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The Lord’s unfa…

The Lord’s unfailing love and mercy still continue, Fresh as the morning, as sure as the sunrise. The Lord is all I have, and in him I put my hope.

Lamentations 3:23

1 Year in Chicago.

Over the past year I have fallen in love.  Fallen in love in such an absolute and unexpected way.  Not with a person or a thing but with a place.  

I moved to Chicago last May with no real expectations or plans except to live and come out of my comfort zone.  I craved a new challenge and a new experience that I was not going to experience in Monterey County.  Every evening I found myself driving home from work relating to Jason Aldean’s “Church Pew or Barstool.”  So I woke up in the middle of the night one day and with little thought wrote a resignation email and went back to bed.  In the morning it sunk in and a week later I bought a one way flight to Chicago for 3 weeks from that day.  That was it.  

Somehow during my time in Chicago some of the most unexpected events have happened to me.  Family problems that I had never experienced.  My very first broken heart.  I now know what it really feels like to want to take back a night.  

But everyday I got out of bed (although, sometimes I dragged myself out or only stayed out 30 minutes before bursting into tears).  Everyday I knew that there was something worth living for.  Everyday my faith pulled me through and the knowledge that the best was yet to come got me through the day.  

Despite all this, I have gained so much more than I have lost.  I have come to know what I am capable of achieving.  I know how easy it is to fall but know I have the strength to get back up.  My beliefs have been challenged, I have lost and I have won.  I have been humbled and my understanding and my empathy towards others has increased.

I don’t know if I would have gotten to know myself had I stayed in the place I know like the back of my hand.  I don’t know how much I could have grown in a setting where everything is perfect all the time.  Chicago has provided me with a million lessons and has shaped me into pursuing a deeper connection with those around me and as a result grow closer to God.  It took awhile, but for the past few months I have really felt it.  I have really worked at it.  I am thankful for the people I have met here, the ones that keep me sane. I am thankful for the kids I work with, who make me smile and laugh and give me hope every single day.  I am thankful for my Parish for being awesome and providing a million opportunities, the kids in my 2nd year confirmation class (I teach it!).  I’m so glad I came here and don’t think I’ll be going anywhere anytime soon.

 

(But don’t get me wrong, California still has my heart)

Adult Gifts

This past Sunday the church celebrated the Epiphany, the feast of the Three Wise Men who came to Jerusalem from the East looking for the new King.  Growing up I always associated this day with waking up to presents.  In Mexican culture it isn’t Santa Claus that brings gifts but instead the Wise Men come bearing gifts for children on January 6th.  But as time passed, I stopped receiving gifts and this day became just another day.

This year, I woke up on Sunday and the first thing I read was Pope Benedict XVI’s tweet:

“The Wise Men followed the star and reached Jesus, the great light that illuminates all of humanity.”

This simple statement came to me with perfect timing.  I had a bad week, have been having a hard time and was often wondering what to do next.  

I went to mass to hear the story of the wise men from the East being told from the Gospel of Matthew.  I had heard this story many times before but this time it provided me with two great lessons.

First one being to never stop seeking God.  It may be a long journey or a hard journey but it must be a journey towards him.  

Second, there are signs.  In this story a star shines over the place Jesus was and leads the men to him.  In life, I believe that there are also signs leading us towards Christ and we just have to keep close watch to find them.

 Being in my mid-20’s, I am often looking for ways in which to turn when times get rough (often!).  I am taking these reminders from Sunday as a gift.  The gift of guidance and re-assurance which right now are things that I need the most.

Guadalupe

Growing up in a Mexican household, celebrations for the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe were never missed.  My family in particular did not necessarily participate in festivals since we live in a pretty small town that didn’t host any.  Having moved to the United States when I was only three years old I can’t say that I remember the celebrations that were held in Mexico.  It wasn’t until last year when I ventured out into  spending more than half a year living in Mexico that I got to experience these celebrations to a maximum.

I remember thinking why in the world my Mom would want us in the Metro heading over by 5:30AM.  When we got there I understood why.  It was December 9th and also the first day for pilgrims to start making their way to the Basilica as part of feast day celebrations.  It was only 6AM and the Basilica had the same amount of people that I had seen there  previously during the afternoon… maybe even more.  By the time the sun was up I lost count of the pilgrim groups that had walked, biked, driven, flown from all over Mexico and other parts of the world.  It was truly a special sight to see so many faithfuls gathered to see the miraculous poncho that once belonged to Juan Diego with the image now on it.

This was not my first time in Mexico City nor was it my first time in the Basilica seeing this.  It was my first time going during this time of year though.  It was then that I feel I witnessed so much more of a miracle than I did when I went to solely see the image.  Although I have to say that the image itself is stunning considering the type of material it is on and the age, etc. I was in amazement of just how many people were showing up and I was struck by the amount of devotion that they showed as some went on their knees from outside all the way up to the altar.  It was amazing to see just how many people from different walks of life were in the area that day.  It is then that I remembered a great passage from a book by Virgilio Elizondo titled Galilean Journey

“The real miracle was not the apparition but what happened to the defeated Indian.  In the person of Juan Diego was represented the Indian nations defeated and slaughtered, but now brought to life.  They who had been robbed of their lands and of their way of life and even of their gods were now coming to life.  They who had been silenced were now speaking again through the voice of the Lady.  They who wanted only to die now wanted to live.”

My senior year of college I chose to write my thesis on the conversion from Hinduism to Islam in Indonesia.  At first I knew I wanted to research something relating to Hinduism and then figured that  had a background on Islam and my research led to this.  One of the biggest questions I was left to ponder throughout my research was… WHY Islam? Since Indonesia was for a long time a Dutch colony and the Dutch are predominantly Christian.  And throughout my time in Mexico I often analyzed just how different the Catholic traditions were from those in the United States.  Despite the difference in traditions the faith of the Mexican people is quite strong – and I began to wonder … why did Christianity prevail in Mexico and why did it not prevail in such a huge way in other places?  It may have to do with the racial mixing but in Elizondo’s book I discovered a whole new insight that I had never thought of before.

There is a real miracle in the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe because she came to show that God was not only for the white men that had conquered the land but that he stood by the conquered.  Guadalupe was not like the other images that brought by the Spanish, images with light skin, light eyes and hair.  She was dark and looked like the new race of mestizos.  This religion was no longer only the religion of the white Spanish conqueror but it was now also the religion of the conquered.  Through this they discovered that they were re born and a new race of Mexican people came about.  Guadalupe came to tell the defeated that was their mother and bring a new nation together.

Mexican politics and sociology is very complicated and I am no one to really say much about it other than my experiences.  There is still a great sense of superiority by those with lighter skin in Mexico.  There is a sense of superiority (as there is in most places) by people who hold an education.  People in Mexico are very focused on family and also what family you belong to and how much money they have.  There are still long strides to take when it comes to unity there but there is one thing I know for certain.  Almost every Mexican household that I have ever visited (in Mexico) has an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe in their house.  Mexicans from all walks of life know the songs that are sung during the pastorelas. Despite the many divisions there is a deep sense of unity that comes with Our Lady of Guadalupe.  She brought inclusion to a place of segregation, she brought identity to a new nation and she brought love to those that felt deeply unloved.

One of the biggest lessons Our Lady brought was that of conversion.  As I said I spent time researching Hindu conversion to Islam and what I came to notice was that the most dramatic numbers always come from a peaceful conversion and not a forced one.  Although I am Catholic and believe that this faith is in fact truth – it is important to note that this truth is not easily seen through violent and forced means.  God’s love has it’s way of showing through mysterious ways.  Sometimes through silent ways and other times such as in this case of Our Lady through loud and undeniable ways.

“If it’s only a symbol, then to hell with it”

(Title is a quote by Flannery O’Conner)

About three years ago I went to a “non denominational” Christian church for the first time.  I use the term “non denominational” very loosely because it is a term that I never fully understood.  It was my very first Easter away from home and I was at a loss at how to celebrate what I consider to be the most important Christian Holiday of the year.  My best friend from high school happened to be living in the same city that I went to college in and she invited me to a church service Saturday night.  I was excited because I happen to love Easter vigil and from my previous knowledge her family was Catholic (as am I) so I thought I knew what I was getting into.  Instead of going to a Catholic church though her older sister took us to what I like to call a ‘mega church.’

It was a completely new experience for me – HUNDREDS of people packed into an auditorium all standing and singing for an hour of worship.  Then a very vibrant sermon by a very vivacious man (pastor) that seemed to get people heated up.  I sat there listening and trying to figure out the whole theology behind his teachings.  He gave his “touching” sermon, asked who was ready to submit to Jesus that day and then reminded the audience that his sermons were on tape and for sale at the end of service.  I will not discuss how I feel about this now… but I left this service feeling empty and wasn’t sure why.  There was worship, there was advice centered on the Bible, I was surrounded by Christians expressing their faith… but there was something missing.

I woke up the next morning, called my friend and got her to go to Easter mass with me.  Despite the fact that the church was so crowded that I had to stand and that the priest only cracked ONE funny joke and didn’t make anyone cry… despite the fact that the songs were not dance and throw your hands up in the air worthy I left mass feeling fulfilled.

A few weeks ago my friend told me about how she started going to a new church.  She explained to me the format of it and I basically understood it was one of these mega churches.  I told her that I felt very comfortable going to Catholic mass and she told me that Catholic mass did not touch her.  She said that the sermons at this new church did it for her and that things like communion didn’t matter to her.  WELL… right after she said that it clicked in my mind WHY I didn’t feel fulfilled at at the other church.  They didn’t have communion.  Although this is very important to me – my friend made me realize just how many Catholics leave the church for the very same reasons she was telling me.  Mass CAN be pretty boring and we don’t sing and dance and sermons can be kinda dry at times.  What many people don’t realize is just how special the liturgy is though.  I thought I was take a few paragraphs to explain the little I know about the liturgy and why it is important to me – and why it should be important to you.

As a Catholic I view the Eucharist as much more than a symbol.  The Eucharist IS Jesus and Jesus is our salvation.  This concept to be quite honest is still very difficult for me to comprehend and it is something that I have come to accept and have faith in.  And the funny thing about faith is that sometimes it just is.  During mass a transformation happens in which the bread and the wine become more than just food at the table.  This food becomes the Body of Christ and the Blood of Christ.  A book I read for a class quoted St. Augustine, “There is your mystery on the table be what you receive” before explaining that when we receive the Eucharist we are getting the Lord and the Body of Christ.  Eucharistic Theology can get lengthy so I’ll move on to another point…

Another reason I find Communion during weekly church service to be so important is because it is the tradition that Jesus himself left behind.  There is just so much tradition and teaching found in the breaking of the bread and in a way we have somehow forgotten history and also how important this tradition is.  Breaking bread or having a meal is something that we all do as humans and during the historical period in which Jesus lived who you shared a meal with was very important.  This was also a time in which a person could be labeled as “impure” by simply coming into contact with another person that was “impure.”  This meant that social lines were quite strong and many were left on the sidelines.  In the Gospels we read about Jesus re-drawing lines of impurity and inviting ALL to his table, going out and touching the lepers and breaking bread with a variety of people.  Today that reflects in us being accepting of one another and coming together Sundays to share in a meal which Jesus himself invited us to.  St. Paul was the first to write about this institution which Christ left behind, showing that it had become something early Christians were doing.

The Eucharist is Christ, it is our redemption from our sins, it is what will keep us alive.  Breaking bread together is a tradition which we received from Jesus.  An old tradition which he redefined by inviting all to his table and making himself the Bread and Wine which we receive. In this book which I talked about earlier that I had to read for a class the author makes a point to say that sin started with Eve eating an apple and we are redeemed by this later meal – by eating Bread and drinking Wine.  Food is essential to live and during mass we receive the most important and life saving meal of them all.

So, I agree with Flannery O’Connor – the Eucharist is more than just a symbol.  Because if it was solely a symbol, why would we all keep on doing it?  So let’s remember what it is and remember that is more than just a symbol.  Let’s remember that it is Christ – it is the reason we go to mass on Sundays.  A vibrant sermon and catchy songs that make you want to dance are great – but there is nothing greater than to receive the Body and Blood of Christ.

(The book I referenced is titled Bread of Life Cup of Salvation by John F. Baldovin, S.J.)

All Saints Day

Yesterday was “All Saints Day” and I thought about writing this post all day long but gave in to fatigue and went to bed early. The reason I went to bed early was mainly because I had spent a weekend in Southern California celebrating Halloween with my friends. This included seeing Deadmau5 and Avicii from the roped off VIP section at Petco Park and roaming the Gaslamp the next day.

As a 23 year old I do my fair share of going out with friends, meeting a ton of new people and dancing the night away. Vices such as alcohol, drugs and sex are not far from reach and although I don’t actively participate in all of these I know that if I wanted to it would not be hard… at all. I would probably have to go more “out of my way” to attend a retreat or adoration hour than it would to drink, use drugs or have sex.

During “All Saints Day” yesterday I thought about what it meant to be a saint. I especially often ponder the fact that we all indeed have the capacity to become saints and inspire others with our faith. There are times when I feel inadequate to advise others on faith matters and other times when I feel like anything but a role model. But at the end of the day I accept my humanity and have always promised myself to work on my problems and strive to become a better person.

Which brings me to my faith inspiration. There is always of course God, Jesus, Mary, Joseph… scripture. But there is one particular saint that I favor when I pray. It may be because I was born on his feast day or because he is the patron saint of theologians and I was a theology major…. but most of all his back story amazes me. He is: St. Augustine. So in honor of All Saints … I decided to write a bit about why St. Augustine of Hippo is my faith inspiration.

St. Augustine was from what is today the country of Algeria and not always faithful to scripture. Although his conversion came later in life he left behind numerous works and his writings are still looked upon today as guides in faith. He was first a teacher of rhetoric in Milan. He was a believer of Manichaeism although his mother was a Christian. His life was that of parties and “loose living” (Catholic.org). It wasn’t a life close to God but instead a life that gave in to the temptations of the world. In his confessions he wrote about how his inequities troubled him and led him to seek help from the Lord. That is when he heard the voice that said “Tolle Lege” which means “take up and read.” He picked up a Bible and read Romans 13:13 “let us lie honorable as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy…” It was then that St. Augustine’s life turned around.

St. Augustine’s story is one of repentance and discovering that God can work great things through us. He is my faith inspiration because I know that I too have had a time in my life that was not Christ-focused but that through repentance and faith I can also inspire many. It is a story of a human just like you and me who decided to change paths after feeling restless in the one he was going through. By knowing his story my favorite quote by him makes a lot more sense…

“Our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”

Verse to Live By

For my very first post I’m going to keep it simple.

A few weeks ago in my Parish newsletter there was a question at the bottom which read: “If you could choose a bible verse as a life motto, which one would it be?”

I thought about this long and hard and came to this:

“Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do to me.” – Matthew 25:45 (NRSV)

I used to think that caring for the least was something that was instilled in me. I had gone on a few mission trips and had decided that my life would be a life of service.

That year, I was assigned to research lepers in Biblical history. I read about them and then read about the leper colonies that once existed. I thought it was truly appalling that people would shun other human beings in this way. It stumped me and baffled me that people could walk next to another human and be afraid of getting close and classify them as something other than human.

A few months later as I sat in the Madrid metro I heard the familiar sounds of a person walking up and down the metro asking for money. I looked up and for the first time in my life I saw a man with leprosy. I was stunned. I didn’t know what to do and as much as I hate to admit it – I was scared. I quickly looked down. I think I pretended to be completely focused on a text message or in a conversation with my friend in order to avoid this man coming near me.

As my luck would have it he actually got off at the same station as me. As I walked home I saw him sitting on a bench. His clothes were rags and his missing limbs were noticeable. His loneliness was evident and people stared at him with fear in their eyes.

I was also one of these people.

I walked home right past him and thought about the research I had done a few months prior. I thought about the thoughts I had then and felt completely disgusted with myself for not recognizing the presence of one of God’s children in front of me. More like – not treating someone like a creation of God.

Needless to say I am embarassed of my reaction. I sometimes pray that I will be put in this situation again in order to ‘redeem’ myself. What I should really be praying for though is strength and wisdom. The strength to face a fear and the wisdom to recognize God’s creation in every different form it presents itself.

So, something to think about, when have you walked past and ignored “the least” ?

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