Category Archives: Lent

#40 From Lent into Easter

I had a dream last night that I was sitting at table and talking with some people I’d just met. There were two middle-aged women who I was taking with when they turned the conversation toward religion. They were members of a thriving chapter of a women’s religion. “I feel so connected to my 300 sisters,” one told me. I sensed that they wanted to invite me into their group, but they were quiet, allowing me to speak.
“The thing about Christianity is, if you’re serious about it, it eventually ruins your life,” I said by way of explanation.
“You were a Christian?” the other woman asked, sympathetically.
“I am a Christian” was all I had to say. I can’t recall the rest of the dream clearly, but I think that was the end of our conversation.

Now I often have strange dreams, and rarely do they hold any lesson, but I stand by that odd statement I made and its apparent contradiction with my own piety as a Christian. The gospel teaches us that “whoever loves his life shall lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake shall live.” (I’m paraphrasing.) So yes, following Jesus should eventually, somehow, ruin your life. But dying to ourselves (as we do in small ways in Lent) is exactly what enables us to rise with Christ in Easter. The women’s religion seemed very comforting and pleasant, but being comfortable can’t save our souls. They were happy to be in community with their sisters, but we are mystically united to our  brothers and sisters in Christ. (Btw, to my brothers in Christ: I couldn’t live disconnected from you!) So this Easter, rejoice in the knowledge that while our faith is difficult, it is true and it leads us to glory in and through Jesus Christ, who is glorified with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Can I get an “Amen!”

Christ is risen! Indeed he is risen!
Christos voskrese! Voistinu voskrese!

#37 An Ancient Prayer for Modern Times

This prayer of the Byzantine rite (and Eastern Orthodox) is recited at all the daily liturgies in Lent.

The Prayer of St. Ephrem

Lord and Master of my life,
Spare me from the spirit of indifference, despair,
Lust for power and idle chatter. (prostration)

Instead, bestow on me, your servant,
The spirit of integrity, humility, patience and love. (prostration)

Yes, O Lord and King,
Let me see my own sins,
And not judge my brothers and sisters,
For you are blessed, forever and ever. Amen.
(prostration)

It amazes me how a prayer written around 400 AD can seem custom-made for the Facebook generation. Just like people throughout time, our generation struggles with pride, greed, envy, lust, and the like. But it seems to me that the many distractions of modern life make us even more vulnerable to some of the sins St. Ephrem mentions. At the very least, I know I am.

Indifference (or sloth) is the vice that makes it so much easier for me to click on “one more page” of a blog (*ahem*Catholicandenjoyingit*ahem*) than to send out job applications, do something considerate for my roommates, or stop by the chapel for daily Mass. There’s a constant stream of games, shows, and sites that we can turn to to hide from God and the world, and that self-isolation can lead a formerly faith-filled person to despair. There’s a loneliness in mass media and frivolous entertainment, an emptiness that crawls into my heart when I’m not paying attention and slowly starves the soul. Idle chatter is one of those things that doesn’t of its own accord, seem sinful, but whenever I prattle on long enough, I end up in gossip, half-truths, or uncharitable comments. So while I may consider idle chatter as more of a temptation to sin than a sin itself, I definitely think that considering the potential for sins of speech before a careless facebook post would be good for our souls and for the world.

After listing these oh-so-familiar sins, the next step in reciting the prayer is the first prostration. A prostration in the Byzantine rite involves kneeling down, lowering my head and kissing the floor. Touching my lips to the rug of our campus Byzantine chapel is a truly unusual and humbling experience. I love how physical a sign it is, how it quite literally embodies the virtues of humility and integrity.

On Good Friday, it’s traditional in my house to turn off entertainment like the radio and TV; we even avoid singing to ourselves (which is very, very difficult for me). Tuning out all those sources of noise really helped me tune in to the sacred events of today. While the season of St. Ephrem’s prayer at liturgy is coming to a close, I think I will carry on that prayer in my heart by making more “unplugged” time to think, pray, and relate to others meaningfully in a spirit of integrity, humility, patience, and love.

God bless you all this Good Friday and always!

“We adore you, O Christ, and we praise you
Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.”

#36 Keeping Watch (Reflection on Holy Thursday)

Then they came to a place named Gethsemane,i and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took with him Peter, James, and John, and began to be troubled and distressed. Then he said to them, “My soul is sorrowful even to death. Remain here and keep watch.

He advanced a little and fell to the ground and prayed that if it were possible the hour might pass by him; he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible to you. Take this cup away from me, but not what I will but what you will.”

When he returned he found them asleep. He said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray that you may not undergo the test. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.”
-Mk 14:32-38

This gospel reading is from Palm Sunday (in the Roman liturgy), but it is appropriate to remember on Holy Thursday. At tonight’s Masses, after commemorating the Last Supper by the washing of feet and the consecration and reception of the Body and Blood, the Eucharist was transferred solemnly to a secondary location. My mom, Mister (who’s celebrating the whole Triduum with my family this year), and I went to Mass at the parish where I grew up. In a recent tradition, the old parish now ends Holy Thursday liturgy with a procession across the highway to its beautiful but tiny stone chapel. The whole altar area was draped with golden cloth and adorned with exotic-looking flowers to suitably greet Our Lord.

Whatever secondary place a church chooses, and however it is decorated, it’s meant to symbolize the Garden of Gethsemane and recall Jesus’ anguished prayer there. There’s an old tradition, still kept by my dad, of visiting several churches in a sort of traveling vigil to pray with Jesus in each one’s little Gethsemane. After my dad and brother finished Mass at our new parish, they met us at the old parish and picked up Mister and me for church visits. We visited three other churches before ending up at our new parish. There, our side chapel really did evoke the feeling of a garden:

The Side Chapel on Holy Thursday

The Side Chapel on Holy Thursday

As I knelt in each of the five churches, I wondered what I could possibly pray to Jesus when he was enduring such fear and anguish on my behalf. This quiet vigil, keeping watch with Christ when it is He, not I, who will suffer so much tomorrow, reminded me of a few vigils I’ve kept as a friend.

Once, while we were on a retreat together, my friend Kate got a voicemail from a troubled friend of hers claiming she was about to commit suicide. When the friend didn’t answer her frantic return calls, we gathered our youth group and prayed the most heartfelt, urgent Rosary of our lives, until eventually Kate received word from her friend that she was indeed alive and the urge to harm herself had passed. That vigil was definitely one of prayer, and I wonder if it may have saved the girl’s life that there were so many of us gathered together, ready to storm heaven with pleas for her safety. Jesus himself prayed that he would be spared in the garden before recognizing and submitting to his impending passion as the Father’s will. But since we know what must come tomorrow, and it’s necessary to save our souls, we can’t pray with him that he would be spared this ordeal.

Other vigils I’ve kept have been more about listening. I considered becoming a counselor for a time because I tend to attract those in need of spilling their guts. Throughout my college years especially, my bed has served as a therapy room or confessional, my stuffed animals and pillows as unwitting Kleenexes when a friend’s levee of tears finally broke. These vigils (for they inevitably happen late at night) always engendered in me the same uneasiness of how to handle another’s suffering, when I do not suffer as they do.

One difficult night, a very dear friend called me in fear about an endoscopy the next day. He was anxious about the procedure itself and the possibility that it would give evidence of some form of cancer. There was nothing, nothing at all, that I could say to help with that. I went over to his dorm, I think we prayed briefly, and for a while we talked of other things to try to ease his mind. Finally, when there was nothing more to say, I curled up on the foot of his bed and slept there so he wouldn’t be alone. It was that image of myself, lying silently waiting for sleep to come to myself and my friend, that surfaced in my mind as I wondered what prayer I could bring to Jesus on this long, harsh night. I settled on the prayer of my silence. I could say nothing to him, not really. I simply knelt there, acknowledging his sorrow and anguish with love. It’s not mentioned in Mark’s account, but Luke states that in Jesus’ agony, “…to strengthen him an angel from heaven appeared to him” (22:43). When I wonder to myself, “what did that angel say or do?” I can’t help but consider how God and His angels exist outside of time. So maybe, just maybe, the angel strengthened Jesus’ resolve by showing him the many Christians who would devote their thoughts and prayers to that moment, all the things we’ve said to him in our minds and hearts about his Agony and Passion as we pray the Rosary, read the Scripture, or adore him in the Eucharist. Maybe I’m strange for thinking that my present prayer could be known to Jesus 2,000 years in the past. But if there’s even a remote possibility that my intense urge to comfort Jesus in his suffering could actually help his great need for comfort in that hour, then it gives my prayer all the more value. If not, I’m sure he appreciates the sentiment and that it is conforming my heart to his Sacred Heart in some small way.

God Bless.

#34 Difficult Decisions that Should Be Easy, But Aren’t

So I woke up this morning at my usual time and realized that I wasn’t going to mass at 8AM on a week day for the first time in 4 weeks.  After mass had become so ingrained in my daily routine, waking up without mass was sort of like waking up without Jesus.  It’s kind of like He has already died and now I have to wait for Him to come back. I know I shouldn’t be in mourning already, but it sure felt like something was missing…I began to understand how His disciples felt when they woke up and realized He wouldn’t be teaching in the temples today and just had to remember Him as best we can.

So after all of that, I had to make my decision whether to attend mass tonight or go to my class.  All week I had been procrastinating my paper that was due tonight and just kept saying “if I finish the paper by 6, I’ll go to school.  If not, I’ll submit it electronically and go to mass.”  If you’re a procrastinator, you understand.  So I was trying to put off my decision, trying to make it something that I didn’t have to think about even though it was ever-present on my mind.  I mean it was all I could think about!  Mass or class?  Mass or class?  It was like I couldn’t focus on anything else.  Well, I looked into other Holy Thursday masses, but the earliest was 7 and even if I went to the 7PM mass at school, I would still miss half of class.  At this point I realized it was ridiculous to pretend I had a decision to make, I had obviously decided I wanted to go to mass.  As much as it bothers me that I’ve missed class (only the second time ever in my grad school career), it bothers me less since my professor doesn’t really seem to care.

The problem with going to a non-religiously affiliated school is that you don’t have off for all Catholic holidays, and I consider Holy Week a time that we should have off.  I suppose this reveals to me that I need to eventually work somewhere that I will have off for Holy Week, or at least have the opportunity to take off.

Anyway, I submitted my paper at 5:40 and let my teacher know my decision, etc.  I do still feel torn in a way, but when I think about it, the entirety of Lent I have been trying to put God first in my life, and I think maybe this just needed to be done.

God Bless & (happy?) Holy Thursday!

*Zoey*

PS I miss having off for Holy Week, if you haven’t already figured that out…

#32 Update on Body Image

I hope this isn’t too much for all y’all but I saw this on facebook and absolutely needed to comment on it:

I censored the writing but you can probably guess what it said...

I censored the writing but you can probably guess what it said...

Someone I’m friends with on facebook had liked or shared it or whatever and it came up on my newsfeed.  So here it is, the major issue with modern society, as I see this photo saying, is that skimpy bikinis and girls that are skin and bones are projected as beautiful, but in all actuality, others want to see us as ourselves.  I see an arrow telling me that covering more of myself is not less beautiful, in fact, it’s more attractive.

So maybe I’m tired and don’t really know where this is leading but I wanted to highlight my earlier point and say that we need to me more modest! (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C6-55Tgurvw “Modest is hottest!”)

Well, the amount of likes this photo got on facebook made me realize that we aren’t the only ones who think looking how we are and dressing modestly should be done, even if they don’t realize it, they’re making our point.  So let’s fight on for modesty!  Woo!

God Bless,

*Zoey*

PS sorry  I was all over the place, it’s late…

Edit: I should clarify that this photo also highlights the problems with society telling us how to look and what size we should wear and I in no way agree with that. Ladies (and Gents to, really), you are gorgeous whatever shape or size you are and however God made you, you are perfect! Wow, sorry for that oversight and thanks for pointing it out to me!!

#31 The Victory

(First, an aside regarding my last post: I didn’t encounter any awesome opportunities to stand up to the culture of death yesterday. Bummer. But I’ll continue to keep an eye out!)

I attended the Byzantine church this Sunday, which infused my experience of Palm Sunday and my perspective on Holy Week thus far with a different tone than the Roman liturgy for Palm Sunday usually does for me. At a Roman Mass, the stark contrast between the crowds chanting “Hosanna” on Sunday and chanting “Crucify him!” on Friday is an unnerving look at our all-to-familiar human tendency toward fickle, thoughtless words and deeds. Unlike this Roman tradition of (dual) dueling Gospels, the Eastern rites read only the former Gospel story, as recorded by John. On Sunday, I heard of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, greeted as victor by cheering, palm-waving children, and of his presence at a grand feast celebrated in honor of his raising Lazarus back to life after he had been dead four days. Palms and pusswillows were blessed and given out per Byzantine custom. (It’s my understanding that pussywillows were traditionally used for Palm Sunday because eastern Europe is noticeably lacking in palm trees; also, they make awesomely wild-looking altar arrangements with the palms today.) I stood in that church, taking in the incense and the gleaming gold icons, singing hosannas and alleluias (Byzantine’s don’t give up the alleluia for Lent), and it hit home: the victory is already won. In Holy Week, we place ourselves with the disciples in their fear and uncertainty, but we already know that Christ has won victory over death. Even Jesus’ disciples, in the midst of their doubt and shock at seeing him degraded and killed, had prior proof in the form of Lazarus that God’s power to create trumps death’s power to destroy. The one certain fact of all human life, that it ends with death, has been overturned by Jesus Christ. The one miracle that goes beyond “unexplained” to unimaginable is the power to restore life after it has been snuffed out.

What does that mean for us, for all the sinful tendencies we’ve been noticing and struggling with throughout Lent? It is all too easy to hide from the true depth of our sinfulness out of fear that it can’t be cured. Let this knowledge take away our fear. Lazarus’ sister Martha warned Jesus not to roll away the stone of her brother’s tomb because, after four days dead, his corpse would smell. Yet Jesus had the stone removed, and called Lazarus back into the world of the living. If he can open a four-day-old tomb, then he can look into our sinful hearts without being overwhelmed by the dirtiness inside. We are broken and diseased, but Jesus is accustomed to lepers and the like. His light shines in the darkness, and darkness cannot overcome it.

Right now, personally, I feel like I’ve been trying to cover up my sinful nature in hopes that it will go away without having to look directly at it. But much like slapping a Band-aid over a wound without cleaning it first, I’m just trapping all the badness in there and letting it fester. Metaphorically ripping off that Band-aid and looking clearly at what’s beneath will be about as pleasant as it would be to literally do so, but it’s necessary. I think that’s the point of Holy Week: having tried our best to reign in our sinfulness this Lent, we can frankly admit that drastic cases call for drastic measures. No amount of talk therapy or motivational posters will get us from our present sinful state to one of immaculate holiness worthy of Heaven. Following commandments would be a great start, but we seem to be as adept at screwing that up as the people of Israel were in the Old Testament. The only way out of the hole we’re in is to somehow offer a truly worthy sacrifice to the Lord for our sins. I know we’d all like to consider ourselves the sort of selfless person who would offer to take another’s place in death. But this one time, we can’t do anything of the sort. I’m not capable of being a spotless offering to God, none of us our. So we have to let the One who is sinless go through with this. Tomorrow night, we have to let him be captured. Friday, we must let him be killed. We need saving and Jesus demonstrated that he was willing to save us with his own lifeblood. It’s kind of scary, kind of sick, kind of sad. But it’s necessary. And if we want to live, we have to admit that. Once we admit that we’re so far lost, we needed Jesus to give his life to save us, then we can stand strong in his victory over death and know that we will not be defeated. Working through the startling reality of Holy Thursday and Good Friday will finally bring us to the Victory of Easter.

#30- The Hunger Games and the Culture of Death

I went to a late showing of the box office hit The Hunger Games Friday night. I haven’t read the books yet, but I thought the movie was fantastic. The characters were realistic and well-acted, the background of the nation and the Games was given subtly without distracting from the story at hand, and a violent plot was carried out with refreshingly little gore. It’s a great film even if, like me, you’re new to the series.

(Caution- minor spoilers after the break)

Read the rest of this entry

#28 “…why?”

So I started this post on Saturday and it was somehow deleted.  At first I was extremely frustrated, but then I realized it was not at all what God wanted me to say, what I was supposed to say…

On Saturday I bought a new bathing suit and had the following conversation with my sister:  “Want to see the new bathing suit I bought!?!” (shows her) “Oh…you bought a tankini?”  “Yeah!”  “…why?”

Well there are many reasons why a girl would buy a tankini, she feels fat, she likes them, she actually wants a bathing suit that is both modest and easy to take off to go to the bathroom…(sorry if that was TMI but try getting a wet one piece on and off again…)…but either way, why should it matter that I bought a tankini instead of a bikini??

This made me think about modesty in today’s culture.  Is it really that difficult to comprehend?  How can we, as 20-something year olds, live out our faith by being modest examples of His Love and setting the bar for others?  Is it insane that we should be able to wear something not as revealing and like it?  What kind of image are we trying to portray?  I am making a conscious effort as of Saturday to act and dress more modestly.  That comment hit home and I can think of a million and 1 reasons “why” I should wear a tankini this summer…because He loves me and built me in love, not lust…because I am not a symbol of sex and neither should my body be…because I don’t need to show off something that only the Lord needs to see…because if my vocation is to be married someday, my immodesty would hurt our relationship, could hurt all my future relationships…and if my vocation is not to get married, my immodesty could hurt my relationship with God…it could hurt my relationship with God either way…  So now, I need to make an effort to act in modesty as well as dress in modesty.  No more small comments that say too much about me, no more outfits that I really shouldn’t wear… the end.

Now, I also realize that when my sister asked me “why?”  she could also have been wondering if I thought I was too fat to wear a bikini.  This is a HUGE issue in today’s society as well–body image.  Now I have a feeling that this is directly linked to immodesty because the more we see of each other, the more we are aware of ourselves.  Let me tell you something, I don’t like to speak in absolutes so I will say 99.99% of females (and a growing majority of males) ARE NOT HAPPY WITH THEIR BODY.  There, I said it.  We look in the mirror and see imperfection.  It doesn’t matter how many compliments we get, how confident we are, constant reassurances don’t help.  We don’t like the way we look and that is a problem!  It is a problem because God made us this way, made us perfect in His image and likeness.  Sometimes we forget.  I know I do.  Do you know how often I weigh myself?  Every day.  And I record it so I can look back and judge myself.  I know this is a problem and I can’t help it.  I need to know because I will never be comfortable in my own skin.  There was a time in my life when I was…I was 12 and could care less what others thought…then I was 14 and through the love of God realized that I was beautiful in His eyes and nothing else mattered.  I’ve said it before and I will say it again, I wish I could be that person again.  So full of God’s love, but every time I compare myself to another girl, I can’t help wondering if I’m pretty enough, or slim enough…I’m done defending myself.  I hate when bigger girls get angry at me because I’m insecure about my body weight too.  I hate that I’m not allowed to want to lose weight just because someone else wants to be my size.  It frustrates me, it makes me angry, and it makes me so aware of how imperfect we all feel.

So when I think of my sister and why she asked me that, I have to wonder, was she worried that I think I’m too fat for a bikini?  Because what would that mean for her?  The image I was projecting of perfect effected her as well.  Even though she acts older than me at times, I must still impact her the way only an older sister can.  So I want her to know, if she’s reading this, that she is perfect in God’s eyes and in mine.  I am going to wear that tankini with pride, not because I’m too fat, but because I want to be modest and project modesty.  And, I am going to make more of an effort to love myself exactly the way that I am.

Lord, please help me.

God Bless,

*Zoey*

# 27 Child-like Love for God

Before mass this morning I was sitting in the pew when a few rows ahead of me there were two boys fighting over a book. Their mother tried to break up the fight and (quietly) exclaimed “they’re fighting over the Bible!”  It surprised her and, I’ll admit, it surprised me too.  It’s so awesome to see the Bible as a book worth fighting over…
Anyway, the little boy that won must have been about 7 and when he turned around he had such a triumphant look on his face it was priceless!  He was beaming with God’s Love because winning His Word was the biggest prize for sitting through mass 🙂
I just can’t help but admire the children’s bold Love for God and just how much we can learn from them.  We live day to day trying to be close to God, sometimes without just letting it be natural…without whipping out the Bible and hugging it to ourselves…sometimes without even thinking about His Word…
Lord, make my love for You like a child’s love for You, pure and simple and true.  Help me to love Your works and all You do for me and help me to appreciate each day, live out Your Will, and spend time with Your Word.
Amen.

God Bless,
*Zoey*

#24: Slow Down

On Monday, my Mister* woke up sick and I spent the day taking care of him. Tuesday, I caught the same thing (though not as severe, luckily). As the virus made its last grand attempt to overtake me last night, I got that awful sensation of fluid in the sinuses that always makes me feel like I’m under water. (You know, when a big Jersey wave knocks you upside down and squirts seawater up your nose? Am I the only one stupid enough to let that happen?)  Anyway, that got a song suck in my head that I probably hadn’t heard in years– Slow Down by Paulson. I found it on youtube and listened to it before I fell asleep. If you’re not familiar, have a listen:
Slow Down by Paulson

I’m so glad that my random word association brought me to this song, because it hit me on two different levels.

First, as I’ve mentioned before, I felt distant and disconnected from God for a very long time, and I’m just beginning to surface from that spiritual murkiness. It really did mess with my sense of time and age, leaving me in retrospect with the feeling that “I just survived” and wasn’t really living. I was trying to “save myself”  and of course that’s neither necessary nor even possible. The growing realization that I’m really not alone, that I can learn once again to float on God’s plans for me instead of sinking in my own attempts to plan, is truly stunning. But in my relationship with God, I fully intend to rush things and grow closer to Him as fast as possible.

The song speaks in a different way to my relationship with my Mister. I don’t want to get too mushy or too personal, so let it suffice to say that we are both deeply committed to one another and he really could be the one. Because of that, I really relate to the feeling that “nothing else matters now”. I’m grateful for the reminder in this song that even so, we need to take our time in order to do things right. Love and lust really do coexist sometimes, but they’re ultimately incompatible. Either one will eventually drive out the other if it takes control long enough. I always thought of lust as a very overt, kind of creepy sexuality, but in a committed relationship, it seems to be a lot more subtle than that. It’s about wanting more intimacy and sooner than what chastity allows. Basically, it feels a lot like the temptation to break your Lenten fast before Easter. So, taking a cue from the song’s title, I’m sending up a prayer for patience tonight. If I truly believe that God wants to unite me in marriage with another soul (I do), then I’d better give Him the time and space to prepare my heart for that lifelong bond beforehand. True love really can sweep a girl off her feet, but no love is stronger than the Love that called us into being. God, grant us the patience and fidelity to commit our hearts to You fully before binding them to one another. May we always keep our minds, hearts, and whole beings pure for You. Amen.

*I can’t think of a fitting pseudonym for my boyfriend. My grandmom always used to ask me “How’s your mister?”, and since he never got to meet her before she passed away, Mister seems fitting to me.