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Alleluia! It is Easter Sunday 2017. I am very happy to have experienced the Triduum and Lent. I had a wonderful journey, full of challenges that ultimately helped me grow as an individual and better understand my mission in being a servant to others. Today’s Gospel from John describes the different reactions of the disciples to Jesus being gone from the tomb.  Jesus’s rising teaches us how to live our lives. His rising helps us understand that hope prevails through the losses and challenges. God does not abandon us.  He will strengthen us.

My secretary and my mother in law both wanted to know if M had an Easter basket. I got some strange looks when I admitted I didn’t make her an Easter basket.(I haven’t done so since she was in diapers.)  In bringing up M, I want her to understand how important my faith is in my life.  We are the only Catholics in our small household so we share our faith. We are in Mass weekly.  We take part in Reconciliation.  We took part in the Triduum. We’re not holiday-only Catholics who only go to church on Easter, Christmas, Ash Wednesday, and Mother’s Day. We are there every week; I like to attend daily Mass when time permits. I take part in rosaries, the Liturgy of the Hours, Adoration when I can. Church is important to me and therefore the focus of Easter.  I asked M about the meaning of Easter. She said it celebrates Jesus’s rising. She doesn’t ask to color eggs or request candy but it’s not a priority.  I liken Easter to New Year’s.  At midnight, as we came home from the Carnaval royalty competition, M announced Alleluia. I want her to know Easter is the big holiday in the church.

I don’t mind being questioned about my faith. Why do I believe?   Do I live what I believe? Am I truly upholding those principles and values? What do I gain from the readings and from church experiences? My faith has helped me in my mental health journey.  My faith helps me be disciplined. I am a flawed person.  My being in church consistently doesn’t make me better than others; I am open about my struggles with pettiness, resentment, and self-righteousness.  My faith has helped me move forward. Following Christ is not easy but I will continue to do so because He has given me so many gifts. He loves me. He is risen!  Alleluia!

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The death and life of a friend

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” John 11:21

For the fifth and final Sunday of Lent, the Gospel was about the raising of Lazarus.  Verse 21 in Chapter 11 of John reminds me of the losses I’ve faced, especially my friend Brett. His death was the beginning of a series of difficult moments in my life but also a sea change which made me truly commit to healing.  God was never absent in those moments.

When Brett’s health worsened, he was full of serenity and warmth. It was as if his best qualities were magnified in those final moments.  I was moved by his love and gratitude. The closer he got to death, the better and more holy he became.

It is difficult to accept you will lose someone to terminal illness. It is hard to understand God’s glory is present in those moments. On a personal level, I didn’t want to lose my friend. I didn’t want to lose someone who had been my comforter. A lot of people didn’t realize how unwell I was back then; Brett was ministering to me in my hours of need. I sat with him during his illness but it wasn’t enough to help him get past it.

His life and death have served as an example to me. Whenever I’m faced with a challenge, whether it is half-marathon training or my own health woes, I meditate on how Brett prepared to die. It’s hard not to say, “Lord, if you had been here, you could have spared him.” After all these years, the wound is deep. I am hurt I lost my friend the way I did. I am sad I lost a good person.

Lazarus’ death was one of the few times Jesus broke down in tears. He was a minister to the sick and the dying.  Yet he grieved for his friend. Raising Lazarus was both a gift he gave to Lazarus’ grieving sisters and the beginning of the end for Jesus himself.  The Pharisees gained more evidence in their case against Jesus; in challenging the status quo, Jesus was condemned to death. His death, like Lazarus, became a new beginning.

The raising of Lazarus is a foreshadowing of what is to come. As Lent winds down, we reflect on the journey to death, which we walk with loved ones but also our own journey to resurrection.

Jesus raises Lazarus to life - John 11:1-44

Giving it over

“Be still and know that I am God.”Psalm 46:10

It is one of my favorite verses and one of my favorite songs.  One morning, I sat in silence to speak to God from my heart. With my job search officially beginning, the question I’m pondering the most is one most working parents face. How do I strike a balance between moving on in my professional growth and being present for my child?  Unlike the adults in my life, my child is not excited about my search for a new challenge. It has actually caused her anxiety, sadness, and fear. She worries that this could be another challenge for us.

I want my next career move to enrich our lives. I know that idea may seem naive; as you move on in leadership and take on greater responsibilities, you take on more duties which take more time, energy, and thought. I want to be a good mom, to make time for my writing, deepen my faith life, and be physically fit.  Now I have to prioritize and rethink how my goals will be affected by a change in employment. It’s exciting and worrisome.

I’m giving it over to God. It is what we are called to do when the struggle is the greatest. As someone who worked to become an independent free thinker, relinquishing power and authority is a struggle. I spent so much of my life being passive; I still have room for growth. I have been blessed by trusting in God. My prayer is for God to guide me towards a new job that will be good for M and my family. I want to serve my purpose.

In silence, I notice what I usually don’t during my commute: the trees, the clouds, and the sky. These are beautiful signs of spring. I’m so busy running around that I’ve missed them most of the time. I’ve missed so much of what’s around me because of what’s happening within me. I want my next opportunity to allow me to enjoy more of these moments. I look forward to landing where I need to be.

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Woman at the Well

On the 3rd Sunday of Lent, the Gospel reading was about the Samaritan Woman at the Well.  I’m reflecting on being that woman. I’ve been a lector at my new parish for two years and Eucharistic minister for almost a year. I think about do I deserve to be in front of all these people?

My involvement in parish ministry began during the darkest period of my life. There were times when I wondered if the church building wouldn’t collapse on my head. It didn’t. I found that the parish priests I worked with, no matter where they were on the spectrum of conservativeness, were always merciful, kind, compassionate, and patient. Over a decade later, I’m still on that journey to be spiritually healthy.  When I proclaim the Word or share the Body and Blood of Christ, I feel like I’m getting closer to achieving peace. I feel like He’s working through me. I feel like I’m the very best person I could possibly be when I’m in that sacred time and space.

I’m well aware that I’m a sinful person. But I’ve been accepted, welcomed, and embraced. I won’t walk away from that. Even when my faith falters and I’m filled with doubt about the choices I’ve made in my life, even when I wonder  if I’m worthy, I can’t walk away from what saved my life.

Yes, it’s living water!  Yes, it changes people. So as long as I can, I will serve God in small ways and I won’t ashamed. It’s not me that’s up there speaking aloud. It’s not me serving. It’s Someone greater. Yes, how great Thou art!

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Art by Liz Lemon Swindle 

Boy, bye; How I stopped being so scared of evil

 

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Illustration in my Children’s Bible

The Gospel on the first Sunday of Lent describes Jesus’s temptation in the desert. Jesus is tempted by the devil.  The devil is an instigator. He is manipulative especially as he constantly seeks to gain power. Going after Jesus is evidence of the arrogance, narcissism, egoism that comes with being evil. Jesus is able to resist. He is all powerful. Jesus demonstrates the strength and authority needed to resist temptations that we all experience. We all want to attend to our immediate needs. I’m starving so let’s turn these rocks into bread. We want youth, physical strength, and immortality. I’m going to drink my liver into disease because it feels good. Because I’m young, I’ma be all right. We want wealth and power.  Life owes me these things.  Jesus rises above those desires. He sees the ultimate goal. The 40 days have been a test. They’ve been physically hard but he has stayed faithful and strong. He is preparing for what is going to be more difficult. He is finding the discipline before he begins his ministry. Jesus does not fear the devil and sends him away like the nuisance he is.

I grew up very fearful of the devil (What I learned watching The Exorcist). I was much too young(six!) to learn about possession, that the devil was a real entity that could take over a person. It made me much more fearful than my daughter is at that age.  On the other hand, I grew up as a spiritual child. I was drawn to the Bible. I was reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Gospel of Luke at age 7 because I wanted to do so. One reason I haven’t exposed to her more horror movies or pop culture interpretations of the devil is I find them scary. About 15 years ago, I made a survey and asked my friends when they first saw The Exorcist and what were its long-term effects. I continued to do other readings about exorcism. Those fears stuck with me.

r12mwvNow I’m older and I have had life experiences with different facets of evil. I’m not fearful because I know good prevails. I’ve done a lot of writing about my thoughts as I “exorcised “a “devil.” (My second career as an exorcist) I gained a lot of strength from those experiences. I may laugh when I say “the devil is a lie” and “not today, Satan” but those are true statements. I have been able to look at that evil, at that enemy, to look it in the face and say I’m not afraid of you. That’s powerful.

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Father Tomas is played by Rebelde cutie Alfonso Herrera

On a related note, while dealing with real-life drama, the TV show, The Exorcist, premiered on Fox. While it wasn’t a ratings hit, it was a critical hit and a hit in my household. We watched it every week and analyzed it. I connected it back to what I was living. I found parts of it hilarious. I would argue it is better than the original novel and original film.   Those were good but the TV show’s acting and writing took it to another level. Geena Davis was brilliant. The show explored what is happening in the church regarding the role of lay people, the role of women, and the behind the scenes politics which you may not know about if you haven’t been involved in ministry. I like that the show spoke to the power of family and faith.  As I wait along with other fans to learn if the show will get renewed, I would recommend binge-watching on Hulu or Fox. Don’t be too scared.  Y’all know who wins and who always will.

Watch Season 1 of  The Exorcist

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Jesus saying “Largate!”

 

Gospel truths

On the First Friday of Lent (and Flashback Friday), as I listened to one of my favorite gospel music artists on my morning commute, I thought back to my discovery of gospel music.  I first heard Cliff Petty during the opening service at LA Congress in 2010. He was leading the psalm. My head snapped in that direction so quickly I almost fell over. I turned to my church sisters and repeatedly asked, “Who is that?” as I searched the program for his name.   I was so impressed by his voice that I listened for it during the remainder of the service. Immediately after wards, I went to the exhibit hall to look for his music company. I purchased his first CD and even spoke with him briefly. I’ve been following his career ever since. I went to his concert at LA Congress in 2013. I have taken music workshops he has presented including one in which the attendees were divided into choir sections. I was a “joyful noisemaker” as I don’t have a very good singing voice.  Cliff’s music really opened my heart to hearing the Word in a different way.

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My autographed CD; Cliff’s 2nd release

Part of being Catholic is the traditional aspect. The music is traditional and sacred-sounding such as masses in Latin, Gregorian chant and old hymns. The music is beautiful, formal, and ceremonial. Para ser franca, at times, it can be lacking in energy and joy. Gospel music has been a way to bring joy into my worship, faith life, and prayer life. The songs are based on scripture, psalms and on people’s reflections on their relationship with God. People sometimes associate gospel music with different denominations. That is silliness. Music is universal. I talk to many people who say Mass is boring and that they get nothing out of it. They are going out of obligation, not passion. Music enriches that experience. Even in the most boring of settings, I will sing. When I sing in church, I continue to reflect on the Word and my love of God. Singing allows me to do so in a way that is more creative and expressive. Because of my love for gospel music, I appreciate the liturgy and the songs chosen more.  I am familiar with different hymns. Gospel music has been a blessing which expands and enriches my faith life.

In the past when I have struggled with myself, even in those dark moments, my faith has sustained me. My faith has not been repressive, oppressive, or depressive. However,there are times when faith wavers; the busyness of life can shake me. A song can bring me back to myself. Gospel music has been both soothing and uplifting. It has been with me through times of poor health. When I’ve been so angry and I need to clear my head, gospel music has been the soundtrack. When work has been hectic, choosing the gospel station on Pandora has helped me to refocus. I’m grateful I have made listening to more gospel part of my prayer challenge.  I know it will give me more time to reflect and honor this sacred time.

Find W.Clifford Petty on Facebook at Cliff Petty’s music

Revealing relapse

“There is trouble in the air, destruction is everywhere
And men are being trampled beneath the soil
And nations, great and small, have now begun to fall
Oh come let us go back to God, go back to God”  written by Thomas Dorsey, as sung by Donnie McClurkin

When I talk about backsliding, I often mean it negatively.  When I backslide, I’m going to back old, often negative, habits and ways of thinking. Like every normal person, I have times when I’m disciplined, motivated, and therefore feeling and being successful.  If I “relapse” into past behavior, it is usually because I’m exhausted, demoralized, and struggling physically, mentally, and/or emotionally.  Life goes in cycles.  It’s never a journey of point A to point B.  So why do I hold myself to that unrealistic black and white thinking?  What if “going back” has its benefits?

Para los que me conocen, y’all know I’m often goal-driven. I take on reading challenges, savings challenges, and prayer challenges. I train for half-marathons and for street performances of various choreographies.  I do weeklong class hops, novenas of daily masses, 40 day fasts, and multi-week fitness programs. But I don’t always complete these goals to the best of my ability.  Sometimes I don’t complete them at all.  Then I spend some time beating myself up about those failures.  Fortunately, time and life experience has taught me to seek humility.  Life has taught me that failure is a good time to turn back to God.

I said it.  As important as my faith life is to me, God doesn’t always come first. “Well, I guess we won’t go to Mass Carnaval weekend because I’m not about to sit in church in my costume.”  God doesn’t always fit on a busy schedule.  While I thank God when I’m succeeding, I spend less time with Him while I’m busy working towards that success.  I’m going, going, going.  Literally and figuratively running.  A quick grace over a rushed meal. Half a rosary done on the commute from one family activity to another.  I don’t build in time for devotion.

It is in times of struggle and failure that I truly give myself over to God.  When I’ve been diagnosed with illnesses, I have stood with God.  When I’ve struggled with work situations, I have had long, emotional conversations with God.  When I have lost loved ones, I have found comfort from God.  Where human motivation and individual goals waver, God is constant.

I know I have lots of work to do in the next few months. I will make my faith life part of that work.  Going back to God is wonderful.  Staying with Him must be a goal. 2eec7f06e6a3add42dfda620cb60b94d