Thursday, January 30, 2014

Cumberland Island, Georgia

If you have ever read Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry or a Horse and His Boy by CS Lewis...you will want to go to Cumberland Island, Georgia.  If you were ever the child that watched National Velvet and identified with Velvet, then you will want to make a visit.  It is an island surrounded with white sands beaches, a marshland full of life, an exotic wood full of Spanish Moss, ruins of mansions and most importantly: WILD HORSES!  It is solely accessible by boat and to get around you must either walk or use a bicycle.

I have to say I wasn't nearly as excited about this place when I first heard about it.  Maybe the words "wild horses" doesn't really convey the magic of standing on an empty, white sand beach with the sun and waves on one side and birds and sand dunes lining the opposite horizon.  After hours of running in the waves and searching for shells, you suddenly see in the distance, coming toward you along the edge of the water, a herd of horses.  The male watching as the females come closer, eating the dune grasses and slowly passing by. The smell of the salt water, the cool breeze and the excitement I remember feeling as a child, that sense of wonder: wow, I'm a part of something really, really special.



 

 
 





There isn't much to say when you've lived through a perfect day...picnic lunch, falling asleep on the sand in the sun, watching the sun set on the water...a very special and amazing place!  The world is beautiful and God is so good.


Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Facing death

"There are many times when this whole experience seems bigger than me, when I wonder how I can possibly make it through the next few months much less the next fifty years. But as with any great adventure, faith and a certain degree of fearlessness have sustained me thus far and I trust they will continue to do so in the future."  -Anne Andrus (1968-2012)





I randomly linked into a blog written by the woman quoted above when googling globe trotting.  Her blog detailed how she and her family set on a round-the-world trip for more than a year.  Full of pictures, her blog drew me in as she explained the nitty-gritty (cost of renting a car versus taking a bus when they had six people to transport), the exciting (exotic food and exotic people), and the providential (receiving help from perfect strangers, just when they needed it).  And it was so neat to follow them as they had so many adventures!  Everywhere they went was a new experience and her blog would focus on that: taking each day one day at a time, enjoying each moment, seeing new places, discovering new people, and trying new things.  

As I read blog after blog, the story took a sad, unexpected turn.  After her return home she discovered she had cancer.  She continued to blog occasionally as she battled against her disease.  She had many doubts and fears, mostly about leaving her family behind, but through it all she showed the most exceptional faith in God, trusting that regardless of what was to come, she would be taken care of and so would her family.  Now she was facing a journey that made traveling around the world pale in comparison.  What struck me the most was her strength: she was not afraid to fight and she was not afraid to die.

I recently heard the story about the disciples traveling alone in a boat one night on a rough and stormy sea.  They were afraid for their lives but this did not compare to the fear they felt when they saw Jesus walking toward them.  Believing they saw a ghost paralyzed them.  Jesus was about to pass them by when He saw that they were afraid and spoke to them.  

I love what He says, "Be of good cheer: it is I; be not afraid."  Why shouldn't we fear?  Because Jesus is here, with us, when life seems most difficult.

And then He got into the boat with them...and the waters calmed...and they were amazed.  

And that is the only way I can see having peace as we approach death.  Journeying forward with Jesus in our boat, toward His home.  How else can we face death without fear?  As St. Paul said, once we have Christ, death loses its victory and its sting.  And also because of this, there is hope for everyone.


Pope Francis said something akin to this, "I have a dogmatic certainty: God is in every person’s life. God is in everyone’s life. Even if the life of a person has been a disaster, even if it is destroyed by vices, drugs or anything else—God is in this person’s life. You can, you must try to seek God in every human life. Although the life of a person is a land full of thorns and weeds, there is always a space in which the good seed can grow. You have to trust God.”

You have to trust Him!  Let Him in your boat, so to speak, because even in death or rather especially in death, we find hope in Him.

Fasting was a wonderful experience.  I know that it was God's grace that enabled me to complete 9 days!  Mostly because today I made a batch of cookies and drank 2 beers.  So there you have it!  No self-control on my own.  Another proof that I need God's grace to bring me minute to minute!

Life can be strange and full of hardships...So I am glad this wasn't a walking on water reflection...maybe another time...today I'm just grateful to be in the boat, knowing the Lord of the universe is with me!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Fasting


I realized about a week ago that I have never really fasted.  I mean, I have "fasted" for Ash Wednesday and Good Friday before but never for longer than a day and never with a purpose.

At the time I was reading a quote by Padre Pio, "Prayer and fasting are the spiritual weapons to defeat evil.  You and I must pray and fast if there is to be hope for the future." 

I realized I am totally on board with the praying thing, but honestly, outside of Lent, I have never given much thought to the fasting thing.  I decided, especially with the things that are happening in my life and in those around me, I wanted to try a fast. 


As I read Padre Pio's quote I remembered the story from scriptures about the disciples failing to cast out a demon from a person and then Christ came and cast the demon out.  When they asked why they had failed, he answered, "Because of your little faith: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you. But this kind goeth not out save by prayer and fasting." I thought, if Christ said there are things that can only be accomplished by fasting, I better be fasting!


However, I wasn't quite sure how to go about it.  For Lent I usually follow the Church's recommendation to eat one regular meal and two smaller meals that don't equal a regular meal while at the same time not eating meat.  I thought about doing a "black fast" where  I don't eat at all during daylight. I even thought about only eating bread and drinking water, but with all these ideas, I just wasn't sure where to go with this.  And how long should I fast for?  One day?  One week?
So last Friday I went to my pastor and asked him.  He suggested starting with skipping a meal or maybe giving up sweets.  After praying about it I decided to follow his suggestion.  I thought a novena would be a good time frame.  So I started the Efficacious Novena to the Sacred Heart and fasting last Monday.  I am fasting "within my scope" as I don't want to set my sights too high and presume on God's mercy and grace to get me through a superhuman fast (like the saints who solely subsisted on the Eucharist!).  Also my pastor told me (knows me too well!) that if fasting is affecting my attitude or how I treat others, I should stop.  
So right now I am skipping lunch, avoiding any alcohol, and all sugar. 
Three days in it has been a very good experience.  I expect it will get more difficult each day, but I don't know.   I find there are times when I am not thinking clearly and then I remember that I am coming off sugar (which I majorly over-indulged this past Holiday season!) and that I am used to eating every 2-3 hours.  If I find I am grumpy, I eat a very small snack or drink tea because I want to heed Father's advice (and not make those around me miserable!).  
So far I have not had to eat in a way that has broken the fasting rules I set for myself.  Since I think this should be a private endeavor, I have just told my friends and family that I am dieting and they take it at face value since we just finished the holidays.  
Sometimes I find myself with desolate thoughts or temptations and then I remember I am fasting.  Besides the physiological effects, there must be a bit of a spiritual ripple.  I am probably making the devil pretty angry.  He is going to work against me during this time, either to deter me from finishing this fast and prayer or to lead me to pride that this is being done by me.  It is so clear to me that even this small fast would be impossible without the grace and direction of God.   Six days left!

Monday, January 6, 2014

Faith

“The most beautiful credo is the one that is pronounced in the hour of darkness” ~ Padre Pio

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Reflections on 2013

2013.  A difficult year but God was very good.  Actually, thinking back to the highlights, there were quite a few:

Running my first (and last) MARATHON
Making a huge leap in learning a new language, including spending 6 weeks in Spain and taking 3 college level Spanish classes at home
Seeing Pope Francis not only once but TWICE, first at World Youth Day and the second time in Rome
Going to World Youth Day in Brazil (WYD and Pope Francis deserve separate mention!)
Becoming a godmother to my beautiful goddaughter Hannah
Spending Our Lady of Lourdes Feast Day in Lourdes, France with my mom and my mother's healing from renal cancer
Spending Padre Pio's Feast Day in San Giovanni Rotondo with special friends who were celebrating their 32nd wedding anniversary on his feast
Learning to trust God in the midst of confusion and pain

Most especially, this was a MARIAN year for me.



Exactly one year and one day ago on the Feast of Mary, Mother of God (January 1st) I woke up and thought, "I want to go to Lourdes."  Then I thought,  "I need to take my mom to Lourdes."  At the time I felt we needed to go for inner healing.  Two months later she was getting out of the hospital after being septic, with a new diagnosis of renal cancer.  She still wanted to go, so because of the hurricane coming our way, we flew out a day early and arrived in Paris.  Our extra day took us to Notre Dame, Sacre Couer and St Catherine Laboure's chapel at the Rue de Bac.  We arrived just as mass started.



The next day we boarded a train and headed to Lourdes.  On February 11th, Our Lady of Lourdes feast day, it was crowded.  We walked down to the grotto amidst snow and sleet.  But the days following left us the entire shrine almost to ourselves.  We went to Mass twice a day, made a daily holy hour and went into the freezing baths.  Three months later the tumor on my mom's kidney was gone.




In March I went to Spain for a month to learn Spanish.  I was there for holy week and Easter.  With a church on every corner offering Mass seven or eight times a day, I was able to go to Holy Mass daily as well as visit a perpetual adoration chapel near my pisa.  It was a time of healing for me as I was still in recovery mode from a broken heart.  Our Lady of Sorrows stands out in my mind as I think back to that time.  Her float in the town I lived in was large and majestic and yet when I looked at it, all I could think was how much love it took for her to be the woman she was while on earth.




At this point it comes to my memory some of the novenas I was led to pray this past year.  How often I was beseeching Our Lady and St Joseph!  I began at the end of the previous year and crossed into the new year with one of the most beautiful novenas I have ever prayed.  This 54 day rosary novena started me on a journey of praying the rosary daily for which I am most grateful!  And though my prayer wasn't answered as I hoped, I know it was heard.

A month later and I was making a last minute trip to Mexico.  My mission group had contacted me the week before asking for help.  Since my schedule was virtually free that week, I took it as a sign and agreed to go.  May 31st, the feast of the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth and incidentally my birthday, I flew down to Mexico City where I had a three hour layover before catching my connecting flight.  In the customs line I ran into some friends who were on their way to the mission.  After we rechecked our luggage, one of the women asked if we wanted to go see Our Lady of Guadalupe.  I thought she was joking as we only had three hours but she was perfectly serious! And so, in record time, I made the fastest Marian pilgrimage of my life to Our Lady's Shrine.  At the time I felt so uplifted, like I was receiving a very special birthday present.





Weeks before my trip to Mexico, I felt a strong, very random desire to go to a World Youth Day.  I googled it to find out where and when the next one would be.  When I saw it was this coming summer in Brazil, I thought it was too late to make plans.  I half heartedly googled diocesan youth groups in our diocese to see if any nearby might be making the trek and needing a chaperone.  I then put it on the back burner.  In Mexico however a new friend invited me to go with her and a group of people my age to World Youth Day.  Weeks later it was confirmed I could have the time off from work and her group could accommodate me.  On our way from Sao Paulo to Rio we made one stop.  And that was to Our Lady of Aparecida, the largest Marian Shrine in South America.




Continuing with my track record of impulse travel, I made a return trip in the fall to Spain.  Originally I thought I would go for three weeks but had a rather strong desire to go to Italy so I decided to put one week aside for that.  Initially I thought I would go to Spain first and then end in Italy (pleasure after work!) but when I found out that Padre Pio's feast was during my planned time in Europe I changed it to the first week.  God then mysteriously worked things out so that I was taking my friend's parents to Italy with me and I found that the reason I was permitted to be a part of such a blessed trip was really so they could have their trip!  We of course saw images or items of Our Lady everywhere (in Assisi, Loreto, even in my room one night when we stayed with friends in Lanciano!)  But the moment that was most precious to me was in Rome when we walked in just as Mass was beginning in Saint Andrea delle Fratte Church in Rome.



At this altar Our Lady appeared to Ratisbonne and he had an instant conversion.  It is also the altar that St Maximillian Kolbe celebrated his first Mass as a priest.  From the moment we stepped in the church I felt a part of something very, very special.  This will always be my favorite church in Rome.

October 7th, Our Lady of the Rosary feast day, brought about the renewal of my Marian Consecration.  December introduced me to a new title, one that think I am in love with, "Our Lady, Undoer of Knots."  I have prayed this novena twice and honestly think I should say it again and again until Our Lady has undone all the knots of my life.

I know it is hard to believe with all of the blessings listed above that there could be any trials at all in my life!  But this has been an amazingly difficult year following an even more difficult year.  And yet, obviously Mary has been with me each step of the way, bringing me exactly where I am supposed to be.  And there has been a lot of healing.  And grace.  Beautiful, beautiful mother.  Thank you.