Another Advocate

What does the word Pentecost bring to mind?

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I know a few years ago when I was pondering the new Pentecost needed in our Church I was very focused on the externals.  I think expressing our love for God and praising him with full heart and voice is very important, but I’ve come to realize that there is something more basic going on.

Let’s look at the first Pentecost.  Tongues of fire, tongues afire with new languages, praising the Lord with reckless abandon.  This is what a new Pentecost looks like, right?

I thought so too, until I began learning more about what happened in Mexico when Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared.  Before she appeared, missionaries were having a really, really hard time converting people, not to mention their methods probably weren’t the most ethical.  In the seven years following the apparitions, eight million Aztecs became Christian.  That’s what a new Pentecost looks like!

So the really important part of the first Pentecost is this:

Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand persons were added that day. (Acts 2:41)

Being filled with the Holy Spirit makes us attract others to Christ – this is why we need a New Pentecost!  In turn, those external gifts are signs that we are filled with the Spirit – they are the fruit of our own conversion.

Love is Alive…but are we?

holy-spirit-dove-drawing-The_Holy_Spirit_by_HammerMarioI’m experiencing post-Africa let down all over again.  Having come home right before Easter, for the past few weeks we’ve been singing joyful “Alleliua” songs like this one:

Love is Alive

Doesn’t that make you want to dance and lift your hands in praise? Okay, maybe it’s just me…

But seriously, when twenty women sing this song in a more lively fashion than a 200 person congregation, there is a serious problem.

The problem isn’t that I’m used to being surrounded by people who are madly in love with Jesus and are not afraid to show it!  Honestly the average parishioner usually doesn’t even look like they want to be at Mass.  No wonder we’re attracting so many people.

Sarcasm aside (with maybe a touch of sass), what does our Church need?  The same thing  we’ve always needed, since Jesus ascended to the Father: the Holy Spirit.  More specifically we need a new Pentecost.

I Choose All!

Working with the poor and writing have been playing a game of tug of war with my heart.  But, in my recent hours of combing through job openings, I came across something illuminating.

(WRITER) ARTIST IN-RESIDENCE

Yale-New Haven Hospital

JOB SUMMARY

Develop, implement and adapt creative writing and spoken word activities for a diverse pediatric patient population in an acute healthcare setting. Facilitate group or individual sessions that engage children of all ages, family members or staff in self-expression through poetry, narrative, theatrical writing and performance to support the healing process. Share patient work through performance and publication.

Wait…I don’t have to choose?? Once again, God has reminded me that He wants to fulfill all of my desires, and put them in my heart for a reason.

Then, this afternoon I really discovered that something I thought only existed in my imagination is a really thing, that many writers do: running writing workshops with disadvantaged populations.

My teenage self would say: duh!  This is why art and music therapy works – because self-expression is an effective form of therapy.  Helping people learn to express themselves gives them power and can even help lift people out of poverty.

Here’s another example of an organization that runs these sorts of workshops: http://nywriterscoalition.org

I made some great connections today and can’t wait to see where they take me!

 

More Than We Can Ask or Imagine

RaisingofLazarusI love, love, love the story about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead.  The Lord often reminds me of it when I’m trying to pretend that everything is okay (like he doesn’t know everything!).  I can’t tell you how many times in prayer I’ve felt the gentle nudging to be honest with Him but insist that I’m “fine”.  In these times I’m invited to have the honesty of Mary and Martha – to get angry, because God can handle it!  Martha and Mary didn’t meekly say, “oh it’s okay Jesus, we know this is for the best and we trust you.”  No, they were not afraid  to show that they were angry and confused: “what the heck Jesus!  You go around doing all these great miracles but you can’t stop our brother, who you claimed to love, from dying.  Some Messiah you are!”

I think the key to understanding this story is the fact that Mary and Martha never lost their faith.  They believed with their whole hearts that he could have healed their brother and Martha even says, “even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.”

These two sisters believed that Jesus could do anything, they just didn’t realize “anything” included raising men from the dead.  This is something they couldn’t imagine.  Our God does more than we can ask or imagine.

But the part that we still struggle with is why Jesus let Lazarus die in the first place.   Because he loved them.  Logically speaking, this is completely insane.  Let’s talk about my ways are not your ways.  Jesus even goes so far as to say, “for your sake I am glad I was not there”.  Can you imagine the disciples shock and confusion over this?

Jesus allows Lazarus to die because in the end, it is better for everyone.  I’ve wondered if this was to give them all hope during Jesus’s crucifixion.  They must have thought:  He raised Lazarus from the dead, perhaps He will rise also.  God allows a brief period of pain and mourning, to make the new day that much more brilliant.

One thing I learned in convent was that I hate suffering (okay who really likes it?).  But I really struggle to see the value in it, which I think is true to most of us.  We believe in a God whose plan to save us involved letting His Son die in utter agony by being crucified.  I know we’ve all struggled with the questions “why suffering?” and “why do good things happen to bad people?”  Maybe you’ve even tried to explain redemptive suffering to others and think you really get it.  But deep in each of our hearts we all ask, “why?”

Why does God allow so much evil?  Why do little children get shot, abused and horribly mistreated?  Free will, we like to throw around.   Is that a satisfactory answer?  God could just stop it all if He wanted.  And then what would draw us close to Him?

 

A Beautiful Waste

“What is he?” murmurs one gray shadow of my forefathers to another.  “A writer of storybooks! What kind of a business in life, – what mode of glorifying God, or being serviceable to mankind in his day and generation, – may that be? Why, the degenerate fellow might as well have been a fiddler!”

-The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne

Ironically, I was introduced to the show “Call the Midwife” while in the convent.  Now that I have some time on my hands I’ve watching some more of the episodes.  I’ve noticed that some of the characters struggle with something that I do as well (and I suspect most of you): wanting to be useful.  Through aging or illness, they are afraid of not being able to do what they used to, and therefore being of less value.

Over the past few years this desire has been purified but it is still a nagging thought: am I doing something worthwhile?  Will I live up to these ridiculous expectations I have set for myself?

I came face to face with this need to be “useful” in religious life – which was perhaps the Lord’s plan all along.  What good could it do the world to do laundry, sell Altar Bread and pray – oh prayer is what always seems like the most useless thing.  What good does prayer do?

But religious are not the first and are certainly far from being the last to be accused of wasting their lives.

Remember this story?

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Now when Jesus was at  Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table.  And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.”  But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me.”

When I was in college I switched my major from English to Social Work, because I thought I should do something more “practical” to help people.  Partially through physical illness, I was stripped of my desire to be “useful” in the convent and as the Lord uncovered my eyes to see my own beauty, the desire to write re-awoke in me like a living fire.  Poverty fosters creativity and I’ve done my best writing in the past four years, showing me what I am capable of.

So now God is calling me to waste my life in a different way and I have a feeling I won’t be leaving poverty behind!

 

Find Your Humanity! (Beauty and the Beast Style)

TOBI’m sure someone has written about this already, but my cursory internet search came up with nothing, so here’s my two cents: Beauty and the Beast screams Theology of the Body.  I had this revelation while watching the new live action version.

What specifically came to my mind is the fact that St. John Paul II says women teach men how to be human.  This is literally happening in Beauty and the Beast!  Due to the fall, men tend towards beastliness (ok honestly we all do), at least figuratively.  In this classic movie, Prince Charming is literally turned into a beast, so his outer form matches his cold, selfish heart.  Remember, he was never really charming to begin with, so he couldn’t use turning into a beast as an excuse.  However, he became more bitter and resentful.

Enter a beautiful, selfless, young woman.  Here is a person whom the beast can love, can live for.  With her he can, “discover himself through a sincere gift of self”.  And she must let herself be loved as she is, just as she receives him as he is.  She, through her love, helps to redeem and transform him into a man, more of a man than he ever was.

Incidentally, this is all reminding me of the ideas of a newly ordained priest, Fr. Patrick Shultz, of the Cleveland Diocese.  In his Master’s Thesis on the genius of men (it’s about time!), he described the man’s heart as a castle.  A man is pierced, wounded by a woman’s beauty and he let’s her into his heart, to be protected.  The man’s instinct is to live with an outward focus, but when he lets a woman inside she draws him in as well, into the home she creates.

Do you see what I see?? This is also happening in Beauty and the Beast!  The beast is trapped inside this castle, through his own fault.  It became a prison, something to escape from.  But then he lets Belle, aka Beauty, into his castle and eventually into his heart.  His rough exterior is pierced and he is freed to love.  At first he tries to possess Belle, to keep her as a prisoner in his castle, but it is only when he sees her as a gift and lets her go that she can truly be his.

Why do women have this unique role?  The more human we become, the more God-like we become.  Jesus became man so we could see what we’re supposed to look like, for we were made in his image.  Furthermore, God chose to redeem the world through a woman – and continues to do so.  It is women who are the preservers of culture, who embody compassion, kindness and mercy.  It is women who make humanity more human.  Every time a woman gives birth to an immortal soul, it is a redemptive act, and as she tries to bring that child up in a Godly way, then she is bringing that child closer to its destiny of becoming God-like.  She is repairing the image and likeness of God in humanity.

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The Well is Deep

Jesus the Bridegroom.  The very words send a thrill through my heart.  The sisters heard me go on and on about the topic, but you, my lucky readers, are a whole new audience!

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Thanks to my time in the convent, I’ve been given a love for scripture and new eyes to see its depth.  The top two things that have opened up scripture for me are:

  1. Reading scripture with Jewish eyes.
  2. Seeing that Jesus is always the Bridegroom.

Today’s Gospel is the perfect example of this.  In the Old Testament, whenever a man and woman met at a well, they ended up getting married.  Another key piece of information is that the Jews and Samaritans were “divorced” from one another.  The Israelites had split into the Northern and Southern kingdoms, with Samaria in the North and Jerusalem in the South.  So when Jesus meets the Samaritan woman at the well and asks her, “give me a drink”, what He’s really saying is, “give me your hand.”

What really turned me on to all this is Dr. Brant Pitre and his book Jesus the Bridegroom.  I strongly recommend it to all.  The most important thing I want to convey is that Jesus is a personal bridegroom to each one of us, not just of the Church in general, and we experience this best through prayer.  When I learned how to pray according to the Ignatian method of prayer I felt like I had never prayed before.  This involves imagining the scene with all your senses and placing yourself in it.  Imagine yourself as the Samaritan woman.  Jesus asks you for a drink, you ask him for living water.  What are your “husbands”, those things that you are ashamed of, that you think make you unworthy? He already knows and He is “the one”, the Christ, the Bridegroom.