something strange were happening to you. But rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that when His glory is revealed you may also rejoice exultantly."

And then of course, "My peace I give you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you."

Christ's peace isn't going to feel like the comfort we often wish it would. Our reward isn't here. This isn't home.

But James tells us if we endure to the end, we'll be crowned with glory. Revelation says every tear will be wiped away.

We just have to tough it out, and trust. Easier said than done, that's for sure, but for now, grace is with me.